More Bergman, Marion Davies, and "His Girl Friday"

The Serpent's Egg, or Bergman meets de Laurentiis. The conversations in this monstrosity are mostly in English, and the rationale behind that, presumably, is that the star, David Carradine, is American (he don't know German). The dialogue mostly feels awkward, which isn't totally out of place, since 'they all speak in a furrin aksent;" it does sound strange from Carradine, because he speak as if he's reading from a translation. And when he furls his brow and says things like he can't bear to live, etc., etc., you can't help but think that's suppose to be Von Sydow there (doesn't help that Carradine's shot and framed and possibly made up to resemble Von Sydow, or that his dead older brother, who's Liv Ullman's husband, is named Max).

It's interesting to look at, Bergman still shoots and cuts like a master, and there are unnerving moments a-plenty. But I can't help thinking Shame trod this ground in a more effective way, using far less money. And that final monologue, over a sea of silent, black-and-white faces, actually began to get monotonous. Glad to see Bergman work with a big budget for once, but I'd say he got better results with Fanny and Alexander.

I'm guessing Marion Davies was probably one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood at the time, what with Hearst as a lover--I mean, starring roles in opulent costume dramas, and King Vidor to direct her several times--what's to complain about? Despite which she is such a talented, luminous persona onscreen, you don't really care how she got up there, you're just glad she did. Show People doesn't really live on its jokes, or on the premise of a comic actress who rises up to dramatic roles (based, reportedly, on Gloria Swanson's early career); it really turns on Davies, on her razor-sharp ability to mimic (and burlesque) an actor, and her amazing warmth and expressiveness. Maybe not a great comedy, but she's a great comedienne.

And saw Hawks' His Girl Friday for the umpteenth time. Realized that the first ten minutes is probably an add-on (I'm not sure about that), and the real beginning takes place in the prison press room, where they prepare for the entrance of Burns (Grant) for almost an hour. Wonder how this really compares to Milestone's version, and to Wilder's later one (from what I remember, Milestone emphasized the social criticism of the play, Wilder--or this is how some auteurist put it--inserted a homoerotic subtext). His Girl Friday's genius stroke (I'm hardly the first to notice this) is to deftly graft classic screwball to the newspaper comedy, adding a generous dose of sexual sizzle along the way.

And Grant is wonderful, Russel a joy, but Bellamy on this umpteenth viewing is a revelation. His slow delivery stands out against all the rapid-fire verbal assaults, and I do believe he steals almost every scene where Grant is ostensibly stealing the rug out from under him. You really do have to be smart and talented to play someone this dumb.

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