Allan Dwan

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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: Allan Dwan on DVD

#52 Post by knives » Fri Jan 15, 2021 5:28 pm

Overall this latest round really revealed what a great filmmaker Dwan was with a diversity of interesting films of every sort succeeding within the limitations of the B movie format. A perfect fit for Sol Wurtzel's factory of Fox entertainments. To start with though how about a reminder that even the greats are capable of pure mediocrity with the DOA (though not without its charms) I Dream of Jeanie. Maybe its the quality of the print, but if you asked me what decade this was made in I'd never in a million years suggest the '50s. This period biopic is completely out of step with a post-war environment to almost snap around to being interesting as a result Huey Lewis style. The movie has as its central problem how passive and just lame the lead is especially in its first half which almost goes out of its way to torture audience desires. Even the title is a bit of foreshadowing that just becomes frustrating as the movie never shoots Chekhov's gun. He is a total idiot who has other characters doing his actions for him throughout.

I wonder what could have motivated, in 1952, any writer to make these choices? It's almost like someone wanting to make Varda's Vagabond and not knowing how. Doesn't explain why they have him in love with the worst woman ever while a more obvious choice of lover is right there.

But hey, if you want to listen to Oh, Susanna a million times you're in luck (actually I really adore the music).

Conversely Human Cargo is a great film which will inevitably stand in the shadow of His Girl Friday. Damn shame to as there's a lot of merit here on its own beyond being the first gender trading The Front Page. For example it's another example of Dwan's excitement and confusion over intersectionality as Claire Trevor's reporter cum society dame more efficiently uses her multiple hats to navigate the world and gain her desires. I'm curious if her success and in the long term ease is another gendered element to a film which is so focused on that topic, from a source text originally written by a woman, or another representation of this providing something new to Dwan who typically focuses in on the male perspective and leaves his women enigmatic (though this is as good a reminder as anything else to watch those Swanson films).

Trevor's confidence in the role is a good thing because unlike Russell's Hildy she's playing a cub reporter who needs to prove she's one of the guys (though given how the plot plays out it's easy to imagine this is where Hildy was in '36). This places Trevor in a lot of damsel in distress situations and gives a more antagonistic flavour to her relationship with Donlevy. The film is careful though in it's hour to highlight her evolution and development with some repetitions showing her growth into a more qualified reporter by the end of the film. This also captures the tension developing in America between apprentice workers and those educated for the job as she, like Doris Day in Teacher's Pet, is a college grad specializing in journalism which is seen as a negative by the blue colored people surrounding her. The film really does everything it can to highlight her as different from this world she has entered right down to the editor's nearly homotextual exclamations for boys.

So goes what is weirdly one of the most optimistic films of Dwan's career filled with murder, treachery, political commentary (I haven't even mentioned the ways the film shows disgust at America's immigration policy), and sexism. So I suppose any film that allows Trevor her dignity throughout all this mess has to be optimistic.

For more female perspective (though weirdly less so from the kinoeye) is Her First Affaire. I loved this stupid, stupid, stupid film. It's broad strokes are basically a Judy Garland film with young girl in love with an idea causing the pouty face of her little boyfriend. Lupino, even at 14 looking 12, isn't capable of pulling that off and instead helps to deliver a bizarre end of the Jazz Age ode to teenaged horniness. Dwan directs this chamber room comedy as sort of a meeting between Sirkian visual puns (it's a gorgeous film) and Cowardian dry wit. The film in particular comes alive at the final party which among other things has a gay pirate singing about how all of Lupino's ideals bring the boys to the yard.

Finally is a noir worth its weight in gold. The delirious and great Slightly Scarlet may just be Dwan's masterpiece. This colour noir based on a James M. Cain novel is much more playing by expectations than the last few Dwan's. There's a Sam Fuller energy as Dwan tackles two different crime stories and turns it into a city wide battle for an intimate amount of morality (plus a weird amount of cheesecake presumably insisted upon by the heads at RKO). I have to admit I often got lost in the shadows of the film which if nothing else makes a good argument for a kind of colour noir though I can't think of any after this which used colour in this way. Dwan has a lot of fun giving a suburban dayglo feel to many scenes with a deep focus adding a playful spectacle to everything (when Payne first confronts our lead doll having the sister lounge in the back is a great visual joke that begins to add tension). When he wants to the film switches to this dark nightmare gray wash of shadows. It's a marvelous look that helps a fundamentally strange film to succeed.

Beyond the visuals the just joy of naughtiness the film has in Dahl and Fleming had me rolling around like a mad man. This is a film that gets what drags butts to the movie.

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan on DVD

#53 Post by knives » Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:56 pm

I'm really excited about this one as I think I found Dwan's best film. That film: Up in Mabel's Room.
This begins with a Looney Tunes inspired text and follows it up using the code to suggest infidelity and prostitution, "honey I left you the money," both of which are promises no movie could sustain for a feature length. Yet moment after moment this film one ups itself until it ends in a kind of explosion. This screwball can make Bringing Up Baby feel like A Man Escaped as it fits enough jokes for several movies into 76 minutes.

Dwan and his team succeed by simply maintaining a hilarious and audacious tone that still feels fairly naughty all these years later. I honestly don't know how this ever got approved in light of how the jokes and plot is barely innuendo and just plainly a list of everything banned involving sex including a subtle joke about the length of a kiss rule. Yet in thumbing their nose at the code the filmmakers give a sense of its benefit as the fact that the rudest element of plot can never be proves for more tension than if they were allowed to go through with things.

It makes perfect sense that this was the skeleton used for After Hours. The violence delivered against Gary is like a purgatory of his own making. It's mysterious and the audience never gets exactly what all of the hubbub is about, but one small infraction, lying to his wife, makes all his good intentions go bottoms up in a fascinating way. I honestly don't know how else to say watch the greatest comedy of 1944.

Tide of Empire
This late silent really hit a sweet spot and shows Dwan at the height of his abilities. With a movietone score and a true epic feel at 72 minutes filled with all of Dwan’s pet themes while showing a version of the west never seriously taken elsewhere.

The film begins a bit utopian, at least by the standards of a century ago, as Spain has conquered America and made the new culture of Mexico. In the early parts of the film Dwan takes delight in all the little details he can through in of how Spanish ideas of nobility have adapted to making a new culture. Building this world and getting invested in its minutia is fascinating enough that it could have gone on forever I feel, but the ugly America must as always rear his hand.

The film is merciless in its depictions of Americans as ugly, cruel, idiotic criminals who parasitically devour the possessions of others until nothing is left. The film is extremely admirable for steadfastly keeping to the Mexican POV even when it makes the lone handsome American come across as an unthinking jerk. He can’t understand the tragedy we the audience feel at each word and how it reflects a different cruelty experienced. Dwan is at his most empathetic moving on from cowboys and Indians to Rancheros and Cowboys.

This belongs on the long list of best westerns and silents ever made. A film about the closure of history which in itself is a stellar example of such a thing as one of the final American silents.

From the same year The Iron Mask while good isn't as good. Although how I watched it makes me appreciate its craft significantly more. I started this with the shorter narrated cut because I am dumb, but that managed to help clarify the success in Kino’s 103 minute all silent version. This is a thrilling adventure for Fairbanks to hang his hat on, kind of, because of the room afforded to breathe. The plot remains fairly basic and isn’t as thematically compelling as Robin Hood, but the tendency for incident to focus on character, such as when half through Fairbanks gets his dramatic moment, really helps out in a way always being active would ruin the film as is the case of the shorter cut.

Quite accidentally this became a very informative lesson in the importance of how a film is told.

Finally Around the World brings up back to the war. Dwan mysteriously produced this glorified USO show with Radio’s squarest ham in the lead. Hollywood made tons of these sorts of film during the war and this barely holds the distinction of merely being one of them. There is at least one joke that’s really gross though and threw me off my game for a second.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#54 Post by Glowingwabbit » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:15 pm

knives , have you watched Getting Gertie's Garter (1945) yet? It's basically Dwan redoing Mabel a year later but I think he improves on many aspects of the first film. It's Dennis O'Keefe in the same role again. Dwan also has a writing credit on the Gertie film unlike Mabel so I wonder if that had an influence as well

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#55 Post by knives » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:40 pm

I haven’t yet, this is still only number 26, but that definitely makes me want to place it higher on the to watch list. It’s a real crying shame how many of these films haven’t gotten a video release.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#56 Post by Glowingwabbit » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:47 pm

knives wrote:
Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:40 pm
I haven’t yet, this is still only number 26, but that definitely makes me want to place it higher on the to watch list. It’s a real crying shame how many of these films haven’t gotten a video release.
Yes and unfortunately most of his best stuff is like that. Black Sheep from the 30's was another gem of his I just discovered recently and I'm upset that it'll probably never get restored as it's a Fox title.

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#57 Post by knives » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:57 pm

His 30s is filled to the brim with some of the best films of that decade, but like you say the Fox situation means we won’t get anything until they become public domain in a decade. It’s an awful situation for film preservation.

Basically I just want to say what Domino already did in the Lombard thread.

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Re: Allan Dwan on DVD

#58 Post by Glowingwabbit » Thu Feb 04, 2021 7:37 pm

knives wrote:
Fri Dec 04, 2020 5:16 pm
if there's been any good books on Dwan to help me along?
Oh knives! Completely forgot about this. I stumbled on this dossier by chance while looking at blog devoted to translating Sege Daney into English. The entire dossier has been translated and might be a good resource for you. You have the option of downloading the pdf or reading it online.

Oops here is the English version http://www.elumiere.net/especiales/dwan ... wan_en.php
Last edited by Glowingwabbit on Thu Feb 04, 2021 7:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#59 Post by knives » Thu Feb 04, 2021 7:41 pm

Thanks. When I have the spare cash I’m also looking into the Lombardi book which seems interesting. When I get it I’ll make a report of sorts.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#60 Post by knives » Thu Feb 11, 2021 6:19 pm

Went a bit speedy this round, but all of the films here encourage the chronic viewing. First up is Man to Man who plays a familiar tune. It’s another day another son haunted by his criminal father. Dwan must have really enjoyed this set up. This play at the drama is fairly close to Moonrise, but the tone and approach is radically different giving a more coherent narrative on the theme of the father’s sins hurting the son.

We start off with a limp noodle leading his school in everything until it comes to light his father committed murder. After he is exiled back to home everyone comforts him pointing out the virtuous nature of the noodle’s father and all facts of mitigation in the crime. The basic innocence of the father for me is key as it highlights the cruelties of society in making the noodle feel lesser. There is no good reason for this outlawing mentality and it has a negative effect for society as a whole. Overall the film captures an amazing sense of self imposed tragedy induced by poorly conceived societal values.

Belle ale Grand is the first film I watched after getting the dossier above, but boy has that already payed dividends. A very sincere thanks. The article I read which spurned me on to watch this cited it as an exemplar of the end point of the Griffith style in theatrical cinema and as a use of closeups to cover for actor deficiencies.

The former idea is very intriguing and stands well to scrutiny. I had mentioned I Dream of Jeanie as weirdly out of step with the 50s and this has a lot of those qualities as well although in a more successful package. This Griffith existence is formed by story and form. The opening scene is shocking in part because its approach to race seems out of date with a kindly mammie as a key figure. Even when she takes to the background the story plays like an old Republic Wayne pic with a classic morality and archetypes outside the newly established norms. This is a tale of boom town successes and hard faced soft hearted women. It’s like the war never changed a thing.

The form is also quite interesting. Much of the story is told in medium still shot held straight on with cuts between different placements in the setting telling the story. Nearly the whole film is told in that fashion making the changes powerful. The main theme of the film is the relations between men, women, and work and when the former two are on screen together Dwan holds firmly to Griffith, but as soon as either is isolated, usually to talk about work, he changes modes. The most powerful moment in this regard is the scene between Nan and the queen which is worthy of Welles. It’s made of three shots though I could believe it was shot in two. The camera roves around the room as they talk cut in the middle by an exhausted still shot. It’s the height of the movie and does not even feature the star.

Which also leads to what leaves me in disagreement on the close-up. Vera Ralston doesn’t even get the best one with the wife of Joe, she genuinely is an unnamed character, instead having that distinction. Throughout Ralston gives a good performance albeit the least of the many here. Her short closeups aren’t unique in quality to the rest of her performance.

Having the earlier Dwan’s a little more filled in makes Pearl of the South Pacific, an already exciting adventure film, all the more interesting. First though, the obligatory acknowledgement that this film is racist for using Polynesian peoples where today they would, King Kong remakes aside, make up a fantasy civilization.

That out of the way, what a great film. This is easily the most gorgeous print I’ve seen yet for one of these colour films. It makes an incredible difference. Stylistically the evolution of the Dwan heroine into a femme fatale from the shrieking lillies of the Kerrigan films is the most incredible. While not as tough as Stanwyck Mayo is another late era protagonist who embodies a freed man ideal of a certain sort of liberalism in a woman’s body. The use of dialogue becomes a main tool by which she shifts between a varied sort of archetypes. The varied quality of actor that Dwan has had to deal with is probably what has made him all the more centered around using language for development rather than strictly movement, though there are some good silent passages here, leaving an impressionistic feeling to the film where we are watching the play of a play concerned with Mayo as the femme fatale as this or that character. She’s not the only one one a stage, but like with Twelfth Night’s gendered antics she get the most explicit bout of fun. Even the characters play characters until it becomes clear that at least with Mayo we never get an idea of the character let alone the person. In a certain way this feels like a prelude to the cardboard period pieces of Rohmer and de Oliveira.

Ending the week with a big one in Manhandled. That opening subway scene is as great as its reputation and a beautiful microcosm of everything great about Dwan. His interest for intersectionality extends to that of genre and reality in fiction. Reality is that Swanson is a great star. Fiction is that she’s a New Yorker. Fiction is that the star is always glamorous. Reality is that she’s as short as can be. When these realities and fictions collide it makes for a hilarious drama.

That’s the genre by the way. Before Vidor and Murnau Dwan has conceived of the drama of The Crowd and seen the potential for a comedy of self reflection. There’s a very sincere drama of the working class going on here, but it is crouched in a Statler and Waldorf commentary of the absurdity of this being faced by Swanson. Even at her most beat down in the opening the tragedy is the comedy of this happening to her. Later on we see her and her man looking out the window viewing the real working class rather than the mirror image of the movies. Eat your heart out Hitchcock.

The amazing thing about this is that the movie is never preachy, I feel like I’ve said this a few times concerning Dwan, but plays out these themes with a light humour and eye toward entertaining before anything else.

In a lot of these ways this feels like the opposite of Robin Hood. There’s the change in gender dynamics, but rather than going down allowing for Fairbanks the actor to become Fairbanks the character this has Swanson freed from the lower class by going up in order to become the Swanson character. It’s also interesting how her ascent is based on misunderstanding and lies whereas Fairbanks is afforded a moral cause. Though Swanson is more sympathetic as she must return to the lower depths like a punishment to Tartarus whereas Fairbanks can exist anywhere and succeed. The one tool afforded to her over Fairbanks is that her genre allows her sincerity which is adaptable to more intersections.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#61 Post by Black Hat » Wed Feb 17, 2021 7:50 pm

Dwan and Adela Rogers St. Johns struck me as the two most interesting people Brownlow interviewed for his doc so I'm very much enjoying your posts exploring his work Knives.

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#62 Post by knives » Wed Feb 17, 2021 7:55 pm

Thank you.

I actually gave the full doc a whirl for this, having seen the stuntmen episode, and also plan on rewatching Nickelodeon as an extracurricular. It really helped with the commentary to Manhandled which extensively references St. John.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#63 Post by Black Hat » Wed Feb 17, 2021 8:12 pm

Makes sense. Now that I'm much more familiar with the people interviewed I've been meaning to revisit the doc myself. Are the Dwan films you've been viewing available or are you getting them off of the backchannels?

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Re: Allan Dwan

#64 Post by knives » Wed Feb 17, 2021 9:07 pm

A lot of them are streaming on Amazon Prime though I saw Tide of Empire of all things through Tubi so there is a legal resource for some of these films. A lot of the movies are also up on YouTube either put out by institutions or because they are in the public domain.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#65 Post by Black Hat » Wed Feb 17, 2021 10:01 pm

Thanks. Would you mind suggesting a jumping off point from his silent work?

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#66 Post by knives » Wed Feb 17, 2021 10:07 pm

Not anywhere near an expert, but the Fairbanks stuff seems a good starting point. Maybe A Modern Musketeer from the Flicker Alley set? Manhandled is probably the best of the silents I’ve seen so far.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#67 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Feb 17, 2021 10:23 pm

I haven't done the headfirst dive (yet) like knives, but I thought Three Million Dollars was the best of the maybe-five early shorts I've seen of his. It was the exact kind of ironic zany blast that the best silent shorts achieve.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#68 Post by knives » Wed Feb 17, 2021 10:24 pm

I think it’s the best of those shorts as well.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#69 Post by Black Hat » Wed Feb 17, 2021 11:44 pm

As luck would have it Kino has all their Dwan on sale.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#70 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Feb 27, 2021 11:53 pm

knives wrote:
Thu Feb 11, 2021 6:19 pm
Ending the week with a big one in Manhandled. That opening subway scene is as great as its reputation and a beautiful microcosm of everything great about Dwan. His interest for intersectionality extends to that of genre and reality in fiction. Reality is that Swanson is a great star. Fiction is that she’s a New Yorker. Fiction is that the star is always glamorous. Reality is that she’s as short as can be. When these realities and fictions collide it makes for a hilarious drama.

That’s the genre by the way. Before Vidor and Murnau Dwan has conceived of the drama of The Crowd and seen the potential for a comedy of self reflection. There’s a very sincere drama of the working class going on here, but it is crouched in a Statler and Waldorf commentary of the absurdity of this being faced by Swanson. Even at her most beat down in the opening the tragedy is the comedy of this happening to her. Later on we see her and her man looking out the window viewing the real working class rather than the mirror image of the movies. Eat your heart out Hitchcock.

The amazing thing about this is that the movie is never preachy, I feel like I’ve said this a few times concerning Dwan, but plays out these themes with a light humour and eye toward entertaining before anything else.

In a lot of these ways this feels like the opposite of Robin Hood. There’s the change in gender dynamics, but rather than going down allowing for Fairbanks the actor to become Fairbanks the character this has Swanson freed from the lower class by going up in order to become the Swanson character. It’s also interesting how her ascent is based on misunderstanding and lies whereas Fairbanks is afforded a moral cause. Though Swanson is more sympathetic as she must return to the lower depths like a punishment to Tartarus whereas Fairbanks can exist anywhere and succeed. The one tool afforded to her over Fairbanks is that her genre allows her sincerity which is adaptable to more intersections.
knives this is a terrific reading of the film and what I wrote before reading your writeup is eerily similar but without as much depth (I really like the final line you wrote which is a nice succinct way to express the message I took from this movie that thankfully exists without an intrusive message), so here goes:

The opening subway scene sets the stage for this primarily visual demonstration of themes, with a series of suffocating hijinks that is both hilarious silent comedy and imbues accumulating anxiety around the unavoidable chaos of mass socialization. The remainder of the film finds a more warm rhythmic stride between these poles of tone: naturally hilarious social interactions, and the soft tragedy of passive moral sacrifice for social mobility. Dwan finds the most digestible path to exploring western capitalist-driven individualism as both absurd objectively and painfully serious and consequential in its inescapable context, but without the didacticism practically innate in this study. Swanson's star-eyed social climber is relatable because her mannerisms are at once self-actualized and vacuously magnetized towards the same shiny forces as ours. It's an authentic performance that's almost too easy to empathize with- because even if it is a "performance" there is a sincerity to her simultaneous clarity and ignorance; her strengths and imperfections. Even reading these as flaws is inconsiderate to the honesty of the hidden psychological drives that spark them, and itself a position ignorant to the multiple systemic and social variables creating, receiving, and responding to these markers of agency with friction that transforms them into black-and-white characteristics in a moralizing film. Dwan isn't inserting morality but observing one people react emotionally to their own morality, which matters so much more. Anyways, I loved this- and Swanson is integral to striking this balance of the kind of comedy and sentiment that's realistic in its energetic aura even if clearly an acting job.
SpoilerShow
I love how even the ending shows how prayers are answered in everyday life, by turning the reconciliation (perhaps unexpectedly) completely away from any chance of divine intervention, and towards the miracles of human beings showing up for each other, the enigmatic pull to truly 'see' the other, the willingness to reach out and forgive framed as a privilege. That's the kind of spirituality that marks our best interactions and make us lucky to be alive.

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knives
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Re: Allan Dwan

#71 Post by knives » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:24 pm

Really great reading Blus. I think it’s a film that probably will produce many different kinds of readings since it works in so many ways.

The same for a early sound film I saw called While Paris Sleeps. That said, this is one of those early sound films which just throws its hands up and decides to be a silent and is all the better for it. The look and emotion of the piece feels more like a Ford film then what Dwan was making at the time with McLaglen's broken and lumbering performance only highlighting that comparison. As a change of pace it's a powerful film.

For Dwan’s next film with the Bros. Ritz I decided to do my homework after the disaster of The Gorilla. This post mostly leans on a Mel Brooks interview where he waxes lyrical about the Ritz brothers for a short while. That Brooks connection though is illuminating and helpful as both The Gorilla and The Three Musketeers which is what I watched are films which do a similar thing with genre to what Brooks would later master. Mix in Dwan having fun revisiting his Fairbanks days and the end result is funny and interesting if not great. The best aspect of the film is the layering of comedy which The Gorilla also featured, but in an inorganic way that provided a lot of tonal whiplash. The higher ups in the story like the queen are played pretty straight and are living the story as written, Ameche is the next level as a doofy variant of D'Artagnan stuck in a romantic musical, and the interchangeable brothers are at the lowest level being essentially modern folks stuck in a play they would rather not be in.

I was actually expecting Getting Gertie’s Garter to be even closer to Up in Mabel’s Room as I watched the silent version of GGG which is that film with new jokes. Instead Dwan updates it radically giving off a modern feeling almost like Bogdanovich’s knowing What’s Up Doc. The film thus gains additional interest for how it makes itself different from the earlier Dwan, which is good because I didn’t find it as funny although it is good, with adaptation being a constant reminder.

A key point of that adaptation is the clear influence of television. The camera reduces its dynamic motion and the script focuses in on dialogue to expose character relationships versus physical acrobatics. The speed is also rather slower with the humour coming from a delayed release. It will be interesting to see how the split between films falls as I imagine it will speak more to individual senses of humour rather than the quality of films.

Passion ends things on a smaller note. With a title like this I was not expecting this: a rather conservative western focusing on society in transition where the old ways have trouble adapting to new problems.

This is one of Dwan’s creakiest films with stiff performances and a need to work around the plot. Yet some scenes still scream in their beauty such as the central crime which feels like an influence on Kill Bill while the gorgeous climax could be a basis for either the Coens’ True Grit or also The Revenant.

For me the film’s greatest strength is that thing that most people will be repulsed by today: the use of Mexican as a symbol. Although nearly three decades removed from Tide Dwan is still grappling with the Mexican west as a sort of golden age disrupted by Americanism. If I am understanding the film correctly all of the characters are intended to be Mexican so that is null, but the use of symbols for Mexicans such as Catholic ones features heavily with the most sympathetic characters while the villains are sort of generic western figures.

Semi-critically this ethnic decision seems to serve as cover for bad acting. Everyone gives this staccato delivery and underplays their hand, even notorious hams like Chaney, making for this otherworldly existence. Again Dwan leaves us in a fantasia.

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Re: Allan Dwan on DVD

#72 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Mar 19, 2021 7:45 pm

I'll echo the praise for Black Sheep, which drops us squarely into an arbitrary meeting and introduces characters off of one another as we catch up right with them as to what's going on, as well as unveiling the flexibility of their identities on the move. The script and economical shooting style is designed in a madcap structure of unprompted and unsolicited engagements, often the product of observations occurring as characters stop and peak at the world outside of their drinking glasses or gambling tables, spilling into one another and accumulating flair in the process. As knives mentions, it's not a screwball comedy, but its narrative formulation is playing by that rulebook, so when the characters are constantly exposed to the tempo of life- in the internal logic of this atmosphere, where the air seems to be full of zany fairy dust- it leads to similar results, with the twist of an opposite source in the energy of the world influencing the characters for a change.

One could call this an inverted-screwball, as the cinematic containment heats up the scenes for 'normal' characters to dance, a perfectly self-reflexive smirk of the medium's utility as reminiscent of the world's unpredictable imposition on our static existences, igniting our more colorful potentials by force. The irony comes in the reveal of a relationship between characters- demonstrating some unforeseen connective tissue of sense and order to this chaotic chain of events. I like the idea of life as a space where if one looks up from their metaphorical drink or gambling table and participates in the world, that our risks will be rewarded- so for Dugan to find himself at such a coincidental conclusion seems to merge random independent participation with those fated interconnected gifts we'd miss if we just kept our heads down.

The film is pure joy, and simultaneously implies that perhaps the only reason why some of us believe life has no meaning or spiritual value is because we retreat into a low risk game of cards where we ante and don't play a hand- a view accomplished by demonstrating the limitless pleasures of the alternative courage in joining the circus and letting it rub off on us with voluntary acceptance. The changes in the direction where Dugan exerts his agency, more and more confidently over the course of the film, are directly shaped by such an attitude to chance coupled with perspective from other people, and this collaborative empowerment is basically what life is all about.

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Re: Allan Dwan

#73 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Mar 20, 2021 1:58 pm

Slightly Scarlet is the most extreme example I've seen of the color noir's use of color, in how it allows a thick melodramatic air to completely asphyxiate its audience with a spell that inebriates the awareness of noir. I’m not convinced the film is necessarily restraining itself from noir to accomplish this sensation, but rather flooding the frames with bold sentiment while ensuring that we feel they don’t belong in any stable milieu using an undercurrent of continual agitation. This uneasiness is exacerbated by acidic characters with toxic motivations, and even the lower-stakes scenes constantly provoke a jarring anxiety as the actors are framed in conventional beauty from a reserved distance as the noirish suffocating energy persists in the margins.

After seeing a few Dwans, it’s difficult for me to communicate exactly what works about his films, (perhaps not coincidentally) just as it is for me to do with Bogdanovich. Both artists have a mastery over the invisible vibe flowing in their pictures, as if they’re pumping the sets with literal tonal air for the actors and crew to breathe and influence the picture through manipulating the players. Dwan is more eclectic picture to picture, whether imbuing screwbally or serendipitous gas or seedy fatalistic cynicism, but his atmospheric moods always always offset the more austere action or initial characterizations we can only physically see at the start, with imposition in a manner that sobers one to emerge from their superficial surroundings with a heightened spiritual sense. I may not be describing this in an accessible way, so hopefully it's translating somewhat, but the point is that Dwan's conflicting visual/subliminal messaging opens up worldviews to be inclusive of so much more than normal pictures. I think Dwan is a very spiritual filmmaker in this regard, working in opposition to the Coens’ philosophical sobriety that lands in a space of existential devolution of significance, instead expanding our more mindful tactile awarenesses and allowing us to hold onto that joy as an affirmation of perceptive growth rather than a cheeky slap in the face. Even when the information Dwan expresses retains some tragic sensibility, it's always 'more' than that, though often in a shade of intangible optimism via unified mysticism (nobody can take June's love for Ben away regardless of his fate or deep moral failings), leaving room for more without that cheap and oversimplified serenity.

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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: Allan Dwan

#74 Post by knives » Sat Mar 20, 2021 10:34 pm

I think the Bogdanovich indescribable nature you mention might be born from how both seem to be macro functioning artists. What I mean is that although both have as a primary goal entertainment they nonetheless understand as students and creators what the big picture of narrative means and how, so to speak, they are using a lack of originality as a premise for their originality.

Dwan can make the tragedy of Black Sheep screwball or the noir of Slightly Scarlet a blast of Rothko-sequence emotion because he is able to see how each film fits within its genre and thus press on it to expand certain elements such as that feeling of exhaustion and bewilderment in noir and limit others such as existentialism.

To run with your Coens comparison if they are Viktor Frankl he’s Barthes using the language of narrative in order to understand how people relate with one another. He’s very much an engineer tinkering with systems.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Allan Dwan

#75 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Mar 21, 2021 12:47 am

That's a good way to describe what Dwan is doing from a more mechanical angle- though I still like to think of this spiritual sense contributing to those skills at executing themes under one larger umbrella of cosmic comprehension. The best example that I've seen of your engineer analogy might be Human Cargo, which I just watched tonight. For the first act, despite the plot of human trafficking, this played a bit like the individualist-side of Hawks' screwball, and the witty social games of verbal clashing were a joy. And then comes a scene that jolts us from these cinematic mechanics with a gunshot, some questionably Code-friendly choices like showing a full body and talking about the details of where she was shot, all while Trevor shakes with trauma in the same frame (and then is told that it's her fault!)- It's an unsettling scene by even today's standards, but it's particularly disturbing because of how Dwan shakes us from our smooth narrative ride with no consent, and because the content was already bubbling under the surface of cognitive dissonance via American hierarchies in self-centered occupational focus, it's an earned awareness of other variables in the mezzo-systems while also violating the unwritten rules of audience power roles.

Dwan chases this burn with a seamless re-integration into cinematic conventions, using this traumatic event to help to fuel Trevor's immediate return to that manufactured gung-ho resilience. She drops right back into the next scene with confident shrewdness and determination- in a disguise that triggers the smile we make from a lead engaging in deceptive undercover fun- doubling down in her mission to infiltrate at all costs, but this time with more cognizance, strategy, and heightened moral consciousness. The last act is a thriller, lighthearted reporter-spy pic, and social drama, with comedy sewn in for good measure. However, it's that middle austere flash of paralysis from abrupt unmanageable consequence that allows the sandwiched entertainment to function with appreciation for the stakes and for the polished elements that permit us to enjoy ourselves as we develop around and within those stakes.

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