Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Uncle Kevin's Film Festival: part the first

Every festival needs a theme so, after next to no thought whatsoever, I thought it might be interesting to use a few movies to explore the disruption of The Natural Order Of Things. This theme's commonly enough explored or exploited in horror, science-fiction and spy movies — these are all dependent on the paranoia lurking in our souls to work, after all — so I thought I'd approach it from a more typically-mainstream point of view, just to demonstrate that the world is a more uncertain place than we hope.

The first four films I've chosen sort-of explore the nature of identity, personal and/or social, but I'm not going to belabour the idea.

And naturally enough, I'll start my exploration of the disruption of The Natural Order Of Things with "The Philadelphia Story," a movie which you might justifiably think of as a celebration of the status quo...

Title credit: The Philadelphia Story

This is the Voice of Doom calling.
Your days are numbered, to the seventh son of the seventh son

I won't reprise the plot: it's a classic film; it's on TCM often enough; you can go to your local library and look it up in Halliwell's and it's readily available on DVD at reasonable prices. If you haven't seen it, I envy you the treat of first experience. It's stylish, smart, lovingly-tooled, lavishly set and has a wonderful soundtrack. The script is matched by the cast and choosing only one choice moment is like deciding which is your favourite child. All this and Katherine Hepburn in a wet swimming costume.

Just as much as this is a story about Tracy Lord 'beginning to find out the truth about herself,' it's the story of Macaulay ("Mike") Connor's finding that some blue-bloods have some good in the after all. Which would sort of fit with the theme. But the clincher is the film itself: by 1940 the format of the screwball comedy had been pretty much well-established: random variable enters complacent environment and, after much upset and tumult, the new order emergeth. The random variable was generally either "the little guy" or else some lovely but dizzy female who pitches some lifelong batchelor on his ear*. If Mike got the girl in the end then this would be an example of a good screwball comedy. If the "working man made good" got the girl then it would be a typical Hollywood social comedy. But neither do.

The screwball comedy pattern is subverted: a third random element enters the complacent environment and, after much upset and tumult, the old order emergeth. A turn-up for the books.

poster: After The Thin ManAre you packing?
Yes dear, I'm putting away this liquor

Our next treat is "After The Thin Man," wherein Nick and Nora again solve a series of murders whilst sinking enough alcohol to give George Best and Oliver Reed pause. The Thin Man series is a joy (even the embarassingly hip "Song of the Thin Man" has much to commend it). "The Thin Man" is the better film, "Son of the Thin Man" is enormous fun, but "After the Thin Man" fits our theme best and is a good watch, too. You'll notice that Nora's more comfortable with Nick's lowlife friends than Nick is with Nora's family (but then again, you can choose your friends).

I hadn't intended to have a Jimmy Stewart leitmotif going on in here but here he is. And he's important to the theme. And I'm not going to spoil the film by telling you how.

What sort of sailor doesn't know his starboard from his portside?

Alistair Sim and Gordon HarkerAnd so to "Inspector Hornleigh On Holiday." What? Who? Inspector Hornleigh was the star of a radio series in the 1930s, translated to the silver screen thrice in the form of the great Gordon Harker. These films are better than "quota quickies" but aren't really the big-deal British Feature Film. And like many other films in this grey area they have much to commend them: a good cast of light character actors, an economy of plot and script and unobstrusively good camera work. They have no more intention than to provide and hour-and-a-half's entertainment, which is nice.
Gordon Harker can usually be seen cast in supporting rôles as surly, but generally comic, low-life burglars, pickpockets and the like. Casting him as the keenly-intelligent star detective is a great move, especially as he's teamed up with the wonderful Alistair Sim as bumbling Sergeant Bingham. The interplay between them is superb, especially in the opening scenes which is all too evocative of the traditional English seaside boarding house (with use of cruet extra).

Yes, of course the plot's implausible. Yes of course the whole thing's unrealistic. That's the whole point, God damn it: it's not bloody Tolstoy.

Finally, as a change of pace and a lead-up to the next session, a chase movie, "Bimbo's Initiation".

Wanna be a member?

Bimbo terrorised by initiatesBimbo's the strange dog-like figure who featured in Fleischer Studio cartoons, displacing Koko the clown (star of the "Out of the Inkwell" series) and destined to be displaced himself by Betty Boop. This is a terrifying cartoon as Bimbo desperately tries to escape the clutches of a sinsiter gang of bizzarely-dressed ruffians. The perspective shifts, the instability of situations; nothing can be trusted, not even your shadow. All you can do is run...

Luckily this is the session with the happy endings.

* Note to lovely but dizzy females: I am on the market. Not very marketable, mind, but I can cook a bit.


Gadjo Dilo said...

See, I told you that Kevin would have quite a lot to tell us! A truly interesting and informed selection. The only one I've seen (and I'm probably not alone in this) is The Philadelphia Story and I do remember it being very stylish and fueling my liking for Louis Armstrong. I'd never thought of it as subversive, but I suppose giving the gentry any credit had become "different" by 1940.

No Good Boyo said...

Same here. There's some real dereglement de tous les senses going on there.

I can see Bimbo becoming young Arianrhod's favourite cartoon some time soon.

As for Alastair Sim, there ought to be a series of statues of him somewhere. I like him best in Laughter in Paradise, but these Hornleigh films look tempting.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Many thanks both! I try my best. Let's see how I do with the next batch. I hope it won't disappoint.

I missed a trick with 'Laughter In Paradise.' I agree about the need for a statue to Alistair Sim. Especially after having just driven past the Roger Miller Museum in Oklahoma.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Laughter in Paradise? Inspector Hornleigh? Once again my knowledge of old British movies seems inadequate. (I'm wracking my brains to remember what I was doing on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid; sadly, it wasn't watching films like these).

The Roger Miller Museum in Oklahoma? The chap who wrote King Of Road, and the quite unbelievably ridiculous "top ten hit" England Swings?? Is there a connection to Alistair Sim?

Kevin Musgrove said...

No connection, but if Miller can have a museum then Alistair Sim should merit a statue.