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Archive for January, 2009

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by Sam Juliano

One of world cinema’s crowning glories, Vittorio DeSica’s seminal neo-realist post-war masterpiece, Bicycle Thieves, was named the greatest film of the movie-rich 1940’s by a comfortable margin, in a polling result announced today by Angelo D’Arminio Jr.  The 1949 film, known in Italian as Ladri di biciclette, chronicles the desparate attempts of a Roman workingman and his young son to locate the stolen bicycle that is so essential to the father in his newly-obtained job as a billposter- a job which is his first of many months, and on which the future livelihood of his family depends.  The naturalistic film records nothing more than this ultimately useless one-day search, but its observations of the relationship between father and son-played by two non-professional actors as is DeSica’s trademark-and its realistic portrait of the poverty-stricken streets, back alleys, brothels and black markets of Rome, have made the film themost famous and identifiable in all of Italian cinema.  The final shot when the man, having himself been driven to steal a bicycle, with his tearful son looking on is apprehended, may well be the most shattering conclusion in movie history.

     D’ Arminio stated that the film held an early lead in the voting and never looked back, as it was named on all but a few ballots of the 28 cast.  Despite the long prominence of the film as an arthouse favorite, the fact that it is in Italian with English subtitles made it’s a prospects for a first-place finish as somewhat of a longshot, especially since the balloting included several voters who resisted including foreign-language cinema on their lists.  But in the end, the serious film lovers carried the day for this emotional powerhouse of a film, one that has unwaveringly affected generations of moviegoers all around the world.

     Bicycle Thieves received 472 points in the weighted ballot system, outdistancing the second-place film, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which garnered 431.  John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath finished third with 407;  the popular Casablanca was fourth with 385, and the beloved It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra finished fifth with 339.

     Rounding out the Top Ten were: the British The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed with 335; Carl Dreyer’s Danish The Day of Wrath with 303; Japanese master Ozu’s Late Spring with 280; Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis with 271, and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity with 246.

    As with the previous 1930’s poll, which was headed by Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz, the Top 25 films of the decade were presented.  They are:

        1  Bicycle Thieves    (Italy, DeSica  1948 )

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        2  Citizen Kane    (USA, Welles   1941)

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        3  The Grapes of Wrath    (USA, Ford   1940)

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        4  Casablanca     (USA, Curtiz    1942)

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        5  It’s A Wonderful Life    (USA, Capra    1946)

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        6  The Third Man    (GB,   Reed     1949)

        7  Day of Wrath    (Denmark,   Dreyer   1943)

        8  Late Spring     (Japan,   Ozu   1949)

        9  Les Enfants du Paradis    (France,    Carne    1945)

     10  Double Indemnity    (USA,   Wilder    1944)

     11  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre     (USA,    Huston    1948 )

     12  The Maltese Falcon     (USA,   Huston      1941)

     13  La Belle et la Bete     (France,    Cocteau     1946)

     14  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp    (GB,   Powell   1943)

     15  How Green Was My Valley      (USA,    Ford    1941)

     16  Out of the Past     (USA,     Tourneur      1947)

     17  Brief Encounter     (GB,    Lean      1945)

     18  Rebecca         (USA,    Hitchcock      1940)

     19  Great Expectations      (GB,    Lean     1946)

     20  Notorious         (USA,    Hitchcock     1946)

     21  The Red Shoes      (GB,    Powell    1948 )

     22  Open City       (Italy,     Rossellini       1945)

     23  Sullivan’s Travels       (USA,    Sturges     1941)

    24  Kind Hearts and Coronets       (GB,    Hamer    1949)

    25  Hamlet      (GB,    Olivier    1948 )

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by Sam Juliano

Frenchman Robert Bresson (1901-1999) is one of the greatest film directors of all-time, yet his output, considering both the advanced age he achieved and his active years was relatively limited.  Meticulous and uncompromising, Bresson was idiosyncratic, disavowing conventional notions of cinema and popular subjects, in favor of personal issues and themes.  Indeed, despite his astonishing range of subject matter, there are perhaps no films more unified or deeply marked by their director’s personality, which in his instance was marked by three major influences: the Catholic church (which manifested itself into the fabric of three of his films: his first Les Anges du Péché, about an order of nuns, his next, Le Journal Un Cure de campagne, which concerned a priest who lost his parishioners and his faith, and Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, which dealt with the defining aspect of the heroic religious icon; his early years as a painter, which made their indellible mark on his compositions; and his time as a prisoner-of-war.  Hence, the concurrent themes of free-will vs. determinism, which is integrated into the secular works, the famed austerity that informs his painstaking cinematic canvases, and the various prison motifs and themes, which are fully examined in the two films he shot in prisons.     

Les Anges du Péché (1943) is Bresson’s first feature film, which is a far more conventional film than his later works, as it is talkier and far less reliant on filmic rhetoric, including ‘elliptical editing.’  The film, along with the director’s sophomore effort, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, stands apart from all the subsequent films in that it employs professional actors, who offer more expressive performances than the sullen and seemingly detached (though of course purposeful) amateurs of his later masterpieces.  The use of real actors troubled Bresson, who purportedly cautioned himself against drawing “tears from the public with the tears of your models” instead of what he alluded to as naturalistic settings and characters who are “exactly in their place.”  Still be admitted he was thrilled with the actual performances in the film.      (more…)

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Love on the Dole ****½

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1941 100m) DVD2

Down in Hankey Park

p  John Baxter  d  John Baxter  w  Walter Greenwood, Barbara K.Emery, Rollo Gamble  play/novel  Walter Greenwood  ph  James Wilson  ed  Michael C.Chorlton  m  Richard Addinsell  art  R.Holmes Paul

Deborah Kerr (Sally Hardcastle), Geoffrey Hibbert (Harry Hardcastle), Clifford Evans (Larry Meade), George Carney (Henry Hardcastle), Joyce Howard (Helen), Frank Cellier (Sam Grundy), Mary Merrall (Mrs Hardcastle), Maire O’Neill (Nancy Dorbell), Marjorie Rhodes (Mrs Bull), Marie Ault (Alice Jike), Iris Vandeleur (Mrs Nattle), A.Bromley Davenport, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Gawthorne,

I remember where I was when I heard of Deborah Kerr’s death in the autumn of 2007.  I was sat in front of a friend’s PC in Fairview, New Jersey scanning through the BBC website.  Despite her appearance in such films as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, Julius Caesar, From Here to Eternity and The Innocents, it was neither of them that I thought of.  It was rather her appearance at nineteen as Sally Hardcastle in this early, overlooked British classic that presented itself to memory.  The irony was not lost on me that I was so far away from Blighty, and particular from the second home, Salford, where the film and original play and novel were set. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     The 1940’s balloting has concluded after a nearly two-month window for posting “Top 25″ lists.  Voting tabulator Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be adding the numbers over the next few days and will subsequently be announcing the group’s top choices, much in the same way the 30’s poll was managed.  A total of 27 ballots have been cast, most by serious film buffs who possess a wide knowledge and appreciation of world cinema, and who have painstakingly spent their time reviewing and surveying this seminal decade in film.  To those who for one reason or another were unable to cast ballots, but still offered advice, encouragement and expertise, you are all equally acknowledged and thanked.

     As was the case with the 30’s polling, D’Arminio will release the top 25 finishers in numerical order, and anything placing beyond that constrictive number will not be referenced.  It is hoped that the results will be ready before the upcoming weekend.

      The 1950’s poll is due to begin next Tuesday, February 3rd, and will run for eight weeks.  Allan Fish will again provide readers with his own Top 50 countdown in reverse order with already penned essays.

     I want to take this opportunity to thank all who spent time in submitting a list.  Your sense of commitment has been quite a marvel.  To those whom I pestered and cajoled, well, you now know why my inner circle has tabbed me as the “Pollmeister.”  I must say the submissions are incredibly quality-conscious, and I’m sure the results will bare this out gloriously.

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Gaslight ****½

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1940 88m) DVD1

Aka. Angel Street

Ze rooooobies!

p  John Corfield  d  Thorold Dickinson  w  A.R.Rawlinson, Bridget Boland  play  Patrick Hamilton  ph  Bernard Knowles  ed  Sidney Cole  m  Richard Addinsell  art  Duncan Sutherland

Diana Wynyard (Bella Mallen), Anton Walbrook (Paul Mallen/Louis Bauer), Frank Pettingell (Rough), Robert Newton (Vincent Ullswater), Cathleen Cordell (Nancy), Jimmy Hanley (Cobb), Minnie Rayner (Elizabeth), Marie Wright (Alice Barlow), Cathleen Nesbitt,

Looking for this classic British chiller on DVD, one has to go to the US Region 1 where it is included as an extra on that for the 1944 Hollywood version.  Just as with the DVD of House of Wax – on which the better original The Mystery of the Wax Museum is found – one is essentially buying for the extras.  MGM bought the rights to this film in the early forties, with Louis B.Mayer wishing to burn all copies so only his intended version with Ingrid Bergman could be seen.  A typical act of that studio, they had tried something very similar with their Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – whose remake again featured Bergman – and thankfully in both cases the vastly superior original versions survive.  Which is not to make the remake sound a bad film, because it isn’t; Charles Boyer and Bergman are very fine replacements for Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, but that’s just what they remain – replacements, talented understudies.  Also, the décor is far more artificial and removes the essential character of Rough to be replaced by a more romantic character, played by Joe Cotten.   Of all big screen adaptations of the work of Patrick Hamilton, this original is the greatest by some considerable distance. (more…)

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by Alexander Coleman
Friday night at the San Francisco Castro Theatre was a great deal of fun, as it opened up the ten-day schedule of festivities. After entering the building, I conversed with the “czar of noir,” Eddie Muller, and pointed out that he commented on my August 24, 2008 review of The Big Heat when it was posted at http://www.moviezeal.com/. (The review can also be found here, for those who wish to brave eye strain.)
Dark City Dame, I promise I’ll tell “EM” you said hello sometime tonight or in the very near future; I’ll be sure to run into him some more over the course of the next seven evenings.
Moments later, my dad and I found terrific seats–the center of the front row of the balcony–though those balcony seats are not as comfortable as the downstairs seats. The seats in the balcony seem to have remained the same seats for a long time. Eddie Muller came out on-stage and introduced the evening’s two films, Deadline–USA and Scandal Sheet, both “newspaper noirs” from 1952. (Though the former is not, strictly speaking, a noir. It is fun, however.) Broderick Crawford is excellent in the latter film, as an amoral managing editor of a newspaper-turned-scandal sheet. The film is based on Samuel Fuller’s novel, The Dark Page, and is very well-directed by Phil Karlson, whose visual keenness is quite exciting. (I recently reviewed his 1959 The Scarface Mob, which kicked off television’s crime series, The Untouchables.) One I may review in the near future.
Saturday was a marathon day, as the matinee double feature was comprised of Blind Spot (1947), a fairly “light” mystery about a drunken writer (Chester Morris), mulling a plot for a mystery novel, the details of which seem crucial in a real murder investigation–of which he’s the prime suspect. The Castro program notes, “Martin (Detour) Goldsmith’s script is particularly amusing for its backhanded take on crime writing.” After that, the Alan Ladd-starring 1949 newspaper noir, Chicago Deadline, was up. I’m strongly considering reviewing this whenever I have an opportunity–underneath the surface of the plot, Chicago Deadline has many thematic similarities to Laura (1944).
Saturday evening, after having dinner at Orphan Andy’s restaurant, my father and I returned to the Castro. I met Arlene Dahl upstairs at the mezzanine. I was in line to sit down with her on a comfortable red couch and have a picture I printed out from the Internet autographed. Just as I handed her the picture, some crazy person lost control of their alcoholic drink and splattered poor Arlene Dahl and yours truly–and my picture–with liquor. Unfazed by the occurrence, Arlene Dahl happily signed the picture–which is the one at the top of this post.
Wicked as They Come (1956), starring Dahl as a social-climbing gold-digger, was screened. Sitting in what I consider the best row of the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ms. Dahl and five others–including her son, Loranzo Lamas, the offspring of her four-year marriage with actor and two-time costar, Fernando Lamas–sitting to my left, taking up the far-left three seats of my row and the one ahead of it. As the Castro program notes, “Arlene Dahl is a sizzling sensation as Kathleen Allen, a woman who learns early that sex is how she’ll get ahead in the world. Her high heels leave puncture wounds in a trail of saps stretching from America to England. British writer-director Ken Hughes adapts Bill Ballinger’s novel Portrait in Smoke, and the result lives up to its re-titling.”
After this film was screened, a tribute reel of some of Ms. Dahl’s career highlights, and moments of great passion–often violently kissing men or violently throwing objects at them–and Ms. Dahl took the stage with Mr. Muller. The interview was quite good, and moved along at a brisk pace. Ms. Dahl opened up about how she reached Hollywood, and it sounds like something out of a movie. She had joined a theatre’s musical production in New York City and on opening night found herself visited backstage by Jack Warner himself, who asked her to come out to Hollywood for a screen testing. Ms. Dahl said that she believed this was all an enormous practical joke, committed by friends she knew who enjoyed pulling off stunts (though this would have been an awfully elaborate practical joke, she rightly figured). After her screen test, which she believed to be “terrible,” she was signed to a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. She recounted her stories, such as replacing Ann Sheridan in My Wild Irish Rose opposite Dennis Morgan, whose compassion and helpfulness were, she believed, indispensable in aiding her before the camera. As she and Mr. Muller downed glasses of champagne, Ms. Dahl discussed seeing Gary Cooper, her relationship with John F. Kennedy and many other interesting stories. She said she had seen Slightly Scarlet screened in France, where it is revered, and Mr. Muller gave the French credit for “getting” film noir.
After the interview, there was another break and I was amused by the terribly long line at the concession stand for popcorn and candy; as a “passport” holder, I moved my way up to the mezzenine again, and found an assortment of goodies to munch on. My favorite was easily the red potato wedges with the sour cream-horseradish sauce for dipping.
Slightly Scarlet (also 1956) followed. To be reviewed soon here at Coleman’s Corner.
Sunday it was a return to the matinee, with the obscure “swamp noir,” as it was billed, Cry of the Hunted (1953), shown. Formed by a strange screenplay from Jack Leonard, and helmed by Joseph H. Lewis, director of Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, this film, not surprisingly, also features some strong sexual undercurrents. I may return to this film as well, if I ever have an opportunity! It’s a wild, fascinating picture, with a memorable dream sequence by the protagonist, played by William Conrad.
After an intermission, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) was screened. Possibly Wilder’s most viciously cynical film, starring Kirk Douglas as a manipulative reporter who uses a cave-in to put him back to the top of his profession. As the Castro program boldly states, “On its release, critics called this the most bitter, cynical, mean-spirited movie ever made. It still might hold the honor.”
Thus far, it has been a fine festival of film noir. Stay tuned here for more developments, reviews and whatever else strikes my fancy.

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by Allan Fish

(Jeez, I almost feel strange going back to movies after the weekend’s events, so let’s pick a forties film that tries to offer a ray of hope among the grime)

(USA 1945 128m) DVD2

The Brooklyn Thrush

p  Louis D.Lighton  d  Elia Kazan  w  Tess Slesinger, Frank Davis  novel  Betty Smith  ph  Leon Shamroy  ed  Dorothy Spencer  m  Alfred Newman  art  Lyle Wheeler

Dorothy McGuire (Katie Nolan), James Dunn (Johnny Nolan), Peggy Ann Garner (Francie Nolan), Joan Blondell (Aunt Sissy Edwards), Lloyd Nolan (Officer McShane), Ted Donaldson (Neely Nolan), James Gleason (MacGarrity), John Alexander (Steve Edwards), Ruth Nelson (Miss McDonough), Adeline de Walt Reynolds (Mrs Waters), Mae Marsh, Al Bridge, Charles Halton,

Elia Kazan’s debut film stands as one of the most beloved family sagas of the old Hollywood; a lovingly crafted, detailed, emotional tale of growing up in turn of the century Brooklyn that wrings tears from you like a thumbscrew wrings cries of agony.  In its own way, it’s perfect, and yet these days it’s overlooked, and dismissed as a formative work in its director’s canon.  Why might this be?

            The main reason seems to be that of realism, or the lack thereof.  No-one could ever accuse it of truth, and yet could pre-Code Hollywood have depicted the real Brooklyn of the era faithfully; it seems doubtful.  Hence they aim rather to capture a the rose-tinted and somewhat flavourful essence of time, with its Tin Pan Alley music, streets on which a Model T Ford have never appeared and slum garrets where everyone, though poor, is a character.  Realists will hate it, but it is, after all, an exercise in nostalgia, as indeed it has to be when told through the eyes of a child.  However, unlike a similar film, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, which also looked at a time and a place through rose-tinted spectacles, they didn’t make it out to be a sort of mythical paradise when it wasn’t – his Wales having not one jot of truth – rather simply looked at a hell through positive eyes, the eyes of not only its heroine, but her father. (more…)

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