Dorothy Malone, the Character Actor who Almost Stole the Show in The Big Sleep

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep”, 1956. Warner Brothers

 
Howard Hawks was a born storyteller and an “invisible director”, François Truffaut called him, because “his camera work is never apparent to the eye”. He was also a shrewd spotter of new talent. He “discovered or used effectively for the first time on the screen many actors,” says Todd McCarthy in Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, from Paul Muni, Lauren Bacall and Rita Hayworth, to Montgomery Clift, James Caan and Dorothy Malone. The Big Sleep may be a Bogie and Bacall film and the film was clearly hewed to become a “suitably amorous and balanced vehicle for a Bogart and Bacall” after the success of To Have and Have Not, but being a noir film, we would be remiss if we didn’t look deeper. Especially at the supporting cast, the character actors who usually drive a film, especially a film noir. Because “hell, we didn’t know what film noir was in those days. We were just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars got all the lights. We lit our sets with cigarette butts,” Robert Mitchum said before he himself became one of the stars.

Noir films were films for actors, not stars. The directors and cinematographers had to be inventive and innovative (it’s where many of them cut their teeth in and created their filmmaking style) because the budgets were limited and the time-frames were short. They presented a world somewhere between pulp fiction and existentialism where life had low values and an even lower running time, a world where love is replaced by obsession and fatal desires, but found a streak of poetry in the light coming out of a street pole in a dark alley or in the smoke of the omnipresent cigar, captured the interest with an odd angle, a glowing haunted face or a sharp line of dialogue, got under the viewer’s skin with deadly femmes fatales. They were made on Poverty Row, but they revelled in their cheapness, creating their own language, honing such a distinctive and definitive cinematic style “where one did not exist before”. It’s more than a genre, it’s called making movies. Maybe that’s why, of all the genres, the classic noir films are those that still hold our interest more than any others. It’s that “making” thing, the realness, the true grit, the unique experience we are allowed of experiencing our dark side but only from a safe distance.

And the supporting actors were the gold mines of film noir. The Thelma Ritters (can you imagine Pickup on South Street and Rear Window without her?), the Elisha Cooks Jr., the Dorothy Malones.
 
 

“You begin to interest me, vaguely.”
Dorothy Malone to Bogart, The Big Sleep

 
 
The Big Sleep follows private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) as he picks his way through a corrupt labyrinth of gamblers, blackmailers, pornographers, hired thugs and murderers, who have attached themselves to the rich, elderly General Sternwood, and his two daughters, Vivian (Lauren Bacall) and Carmen (Martha Vickers). It is one of the classics of film noir, heavy on great dialogue that simply doesn’t let up, it has wit and verve and style and an intricate and fast-paced plot, and where the time of day is appropriately night. It is a “deeply mysterious puzzle in which everyone is suspicious and most are guilty of something,” writes Todd McCarthy, and when the film ends you remain puzzled. I personally revel in its intricate, labyrinthine plot. And Dorothy Malone’s character falls perfectly into place.

She is the bookseller who makes a pass at Bogart. She almost steels the show of the entire film. It is her part that is truly memorable. It was Bogart and Bacall who the audience were waiting to see on screen, and on whom the producers placed their bets, but the surprise came from Dorothy Malone. The combination of mystery, lively curiosity and liberating departure from the faux feminine ideal that she projects grabs your attention, takes you by surprise. And isn’t that why we go to the movies in the first place, what we hope to experience? “For the bookseller, Hawks was delighted with a nineteen-year-old Texas newcomer Dorothy Malone. Hawks said that the scene was never intended to be taken as far as it went, but they were able to do so simply because “the girl was so damn good-looking. It taught me a great lesson, that if you make a good scene, if we could do something that was fun, the audience goes right along with it.” Like Bacall, Malone was so nervous doing her first important scene that her hands shook while she attempted to get the drink, prompting Hawks to have the bottom of the glass filled with lead so she could handle it.”

Dorothy Malone, with her character here and other films that would follow, didn’t conform to stereotypes. She doesn’t even get a name in The Big Sleep, she is just the Acme Book Shop proprietress. But she breaths life into her character, just like Gloria Graham or Lizabeth Scott did in their noir roles. She doesn’t conform. She has presence, and this has nothing to do with the costumes she wears. It’s her wit and crafty personality, not her looks, that make for a female’s best guns. And she makes a pass at Bogie while talking about books… and then closes up shop for him. But maybe that shouldn’t surprise us, especially in a Howard Hawks film. The Hawksian woman is just as much part of Hawks’ universe as his tough men are.

 
 

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Denim on Film Noir: Lovers on the Run in “Tomorrow Is Another Day”

Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in “Tomorrow Is Another Day“, 1951. Warner Brothers

 

Bill Clark and Cay Higgins only have each other to rely on. They are lovers on the run, even if it’s an obsessive love that they are united by. But we know something Bill doesn’t. Cay has hidden the truth from Bill and, for us, the viewers, to know that is to know that they in fact are separate from one another. Therein lies the greatest noir sensibility of Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) has just been released from prison, after serving 18 years for murdering his violent father. His release is observed by a newspaperman who is after an exclusive story. He befriends Clark without revealing his intentions and then betrays him and runs a discrediting story on him. From now on, Clark feels cornered and watched by everybody, tensed around everyone. He is always on the watch-out. The viewer feels this tension, too. Even when he enters a dance room and feels uneasy because he is being watched because he can’t dance. He is like an animal released from the cage who no longer knows what to do in liberty.
 

Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in “Tomorrow Is Another Day“, 1951. Warner Brothers

 
He meets Cay Higgins (Ruth Roman), one of the dime-a-dozen girls who make a living at the dance club. Things are going good until Cay’s cop/pimp boyfriend Conover (Hugh Sanders) shows up, starts a fight with Bill, who is knocked unconscious, and then Conover is shot in self-defense by Cay. She lets Bill believe he shot the cop. The fugitives leave New York and settle down among lettuce pickers in California, but their past catches up with them. And the secret Cay harbors the entire film has caught up with her conscious, too. Throughout the entire film there is this shift of focus between Bill and Cay, the antihero who is tormented by his guilt and anxiety, the conflicted femme fatale who falls victim to her own self.
 

Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in “Tomorrow Is Another Day“, 1951. Warner Brothers

 

This transformation is clearly showed in the clothes they wear – Milo Anderson was responsible for the wardrobe. When we meet Cay, she is dressed in glamorous gowns and she has platinum blonde hair, perfectly coiffed. Bill is wearing a suit, trying to fit in in an adults’ world he has long missed the start on. They change looks when they flee the police. Jeans, white shirt and denim jacket for her (and plain dresses when she’s around the house). She dies her hair black. Jeans, white t-shirt and black leather jacket for him. Not only does this change of looks have a narrative motive (they’re hiding from the police), but now they do look like a proletarian fugitive couple. Which they are.

It was the 1950s. Blue jeans were emerging as a kind of uniform for the ordinary man, for the working class man, but also as an identity staple, the symbol of a generational revolution. Marlon Brando had a lot to do with that. It was the undesigned outfit that Lucinda Ballard chose – T-shirt and blue jeans – for him to wear in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a look that used to be his acting costume (completed by a ragged jacket and tennis shoes) from his theater days, when he started to work with Stella Adler, prompting her to ask “Who’s the bum?,” when he entered her class. The look ultimately became part of the culture, “the new symbol of American maleness”, an urgently desired new beginning, a badge of cool, a symbol of identity, the defining fashion moment of the decade, and, most importantly, fashion that was accessible to all, regardless of the economic reality in which people lived. The economic reality in Felix E. Feist’s Tomorrow Is Another Day is poor, and it’s this economic reality – the poor people Cay and Bill find refuge at, forced to do anything for a dime – that pushes the outcome of the film.

 

Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in “Tomorrow Is Another Day“, 1951. Warner Brothers

 

Nicholas Ray had a lot to do with the look of the 1950s, too. His poetic film noir They Live by Night (1948) was his first feature film and the first in a series of films of hard-hitting social realism that treated the theme of the confused and misunderstood American outsiders and outcasts, and paved the way for decades to come of couples-on-the-run noirs and thrillers. His film introduced its couple with a written line: “This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in.” Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) are an innocent couple in their early twenties. When Bowie, a fugitive who has broken out of prison, after an unjust sentence, with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie, each sees something in the other that no one else ever has, they fall in love despite the circumstances that put them on the wrong side of adulthood and start to hope for a life different than the one they were born into, trying to break loose from both a society and parents who either don’t understand them or refuse to try.

The same line – “This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in.” – goes for just half of the couple in Tomorrow Is Another Day: Bill Clark. He was a child when he was thrown in jail. Now he is an adult unequipped for the world he has once again been thrown into. But his jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket certainly suit him better than his suit. Furthermore, they conceal and protect him from the outer world. In They Live By Night, Farley Granger’s preference for the leather jacket instead of a suit questioned the place of the individual, and of the teenager, in the American society. “One thing you’ve got to learn, kid,” one of the gang tells Bowie, “you’ve got to look and act like other people.” And he takes him to buy him a suit. The leather jacket was his safeguard against an adult world he knew he didn’t belong to.

Cay Higgins, on the other hand, is well versed in the shader kind of life, blasé and willing to fight with any means for survival. Underneath all that though, maybe they are somehow able to see in each other a way out. She certainly seems more at home in her jeans and white shirt than in her femme fatale black dresses. Free, at last. That’s the impression you get when you see them hitchhiking. Eventually they even come to love each other, but Cay’s dishonesty, not society, doesn’t allow them to function happily. And our knowledge of Cay lying to Bill and of him not having in fact anyone to rely on, suffuses the film with the noir ethos that unfortunately the ending isn’t able to sustain.
 
 

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The undesigned outfit, the new symbol of American maleness:
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Read Instead…in Print

Read instead… in print is about a good book about cinema or filmmakers. No discursive, pretentious analyses, no verbose scrutiny. Because the idea is to invite you to read the book, not read about it here. But instead of using social media, I use my journal. Back to basics. Take it as a wish to break free of over-reliance on social media (even if it’s just for posting a photo of a good book) for presenting my work, cultural finds and interests. These are things to be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces in a more substantial and meaningful way than showing them in the black hole of Instagram thronged with an audience with a short attention span. This is also a look through my voluminous collection of books about film that I use as research in my adamant decision to rely less and less on the online and more on more on print materials.
 
 

Read instead…in print #18

Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies is the kind of book you can’t just leaf through. You read every word and you do it on one reading, just like the director says he always used to read the scripts – because “a script can have a very different feeling if reading it is interrupted”. And then you come back to read entire passages to be able to take it all in. I don’t like the word “review”. For books or films. I think you have to have a certain amount of arrogance in you to be able to do that. I don’t have it. Or you should know everything there is to know about films, more than the filmmakers making them. Nobody does, unless they are François Truffaut or Martin Scorsese. So I don’t analise movies. I talk about them. Quite passionately, quite often. Because I love films. So if you are a filmgoer, if you like movies just a little bit, if it is just one film that you’ve ever liked, then you should read this book. Roger Ebert said it best: “Invaluable… I am sometimes asked if there is one book a filmgoer could read to learn more about how movies are made and what to look for while watching them. This is the book.”
 
 
image

Directors take risks. The critics and the audiences don’t.

 

It’s all in the preparation. Do mountains of preparation kill spontaneity? Absolutely not. It’s just the opposite. When you know what you are doing, you feel much freer to improvise.

 

Dialogue is like anything else in movies. It can be a crutch or,
when used well, it can enhance, deepen, and reveal.

 

Good work comes from passion.

 

The reality of the movie insider has nothing to do with the
reality of an audience watching a movie for the first time.

 

Clothes are important.

 

Pictures are not made in the cutting room, which is the cliché
about editing, but they can be ruined there.

 

There is no way critics can know how well or poorly a film was edited.
Only three people know how good or bad the editing was:
the editor, the director, and the cameraman.

 

Sometimes an image is so meaningful
that it encompasses everything the movie is about.

 

The music must say something that nothing else in the picture is saying.
But when you can’t find a musical score that adds to the movie, don’t use one.
There was no score used in Dog Day Afternoon, The Hill, or Network.

 
 
Photos: (clockwise, from top right: “Twelve Angry Men”, 1957. MGM / “Network”, 1976. MGM, United Artists / Classiq Journal

 
 

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The short film is a space for infinite freedom:
Interview with filmmaker Nicolas Bianco-Levrin

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“The Short Film is a Space for Infinite Freedom”: Interview with Filmmaker Nicolas Bianco-Levrin

Celui qui domptait les nuages“, 2015. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. Prototype Productions

 
 

The sprightliness of the reimagined story of Little Red Riding Hood.

A dark, atmospheric cautionary tale set in the slumps of Louisiana on the jazzy score of Adrien Chevalier.

A little mouse who lives among books and their extraordinary adventures and who, when the candle burns out and he runs out of matches, must take on his own adventure to find a spark to light up his imagination again.

The universe of Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville’s animated short films is infinite. I loved diving into their cinematic universe, especially that I feel that short films still dare to be creative where feature films fail. Nicolas and Julie’s films have the courage and brilliance to touch our imagination, hearts and minds, often without one single word. Insights, values and vision are expressed with humour, or dark humour, or gentleness, or more realism than many live-action films. Animation has this ability of clarifying the essence of storytelling, boiling the image making and narration to storybook-moments and gestures. There is not a wasted moment. It has our full attention. And, above all, it never runs out of that spark that lights up our imagination.

I have spoken with Nicolas Bianco-Levrin about how he creates a single world from a multitude of ideas, why he prefers short stories, and his unique collaboration with Julie Rembauville.
 
 

“Kiki la plume”, 2020. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. Prototypes Productions

 

You made Kiki la plume (Kiki the Feather) in 2020, but only recently have I had the chance to watch it, so I would like to start with it. Can you tell us how it came to be, what inspired it?

During the 2020 lockdown, we found ourselves stuck at home with plenty of time to complete projects. We took the opportunity to write a short film. We had access to the rooftops of our building. Facing our house, there are buildings typical of Paris built in the 1920s. During the confinement, pets reappeared in the city. We wrote a story about these animals on the theme of freedom. During the lockdown, it was the humans who found themselves in a cage.
 

How do you manage to condense your ideas into a short film?

First, we list all our ideas for each film or subject we want to make. Then we choose a single idea that will serve as a guideline throughout the production of the film. The other ideas put aside allow us to feed our thinking, to develop the universe, to deepen the characters.
 
 
 

“The short film is a space of infinite freedom.”

 
 
 
Why do you prefer short stories?

The short film is a space of infinite freedom. There is certainly less funding for short films. This constraint means that there is less pressure from funders who support us in the writing and production stages without constraining us. The short film allows each film to invent new universes, new ways of making.
 

There is no dialogue in Kiki la plume, which truly reinforces the theme of the film.

Many of our films are without dialogue. They travel more easily around the world. When there is no dialogue, it forces us to focus on storytelling flowing out of situations and character acting. Even in our films with dialogue, we prefer to replace certain lines with actions. This reinforces the rhythm of the film.
 
 

The Kroak book series. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin

 
 

Many of your books are also without words. I like that, from the very reason that they leave room for the reader’s imagination. And I like how you add light touches to complete the story, without words, like drawing a musical note near Kroak, for example. Can you tell us a little about your Kroak series?

The Kroak series began as a series of short stories that I drew in children’s books. I drew a scrapbook every month, telling the stories of an Inuit in his world. Every morning Kroak gets up and goes hunting. The character arrives in an all-white square and something unexpected happens. The scenarios essentially play on eccentric situations, where garden gnomes mysteriously appear on the ice shelf, or Kroak travels inside the whales, or evil spirits burn the comic book page. The illustrator must then intervene to make the character reappear. This last situation is a direct reference to the Italian series La Linea, by Osvaldo Cavandoli, from the 70s.
 
 

“Les Mots”, 2011. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. éditions Lirabelle

 
 
Book or film? Fixed or animated? How do you choose to tell a story in images? That’s what your book, Histoire en images, is also about.

Throughout the years, I have worked for different institutions on children’s literature: Institut Charles Perrault, Ricochet, Center Paris Lecture. I also wrote a column in a magazine specialising in children’s literature: Griffon. In this section, I analysed the work of illustrators who were interested in animated cinema. At the time, bridges between children’s literature and animated cinema were quite scarce. I had co-founded a journal specialising in graphic literature, Hors Cadre[s], hoping to be able to explore this subject further, but I was unable to do so. Promoting the work of other authors and analysing their techniques allowed me to submit my own work as an author.

Then, in 2012, I left this job to travel for 3 years with a group of artists. During these years, I had a lot of time to carry out book and film projects. During the days I progressed on my projects and in the evenings I reflected on my practice. I wrote a book that anylises the similarities and differences between children’s literature and animated cinema. This book focuses on the design and production of stories in pictures. This ranges from the stages of research and creation of the characters, to the writing of the synopsis which occur in the making of both books and films. It is the timing of the storyboard that really differs between the two mediums.
 
 

Petite étincelle”, 2019. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville

 
 
So what lead you to animation?

I met Julie (ed. note: Julie Rembauville, his close collaborator) in high school. Julie wanted to become a scriptwriter and I hoped to do comics. Animation was a type of cinema that particularly spoke to us and it was a type of writing that was common to our two passions (fiction and comics). We made a first animated film which we started in 2002 and finished two years later. This film was made in volume. It took us a very long time to create the sets and the characters. Afterwards, we made cut-out paper films, allowing films to be made more quickly and thus to accumulate experience. In 2012, we produced our first animated film with Filomage studios.
 
 
 

“In animated film, we have only two limits: time and imagination.”

 
 
 
Some people assume animation is only for kids and families, and it’s not. But just like children’s books, about which many children’s books writers say (and they are right) that they are not just for children, I find that, in Kiki la plume, for example, you teach through a funny, light touch about the realities of life. What do you find the most fascinating about animation?

In animation, anything is possible. We can make elephants fly, move mountains, go to the moon, eat at a the same table with the pirates, tame clouds… In animated film, we have only two limits: time and imagination. Production takes very long. At the moment, we are working on a 45-minute film and we have to do around 35,000 drawings. In this film, we have pigeons making a musical, an earthworm playing the kazou, a scooter flying in the middle of a city.
 
 

“Attention au loup!”, 2019. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. Prototype Productions

 
 
Your film Attention au loup! (Beware the Wolf!) is only 56 seconds long and in that short time you were able to create a very funny reinterpretation of a classic story. What made you choose that particular story?

Julie and I have been organising short film festivals for 20 years. We started by organising a festival of student and independent short films that lasted 15 years. Then, for another 5 years, we organised the 7 Petits Cailloux festival near Reims, in France. Each year, we created the title credits for the film sessions. One year, the theme for the poster was the wolf. The credits lasted 40 seconds. We had chosen a universal story, which children of all ages know so that they can easily immerse themselves into the story. Little Red Riding Hood has imposed itself on us. In order to turn the festival credits into a movie, we added an 8-second shot at the end.
 

Some of your films are in colour, some are not, like Une Histoire de Jeannot (A Story by Jeannot), or Celui qui domptait les nuages (The One Who Tamed the Clouds). How do you decide on that? Does a certain type of story call for a certain visual style?

Julie and I have made 38 films together and I drew 27 books. With each new project, I look for the graphic universe that best suits the story. In the case of Une Histoire de Jeannot, it is about the life of a young boy who will cross the world in 1871 during the Paris Commune and who will return to France in 1936 during the Popular Front. For this large historical fresco, I was inspired by 19th century press cartoons. The illustrations in these journals were drawn in pencil and printed in lithography. It was necessary to adapt the technique of lithography to animated cinema.
 
 

“Une histoire de Jeannot”, 2018. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. La Luna Productions

 
 
You have a very close collaboration with Julie Rembauville and I feel she is just as much part of this interview as you are. How does your partnership work?

For nearly 24 years, we’ve been making our books, movies, and everything else together. We each write stories in turn. The one who writes the screenplay directs the project, the other one assists him/her in bringing the film to fruition. I take care of all the graphic design part: characters and backgrounds. We set up the scenes together. We both do animation. Finally, Julie will manage all the sound part.
 

Speaking of sound and music, the score is such an important part of a feature film. Is it the same with short films? When does music come in in your films? Do you ever sketch or write with a particular piece of music in your head?

For each film project, we think of the whole soundtrack at the time of writing the story. In animated film, and especially in comedy, the rhythm must be finely worked out. We first seek to create a solid rhythmic structure for the story and each of the actions. Most often, the music is created after the animation of the film. But sometimes we have the music beforehand, which carries us a lot throughout the writing and production.
 
 

“We think of the whole soundtrack at the time of writing the story.”

 
 

I have to bring up the music in Vieille Peau/Old Hag. It’s absolutely brilliant and I loved the whole dark story set in Louisiana. It’s a great cautionary tale. What made you choose Adrien Chvelier for the music?

Adrien Chevalier has composed the music for 9 of our films. He has a keen sense of the synergy between image and sound. He offers different musical directions that can bring another dimension to the story. Adrien came to help us on the set of our first animated film, in 2002. At the time, he took a long-forgotten violin out of storage. In just two years, he had developed a very rich musical culture and an extraordinary sense of composition.
 
 

“Vieille Peau”, 2020. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. La Luna Productions

 
 
You were mentioning the film you are working on at the moment. When will it be out and where can we watch it? And how can the wide public see short films?

At the moment, we are working on the production of a 45-minute animated musical Christmas story. The film tells the story of Abdou, a young boy who lives in a somewhat sad suburb and who dreams of going to the stars. He is trying to invent a rocket engine. To pay for his engine parts, he delivers pizzas. One Christmas Eve, he meets Santa Claus. In real life, his name is Marcel and the old man is worn out, he is waiting for retirement. After a stupid scooter accident, Marcel will not be able to ensure his Christmas deliveries and Abdou will have to impersonate Santa Claus.

​Xbo Films is producing the short. The film will be released on Canal+ in December 2023. A cinema release could arrive in December 2024. In addition, the film will travel to festivals. We are also working on TV releases in other countries. For now, we have completed 4,800 drawings, there are only 30,200 left to do.
 

Thank you, Nicolas, for taking us on this cinematic journey.
 
 

Website: nicolasbianco.fr

 
 

“Empreintes” children’s book. Nicolas Bianco-Levrin. éditions Lettr’Ange

 
 

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October Newsletter: On True Originators and Tarnished Angels


 
 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 
 
Pépé le Moko is a wanted man. He is far away from home, hiding with his gang of thieves in Algiers, where he is under the investigation of the local police inspector. But on the streets of Casbah, he is safe. When a beautiful playgirl arrives in town, he starts to recall his happier past in Paris and risks being lured out of his hideout.

Pépé le Moko cleared the way for that iconic example of the classical Hollywood style, Casablanca”, writes Charles Drazin in the book French Cinema. Casablanca is the classical film that works only in Hollywood terms, it is a stylised version of a better, more authentic, more original film. Should I also mention Algiers, the Hollywood remake of Pépé le Moko, directed by John Cromwell who “would run a scene from the original and insist we do it exactly that way”, as Charles Boyer who played Jean Gabin’s role, recalled? Then Algiers “served as the benchmark for what everyone hoped Casablanca would be.”

Shot in Algiers, Pépé le Moko shows “a naturalistic fidelity to character and situation” (unlike Casablanca, which operates “on the level of myth and fable, taking us on a moral journey of self-sacrifice and redemption” – the good old, successful Hollywood formula). It haunts you with those shots of the labyrinthian streets of Casbah and white rooftops reminding of the German expressionistic (built-in in those cases) settings. It doesn’t transform its leading man into a hero or anti-hero, but shows him as a flawed yet sympathetic character. He is plausible as an individual. It’s so much more realistic and easier to relate to an imperfect man than to a system-made hero or a universally-recognisable villain. All that being said, it is about the pleasure of watching a good film, someone’s story, without being served a moral, patriotic or any other kind of lesson.

Jean Gabin’s Pépé le Moko is one of those tragic victims of society, a character he was identified with in the films of the 1930s, the French cinema of poetic realism. Unluck plays a big role in his character’s life. It is usually unluck who puts him on the wrong side of society. It is unluck that makes him fall unhappily in love with the wrong woman. It is emotion that drives him and his faith is dictated by his emotions. But his exterior, his manner, his profession is tough and unsentimental, and it is this contradiction of terms that make Gabin the actor so magnificent.

 
 

“If I were an architect and had to build a monument to cinema,
I would place a statue of Duvivier above the entrance.
This great technician, this rigorist was a poet.”

Jean Renoir

 
 

Image to the right: Pépé le Moko, 1937. Paris Films

 

Other viewing

The Tarnished Angels, 1957
Douglas Sirk

“One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labeled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction,“ pioneering aviator Beryl Markham wrote in her book West with the Night, recounting the early frontier of flying at just the same time the story in the film takes place. I mentioned this quote when I wrote about another film, by Howard Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings, from 1939.

Douglas Sirk’s film, The Tarnished Angels, is from almost two decades later, 1957, but the story takes place right after WWI, just as Howard Hawks’. This is again from the days of pioneering aviators. It’s also about a daredevil pilot who has forgotten about everything (love, family, friends – although he has a wife who would do anything for him, a son who venerates him and a best friend who is his faithful mechanic) but how to fly.

Roger Schumann (Robert Stack) is the pilot, a former WWI fighter pilot, who never wanted to do anything but fly. He now flies around pylons at air shows. LaVerne (Dorothy Malone), his wife, does parachute demonstrations. And Jiggs (Jack Carson), his best friend, repairs his planes for him, because Roger may know how to fly but knows nothing else about planes. Rock Hudson is a journalist, Burke Devlin, looking for a sensational story and fascinated by the sordid lives of the trio risking their lives in a daredevil show and barely living on what they make. They are lost, lonely souls who need to hang on to one another in order to go on. And they all hang on to one man’s obsession with flying that can easily transform into a life and death race.

“In this film the camera is constantly in motion, acting like the people the film’s about, as if something were actually going on. In reality, in the end they could all lie down and let themselves be buried. And the travelling shots in the film, the crane shots, the pans! Douglas Sirk shows these dead souls with such tenderness and with such a light that you say to yourself that they’re all in such a shitty situation and yet so lovable that something must be to blame for it. What is to blame is loneliness and fear. I’ve seldom felt loneliness and fear the way I do in this film.” Rainer Werner Fassbinder, The Imitation of Life, an essay Fassbinder wrote in February 1971 on six Sirk films, published in Films und Fernsehen.

 
The screwball comedies of Myrna Loy and William Powell.

It’s a joy to watch Hollywood screwballs from the 1930s. And it’s a joy to watch Myrna Loy and William Powell on screen. They fit right into the spontaneity and liveliness, and the authentic spirit of the cinema of the times. In Double Wedding, from 1937, a hands-on, business-minded Margit Agnew (Myrna Loy), who loves to know everything in advance and plan accordingly, has her younger sister’s life all figured out, including who and when she should marry, until a free-thinking bohemian, William Powell, comes along, disturbs the order and romantic complications ensue – Margit Agnew: “Do you take dope?”. Love Crazy, 1941, is a delirious, crazy comedy about a happily married couple who suddenly break up on their fourth anniversary because a series of misunderstandings and the husband’s reacquaintance with an old flame. In I Love You Again, 1940, a married man, William Powell, is knocked unconscious while trying to save another man from drowning and awakens to find out that he had suffered from amnesia for the entire time he has been married.
 

The short films of Nicolas Bianco-Levrin and Julie Rembauville. I will soon be making an interview with Nicolas and have loved diving into their cinematic universe. Vieille peau/Old Hag is a firm favourite. I love the dark story set in Louisiana, on the music of Adrien Chevalier. Such a great cautionary tale.

 

 
Reading

Inspire: Life Lessons from the Wilderness, by Ben Fogle. This is a book that speaks to me. It teaches about patience, time and integrity. About tolerance. About valuing our resources, being ingenious, becoming better human beings. About how peaceful life becomes when the pressure of work, money, fatigue and consumerism has disappeared. About turning the background noise to the minimum and concentrating on yourself. About the difference between real life and fictional life (fueled by social media). About regaining our sense of origin. About nature, our relationship with nature (and with ourselves) – nature is what allows us to be who we are, who we want to be, not who others want us to be. This is a book that gives you a clear idea about what living life well is all about.

 
Listening

The album: Float, Flogging Molly

 
Making

India Hicks and Penelope Chilvers. I have admired India Hicks for years and years, and even more so since our interview from another number of years back. Designer, humanitarian, mother of 5. And so much more. It’s the way she lives her life. She is a free spirit. She has fun with life. She lives by her own rules. She takes risks. She was not afraid to eschew her royal (and design royalty) heritage and follow her own path. And, yes, she has style in spades, and she makes fashion on her own terms.

“It was important that we didn’t stray too far from what Penny stood for, our mini collaboration needed to feel very much at home in her stable of foot ware, whilst weaving my stories into the style we felt would best suit a tomboy, a cowgirl and an adventurer,” said India about her collaboration with Penelope Chilvers.

Born and raised in England, Penelope went to Spain to continue her studies in Madrid. As a child, she had spent her holidays in Spain, and, after her graduation, she lived a few years in Barcelona, designing and painting and collaborating with artists and artisans. Soon she would pursue the idea of bringing the traditional Spanish riding boot to England and commissioned Spanish craftsmen to make it. The Long Tassel boot was born, considered by many the perfect equestrian boot. From then on, the road was only upwards and the collection continued to grow, along with the reputation of the best quality crafted in Spain with great consideration and a design that is beautiful and enduringly elegant.

 
Exploring

More than 93 years after the publication of the first Tintin, Les Ateliers des Lumières presents an immersive Tintin exhibition dedicated to the curious Belgian journalist and his merry band, and to his adventures around the world. 21 October – 22 November.

 
 
The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s newsletters: Roden and Ridgeline. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. The Racquet magazine newsletter. The Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. The print magazines Monocle and Sirene.
 

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter, Sounds & Tracks | | Comments Off on October Newsletter: On True Originators and Tarnished Angels