I blame Carol at the Cultural Gutter for kicking me off onto this tangent. To my film shame, I had not ever sat down to watch the entirety of Fritz Lang’s classic crime film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. As an academic, I am of course always in search of ways to supplement my paltry pay so I joked about turning to hypnosis or tarot or even advertising, as well as crime.
‘Why not combine them all, Mabuse style?’
She was right as usual. Put all my esoteric and criminal arts to use as a mastermind behind capers of a nefarious nature: genius! Only in fiction, surely! First I needed to sit down and enjoy Lang’s masterpiece of expressionist cinema, collaborating with his talented wife Thea von Harbou, who adapted one of Norbert Jacques‘ unfinished novels on the shadowy figure (yes, I’ve got to read the novels, too).
There’s just so much good here, even if you’re not contemplating a life of crime. Secret hideouts, nefarious plans, dapper grifters, glass alligators — and a medical school (in 1933) more diverse than many top ones are now. Cool special effects, too. So here’s a bunch of images to give you a reason to watch the film, too. Helps if you have the Criterion Channel or Kanopy. Click the images to embiggen. I’m going to work on my hypnotic stare now.
‘LOVE IS A GRIFT’: Now there’s a music video for the theme song!
GRAHAM WYND’s Love is a Grift out from Fox Spirit Books.
Words & Music © 2019 K. A. Laity (Nicnevin Music / ASCAP)
Victoria Squid – Vocals
Julie Beman – Piano
Eric Bloomquist – Bass
Rich Germain – Drums
Brian Slattery – Trombone
Produced and arranged by Julie Beman and Eric Bloomquist
Engineered and mixed by Eric Bloomquist at Cool Ranch Studio
Artwork by S. L. Johnson
Video remix from ‘Sing, Sinner, Sing!’ (1933) by K. A. Laity (via Internet Archive)
Here’s the official page at Fox Spirit: you can buy the ebook direct! The shiny print edition is out tomorrow…
And don’t forget the slinky theme song by Victoria Squid! Champagne and whisky…
AND you can get this sweet cover on a t-shirt thanks to artist S. L. Johnson.
Yeah, it’s all Ida this week. Impressing on my students the genius that she was. They watched this clip as an introduction. We discussed what they assumed to be going on in the scene based on their knowledge of noir now. They did pretty well. If you haven’t seen the film, it can be found in its entirety on the ‘tube.
‘She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!’
How’s your #Noirvember going? Got a favourite noir tune?
Kicking off the month with the film my students will be watching and discussing next week. Directed by the legend Ida Lupino.
There are a few holes in my film diary: an embarrassing one has now been remedied. Criterion has an absolutely mesmerising release of Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows with the radiant Jeanne Moreau. I swear there’s not a frame that doesn’t sing. Of course there’s the fine soundtrack by Miles but you probably already knew that. If you haven’t seen it — or haven’t seen it lately — it’s about time, don’t you think?
The first filmed version of ‘grandmother of noir’ Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall. More recently there’s The Deep End. Both interesting in what they use and what they leave out. The novel is terrific. Teaching it again in the spring.
This taut little thriller starts off going pell-mell and never really stops. The script by Jack Whittingham hasn’t got an ounce of fat and barely slows enough to breathe. Of course you expect Dirk Bogarde to turn in a compelling performance, but the real surprise for most folks is child star (later historian of art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) Jon Whiteley. It’s he who kicks things off, tearing through the streets and nearly getting run over by a Watney’s Red Barrel wagon, all the while trailing his teddy bear.
When little Robbie runs into Bogarde’s Chris Lloyd in an abandoned warehouse near the river with a dead body, it easy to assume the worst will happen. Like many films of its time, the rubble from the war gives the cityscape a suitably noir seediness as they both seek to elude the authorities and unravel the events that made them run.
We’re so accustomed to Spielberg’s cloying sentimentality: it’s so refreshing to see a child actor who’s not the least bit self-conscious and to enjoy a story that is touching without ever giving in to sentiment. The harsh journey north from London all the way to Scotland bonds them together in rough and unexpected ways.
Classic director Charles Crichton (if you don’t know him, remedy that at once) makes the most of the spare dialogue and his actors’ faces. The folk song and fairy tale scene alone would be enough to feel proud of for a whole career.
Check out all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.
BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH
Geoffrey Homes (1946)
Probably best known as the text for Out of the Past, the classic noir film with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas (and how much better a title is the book than that?), this novel written under a pseudonym by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who also worked on the script for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and dozens of others, has much less cultural currency than the film it led to (I’d forgotten Against All Odds was a remake: I just cringe automatically on hearing in my head the Phil Collins theme song).
It’s a tight little book that feels very much like an adapted screenplay. There’s no wasted words in this slim volume though it fleshes out the backstory of the novel quite a bit more. The action pretty much hurls through the events non-stop. Nonetheless Homes/Mainwaring offers some moments worth lingering over, throwing in scraps of poetry (‘When I am dead and over me bright April shakes down her rain-drenched hair’) and some description that offers a bit of poetry of its own:
Lloyd Eels was a tall man who hadn’t come off the assembly line.Somebody had found some spare parts lying around and had put them together carelessly, not bothering to get the bolts tight so that they seemed almost ready to come apart. He had black, sad eyes and a black mustache like an untrimmed hedge. No amount of combing would help his shock of hair.
‘You’re getting fat,’ Red said. ‘It doesn’t become you.’
‘You come up here to tell me that?’
‘No, I hate to see a man let himself go. They’ll get you back in shape in Alcatraz.’
‘Always the jester,’ Whit said acidly.
‘But the cap is getting pretty shabby and the bells lose their merry tinkle.’
Jim Caldwell’s eyes saw nothing in the drab domestic scene to wonder at, nothing to make him consider even momentarily the thought that people got old and people took each other for granted and presently there was no magic in the world. Jesus, she was beautiful standing under the hard, white light, her head tilted a little, her cheeks flushed, her dark eyes full of stars.
See all the overlooked books over at Patti’s blog.