Volume XXVIII · Number 2 · Winter 1975
The Films of J. S. Watson, Jr., and Melville Webber: Some Retrospective Views (IV)
--LEWIS WHITBECK, JR.
Hildegarde says that when she and Sibley came into the room, she said: "There is The Angel."
I was waiting for them in the drawing-room in Sibley Place in response to an invitation. That was the summer I had been working as an apprentice in a theatrical stock company at the Temple Theater in Rochester. Now and then I did walk-ons with a line or two. It is my recollection that Sibley and Hildegarde, together with Alec Wilder, had attended a performance and seen me there. Shortly after, I must have received word that they wanted to see me. I think they asked me to stay for lunch.
The window of my room at the Motor Inn on a recent visit to Rochester framed an acre or two of familiar lawn and trees. It was in the spacious Edwardian stable and carriage house at the end of this expanse that the "realization" took place. We called it the studio, and it had its own attractions aside from the fact that it offered plenty of room for the camera to give the illusion of distance and space to the city of Sodom. One of its attractions for me was the tallyho outdoors in a rear court, its upholstery faded, the paint peeling. The sight of it revived an early memory of actually seeing one come clattering down a street, its occupants clinging to benches high up in the air, gaily waving triangular flags. In a room that smelled of wood, leather, and horses, and sometimes of grease paint, Freddie Haak applied his elaborate patriarchal beard, and Melville Webber adjusted the brown serge mantle over my robe of monk's cloth, and decked the male extras in odd bits of fabric. Alec had corralled them at the Music School, and persuaded them to come over to the studio. The evening that Melville took out his lengths of material to drape them, there was some giggling and self-consciousness among them, and one emerged saying something to the effect that he looked like a bargain counter at Macy's.
Harnesses hung on the walls, and, in glass-doored cases, tarnished silver cups and trophies, and blue-ribboned rosettes with names and dates stamped in gold leaf told their own stories, as did the brass hunting horns. From under a narrow mantel-shelf, a gas log could produce a gassy warmth if required. On late autumn afternoons this room took on a cozy feeling. It had a touch of England about it, of Surtees, of Siegfried Sassoon. Sometimes, then, those who were in the film sat around and talked. Dorothea Haus, who played Lot's daughter, usually rushed away when her part was done, leaving a trail of echoing inflections of English accent in the air behind. Mr. Haak, who knew so much about Rochester folklore, might spin out a yarn for us. I was always hoping Hildegarde would talk more about herself. Sometimes she would speak of her childhood in Whitinsville. She seemed much more like Mélisande than the part she played in the film. One night when we were leaving the studio we encountered Eugene Goosens risking the February iciness of the driveway to see how we were getting on.
Hildegarde reminded me the other day of a scene between us -- between Lot's wife and The Angel. I remember trying to look very fierce and disapproving of Hildegarde's seductive intentions. I think we both thought it was a good scene, but it never appeared in the finished version and Sibley still won't tell us why.