I went down to the New Beverly to check out The Sand Pebbles, a 1966 film starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborogh, Candace Bergen, Richard Crenna, Mako, and featuring my pal James Hong.
The print was striped with 4 track magnetic sound, and it did sound great, a lot of dynamics, and an extended frequency range. The score sounded incredible, (Jerry Goldsmith) and there was a lot of music in this film. The print was pretty faded so it was kind of like watching a Black and White film with pink overtones, every once in a while a bit of color would appear but after a minute back to pinkville.
The Great James Hong as Shu
I had never seen the film before and this 3 hour and 15 minute version (complete with intermission) is longer than the regular release. A Road Show Print was usually longer or had mag tracks or maybe was struck from the original negative. These were screened at big venues, NYC, Chicago, LA. before the film went into wide release. Now I am not sure what scenes were included in this version that were left out of the regular release but I have a feeling that there was more engine room footage in this long version. Why? Because there is a 20 minute sequence of Steve McQueen lovingly working on the steam powered ship’s engine and it is great!
McQueen was a motor nut, racing cars, motorcycles and amassing a huge collection of both. I think he really identified with Jake Holman, the character he’s portraying. One of the best scenes in the movie is a tense sequence of repairing the massive engine, a tour de force of suspense. McQueen’s company, Solar Productions co-produced the film and I think he had a lot of say as to what went into the final product. It feels like a personal film for McQueen. Maybe the fascination with machines, with the mechanics of things says something about McQueen’s world view.
There is also a great battle scene as the ship (The San Pablo) runs a barricade in the Yangtze River. Great stuff.
I relly liked a scene in a chapel where Richard Attenborogh marries his Chinese girlfriend Maily while McQueen and Candace Bergen look on. Something about that scene, the way it’s staged, it just feels like a movie scene from another era, but in a good classical way.
Robert Wise does a great job directing this film. He directed classics in so many genres, a great filmmaker. William Reynolds, a super editor cut it. I met him once at Genghis Cohen, an L.A. Chinese restaurant, having lunch with his crew. A good friend of mine, another great editor Bud Smith, worked with McQueen on the television show Wanted:Dead or Alive. He and McQueen bonded, both were avid motorcyclists and car racers. They spent time riding in the SoCal desert. And if you ever find yourself at Casa Bianca, waiting for a tomato pie, look on the wall. There amidst the many celebrity 8X10’s is a picture of Steve McQueen from Wanted:Dead or Alive. I guess he was a fan of their pizza too.
Here’s a noir bombshell from1949. Byron Haskin directed it, he was a special effects guy at Warner Bros. and later directed The War Of The Worlds for George Pal. He also directed some of the best episode of The Outer Limits, Demon with A Glass Hand, and The Architects of Fear. Hunt Stromberg produced this “cookie full of Arsenic”. He had a long run as a successful producer at MGM, he came up under Thalberg and worked with Selznick, then he got into a beef with Louis B. Mayer and went independent. This is one of his independent creations. The script was by Roy Huggins, based on his novel and it’s a winner, great characters, excellent dialog, everything top notch except the very end, oh well. Huggins went on to be a giant among TV creators/Producers with such shows as The Fugitive, Run For Your Life and The Rockford Files.
But the real heroes of this opus are Lisabeth Scott as the one of the coldest killers ever to grace the silver screen and Dan Duryea, the slime king. Best known for slapping women onscreen, the poster for this film is Dan slapping Lisabeth! They marketed the film on his woman beater appeal.
I have a theory about noir, WWII is over, soldiers are returning home, a lot of G.I.s got Dear John letters, their wives left them while they were at war. Tokyo Rose would broadcast stories of infidelity by Statebound brides to the soldiers overseas. This led to the creation of the Noir Femme Fatale, the false female, who’ll smile , seduce, and kill without missing a beat, sure they can turn on the waterworks, shed tears at the drop of a hat, but underneath, all business. So here is the returning soldier’s nightmare come true. What’s the one thing a desperate soldier, far from home could think about to give himself some relief from killing, mayhem, explosions? Little Sally Jean, the girl he left swinging on the garden gate. What if Tokyo rose was right? She’s evil, corrupted. His dreams are all Lies! Well, here she is, the beautiful blonde with the morals of a scorpion. Lisabeth Scott is amazing in this film. She turns from a bitchy but seemingly happily married woman in an instant all because of money, the old do re mi, a lot of it that drops in her lap. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some depraved scenes of her and Dan Duryea getting it on just because he can make her do it, they hate each other! It’s deliciously perverse! According to Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, almost all of the budget went to the two big stars, they were worth it!
It was later re-released under this title
So the production of the film was low budget, a lot of the action takes place in Scott’s apartment but it makes the film psycologically more real in a way. You feel trapped in that nest of evil. There are some scenes in Dan Duryea’s flop, it’s perfect as the dump a small time creepy crook would hang his hat in. Another couple of great locations are Union Station, maybe the most beautiful building still left in L.A. and the lake at McArthur Park, called WestLake Park in the movie. A one time high rent district that’s now kind of funky. Silent Film director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his bungalow just around the corner. Anyway the film is in poor shape, Eddie’s Noir Foundation did a restoration with UCLA but I don’t think that’s out on video yet so you have to make do with what’s available. But next time it screens at the Noir Festival, I will be there.
Here’s the best looking Youtube version I could find.
OK here’s a weird one for you fans of Film Forno. Charlie Chan At Treasure Island, actually a pretty cool movie, directed by the super genius of genre filmmaking Norman Foster. Foster directed the amazing Mr. Moto films with Peter Lorre, also Zorro Tv show for Disney, episodes of Batman, and was greatly admired by boy genius Orson Welles , who brought him to RKO to work on some projects. Anyway it turns out that this film was a favorite of the infamous Zodiac killer of San Francisco. According to a book on Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, Leigh Allen (Graysmith has pegged him as Zodiac) loved this film as a boy. It takes place in San Francisco, it features a villan named Dr. Zodiac, who answers the phone ” This is Zodiac speaking.”
And Chan says of him” is not ordinary criminal. He is a man of great ego. Criminal egoist find pleasure in laughing at police.” Words that fit the later Zodiac exactly! The Treasure Island in the title was a man made island north of Yerba Buena Island, constructed for the 1939 S.F. World’s Fair.
But even without the strange Zodiac connection the film is worth checking out. Very atmospheric and featuring Ceasar Romero who would later play the Joker on TV’s Batman, maybe re-uniting with Norman Foster as well.
Here is the trailer for a documentary I saw on Netflix. It examines the relationship between Truffaut and Godard and places it in a historical context. It’s very informative and worth watching. It ends without touching on a very interesting point though, late in life after these two geniuses were on the outs, hadn’t spoken in years, Godard wrote to Truffaut. He need to sell Breathless, his breakthrough film, to raise money for a new project. The only problem was Truffaut had written the scenario and was therefore a part owner of the film. Godard needed him to sign off on the sale which Truffaut did, helping out the former friend that he now “hated”. If you are interested in the New Wave of 50+ years ago, check it out.
I found this on Youtube. It’s a great story and more common than you would think. Hollywood logistics. But Rey is excellent in the role, the contrast between the sophisticated European enjoying a gourmet meal while Popeye is outside in the rain on stakeout, drinking bad coffee is delicious. So hats off to Friedkin for being open to making a mistake work for him. an important tool in the bag of tricks of any artist.
Look at this amazing color still from the production of Touch Of Evil, how cool, it makes it seem like it could be happening today not 57 years ago. That alley is probably still there in Venice, CA. Everybody talks about the opening shot, which I love, but the shot that also blows my mind is in the love nest apartment, where Quinlan plants the dynamite in the bathroom, check that out, it’s another very, very long take and the overlapping dialog plays like a radio play. It’s so masterfully done you don’t realize you’ve just watched a 5 minute take (or whatever legnth it is.) Watch it with the sound off then you can pay attention to the staging, there’s a lot of off camera dialog that directs your attention outside the frame. As Claude Chabrol said”Off screen dialog is extremely powerful.”
Another side note, I recently re-watched Godards Alphaville, Akim Tamiroff is in it as well as Toch Of Evil. In TOE he winds up dead with his tongue grotesquely protruding from his mouth, in Alphaville he keeps sticking out his tongue in the scene in his hotel room with the Seductress 3rd class and Lemmy Caution. Did Godard direct him to do that as a reference to TOE? The Cahiers du Cinema gang were the first to praise Welles movie as a masterpiece, the studio didn’t like it. He was a bit too far ahead of his time once again.
I’ve been thinking about this film lately so I watched a few clips on Youtube, I have a Japanese import dvd somewhere but I haven’t run across it in a while. The shots in the party scene are so amazing, so fluid, so space delicious , I don’t think their baroque splendor was reached until Fellini’s 8 1/2 and this was Welles 2nd film! The interesting sequence of Joseph Cotten trying on different types of clothing, shoes, hats illustrating the evolution of sartorial styles is unique in Cinema. The wonderful opening shot of the house and the horse drawn carriage that comes by and the orchestrated movement in the frame is unequalled in timing, simplicity, complexity. It’s not boring one shot that doesn’t move with a kind of Victorian vignetting, incredible. I read some where that Welles, enfant terrible of radio, recorded the dialog for the big dance scene as a radio play, worked with the actors till the timing was perfect, then played back the dialog on the set as they filmed and the actors had to say their lines in sync with the recording! It seems impossible but the scenes are obviously(to me) dubbed. And these are some intricately choreographed moving shots! With overlapping dialog no less. It really is unbelievable.
The way characters move from light into darkness, become silhouettes, then are illuminated again, so beautiful, tenebrae is the term for this dramatic lighting effect. The wonderful performances, all great.
The movie does have a kind of a downer tone that was out of sync with it’s time, WWII and all, probably why it tested poorly, but it was ahead of it’s time, it plays better now. Watch Joseph Cotten’s speech about the impact of the automobile on civilization, brilliant .
The idiotic regime that replaced Schaffer at RKO hated Welles, so did a lot of people in Hollywood, they resented this upstart and they didn’t understand him so they tried to destroy him. And they did a pretty good job, even though it was at a high price to themselves! If they had not reclaimed the silver from the original negative of Amersons by melting it down, they would have been able to release the Directors cut in theaters all over the world, on VHS, dvd, Blu Ray. They would have made a fortune from it. As a fortune was made from Citizen Kane over the years. I can think of no other lost film I would rather see than Welles cut of Ambersons. It’s like a dream, the idea of going into a theater and seeing the whole thing. Welles went to Rio to shoot “IT’s All True” before Ambersons was completed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had persuaded his friend to take on this project to foster good feelings between South America and the USA, keep them from joining the Fascists. I read that Robert Wise sent a work picture and track down to Rio for Welles to watch and comment on. No one seems to know what happened to that print. Could it still be down there in rusty cans, in storage somewhere, in an old warehouse. The heat and humidity might have turned the nitrate film stock into highly explosive goo but maybe there’s a chance it was put in a cellar somewhere, a vault, and it exists. Lying there in the darkness ,the plastic realization of a young man’s genius, like frozen thoughts, Donovan’s Brain in it’s fish tank, waiting.
Welles on the Ambersons set, Robert Wise the editor 2nd from left. Welles blamed him for the hatchet job
Ambersons was one of the favorite films of Jean Pierre Melville. He speaks of it in a book of interviews I once read. He comments on a scene between Joseph Cotten and Anne Baxter (playing his daughter). How Mellville remembers seeing the “cottony trees” they were walking through even though the scene is in a close 2shot and you don’t get a good view of the surroundings, Welles created this unseen world in the viewers minds by the actors voices, a direct link to Radio.
Holt never really wanted to be an actor but he was born into it, Hollywood Royalty, a member of the Beverly Hills polo club. This was a big year for Tim, he appeared in Ambersons and The Treasure Of the Sierra Madre, not bad!
Welles did not appear in Ambersons but he did the voice over, and narrated the credits at the end, one of the first times a film appeared with no letters on the screen (other than the RKO logo and the main title). Once again Radio rears it’s antennaed head.
Future filmmakers beware! Never walk away from your film before it’s finished! Even if FDR and Rockefeller are beseeching you to do so! This action on Welles part not only “ruined his best film” but put a huge dent in his fledgling yet stratospheric career. A pattern that repeated itself throughout his films, he left Touch Of Evil to go down to Mexico to set up a new project, but that film fared much better than Ambersons, they even recut it following a 100 plus page memo Welles left behind. Oh well if only somebody stumbling out of a World Cup match wanders by mistake into an old film vault and kicks over a box and cans marked RKO spill out otherwise we’re left with the image from the end of Citizen Kane but it’s not Rosebud that’s consigned to the flames, it’s the missing negative of The Magnificent Ambersons.
Here’s some interesting documentaries on that super genius Orson Welles that I discovered on Youtube. They are really worth watching, the one about Citizen Kane demonstrates how little Orson knew about film grammar when he arrived in Hollywood. But he surrounded himself with talented people and absorbed everything like a sponge.
Here’s a piece about the restoration of Touch Of Evil.
Jacques Demy came to L.A. in 1968 and made a film, Model Shop. I knew nothing about this film when I watched it and I suggest you watch it in the same state of innocence, you will be rewarded with a delicious surprise. Like other European directors who came to Hollywood to make a film, Demy finds the extraordinary in our ordinary, beauty in plain sight, yet invisible to most Americans who take it for granted or in the case of L.A. (where Model Shop is filmed) downright hate it. The comparison that comes to mind is Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a much maligned film that I like. Both of these films were flops at the Box Office but so what, they capture a Los Angeles at a point in time like a fly trapped in amber.
With the sucess of Easy Rider and other counter culture films, producers were desperate to cash in on the youth craze and gave young directors like Demy a shot. Anouk Aimee is wonderful, so beautiful, so feminine, so mysterious.
Do yourself a favor , do not watch the trailer or read anything about Model Shop, just watch it. It’s photographed by an ex-pat Frenchman who moved to Hollywood, Michel Hugo and he does a wonderful job, the Technicolor portrait of L.A. is stunning, and the locations are great. It looks like they filmed in the real places in the story. I met Michel many years ago when he was teaching a cinematography class. He also shot the 1st Kolcack, The Night Stalker, one of the best TV movies of all time. Gary Lockwood is good, enigmatic, handsome. All American. He was fresh off his big role in Kubrick’s 2001,
Demy wanted an unknown actor he found, Harrison Ford but the studio said no, here is some footage from a screen test Ford did for Demy.
I guess Anouk was reprising her character from Demy’s first film Lola, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ll report back after checking it out. Anyway take a trip down Memory Lane, the 60’s , psychedelia, Vietnam, the music of Spirit and check out Model Shop.
The Mann Himself directs Mia Farrow
UCLA is screening a retrospective of the films of Anthony Mann. Mann, a broadway actor turned film director was highly regarded by European filmmakers like Godard and Wim Wenders. His films are visually stunning and well paced, being an actor he got some great performances from his casts. He started making noirs at Republic ,PRC, Eagle -Lion and RKO, doing a lot with a small budget. His noirs are noteworthy for his collaboration with the great cinematographer John Alton. Then he graduated to Westerns, teaming with Jimmy Stewart for several stand out films, like Winchester ‘73 and The Naked Spur. Here is a link to the films and showtimes, see you there!