Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Storm

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky), Linda Darnell (Olga). Please do click to enlarge the images.

En sällsam bekännelse. US © 1944 Angelus Pictures, Inc. PC also: Nero Films (n.c.). Original distr: United Artists Corp. P: Seymour Nebenzal. Assoc P: Rudolf S. Joseph / Rudolph Joseph. Ohjaus: Douglas Sirk. SC: Rowland Leigh – adaptation Douglas Sirk and Michael O’Hara [= Douglas Sirk] – add. dialogue: Robert Thoeren – based on the novel by Anton Chekhov: Drama na okhote (1885), in Finnish Kohtaus metsästysretkellä in the SaPo series of detective fiction (WSOY 1980, translation into Finnish by Valdemar Melanko, cover image from the Emil Lotianu film adaptation), Engl. The Shooting Party. DP: Archie Stout / Archie M. Stout. Second cameraman: Eugen Schüfftan (n.c.). AD: Rudi Feld. Set dec: Emile Kuri. Cost: Lon Anthony, Max Pretzfelder. M and musical D: Karl Hajos. S: Richard DeWeese / Richard de Weese (sound recording), Fred Lau (sound, n.c.). ED: Gregg G. Tallas (collaborating editor). Technical D: Eugen Schüfftan / Eugene Schufftan.
    C: George Sanders (magistrate Fyodor “Fedya” Mikhailovich Petrov), Linda Darnell (Olga Kuzminitshna Urbenina), Anna Lee (Nadena Kalenina), Edward Everett Horton (Count “Piggy” Volsky), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Laurie Lane / Lori Lahner (Klara Heller), John Philiber (Polycarp, Petrov's butler), Sig Ruman / Sig Rumann (woodcutter Kuzma), John Abbott (Lunin, public prosecutor), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Kalenina), André Charlot (Anton Kalenin), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler), Nina Koshetz (gypsy singer), Paul Hurst (Orlov), Charles Trowbridge (doctor), Mike Mazurki (tall policeman bending over Petrov).
    Not released in Finland – 106 min
    According to Sirk the film was mostly shot by Eugen Schüfftan, not credited since he was not a member of the cinematographer's union.
    Another film adaptation: The Shooting Party / Kohtaus metsästysretkellä / Murhenäytelmä metsällä / Olet rakkaani, olet petoni (Moi laskovyy i nezhnyy zver / Мой ласковый и нежный зверь, SU 1978), D: Emil Lotianu / Emil Loteanu, C: Oleg Yankovsky (Kamyshev), Galina Belyayeva (Olga), Kirill Lavrov (the Count).
    A 16 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 31 Aug 2016

Before his evolution into a writer of great tales (The Steppe, 1888) and great plays (The Seagull, 1895; nb. The Wood Demon, a previous version of Uncle Vanya, stems already from 1889) Anton Chekhov was a prolific and versatile writer also of light entertainment fiction, such as The Shooting Party, a first person narrative in which the narrator turns out to be the killer – "Who did it?" "I did it" – a device later brought into play by Agatha Christie in his Hercule Poirot mystery The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), "in 2013, 87 years after its release the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever" (Wikipedia). There is, however, no reason to think that Christie was aware of The Shooting Party.

The dilemma of Chekhov's narrator is aggravated by the fact that he is a magistrate in charge of justice. He has not lost his sense of justice, but his will-power is too weak, and so in his stead an innocent man is sent to life imprisonment in hard labour in Siberia. Finally the judge writes his account of what has happened, including his confession.

Douglas Sirk was a great man of the theatre in Germany who had gotten a solid start for his film career at Ufa in the 1930s. In Hollywood emigration he was getting restarted on his film career, and together with co-exiles such as producer Seymour Nebenzal and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan he created Summer Storm.

There is a touch of Hollywood Russia in the atmosphere, but the account of decay and corruption is faithful to Chekhov as well as the psychology of the main characters. George Sanders is excellent as judge Fyodor (Fedya) Mikhailovich Petrov, as is Edward Everett Horton as his best friend, Count Volsky. The female roles remain underwritten, but Linda Darnell is attractive as the sensual Olga Kuzminicha Urbenina, and Anna Lee conveys the role of the sensible Nadina Kalenina very well. Sig Rumann is unrecognizable behind his mighty beard as woodcutter Kuzma, Olga's vulgar father, who gets stone drunk and spoils his daughter's wedding party.

Michael Stern has noted how the very first shot of the film is already characteristically Sirkian: a close-up pan of hesitant feet.

Critics have observed ways in which Summer Storm prefigures later works of Douglas Sirk such as Written on the Wind. There is an affinity between Judge Petrov and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). The key sentence "do you remember the rainbow and lake?" reminds us of "look how far we've come from the river?".

Summer Storm is a tale of corruption, but there is an unmistakable flow of sympathy for the human potential of the characters who are drifting on a collision course in the current of life. Sirk always roots for his characters, no matter how ill advised they may be. They are depraved but full of life – and remorse. For Andrew Sarris Summer Storm was about "an ecstasy of irresolution.".

There is a dimension of the sublime here. When Olga is introduced she tells how her mother died in a thunderstorm "of heavenly electricity" and predicts that that is going to be her fate, as well. Her final words to Fedya are, indeed "heavenly electricity". And when Fedya is shot while trying to flee from the militia, he, too, utters those words.

The period of the action has been transferred from the 1880s to the 1910s, before and after the revolution. The account of the Soviet period in the framing story is neutral (the film was produced during a period when USA and USSR were allies). Might this be a reason why Summer Storm has become a difficult film to access?

There is an obsession with the theme of the cancelled wedding in the cinema. In Summer Storm the wedding of Olga and Anton is not cancelled, but to all participants it is obviously wrong, and everyone is ill at ease. Olga the bride leaves her own wedding party, and Fedya meets her for a passionate embrace in another room. Nadina sees them and abandons Fedya's tender dance card to the floor. That is the end of Nadina and Fedya's engagement. The final image of the film is of a waste paper basket with the dance card which Fedya has carried all his life, with the inscription "I love you".

Visually striking passages include the one where the maid Klara sees from a crack of a bathing hut a hand washing the bloody knife with which Olga was stabbed. Equally striking is the scene at the court where Klara realizes to whom the hand belonged.

There are passages of Tchaikovsky baked into the music score. It would be interesting to know the titles of the beautiful Russian romances sung by an old lady and George Sanders with the Romani orchestra.

A film that I was thinking about while watching Summer Storm is La Règle du jeu.

The 16 mm print is somewhat battered especially during the first minutes but it still provides a memorable experience of a rare and important Douglas Sirk film.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler) Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky).

Summer Storm. Linda Darnell (Olga).

Summer Storm. Olga's wedding. Linda Darnell (Olga), George Sanders (judge Petrov, best man at the wedding).

Summer Storm. At Olga's deathbed. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Linda Darnell (Olga, Anton's wife). The violent and jealous Anton is about to be convicted for the murder of his wife.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov).


Anton Pavlovitsh Tshehov (1860–1904), venäläinen kirjailija ja lääkäri, tunnetaan parhaiten mestarinovelleistaan ja syvätasolla merkityksiään kuljettelevista näytelmistään. Kirjailijana hän oli varsinkin uransa alkuvaiheessa monipuolinen ja julkaisi kevyitä viihderomaanejakin. Turha voitto (1882) oli parodista seikkailuviihdettä, Kohtaus metsästysretkellä (1885) taas dekkari, jonka poikkeuksellisesta ideaa käytti sittemmin Agatha Christie romaanissaan Roger Ackroydin murha. Huhtikuussa 1880 kustantajan työhuoneeseen astuu virkaheitto tutkintatuomari, salskean näköinen mies, joka tarjoaa käsikirjoitusta julkaistavaksi. Hän on itse yksi tarinansa päähenkilöistä, kantavieras rappeutuneessa kreivillisessä kartanossa, jossa draama kahdeksan vuotta sitten näyteltiin. Entisen loiston raunioilla vietettiin hillittömiä juominkeja elostelevan kreivin johdolla. Nuoren kaunottaren outo naimakauppa tihensi tunnelmaa, kesken metsästysretkeä joukkoon ilmestyi yllätysvieras, ja tapahtui salaperäinen murha.

Saksalaisen teatterimaailman suuriin ohjaajiin kuuluva, elokuva-alalle 1930-luvun puolivälissä siirtynyt Douglas Sirk (Detlef Sierck), oli suunnitellut Anton Tshehovin rikosromaanin Kohtaus metsästysretkellä filmatisointia jo Saksassa Ufa-yhtiölle, pääosassa Willy Birgel. 11-vuotiaana Sirk (1897–1987) oli asunut Pietarissa isänsä kanssa ja siitä pitäen rakastanut venäläistä kirjallisuutta. Maanpaossa Summer Stormista tuli Sirkin ensimmäinen persoonallinen Hollywood-elokuva.
    Heti ensimmäisissä otoksissa näkyy Sirkin kosketus. Näemme jalat, jotka kuljevat epävarmasti kivetyllä kadulla. Ensin nähdään liike, sitten suunta ja päämäärä. ”Kamera on pääasia”, sanoi Sirk, ”koska elokuvissa on tunnetta.” ”Motion is emotion, in a way it can never be in the theater.” Päähenkilö, piirituomari Fjodor (Fedja) Petrov (George Sanders), on syvästi ristiriitainen ja päättämätön hahmo. ”Kun tuollaiset tyypit olivat vallassa, vallankumous oli väistämätön”, kommentoi Sirk. Mutta verrattuna siihen kuvaan, minkä Sirk piirsi 1950-luvulla amerikkalaisesta porvaristosta, Summer Stormin näkemys venäläisestä aristokratiasta on täynnä huumoria ja myötätuntoa.
    Petrov on kihloissa Nadinan (Anna Lee) kanssa, mutta kesäisenä myrskypäivänä, kun Petrov on kylässä ystävänsä, kreivi Volskin (Edward Everett Horton) luona, he kohtaavat huvimajassa metsurin tyttären Olgan (Linda Darnell). Vaikka tämä menee naimisiin tilan pehtorin Urbeninin kanssa Petrov ja Volski tempautuvat Olgan vastustamattoman vetovoiman intohimoiseen syöveriin.
    Sirkin henkilöhahmot ovat kompleksisia ja moniulotteisia. Hän käyttää esinesymboleja (sateen-kaari, cupido, tanssiaiskortti) ilmaisevasti. Hänen hahmonsa pyrkivät hyvään, mutta heitä lamauttaa heikko tahdonvoima. Toisaalta heitä kuljettaa voimakas elämänvietti. Kuten elokuvan Tuuleen kirjoitettu Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), Fedja kärsii omasta rappiostaan. Repliikki ”Muistatko sateen-kaaren ja järven?” tuo sekin mieleen Tuuleen kirjoitetun. Kodit hajoavat liitoksissaan. Palvelijat ovat kuuroja tai juoppoja. Olgan hahmossa Sirk nojautuu film noirin kaltaiseen femme fatale -typologiaan; naisen hahmo ei ole samalla kompleksisuuden tasolla kuin miesten. Juonitteleva nainen pyörittelee heikkoja ja hassahtavia miehiä mielensä mukaan. Andrew Sarris kiteytti elokuvan elämäntunteen sanoihin ”an ecstasy of irresolution”.
    Elokuvan näkemys on syvästi ironinen, ja sen kompleksinen visuaalinen tyyli etäännyttää meitä juonesta ja henkilöhahmoista Bertolt Brechtin eeppisen teatterin tapaan. Toisaalta sen leikkisässä sävyssä on vitaalisuutta ja elinvoimaa. Lopulta on Fedjan vuoro toistaa Olgan viimeiset sanat ”taivaallisesta sähköstä”.

– Lähteinä Sirk on Sirk (Jon Halliday, 1971) ja Michael Stern: Douglas Sirk (1979) AA 31.8.2016

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