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Archive for April, 2011

by Allan Fish

(UK 1933 84m) not on DVD

Unlucky for two

p  Michael Balcon  d  Victor Saville  w  G.H.Moresby-White, Sidney Gilliat, Emlyn Williams  ph  Charles Van Enger  ed  R.E.Dearing  m/md  uncredited (probably Louis Levy)  art  Alfred Junge, Alex Vetchinsky

Sonnie Hale (Alf), Cyril Smith (Fred), Frank Lawton (Frank Parsons), Belle Chrystal (Mary Summers), Emlyn Williams (William Blake), Edmund Gwenn (Wakefield), Mary Jerrold (Mrs Wakefield), Gordon Harker (Hamilton Briggs), Eliot Makeham (Henry Jackson), Ursula Jeans (Eileen Jackson), Jessie Matthews (Millie), Ralph Richardson (Horace Dawes), Donald Calthrop (Hugh Nicholls), Robertson Hare (Ralph Lightfoot), Martita Hunt (Agnes Lightfoot), Leonora Corbett (Dolly), Max Miller (Joe), Alfred Drayton (detective), Hartley Power (American), Gibb McLaughlin (florist), Muriel Aked (Miss Twigg), O.B.Clarence (clerk),

One of the forgotten little jewels of early thirties British cinema, Friday the Thirteenth is the granddaddy of all “what if?” films, telling much of the story in flashback and bringing together several separate plot strands to one common event.  In this case, to show us how an accident came about. 

Supposing we could put back the clock…”, the opening caption tells us, and see how chance made those strangers share this appalling moment.”  They’re a disparate group; a old married woman hurrying to deliver a letter she forgot to post for her broker husband, a variety dancer off to visit a promoter after a tiff with her schoolteacher boyfriend, a blackmailer revelling in his ill-gotten gains, a henpecked husband who has left his wife’s beloved dog in the park, a cuckold who has saved up for a holiday for some time for his wife, who has unbeknownst to him left home with her lover, a cockney wide-boy market trader about to fall into a Scotland Yard net, and, of course, the driver and conductor, racing fanatics who can only think about their next trip to the track.  (more…)

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Director: Billy Wilder

Producer: Charles Brackett

Screenwriters: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman Jr

Cinematographer: John F. Seitz

Music: Franz Waxman

Studio: Paramount Pictures 1950

Main Acting: William Holden and Gloria Swanson

How much more noir can you get than a dead guy narrating his own slow demise from beyond the grave? Face down in a swimming pool—that’s the first glimpse we catch of Joseph C. Gillis (William Holden). Quickly establishing the cynical dry wit Wilder specialized in, our expired chronicler guides us back in time to six months prior to fill us in on the details of how he finds himself floating lifeless in some luxurious looking estate’s recreational area. This haunting expose on the ills of Hollywood and how it discards talent at a rapidly callous rate dares us to understand what happens to some people who get what they wish for. Gillis plays a struggling screenwriter that through certain choices in his life scripts his own destruction. (more…)

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Director: John Huston

Producer: Hal B. Willis

Screenwriter: John Huston

Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson

Music: Adolph Deutsch

Studio: Warner Bros 1941

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

How did the universe begin? All these years of human evolution and we are still not sure of our specific origins and how life began. Theories and speculation abound, but a clear concrete answer is still beyond us. Perhaps there will never be an explanation that will please or even satisfy anyone. Our origins are like any great mystery, full of clues but maddening when trying to find the proper resolution. Seems like some poetic justice that film noir has similar questions when it comes to a source. Where does it all begin? Is there one movie that can truly hold the key to how the whole movement formed? Does it come neatly packaged in one big bang explosion named The Stranger On The Third Floor or The Maltese Falcon, or has it gestated for many year in many little progressions? Does the answer lie in Germany, where Lang created M and The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse? Perhaps when we look at France and their poetic realism scene, we see a glimmer of the form taking hold? How about looking at our own horror films of the thirties? Maybe even to some silent films that lay immersed in German expressionism that gloriously offer a similar stylized palette? The bottom line is that I don’t believe we can easily find the great clue that will solve our little genre equation. I am as befuddled as the next person in trying to erect that proper piece of the puzzle to completely illuminate the whole. (more…)

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Director and Producer: Howard Hawks

Screenwriters: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman

Cinematographer: Sidney Hickox

Music: Max Steiner

Studio: Warner Bros 1946

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart

Phillip Marlowe is one of those iconic figures in film noir that is always associated with the genre. Humphrey Bogart is a popular actor forever recognized as a towering symbol in classic Hollywood. What would it mean if these two cultural titans could be fused together and released to a fascinated public? Well, in 1946 it happened, and we get the bonus of esteemed film director Howard Hawks pulling the strings. No less than three screenwriters worked on adapting Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. Everyone has heard of how convoluted and complex the proceedings became, with a slew of characters entering and departing the fray to dizzying effects. One popular story goes that no one had any idea who murders chauffeur Owen Taylor and even the famous author of the original work couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. The truth is that if one were looking for a neat and tidy tale of deception, crime, and double crosses, then this picture isn’t it. Move along to something more linear and narratively cohesive. The Big Sleep is all over the place, and is more worthy for the ride than the destination. The mystery is really just an excuse to marvel at the insane chemistry by Bogie and Lauren Bacall as they wise-crack and mouth double entendres all movie long. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Italy 1961 121m) DVD1

Aka. La ragazza con la valigia

A travel iron in a leather case

p  Maurizio Lodi-Fé, Charles Delac  d  Valerio Zurlini  w  Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero de Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Giuseppe Patrone Griffi, Valerio Zurlini  ph  Tino Santoni  ed  Mario Serandrei  art  Flavio Mogherini

Claudia Cardinale (Aida Zapponi), Jacques Perrin (Lorenzo Fainardi), Luciana Angiolillo (Lorenzo’s aunt), Gian Maria Volonte (Piero Benotti), Corrado Pani (Marcello Fainardi), Romolo Valli (Don Pietro Introna), Renato Baldini (Francia), Elsa Albani (Lucia),

An open-topped car pulls up on the roadside.  A young woman gets out.  She looks around pensively, finger in mouth.  She looks increasingly desperate.  Now here’s the question; imagine this was a Hollywood film, what is the girl looking for?  A missing pet, perhaps, like Holly Golightly?  A piece of jewellery?  Either way, she’s retracing her steps, right?  A world of no.  You see, this isn’t an American film, this is Italy, earthy Italy.  Our heroine isn’t looking for anything but a quiet spot, for in her own words she’s about to explode if she doesn’t find a place to squat down and have a piss.  She finds a spot, and on emerging with relief, as Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ blasts out of the car radio, she has only one question for her male companion; “did you look?”  It’s a wonderful opening. 

            The girl in question, Aida, is the would-be cabaret singer who has been on a holiday with playboy Marcello.  The problem is that he’s grown bored with her, having sampled the goods, and proceeds to drive off and leave her after arranging to meet her in a bar.  Returning home, she follows him and Marcello sends his 16 year old younger brother Lorenzo downstairs to brush her off with some lie that this isn’t his house, which, as Marcello used a false name, proves somewhat easy.  When Lorenzo takes one look at her, he falls in love, and proceeds to help her out, paying for a hotel room, letting her have a bath at his aunt’s place when everyone’s out, and even lending her 5,000 lira.  Slowly Aida realises that Lorenzo is in love with her, and she can only feel friendship.  It doesn’t need Lorenzo’s priest and tutor to tell you, this isn’t going to end well. (more…)

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Troy Olson (left) with Tieryn and Kevin Olson at the Oregon State Fair in 2009

Note:  This is the eighth feature dedicated to bloggers who have made a huge difference to the on-line community.

by Sam Juliano

Literature gave the world the Brothers Grimm and the Brothers Karamazov.  Music gave us George and Ira Gershwin and and the Brothers Sherman.  The cinema has yielded the talents of Joel and Ethan Coen.  In the age of the internet two blogging brothers from the Salem, Oregon area have enriched the film community with their unique insights, specialized tastes, and some of the finest on-line writing available to readers.  Troy and Kevin Olson have matched their long-running and prolific activity on the film boards with the nearly four-year stewardship of two popular sites, Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies and Elusive as Robert Denby: The Life and Times of Troy.  Both the elder Troy and his younger sibling Kevin (the two have a third brother who resides in San Diego) have also written for other sites  and for a very long time have been regular contributors at the homes of others, furnishing many of their colleagues with some of the most valued commentary under film reviews and features.  Troy has reported on his travel, family additions and domestic events at a site aptly dubbed ‘Olson Family Matters,’ while Kevin has been a contributor at a Western blog launched by fellow writer Jon Lanthier.  (more…)

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Robert Redford's surprisingly compelling drama about Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt starring James McAvoy and Robin Wright

by Sam Juliano

Here in the Big Apple the Tribeca Film Festival gets underway this coming week, and through the efforts of one of the event’s chairpersons, Pete Torres, Wonders in the Dark has been granted press passes for about a dozen of the highlight features.  The connection with Mr. Torres was made by none other than our dear friend and impassioned commentator Dennis Polifroni via his position as dispatcher for Scotty’s Cab Company.  I have tentative plans in place to see about ten films, starting on Thursday evening, April 23, and continuing through to April 30.  Hence this seven-day span will be quite a hectic time.  A full report will be posted in early May, though I am certain a few individual reviews will be appearing beforehand.  Broadway Bob and Lucille will be alternately appearing as my free guest for the trips into Manhattan.  Many thanks to Pete Torres and to Dennis for making this happen.

The film noir countdown has now reached the Top Ten, and congratulations are in order for the good-natured and humble proprietor of this major venture, Maurizio Roca of Brooklyn.  Roca has penned some of his finest reviews over the past week for a bevy of the genre’s masterpieces, including Nightmare Alley, The Night of the Hunter, The Third Man and Sweet Smell of Success.  The film noir countdown has attracted remarkable site traffic, and tons of comments, nearly all uniformly knowledgeble and enthusiastic.  It’s been an amazing ride for all of us, and an accomplishment of epic proportions from this passionate adherent of this revered cinematic form. (more…)

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As a creative team, screenwriter Kazunori Ito and director Mamouru Oshii are responsible for some of the most eloquent and thought provoking anime of the 80’s and 90’s, but for the most part, fans and critics of the medium have more or less concentrated all their attention onto the 1995 adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, and left it at that. To be sure, that movie was a powerhouse assembly of sci-fi action, philosophy and cinematic collage, and every bit deserving of the reputation it’s gained over the years as a highly moving and influential piece of Japanese animation. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have seen The Matrix or any number of other similarly themed pieces of high-concept futuristic existentialism come down the Hollywood pipeline. We may not have even seen anime itself continue with quite the same kind of underground popularity that it enjoyed throughout the 90’s– for a handful of years, it would have seemed that along with Kazuhiro Otomo’s groundbreaking Akira, it was the only release that mainstream audiences or commentators ever bothered to know about. It wouldn’t be until Studio Ghibli’s late-blossoming international renaissance with classics like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away that critics in America “discovered” Hayao Miyazaki. Other directors who could be called high-profile to expert otaku– Hideaki Anno, Rintaro, Shinichiro Watanabe– have either continued to stand tall as recognizable entities to one demographic while remaining utterly unknown to the viewing public at large; or, like Satoshi Kon, have seen their careers and popularity enjoy the same tragically short lifespan as themselves. One could even say that Oshii was rather fortunate for Ghost in the Shell to be one of those premier anime titles for so long, a foot in the door of world audiences that’s secured him plenty of projects since then, and likely to come.

(more…)

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Director: Edmund Goulding

Producer: George Jessel

Screenwriter: Jules Furthman

Cinematographer: Lee Garmes

Music: Cyril J. Mockridge

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1947

Main Acting: Tyrone Power and Coleen Gray

To kick off the final ten film noirs of the countdown, here are my top ten reasons (in no particular order) why Nightmare Alley deserves the #10 spot.

10. Back when I discussed the I Walk Alone selection, I made the statement that Mike Mazurki was my favorite peripheral noir character who would resurface throughout the genre. Born in what is now the Ukraine, Mike made a habit of appearing in wonderful little roles throughout the classic era. His filmography boasts such impressive turns as Murder My Sweet, Dark City, The Shanghai Gesture, Night And The City, the above mentioned I Walk Alone, and finally, Nightmare Alley. His role as Bruno the strongman is perhaps his best in noir or at least the equal of his work as Moose Malloy and The Strangler. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Italy 1959 95m) DVD1

Aka. Estate Violenta

You were born to be kiseed

p  Silvio Clementelli  d  Valerio Zurlini  w  Giorgio Prosperi, Valerio Zurlini, Suso Cecchi d’Amico  ph  Tino Santoni  ed  Mario Serandrei  m  Mario Nascimbene  art  Massimiliano Capriccioli, Dario Cecchi

Eleanora Rossi Drago (Roberta Parmesan), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Carlo Caremoli), Cathio Caro (Gemma), Jacqueline Sassard (Rosanna), Lilla Brignone (Roberta’s mother), Enrico Maria Salerno (Ettore Caremoli), Federica Ranchi (Maddalena), Nadia Gray,

There was a time, not so long ago, when the discovery of a major director previously forgotten was something to rejoice and shout from the rooftops about.  In the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly commonplace, which leaves one with a mixture of feelings.  Delight, of course, at finding another master, but perplexity and, to a degree, sadness, that it has taken so long to redress the balance.  Think of Vlacil in the Czech Republic, of Barnet and Ozep in Russia, of Shimizu, Yamanaka, Masumura and the criminally neglected Yoshida in Japan, of Autant-Lara in France, of Berlanga in Spain, of Yu and Wancang in China, of Asquith (especially the silents) in the UK.  And then there’s Italy, where the masters can be envisioned round the table – Antonioni, de Sica, Rossellini, Fellini, Visconti, Pasolini, Bertolucci.  Yet, as Richard Harland Smith has suggested, there was always an empty chair at the table.  Other names come to mind – Rosi, Scola, Olmi, Bava, Argento, Germi, Emmer, Lattuada, Alessandrini, Pontecorvo, Blasetti, de Santis, Ferreri, Wertmuller, Zeffirelli, more recently Tornatore or Moretti; all worthy names, but no.  After all, there are only a couple of those who people might scratch their heads and think “who?”  So instead I direct you, if you didn’t already look at the director credit, or aren’t reading this tome through alphabetically and haven’t already been introduced back in the Gs, to Valerio Zurlini. 

            Zurlini made only eight features, the last at 50, and died in 1982 at the age of 56.  I have only seen three of those eight films, but two of them qualify for entry here.  The first of them chronologically, Violent Summer is set in the tumultuous summer of 1943 in the small district of Riccione, near Rimini.  Here, as throughout the Italian peninsula, the Italians, with German help, are making a last stand against the landed Allies in the final days of fascism before the resignation and overthrow of Il Duce.  Throughout this summer, a love affair develops between Roberta and Carlo, she the widow of a naval officer with a small daughter, he a wastrel fascist leader’s son who has stayed out of the war up to now.  (more…)

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