Tag Archives: Herbert Marshall

The Moon and Sixpence (1942, Albert Lewin)

The Moon and Sixpence has a number of serious problems, all of them the fault of director and screenwriter Lewin. As a director, while never spectacular, Lewin manages some competence and ambition. He tells Moon and Sixpence in a series of summarized flashbacks. Those flashbacks, narratively and budgetarily effective, end up being the film’s undoing.

The film opens with a text scroll informing the viewer it is about a famous painter, Charles Strickland. Charles Strickland, however, is not a real painter. He’s fictionalization of Gauguin. The source novel is first person, from the perspective of that novel’s author, W. Somerset Maugham. Herbert Marshall plays that “character,” only he’s not playing Maugham, he’s got a different name. So it was always supposed to be about a fictionalized version of real person, told by a fictionalized version of an author, but Lewin’s adaptation presents the fictional painter as a real person and the real author as a fictional one.

George Sanders plays the painter, Herbert Marshall plays the author. Even though the film starts with Marshall directly addressing the viewer about his plans to write a history of Sanders, Lewin eventually abandons Marshall entirely. It’s a problem since it’s supposed to be him telling the story… and it gets even worse when there’s an end text scroll to wrap things up. Why’d we need Marshall?

Well, Marshall’s needed because someone needs to do the acting. Sanders is good, but he’s barely in the film. He’s the subject of it, after all, and it’s structured as Marshall’s pursuit of him. There are only a handful of bad performances–but two of them, Doris Dudley and Molly Lamont, are extremely important because they’re the women in Sanders’s life. Lewin’s not a good director of actors; he tries to avoid them with the summarized flashbacks. Lots of voiceovers from Marshall, which eventually give way to voiceovers from people telling their story to Marshall.

A flashback in a flashback in a flashback.

Most of the film relies on Marshall, with occasional bursts of energy from Sanders. Maybe more than an hour of it (Moon and Sixpence runs ninety minutes). There are significant supporting cast members–Dudley and Steven Geray–but Marshall and Sanders are the salient points. Geray’s a caricature. Dudley doesn’t even get to be a caricature (similar to Lewin’s handling of Lamont). It should all be about Sanders, except since Lewin’s not adept at directing performances–not even good ones–Marshall ends up carrying the picture. He’s around the most.

Until the end. In the end, when the action moves to Tahiti, both Sanders and Marshall become detached thanks to the flashback structure. Instead of Marshall telling Sanders’s story, Marshall is telling his own story of hearing about Sanders. Maybe if Albert Bassermann and Florence Bates were better–both are mostly fine, Bates is even fun, but the parts are way too thin–their narratives would be more effective. Or maybe Lewin’s finally just ran out of rope as he lengthens the narrative distance more and more from Sanders.

Either way, just when Lewin needs to build something up for Sanders, he cuts and runs. Moon and Sixpence comes up short.

Eric Blore’s got an amusing, if pointless small part. Elena Verdugo is almost good as another woman in Sanders’s life. She’s certainly better than Dudley and Lamont; maybe she just ignored Lewin’s direction.

John F. Seitz’s photography is fine (he does well with the many projection shots neccesarily to put the cast in Paris and Tahiti). Dimitri Tiomkin’s music is a little much. Maybe if the film were more effective, the music would match, but the film’s ineffective and the music just draws attention to its failings.

The garrish Richard L. Van Enger editing doesn’t help things either.

The Moon and Sixpence seems like it should’ve given Sanders and Marshall great roles, but it doesn’t. Lewin inartfully treats Marshall like a narrative device and Sanders like a guest star. It especially disappoints with the failed conclusion, just because the film had been successfully coasting on its leads for so long, all Lewin needed to do was not botch the third act too much.

But he does botch it too much. Way too much.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Lewin; screenplay by Lewin, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Richard L. Van Enger; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Gordon Wiles; produced by David L. Loew; released by United Artists.

Starring Herbert Marshall (Geoffrey Wolfe), Steven Geray (Dirk Stroeve), George Sanders (Charles Strickland), Doris Dudley (Blanche Stroeve), Molly Lamont (Mrs. Amy Strickland), Elena Verdugo (Ata), Florence Bates (Tiare Johnson), Albert Bassermann (Dr. Coutras), and Eric Blore (Capt. Nichols).


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Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch)

Trouble in Paradise features some great filmmaking. Here, Lubitsch runs wild with the passage of time–there’s a great sequence with various clocks marking the minutes, but there’s a lot of carefully orchestrated fades as well. The film opens with an excellent mixed shot–again, careful fading–moving from one side of a hotel to another. It goes from actors to a model to actors. It’s exquisite.

I almost forgot Lubitsch’s transition between the first and second acts–he goes to a radio advertisement (seeing the announcer deliver it into the microphone), then does an actual advertisement for the product, then transition to the makers of the product–all before revealing if it has any bearing on the story. It’s a gleeful move. These techniques make it almost impossible to recognize Trouble in Paradise‘s origin as a play.

Being Lubitsch, his direction of his actors is, no shock, perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Herbert Marshall give a better performance. He and Miriam Hopkins have a half dozen fantastic scenes together. They even make the final scene work, even though it really shouldn’t. But the film has three leads–Kay Francis is the third–and Hopkins gets the boot for much of the second act. It’s impossible to forget her, but the film practically begs for the viewer to do it. Trouble in Paradise‘s trouble is its genre–it’s an infidelity comedy. Unlike the more sophisticated members of this genre, Trouble leaves Hopkins in something of a lurch. Worse, it never corrects its perspective. Hopkins is always the primary female protagonist, which makes Marshall into a heel. Even worse, it never gives much room for Francis to make an honest impression. She goes from being the mark to being the other woman with a nicely edited sequence involving the butler never being able to figure out if she’s in her room or in Marshall’s.

The film’s third act is something of a narrative disaster. The film’s been building to it all through the second act, but since the script doesn’t love triangle… it seems possible it will be avoided. There are countless opportunities for it to go the other way (I’m not really sure where it would go, but it’d have been somewhere creative, I’m sure) and as they all fall away, it gets kind of tedious. The film doesn’t turn out the way I expected, but only because the third act’s constant oscillation confused the hell out of me.

In the end, Trouble in Paradise is almost a better viewing experience than a finished product. It’s fantastic throughout, only to fail to deliver in the last quarter. It’s got the great Marshall and Hopkins performances. Francis is quite good, even if her character is poorly written. Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton–and Robert Greig as the butler–are excellent in supporting roles. The script’s approach to Horton in the late second act, however, serves as ominous foreshadowing of the problems to follow. C. Aubrey Smith has a smaller role and is solid, but much like Francis, there isn’t a character.

I was thinking my high expectations for the film might have lead to undue harshness, but then I realized the film raised those expectations… I don’t even think I properly conveyed my disappointment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch; screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, based on an adaption by Grover Jones of a play by Aladar Laszlo; director of photography, Victor Milner; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Miriam Hopkins (Lily), Kay Francis (Mariette Colet), Herbert Marshall (Gaston Monescu), Charles Ruggles (The Major), Edward Everett Horton (François Filiba), C. Aubrey Smith (Adolph J. Giron) and Robert Greig (Jacques the Butler).


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Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).