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Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering the Night

This post is adapted and expanded from an article I wrote for the November 22, 2007 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

I always dread this time of year, when the holiday movies are trotted out. You can't turn around without hearing some jackass bitch about how much he hates It's a Wonderful Life. He can't get enough of "I am your father, Luke" or "I'm King o' the World!", but Zuzu's petals once a year is just more than he can bear.

It makes me nostalgic for the days when I had It's a Wonderful Life all to myself (and yes, there was such a time). Well, almost to myself, anyhow. Certainly everybody else who knew and loved Frank Capra's picture had my own last name. Back about 1974 or so, in college, I had two friends who made a nightly ritual of staying up to watch car dealer Jay Brown's all-night movies on Channel 36 out of San Jose. One day -- and it was nowhere near Christmas -- they rushed up to me bubbling with enthusiasm for this great Jimmy Stewart movie they'd seen the night before. They figured if anyone would know about it, I would, and they were right. That was -- for me, anyhow -- the beginning of the revival of It's a Wonderful Life. And the beginning of the end for my family and me having the memory of It's a Wonderful Life all to ourselves. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad the picture finally came into its own, and I thank a merciful Providence that Capra, Stewart and Donna Reed all lived to see it. But then again, when people like that hypothetical (but all too credible) killjoy I mentioned above feel free to rag on it, sometimes I'm not so sure.

So I almost hesitate to mention Remember the Night. Maybe I wouldn't, but the cat seems to be getting out of the bag. When I wrote about Remember the Night in 2007, it was available only on out-of-print used VHS or bootleg copies of an AMC broadcast from the 1990s. Things are different now; the movie's available in an above-board (and beautiful) DVD from the TCM Web site, and I figure it's only a matter of time before someone runs up to me bubbling with enthusiasm about this great Fred MacMurray-Barbara Stanwyck movie they saw the other night. I want to be able to say I'm way ahead of them.

Most of the reason for Remember the Night's resurgency -- I mean in artistic terms, independent of the arcane ins and outs of who owns a film and who decides there's a market for it -- is its writer, Preston Sturges. This was the last script he ever wrote for somebody else to direct, the somebody in this case being Mitchell Leisen, then the alpha dog among Paramount directors (a position he would soon cede to -- or at least share with -- Sturges himself). Leisen's star has slipped a bit since his heyday in the '30s and '40s, alleviated somewhat by an excellent biography, Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director by David Chierichetti, originally published in 1973 (the year after Leisen died), then revised and expanded in 1995. I'll have more to say about some of Leisen's pictures later.

Right now I'm talking about Remember the Night. The version of Sturges' script published in Three More Screenplays by Preston Sturges is a facsimile of Sturges' actual typescript, dated June 15, 1939 and bearing the title The Amazing Marriage. Written in by hand on the title page is "Remember the Night[,] Or". Obviously, neither Sturges nor producer-director Leisen ever came up with a really good title. The Amazing Marriage at least has some slight connection to a line from the script, albeit one Leisen cut during shooting. The picture's final title, though, is so generic as to be meaningless.

If the title is generic, however, it's the only thing about Remember the Night that is. Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a hardboiled, tough cookie who gets busted in New York for lifting a diamond bracelet from a Fifth Avenue jewelry store. MacMurray is assistant D.A. Jack Sargent, about to leave town to drive to his mother's farm in Indiana for Christmas when his boss yanks him in to prosecute Lee. Disgruntled and eager to get on the road, he takes advantage of a legal technicality and gets the case continued until after New Year's. Then he begins feeling guilty about leaving Lee in jail over the holidays and arranges to get her bailed out. To his surprise and discomfort, the bail bondsman remands Lee to his custody, and the surprise is compounded when, despite the fact that he was prosecuting her only that afternoon, the two find themselves taking a liking to one another. They even learn that they grew
up about fifty miles from each other in the same part of Indiana. So, still feeling responsible for Lee, Jack decides to take her home to spend Christmas with his mother (Beulah Bondi) and aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) and their hired hand (Sterling Holloway).

At the humble Sargent farm outside Wabash, Ind., Lee's hard shell begins to soften and melt in the glow of a household suffused by warmth, affection and mutual support -- the kind of nurturing family atmosphere that was completely missing from her own upbringing just a few towns away. At the same time, love -- the other kind of love -- begins to bloom between Lee and Jack, and they allow themselves to forget -- almost -- that she's a repeat offender, and come January 3 he's going to have to try to send her to jail for a long time. 

Remember the Night wasn't marketed as a holiday movie -- it was released January 19, 1940, and besides, such a thing was almost unheard of then -- but it's one of the best and least-known. It was a hit in 1940, with Stanwyck and MacMurray already showing the sexy chemistry that would play to more sinister effect four years later in Double Indemnity. And it was visible on TV through the 1960s and into the '70s, but has been out of circulation for decades. Now that Turner Classic Movies and Universal (which owns the pre-1948 Paramount library) have partnered up to issue it on DVD, it surely won't be long before it becomes as popular and beloved as It's a Wonderful Life. Well, okay, maybe not entirely as much -- Wonderful Life has a mighty powerful mystique -- but I'm betting it won't be far behind. 

I think I may have more to say on the subject, so there might be a Part 2 to this post. But that's for another day; I wanted to be sure to get this much up in time for Christmas. So Merry Christmas everybody, and if you're looking for a new movie to add to your list of holiday favorites, consider giving Remember the Night a try. 

Oh, and one more thing. Don't come around in 2037 moaning about how you're sick and tired of Remember the Night. I won't want to hear it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Films of Henry Hathaway: Down to the Sea in Ships

In 1949 Henry Hathaway made one of the best movies of his long career. In it, his three stars, Richard Widmark, Lionel Barrymore and Dean Stockwell (and for that matter, most of the supporting cast) each gave one of his own best performances. Down to the Sea in Ships is in fact one of the finest movies ever to come out of the Hollywood studio system, and almost nobody has ever heard of it.

I know I run the risk of overselling the product here, but I simply don't understand why Down to the Sea in Ships isn't one of the best-loved movies of all time. When the talk turns to the great seafaring stories of the screen -- Treasure Island, Mutiny on the Bounty, Captains Courageous, Moby Dick et al. -- it's a mystery to me why Down to the Sea in Ships never comes up. If there are such things as flawless movies, and there surely are, Henry Hathaway's Down to the Sea in Ships is one of them.

I say "Henry Hathaway's" to distinguish this picture from the other Down to the Sea in Ships, from 1922. That one made a star out of Clara Bow, and curiously enough, it's available on home video -- no doubt because it's in the public domain, while Hathaway's picture is still under copyright and quarantined in the 20th Century Fox vault. In the 1960s and '70s it was the other way around: Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) was gone and long forgotten, but if your local TV station had a decent film library and you were willing to stay up till two or three in the morning, you could count on seeing Down to the Sea in Ships (1949) two or three times a year. 

Before we leave the subject of Clara Bow's breakout vehicle for good, let's get one point clear: Wikipedia says that the 1922 picture "was remade by Twentieth Century Fox in 1949," but -- well, that's Wikipedia for you. (Whoever wrote the article didn't even know that it's "20th Century Fox," not "Twentieth.") In fact, there is no connection whatsoever between the two pictures -- other than the fact that they both deal with whaling ships out of New Bedford, Mass., and they both take their title from Psalm 107:23 ("They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters..."). These aren't two versions of the same story, they're two different movies with the same title; henceforth, when I use the title, I'll be talking about only one of them.

Fox chief Darryl Zanuck first set out to produce Down to the Sea in Ships in 1939 -- if not this picture precisely, at least one with this title and setting. Things got as far as sending a second unit crew into the waters of the Gulf of California to shoot background footage. But when World War II made it impossible to shoot on the open sea, or even in California's harbors, the picture went on a back burner. 

After the war, Zanuck reactivated the project and handed it over to producer
Louis D. ("Buddy") Lighton and director Hathaway. Both men were working for
Fox now, but they had been paired before in the 1930s at Paramount: Lighton
had produced the Shirley Temple vehicle Now and Forever, The Lives of a Bengal
Lancer, and Peter Ibbetson, all of which Hathaway directed.

The first draft of the script was by Sy Bartlett -- that's him at right -- born
Sacha Baraniev in Russia (now Ukraine) in 1900 but raised in America from
the age of four. Originally a newspaper reporter, he became a screenwriter
for various studios in the '30s, but he was noted more for hobnobbing
in Hollywood society, hosting Sunday barbecues, and the occasional
gossip-column appearance. He served with the U.S. Army Air Corps
during World War II, then returned to Hollywood and a job at Fox.
At the time that he took his first cut at Down to the Sea in Ships,
Bartlett's most memorable work was still ahead of him: he later
turned his wartime experience into the novel and screenplay
Twelve O'Clock High (1949) for director Henry King
and star Gergory Peck.

Music historian Jon Burlingame (in his notes for the movie's soundtrack CD) says Bartlett's script underwent a rewrite by John Lee Mahin -- shown here (on the left) in a rare acting stint in Hell Below (1933) with Robert Montgomery. Like Bartlett a reporter-turned-screenwriter, Mahin already had a number of major credits on his resume, many of them -- including Red Dust, Treasure Island (1934), Test Pilot, Captains Courageous and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) -- for Hathaway's mentor Victor Fleming.

Without access to what records might be in the 20th Century Fox archives, it's impossible for me to say exactly how credit for Down to the Sea's script should shake out -- which is a pity, because the script is a truly masterful piece of work; if the picture ever gets the kind of attention it has deserved for over 60 years, maybe someone will shed some light on the subject. The writing credit on screen reads "Screen Play by John Lee Mahin and Sy Bartlett; From a Story by Sy Bartlett," which matches the general drift of the two writers' careers: story was Bartlett's long suit, dialogue Mahin's. Making an educated guess, I'd say Bartlett was responsible for Down to the Sea's distinctive blend of rousing adventure and psychological acuity, Mahin for the unerring cadence and vocabulary of the speech of 19th century New England whalermen. Or it may have been more complicated than that; Mahin gets top billing on screen, which suggests that his rewrite probably amounted to more than just touching up the dialogue.

Down to the Sea in Ships opens in New Bedford in the summer of 1887. The whaling ship Pride of New Bedford returns from a four-year voyage under the command of Capt. Bering Joy (Lionel Barrymore), the best whaler on the New England coast. He's just about the oldest, too, though he shows no signs of being ready to retire from the sea. The reason for that is his 11-year-old grandson Jed (Dean Stockwell), the youngest in a line of the whaling Joy family that extends back "mighty nigh two hundred years." Capt. Joy, though still on crutches from an injury that kept him bunk-ridden for much of the voyage, is unwilling to retire, at least until Jed is thoroughly brought up in the ways of the sea and can continue the family tradition. Jed himself is (if you'll pardon the expression) entirely on board with this; he loves the seafaring life, the only life he's ever known. He's spent the last four years -- nearly half his life -- as his grandfather's cabin boy, and is now eager to ship out again as an apprentice member of the fo'c'sle crew.

Unfortunately, the decision may be taken out of both their hands. The whaling firm's insurance company refuses to cover Capt. Joy; moreover, Massachusetts law will not allow Jed to return to sea unless he can pass an exam covering the four years of schooling he missed while he was away. Fortunately, a sympathetic school superintendent (Gene Lockhart, in a warmhearted cameo) fudges Jed's test results rather than disappoint the captain.

And a tentative compromise is reached on the insurance issue when Capt. Joy is persuaded to sign Dan Lunceford (Richard Widmark) as first mate. The firm's president (Paul Harvey) says Lunceford is a promising young seaman who only needs some experience under a master mariner like Capt. Joy, but the captain isn't fooled: he realizes that Lunceford, who has a master's license, is being foisted on him at the insurance company's behest, to be in a position to take command of the Pride of New Bedford if age or infirmity should overcome the old man.

For his part, Dan Lunceford doesn't care much for the look of Capt. Joy, nor for his sneering at Lunceford's "book-learnin'" and his college degree in marine biology; only a sweetening of his percentage of the voyage's profits persuades the younger man to ship out with Capt. Joy after all.

Once the Pride of New Bedford is out to sea, Capt. Joy plays his trump card. He tells Lunceford that he sees "the hand of Providence" in Lunceford's presence on board. Jed was allowed to ship out, he says, only on the condition that his studies be continued, and Capt. Joy is hereby assigning Lunceford, in addition to his regular duties as first mate, to be Jed's tutor during his off-duty hours. In this way, the crafty old mariner intends to kill two birds with one stone: he'll see to Jed's education, and he'll keep Lunceford too busy to undermine his authority.

Lunceford has no choice but to accept the assignment, but he does so with ill grace. Resentful at what he regards as essentially a babysitting chore, he is impatient, sarcastic and dismissive. Resentful in turn, Jed is obstreperous and uncooperative. Lunceford decides Jed is just as ornery and pigheaded as his grandfather, and he give up the lessons as a waste of his time.

Stung, Jed applies himself and in time surprises Lunceford with answers to all the questions that had stumped him before. Lunceford suddenly approaches his duties as tutor in earnest, tailoring lessons more carefully to Jed's quick and lively but unsophisticated intelligence. As the friendship grows between Jed and Lunceford, Capt. Joy begins -- rightly or wrongly -- to fear that his grandson's respect and affection are drifting away from himself and attaching themselves to Lunceford; he responds to the unexpected competition by looking more carefully at Lunceford's ideas, which he had formerly dismissed as not worth his attention. All this happens even as the Pride of New Bedford roams the waters of the South Atlantic, stalking and taking whales.

That's about as much of the plot as I care to go into here; better that you should discover the rest for yourself. Down to the Sea in Ships isn't available on home video, but it does surface (pun intended) from time to time on the Fox Movie Channel, and it's worth seeking out to discover how the three-generation, three-way relationship of Capt. Joy, Jed and Dan Lunceford plays itself out against the background of a perilous voyage contending with the forces of nature and the leviathans of the deep. Each of the three discovers qualities of strength and character in the others that he either never suspected or did not properly value at first. Each brings out the best in the other two, and allows the other two to bring out the best in him.





All this, mind you, while the movie does not skimp on action and high adventure. There are scenes of whale chases and boats lost at sea, suspenseful and beautifully shot (Joe MacDonald) and edited (Dorothy Spencer), with excellent special effects (Fred Sersen and Ray Kellogg). Capping it all is a climactic sequence in which the Pride of New Bedford runs aground on an iceberg in the fog near the horn of South America...












...with the crew desperately struggling to free themselves and repair the damage before the sea pounds their ship to splinters against the unforgiving ice. Not to mince words, it's an absolutely brilliant action/suspense set piece. Amazingly enough, it was shot entirely in a soundstage tank on the Fox lot, but it's spectacularly convincing and harrowing for all that.

Down to the Sea in Ships was Lionel Barrymore's last starring
role, on loan from MGM. Once, when introducing Barrymore on a
1939 radio broadcast, Orson Welles referred to him as "the
most beloved actor of our time." It was probably an exaggeration,
but not by much; Barrymore's stock in trade was playing
cantankerous old codgers with hearts of gold. Ironic, then,
that the only role for which he's widely remembered today is
Old Man Potter in It's a Wonderful Life, one of the most thoroughly
heartless characters in the history of movies. In his own day
Barrymore was more closely identified with wise old Dr.
Gillespie in MGM's Dr. Kildare series, and with his annual
holiday performances as Ebenezer Scrooge on radio. In fact,
Barrymore had been slated to play Scrooge in MGM's A
Christmas Carol (1938) until he broke his hip in an auto
accident. That injury landed him in a wheelchair, then
advancing arthritis kept him there for the rest of his
career -- until Down to the Sea in Ships.

Henry Hathaway remembered, at first, a testy working relationship with Barrymore. As he told interviewer Polly Platt:
He had everything wrong with him, most of it in his head...I said, "You're not sick, you're just destroying yourself...I have no sympathy for you. You're a glutton, you drink too much...You want to destroy yourself, you're really doing it."
Is this callousness or tough love? Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Hathaway had a reputation for being tough on actors. His side of it was simply that he refused to mollycoddle them; he expected actors to report to the set ready to work. He also remembered the day they finished shooting Barrymore's scenes:
We finish the picture, he walked off the set. No wheelchair. No crutches. And he came to me and said, "Mr. Hathaway, I want to tell you, you did more for me and for my life on this picture than ever happened to me before. From my father or my mother, or from anybody. I was just simply sitting there and waiting to die."
Hathaway went on to say that they remained friends for the rest of Barrymore's life. In any case, whatever the validity of Hathaway's recollection, the evidence is there on screen: Barrymore responded -- whether out of spite or chagrin -- by giving one of his strongest performances in years. For once he's not merely being wheeled around the set acting crusty (although in his more physically active shots he was often doubled by assistant director Richard Talmadge).

I don't mean to minimize the genuine pain Barrymore surely suffered, but that wheelchair must have been a real convenience for a man who had never been all that crazy about being an actor to begin with. In youth, his real interests were in painting, writing, and composing music, but the pressure to enter the family trade (and the money to be made from it) kept him on stage, screen and radio for nearly sixty years. The role of Capt. Bering Joy was a recognizable "Lionel Barrymore type," but it was also a complex and vigorous character betrayed by age and ill health, and Barrymore the self-described ham connected with it on a more profound level than almost any part he ever played. He deserves to be remembered for this performance as much as -- indeed, more than -- for the unalloyed wickedness of Henry Potter. 

Down to the Sea in Ships was Richard Widmark's fifth movie, after his sensational debut as the giggling psycho killer Tommy Udo in Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947). In the intervening three pictures, Widmark played a woman-beating gang lord (The Street with No Name), a murderously jealous bar owner (Road House) and an underhanded western outlaw (Yellow Sky). The studio realized he was in danger of being typecast as a succession of nutjobs, sleazeballs and unsavories (because he played them so well), when what the studio really needed was another leading man. Casting him as Dan Lunceford was a conscious effort to help him segue into more sympathetic roles. It worked. Widmark went on to be one of Fox's most stalwart leading men, playing good guys (Slattery's Hurricane, Panic in the Streets), bad guys (No Way Out, O. Henry's Full House) and guys in between (Pickup on South Street, Don't Bother to Knock) -- until, like many other stars, he went free-agent in the mid-1950s.

In Down to the Sea, Widmark is top-billed, although he doesn't appear until half an hour in. His Dan Lunceford is the character who goes through the most self-surprising changes in the course of the picture. After all, Jed is an adolescent coming of age, and changes are to be expected, while Capt. Joy, though seemingly set in his ways and defiantly so, proves to be flexible, open to change, and willing to learn -- when he thinks nobody is watching and he can do it without losing face.

Capt. Joy blusters, but it's Dan Lunceford who is most nearly arrogant at the outset; part of the reason the captain scoffs at Lunceford's education is that he senses Lunceford is more than a little puffed-up about it. For his part, Lunceford treats Capt. Joy with an exaggerated politeness that stops just short of insolent sarcasm. (Capt. Joy: "You may have noticed that most of my crew generally sign on again." Lunceford [drily]: "Out of affection no doubt, sir.") His sarcasm towards Jed's lessons, on the other hand, is undisguised -- at first. In time, he comes to realize he has misjudged them both, especially the captain. By the end he's telling Jed that his grandfather is "more of a man than you or I could ever hope to be." It's an admission Lunceford could hardly have imagined making when the voyage began.

And then there's Dean Stockwell. Stockwell's first screen role came in 1945, when he was eight years old, and he's still working today -- which means that his career has now lasted longer than Lionel Barrymore's or Richard Widmark's. When I screened my print of Down to the Sea in Ships for some friends, one of them said, "Dean Stockwell was a revelation!" She was familiar with Stockwell as an adult actor, and knew he had started as a child star, but had no inkling he was ever as good as he is here. ("He was marvelous," remembered Hathaway, "just a great actor. Intense little guy.") My friend was right: Dean Stockwell's performance here is a revelation, easily (at the age of twelve) the best of his career -- and for an actor whose resume includes Gentleman's Agreement, The Boy with Green Hair, Compulsion, Long Day's Journey into Night, Blue Velvet, and the TV series Quantum Leap, that's saying something. Jed Joy is the fulcrum upon which the plot of Down to the Sea in Ships pivots, and in Stockwell's performance we see him grow from an uncertain, sometimes petulant child into the makings of a fine, strong young man -- he seems even to grow taller as the story progresses (and it's all in his acting; the shooting schedule wasn't that protracted).

Jon Burlingame says that Down to the Sea cost $2.5 million, one of Fox's most expensive pictures of 1949, and that despite good reviews and high expectations ("...so engrossingly done that the box-office appeal should be sturdy," said Variety, "...dotted with tremendously moving scenes that will stick in the memory."), it failed to break even. Not an unfamiliar story in the history of Hollywood.

I've been dancing all around something here, and I might as well come right out and say it: Down to the Sea in Ships is a masterpiece. It's not one of those "miracle pictures" I've talked about before, like Peter Ibbetson or A Midsummer Night's Dream. Making it was no departure for the Hollywood studio system; on the contrary, pictures like this were right up Hollywood's alley. If there's a miracle here, it isn't that it was made in the first place, but that it turned out so well in the end.

Henry Hathaway never worked with a better script; for that matter, neither has anyone else. Whether the credit goes mainly to John Lee Mahin or to Sy Bartlett -- or some magical, once-in-a-lifetime chemistry between the two -- Down to the Sea's script is nothing less than a work of genius. It's a rousing sea adventure, a sharp-eyed psychological study, a near-documentary reconstruction of the 19th century whaling trade, and a subtle examination of the customs and dynamics of a shipboard community in the age of sails. Nearly every line is memorable, every scene layered with nuances that reward repeated viewings. Even the name of the ship -- Pride of New Bedford -- is pregnant with symbolism: the many facets of pride, as both virtue and vice, is a major theme that runs through the story and all three of the central characters. This superb text inspired everyone who touched it -- Hathaway, his actors, photographer Joe McDonald, editor Dorothy Spencer, composer Alfred Newman, everyone -- to give it the best of their considerable abilities. The result of their efforts is (I say it again) a flawless movie. Not a work of art, perhaps -- perhaps -- but of such a high order of craftsmanship that it's all but indistinguishable from the real thing.

If you ever get the chance to see Down to the Sea in Ships, don't pass it up. I've never shown it to anyone who didn't love it. I guarantee it: this is one of the greatest movies you never heard of.



For my other posts on director Henry Hathaway, see:

          "A Genial Hack," Part 1 
          "A Genial Hack," Part 2: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
          "A Genial Hack, Part 3: Peter Ibbetson
          Films of Henry Hathaway: The Shepherd of the Hills

Monday, November 15, 2010

Camera Beauty

I once mentioned to my uncle (a movie buff like me)
that I thought Ava Gardner was the most beautiful
woman who ever stood in front of a movie camera.
Of course, that's a subjective call if there ever was
one; plus, considering how much movie-camera
time has been devoted exclusively to photographing
beautiful women over the past ninety years or so,
the field of candidates is awfully crowded. You could
run the question by anybody -- even limiting the
time period to, say, 1915-65 -- and I'll bet you'd
have to collect several hundred votes before you
got ten who picked the same woman.

Anyhow, meaning no disrespect to whoever's name
popped into your head just now, that's what I said
at the time: Ava Gardner topped my list. My uncle
considered the idea, and said two words: "Maureen O'Hara."

Well, now, there was food for thought. So I
considered his idea, and I said, okay,
Ava Gardner for black and white ...


... and Maureen O'Hara for Technicolor.
No doubt about it, when those old
three-strip cameras were cranking
and those blistering kilowatts of
light flooded the set, red hair and
green eyes -- to say nothing of the
face that went with them -- could be 
pretty powerful selling points.

Which raises the question: How much does the
camera matter?  A lot, obviously, but exactly
how much? Can it even be quantified?
I never met Ava Gardner or Maureen O'Hara,
but I've certainly seen plenty of their movies,
and publicity and paparazzi photos, in both
black and white and color -- enough to
convince me that neither of them were
exactly dowdy scullery drudges
away from the set.

On the other hand, I have met Elle Macpherson; I interviewed her in 1994 when her supermodel career was at its peak. And you know what? She was more gorgeous in person than she is in any photograph I've ever seen of her, and even more than she was in the movie (Sirens) that I was interviewing her for. I know it sounds like a bizarre thing to say about a woman who appeared on a record five Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers, but I was there and I saw it with my own eyes: no camera has ever captured the full beauty of Elle Macpherson.

We're used to thinking about all the things the camera adds -- I mean besides the proverbial fifteen pounds. Garbo was famously ordinary off-camera, and she knew how much her mystique owed to cinematographer William H. Daniels; he shot 21 of her 25 Hollywood pictures, and the men who shot the others -- Joseph Ruttenberg, Karl Freund and Oliver Marsh -- were no slouches either. But the camera can take away, too. I saw it with Elle Macpherson, and it makes me wonder whether (incredible as it seems) Ava Gardner and Maureen O'Hara might have looked even more stunning in person than they do in that glamour shot above, or that frame from The Quiet Man.

Movie lovers are slaves to technology, every bit as much as the stars and directors. We're dependent on the technology for our perceptions, and perceptions change as the technology improves or deteriorates. For example, the recent Blu-ray and DVD release of The Red Shoes has forced me to come up with a new choice -- at the very least, a new candidate -- for Most Beautiful Woman Who Ever Stood in Front of a Movie Camera:

Moira Shearer as the doomed ballerina Victoria Page. The painstaking restoration of The Red Shoes undertaken by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the British Film Institute reportedly took two-and-a-half years, and it was worth every minute. I read somewhere once that The Red Shoes was the Technicolor Corp.'s own official choice for the most beautiful Technicolor movie ever made. I don't know if that's true, but I believe it; I've never seen a print of Red Shoes that was less than gorgeous. Even so, I've never seen -- scarecely imagined -- it looking like this. The movie itself, I think, is one of the unique works of art, though to be honest, it's one I admire without entirely enjoying; for sheer pleasure I prefer other Powell-Pressburger pictures like I Know Where I'm Going, A Matter of Life and Death or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. But as a sheer exercise in sumptuous pictorial splendor, The Red Shoes is without equal, and this new restoration leaves me wide-eyed and gasping at nearly every shot.

The chief beneficiary of the UCLA/BFI facelift, besides Jack Cardiff's matchless cinematography (only the spiteful insularity of Hollywood can explain why he wasn't even nominated for an Oscar), is Moira Shearer -- the dancer who never really wanted to be a movie star. Whether she's dressed to the nines for a formal reception, as above...

 





...strolling in the warm Monte Carlo sun...













...tousled after a strenuous rehearsal...














...togged out for a formal dinner date...












...larded over with seven pounds of ballet makeup...







  ...or beaded with sweat during a performance, Shearer always looks like seven billion bucks. 

What I'm driving at is that all this is the result of improved technology. When my uncle and I had our discussion of Ava Gardner vis a vis Maureen O'Hara, and when we were considering all the legendary screen beauties (Garbo, Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Hedy Lamarr, Louise Brooks, insert favorite name here), I don't think either of us gave a thought to Moira Shearer. Is Moira Shearer -- the Moira Shearer of 1948 -- suddenly more beautiful than she was the last time he or I saw The Red Shoes

Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film & Television Archive suggests that The Red Shoes may look better now -- clearer, sharper, richer -- than it did even when it was new, simply because of the digital techniques that allow for a precision in processing the Technicolor matrices that goes beyond anything possible in the 1940s, '50s, '60s, or for decades even beyond that. The process of shooting The Red Shoes is over and done with; we can't change what happened on the set, or how Jack Cardiff lit the actors and focused and moved the camera. But what happens from there, between the time the negative comes out of the camera and the moment the finished image is splashed across a screen for discerning eyes -- that process remains malleable, and probably always will (any collector who has watched the color shift and fade on a 16mm Eastman print can easily grasp the concept). Shooting a movie is a finite process, but making the movie can go on and on for years, decades -- in the case of The Red Shoes, even after nearly everyone involved in getting the picture into theaters in the first place is dead and gone. That's why movie buffs before the age of video would travel miles to see yet another print of a picture they already knew by heart, and why they might buy 16mm prints over and over -- then, when video came in, the VHS, the laserdisc, the DVD, the Collector's Edition, the Blu-ray. It's like Shakespeare scholars taking in an infinity of Hamlets; the experience is different every time, and this one just might prove definitive.

So suddenly The Red Shoes looks more glorious than it ever did -- which hardly seemed possible -- and I have a new personal nominee for Most Beautiful Woman Who Ever Stood in Front of a Movie Camera.

And yet, all this may change. If, say, Mogambo or The Quiet Man ever get the kind of laborious restoration that UCLA and the BFI have lavished The Red Shoes, there could be clearer, sharper, richer beauties revealed in Ava Gardner and Maureen O'Hara, and they may again challenge Moira Shearer for the title. Then again, just such a restoration is underway even now on another Powell-Pressburger picture, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and who knows...







...the 21-year-old Deborah Kerr just might come out of nowhere to knock them all out of the running.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Fog of Lost London, Part 4

The concluding chapters of London After Midnight by Marie Coolidge-Rask:

Chapter 19 - The Man in the Beaver Hat

At Balfour House, the man in the beaver hat, lantern in hand, climbs the stairs to the secret room where the bat-woman hovers near the ceiling. Come down, he says, all is ready; she is on her way.

In the overgrown garden the bat-woman waits as Lucy approaches. As the two come together, a shriek like a woman's voice rends the air. Lucy cowers, but the bat-woman soothes her: "It's nothing. They're awake -- coming." Lucy feels herself taken in two strong arms and carried bodily into the house. She sees that her bearer is the man in the beaver hat described by Smithson.

Lucy looks around; tears well in her eyes as she takes in the home she has not seen since her father's death five years before. She begs the pair with her to tell her who they are.

The man in the beaver hat silences her with a gesture. Footsteps are heard outside. Suddenly there's the crash of a shattering window and a man tumbles into the room at their feet.

Chapter 20 - Hibbs' Madness

In Hamlin House, Hibbs dashes downstairs to where the servants cluster, roused from their sleep by the sudden hue and cry from Lucy's room. They urgently entreat Hibbs to tell them what's going on, but he is incoherent, raving -- They're coming! They're all around! I go to destroy them!

The unfortunate Hibbs rummages around the kitchen, yard and outbuildings of the estate, raving about an axe and a hickory stake, the implements he must have to destroy the "vampyrs." He finds an axe in a chopping block and sharpens two pieces of wood into stakes, muttering madly all the while. The servants watch in amazement, afraid to intervene in his maddened state. Soon he is off on his way to Balfour House on his desperate, fevered mission.

At Balfour House he lurks outside a window, his eyes wide, barely suppressing the wild beating of his heart. What he sees through the window drives him madder still: Lucy standing with the man in the beaver hat and the bat-woman. She doesn't run, she doesn't flee; she is in their wicked power! She must be saved before it's too late!

Hibbs leaps through the window, falling at the feet of Lucy and the two fiends in a shower of glass. Before he can move or clear his fevered brain, creatures of unimaginable strength have pounced upon him, overwhelmed him, bound him, borne him off. Is this the end? Has he failed to save Lucy? Is he doomed to be a vampire himself?

Chapter 21 - Help from Scotland Yard

At Scotland Yard, the summons to Hamlin House has been received and a squad of constables is ready to set out. The assistant commissioner knows now that Inspector Burke's preparations -- carefully set in motion by the work of an undercover agent -- are about to bear fruit.

The constables pile into a car and swiftly depart for their destination, an estate outside London. They are told that when the car is sighted there will be a signal -- a siren; they are to reply with a howl, just like the other night.

As the car speeds along, they hear the siren -- a long, piercing shriek like a woman's scream. The car replies with its own special signal, a blaring electric horn like the howl of a dog. Peering into the darkness, the constables see the outline of Hamlin House straight ahead.

Chapter 22 - A Strange Conference

At Hamlin House, Colonel Yates hears the howl of a dog, just like the one the night of his and Sir James's visit to the Balfour crypt. Looking out the window, he sees a car approaching. It must be Scotland Yard, he tells Sir James, and not a minute too soon.

As Yates and Sir James go downstairs, the butler is admitting the police, who have arrived in response to Sir James Hamlin's request. Sir James introduces the policemen to Colonel Yates, saying he will explain the situation to them; Sir James himself is too distraught.

The colonel surveys the police detail with a military eye, apparently deciding that they will do. Quickly he summarizes the weird train of events that have led to their presence here. Now, he says, they have reason to believe that Miss Lucy Balfour is in dire peril in her former home. The police should proceed at once to Balfour House and be prepared for "instant action."

Yates turns to Sir James; does he have his revolver ready? Sir James does. Let me see it, says the colonel. Examining the gun, he notes that it has not been fired in a long time and may not be reliable. Turning to one of the officers, he asks for a spare pistol that Sir James can carry in case the need for it arises.

Sir James, seated at his desk, tries to insist that his own revolver will do, but something in Colonel Yates's eyes stops him. Sir James, in his highly nervous state, seems suddenly transfixed. Colonel Yates moves his hands before the man's face but gets no response.

Satisfied, the colonel takes Sir James's desk clock and sets the hands to eight o'clock. He places the clock before Sir James. At twenty-five minutes past eight, he tells Sir James, come to the verandah door at Balfour House.

Colonel Yates leaves with the police. Sir James, he says, will be joining them later.

Chapter 23 - From Out of the Past

Lucy is upset at what is happening to Hibbs -- those men seizing him, binding him, carrying him away, saying he must be drunk. Jerry is never drunk! The bat-woman tries to calm her. Please, dear, she says, didn't he tell you to remember your part and do it, no matter what? Yes, Lucy says, but he said he'd take care of Jerry, see that he comes to no harm. And so he will, the woman says, we all will. She turns to the man in the beaver hat. What was wrong with him? Too much excitement, the man says; he'll be taken care of and kept out of harm's way. But now we have to work fast.

Lucy pulls herself together. You'd better see the man in the next room, the bat-woman says to Lucy, prepare yourself. It might be a shock and you should get it over with.

Lucy parts a frayed curtain and looks into the next room at the man sitting at her father's desk. It is a shock. The resemblance is uncanny, eerie. For a moment she feels like a little girl again, the little girl who came into this very room and found her father dead, sitting where that man is now. Lucy looks down at herself and sees that she is not that little girl at all anymore. This man can't be her father -- but he looks so like him.

Lucy prays for the strength to do what she must. She goes up to the man, who rises to greet her. They talk briefly. She answers his questions about the night she last saw her father alive. He tells her he can only imagine how difficult this is for her. He has three daughters of his own, and he hopes any one of them would feel just as Lucy does. But he also hopes that they would find the strength to do what must be done. It's so important. "Play the role," he says, "and make it a success."

Chapter 24 - Metamorphosis


Lucy returns to the waiting bat-woman. The woman dresses her in a girlish white frock identical to one she had as a young girl. The woman tells her it is the same dress, that Smithson has retrieved it for Lucy to wear tonight. Again, as so often this night, Lucy is surprised; she thought she was being so clever in stealing away from Hamlin House, and Smithson knew all the time!

Colonel Yates strides into the hall with several men. One of them Lucy recognizes as one of the men who subdued Hibbs; in a flash she realizes that the other man who grappled with her sweetheart was the man who so resembles her father. Who are all these people? And who is Colonel Yates?

The man in the beaver hat removes his cloak and hands it to the colonel. Is everything ready? 
Yates asks. The man says yes, handing his hat to the colonel, then removing his wig and handing that over as well. In the hat, wig and cloak, stooped over and contorting his face, Colonel Yates looks exactly like the other man -- except for the absence of those spiky teeth, which he conceals by raising the collar of the cloak. 

And now Smithson is there, telling Lucy how sweet she looks. I followed you to the edge of Hamlin grounds, she says, to make sure you were safe. 

Colonel Yates also compliments Lucy on her appearance -- just what he wanted. As he takes her by the hand and leads her toward the other room, questions swim in Lucy's head. What is this all about? Why isn't Sir James here? Who are these people? Who is Smithson, really? And who is Colonel Yates?

Chapter 25 - Sinister Preparations

A steady stream of commands, directions and questions comes from Colonel Yates. Where is the notary? The stenographer? He questions Lucy about the arrangement of the furnishings in the room, making adjustments as she points them out. He orders everyone to their positions. He turns to Lucy and asks if she is ready. Yes, she says, but how can going through that night again bring a guilty person to justice? All will be clear in good time, he assures her. And he reminds her, after she has said good night, not to linger but to go directly to the room where the bat-woman waits for her. 

The colonel disappears behind a screen, but Lucy can just see his eyes watching through the slits between the panels. How she wishes this were all over and done. But now the house is silent, waiting. Someone is approaching along the verandah. 

Chapter 26 - Sir James Pays a Call

When the desk clock reads 8:25 Sir James rises and leaves the house, pausing briefly to tell Billings, the butler, that he is going to call at Balfour House. Billings says nothing, as he was directed by Colonel Yates, merely watches Sir James go. Billings reflects on the mystifying events of the last few days, most mystifying of all being the note left by Anna Smithson, thanking him for his many kindnesses and saying, regretfully, that it is necessary for her to leave Hamlin House immediately; a baggageman will call for her luggage in the morning. 

Sir James proceeds steadily to Balfour House, pausing to look around as he enters the grounds. What a fine estate he will have, he reflects, when these grounds are combined with his own. 

As Sir James enters the house, the butler, Mooney, announces him. His friend Roger rises to greet him. And there is dear Lucy, that lovely little girl of Roger's. Sir James observes with envy the affection between father and daughter as she kisses Roger good night. Lucy smiles at Sir James and extends her hand, wishing him a good night. Aren't you going to kiss me too? Sir James asks. 

Lucy's smile vanishes. She tells Sir James she doesn't like him when he talks like that. Then she is gone; Sir James and Roger Balfour are alone.

Chapter 27 - In Hypnosis

In Sir James's mind, it is five years ago, the night he last saw Roger Balfour alive; the man with him is Roger Balfour; and they are alone. But the man he takes for Roger -- whose real name is Drake -- knows that none of those things are true. They are certainly not alone; every move they make is being watched, every word heard and taken down for the record. Now that Lucy is out of the room, there is only one person who knows how the conversation went between the two men that last night. Sir James is reliving his half of that scene; Drake must now play a very delicate game. He must deduce from Sir James's behavior what he, as Roger Balfour, should do or say next. The slightest misstep can shatter Sir James's hypnotic trance. 

Sir James, unable to quite conceal his annoyance, tells "Roger" that he has come here tonight in a spirit of friendship to help his friend in his financial difficulties. I know about your troubles, he says, more than you realize. 

Drake plays a hunch. He tells Sir James that he knows exactly the extent of his knowledge -- he sees that his hunch has hit home, and continues -- knows that Sir James has been stealing from him right and left, made him penniless. Now that you have me in your power, he says, what do you want?

I want Lucy, says Sir James. I have loved her since she was a baby, and I want her for my wife. You have always distrusted me, suspected me. You have called me a drug user and a sensualist, but you could never prove it. 

Now Drake, with the revulsion of a father with daughters of his own, knows what Roger Balfour must have said, the only thing that could have caused events to turn out as they did. I can prove it, he says, now.

Sir James's eyes blaze with hate as he draws his revolver. He demands these "proofs." The other man refuses, and Sir James fires. Drake crumples to the floor, a bloody wound in his temple. 

Sir James searches the desk. Those proofs, whatever Roger had, must be here, he is certain. He goes through every drawer quickly but carefully, finding nothing. The fool was bluffing. Well, now he's dead, and good riddance. Sir James takes out his handkerchief, wipes his pistol clean, and lays it on the floor near the dead man's lifeless fingers. Now he must escape before he is found here. He backs toward the door. 

As he reaches for the doorknob his arm is seized in a powerful grip, then his other arm. Sir James struggles in a desperate frenzy, unable to break free. He hears a voice: Don't let him get away! He's still under hypnosis! I'm coming!

Chapter 28 - A Dramatic Awakening

 As Sir James struggles, the man in the beaver hat emerges from behind a screen. Under the man's penetrating gaze, Sir James ceases to struggle. He looks around. Balfour House! How did he get here? He sees Roger Balfour dead on the floor, exactly where he left him. But that was five years ago! Or was it? Has it all been a dream, these five years, all his patient plotting and planning to possess Lucy? All a dream during the few seconds as he made his way to the door? 

It must have been! Roger had been too clever, had his men in hiding. But not clever enough; they've prevented my escape, but they're too late to save his life. Sir James looks at the man in the beaver hat. Have I been asleep?

No, says the man, and neither have I. He reaches out and rips the sleeve from Sir James's jacket. Sir James recoils from the searing pain. There! says the man. I knew I clipped you when I shot at you tonight. You thought you'd finish Hibbs with your poison needle, but I was there instead waiting for you. 

Chapter 29 - Surprising Revelations

Drake rises from the floor, wiping the stage blood from his face, grateful that Sir James had been handed a doctored revolver back at Hamlin House. The man with Sir James removes his beaver hat, cloak and wig, revealing --

Yates! cries Sir James. I thought the years had changed you, but now I see you're an impostor. You've set this trap to blackmail me! You'll get nothing from me! Sir James shrieks with indignation.

"Colonel Yates" takes off his glasses, removes the subtle disguise from his face, rearranges his hair, and shows Sir James his badge: Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard. I have what I want from you, he says. I've spent the last three days carefully breaking down your defenses, creating a mental strain that would make you susceptible to hypnotic influence. My theory that a criminal in hypnosis, faced with the circumstances of his crime, will repeat that crime exactly -- my theory has been proven correct.

Cornered, broken, trapped, Sir James crumbles and confesses all. He murdered Roger Balfour just as Burke and his crew have seen him reenact the crime tonight. He murdered Harry Balfour with a poison injection to the throat for fear that Harry would discover the proof of his wicked life that he could not find before -- and worse, would take Lucy away from him. He tried to do the same to Hibbs to get him out of Lucy's life, before Yates/Burke's intervention sent him fleeing for his life. 

The stenographer has it all. Inspector Burke orders the statement typed up. He tells Sir James that the law will see to it that every last farthing he stole from Roger Balfour will be restored to Lucy as the last survivor of her murdered family. And finally, he orders his men to examine Roger Balfour's desk closely for evidence of a secret drawer; those proofs must be in there somewhere.

Chapter 30 - Recapitulation

Burke tells Sir James that he suspected him from the start; if only he could have acted sooner, he might have saved Harry Balfour's life. Burke's investigation had uncovered evidence of Sir James's embezzlement from Roger Balfour. A former policewoman, Anna Smithson, was planted in Sir James's household, where she uncovered evidence of Sir James's drug use and degenerate activities. She had also overheard conversations between Sir James and Harry -- no one ever notices the servants -- and knew that Harry intended to remove his sister from Sir James's influence. She had even found the vial of poison with which Sir James murdered Harry (and intended to murder Hibbs) and replaced it with a harmless liquid. The real poison is now in police hands, to be used as evidence.

Chapter 31 - Professional Pride

Inspector Burke goes upstairs to where Lucy is sitting by the bedside of Hibbs, now all but recovered from his derangement. Burke tells Lucy and Hibbs his true identity, and that he has the murderer of Lucy's father and brother in custody. He spares her any details for the moment. She must know all in time, of course, but later, when she's stronger. 

Burke apologizes for keeping Hibbs in the dark, but it was necessary to the operation; Hibbs is not dissembler enough to have been able to play a role. Hibbs sheepishly admits that he now wishes he'd taken "Colonel Yates's" advice and gone to bed. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble -- especially himself. 

Smithson comes in to say goodbye; she will miss Miss Lucy and Mr. Jerry. She playfully scolds Burke for that "terrible tarradiddle" he made her tell about the green mist through the keyhole. 

Finally come the man in the beaver hat and the bat-woman; their part in Burke's elaborate charade is done, and now it's back to the music halls for them. Come see us, the woman says, Mooney and Luney -- Jimmy Mooney and Lunette the bat: "I fly by night an' I sleep by day, the looniest kind of a bat!"


Afterword

So there you have it, friends: London After Midnight -- a Halloween treat with a trick. If you've seen 1935's Mark of the Vampire, the twist came as no surprise to you; for that matter, even in 1927 the New York Times commented that whether the ending surprised anyone would be "a matter of opinion."

I haven't read Philip J. Riley's reconstruction of the picture -- honestly, I can't remember now whether it was the opportunity to buy it or the good sense that I lacked in 1987 -- but I have seen the Turner Classic Movies reconstruction, and there are major discrepancies between it and the story told by Marie Coolidge-Rask. In TCM's version, Hibbs is identified as Arthur, not Jeremiah (Jerry), and he's Sir James's nephew, not his secretary. (Variety's Mori says Hibbs is Roger Balfour's nephew, but that doesn't make sense and is probably a mistake on Mori's part.) Neither the TCM version nor the reviews mention the murder of Harry Balfour, or even his existence, although the illustration in the novel (see Chapter 2, "Another Mystery") suggests Harry must have been in there somewhere. (Oddly enough, in the caption Jules Cowles, who played Gallagher the chauffeur, is identified by his own name rather than his character's.)

Most important of all, the idea of Inspector Burke operating incognito as Colonel Yates seems to have been entirely Ms. Coolidge-Rask's invention; in the reconstruction and both reviews Burke is openly himself throughout. He is even shown investigating the "mysterious" death of Roger Balfour and deciding it was suicide, then coming back five years later to prove it was murder -- the Times reviewer pinpointed the howling illogic of that ("...Burke of Scotland Yard, the genius who wills to solve a murder mystery five years after he has declared it to be a case of suicide.").

All things considered -- and with no true copy of London After Midnight, having only Variety's detailed recounting, the New York Times's musings, and TCM's version to go on -- I have to say there's good reason to believe that Marie Coolidge-Rask, despite her cumbersome way with words, made a considerable improvement on Tod Browning's story. Once you accept the basic premise -- an elaborate police sting to hypnotize a murderer into reenacting his crime -- her story has its own clear logic and builds a good amount of suspense. There are many nicely creepy moments -- not least the eye-opening whiff of pedophilia in Sir James's character, which in the novel surely goes beyond what the Hays Office would have tolerated in 1927. Much of the plot as it reads must have been the novelist's creation; there seems far too much to fit into a picture that Variety says ran only 65 minutes (TCM's reconstruction runs 46). And the book has a good sense of pace, becoming quite breakneck as the climax approaches -- just about the time Hibbs goes crazy we begin to feel as if we have, too; as Lucy's world is turned topsy-turvy, so is ours.

I hope you've enjoyed Marie Coolidge-Rask's spooky little Halloween campfire story. Have a safe and happily creepy Halloween Weekend, everyone.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Fog of Lost London, Part 3

Continuing with London After Midnight by Marie Coolidge-Rask:

Chapter 10 - A Question of Vampires

The howling of the dog, coming from the direction of Balfour House, continues as Sir James and Yates make their way home from the crypt. They recount their experience to Hibbs, and the three discuss aspects of vampire lore as written in Colonel Yates's book. Since murdered men and suicides are supposedly liable to become vampires, and since Roger Balfour's coffin was still undisturbed at the time of Harry's interment, it is cautiously suggested that the son's unsolved murder may have had some supernatural effect on Roger Balfour's restless soul. Sir James is clearly rattled by the night's experience; Hibbs and Yates realize that there is some unknown factor at work over in Balfour House, and the mystery seems to deepen with every new event. It is near dawn when Sir James and Colonel Yates go to bed. Hibbs steals back downstairs to the library for further study of Colonel Yates's book.

Chapter 11 - Harrowing Tales

All three men rise late the next day, leaving Lucy feeling quite lonely in the house, oppressed in the heat that has been intensified, rather than dispelled, by the early-morning electrical storm. At dinner that evening, conversation is kept trivial; by tacit agreement among the three men, Lucy is given no hint of what happened the night before.

Later that night, after Lucy has gone to her room, the three men resume their discussion of the night before. Suddenly they hear a piercing scream from upstairs, in the direction of Lucy's room. Rushing upstairs, they find Lucy's door locked. They try to break down the door, but before they have to, the door opens. In the room they find Smithson, the maid, trembling and sobbing, her eyes wide with fear, two small wounds at her throat, similar to the ones seen on the body of Harry Balfour. Sobbing, she tells the men that Lucy is locked in her dressing room, and they release the confused and frightened young lady from her confinement.

Finally, Smithson pulls herself together and tells
the men what happened. As Miss Lucy was
getting ready for bed, she says, she left her
to fetch some towels from the linen closet.
In the hallway she saw the man in the beaver
hat, the one she saw on the steps of Balfour
House as she was passing the night before.
The man was stooped over and creeping
toward her, his skeletal hand outstretched,
his spiky teeth gleaming. Smithson was too
frightened even to scream.

Thinking of Miss Lucy, Smithson says, she
rushed back to the young lady's room,
shoved Lucy into the dressing room and
locked her in. Then she locked the door to
the outer room and thought they were safe.
But before her horrified eyes, a green mist
streamed through the keyhole and formed
itself into the man in the beaver hat. The
man came to her; she was unable to speak
or scream, or even move. She felt him
bending over her, felt his teeth on his throat.
That must have been when she screamed,
she says, but she doesn't remember it.
She knew nothing more until she heard
Sir James, Colonel Yates and Hibbs
pounding at the still-locked door.

Lucy, greatly excited, calls their attention
to the window, where all of them see
the man in the beaver hat skulking
across the grounds in the direction
of Balfour House. Colonel Yates tells
Hibbs to remain with Lucy and see
that she is not left alone; he and
Sir James will investigate the matter
further.

Chapter 12 - Panic

Left alone with Lucy and Hibbs, Smithson realizes that the two young people (whose feelings for each other have not escaped her notice) wish to be alone, so she tells them she is going down to the kitchen; after her experience she could use a nice cup of hot tea. Downstairs she finds the servants -- butler, housekeeper, cook, maids and footmen -- cowering in the kitchen, wondering about all the commotion earlier but afraid to go and see what it was. They mill around her, clamoring for news. Deciding she could use something a little stronger than tea, Smithson asks Billings, the butler, for "a little drop of spirits." Thus fortified, she proceeds to regale the servants with another recounting of her experience in Lucy's room, this one much embellished for dramatic effect as Smithson relishes the attentions of her rapt and horrified audience. At this inopportune moment, a cat knocks over a tin pan from the sink onto the floor; the sudden clatter sends the servants into an uproar. Upstairs, Lucy and Hibbs hear the melee downstairs and wonder what can possibly happen next.

Chapter 13 - The Woman on the Ceiling

Colonel Yates and Sir James make their way to Balfour House, proceeding slowly by a roundabout route, pausing frequently to watch and listen for prowlers or anything untoward. Once again Sir James's heart is racing, and once again he depends entirely on the resoluteness of Colonel Yates to keep him going.

It is well after midnight when they approach Balfour House. The house is dark, but they can see a faint light glimmering from one of the upper windows -- in fact from the "secret chamber" that has been unoccupied for centuries, the one in which a woman's ghost is said to roam. Slowly forcing their way through the tangled grass and foliage of the overgrown grounds, they find a large tree from which they should be able to see into the lighted chamber. Taking the lead as usual, Yates climbs into the tree. At that moment they hear, low but clearly audible, the insistent sobbing of a woman in despair.

Through the high windows of the secret room they can see only the ceiling and the upper walls inside. There they behold a sight that confounds them. By the dim light inside, they see a mysterious shape in the secret room -- now sharp and clear, now blurry and indistinct, now rising to the ceiling, now swooping below the level of the windows, now contracting, now expanding as if carried by huge bat-like wings. At one point the apparition turns its head to the light, and the two men clearly see the profile of a woman -- a woman hovering and swooping high in the secret room on the wings of a bat!

From their perch in the tree they are able to step gingerly and noiselessly onto a narrow balcony by one of the windows, from which they have a wider view of the room. They see three men, all with a ghastly pallor to their faces, absorbed in watching the movements of the bat-woman over their heads. One of them is the man in the beaver hat. Another is unidentifiable, but the third man, as Sir James confirms in a trembling whisper, is Roger Balfour.

The bat-woman, where she hovers near the ceiling, turns her face toward the window, her eyes intent, as if to pierce the darkness beyond. Yates and Sir James take an involuntary step back into the shadows. The figure of Roger Balfour also turns to the window, his eyes keenly searching, his face ghostly pale, a small open wound crusted and discolored at his temple. Sir 
James shudders.

Colonel Yates whispers that they have seen enough for one night, and Sir James readily agrees. They stealthily return to the tree and cautiously climb back down to the ground. Sir James is highly agitated. In a distraught whisper he urges that they return at once to Hamlin House; God only knows what has happened to Lucy in their absence. In a sudden flash of insight, Colonel Yates realizes that Sir James's feelings for Lucy are not merely those of a guardian for his ward. 

From a rise a little distance from Balfour House they look back. In the dim light of the upper window they see a shape standing at the window, and they hear a voice, low and plaintive, calling: "Lucy -- Lucy -- Lucy -- "

Chapter 14 - By the Light of Day

Sir James spends a sleepless night, his mind going over and over the weird events of the night and the uncanny things he and Colonel Yates have seen. The next day at noon, Lucy, alarmed at his tired and ill appearance, asks him what happened while he and the colonel were out. Feeling it best to keep her unaware, he says that they were unsuccessful in their attempt to follow the man in the beaver hat; he had eluded them, and their long walk was for nothing. 

Sir James and Colonel Yates decide to return to Balfour House by daylight; they tell Hibbs that if they are not back in an hour he should send a party in search of them. Under the hot summer sun on a cloudless day, Balfour House looks impressive and looming, but empty and unthreatening. Sir James wonders, was what they saw the night before merely a figment of their imaginations? No, says Yates; they saw what they saw, but what it can mean is impossible to say. Sir James is not reassured.

They knock at the door, but there is no answer. Entering cautiously, they see no signs of occupancy, no disturbance in the dust on the tables, chairs and floor. The door to the secret room is still locked and bolted, the lock rusted and untouched. As they creep from room to room, searching, Sir James again has the unsettling feeling he had on the night they visited the Balfour crypt, that some unseen presence is following them, watchful. 

As they enter the library, the room in which Roger Balfour died five years ago, a strange sight greets them: High in a corner of the ceiling are a group of five bats, hanging in silent slumber. 

Chapter 15 - Two Suitors

Back at Hamlin House, Lucy waits for Colonel Yates in the rose garden; she has promised to give him a tour of the garden and a description of the blooms cultivated there. Hibbs scolds her for being alone, even in the daytime. She laughs, saying she wishes she had seen the man in the beaver hat herself; she'd have captured him! Hibbs, realizing she has been kept in the dark as to the extent of her danger, restrains himself from telling more than he should. 

Sir James and Colonel Yates come into the garden. As they discuss what to do about the previous night's events, Yates notices the flash of suspicion on Sir James's face at the apparent intimacy between Hibbs and Lucy. Yates urges Sir James to ask Scotland Yard to investigate Balfour House; involving the local police, he says, could lead to unwanted and harmful gossip, but the Yard is renowned for its discretion. Have Hibbs write Scotland Yard, he says, asking them to send several good, able-bodied men -- "men who are not afraid of man, ghost or devil" -- under cover of darkness. 

Sir James and Hibbs go into the house to draft the letter, leaving Yates and Lucy to their tour of the garden. As they chat, Lucy confides something she has never told anyone, not even her brother Harry: When she was a little girl, she was strangely afraid of Sir James, although she never knew exactly why; he was always so good to her. And since her father's death, he has been kindness itself; she feels she could never repay him for all he has done for her and Harry. 

Colonel Yates assures her that he understands. He tells her that he wants to have "a serious talk" with her, on a matter that concerns her closely. 

From the house, Hibbs watches Lucy and the colonel in the garden. He sees Lucy throw her arms around Colonel Yates and kiss his cheek, then begin weeping on his shoulder. His jealousy flares, and it is with difficulty that Sir James recalls him to the task of writing Scotland Yard. 

Later, Hibbs confronts Lucy and demands an explanation. She cannot say anything, she says, and begs him not to ask. But she mollifies him by assuring him that she intends to break the news to Sir James of her and Hibbs's feelings for one another. 

Lucy finds Sir James in the music room, as eager to speak with her as she is with him. Sir James wonders: Has Lucy been annoyed by the unwanted attentions of his secretary? No, not at all, she assures him. Before she can go on, he tells her he is glad to hear it. Hibbs could never support Lucy in a way to which she is entitled. On the other hand, he -- Sir James himself -- has long looked forward to making Lucy his wife. 

Surprised and alarmed, Lucy runs sobbing from the room. 

Chapter 16 - Exorcisms

Sir James and Colonel Yates find a passage in Yates's book: "A wreath of tube roses at the window, a sword across the door, will make it impossible for the Vampyr to enter a sleeping room at night." It may sound absurd, but after the past two nights nothing should be discounted; at least it can do no harm. 

Hibbs is tense and upset as they place a wreath of tube roses from the garden and a sword that had hung on the wall, according to the directions in the book; lack of sleep, concern for Lucy, and mistrust of Yates are taking their toll. Reading from the book, he speaks the prescribed incantation: "They shall not pass this threshold."

As everyone retires for the night, Yates draws Hibbs into the upstairs study, saying he has something to tell him. Ignoring the smoldering anger in Hibbs's eyes, Yates guides him to a chair and gently forces him to sit. He tells him that Lucy's love for Hibbs speaks well of him, that Yates can see through her eyes what a fine fellow Hibbs is. 

All thought of Yates as a rival is suddenly gone from Hibbs's mind. In the colonel's steady gaze he sees the eyes of a friend and feels an urge to confide in him. Too bad about Lucy's brother, Yates says; did he and Hibbs get along? Ruefully, Hibbs says no, Harry objected to Hibbs's love for Lucy and was resolved to separate them for good. 

As they talk, Hibbs is overcome with drowsiness. He sleeps. 

Chapter 17 - An Assassin Foiled

Midnight. The house is still. A crouching, shadowy figure moves stealthily to the door of one of the sleeping rooms. Slowly, silently, the figure turns the knob, opens the door and slips inside. The figure approaches the sleeper in the bed, in its hand a long thin object, gleaming in the dim moonlight from the window. 

As the figure is poised to strike, the sleeper lunges bolt upright, startling the attacker to flight -- out the door, down the hall, with the intended victim -- none other than Colonel Yates -- in pursuit. Yates fires his revolver at the fleeing figure, rousing the house. Lucy calls from inside her room, asking that someone remove the sword and let her out.

Sir James comes from his room, his hands shaking as he ties the belt of his robe. What was that? Nothing, says Yates; I must have had a nightmare. Sir James and Lucy are reassured, and the house settles down.

Alone again in the hall, Yates reflects that Hibbs did not appear after the gunshot. He kneels and searches the carpet. Finally he finds what he seeks: a spot of blood. His assailant did not escape untouched after all.

Yates makes sure that Lucy's room is still secured with the sword and tube roses, then goes to Hibbs's room. The door is open, the bedclothes rumpled, but the room is empty. Yates deftly makes up the bed, then goes into the study, where he finds Hibbs, still sound asleep in the chair where he dozed off while they talked. 

Chapter 18 - The Fallen Sword

Upon being awakened, Hibbs apologizes for his rudeness in dropping off. Don't mention it, says Yates; on the contrary, I apologize for keeping you up so late. Yates leaves Hibbs in the study, telling him they both should be in bed.

Hibbs looks at his watch. Two-thirty! Have they really been talking so long? He hardly remembers a word they said. Before retiring, he decides to check on Lucy's room. He is horrified to find the protecting sword missing. He pounds on the door, calling her name. 

Sir James appears, alarmed at Hibbs's display -- and outraged that he addresses Lucy by her first name. Colonel Yates joins them and they break in the door to Lucy's room. It's empty. She's gone.

Finally the strain of the past few days has its way, and something in Hibbs snaps. He becomes hysterical, babbling that "vampyrs" have taken Lucy, that they must all be destroyed. Colonel Yates tries to calm him, to no avail. As Hibbs runs off, delirious, there comes from the direction of Balfour House the wild, piercing scream of a woman in distress. Could that have been Lucy?

No, says Gallagher, Sir James's Irish chauffeur. That wasn't Miss Lucy; 'twas the wail of "the banshee o' Balfour House," foretelling tragedy to come.

To be concluded...


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