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Monday, March 04, 2024

Parkland Picks with Popcorn #3


PPP: The Scarlet Claw and 1975 Homecoming Parade, and The Lodger (1944)

A right combination of setting and selection makes memorable time spent with shows. Mine of late was The Scarlet Claw with The Lodger (both 1944), seen in pocket of paradise that is the Parkland, this third of recorded visits there, and so far a most stimulating for favorites ideally suited to a small corner of home sweet childhood home. We’ve all found tenderest view spot from which to recline back and let the rest of a world turn as will. Does private theatre work best in jewel box proportion, just room for you in the chair, one more alongside, and walls close as those confining Irene Ware and Lester Matthews in The Raven? Add concessions and wonder how afterlife at peak could surpass it. What charms particular about The Scarlet Claw and The Lodger? Just everything. With age comes winnowing, cream risen truest to the top and firmer embrace of what meant most over watching lifetime. Greenbriar explored The Scarlet Claw and The Lodger before, notably in 2016 and 2009. There is, as with any that’s best, fresh discovery to be had, but are those as visible to others? That would be for readership to address, nominate other titles perhaps, advise me to put these finally at rest. Cling denotes senior status, but what is the Parkland if not site to reflect upon past impressions, it after all host to 8mm in begin and benign times. In fact, Big Business from Blackhawk premiered there, as had Castle’s Dracula and The Lost World in digest format. To call this a “mancave” is to trivialize via term trendy and like others long hackneyed (might “fever dream,” “dumpster fire,” and “Sound familiar?” be also retired?).

Everybody's Friend Dr. Watson Smooths Path for Less Socially Gifted Holmes

Holmes Puts Two and Two Together to Identify Former Actress Now Murder Victim

Did Holmes need Watson more than Watson needed Holmes? Watson makes it easier for Holmes to merge with society, this because despite his “bumbling,” Watson puts folks at ease, and they like him for it. He is a buffer for Holmes, who alone is less adept negotiating subtleties of human interaction. I’ll take Nigel Bruce over Watsons more cerebral, latter combined with Holmes often two guys essentially the same guy, one superfluous for so little contrast from the other. Watson as grease to communal wheel in The Scarlet Claw allows Holmes to investigate upon his own, suspects disarmed by the good and garrulous doctor thus less likely to interfere with master detective moves. Query this time: Why do Holmes and Watson sail, or fly (?) across the Atlantic, risk German aircraft or subs, to attend a gathering of the Canadian Occult Society when Holmes is so disdainful of their findings? He is tactless when Lord Penrose (Paul Cavanaugh) proposes supernatural cause for dire events in home village La Mort Rouge. Here is where Watson can leaven moods and perhaps get between serious arguments that might otherwise develop. Repairing to La Mort Rouge with remainder of action set there, The Scarlet Claw becomes the horror film posters promise, much so for character faces that populate central-based tavern where dread is nightly hashed out. Here was where actors were cast for ugly alone, in fact making a career of it. Ted Billings for one need not speak, merely have his close-up and be Ted Billings for discomfit that implies, such fraternity for which Rondo Hatton could serve as sergeant-at-arms. When Nigel Bruce first sees Ted’s face and blanches, he might be any one of us, except we know Ted and comfort at his being there. Whole of the Sherlock Holmes series was asylum to such near-freak men (sometimes women) whose visages good as signed paychecks for long as they had capacity to work.

Gerald Hamer as Alastair Ramson nee Postman Potts Menaces Kay Harding

A 1975 Alastair Ramson Crashes the Homecoming Parade in Clown Guise 

The Scarlet Claw
teaches value of disguise, its killer several identities in rotation and each eluding Holmes. “Alastair Ramson” (Gerald Hamer) is a once actor of many faces whose intended victims live in La Mort Rouge. We are reminded that stage artists of a past century could, often did, vanish from public sphere to private obscurity, nothing to bespeak their career but faded portraits and torn playbills. Think of real-life stock personnel and travelling mummers of that era who made the switch to screen work. We’d not know of them save surviving film from early on. Those who solely populated stages are if anything faces from the Daniel Blum book, or other long-ago histories of legit life, forgotten but by few. Consider names that would be unknown today had they stayed on boards or quit same once careers were done: Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Marie Dressler, so many others --- their permanence bought by film, not for years spent entertaining live. Alastair Ramson enjoys privileged access to victims and unknowing authorities by simply switching from one character to another however it/they suit him. I once borrowed Ramson’s device to create, utilize, then discard an identity so as to march in a homecoming parade during college, an event for which the school community was invited to build floats and spend much of the morning canvassing streets to amusement of onlookers. I let no one see me gather getup that was a clown suit, fright mask, flame-red wig, and lace-up knee boots. The masquerade so far as I know fooled everyone. How could they detect? I was covered from head to toe. What fun to approach people who knew me, but never like this. I was not exposed for whole of the day, nor did I cop to staging the stunt, even from years’ hindsight. There was a photograph, taken quite by chance, which appeared in the school’s 1976 annual as shown above. For one day at least I was Alastair Ramson, minus homicidal impulse. Did The Scarlet Claw inspire my charade? Possibly, for by then I had seen it innumerable times. However the notion was planted, it made for a unique and pleasurable deception.

How honest are we in picking our identification figures? More would choose Victor Mature than Laird Cregar, but having looked at The Lodger, then Hangover Square and I Wake Up Screaming, I’d submit that many more are like Laird Cregar than Victor Mature. Cregar was the actual as opposed to the ideal, an isolated image many know from mirrors where they’d prefer to see Mature. Latter is “Frankie Christopher” in I Wake Up Screaming, a breezy operator who attracts sisters Carole Landis and Betty Grable. Both could readily love him, in fact one does, Frankie a sort of man other men would emulate, especially “Ed Cornell” (Cregar), who is obsessed by Landis and bitterly resentful that she will be attracted by sort who’d score on approach to any mound, his hitting the ball a foregone conclusion. Victor Mature was who we were expected to bond with --- what’s he got besides looks, physique and ready charm that we haven’t got? Truth was (and is), there was more to identify with in Cregar’s Cornell, or “Mr. Slade” in The Lodger, or “George Harvey Bone” in Hangover Square. Laird Cregar delved places private to viewership, his a persona movies did not need, let alone want, too many of. Ease of shorthand would call him a villain, or more descriptive “heavy,” as yes, he was by definition both these things, but Cregar touched nerves lots did not know they had, took his being to places we all dwelled, result reflection that said: He’s me, not Victor Mature. I suspect Cregar had fans less comfortable being fans, him the dark side of stardom’s moon. Ed Cornell is among Cregar outsiders, a lone cop but uncool as loner cops would later be, wanting and dreaming of a woman he’ll never have, in movies or outside them. No man in the audience could honestly imagine he’d get Carole Landis, or something like her, so they might just as well be Ed Cornell. 

Image Restoration Courtesy Mark Vieira/Starlight Studios

Cregar as The Lodger’s “Mr. Slade” is polite, keeps to himself, minds his own business … might rigorous therapy have ridded him of impulse to rip? Cregar worked at making his bent characters relatable. He may have underestimated how relatable they’d end up being. Mr. Slade slays because his brother was corrupted by a woman of the stage. He reveres the gone sibling in ways near creepy as the murders, none shown though George Sanders describes each lovingly and that was queasy enough for most in 1944. For better or likelier worse, The Lodger made Cregar a star. His Oscar Wilde on an L.A. stage had been calling card to a film industry so far unconscious of him, result a local triumph with a Fox contract secured. What tragedy and waste to lose Laird so early. Gregory Mank wrote a well-received biography, talked to many who knew or worked with the ill-fated character lead. Mank tells how Cregar was set to be Waldo Lydecker in Laura till pulled out and replaced by Clifton Webb. Occurs to me that had Laird lived, he might have gone on and played many if not most of roles Webb eventually had, though I concede that as Waldo he might have overpowered the ensemble, for sheer size if not personality, not so much a matter of weight as presence, like if Orson Welles were Waldo (did TCF brass discuss such possibility?). What-ifs are pointless if not annoying, and besides, had Cregar gone on, he would have somehow had to overcome a horror niche his lot thanks to The Lodger and Hangover Square, not easy considering high profile of both features.

A single scene in The Lodger turned a lock for which there was likely no key out, even had the actor lived, that being where he corners Merle Oberon near the end and she’s trying to reason him out of killing, an exchange between assailant and would-be victim that movies had not ventured so near to that time, Oberon’s “Kitty Langley” effort to soothe a maniac stuff of terror not even Hitchcock would go near for years to come (Frenzy a rough parallel, too rough in fact). Oberon does controlled panic beautifully while Cregar embodies the menace. Did audiences wonder if this was who the actor really was? Would Cregar have gotten out from under the Ripper role or ended up like Anthony Perkins after Psycho? He resented Hangover Square for being little more than a remake of The Lodger, as was acknowledged by credited writers. Peter Lorre had same trouble being cast as creeps over a long career … M had done that to him, while Lon Chaney, Jr. could thank the "Lennie" part for typing him forever more. Both would ultimately circle a drain that was casting to type with results easily predictable. Laird Cregar may well have seen such fate awaiting him. Was it any wonder he took such desperate measures to amend his physical self and become, if not Victor Mature, at least a countenance more presentable?


Blogger DBenson said...

Lack the space for even a cozy Parkland, although it's fun to fantasize a dedicated room decked out as an old-fashioned neighborhood house. As a kid I'd peruse the 16mm rental catalogs at school and imagine myself a Boy Showman, with a Bell&Howell FilmoSound and a wall-mounted screen, dazzling my peers with Real Movies. A few months ago spotted a Sears home projector table in a thrift shop. Sturdy metal legs, a little built-in light, two sockets with on/off switches, and a single cord to run to the wall. You could run your 8mm projector AND a portable record player. State of the art!

These days the fantasy is simply corralling an audience for anything vintage on the home screen. I can usually annoy adult relatives into a single two-reeler, especially if they're staying over, but even if they like it there's high resistance to adding so much as a cartoon.

Now and again play with the idea of getting a video projector, setting up shop in the driveway, and enticing neighbors out for short subjects and eventually silent features. Maybe this summer ...

5:49 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

You really caught the feel of Laird Cregar's characters (and the fact that we want to be Victor Mature, but . . . ) - - I enjoyed Greg Mank's presentation on Cregar at a Monster Bash outside Pittsburgh (as Mank has done with other actors). Have not read Mank's book on Cregar, but his presentation was moving - - Especially the part where he reads the writing on Laird Cregar's tombstone.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I'm of the view that anything originally released to the cinemas invariably improves with the size of the home viewing screen; since we've started using the projector and a 110" screen, we've found that movies are always better big, but we've also found that content expressly designed for TV broadcast is often less rather than more enjoyable once the image becomes larger than a standard big TV set.
The upshot is that we always project films here, and watch TV and other diverse & sundry internet content on smaller screens - but, if there is something cinematic to view from the web, or some old movie on youtube or TCM for instance that we'd like to see, we'll always pipe it through the projector to watch it. It's just better that way.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I've been watching 20th Century Fox musicals from the 1940s lately - never mind why - and was surprised to see Cregar pop up in a small yet memorable, indeed pivotal, supporting role in "Hello, Frisco, Hello" - not playing a heavy, but in a rather comic role, all the while remaining hidden behind a bushy beard with a bottle or drink used as a frequent prop, him portraying a "larger than life" denizen of San Francisco's 'Barbary Coast'.
He's been good in everything I've seen him in so far.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

I seem to recall Leonard Martin writing that Cregar was among those tested for "The Man Who Came to Dinner'' after RKO refused to loan out Warners' first choice, Orson Welles.

1:19 PM  

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