Archive for December, 2008


by Allan Fish

(UK/USA 2008 123m) DVD1/2

Keeping the tin box

p  Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Redmond Morris, Donna Gigliotti  d  Stephen Daldry  w  David Hare  novel  Bernhard Schlink  ph  Chris Menges, Roger Deakins  ed  Claire Simpson  m  Nico Muhly  art  Brigitte Broch

Ralph Fiennes (Michael Berg), Kate Winslet (Hanna Schmitz), David Kross (young Michael Berg), Susanne Lothar (Carla Berg), Bruno Ganz (Prof Rohl), Lena Olin (Rose Mather/Ilana Mather), Alexandra Maria Lara (young Ilana Mather), Linda Bassett (Ms Brenner),

I begin writing this in the early hours one cold winter’s night in New Jersey.  The previous night I had returned home from Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler feeling more at ease.  I knew what I thought of that film, and I enjoyed it very much.  Though one might not think it, the Aronofsky and the Daldry film have an important thing in common which lays at the heart of the respective strengths and flaws of the two films.  In The Wrestler, one plot strand sees the eponymous Randy the Ram go looking for his estranged teenage daughter to bring him closer to her.  The protagonist in The Reader sets out to do the same.  In the Aronofsky film, though well acted and shot, the subplot seems rather formulaic, superfluous, and consequently disposable.  In the Hare film it’s given even more short shrift and yet it works so much better because it goes hand in hand with not only the theme but the literal blood supply of Hare’s extraordinary screenplay. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1946 94m) DVD1/2

Aka. Beauty and the Beast

Va, va, Magnifique!

p  André Paulvé  d/w  Jean Cocteau  story  Mme.le Prince de Beaumont  ph  Henri Alekan  ed  Claude Iberia  m  Georges Auric  art  Christian Bérard  cos  Marcel Escoffier, Castillo  creative consultant  René Clément

Jean Marais (Avenant/The Beast), Josette Day (Belle), Mila Parèly (Adelaide), Marcel André (Merchant), Nane Germon (Félice), Michel Auclair (Ludovic), Raoul Marco,

Children believe in the stories they are told; they have complete faith” the opening caption to Cocteau’s fantasy masterpiece states.  From there, we are in familiar territory, asked to call upon that lost sense of childhood to see through the eyes of innocent wonder.  But one might also repeat the call of Chorus in Henry V, “on your imaginary forces work“, for this truly is the cinema of imagination.  To quote once more that opening caption, “let me pronounce four magic words, that veritable Open Sesame, once upon a time…”

            The story of Mme.le Prince de Beaumont’s fairy tale is well enough known to gloss over here, and the opening sequences owe as much to Cinderella as Beaumont’s original.  Yet they owe much to the cinema of imagination, too.  Essences of classics as varied as Die Nibelungen, Frankenstein, King Kong, Les Misérables and Disney’s Snow White are there, not to mention the Orphic films of Cocteau’s own oeuvre.  Yet Belle is out on its own in Cocteau’s canon, a fantasy quite unlike any other.  Has there ever been an enchanted castle such as this?  As forbidding as it is intoxicating, with its disembodied arms holding candelabras that alight themselves, tears that turn to diamonds, busts whose heads come alive, magical gloves that smoke when used, an elaborate staircase overgrown with ivy, a misty forest worthy of the Brothers Grimm where thunder crashes down ad infinitum and a truly magnificent magical horse.  Not to mention drapes that willow in the breeze along ghostly corridors too gorgeous to describe. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1943 7m) DVD2 (France only)

Oh, daddy!

p  Fred Quimby  d/w  Tex Avery  m  Scott Bradley

Good evening, kiddies.  Once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood was skipping through the woods.  She was going to her grandmother’s house to take grandma a basket of nice goodies.  BUT, waiting in the woods was a mean old wolf, ready to pounce on poor Little Red Riding Hood…”  The Wolf strums his fingers on a log, then finally jumps up, throws his hat to the ground and shouts “OH, STOP IT!!!…I’m fed up with that sissy stuff…”  Cue equally impassioned rants from Riding Hood and Grandma.  Yes, folks, it’s Tex Avery country.  And if I was asked to pick a favourite Tex cartoon – there are several in this selection, there could easily have been more – though I have seriously deep affection for Bad Luck Blackie and Magical Maestro, their fans must forgive me when I say there can only be one favourite. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Controversy has raged for decades over whether film directors should maintain the essence of the plays that are being adapted for the screen, or whether they should open up such works for the sake of cinematic purity.  There has never been an easy answer to this dilemma, and it seems to matter little, whether the said helmer chooses the first or the second option.  In other words you’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t.  Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Robert Anderson’s I Never Sang For My Father are two works that spring to mind, but the equation can be applied to many others, including Williams’ Streetcar and The Glass Managerie, and some Shakespeare adaptations.  If a director is bold, he aften loses grip with the material and compromises its power.  If he chooses to keep the work fully intact he is criticized for being unimaginative.     

John Patrick Shanley’s critically-praised Broadway play, Doubt has fallen victim to the same kind of second-guessing, and again the conflict has been resurrected.  Shanley’s stage play was minimalist; the new film based on it (both written and directed by Shanley) doesn’t really open anything up outside of some seasonal transitional shots which are strictly the territory of film.  But the decision is a wise one, as the drama here would lose its edge if the focus shifted to style.  “Staginess” isn’t quite the same kind of criticism as it was years ago , as the contemporary thinking supports the notion that to gain one thing is too lose another.  The price is too steep.  The director takes a pass on expanding the parameters of the original script and chooses not to use fancy camerawork.      (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1947 85m) not on DVD

And no itinerary!

p/d  Pierre Prévert  w  Pierre Prévert, Jacques Prévert, Claude Accursi  ph  Jean Bourgoin  ed  Jacqueline Desagneaux  m  Joseph Kosma  art  Alexandre Trauner

Maurice Baquet (Teddy), Martine Carol (Isabelle Grosbois), Etienne Decroux (Mikhail), Pierre Piéral (The Grand Duchess of Stromboli), Annette Poivre (Marinette), Marcel Pérès (Innkeeper), Max Revol (Abel Renardot, detective), Sinoël (Grandfather Piuff), René Bourboin (Grosbois), Fernand René (priest), Jacques-Henri Duval (Grim), Lucien Raimbourg (Duroc),

As Lennon & McCartney once wrote, roll up for the mystery tour!  The biggest mystery now being why the Prévert brothers’ fantasy isn’t better known.  Jacques himself is well-known, arguably the finest of all French screenwriters, a pivotal figure in the career of various directors, not least Marcel Carné.  Pierre, however, remains in aspic, a figure known only to particularly gruff old film buffs who tap the side of their faces and wink at the very mention of his name.  They may never have seen his films, but they know of him and of his reputation. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Imagine you’re in a mighty hall and the great analysts of world film are there, waxing lyrical about their favourite auteurs, moods, movements and directors of world film.  You can imagine it, a place not dissimilar to the Library in those great recent Doctor Who episodes about the Library and the Vashta Nerada.  Eventually, and with some inevitability, the topic of conversation gets round to film noir.  Each is asked to describe what the very term film noir conjures up to them.  The first critic takes a sip on his beverage of choice and leans forward in his easy chair and begins to address the assembly…

The very term film noir conjures up a world where nothing would be the same again.  Indeed, there’s a case for adjusting cinematic chronology to not the simple chronology of BC and AD, but PN and AN, for pre- and après noir (for French seems the appropriate language).  There was a world before noir, a time of clear cut black and white, of heroes and villains.  A time where the villain could do whatever he liked so long as he got shot in the final act and pulled down the curtain over himself…” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1944 137m) DVD1/2

Cry God for Larry!

p  Laurence Olivier, Filippo del Guidice  d  Laurence Olivier  w  Alan Dent, Laurence Olivier  play  William Shakespeare  ph  Robert Krasker  ed/2nd unit  Reginald Beck  m  William Walton  art  Paul Sheriff, Carmen Dillon  cos  Roger Furse

Laurence Olivier (Henry V), Leslie Banks (Chorus), Robert Newton (Pistol), Roy Emerton (Lt.Bardolph), Frederick Cooper (Cpl.Nym), George Robey (Sir John Falstaff), George Cole (Boy), Freda Jackson (Mistress Nell Quickly), Leo Genn (Charles d’Albret, Constable of France), Max Adrian (Louis, Dauphin of France), Harcourt Williams (Charles VI of France), Renée Asherson (Catherine of Valois), Ivy St Helier (Alice), Janet Burnett (Queen Isabella of France), Ralph Truman (Montjoy), Felix Aylmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), Robert Helpmann (Bishop of Ely), Ernest Thesiger (Duc de Berri), Esmond Knight (Fluellen), John Laurie (Jamy), Niall McGinnis (MacMorris), Michael Stepney (Gower), Russell Thorndyke (Duc de Bourbon), Francis Lister (Duc d’Orleans), Nicholas Hannen (Duke of Exeter), Morland Graham (Sir Thomas Erpingham), Valentine Dyall (Duc de Burgundy), Griffith Jones (Earl of Salisbury), Vernon Greeves (English Herald), Gerald Case (Earl of Westmorland), Michael Warre (Duke of Gloucester), Jonathan Field (French Messenger), Frank Tickle (Governor of Harfleur), Brian Nisson (Court), Jimmy Hanley (Williams), Arthur Hambling (Bates),

Laurence Olivier’s Henry V is a film that continues to enthral me to this day, over fifteen years after I first saw it, the very night after Olivier died in 1989.  The BBC showed it in tribute, a program on his life preceding it, introduced by his friend Anthony Hopkins.  So it was that I settled down to watch a 2¼ hour Shakespeare film (my first), not knowing what to expect.  Suffice it to say that it held me enraptured into the early hours and, for the first time, in spite of all the accolades I had heard that day, came to understand the man’s genius.  Since then, of course, I have seen various earlier Shakespeare films, but there has never been one to match Olivier’s film, all the more remarkable as it was his debut as a director.  However, it might never have been filmed at all.           (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1946 118m) DVD1/2

Back to let in the sunlight

p  Anthony Havelock-Allan  d  David Lean  w  Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Kay Walsh, David Lean, Cecil McGivern  novel  Charles Dickens  ph  Guy Green  ed  Jack Harris  m  Walter Goehr  art  John Bryan, Wilfred Shingleton  cos  Sophia Harris

John Mills (Pip), Valerie Hobson (Estella), Finlay Currie (Abel Magwitch), Martita Hunt (Miss Havisham), Alec Guinness (Herbert Pocket), Anthony Wager (young Pip), Jean Simmons (young Estella), Bernard Miles (Joe Gargery), Francis L.Sullivan (Jaggers), Freda Jackson (Mrs Joe), Hay Petrie (Pumblechook), Ivor Barnard (Wemmick), Torin Thatcher (Bentley Drummle), Eileen Erskine (Biddy), O.B.Clarence (“Aged P” Wemmick), Edie Martin (Mrs Wimple), John Forrest (Young Herbert),

Among the many tribute programmes held at the time of David Lean’s death in 1991, one always sticks in my mind.  One of his younger admirers related the tale of how he was asked by Lean which of his movies the younger man thought was his best.  He replied “Great Expectations” and Lean apparently nodded and replied “quite right.”  I’ve often thought about whether Lean was really in agreement, but either way it’s arbitrary.  We’ll never know and in the end the fact that many critics agree with them is beside the point.  The point is that Great Expectations is a well-nigh magnificent movie and the first true representation of Dickens on screen (the MGM David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities were great movies, but not truly great adaptations of Dickens’ world).  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(US 1944 107m) DVD1/2

Exceeding the speed limit

p  Joseph Sistrom  d  Billy Wilder  w  Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder  novel  James M.Cain  ph  John F.Seitz  ed  Doane Harrison  m  Miklós Rózsa  art  Hans Dreier, Hal Pereira  cos  Edith Head

Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Edward G.Robinson (Barton T.Keyes), Tom Powers (Dietrichson), Porter Hall (Jackson), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Gig Young (Nino Zachette), Fortunio Bonanova (Sam Gorlopis), John Philliber (Janitor),

In polls as to the greatest film noir in existence, many would single out Billy Wilder’s jet black adaptation of James M.Cain’s pulp novel.  It’s so cynical it’s the sort of film that leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouth but a smirk on the face of any film buff.  With the exception of Heather’s Lola there is probably no wholly decent character in the movie.  Even Robinson’s loveable Keyes is a ruthless insurance worker who would rather see a fellow go to the gas chamber than pay out on a policy.  Okay, perhaps a little harsh, but before we get carried away eulogising over the friendship between MacMurray and Robinson, let us be careful not to forget this is not just a noir but an indictment of the insurance business (a business that let us not forget saw the comic happenings in Wilder’s The Apartment sixteen years later, again with MacMurray as a heel), over half a century before John Grisham’s The Rainmaker made a similar Zola-like accusation.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1949 87m) DVD1

Aka. Deadly is the Female

Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside

p  Maurice King, Frank King  d  Joseph H.Lewis  w  Dalton Trumbo  story  Mackinlay Kantor, based on his story in the “Saturday Evening Post”  ph  Russell Harlan  ed  Harry Gerstad  m  Victor Young  art  Gordon Wiles

John Dall (Bart Tare), Peggy Cummins (Annie Laurie Starr), Annabel Shaw (Ruby Tare), Morris Carnovsky (Judge Willoughby), Russ Tamblyn (Young Bart), Barry Kroeger (Packett), Harry Lewis (Clayde Boston), Nedrick Young,

Nope, that isn’t a song sung by the Joker, but rather Shaw’s Ruby Tare in Joe Lewis’ seminal ‘B’ movie from 1949.  Influenced by Lang’s You Only Live Once and Ray’s They Live by Night and influential to everything from Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands to Natural Born Killers, this is the ‘lovers on the run’ flick to end them all, a true dime-a-dozen masterpiece from the master of such pulp cinema.  (more…)

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