Friday, September 14, 2007

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Richard Fleischer 1955)

In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris slotted Richard Fleischer under "Strained Seriousness." But it appears that Fleischer's mortal sin wasn't so much pretentiousness as it was mere inconsistency. Take The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a remarkably unlurid account of the turn of the 20th century Stanford White/Evelyn Nesbit/Harry Thaw affair. Recently released as part of a Joan Collins box set (a Richard Fleischer box just wouldn't fly), it falls somewhere between the tight-as-I-wish-my-tummy-was The Narrow Margin and the nightmare of the Neil Diamond The Jazz Singer - neither brilliant nor crummy enough to merit sustained thought.

There is one terrific conceptual edit, however, that I want to commit to memory. Stanford White (Ray Milland) is chatting with a friend during intermission at an opera house.

A buzzer alerts the crowd that the opera will soon resume. I took the liberty of including the close captioning altering same in case the turned heads of the friend and a gentleman in the background weren't enough to signal the sound.

The shot dissolves into another scene. But the buzzer sound continues over the dissolve. See? (Since you can't hear)

We are now in a dentist's office where Evelyn Nesbit (Joan Collins) is outside buzzing to get in. Notice the dentist at top left who has turned at the sound.

In short, it's a match on sound. Nothing earth-shattering. But they're uncommon enough in classical Hollywood cinema that it's worth taking notice here.

Also, purely for my own edification, there is a piece of music in the film which seems to sing a character's inner thoughts, a practice that would become increasingly prominent in ensuing decades. Harry Thaw's (Farley Granger) rage is brewing at the sight of Nesbit's former lover White. The song captures Thaw's rising fight-or-flight tension.

And the camera tracks in to more strongly cement the song to Thaw's inner turmoil.

But the song is diegetic as the scene takes place at a theater performance to which we're introduced several shots prior.

Even less earth-shattering. I mention it only because I'm studying the different ways subjectivity is displayed or enhanced through music in cinema. Do with it what you will.


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