Ida Lupino in Moontide (dir. Archie L. Mayo [replacing Fritz Lang], 1942).

Jean Gabin as Bobo.

Alcoholic montage sequence courtesy of Dalí.

The massive publicity campaign undertaken by Twentieth Century-Fox to make French star Jean Gabin into an American heartthrob was largely a failure. It's interesting to think what audiences made of him in Moontide. He's aggressively aloof, ungainly, almost simian. It appears at times as though America is an alien planet for him, with an unbreathable atmosphere. But it's also clear why he was a star in the first place: he seems in control of every interaction between every part of his body and the camera, down to the minute shadows cast by his facial pores and wrinkles.

The same can be said for Ida Lupino, whose ethereality is always compellingly at play with her back-alley sickliness. She glides limpingly, you might say. You might say that's what this entire movie does. The limp can partly be attributed to the replacement of Fritz Lang as director with the terminally prosaic Archie Mayo, but fortunately enough of Lang's touch remains to give Mayo a healthy push start.

The entire movie is shot on sets, creating a dislocated, dreamlike sense (or the sense that you are watching a filmed play, depending on how generous you want to be). A brief, surreal montage sequence by Dalí is barely a departure from the general mood.


Forty Guns

Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1957).

Gene Barry, Robert Dix, and Barry Sullivan.

Sandra Wirth.

Barbara Stanwyck's role in Forty Guns is in some ways similar to the part she played a few years earlier in Anthony Mann's The Furies: a gutsy frontier matriarch who rules her ranch with an iron (albeit nicely manicured) hand. In both films, she's the core of emotional energy--her presence is inimitably, passionately electric. She vies compellingly with Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar for the distinction of ultimate western dragon lady.

The plot here is almost shapeless. It's been about a month now since I watched it, and I couldn't tell you the storyline if my life depended on it. What I remember is Fuller's riveting staging, and the overall mood of psychological wryness translated into kinetic strings of sexually charged code-images. If Hitchcock had ever done a western, it might have resembled this, at least visually. (Wow--don't you wish Hitchcock had done a western?)



Anselme as le chanteur de faïence in Avida (dir. Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine, 2006).

Velvet as Avida.

Claude Chabrol as le zoophile débonnaire.

At eighty-three minutes, Avida still feels long. There are a few inspired moments, notably a brief appearance by Claude Chabrol as an aged connoisseur of roebuck flesh, the performance by one Anselme of a grating yet somehow eerie and compelling synth ballad about faience dinnerware ("nice and stored away"!), and a taxidermy scene that will test the endurance of pet lovers in a manner similar to Gummo. The casting of Velvet (whom I understand to be in her extra-cinematic profession some sort of online BBW courtesan) as the titular Avida is hit or miss depending on your tolerance for extreme amateurism. She can't act even when she's pretending to be unconscious.

The surrealism throughout is strained and mostly tired, flashing only occasionally, as I said, into arresting visual and conceptual vignettes. Totally worth seeing, however, for the elements mentioned. Thanks to Lanny for loaning me the DVD!