Sunday, 13 January 2019

House of Bamboo (1955)

Director: Samuel Fuller
Writer: Harry Kleiner with additional dialogue by Samuel Fuller
Stars: Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi and Cameron Mitchell

Index: 2019 Centennials.

I’ve reviewed House of Bamboo before, but that was a decade ago and I felt that Robert Stack’s centennial was a good opportunity for me to revisit because I wasn’t as impressed with either his performance or the film as a whole as I expected to be. I enjoyed it much more second time through and I found additional appreciation by following up with the film that inspired it, 1948’s The Street with No Name. That was an old school film noir, shot in 4:3 and in black and white, with an overt message: that the FBI are damn good at what they do and they’re not happy about the return of organised gangsterism. I didn’t even know that “gangsterism” was a word, but, when it’s brought to life by a young Richard Widmark, it’s clearly something to be taken seriously! Two members of that film’s crew revisited it seven years later to reinterpret their work in rather different ways. That’s writer Harry Kleiner, who adapted his basic story to post-war Japan, and cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who expanded his vision into colour and widescreen.

Watching the two movies in succession is a real eye-opener. Kleiner didn’t merely change the names and locations in his story so it would praise the Japanese equivalent of the FBI instead; he reworked it completely to fit a new time and place and restructured the aspects that didn’t gel; the part played here by Shirley Yamaguchi, for instance, couldn’t be more different to the equivalent played by Barbara Lawrence in The Street with No Name. That it’s a better part is beside the point; what’s important is that it’s a much more appropriate part given the other changes made. MacDonald’s work benefits from technical differences. I’d call out his composition of frame and use of light and shadow in the earlier film, but this is something else entirely. House of Bamboo was shot in colour and in CinemaScope, which meant that MacDonald had fully twice as much screen to fill. He did so magnificently, with what critic Keith Uhlich correctly described in Slant as “some of the most stunning examples of widescreen photography in the history of cinema.”

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Noose (1948)

Director: Edmond T. Gréville
Writer: Richard Llewellyn, based on his play of the same name
Stars: Carole Landis, Derek Farr and Joseph Calleia

Index: 2019 Centennials.

Frances Lillian Mary Ridste, better known as Carole Landis, would have been one hundred years old today but, unlike a surprisingly high percentage of those I’ve been covering for my centennial reviews, she didn’t even come close: she committed suicide in 1948, shortly after completing her two final films in the UK. This was the first, released in September, a couple of months after her death in July; the other was The Brass Monkey, which came out in December. She crammed a great deal into her short life, though, starting out her show business career as a hula dancer in a San Francisco nightclub at the age of fifteen, hired only becuse the manager felt sorry for her. After all, she was the youngest of five children, whose father left after her birth, and her mother worked menial jobs to make ends meet. So, after she’d saved a hundred bucks doing her hula dance at the Royal Hawaiian or singing with a dance band, she changed her name to Carole Landis and moved to Hollywood. Carole was an homage to her favourite actress, Carole Lombard.

By the time she made her screen debut, in Gold Diggers of 1937 at the age of only seventeen, she’d already been married twice, to the same gentleman, Irving Wheeler, who had still already become history. The first wedding was in January 1934, when she was only fifteen and Wheeler nineteen, but her mother had it annulled a month later. After gaining permission from her absent father, who lived nearby, they were re-married in August, only for Carole to promptly walk out after three weeks. By the time she began a film career, that whole relationship was over, though neither filed for divorce and Wheeler re-emerged four years later with a $250,000 lawsuit against Busby Berkeley for alienation of affection. His wife had moved up in the world pretty quickly. Relationships weren’t a strong point though. Berkeley did propose but they never married. She did marry Willis Hunt, Jr., a yacht broker, in 1940 but left after two months. Her fourth and fifth marriages, to Capt. Thomas Wallace and W. Horace Schmidlapp, lasted under two years.