An antitrust case, on an international scale, solved by the Buenos Aires police.
All the implications and consequences are stated or indicated, nothing is omitted.
Crowther frankly admitted he was “utterly baffled”.
Hans Christian Andersen
At the beginning, Andersen’s a cobbler who’s reprimanded by a schoolmaster who tells him “the cobbler should stick to his last.” Apelles the painter said it first, to a shoemaker who criticized the latchets in one of his paintings as inauthentic, and then went on up the leg.
Aesop told a fable to the Delphians who’d arrested him, they didn’t get it and put him to death. Borges mentions an artist who aped the realm so well the king had him put to death as a usurper.
The film takes place in a storybook Denmark recognizable as far back as Chaplin’s The Kid. Andersen is a memory of Balanchine, who was famous for being fertile of invention, and who worked at Goldwyn in the Thirties. He’s also Andersen, whose story about the piece of chalk is a spontaneous invention like Monroe Stahr’s little tale in The Last Tycoon (“I’d like to know how it ends myself,” says Andersen). All his stories are minute and charming.
In Copenhagen, street cries evoke his inspiration in a manner Howard Nemerov would recognize.
The Royal Danish Ballet is represented by Roland Petit and troupe. His pizazzy choreography is presented in a manner shortly to be made perfect in Black Tights.
“The Little Mermaid” also bows to The Red Shoes. It opens like Ken Russell’s The Devils a little, and ends on a note of Balanchine.
Andersen is subjected to cruel infatuation and humiliation, but finds consolation in his gift, which is meat and drink to the multitudes.
Thunder in the East
A very ironical, desperate situation filmed in quasi-historical terms (India, 1947) that meant absolutely nothing to the New York Times reviewer, or is it the complexity of its images? Friedkin’s Deal of the Century has a similar two-man partnership in arms dealing, Alan Ladd is a Flying Tiger now headquartered in Bombay, he flies into Ghandahar alone on spec with a cache of arms for the Maharajah against outlaws about to descend upon the city. Charles Boyer as Ram Singh the palace minister presents an able characterization on which the drama pivots, the man of peace in a bind. He refuses to accept the arms and won’t fire on his own people, he says.
There is no British regiment, people are fleeing, a convoy out is massacred, the Maharajah flies to the Riviera.
Deborah Kerr is a blind English tour-guide who remembers Ghandahar from her childhood. John Williams is a general with no uniform and no army. Philip Bourneuf gives a remarkable performance as Nawab Khan the outlaw leader. The charming score by Hugo Friedhofer has a song in it. Corinne Calvet, whose presence A.W. of the Times couldn’t fathom, is a Frenchwoman of dubious character seeking passage to America.
Charles Vidor’s concerns are probably not your concerns, and that’s a concern of his. His particular interest is the situation of the artist, not so much personally as in the case of Hans Christian Andersen but with respect to the great public, let us say, or the nation or the time. He posits a violinist playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto, demonstrates (as Russell does) the music’s power to sustain existence, and imagines the player as representing the ideal artist outside of time or nation. Opposite to this is a pianist in the Rachmaninov Second Concerto, a man bereaved by his love of a girl who loves the violinist. All of this is brought to the fore in the pianist’s concert.
The girl is wealthy, her father is the same sort of independent-minded sophisticate as the violinist and turns down an invitation to the latter’s concert by saying, “I’ve heard the Tchaikovsky Concerto.” She is a dilettante who is jokingly said to “play on men’s hearts like a xylophone,” and that is the way she plays at her entrance examination for the Zurich Conservatory, recalling Beckett’s pianist who played every note of Mozart “with xylophonic precision,” and not even precise. Music bores her, save such “tongs and bones” and a little tune the pianist remembers as his first piece, one she sang as a child, a Flemish folk-tune which begins, “See how I’m jumping”.
Klee recalls for us the boredom of a Swiss orchestra, compounded by the local composers and only relieved by occasional visits from Richard Strauss to conduct. The ennui of musical training is insisted upon throughout the film.
Vidor’s delicate, complex, elegant and profound Technicolor compositions are mainly keyed to Swiss sensibilities, but there is a Braque chiaroscuro in one shot of the pianist approaching the girl’s room, the Ritz Bar in Paris is bright and streamlined. His monumental settings of the two concert performances (Michael Rabin and Claudio Arrau filling in) are like representations of music itself, and a well-known gypsy melody in the student café brings out everyone’s fiddle.
There are countless subtleties, all of which were lost on Halliwell’s Film Guide, which described itself in these words, “Tedious romantic drama which vainly attempted a smart veneer but boasted a splendid musical sound track.” What is cinema to Halliwell but musique de fond?
Love Me or Leave Me
Vidor organizes the double-wide screen right and left, principally, as the basis of the technique. The Gimp is nearly always seen to have just come in the door, Etting across from him at her dressing table or wardrobe. Loomis the agent adds a significant composition, Etting at the bar left, the Gimp at the fireplace center (or the door far right), Loomis on the sofa center right. The main statement of this is first given before the marriage, the scene is articulated in a foyer, Loomis is associated with a grandfather clock, the Gimp with an open bedroom door in the center background, Etting with a chair and nook right.
Minnelli applies a version of this technique (champ contre champ in the camera) to Some Came Running, Losey moves the camera through a direct articulation of image in The Go-Between. Intelligibility is the entire concern of Vidor’s usage, every composition conveys its significance.
Etting early on takes the stage, short steps on the far left tell how she got there. Centrally, the dilemma in a spotlight is amplified and isolated by steps on either side and wings. The final scene is a monumental expression of the whole film, Etting onstage at the Gimp’s nightclub, under his wreathed monogram, with tables both to right and left, a column right.
Precisely this method of working is shown on a sound stage where Etting sits on a swing with a camera attached to it, the entire apparatus passes behind a dark tree left and up toward the lights right.
The complex variations and minute interweavings of theme and character make this an ideal form in Vidor’s repertoire.
Cagney is pure New York, immensely carried to the point of ultimate expression, very much in the line of thought proceeding through Ford’s What Price Glory. Day’s musicality is especially evident, the diffident, restless, green-eyed blonde hoofs it and modulates a number into a sort of contraption studied intently by the Gimp with great appreciation, he is a true æsthete, Etting is a great singer his screw-eyed appraisal can’t miss.
Truffaut concludes one of his most inspired reviews, “you should see it.”
The formulation is absolutely identical with Nicholas Ray’s Hot Blood, the elegance of which is no concern of Vidor’s, his fish (as the Crown Prince is described to his face and accepts) are too matter-of-fact for that, fairy tales supply the simulacrum and there is the metaphor of a tutor in the royal household to train a princess, he fleeth because he is an hireling.
“Old World make-believe,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “a bit like eating the food at a wedding reception and sipping the light champagne.”
“Delightful make-believe of Ferenc Molnar’s venerable play”, said Variety.
“The treatment is very heavy,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, also citing Penelope Houston, “between artificial comedy and a no less artificial romantic theme.”