Archive for August 27th, 2011

by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 86m) not on DVD

A chain of circumstantial evidence

p  Lucien Hubbard  d  James Flood, Elliott Nugent  w  Joseph Jackson, Earl Baldwin  ph  Barney McGill  ed  George Amy  Bernard Kaun  art  Esdras Hartley  cos  Earl Luick

Warren William (Vincent Day), Sidney Fox (Celia Farraday), Aline MacMahon (Miss Hickey), John Wray (Barton), Mae Madison (Elaine), Ralph Ince (J.B.Roscoe), Guy Kibbee (bartender), Stanley Fields (boxer), J.Carrol Naish (Tony Rocco), Murray Kinnell (Thompson), Walter Walker (D.A.Forbes), William Janney (Johnny Morris), Morgan Wallace (E.A.Smith), Charles Lane (hotel clerk), Berton Churchill (judge),

Gentlemen of the jury, my case is simple.  The accused is an actor too long dismissed as lightweight by serious film buffs.  It’s true, he was miscast as Julius Caesar in de Mille’s Cleopatra – but he’s hardly the only person to have been so miscast by C.B., this is the man who cast Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane – and he was later relegated to the somewhat interminable Lone Wolf series.  Yet let it not be forgotten, Cary Grant has such disasters as Madame Butterfly, None but the Lonely Heart and Night and Day on his C.V., while Bogart had The Return of Dr X, The Oklahoma Kid (as vampire and cowboy respectively) and The Two Mrs Carrolls.  To come to the crux of the matter, Warren William is one of the most unjustly overlooked figures in pre-code cinema and one who needs to be reclaimed.

            The first words he speaks in The Mouthpiece are the same four words as begin this entry.  He’s a hotshot D.A.’s assistant charged with taking an open and shut murder case and getting a conviction.  He gets the conviction and the young defendant is sentenced to Old Juicy, but then the real killer is apprehended it’s too late to stop the execution.  Guilt-ridden, he resigns and gives up his job to defend innocent people.  When there prove to be few of them he is cajoled into representing the guilty as the most successful mob mouthpiece in New York.  Everything goes swimmingly – money, society women, the occasional sampling from the stenographer pool – until one such piece of jailbait, Celia, attracts his attention.  He falls for her but she doesn’t want him, preferring instead her young beau Johnny.  When Johnny gets framed for a robbery he takes his case for Celia, but finds that to do so will cross the mob he himself is a tool of. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

As we move into the final stretch of Rene Laloux’s creative output on film, we run into a few little snags in terms of appreciating them in available video. Though his final feature, 1988’s Gandahar, is thankfully available both in R2 DVD and in various online destinations with a helpful set of English subtitles, there doesn’t appear to be as much in the way to help those wishing to view his last shorts from around the same time, How Wang-Fo Was Saved, or The Prisoner, all three made with the assistance of his final collaborating art-designer, Phillipe Caza. In the case of the first short, we at least have the short-story from author Marguerite Yourcenar to provide a basic formula of the story, and the actions onscreen make everything pretty clear even without that assistance. An almost supernaturally talented painter in the Orient is called to the court of a stern, heartless Emperor distrustful of the power of art, who sentences him to death. The painter’s assistant, Wang-Fo, attempts to fight back against the cruel ruler and is beheaded. As a last request, the artist is allowed to paint a final landscape, to which he is magically transported, sparing him from death, to a world in which his loyal assistant remains alive and well.

For a short, it’s surprisingly well rendered, with the same full breath of fluid animation that Laloux exhibited in his previous feature, Les Maitres du Temps, and would soon put into practice in his next and final feature. Furthermore, his pairing with Caza on this film looks forward to the far more florid partnership they shared on Gandahar, and helps put some of its eccentricities into better context. As the first of the director’s films since Les Escargots to take place in some odd kind of reality (a hazy, mythographic version of Asia from the imagination of the West) and not some far-off alien planet, we get to see Laloux’s sensibilities brought back to the grounding instincts of terrestrial locales and civilizations, reigned in however slightly by the subtle limitations of representing peoples and places that have actually existed, in some shape or form. Most of all, however, it offers a beautifully personalized depiction of the director’s brand of artistry, creating whole and wholly enchanting environments out of nothing but pen, ink and subtle motion, as well as a defining mission statement on the power of art to evoke and sustain life, even in tyranny. For an animator whose work routinely explored worlds dominated by one form of dystopia after another (Fantastic Planet‘s transcendental Draags, Time Masters‘ various all-powerful political and psychic bodies), the kind of despotism on display in How Wang-Fo Was Saved is not only the most realistic of all his dictatorships, but also the most grounded in human motivations, which helps make the artist’s victory over the Emperor that much more satisfying.


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