Friday, October 09, 2009


Holy Mackerel! The complete version of James Whale's "Old Dark House" is on YouTube! Fragments of this are put up from time to time but are always taken down soon after. This will probably disappear as well, but we have it for a short time, so let's make what we can of it.

I want to focus on the extraordinary acting in two sequences. The first is the one (above and below) where Elspeth Dudgeon (thanks to Jenny for the name correction) plays an old, bed-ridden man who warns the young couple of the danger of staying overnight in the house. Dudgeon's's performance is done in what I imagine is an old, 19th Century acting style, one which is grounded in live theater and an appreciation of classic literature, and not in acting classes. Compare her style to the more modern elocution style of Raymond Massey in the same scene.

The first part of the video is filmed in a static, old-fashioned manner. I recommend fast forwarding past that and starting at the 3:45 mark. Start there and play it to the end. The Dudgeon scene continues on the video below.

Dudgeon's performance ends about two minutes in (above), but watch the whole of this second video, because the action sets up the stunning appearance of Saul in the third video below.

I don't know the name of the actor who plays Saul (above), but he also seems to be grounded in the 19th Century acting style, and what a killer style that is! I love the elocution style of acting that you see in 30s films...I don't mean to criticize it...but for me this earlier style is a pearl of even greater price.

I call it "eccentric acting" because it attempts to build on an actor's unique gifts and vision of the world, and doesn't try to fit him into a cookie cutter mold the way later acting theories do.

I also like the way eccentric actors were informed by literature. Their devotion to the printed page gives them an oratorical style, as much akin to oral interpretation as to acting. Compare Olivier's reading of the St. Crispin's Day speech to Branaugh's. Both are good, but Olivier plays with the words...filters them through his love for the music of the English language and of subtext, and his own complex personality. In this sense, Olivier is what I would call an eccentric actor. Shakespeare wrote for the eccentric acting style and so did Dickens.

Well, there it is. Watch the excerpts as soon as possible because they could be taken down any time...maybe even later today.


Anonymous said...

Just saw the william castle version last night. It was great.

Jenny Lerew said...

The character actress playing the old man is Elspeth Dudgeon. Believe it or not, she was only about 61 here in Old Dark House.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Elspeth Dudgeon! Many thnks for the correction!

Anon: What was the name of the Castle version?

Jorge Garrido said...

Wow! Great post! I went over all your acting posts yesterday and they've been really helpful and interesting. I loved all your posts about Descartes. I love how acting and voice elocution was an art back then. Nowadays in modern films characters mumble all the time. There's no music to it, even if the writing it good.

I was thinking about this the other day, about how in modern times "realism" is considered the greatest goal. But to me, acting need not be realistic, which is holding it to only one narrow standard, but only believable, and in context to the story. As long as it's believable, it can as be stylized, artifical, and better than life as you can or want to make it.

If realistic fiction was the ultimate goal of art, then the hyperrealistic style of painting would be better than Monet. And "The Hills" would be the greatest show on TV. We've achieved complete realism in fiction. Reality TV did it. It's happened. Now we need to go the other way. Even Elia Kazan would agree if he saw overrated dreck like "Rachel Getting Married" that complete realism isn't the only way to make something.

Nayantara said...

Just a guess but, is the actor playing Saul the blind man in Frankenstein?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: I'll try to answer a comment you made for the Space Patrol post here:

Well, you're right to do a feature if that's the thing that you have a passion for. Passion counts for a lot. Since you don't want to start by doing short stories or scenes written by other people, then you probably have a way of acting and filming in mind that's unusual and needs space to breathe. I understand that.

My current enthusiam in dramatic writing is melodrama. It's the kind of story that requires a writer to get seriously interested in deliberately corny but still sincere scenes. It's a tried and true audience pleaser and, as Dickens proved, it can carry a lot of intellectual and literary weight, and be enormously innovative in the details. Of course this is probably the polar opposite of the writing you have in mind.

it's different for everybody, but some people's creative period is suprisingly brief, and you never know when your own is going to dry up. In case yours is brief, I'd use whatever method that allows you to be as productive as possible, in the shortest time possible, and still make something of worth.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nayantara: Is he? I had no idea!

thomas said...

Eddie- I think you may be interested to look up Charles Ludlam, a theatrical writer, actor and director from the 60's 70's and 80's. His company, called the Ridiculous Theater Company used this kind of melodramatic acting style in their productions.
Some of their productions were Irma Vep; A Penny Dreadful, Camille, based on the Garbo film, and Bluebeard, a take off on the Island of Dr Moreau.

His plays are in print, and there are a couple of books about him; one by Steven Samuels, and the other by David Kaufman.

In film, he has a substantial part in the Big Easy, with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. He plays the lawyer.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thomas: Wow! Thanks for the info! I'll Google it over coffee tomorrow morning!

Jorge Garrido said...

Eddie: Thanks for the comment and advice. I agree with you about the about taking advantage of a creative period. That's why I think I'm gonna first do one short scene within my larger story, and that scene can work as a self contained short film.

I've been reading up on the different genres lately, including the epic, romance, tragedy, drama, melodrama, comedy, satire. Northrop Frye has great theories on them. I read somewhere that Melodrama is the heightened form of Drama, and Tragedy is the heightened form of comedy. Or maybe it was David Mamet said that. Right now my main interest in in greek tragedy and medieval romance, and how those genres can be transposed to modern times. For example, the idea of the quest in romantic literature, which is turning struggle, agon, into an adventure. The turning of pain into pleasure.

"The four mythoi that we are dealing with, comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony, may now be seen as four aspects of a central unifying myth. Agon or conflict is the basis or archetypal theme of romance, the radical of romance being a sequence of marvellous adventures. Pathos or catastrophe, whether in triumph or in defeat, is the archetypal theme of tragedy. Sparagmos, or the sense that heroism and effective action are absent, disorganized or foredoomed to defeat, and that confusion and anarchy reign over the world, is the archetypal theme of irony and satire. Anagnorisis, or recognition of a newborn society rising in triumph around a still somewhat mysterious hero and his bride, is the archetypal theme of comedy."

So if pathos is the main theme of tragedy, and agon is the main theme of romance, what is melodrama?

My story is about a character who is cut off from one aspect of his society. That's the realm of tragedy.

" In tragedy the hero is isolated from society so that he or she may better understand his or her own and the society's moral weakness; but once enlightened, the hero cannot stave off the disaster embedded in the social structure beyond the hero's control. In contrast, the melodramatic hero is a normative character representing incorporation into society. Northrop Frye, in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) described a central theme in melodrama as "the triumph of moral virtue over villainy, and the consequent idealizing of the moral views assumed to be held by the audience." Since melodrama exists within a mass-cultural framework, it could, according to Frye, easily become "advance propaganda for the police state" if it were taken seriously. Frye sidesteps this fear by positing that the audience does not take such work seriously."

To me film noir is between tragedy and irony/satire (also called realism), but my favourite film noir, Mildred Pierce, is half melodrama and half film noir. So I do enjoy melodrama, but I don't know if I'm good enough to write it yet. But in the context of my story, I don't think melodrama would fit.

Anonymous said...

It's called "the old dark house" too. Dir by Castle and it's got Robert Morley in it.From the 60's.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: Holy Cow! Boy, you really are into the theoretical side of this stuff! I'm surprised that Frye thought of melodrama in terms of propoganda for evil causes. It seems to me that other kinds of films lend themselves equally to that, if not more. I read some of Frye a long time ago when I was in my Mc Luhan period, but not much of it stuck.

The best comment I ever heard about Greek tragedy was one where the author said the Greek hero will inevitably be brought to grief by his single-minded devotedness to an ideal, but the hero is right to do it anyway. The suffering it brings about is noble suffering.

Anon: The Castle film looks far inferior, but I'd still like to see it. I hate to criticize Castle because he looks like such a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous so you actually read it and learn you can see it:
Castle's ODH next Tuesday on TCM
followed by the Whale version

Jorge Garrido said...

Thanks again, Eddie, for the advice and the great line about greek tragedy. I'm gonna start a new blog another another account so I don't clog other people's blogs with off-topic comments. I'll let you know when I put it up.