Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse

Anatole Litvak: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (US 1937) with Claire Trevor (Jo Keller), Humphrey Bogart (Rocks Valentine) and Edward G. Robinson (Dr. Clitterhouse). 

Il sapore del delitto / Salaisia voimia / Den mystiske doktor Clitterhouse.
    US 1938. Director: Anatole Litvak. Sog.: dalla pièce omonima (1937) di Barré Lyndon. Scen.: John Wexley, John Huston. F.: Tony Gaudio. M.: Warren Low. Scgf.: Carl Jules Weyl. Int.: Edward G. Robinson (dr. Clitterhouse), Claire Trevor (Jo Keller), Humphrey Bogart (Rocks Valentine), Allen Jenkins (Okay), Donald Crisp (ispettore Lane), Gale Page (infermiera Randolph), Henry O’Neill (giudice), John Litel (pubblico ministero). Prod.: Anatole Litvak, Gilbert Miller per Warner Bros. Pictures. 35 mm. 87 min
    "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" (W. A. Mozart, 1787). - "Una voce poca fa" from The Barber of Seville (Gioacchino Rossini, 1816). - "The Last Rose of Summer" (comp. attributed to George Alexander Osborne, lyr. from Thomas Moore, 1805).
    [I cannot find a Finnish premiere date. Maybe the film was imported by Warner Bros. Finland and brought to the film control but not released.]
    Copy from Warner Bros. Pictures
    Concession by Park Circus
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna: Journeys Into Night: The World of Anatole Litvak.
    Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht
    Viewed at Jolly Cinema, 22 June 2024.

The title is a reference to the female sexual organ. The wordplay passed the censorship in West End, Broadway and Hollywood. "My view was that he [the London censor] was no more likely to locate the pun in my title as to locate the source of it on his beloved bedfellow" (Barré Lyndon).

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog 2024): " Despite having Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor and Humphrey Bogart and a flashy criminal gang, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse is anything but another Warner gangster movie. Robinson, playing a psychiatrist, aims to study the mind of criminals and research their patterns of behaviour. The only way the assertive doctor can achieve that insight is to try and commit a crime himself. Underestimating his dark side, when he joins a gang he quickly rises to the top. It’s only then he realises he is missing a chapter on the ultimate crime – murder. Based on a play by Barré Lyndon that was staged first in London and then in Broadway, it was considered hot property and purchased at a high price by Universal before being sold to Warner where William Faulkner’s first draft was rejected on the grounds of being too gloomy. The film was eventually made based on a script by John Huston and John Wexley (a regular Litvak collaborator). "

" The editor Warren Low who visited the set on the daily basis (an unusual practice) was surprised to see Litvak refuse to shoot close-ups even when the leading actors were delivering some of the key lines that potentially needed the punctuation of a close shot. The actors had to adjust themselves, sometime grudgingly, to a man who intended to tell the story in motion, through the relation between the actors and their space. Yet, Robinson who admired Anatole Litvak’s “zeal and commitment” was in perfect shape and saw this film as a chance to offer cubistic views of his gangster persona – deconstructing and approaching it from unseen angles. Litvak, for his part, was experimenting with the idea of assuming new identities to break through class barriers and unveiling the many layers a man can hide under. He later revisited the link between social status and criminality in The Night of the Generals in which a high ranking Nazi officer is revealed to be a Jack the Ripper character. " Ehsan Khoshbakht

AA: In his introduction, Ehsan Khoshbakht suggested that we may be attending the first retrospective ever of Anatole Litvak, who worked in 1920s Moscow and Berlin, 1930s Paris and Hollywood and since the 1950s in international productions. It is Ehsan's third Hollywood-transnational Bologna retrospective in a row: Fregonese the Argentinian, Mamoulian the Armenian, and Litvak the Ukrainian-Lithuanian.

Ehsan sketched a nine point Litvak manifesto. 1) Space is more important than story, 2) the camera is both a musical instrument and a microscope, registering charming contrasts, 3) women have problems with identity, men difficulty holding on to theirs, 4) after dazzling dancing scenes, returning to a room in solitude, truth comes out, 5) in existential situations, people find themselves in the same melting pot, 6) in male-female games we are assumed to pretend, 7) whether it is an Electra or Oedipus complex, no matter, 8) life is a passage through the night to daylight, as reflected even in titles such as Decision Before Dawn, 9) all's well that ends well. Tonight's film ends with "amazing, really amazing". (End of my resume of Ehsan's points).

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse is a deft crime comedy, a fairy-tale, a piece of Hollywood make-believe, melding Litvak's fluid camera movements and long take aesthetics with the tough Warner Bros. house style. One of five collaborations of Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, here teaming with Claire Trevor as a hard-boiled fence (broker between thieves and buyers). The last collaboration of the trio was Key Largo, directed by John Huston, co-screenwriter of Dr. Clitterhouse.

The preposterous plot is about a Park Avenue doctor who wants to study empirically the criminal mind by becoming a master criminal himself, at every stage measuring everybody's blood pressure, temperature and pulse. For starters, Dr. Clitterhouse launches a robbery spree among his wealthy friends. Ultimately, he wants to study how criminal activity changes personality. Finally, data is only missing for the final chapter - murder. Clitterhouse has by then lost perspective on his own behaviour - and become living evidence of how crime changes personality. But because he convinces the jury that he has committed all crimes in sound mind, he is acquitted on grounds of insanity. "Amazing, really amazing".

As a front for the robber gang, a "Hudson String Quartet" is established, eternally practising Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" (actually only heard on a record-player). Clearly William Rose's screenplay for The Ladykillers (1955) with its "string quintet" rehearsing Boccherini's Minuet owes a debt to Barré Lyndon's play and/or the Clitterhouse screenplay by John Wexley and John Huston.

Appealing acquaintances in the cast include Donald Crisp, Curt Bois and Ward Bond.

"Rocks" Valentine (Humphrey Bogart) introduces an ingenious do-it-yourself telephone number tracking device with which he can locate Dr. Clitterhouse on Park Avenue.

A brilliant 35 mm print from Warner Bros.

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