Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Speed Limits

I wish you'd tell me what's engraved on that anklet.

Just my name.

As for instance?


Phyllis, huh. I think I like that.

But you're not sure.

I'd have to drive it around the block a couple of times.

Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He'll be in then.


My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?

Yeah, I was. But I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.

There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

How fast was I going, Officer?

I'd say around 90.

Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Suppose it doesn't take.

Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.

That tears it.…. 8:30 tomorrow evening, then.

That's what I suggested.

You'll be here too?

I guess so. I usually am.

Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?

I wonder if I know what you mean.

I wonder if you wonder.

Double Indemnity, screenplay by Billy Wilder, from a novel by James M. Cain

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Interviews

Robert Porfirio interviews Billy Wilder. Here.

On Location

The principals of Love in the Afternoon compare notes. Coop looks bored.

The Marquee (Shameless blog-a-thon plug division)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On Location

Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Billy Wilder grab some lunch during a break in filming The Apartment.

(A shameless plug for the Billy Wilder blog-a-thon - March 1-4, 2007.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And Also Starring...

Mercedes McCambride with James Dean in Giant

“I studied Shakespeare and the classics, and I ended up shooting Joan Crawford and killing a horse that Elizabeth Taylor was in love with. I played the worst harridans, the most hard bitten women, the absolute heavies, and it just about did me in.”

Ah, but what harridans! Mercedes McCambridge’s legacy is a string of villaness roles that are utterly unique. She carried a kind of nasty tom-boy aura around with her, and it infused most of her greatest characters. Her vicious Emma Small in Nicholas Rays’ Johnny Guitar is the toughest person in the film, male or female. Her Luz from Giant, who resents this sophisticated girl that his brother has taken up with. And what to say about her bizarre turn as a gang leader in Orson Welles’ great Touch of Evil? I’m still not 100% sure that that character is a woman. The ultimate heavy was still to come, however – That was her voice-over for the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Other notable McCambridge films include: All the Presidents Men, Cimarron, Suddenly, Last Summer, and A Farewell to Arms.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On Location

Francois Truffaut at work on The 400 Blows.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


When King Vidor made Hallelujah in 1929, he was at the height of his powers. He was only a year removed from his great The Crowd, and just a few more from The Big Parade, his other early masterpiece. Why then, did he decide to make a film with an all-black cast – A film that had no chance of commercial success? The southern-born and bred Vidor had apparently had the idea kicking around his head for some time, and it was success of The Crowd and The Big Parade that earned him the opportunity to finally make it, albeit at a cost. He had to forego a paycheque in order to get the OK.

Pop the DVD into your machine, and you read a disclaimer about how the film reflects the prejudices of its time. The southern blacks aren’t portrayed as boozy, lustful, villains as in D W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, but they are certainly pulled straight out of the mould of the shufflin’ cotton picking black. – An image only slightly less offensive.

The film revolves around a picker named Zeke, and how he is tempted by sin, embodied by the sexy saloon singer Chick and her con-man boyfriend. Chick uses her wiles to lure Zeke into a crooked craps game, and he ends up losing the money he has earned. Even worse, his brother Spunk is fatally wounded in the aftermath.

Zeke is shattered by the tragedy, and while overcome by remorse at Spunk’s funeral, he is born-again, and essentially becomes a preacher right there on the spot. He begins to orate, and the funeral service empties to hear him speak.

The film then skips forward, and Zeke has become a traveling evangelist with a large following. In one of his visits, he meets up with; you guessed it - Chick and her accomplice. They taunt him as he rides down the main street on a mule, and he confronts them violently.

The film centers on the relationship between Chick and Zeke, and how he seems to be unable to resist her. She comes to a prayer meeting, ostensibly to jeer him some more, but she ends up being converted, too. The devout Zeke seems to forget his teachings when Chick is around him, and this is most noticeable in a sequence where he baptizes her, and then decides to carry her off to a nearby tent for some post-ceremony hanky-panky. It’s in this scene that the movie skates most closely to the stereotype of the sex-crazed Negro seen in the Griffith film.

Despite himself, Zeke runs away with Chick and breaks the heart Missy Rose, the good, pure girl who loves him. The film skips forward again, and we see Zeke working in a sawmill and living in a small shack with Chick. They seem happy enough, but the arrival of Chick’s old partner sets tragic events into motion.

Much of Hallelujah is embarrassing by the standards of today. The film actually has lines like “I’m sure gonna get me some cornbread and chitlins today!” and “The Devil’s sure done got a hold on me.” There is hardly a black stereotype that it doesn’t include.

What kind of film is Hallelujah? It’s not a great film; frankly, it’s not even a very good one. It is, however, an important one. It is really the first film made by the major studios to feature all blacks in the cast, and that is no small distinction. As I mentioned at the top of this piece, it was not a good candidate to make any money, and it is to Vidor’s everlasting credit that he worked to get it made. Warts and all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An update on the Wilder Blog-a-thon

Instead of just March 1, it will now run from the 1st to the 4th.