“We are the Arabs,” says Brando the oilman in Avildsen’s The Formula, here is a synthetic-rubber executive killed by a looming, positively domineering stage villain who is himself, for the insurance money, to save the fledgling firm.
The style and manner of this are such as to raise admiration for the imposture, even.
Rynox House, the death of F.X., succession of his son, the blackmailer trounced.
Fellini thought Russell was himself and vice versa, the opening and closing tune comes as a surprise.
“Well, here’s to that Channel tunnel!” Scion of a family on the “rather bankrupty, mortgagey, and generally tottery” side of high estate in the land and service to the nation abroad, won’t do his duty and marry the heiress, “you see, like most Americans she’s been struck by the quaintness of the Old Country.”
“Instead of buying an old Tudor cottage and putting in seventeen bathrooms—”
“—and central heating—”
“—she bought a pub.” Cp. “i know where i’m going!” as well as A Matter of Life and Death. After Rynox, “I bet it’s something shady. Do you want to end up as a politician?”
“Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong, Kit. This is a great game and there’s no politics about it.”
“Just one of your pet Secret Service stunts, I suppose.”
“No, I’m in the oil business now.”
“So you came in the window just by force of habit.”
“Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t getting information. These oil fellows are the biggest racketeers in the world, and they pay plenty for what they want to know.” Question of “oilfields” and “state secrets” and a letter from New York, the Yank’s gone bust but she’s “still got the pub.”
“Yeah,” says the American cousin, “not a bad little dump, and the beer’s good.” A surprise for the English though, “yes, I know what you all thought, uh, your family are fairly obvious, aren’t they.” Question of a wedding before the registrar, R.U. Eager. The Powell close-up (cf. say The Tales of Hoffmann), “like candy from a baby.” Undoubtedly a profitable study of Hitchcock’s Juno and the Paycock, with Sara Allgood. A spy out of business, Old Manor Ltd. “for the Rest Weary”.
Hoagy Carmichael has his number, Sir Reggie, the original of Godard’s “La Paresse” (Les sept péchés capitaux). “I’m going to help him make something of his life.” Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda is a distinct memory, Dick Clement’s Otley (he of the “homeless bones”) as well, also Cliff Owen’s The Wrong Arm of the Law (“get weavin’!”).
Powell talks American, amongst his countless other virtues, it’s as plain as the nose on your face.
M.A. of the Monthly Film Bulletin, “such an incredible story needs more pace and a lighter touch throughout.” Tom Milne (Time Out), “very engaging.” Sergio Angelini of the British Film Institute, “dottily Marxist”. TV Guide, “there are some good moments”. Craig Butler (All Movie Guide), “one of director Michael Powell’s ‘quota quickies’”.
The Phantom Light
A second light appears on the cliffs, wrecking a ship when the lighthouse goes dark. One lightkeeper is dead, another mad. The new chief lightkeeper aided by the Royal Navy and Scotland Yard finds out all about it, it’s no Taffy legend but Welsh villagers with an investment claiming the insurance.
An excellent mystery excellently filmed with a crackerjack precision of comedy and an eye for the event and Hitchcock’s evaluation of Hollywood between Number Seventeen and Jamaica Inn.
The crofters of Hirta. Through the pride of one man, their dwindling way of life comes to an end.
The material had been dealt with by other directors, including Hitchcock in The Manxman, Powell goes straight to his source in Flaherty.
The location is Foula under the circumstances, a sublime and terrible place of vast high cliffs and angular rock in the Atlantic.
The symphonic effect, which anticipates Powell & Pressburger’s Gone to Earth, combines all possible meanings of the islanders’ tombstone inscription, “Gone Over”.
The director is a yachtsman touring the Western Isles, one of the evacuated is a crewman, years after the event.
The Spy in Black
The headline in the Kieler Post is ENGLAND STARVING, but it’s the Germans who are doing without.
The limeys are a rather tepid lot, whereas the U-boat skipper turned spy (it’s 1917) is dark and alluring, some critics have always found him sympathetic.
His orders are to sink fifteen capital ships of the British fleet in the Orkneys.
The German plan is to liquidate a schoolteacher on her way to a new post within the security perimeter, replace her with an agent and use the house as headquarters. The contact is a drunk and demoted Royal Navy officer.
The bold spy is completely taken in by British Intelligence but makes a brief escape, only to be sunk by his own U-boat, just as earlier this great destroyer of foodstuffs found himself served boiled fish and carrots at the Kieler Hof Hotel.
The opening scenes anticipate Crichton’s Against the Wind, Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, even perhaps The Red Shoes minimally. At sea you recognize the Scottish coast of “I know where I’m going!”, in the end. Overall, this is a foretaste of Forty-Ninth Parallel, and the coda’s from Moby Dick (dir. John Huston). The three prongs of Powell’s technique are, first, a deliberate complexity in each shot (going against Dreyer’s simplification, and rather like Furie) to establish a foreground, middle ground and background. Second, lighting keyed to naturalism. Third, the medium shot that keeps its distance.
Hitchcock vaguely remembered the motorcycle in I Confess, and the last scenes in Lifeboat. Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is practically a remake. The Longest Day (dirs. Annakin-Marton-Wicki) recalls the view from Valerie Hobson’s boudoir. The meeting of the minister and the vicar carrying a gramophone somehow has the same flavor as the bit with the bishop and the curate in Losey’s The Servant. Tippi Hedren’s restaurant reaction shots in The Birds trace their origin back through The Maltese Falcon to Powell’s vicar. Powell’s great gag is to borrow Number Seventeen’s formal suspension. The final sequence is perhaps influenced by Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin.
The highly characteristic cinematography and editing have been noted.
A sequence of calculated jokes amid the blackout.
Chief among these is the Danish sea captain detained at Eastgate with his cargo of raw medicaments, a line from Hamlet fits in easily.
The Cockney talent scout, the English divorcée (husband Danish), the “Patriotic Plaster Products” Nazi spies hide behind.
Variety said it detected a lack of imagination, no doubt owing to the complexity of the images. The MacGuffin is a list of names under which German ships sail as neutrals.
Captain Andersen gives his first name as Hans.
“So the curtain rises on Canada,” in both new senses, that of the New Order slaughtering “decadent democracies”, as well as that of the cinema.
Such films as Potterton’s The Railrodder and Furie’s Cord (Hide and Seek) have furthered the notion of Canada first broached here, its unknown vastness and mystery. Powell directing Pressburger’s screenplay adds the right visual note, the interjection of locale is what accounts for the drama. The immensity of Canada is a sublime and terrible grandeur that wreaks a generosity of spirit in Canadians mistaken for folly by the surviving crew of a U-boat sunk in Hudson Bay. These six Nazis make for Vancouver on foot, and dwindle to one crossing the border by rail at Niagara Falls, into the neutral United States and the freedom of consular protection. Canadian radio harries them, Germany praises them from afar, an Iron Cross is bestowed in absentia that leads to a Peckinpah Cross of Iron joke prepared in the Rockies by Leslie Howard as a shanghaied writer (Red Men of the Rockies) whose only question before being gagged is what sort of feelings are stirred in a Nazi by Herr Hitler on the stump? The Canadians have to be heroic, but circumstances put even Nazi “microbes” in a brave light, the metaphor suggests Camus’s L’état de sičge, this is the real ambiguity of the drama and not the ambivalent Nazi sailor (Niall MacGinnis) who returns to baking at the Hutterite community and later is cited in Pollack’s Castle Keep. Pressburger and Powell are in no doubt, they do not in any wise make this stuff up beyond the professional considerations of fiction, the whole idea is that mercy is a quality not strained, the Nazis are specifically compared in one viewpoint to Blackfoot Indians of two centuries before, terrorizing and killing their enemies according to tribal custom, things are very different in Canada, as Banff’s great gathering of the clans on Indian Day reveals abundantly.
The posed technique of the propagandist is answered with the social critique practiced by the Nazis en route and nowhere attracting any adherents. The real Nazi thinker, “one of the first million”, dies early on, Lieutenant Hirth (Eric Portman) is “one of the thirty million”, he burns a copy of Der Zauberberg, yes, but also a Picasso and a Matisse, Goering of the Luftwaffe would be displeased, whatever Goebbels might say.
Laurence Olivier’s French fur-trapper and Raymond Massey’s leave-taking soldier open and close the piece, with Anton Walbrook as the Hutterite leader, Finlay Currie, Glynis Johns et al. and the themes of Ralph Vaughan Williams, not least the piano in the tepee.
It was born with Rear Window (see also Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase), played concurrently with Psycho, and was saved from the critics by Frenzy. An actual concurrence is, in another way as well, with Lang’s Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse.
Cocteau on the cinema filming “death at work”, Shakespeare’s mirror, together a theme taken up by Aldrich in The Legend of Lylah Clare.
For Powell, nearly burned at the stake, the theme and a bit of the atelier décor are resumed in Herzog Blaubarts Burg.
The initial debt to Hitchcock is repaid in an exhaustive study and a cumulative effect of prodigiousness that is horrific in the abstract, much like Strangers on a Train or Picasso’s Minotaurs. The Archer cinematography comes into its own around London and on the bare Pinewood set where Moira Shearer dances in the modern style around odd props and technical equipment, swinging lights, the muse of cinema (she goes into the can as well, cf. Kazan’s The Last Tycoon).
You could lose your way in the film studio and wind up on location, says the Inspector. One speaks of magic and the dream factory, with no idea what these are made on. Powell’s best joke is the hilarity of a psychiatrist on the set (Hitchcock had one briefly there for Spellbound), quietly chuckling as the wafts of divine afflatus reach him from the sound-stage floor.
The Queen’s Guards
The trooping of the colour, eight cameramen, Technicolor, CinemaScope.
The colour of the trooping, a dishonourable action atoned for.
The Guardian, “a document of banal and sentimental flattery.” Alan Dent (Illustrated London News), “let me only say that neither the notion nor the execution of it seems to me in the least right or sound.” Radio Times, “this wearisome slice of pomp and circumstance.” Time Out, “crippled by lack of any conviction in the script.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “incredibly old-fashioned”, citing the Monthly Film Bulletin, “flagwaving museum piece... inept...”
Herzog Blaubarts Burg
It is very convenient to have Baudelaire’s “Madrigal Triste” for the textual key, and Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” for the stage indications, adding Char for commentary, “such is Beauty, the Beauty of the high seas, apparent from the first days of our heart, now derisively conscious, now luminously informed.”
Powell has Citizen Kane for the entrance of runic steles representing the seven doors of the castle, a house of suggestiveness and expression in the visual language of abstraction promoted by Hein Heckroth from his nineteenth-century labors on The Tales of Hoffmann. Nothing cannot be said in this fluid discourse of signs and symbolic language related to Mark Tobey.
A purely cinematic language not spoken elsewhere, nor even (despite a Buńuelian theme) by anyone else in quite this way, except perhaps in the last moments of Ophüls’ Liebelei.
The companion piece was to have been Bartók’s ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, save that the director was persona non grata thanks to Peeping Tom. Bluebeard’s Castle eschews the dynamic style of editing that pertains to The Archers, but maintains a steady grasp of cinematographic action in the faces of the actors over long striding steps by the camera through Heckroth’s zaubertiergarten (cf. Walters’ Lili for a general kinship to Powell). The grand staircase unrolled in The Tales of Hoffmann as painted lines is Lands and Mountains here (the fifth door), cogent and undulating lines suggest topography, a blue diaphane some considerable distance. The swords of the second door encircle Judith in a mandorla at the seventh, Bluebeard’s anguish head-in-hands reflects the first door’s torture chamber. His treasure (third), garden (fourth) and pool of tears (sixth) belie the “sunshine, love and music” proffered by his bride. She joins the others, morning, noon and twilight, behind the last door, the bride of night, in Béla Balázs’ libretto.
They’re a Weird Mob
The thematic representation of Australia is akin to 49th Parallel in its adoption of a foreign viewpoint, but Powell stays in Sydney for an intimate comedy on another basis.
La Seconda Madre is the Othello problem, resolved dramatically by the same equivoque.
Powell’s labors are those of his Italian, a sports editor and tennis player, mucking in on the foundation with mattock and shovel, “a decent bastard”.
Haskin revealed the terrain in Long John Silver, Powell goes to the city for the abrupt contact that broaches the issue, and he finds it everywhere.
Critics have always complained of his minute comic wranglings over language and customs, but they are the stuff of life where comedy is. The film is simultaneously reported as a great box office success and a critical failure. Skolimowski has perhaps a flavor of it in Moonlighting.
Age of Consent
In this field, the comic viewpoint ranges among such films as Pommer’s Vessel of Wrath (The Beachcomber), Fernandez’ Maria Candelaria and Erotica, and with James Mason there is Hamilton’s Touch of Larceny as well as Kubrick’s Lolita. The unique position takes an Australian painter home from New York to a Queensland beach and a constellation of baleful stars that vanishes with the sunrise. This is a major observation, the comic interludes and asides most resented by critics as irrelevant are central to its purpose, the definition of art and artist in the Antipodes.
Neither a moral outrage nor a bourgeoise on an annuity, in no event N. Kelly’s IOU.
The decisive painting is sufficiently seen upside-down and partially hidden by a table in the artist’s bungalow during the first part of the last scene, enough to cinch the argument.
The Boy Who Turned Yellow
As filmed, this is Pressburger’s version of the lower form joke about a bird in a miniskirt at her shopping who bent down for ice cream and got butter.