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Archive for March 1st, 2011

Director: Samuel Fuller

Producer: Jules Schermer

Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller

Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald

Music: Lionel Newman

Studio: 2oth Century Fox 1953

Main Acting: Richard Widmark and Jean Peters

Director Samuel Fuller’s reputation continues to grow with every passing year. With such major cinematic figures as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino consistently praising his body of work, the journalist-turned-low-budget-maverick has moved closer and closer to the front rank of auteurists in the eyes of many movie lovers. While I can praise a Fuller picture for many of the same qualities that the above filmmakers do (toughness, brash ostracized characters, blunt tabloid-like stories) as well as acknowledge how his themes could marvel a modern audience, I do remain mysteriously unmoved by his overall filmography. At times, his message can feel as forced and heavy handed as a George Romero zombie flick. With Pickup On South Street, I am highlighting what I consider to be the best feature the director ever managed to make (with The Steel Helmet a close second).

Noir has many examples of works within its genre that harness ludicrous plots and hair-brained developments that push credibility to the breaking point. Pickup On South Street is such a case. Richard Widmark plays a professional pickpocket, Skip McCoy, who grifts a wallet from a saucy dame, Candy (apt name for character played by Jean Peters), that just so happens to have some microfilm that is valuable to Communists and the American government alike. Given to her by her ex-boyfriend Joey, as one more favor before they break-up up for good, she’s expected to deliver the harmless-looking contents to a mysterious man she is scheduled to meet. Not getting this strip of celluloid transported properly can lead to much hardship for all the main central players. Portraying the standard noir anti-hero, Skip figures out that the contents are valuable and looks to collect as much dough as he can wring out from whoever feels like ponying up some cash. Candy’s feeble attempts to persuade him to give her back the merchandise only leads to her being slapped around a few times by Skip, which oddly enough, brings them closer together. As all concerned parties begin to slowly head towards a critical confrontation, the questions remaining are: Will Skip McCoy fall in love with Candy, resist dealing with determined commie infiltrators, and avoid a three-strike prison term that could land him in the big house indefinitely? (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1937 107m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Aka. The Pearls of the Crown

Worthy of Scheherezade

p  Serge Sandberg  d  Sacha Guitry, Christian-Jaque  w  Sacha Guitry  ph  Jules Kruger  ed  William Barache, Myriam Borzoutsky  m  Jean Francaix  art  Jean Perrier

Sacha Guitry (Francis I of France/Jean Martin/Barras/Napoleon III), Lyn Harding (Henry VIII/attendant), Jacqueline Delubac (Mary Queen of Scots/Françoise Martin/Josephine), Ermete Zacconi (Pope Clement VII), Marguerite Moreno (Catherine dei Medici/Empress Eugenie), Arletty (Queen of Abyssinia), Jean-Louis Barrault (Napoleon), Marcel Dalio (Abyssinian minister), Barbara Shaw (Anne Boleyn), Claude Dauphin (Italian in Abyssinia), Raimu (industrialist), Émile Drain (Napoleon I), Rosine Deréan (Catherine of Aragon), Simone Renant (Madame Dubarry), Yvette Pienne (Mary I/Elizabeth I/Victoria), Derrick de Marnay,

David Thomson once said of Sacha Guitry; “as actor, or sheer presence, Guitry is an unashamedly charming tyrant, a Napoleon by way of Lubitsch.”  The analogy is perfect, and never fit better than when referring to this wonderful curio from 1937.  At its heart, it’s merely a series of loosely connected vignettes and observations, but as critics have observed, what vignettes they are! 

Essentially, what we have here is the ultimate historical shaggy dog story.  Guitry looks up from his pile of books to tell his wife and lifelong collaborator Jacqueline Delubac the tale of the four pearls on the crown of England.  He takes Delubac, and the viewer, back to 1518, and the age of Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, Pope Clement VII and Lorenzo dei Medici.  He tells of how there had once been two pearls, and how the Pope sent the paramour of a young, convent-raised Catherine dei Medici on the impossible task of finding five more pearls of identical proportions and value.  The problem is, find them he does, necessitating his being sent away for “a very long rest” and the pearls are then made up into a necklace, which finds it way eventually into the hands of Mary Queen of Scots.  It’s then stolen by thieves, who make off with three of the pearls, but four are saved and passed to Elizabeth I, who hides them away in the hidden panel of a casket, where they remain hidden until the age of Victoria, who orders them set on the corners of the crown.  (more…)

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