Monday, May 27, 2013
Birthday Boy: Thriller
I'm increasingly intrigued by the plethora of video riches now available for the asking on YouTube, not to mention taking advantage of same to fill some lamentable gaps in my education. This weekend, for example, when not riveted by the Divine Miss M., I caught up on a very odd little film that is more discussed, I think, than seen: the Tallulah Bankhead vehicle A Royal Scandal.
Don't get too excited - it's awful. It looks like they spent 70% of a moderately exiguous budget on gowns that make Bankhead look less like Catherine the Great than whomever it was that Margot Channing was playing in Aged in Wood, and the tone is sufficiently uneven that it seems like nothing so much as a Sternberg script directed as a Ritz Brothers epic. Which is to say, I suppose, it's a Fox attempt at sophistication, and despite a great deal of Acting from Miss B. (some of it, to be fair, good fun), it's flat as a pancake.
All that said, I did sit up and pay attention during the brief appearances by today's celebrant (102, were he still haunting us only on film), Mr. Vincent Price. We are so used to him as a cheerfully menacing presence in bad horror films and on TV that it's easy to forget that he was in the beginning quite comely, not to mention that he had a good run as a leading man or featured player in the '40s before becoming entrenched horror pictures good and less so. In Scandal he's the cheerfully effete French ambassador, who ends up as the Empress's consolation prize when she loses William Eythe (who's kind of a bore anyway) to Anne Baxter (who has a couple of oddly Sapphic moments as a lady in waiting, and even they're not very interesting).
While Price will doubtless have a kind of immortality for having lent his voice to Michael Jackson's monster (in more ways than one) hit, I'm awfully glad that at the end of his long career, he had two roles that gracefully limn his range as a screen presence. In his final film, Edward Scissorhands, he revisited the Gothic guignol in which he he earned his living for so many years, gently sending up the very idea of a mad scientist, and it makes a fitting valediction. Three years earlier, though, he recalls his days as a more romantic type in The Whales of August, where he is a touching foil for its formidable stars, Misses Gish and Davis, playing a gentle, faded Continental aristocrat (a senescent edition of his earlier ambassador, perhaps).
In his private life he seems to have been rather cheerfully effete himself, and in his final marriage found a soulmate in the mordant Australian phenomenon that was Coral Browne. Immersed in art and cooking, they appear to have had a very good time. After Tallulah, she must have seemed a rest...