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EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 4th, 2014, 4:00 pm

The best thing to come out of Kentucky is Secretariat!

Not to mention Mr. Phil Everly, rest his unforgettably talented soul.

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby CineMaven » January 13th, 2014, 9:56 am

“Fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”

moirafinnie wrote:CineMaven, you are so lucky to live in the NYC area to enjoy such great movie programming on the big screen. I hope that you have a chance to write about the films that you get to see at Lincoln Center. I'd love to hear more about the quality of the prints, your impressions of the acting, writing, production values, and any interesting comments you hear by those who introduce the movies...


I’ve been getting into the world of Edgar G. Ulmer and I’m sad to say, my heart breaks for Edgar.

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Edgar G. Ulmer biographer Noah Isenberg speaks informatively about the neglected director with his book: “EDGAR G. ULMER: A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGIN.” Lincoln Center’s retrospective of some of Ulmer’s work includes a documentary which wears the shroud of a low-budget Ulmer film itself. There’s a “home movie” quality to this not slickly nor glossily produced documentary, that is charming and smacks of being done by Ulmer. Ha...maybe that is the calculated point. The documentary contains some stars of Ulmer films: the late Ann Savage ( “Detour” - great seeing her! ), Peter Marshall ( “The Cavern” yes...that Peter Marshall, and if you say Joanne Dru’s brother, then 'X' gets the square), John Saxon ( “The Cavern”), Jimmy Lydon ( “Strange Illusion” ) and my very favorite: William Schallert ( “The Man From Planet X.” ) There are directors in tow as well, speaking from actual moving cars ( unlike what you'd see in an Ulmer film ) - Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Jon Landis and Wim Wenders who have great appreciation for his work. ( “He used the lack of material to show the bleakness of the tale.” “The film...owns up to its limitations.” ) Ulmer’s daughter Arianne Ulmer Cipes also appears in the documentary; she's very forthright and clear-minded about her father’s failed career.

Apparently, Ulmer was blacklisted by the major studios. It seems he had an affair and married Max Alexander’s wife. Who is Max Alexander? Alexander was the nephew of the powerful Carl Laemmle Sr.. Though Ulmer and wife Shirley were married till death do them part, it ostensibly killed Ulmer’s directing career in Hollywood. Self-destructiveness mixed with some self-aggrandizement ( in interviews Ulmer tries to ally himself with more famous directors by saying he worked on their productions even though records don't bear that out. ) Add him being a bit of a renegade and an outsider, made for a very spotty career for Ulmer. He could make a movie in two days for $80.00 inside a broom closet and turn a meager profit. Well...okay okay, not quite, but he made his films quick, on the cheap and for the bottom of the barrel studio: PRC ( Producers Releasing Corporation ) where he had the creative freedom to call the shots on his films. He did two semi-“A” films with Zachary Scott ( “Ruthless” ) and Hedy Lamarr ( “The Strange Woman” where Ulmer says, in his own words, it was “the only picture where she ever had to act.” ) But to no avail. He continued to try to get back in the good graces of the Hollywood powers-that-be but that was not to be.

* * * *

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Noah Isenberg and Sharon Pucker Rivo, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Jewish Film speak about "The Light Ahead a cute little film of a blind girl and a lame boy who want to marry. They're part of a Jewish community full of superstition and corruption. The film is very detailed in the customs and rituals of the Jewish religion. Isenberg and Rivo also spoke of Ulmer’s other Yiddish films made outside the Hollywood system when Ulmer couldn’t find work inside its gates. ( Ulmer’s daughter, Arianne, has a cameo in the movie as a three year old girl walking through a scene. )

ChiO wrote:Nice, varied program. I've not seen any of his Yiddish films, so I'd be especially interested on your reaction to that one.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing this film. I want to see fedoras, roadsters and speakeasies when I’m in the 30’s, not the rural life in subtitles. But I made a self-commitment to see all the Ulmer films I could during this retrospective. The film grew on me as it went on. It was kind of slow. Actually, I should say it took its time, really dwelling and detailing the life of this community. By the end of it, I was all in, though still reeling from the shock of seeing actor David Opatashu as a very very cute young man. :shock:

* * * *

As I referenced earlier, you all should read Moira's review on “RUTHLESS” if you haven't already. I liked the movie. During the Q & A, I got the chance to ask Mr. Isenberg if he had information on how Zachary Scott and Sydney Greenstreet felt and reacted to working with Ulmer on this film; after all, they worked at Warner Bros. in big projects like “The Maltese Falcon” “Casablanca” “Mildred Pierce.” Were they on "loan" ( punishment )? The author could offer no specific insight on that score. He did say that this is one of Ulmer’s last films to have that polished look. Ulmer still wasn't given a tremendous budget but the film had great production values. ( Great sterling print of this film. ) I found it well-acted too. I’ve got to check out Zachary Scott a little more closely from now on. He’s got the most perfection diction, and the timbre of his voice sounds like steel. Oh yeah, he’s a cad and I wouldn’t turn my back on him for a second. But he’s really got the most beautiful pair of eyes. ( Jack Favell, if you're reading this, how do you think Zachary Scott could hold up in the Cad Department against your "Dear Boy"?? )

There are three actresses in it that really get their teeth into their roles, Lucille Bremer, Martha Vickers and Diana Lynn playing three Types of women in Scott's life. Isenberg said he felt he could hear Gloria Grahame’s voice through Diana Lynn. I see what he means. But for me, 1950’s Anne Francis more comes to my mind, if not in voice then in attitude: feline. Knowing. Smart. ( You can read more praise for Diana Lynn specifically by scrolling down this excerpt of Robert Regan’s Lost Women of Hollywood or a little from Jack Favell’s account of her. ) I thought Ulmer did a great job with "Ruthless" - how the tale unfolded, his camera work. Often compared to "Citizen Kane" "Ruthless" is the rise and fall of a financier which Isenberg likened to Scorcese's current "The Wolf Of Wall Street." But ultimately, this movie did nothing to get Ulmer back on the inside of things. It's a shame.

* * * *

The next film on the day’s double bill is “MURDER IS MY BEAT.” And brother, is it my kind of movie. Low budget, good story, cheap sets, questionable acting - its reach exceeds its grasp. And basically...it’s grasping at straws. A man is bludgeoned and falls face first into his burning fireplace, finishing him off. His mistress is wanted for questioning but escapes the police and is on the lam. I saw a couple of threads of “Laura” “On Dangerous Ground” and “The Narrow Margin” weaved throughout this low-budget programmer.

I liked its dialogue:

* “Short on dough and a face that would stand out in Heaven.”

* “The only way I can wake up from this nightmare is to go to sleep.”


It was a little tough for me to believe the stentorian-sounding actor from tv’s “Peyton Place” - Paul Langton - as a police detective, however hang-dogged he looked. But it took no stretch of my imagination to see the infamous Barbara Payton as the platinum blonde mixed up in murder. Her role is what it is but her acting is not really that bad.

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Langton is assigned to find Payton and bring her back. He finds her and thaws towards her in a snowbound cabin up north. He's attracted to her though he plays hard core. He brings her back for trial. Flash forward, now taking her to prison on the train. She's gone through a trial and is found guilty of murder; her hair color probably weighed towards her conviction. She sees a missing witness on the passing train’s station platform and is so adamant about it being him that Langton begins to doubt her guilt. ( I doubted her myself, but then I'm no police detective. ) They jump off the train ( I unintentionally laughed aloud seeing Payton hit the sandbag like a sack of potatoes, doing her own stunt I guess ) and try to track down the witness and prove her innocence. I marvelled at the different rear screen projections and treadmill walks actors did while trying to solve the case. Of course Payton runs out on the detective leaving him holding the bag, and now HIS boss has to bring HIM in.

Convincing his Chief - Robert Shayne - ( now THAT’S a cop ) to help him trail some clues, they both go about trying to solve the case. I was shocked to see the lovely Selena Royle in this movie. ( "Oh no! What are you doing here?!" I thought to myself. ) Apparently the House Un-American Activities finished off her wonderful career landing her here. This movie marks Royle's last theatrical screen appearance. And in the movie, she goes out a la “Ursula Georgi” in “Thirteen Woman.” Again, you can see there was no money for Ulmer to work with to get this production done, but they all plugged on. Please understand it's NOT that Ulmer didn't have command of directing. He's on the outs with the studio bosses. The movie is filmed like a real movie with close-ups, fade-outs, tracking shots, camera movements, but it was just a poor relation because of the budget. ( Isenberg states that many of Ulmer's films had a budget the size of the LUNCH BUDGET of a "Citizen Kane" production. ) I had a sense of sadness watching "Murder Is My Beat" knowing Ulmer was hopelessly struggling all the while to continue his film career, and Barbara Payton was heading towards a sordid spiral into the abyss. This film would also be her last billed screen appearance as well.

Before John Cassavetes there was Edgar G. Ulmer. Both were independent directors working outside the system. Only one of them really wanted it that way. When you worked with Ulmer, you were either at the beginning of your career, or at the very dead end of it.
"You build my gallows high, baby."

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 13th, 2014, 12:43 pm

Fascinating comments, Teresita. Cine-masterful! How I'd love to see RUTHLESS and MURDER IS MY BEAT. I'd give my brother for such an opportunity!

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby CineMaven » January 13th, 2014, 1:06 pm

Hello Red Rover. And thank you so much. I read your brother's comments. See how much you can get for him. I'm going to the Isenberg book signing later tonight where he'll talk more in depth about Ulmer.
"You build my gallows high, baby."

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby CineMaven » January 20th, 2014, 7:15 pm

On TCM’s current commercial for what’s going on in January, it touts a new book out there; a biography about Ulmer called “EDGAR G. ULMER: A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS.” It's written by the New School's Director of Screen Studies and Professor of Culture and Media - Noah Isenberg as he examines the director’s life and work. Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater did a two-weekend retrospective which I went to, and saw four films plus one documentary about him. I found Ulmer’s oeuvre a many genre’d thing. All of the films I saw had a very different feel from each other.

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Something tickled my funny bone; I was at Lincoln Center just the week before to check out Cukor’s film retrospective of his early career and now, here I was for Ulmer. If that's not two ends of a table at the Brown Derby, then I don't know WHAT is. Maybe it’s ME who swings like a pendulum do. After some of the screenings, Isenberg shared his Q & A sessions with Sharon Pucker Rivo, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Jewish Film, and Ulmer’s daughter, Ariane Ulmer Cipes producer of the Ulmer documentary shown at the festival: “EDGAR G. ULMER: THE MAN OFF-SCREEN.” The documentary even felt like it was directed by Ulmer himself. Also sitting in on the discussion with Isenberg and Ulmer's daughter was Viennese film critic Stefan Gessemann, whose also written an Ulmer biography, in German.

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I headed over to the McNally Jackson bookstore in SoHo to buy the book and listen to Slate Magazine’s Dana Stevens interview Mr. Isenberg. You can ask Isenberg one question and he’ll riff for a good twenty minutes with facts and poignant anectdotes about the director. Before the author went to chill out before his bookstore interview, I waylaid Isenberg in the aisle to get an autograph for my newly purchased book. HE DID! Even asked me a couple of questions and heartily recommended I see Ulmer's “Her Sister’s Secret.” Yup, he was a very amiable man. Nope, I didn't have to trip him up.

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Back at the ranch at Lincoln Center, I saw my last Ulmer film "Naked Dawn" where Gressemann, Ms. Ulmer and Isenberg spoke afterwards. I had to get up my courage to go to them to ask for a photo. In fact, it took me three walks around the room holding the Saul Bass exhibit to rehearse what I would say, before I could go over to the three of them. Isenberg totally remembered me. Called me by name!!! ( Liked the exhibit by the way. )

Image Image Image Image

My heart breaks for Edgar G. Ulmer. It wasn’t that he was a bad director at all. Yes “Detour” is lambasted ‘cuz it was made on the cheap, but that doesn’t mean Ulmer didn’t know the difference between a camera lens and a microcscope. There's a tight desperate beauty to “Detour.” When he had the very infrequent opportunity to work with “A” - list stars ( Zachary Scott, Hedy Lamarr, Louis Heyward, Sydney Greenstreet ) things worked out well and he did a lot with very limited resources. But remember Al Roberts' line in “Detour” when he says: “Fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all”? Ulmer might've been speaking about himself. During his auspicious start with the astounding “The Black Cat” fate tripped him up and he met and fell in love with the married niece-in-law of Carl Laemmle Sr. And though Edgar and Shirley ( the ex-Mrs. Max Alexander, nephew of Carl Laemmle ) remained married ‘till death do them part, powerful men make powerful enemies and Ulmer was ostensibly blackballed in the industry thanxxx to Uncle Carl. He was always trying to get back in, but then again, according to Isenberg, Ulmer was the king of the hill over at PRC and could call his own shots without interference from the 'suits' which very few “A” - list directors could claim. Ulmer makes me think of Cassavetes or today’s struggling indie filmmakers, myself included; trying to make our stories fast, make it look good, make it mean something.

They say “it’s not the destination, but the journey.” If you’ve ever seen “Detour” you know how ironic a statement that is.

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"You build my gallows high, baby."

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 21st, 2014, 1:45 pm

DETOUR is not lambasted by anybody I know. You could criticize the budget; even the acting. But the directorial skill is evident in every scene. I wouldn't be surprised if it's his best film. Not that I've seen many from that long list of obscure titles! Edgar G. Ulcer!

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby CineMaven » January 21st, 2014, 5:37 pm

I hear you Red. I'm also thinking "DETOUR" is an utter masterpiece. It feels like WE'RE on the skids too. I love it.

And speaking of his long list of obscure titles. There's a plethora on YouTube. I'm going to work my way down the list in chronological order unless the damned YouTube police beats me to it. Why don't folks start with these. I hope the links work properly.

“PEOPLE ON SUNDAY” ( 1930 )

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* * * * *

“DAMAGED LIVES” ( 1933 )

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* * * * *

“MOON OVER HARLEM” ( 1940 )

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What a perfect way to spend a dark and gloomy snowy winter's evening but with Edgar G. Ulmer. :)
"You build my gallows high, baby."

http://www.megramsey.com

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby CineMaven » January 24th, 2014, 1:38 pm

As Moira mentions here, the author of the Ulmer book will be here spending a lovely two days at our Oasis at the end of this month. Bone up on some of Ulmer's films by clicking on any of these posters:

Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image ImageImageImage Image Image Image
"You build my gallows high, baby."

http://www.megramsey.com

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 24th, 2014, 1:57 pm

Beautiful graphics! So colorful and cine-sational.

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby ChiO » January 24th, 2014, 4:43 pm

And, lest we forget, his fascinating Western, THE NAKED DAWN (1955) (a scene found here) and his...well, a fella's got to make a living...THE NAKED VENUS (1959 under the name Ove H. Sehested) (trailer found here).

And, in-between, one of my favorites, THE DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL (1957) (trailer found here).

The man did it all.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 25th, 2014, 4:23 pm

Cinema-rink a-rink a-rink!
Cinema-rinkaroo!

I'll be most impressed if anybody can tell me what this refers to!

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby ChiO » January 26th, 2014, 6:16 am

Inka dinka dink, a dinka dink, a dinka doo?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YCOIMkvFt8[/youtube]

Or it's predecessor:

Skidamarink a-dink, a-dink,
Skidamarink a-doo,
I love you.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

RedRiver
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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby RedRiver » January 27th, 2014, 1:12 pm

Chio, you may know the skiddamarink song better than I do. In the play CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Big Daddy's grandchildren sing it to him, altering the words to fit the occasion (his birthday). I'm not sure if it's in the movie.

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Re: EDGAR G. ULMER - A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS

Postby movieman1957 » April 23rd, 2015, 11:32 am

RedRiver wrote:DETOUR is not lambasted by anybody I know. You could criticize the budget; even the acting. But the directorial skill is evident in every scene. I wouldn't be surprised if it's his best film. Not that I've seen many from that long list of obscure titles! Edgar G. Ulcer!


And the budget, or lack of it, shows. I haven't finished watching it again but Neal doesn't strike me as much of an actor. The early scenes at the club were a little rough because the music, though well played, sounded like a collection of random motifs badly mimicked by Neal. TCM ran it recently and it was an awful print. It almost looked as if they had pulled it up on YouTube and showed directly from there.

But I have to finish it as it has been years and so dearly loved by many here. I have to see what I am missing - so far.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."


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