Gotham Diary:
22 March 2012

Suffering an attack of the vapors yesterday, I spent several hours watching movies, and my mind is just about blank as a result. Perhaps it’s not the movies but the weather. Perhaps it’s the little eye infection that has been bothering me for a couple of days. But let’s say that it was the movies that flooded my mind with so many images that there’s nowhere to move.

First, I watched Crime d’amour, an Alain Corneau film that didn’t do so well in US theatres last fall. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, it turned out to be a very clever study of revenge; I was so satisfied when it was over that I wanted to watch it again right away. But instead, I pulled out a classic that obviously inspired Crime d’amour, at least in part: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques. Made in 1955, Diabolique (as it is known in English) is depressing to look at because it shows France at its poorest; the clothes may be up-to-date (sort of — only on Simone Signoret), but the living conditions are uncomfortably pre-modern. So I don’t watch the movie often and actually have difficulty remembering exactly how it comes out in the end. “Merci pour eux.

For a complete change of pace, I turned to a movie that I’ve always known about, long possessed, but never seen, Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings, with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. And Thomas Mitchell and Richard Barthelmess and Sig Ruman and even Rita Hayworth; the stars are only principals here — there’s almost the feeling of a Preston Sturges ensemble. I watched it because Jim Emerson recently called it “the most entertaining movie ever made.” Well, gee, that’s a recommendation! Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say that I agree; this is a Columbia picture from 1940, and the special effects are a little on the crude side. There is one long shot of a tricky landing on a mountain top that’s probably the most exciting bit of aviation that I’ve ever seen, and I certainly liked the movie overall; but “most entertaining”? No, that palm has to go to another entry on Emerson’s desert-island list: North By Northwest.


Cary Grant is not famous for the movies that he made in the 1940s. Oh, The Philadelphia Story and Notorious are well-known, but they’re not Cary Grant movies, not in the way that North By Northwest is. “Even I’d like to be Cary Grant,” the actor famously and significantly quipped; but in the Forties he went in for not being Cary Grant, and Only Angels Have Wings shows him hard at work trying to be someone else — Clark Gable, possibly.

Grant looks ridiculous in his braod-brimmed hat, loose trousers, and gunbelt; when he dons his leather flight jacket, you cringe at the thought that he might suddenly turn out to be Harrison Ford. There’s a sour cast to his Geoff Carter that, on Grant, seems mean and a little nasty, and not at all interesting. We may all wish that we were Cary Grant, but we don’t want to know what wounded Cary Grant. It’s arguable, on the evidence of this film as well as that of his career, that nothing wounded Cary Grant — nothing gave him cause to pull bitter faces.

The movie’s theory of what wounded Geoff Carter is Rita Hayworth’s character, and, oh, boy, is this ever miscasting. You can imagine Cary Grant throwing a hissy fit for being made to act in a movie with Rita Hayworth, but you cannot imagine any character that he would plausibly play being interested in the likes of such a tramp. Or is she a vamp? It doesn’t matter: Cary Grant doesn’t go in for ladies of such floodlit allure, especially if, like Hayworth, they have absolutely no sense of humor. Hayworth is not a very good actress, but she is already a star here, handily blotting out, for the duration of her scenes, the presence of Jean Arthur in the rest of the movie.


Ever since seeing her for the first time, in François Ozon’s Huit Femmes, I have been unable to decide whether Ludivine Sagnier is pretty. Sometimes she looks angelically blonde; at others (especially in profile) her features take on a heavy, plain weight. Her eyes, without make-up, assume a startled innocence that makes her seem not only fragile but too young to be in the movies. But she can do big girls, too, as Ozon’s Swimming Pool makes clear. In Crime d’amour, Ms Sagnier is just as complicated and impossible to pin down as her co-star, who has been defying categorization for the length of her career.

I think that it had something to do with the haircut: Kristin Scott Thomas kept reminding me of Stéphane Audran, who could easily have played Christine, the dangerous boss with a feline interest in playing with her employees. Later, I would think of how well Ms Scott Thomas would have done in Ms Audran’s roles — as Babette, certainly; as Alice (in Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie); as Huguette (Coup de torchon). In the end, though, I prefer the movies in which Kristin Scott Thomas’s character has a lot of wicked fun, as she does in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Yes, that’s what I want: remakes of The Palm Beach Story and The Great Lie in which Kristin Scott Thomas takes the Mary Astor parts. “Nitz, Toto, nitz!