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)
I was sure I had written this up before but I searched for it and didn’t find it. This Sphere edition is so much nicer than the bland corporate packaging of the St Martin’s Griffin edition I did end up buying. When you’re on a Highsmith kick and buying everything, the covers are less important (though still proud to own the kickass edition of This Sweet Sickness).
There are two kinds of writers: those who are articulate about the process and those who are not (ditto most arts and artists). Highsmith is not one. If you want a handbook on the topic, this is not the one to teach you. Of course if your publisher offers to pay you to write one, most writers will accept the challenge. But this is not the Highsmith School of Suspense Fiction School, which she recognises. So she turns to the tortured history of her novel The Glass Cell (a good Film for a Friday) in hopes that it will clarify how she does what she does. The case study is so singular that it could hardly be useful in inspiring a budding writer.
Highsmith outlines the evolution of the novel, which ‘was not inspired by any specific story idea but evolved simply out of the desire to write such a book–which is perhaps no bad reason for writing a book’ (chapter 10). She traces the idea from a prisoner’s fan letter (‘I don’t think my books should be in prison libraries’), to reading a book about convicts, to developing intellectual rather than emotional’ threads ‘none of them spectacular’. After that she tries to add some motivation for the characters. A key turns into a dog. What ifs multiply. A wife becomes unfaithful. The first two versions were rejected by her publisher.
‘I thought my story was not bad, but perhaps it could be better. When one thinks this, even faintly, it is best to write it over.’
The interesting part of this book is of course her voice, the anecdotes and the little insights that she may not even realise she’s offering. Speaking of her admiration for Graham Greene Highsmith makes plain her pleasure in reading him. ‘There is no doubt that a study of the whole field of “the best” in suspense writing, whatever that is, can be of benefit professionally to a suspense writer, but I would just as soon not pursue this study.’
Highsmith, in all her ambivalence there — and it’s entertaining.
See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.
Thank goodness for library book sales: or in this case, a DVD sale too. I happened across this film which I’ve never seen (in a double pack with School for Scoundrels, which one can never have too many copies of). It’s the kind of movie that could never get made now. Sim plays a bomber who assassinates folks he considers the world to be better off without — starting in childhood with a sneering headmaster. Clearly we’re meant to have sympathy for his career, which he suspends during the war years because of ‘too much competition’ :-D.
I figured I could at least link to some clips but the ‘tube is bereft of them. The BFI has a good write up and some clips, but you have to be logged in. Debut director Robert Day went on to Tony Hancock’s The Rebel amongst other things and the cast is chockfull of familiar faces from Terry-Thomas’ Lothario and George Cole’s hapless vacuum-cleaner-salesman William Blake (hahaha!), to Dora Bryan playing dim but unlucky and Jill Adams playing smart but hapless. Producer/writers Launder and Gilliat are of course best known for the St. Trinian’s films. This movie is based on their play ‘Meet a Body’ (no mention of rye).
There are mix-ups, misunderstandings, a protracted chess game, hijinks with a piano and a good bit of farce. In short, it’s great fun. As I also got the box set of St. Trinian’s films, my weekend is all set for laughs.
Join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and agonise over your art. Ken Russell directs a fabulous cast, full of eye-searingly vivid images. Just what you need.
Hey, cool band I just found out about thanks to Renato Bratkovič and Alibi-Fest.com (which was an amazing experience, more about it later). Lead singer/novelist Zoran Benčič and producer Tomi Lignit presented their new crime film, Psi Brezčasja / Case:Osterberg on Saturday night, then chatted with us at the legendary Bar Grega. I got the latest CD too, Prekletih bazar. Good stuff; here’s a taste. And yeah, more about the film in a bit, too.
Check them out on Facebook. I translated the name in my rusty Latin, but I didn’t realise it was a legal term, ‘nobody’s property…[and] includes wild animals and abandoned property.’ Heh.
Czech refugee Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders), heartbroken and betrayed by his lover and his brother, sails to New York City, intent on changing his luck. Sabourin does manage to become wealthy and successful, but he does it by robbing, lying and cheating everyone he meets. Therefore, it’s no big surprise when Sabourin turns up murdered. But, since nearly everyone in his life wanted him dead, it’s going to be that much that trickier to find the real killer. 
Written and directed by Charles Martin, this film is a bit clunky and at times given to melodrama, but there’s a lot to fascinate, too. Foremost of course is the cast which not only features the ever-delightful George Sanders for whom cads were a stock in trade, but also a galaxy of great women who really make the film memorable. Yvonne de Carlo is terrific as the petty thief who becomes his right hand; Zsa Zsa Gabor plays her usual rich doll but with a fresh snarkiness that gives much more than the script suggests.
Nancy Gates has a great turn as Stephanie North, the secretary who wants to be an actor who catches Sabourin’s eye. Though he’s romancing three or four women at the time to advance various schemes (in the photo giving Colleen Gray’s soon-to-be-divorced magnate’s wife handcuff bracelets), he genuinely falls for her and when Gabor’s socialite fires her in a fit of jealousy, he funds her Broadway debut. He’s so captivated by her that he doesn’t catch on that the scene she’s playing on stage is just like the seduction scene he has planned for her later, which amuses de Carlo’s Bridget Kelley to no end. He goes through with the attempted seduction anyway and is stunned when the rising star laughs at the strange duplication.
Not really a lost classic by any means, but much interesting here and more than a little hint of noir. Check out the round-up of neglected A/V over at Todd’s blog.