Salvador Dali’s surrealist career was bookended by his experiences in the movies.

I have to couch that statement with the limiter “surrealist career” because Dali was a prolific and prodigious talent whose larger artistic career in toto is almost incomprehensibly vast—he was painting like a pro when he was a small child, and kept at it until 1989.  That’s right, Dali was around to witness the first Internet virus.  Just wrap your head around that.

But… he is known and celebrated primarily as a surrealist, and it is that phase of his career which intersects the world of movies.  And therein lies our tale.



Artists in the Movies

artistdanger1Recently, I watched a Depression-era comedy that I had never seen, or even heard of, before. Danger—Love at Work (1937) stars Ann Sothern as Toni Pemberton, the carefree daughter of an eccentric wealthy family. Despite being engaged to stuffy Edward Everett Horton, she is smitten with Jack Haley, who plays a lawyer trying to do business with a family of wacky individualists. As Mrs. Pemberton, played by Mary Boland, notes, the family owes its penchant for eccentricity to a grandfather who advocated free expression of personality without inhibitions.

My favorite character is Uncle Herbert, played by John Carradine, who puts a hilarious spin on the archetype of the eccentric artist. Carradine shows off his versatility as a character actor in his obvious spoof of Salvador Dali. When Henry meets Herbert, he is decked out in a smock as he paints the inside window of the Pembertons’ South Carolina mansion. He is so pleased with his modernist painting, dubbed “The Love Life of a Cup and Saucer,” that he announces he is no longer a surrealist but a post-surrealist. Henry ends up spending the night with the Pembertons and is given a room where the ceiling has been adorned by Herbert. The butler explains that Herbert suspended himself from the chandelier to paint “Friendship” on the ceiling, which consists of huge, distorted forks, knives, and spoons. The butler explains that the painting is called “Friendship,” because cutlery works together during a meal. Later, Henry watches Herbert furiously paint a seascape while standing in front of a fan in a raincoat (top photo). A butler pours water on his head from a sprinkler can, because, according to Herbert, the artist must experience his subject matter.


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