AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
EDINBURGH – 1986
TUCKETS SOUNDED: BAGPIPES YOWLED:
by Harlan Kennedy
Lean dropped the name casually – as one often drops bombshells – in a British TV interview, but suddenly every critic in England was scurrying to his reference books and every archivist to his vaults: Vorhaus, B., born 1905 in New Jersey....made low-budget action pics and thrillers in Britain and America....was named in the HUAC hearings as a communist sympathizer....career ended in 1952 when projectionists union threatened to blackball all United Artists films if Vorhaus' work was shown...silent ever since.
Someone had the simple
idea of looking up V for Vorhaus in the British
phonebook – and there it was. Bernard was alive and well, lived in
Vorhaus fanciers, like festival director Jim Hickey, insist that his movies are not masterpieces, and even Lean would probably agree. But they are outstandingly well-made B-pics and quota quickies. A Sam Fuller before his time, Vorhaus made a tiny budget and a tinier schedule go a long way, not least in his best movie The Last Journey (1935). This is as good a train romp as The Lady Vanishes. The all-sorts characters – a newlywed bigamist (Hugh Williams) and his unsuspecting bride, a doctor-hypnotist bound for a vital operation (Godfrey Tearle), a temperance worker, a detective disguised as a drunk, etc. – climb onboard an express which happens to be in the hands of a driver who wants to murder his co-driver. The driver is also on his last journey before retirement, and what the hell does he care if the locomotive, stoked with his fury, picks up speed and is soon slamming through the English countryside threatening cows, milk trains, and startled passengers waiting vainly on station platforms for a train that doesn't stop?
Briskly funny and exciting, masterfully dovetailing the plots and subplots as apocalypse approaches, Vorhaus' film could have taught the Seventies' disaster genre a thing or two. The director does less well with the love-and-avalanche plot of Dusty Ermine (1936), and Crime on the Hill (1933) is a potty whodunnit crossing Agatha Christie with P. G. Wodehouse. Bodies thud and wills are read in a never-never English village. But even here Vorhaus shows a cracking sense of humor, managing to parody a dated genre almost before it was dated – watch the montage of gaping faces whenever Something Dramatic happens.
Three movies from
Kieslowski's first film, the black-and-white Camera Buff, shimmied deftly through the ambiguities of life under totalitarianism. But No Еnd adds color, literally and figuratively. The guiding hand reaching out to the heroine from the next world – the husband steps in to influence events at times – is presented as a beatific alternative to the steering hand of the State, reaching deep into people's homes and souls.
Neither Roman Wionczek's Dignity nor Kazimierz
Karabasz' A Looming Shadow measures up to Kieslowski. But
yoked together as a mandatory double bill they make intriguing viewing. (
A Looming Shadow whacks this rubbish so firmly over the head that the double-bill idea, from the Party's viewpoint, seems self-defeating. A 60-year-old retired electrician, splendidly played by the pachyderm-like Marius Dmochowski (Poland's Jean Gabin), comes to Cracow for a banquet honoring the 30th anniversary of the building of the Nova Huta steelworks, in which he took part. Medals are dished out all around, but he doesn't get one. Why? Whodunnit? Is there a forgotten (by him) but unforgiven blot in his past? Prowling through dark corridors of power, the film depicts Eastern European bureaucracy as a maze of conspiracy and obfuscation. Even with a sword for defiance and a ball of thread for finding your way back to daylight and honesty, you won't go through this labyrinth without meeting the Minotaur at least once, maybe fatally.
British cinema, too, is doing its bit in the age of paranoia. Absolutely everyone feels he's being got at in Mike Newell's The Good Father, a tale of sundered parents and tug-of-war kids. Christopher Hampton adapts the novel by Peter Prince, and Anthony Hopkons grabs the plum role of a 50-ish South Londoner who's split up with his wife, resents her monopoly of their young son, and seeks vicarious revenge. He steers a similarly plighted friend (Jim Broadbent) through the law courts, to sue for custody of his (Broadbent's) son.
Moral squalor reigns –
the lawyer they hire is an oily upper-class thug (Simon Callow) who smears
Broadbent's wife by citing her student-demo past and her lesbian present –
I have been subject to
several assassination attempts in the
The deceased director
is Filipino Gerardo De
The alive filmmaker is
writer-director-producer-star Jackie Chan, heir to Bruce
Up the hill, in the
auld town near the castle, sits one of the world's few surviving camerae obscurae. From a periscope mounted
on a roof, a 360-degree image of the city in motion – traffic, buildings,
people, scudding clouds – is reflected onto the "screen" of a
circular white table. Hickey has made much of
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY 1987 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.