Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Tarnished Angels



The Tarnished Angels. Robert Stack, Jack Carson, Dorothy Malone, Rock Hudson, Chris Olsen.

Paholaisen enkelit / Svarta änglar / Ángeles sin brillo. US © 1957 Universal Pictures. PC: Universal International Pictures. P: Albert Zugsmith. D: Douglas Sirk. SC: George Zuckerman – based on the novel Pylon (1935) by William Faulkner. DP: Irving Glassberg – 35 mm – b&w – CinemaScope 2,35:1. Special photography: Clifford Stine. AD: Alexander Golitzen, Alfred Sweeney. Set dec: Oliver Emett, Russel A. Gausman. Cost: Bill Thomas. Makeup: Bud Westmore. M: Frank Skinner. M supervisor: Joseph Gershenson. Flute: Ethmer Roten. Stock music: Henry Mancini, Herman Stein. "Old Folks at Home" (Stephen Foster). S: Leslie I. Carey, Corson Jowett. ED: Russell F. Schoengarth. Loc: San Diego (California). Studio: Universal Studios (Universal City).
    C: Rock Hudson (Burke Devlin), Robert Stack (Roger Shumann), Dorothy Malone (LaVerne Shumann), Jack Carson (Jiggs), Robert Middleton (Matt Ord), Alan Reed (Colonel Fineman), Alexander Lockwood (Sam Hagood), Chris Olsen / Christopher Olsen (Jack Shumann), Robert J. Wilke (Hank), Troy Donahue (Frank Burnham), Betty Utey (dancing girl).
    Helsinki premiere: 30.5.1958, distributor: Oy Filmiseppo – telecast 1973: MTV1, 1992: TV3, 2000: YLE TV1, 23.7.2006: YLE TV2 – VET 48639 – K16 – 2500 m / 91 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 28 Sep 2016.

Revisited Douglas Sirk's favourite film which I had seen only on tv 43 years ago.

I have not read William Faulkner's novel Pylon but The Tarnished Angels feels like an adaptation faithful to the spirit of Faulkner. It is a "lost generation" tale with affinities with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

In the cinema The Tarnished Angels can be compared with flying movies by William A. Wellman (Wings) and Howard Hawks (The Dawn Patrol). Those were WWI movies directly; also The Tarnished Angels is one, albeit indirectly.

The Tarnished Angels is a Great Depression era story set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. There is a chaotic joy of celebration with an undercurrent of desperation. Because the director is German I was also thinking about affinities with Weimar cinema, its obsession with the fairground / circus / variety world, and I was even thinking about Siegfried Kracauer's analysis of major Weimar motifs such as "the circle as a symbol of chaos". There are the ferris wheels and the carousels and the circle of the daredevil pilots around the three pylons, with outer circles and inner circles. And the entire lifestyle which may turn into a vicious circle.

Douglas Sirk was a WWI veteran, having served in the German Navy (Seekadett bei der Reichsmarine), himself one of the "lost generation". This story is profoundly personal, deeply felt especially in the performance of Robert Stack as the air force veteran Roger Shumann. Roger only feels at home in the air. He is lost on the ground.

For the second time Sirk worked with the producer Albert Zugsmith with whom he made his two best films, Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels. And again he has the same trio of actors, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, and Rock Hudson. For the last time Sirk worked with Hudson, an actor whose scope had been revealed by him. The raw nerve of Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone is balanced by the somewhat wooden but reliable presence of Hudson. The chemistry is powerful between the three. The alcoholic ace journalist Burke Devlin (Hudson) enters the life of the two flying desperadoes, Roger and LaVerne Shumann, in search of a scoop, even a scandalous one. But Jack, the little son of Roger and LaVerne, wakes the better angels of Burke's nature, and he changes into their friend and helper.

The action scenes are well directed. The entire cinematography by Irving Glassberg is marvellous in black and white and scope. Sirk's mise-en-scène is at its most exciting in this film. There is a rewarding feeling for the spectator that in this movie Sirk wants to give us his very best.

A mostly good looking, much used print.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE EDITED FROM JON HALLIDAY'S SIRK ON SIRK, RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, AND OTHER SOURCES BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:
OUR PROGRAM NOTE EDITED FROM JON HALLIDAY'S SIRK ON SIRK, RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, AND OTHER SOURCES BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Douglas Sirkin ja George Zuckermanin sovitus Faulknerin Pylonista on todellisen ymmärtäjän työtä, kirjailijan itsensäkin mielestä hänen teostensa paras filmatisointi. Näin siitä huolimatta tai kenties juuri siksi että sovitus on hyvin vapaa: ”En halunnut Faulkneria mukaan käsikirjoitustyöhön eikä hänkään sitä halunnut. Faulkner piti aina kiinni siitä, että hän ei ymmärtänyt elokuvia. Zuckerman työskenteli jälleen kanssani ja hän ymmärsi että tarina piti kokonaan epäfaulknerisoida ja niin tapahtuikin. Vaikka kirja muuttui täysin, luulen että elokuvan henkilöt ovat silti varsin lähellä Faulknerin henkilöitä. Tämä Robert Stackin tulkitsema mies etsii henkilöllisyyttään ja on hyvin epävarmalla pohjalla. Koska hän ei löydä turvaa maasta, hän etsii sitä ilmasta – kyseessä on hullu ja mielestäni suurenmoinen idea. Samalla se on rakkauskertomus, yksi noita ohipuhuvan, vastakaiuttoman rakkauden tarinoita, joita olen aina halunnut tehdä.” (Sirk)

Ulkoisesti Paholaisen enkelit on kuvaus taitolentäjistä ja heidän maailmaansa kietoutuvasta lehti-miehestä. Taustana on 1930-luvun lamakauden New Orleans, sankarillisten lentonäytösten ja raisun festivaalitunnelman takana väijyvät toimeentulon ja koko olemassaolon epävarmuus, repeilevät, kouristuksenomaiset, esineellistyneet ihmissuhteet. Lamakauden miljöö antaa Sirkille mahdollisuuden tunkeutua suoraan yhteiskunnan ytimeen, vangita se luhistumisen hetkellä. Köyhyyden ja niukkuuden olosuhteissa ihmiset ajautuvat ”luonnollisesti” äärimmäisyyksiin: lentämään huonoilla koneilla, hyppäämään laskuvarjolla, esiintymään pelkkinä sirkusnumeroina. Perhe on hajonnut. Maailmasta on tullut paikka josta voi paeta vain ilmaan. Jopa sängyt ovat menettäneet turvallisuuden sädekehänsä. ”Vuoteet muistuttavat sairaudesta”, sanoo Dorothy Malone eräässä vaiheessa.

T. S. Eliot oli Sirkin ja Faulknerin sukupolven keskeinen vaikuttaja. Niinpä Sirk kuvausten aikana luetutti Rock Hudsonilla ja Robert Stackilla Eliotin ”Autiota maata” henkilöhahmojen luonnekuvien havainnollistamiseksi. Minerin Faulkner-teos näyttää olleen toinen Sirkin Faulkner-tulkintaa muovannut tekijä, josta hän vetää esiin ironisen sankaruuden käsitteen sekä henkilöiden sitoutumisen häviäjien, tappiolle jääneiden asioiden puolelle: ”Heillä ei ole mitään muuta kuin koneensa… mikä on osa sitä kulttuuria joka on repinyt heidät juuriltaan. Heidän pakonsa suuntautuu väkivaltaan, juomiseen, tappelemiseen ja rukoilemiseen. Luullakseni tässä tiivistyy erittäin hyvin Faulknerin Pylonissa kuvaama maailma.” (Sirk)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder on kuvannut Sirkin elokuvan henkilöiden syöksykierrettä: ”Pelkkiä tappioita. Elokuva ei ole mitään muuta kuin tappioiden kasautuma. Dorothy on rakastunut Robertiin, Robert lentämiseen, Jiggs Robertiin, ja ehkä myös Dorothy ja Rock ovat rakastuneet toisiinsa. Rock ei kuitenkaan ole rakastunut Dorothyyn eikä Dorothy Rockiin. Kun elokuva hetken uskottelee heidän olevan rakastuneita, kyse on parhaimmillaan pelkästään valheesta – aivan kuin heidän kahden välillä…? Elokuvan loppupuolella Robert kertoo Dorothylle lopettavansa lentämisen seuraavan kilpailun jälkeen. Ja tietysti hän saa surmansa siinä kilpailussa. Robertin osana on olla tekemisessä mieluummin kuoleman kuin Dorothyn kanssa… Sirk on tehnyt elokuvan, joka on täynnä jatkuvaa toimintaa, jossa tapahtuu koko ajan jotakin ja jossa kamera liikkuu alituisesti. Ja niin me ymmärrämme sen kautta paljon yksinäisyydestä ja siitä kuinka se panee meidät valehtelemaan. Yksinäisyyttä kestää paremmin, jos pitää kiinni illuusiostaan.”

– Jon Hallidayn (Sirk on Sirk, 1971) ja muiden lähteiden mukaan ST

AFI Catalog synopsis: "In New Orleans in the 1930s, mild-mannered reporter Burke Devlin stops young Jack Shumann from fighting with an older man who has questioned Jack’s parentage, cruelly suggesting that instead of famed World War I pilot and current plane racer Roger Shumann, mechanic Jiggs might be Jack’s real father. Burke, hoping for a scoop, brings Jack to the airstrip to Roger and his wife LaVerne, a parachuter, and there overhears Roger harshly chastising Jiggs, who idolizes him, for buying an expensive pair of boots. Fascinated by the “gypsies of the air” who travel from place to place entertaining the crowds, Burke offers the family lodging in his apartment. Wealthy plane owner Matt Ord, who has earned Roger’s enmity by propositioning LaVerne, calls Burke over to show off his new plane and to introduce his young hothead pilot, Frank Burnham. That night, Burke returns home to find LaVerne still awake, and in response to his prompting, she recounts how she fell in love with Roger when she was a sixteen-year-old in Iowa, and followed him out of town. Ignoring Jiggs’s clear adoration, LaVerne lied to Roger that she wanted to be a parachuter. She then recalls her wedding: in 1923, LaVerne announces to Jiggs and Roger that she is pregnant and must quit the show. When Roger does not respond, Jiggs asks LaVerne to marry him, but Roger demands that they roll a die for her. Although LaVerne is humiliated and Jiggs disgusted, he rolls. Jiggs rolls low, and Roger declares himself the winner and marries LaVerne soon after. In the present, Roger wakes up and abruptly interrupts the conversation. The next morning, Burke’s editor cancels the air-show story, prompting Burke, who has already started drinking despite the early hour, to rail heatedly about the poetry inherent in the story. Burke is fired, but nonetheless attends the air show, where LaVerne thrills the crowd with aerial stunts. The plane race begins, and Roger soon pulls ahead of Frank by flying dangerously close to the pylons that mark the courseway. When Frank’s plane hits Roger’s, Frank is killed, and Roger’s plane is ruined. That night, Roger and Jiggs secretly check out another plane of Matt’s, and upon discovering that the engine is malfunctioning, Roger orders Jiggs to have in working condition by morning. Knowing Matt will not sell the craft to him, Roger asks LaVerne to visit Matt at his hotel room and “convince” him to let Roger fly the plane. Although Jiggs and Burke are horrified, LaVerne agrees, but later, when she is getting ready to leave, Burke stops her and offers to go in her stead. She initially refuses, but after Burke kisses her, she decides to let him go. At the hotel, Burke appeals to Matt’s business sense and eventually convinces him to allow Roger to use the plane. Burke returns to the apartment, where a boisterous Mardi Gras party is being held next door, and tells LaVerne about his youthful dream of becoming a war correspondent. A drunken LaVerne, struggling with her simultaneous love of and deep resentment for Roger, falls into Burke’s arms, but their kiss is interrupted when a reveler wearing a death’s mask enters the room. Meanwhile, in the hangar, Roger pushes Jiggs to fix the plane and worries about what is keeping LaVerne. When she and Burke show up, she allows Roger to believe that she went to Matt, and after she leaves, Roger admits to Burke that he has never known how to accept LaVerne’s love, but cannot live without her. In the morning, Matt hears that Burke has been fired and comes to the hangar, where Roger immediately insults him, forcing Burke to smooth things over. One hour before the show, the plane is still not repaired and the air-show manager tries to ground it, but Roger begs him for another chance. Jiggs then admits that he has kept the plane from running on purpose, believing it is too dangerous to fly, but in response to Roger’s pleas, Jiggs starts the engine. As Roger boards the plane, he confesses to LaVerne that he loves her and wants to take the prize money and start a new life. Roger is winning the race with ease when his engine suddenly catches on fire, and in order to avoid hurting anyone on the field, he steers the plane toward the ocean and crash-lands, dying instantly. Later, Jiggs apologizes to LaVerne for never putting a stop to the rumors about Jack’s parentage, prompting a grieving LaVerne to throw his new boots out the window. Although LaVerne feels guilty for kissing Burke and wants nothing to do with him, she agrees to attend Roger's memorial with him. There, LaVerne, seeing no other choice, accepts Matt’s offer to send Jack to school in exchange for her companionship. Burke commiserates with a miserable Jiggs, and later stumbles to his office, where he spins a drunken but mesmerizing tale about a boy with a passion for the skies who was willing to give up everything for glory, but eventually died a hero. After his editor offers him his job back, Burke goes to Matt’s house and informs LaVerne that he is sending her and Jack to Iowa. Although she at first resists him, Burke asks LaVerne what her dream is, and realizing that she does not have to give up her desire to lead a decent life, she accompanies him to the airport. There, he lends her a book she has admired and asks her to return it in person." (AFI Catalog synopsis)

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