Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Charles Laughton, actor and drinker

In this ad for Pabst beer we see the great Charles Laughton squinting into the California sun, holding a glass of chilled Blue Ribbon. It’s 1949 and Laughton has just turned fifty – and recently played the part of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret in The Man on the Eiffel Tower (released in 1950). Filmed on location in somewhat dishevelled post-war Paris in Ansco Color, the production had been fraught with difficulty. The original director had been replaced halfway through, after much internal conflict, by one of the cast (Burgess Meredith). Unsurprisingly the finished movie lacked coherence and consistency of tone – a curious combination of suspense and flippancy. The cinematographer was Stanley Cortez whose excellence was squandered on a meandering narrative and some mediocre acting. Laughton himself seemed uninspired and disinclined to take it at all seriously. But Cortez and Laughton would collaborate to infinitely greater effect five years later when Laughton directed his only film, the incomparable Night of the Hunter. Laughton had become a US citizen and at his first attempt made what would come to be regarded as “one of the masterpieces of American cinema” (David Thomson). When Laughton died in 1962 the critical standing of his film was basically unchanged from the initial indifference – the subsequent reassessment and rise to greatness would take place after his lifetime. Previous posts on Laughton here and here

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