We’ve talked about “Chekhov’s gun“–the rule in storytelling that when you show a gun early in a story, you have to use it before the end. You’ve established expectations that need to be fulfilled. We’ve also noticed its use in movies like Birdman. Here are a couple more examples I’ve encountered recently.
Israel Horovitz is a well-known playwright who recently turned his play My Old Lady into a movie with Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Kline plays a bitter sad-sack who has been left a French apartment by his father, only to discover that it is inhabited by its elderly former owner and her daughter (Smith and Thomas). Under a quirky French law, Kline not only can’t sell the apartment, he has to pay Smith a kind of reverse mortgage every month. Drama, heartbreak, revelation, and resolution ensue. There is much talk of death and suicide. And there is a hunting rifle, which Kline plays with early on in the movie. We wait patiently for the hunting rifle to make its next appearance. We are not disappointed.
The movie is not bad but not great. Horovitz obviously knows how to construct a story. But as is often the case, a good play doesn’t always make a compelling movie. Like many adaptations, this one felt claustrophobic and talky to me, and the basic situation and relationships among the characters felt contrived. The ultimate hunting rifle scene is well-handled, though — it took place off-camera, so we don’t know what happened at first. Will this be a tragedy, or a comedy?
The other movie is Stolen Moments, a ridiculously bad silent movie that Rudolf Valentino made just before he became a star. I could write about it in my intermittent series of post about writers in the movies, because Valentino plays “a Brazilian writer of novels in English,” according to the intertitles. But really, it’s not worth it. The storytelling is about as primitive as it can be, and that includes the use of Chekhov’s sword. Valentino’s butler goes takes the sword down from the wall and goes after him in an unmotivated drunken rage. Valentino easily disarms him and sends him packing. And then puts the sword on the table, where it sits patiently awaiting the final, confused climax, when, of course, it will be used to better effect.