Archive for March, 2011

Director: Nicholas Ray

Producer: John Houseman

Screenwriters: Nicholas Ray and Charles Schnee

Cinematographer: George E. Diskant

Music: Leigh Harline

Studio: RKO Pictures 1949

Main Acting: Farley Granger and Cathy O’ Donnell

This romantic film noir has an aching sentimental core. Nicholas Ray’s debut movie is an evocative beginning that showcases an emerging titan of cinema. As with most Ray pictures, he pits his protagonists as outsiders battling away the forces of a greater public that does not understand them. They are an insular couple on the run, not just from the law, but from society itself. Unlike Gun Crazy, the two young lovers in They Live By Night are hopelessly naive innocents that have been thrust into a circumstance from which they are unable to escape. Their relationship is not one of perverse sexuality and lust, but of adolescent affection trying to grow into adulthood. Like a gastrotrich or worker bee, their life span is doomed to be short and without the fulfillment of advanced maturity. Their time together has a predetermined shelf life, that like a flower’s bloom, will wilt by fall. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1956 116m) DVD1

The Sins of the Fathers…and Mothers

p  Agnes Delahaye  d  René Clément  w  Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost  novel  “L’Assommoir” by Emile Zola  ph  René Juillard  ed  Henri Rust  m  Georges Auric  art  Paul Bertrand

Maria Schell (Gervaise Macquart), François Périer (Henri Coupeau), Suzy Delair (Virginie), Armand Mestral (Lantier), Mathilde Casadesus (Mme.Boche), Jany Holt (Mme. Lorilleaux), Odette Florelle (Maman Coupeau), Lucien Hubert (Poisson), Micheline Luccioni (Clémence), Jacques Harden (Goujet), Chantal Gozzi (Nana),

Despite winning several awards at the Venice Film Festival, there has always been something about René Clément’s Emile Zola film that has invited accusations of old-fashionedness and of miscasting of the central part.  Leaving the latter aside awhile, it’s true that it’s very much a traditional piece of film-making, but was the same not true of the masterworks of Raymond Bernard or of Claude Berri’s Pagnol films?

            Zola’s novel was the seventh in his Les Rougons-Macquart series detailing life in France in the 19th century.  In this case, Paris in the 1850s and 60s, and the fate of Gervaise, a crippled laundress married to a serial philanderer who is deserted by said husband and left to fend for herself and her two kids.  She marries again, to a seemingly nicer fellow, but he has an accident, withdraws into selfish bitterness and becomes and alcoholic with no thoughts but quenching his thirst.  Those who know Zola will think of how Gervaise’s children will go on to their own misery in turn, and it’s hard not to think of little Jacques growing up into Jean Gabin to drive his train in La Bête Humaine, of little Etienne taking up the miners’ cause in Germinal, and, of course, of little Nana.  And that is perhaps exactly what makes Gervaise still such a truly formidable achievement.  L’Argent and Humaine were updated into the present by l’Herbier and Renoir and, as such, though the dramatic intensity remained, the social concerns did not.  Gervaise shows us, like no other film before or since, the Paris of Zola’s world.  You can really feel you’re there, amongst the tall garrets and slum tenements often surrounded by wasteland following decades of revolution and counter-revolution.  It creates the world with absolute sincerity and detail, the world of a century earlier and, in so doing, justifies Leslie Halliwell’s calling it the French equivalent of David Lean’s Dickens films.  It might not quite be of their standing but they belong to the same school of prestige film-making. (more…)

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Director: Fritz Lang

Producer: Robert Arthur

Screenwriter: Sydney Boehm

Cinematographer: Charles Lang

Music: Henry Vars

Studio: Columbia Pictures 1953

Main Acting: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Lee Marvin

How do Fritz Lang’s American films stack up to those that he directed in Germany? In his homeland, he had access to enormous budgets which afforded him the possibility of producing expansive pictures with breathtaking visuals. German film studio UFA spared no expense when it came to giving Lang the tools to create cinematic marvels. Watching movies such as Metropolis, Die Nibelungen, and Der Mude Tod is like witnessing the early development of summer blockbuster filmmaking except it’s been crafted by someone with intelligence and artistic integrity. Lang’s career in the United States was much different. He never developed the following or reputation of someone like Hitchcock. His time in Hollywood failed to materialize any opportunities for the mounting of handsome large-scale productions. Lavish, glossy features were not in his future and he even had to contend with the realty of occasionally producing some of his films independently. This lower, less ambitious working scale has lead many to dismiss or unfavorably compare Lang’s American films to those he directed in Germany. To read many older historians tell it, Lang never reached anywhere near the same prominence in his new country as he did back in Europe. I personally disagree with this view. While M, The Testament Of Dr Mabuse, and Metropolis may very well be Lang’s three best features, he did more than enough substance while in North America. Besides the two noirs featured in this countdown (and about three I left out partially only so Lang wouldn’t run amuck), he also directed rewarding works like Fury, You Only Live Once, and Rancho Notorious. This next selection, The Big Heat, is perhaps the pinnacle of Fritz Lang’s work in the USA. (more…)

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Martijn Lakemeier plays the resistance fighter hero of superb coming-of-age Dutch drama "Winter in Wartime"

by Sam Juliano

     The plight of Holland during the terrible days of the Third Reich invariably leads to the real-life story of Anne Frank, a gifted 13 year old, who with her family, were captured and sent off to concentration camps in the waning days of the second world war.  The diary she left behind, which stands as an amazingly perceptive coming-of-age testament,  has served as an inspiration for schoolchildren in the intervening decades, and as a lasting monument to the irrepressible human spirit.  Director Martin Koolhaven’s Winter in Wartime, (Oorlogswinter) a visually arresting Dutch film made a few years ago contains a number of themes that invite comparisons with the Frank document: age of the main character, betrayal, concealment and maturation in a time of oppression only months before the war’s conclusion.  The major difference aside from the fact vs. fiction aspect is one that will be left unrevealed in fear of violating the film’s narrative aesthetic even taking into account the spoilers chronicled in this review.

 Set in a village in the Netherlands in wintry January, the film presents the point-of-view of 13 year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) the uncooperative son of a Nazi collaborator father, who is Mayor of the town.  A sense of urgency is imparted in the perspective of having all the events of the film unfold through the boys’ eyes, even accentuating that view by including a number of shots of Michiel looking at other characters through holes and narrow openings.  Indeed it’s what gives this film it’s power and singular focus, in large measure due to the increasing awareness shared by the protagonist and the audience.  And setting plays a large role in advancing the plot.  In this sense the expansive, unmitigated whiteness that is seen in the vast majority of the film’s outdoor sequences serves as a thematic contrast to the caliginous hues of war.  (more…)

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Director: Robert Siodmak

Producer: Michael Kraike

Screenwriter: Daniel Fuchs

Cinematographer: Franz Planer

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Studio: Universal 1949

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea

A beautiful arial shot of dusky Los Angeles is our introduction into the lives of doomed couple, Steve Thompson ( Burt Lancster) and Anna Dundee (Yvonne De Carlo): two lovers who can’t seem to stay apart despite all the negative aspects that arise when they are together. Told in flashback after about 12 minutes of real-time narrative, we are treated to the particulars of this complicated romance. Steve left his comfortable surroundings and local neighborhood to get away from the woman he could not cope with emotionally. He hopes that the forced distance and non-communication could extinguish some of the passion he knows is hurtful to both of them. On his return, the obsession is still tangible and he can’t help but drop into the “old place” to get a glimpse of his beloved ex-wife. The saloon is basically empty except for past ghosts that still haunt Steve. As hard as he tries to run from his former life, the pull is too great. This is what Criss Cross is about—inescapable memories and failures that continue to influence future activities. No matter how obvious it appears to Steve that he and Anna are not good for each other, they will continue to remain intwined by some seemingly larger force that will eventually destroy them. A deadly dance of fate and preordained misery. (more…)

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Director and Producer: Orson Welles

Screenwriters: Orson Welles, William Castle, Charles Lederer, and Fletcher Markle

Cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr, Rudolph Mate, and Joseph Walker

Music: Heinz Roemheld

Studio: Columbia Pictures 1948

Main Acting: Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

Double and triple crosses. A femme fatale with dubious motivations. A scheming rich husband. Unsympathetic characters with few redemptive qualities. I could be describing the majority of film noirs. I could also be describing The Lady From Shanghai. Welles got to direct his then beautiful wife Rita Hayworth and does the most perverse thing imaginable…he orders her to cut her flaming red hair short and bleach it blonde. Take the biggest female star at the time and render her unrecognizable—what more proof could you need to acknowledge that Welles was someone who welcomed controversy and thrived on tension and conflict. To make matters worse—or more appealing, depending on whom you ask—he created an ultra-convoluted story that is hard to follow and even more difficult to decipher. In fact, the knotted complexity of Welles’ noir classic picks up right at the beginning with Michael O’ Hara’s tongue-twisting opening monologue that begins: (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK/France 1954 103m) not on DVD

Aka. Monsieur Ripois

No more Manchester puddings

p  Paul Graetz  d  René Clément  w  Hugh Mills, René Clément  novel  “M.Ripois et la Nemesis” by Louis Hémon  ph  Oswald Morris  ed  Vera Campbell, François Javet  m  Roman Vlad  art  Ralph W.Brinton 

Gérard Philipe (André Ripois), Valerie Hobson (Catherine Ripois), Natasha Parry (Patricia), Joan Greenwood (Nora), Margaret Johnston (Anne), Germaine Montero (Marcelle), Diana Decker (Diana), Martin Benson (Art), Eric Pohlmann (landlord),

It is always delightful to walk in a city one loves, but to do so in pursuit of a woman, that is better still.”  Question, starter for ten, no conferring; name the city?  Only a Frenchman, right?  Paris?  Non, think again.  Roll through the rest of the great French cathedral cities, still non.  Exasperated I give you the answer…London.  No, that cannot be.  No Englishman would say anything so continental.  And you’d be right, no Englishman did.  Yet it’s still London all the same. 

            Knave of Hearts is better known as Monsieur Ripois, but that refers to the French language version of the same film.  That film can be tracked down, but how many know and have seen the English language original?  How many indeed have heard its star Gérard Philipe use the king’s modern Anglo-Saxon?  Sadly, the answer to both questions for many would not be in the affirmative.  I only finally got to see the film myself thanks to a friend’s generosity and when I did, it’s safe to say that it was like a breath of air being let in on a warm summer’s day (OK, it’s only May as I write, but it’s been warm enough).  (more…)

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Paul Giamatti with first-time actor Alex Shaffer in Tom McCarthy's superlative suburban drama "Win Win"

by Sam Juliano

     Tom McCarthy has won the trifecta after his third turn at directing, and he’s done so in impressive ascending order.  To boot he’s proven he’s exceedingly gifted with actors.  After the New Jersey native made a star out of dwarf thespian Peter Dinklage in the off-beat The Station Agent, he took on more audacious subject matter in his moving immigration saga, The Visitor, which yielded the finest performance in veteran Richard Jenkins’ career.  Now, with the aptly titled Win Win McCarthy gets two chemistry-fueled top-flight performances from Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan and a star-making turn from a high school wrestler named Alex Shaffer who was found in a talent search.  But performances and deft direction are only a part of the equation as to why this seemingly modestly conceived drama makes a fair claim as the best film of 2011.

     A major hit at the Sundance Film Festival, McCarthy’s film is a winning entertainment that weds acute and perceptive social issues with the big emotions that are mostly flubbed in the big-studio fare.  It’s the kind of film that is all-too-rare in its consummate artistry, as it is in its feat of making familiar issues fresh and engaging.  Win Win is the answer one should pose to those who find all kinds of reasons why they believe American movies lag behind other national cinemas, and it’s a textbook example of how seemingly modest concerns played out on a small stage can yield results so dynamic that the film leaves many more intricate films in the dust as a fully realized emotional experience. (more…)

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Director: John Brahm

Producer: Robert Bassler

Screenwriter: Barre Lyndon

Cinematographer: Joseph LaShalle

Music: Bernard Herrmann

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1945

Main Acting: Laird Cregar and Linda Darnell

John Brahm had a big hit with 1944’s The Lodger. Starring up-and-coming character actor Laird Cregar in the role of Jack The Ripper, the film was a successful remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent version in 1926. The popularity of the newer version directly led Twentieth Century Fox to team up Brahm and Cregar again and make another feature together. This time they were entrusted with the adaptation of the novel, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. With screenwriter Barre Lyndon also returning to his role, the movie went through some interesting changes from the book. The most important difference, as far as film noir is concerned, had to do with altering the time period in which the novel was placed. A contemporary setting was discarded in favor of a turn-of-the-century period piece that was closer in spirit to The Lodger (if a formula isn’t broken why fix it, must have been Zanuck’s view). The Victorian era so critical to the earlier film was again highlighted to help make Hangover Square a repeat box office sensation. This critical change has led many to: a.) View Hangover Square as something other than noir. And b.) Consider it basically a remake of Brahm’s own The Lodger. (more…)

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Martijn Lakemeir as Michiel in exceptional Dutch film "Winter in Wartime" (Oorlogswinter)

by Sam Juliano

The developments in Japan continue to have us cringing, yet maintaining our confidence that the worst part of this global calamity is now behind us, and that workers are getting the situation under reasonable control.  The mass exodus of course is telling, and our hearts go out to those adversely affected by the disaster and particularly to our friend “Murderous Ink,” in Tokyo, who has heartwrenchingly reported first-hand on the terrible arc of the tragedy that has befallen his countrymen.  It’s always difficult to come up with words at such a time, and so many of us are occupied with our state of affairs, with quite a bit of guilt and helplessness.  We remain very moved at your plight, my friend, and ask if there is anything we can do in your behalf.  As Dee Dee has reported this week, the International Red Cross and other organizations welcome any show of generosity in behalf of the Japanese people directly affected by the terrible events of the past two weeks.  (post script) Marilyn Ferdinand has suggested a worthwhile charity in her comment below.

Back in our hedonist environs, many of us continue to entertain ourselves in the spirit of “life must go on” mode, though certainly with more than a little guilt, a sentiment well express by our dear Longman Oz last week from his Dublin abode.  Maurizio Roca is now approaching the half-way point of his exceedingly popular ‘Film Noir Countdown’ and his last half-dozen essays have showcased some quality writing and some welcome surprises.  Noir fans -or better yet movie fans gleefully await the unveiling of the creme de la creme over the coming weeks.  Allan Fish’s “Fish Obscuro” series, Bob Clark’s animation coverage, Jamie Uhler’s ‘Getting Over the Beatles” series and Jim Clark’s stellar review of Lourdes all made a splash over the past seven days at the sites.  Dee Dee again graced these pages with the results of her latest noir contest and giveaway but I am loathe to discuss the results.  Ha! (more…)

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