Archive for August, 2011

by Allan Fish

(UK 2006 232m) DVD1/2

Viewer, I married him…

p  Diederick Santer  d  Susanna White  w  Sandy Welch  novel  Charlotte Brontë  ph  Mike Eley  ed  Jason Krasucki  m  Robert Lane  art  Grenville Horner  cos  John Bright, Andrea Galer

Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre), Toby Stephens (Edward Rochester), Lorraine Ashbourne (Mrs Fairfax), Pam Ferris (Grace Poole), Tara Fitzgerald (Mrs Reed), Francesca Annis (Lady Ingram), Christina Cole (Blanche Ingram), Andrew Buchan (St John Rivers), Richard McCabe (Mr Brocklehurst), Georgie Henley (young Jane Eyre), Ned Irish (George), Cosima Littlewood (Adele), Elsa Mollien (Sophie), Rebekah Staton (Bessie), Daniel Pirrie (Richard Mason), Charlotte West-Oram (Mrs Dent), Hester Odgers (Helen Burns), Georgia King (Rosamund Oliver), Anne Reid (gypsy woman),

At the time of first viewing this small screen adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romance, it was my sixth Jane Eyre.  There were disposable ones, for film in 1996 (with Charlotte Gainsbourg if anything too pallid), for TV the same year (so mediocre even Sam Morton couldn’t do anything with it), and way back in 1934, with hardly any budget, a poor Jane from Virginia Bruce and a bored Rochester from Colin Clive.  Then there had been the George C.Scott version in 1970, in which his Rochester dominated all (Susannah York was Jane, in case you forgot) and another TV take in 1983, with future Bond Timothy Dalton as Rochester.  Essentially, screen history would not be one jot the poorer without the lot of them.  (more…)


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by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 80m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Oh, that Mitzi!

p  Ernst Lubitsch  d  Ernst Lubitsch, George Cukor  w  Samson Raphaelson  play  “Only a Dream” by Lothar Schmidt  ph  Victor Milner  ed  William Shea  m/ly  Oscar Straus, Richard Whiting, Leo Robin  art  Hans Dreier  cos  Travis Banton

Maurice Chevalier (Dr André Bertier), Jeanette MacDonald (Colette Bertier), Genevieve Tobin (Mitzi Olivier), Charles Ruggles (Adolph), Roland Young (Professor Olivier), George Barbier (Police commissioner), Josephine Dunn, Richard Carle,

Whenever I think of this trademark Lubitsch soufflé, I recall a tale told by Leslie Halliwell when, the morning after its debut showing on British television in 1983, he discussed the film with a neighbour, who said they turned it off as they didn’t like Jeanette MacDonald’s acting.  He observed, in recollection, how can one explain sunlight to a blind man? 

            What’s ironic is that the film hasn’t been seen on British TV in any form in two decades and until recently seeing it – as with his other pre-code masterpieces, The Smiling Lieutenant and Trouble in Paradise – was virtually impossible unless you either spotted a copy on ebay or emigrated to the US.  It’s a story that Lubitsch knew well, for it was a reworking of his 1924 silent The Marriage Circle, and it concerns the romantic complications of Parisian doctor André Bertier.  He’s married to Colette, he loves Colette, he’s crazy about Colette, but things start to take a turn for the worse when his wife informs him that her best school friend, Mitzi, is on the way to visit.  (Suffice it to say that not since Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp has there been a more treacherous ‘best friend’.)  Mitzi immediately sets her sights on André, not realising her professor husband is onto her unfaithfulness and has employed a private detective to spy on her.  (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

Both Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Billy Wilder’s Apartment were produced in 1959 and released in 1960. The former is widely regarded as a decisive change in the history of film; the latter is seen as an above-average comedy. The dialogue and physical incident of each boil over to the point of a close continuum of cinematic disturbance. Godard, in a Cahiers du Cinema piece, attempts to shake loose from that implication. But it’s not so easy to be done with the shared arteries of this transportation process; and its obtaining, far from a drag, may be seen to comprise a means to illuminating the powers of both efforts. Godard’s protagonist, “Michel,” in addition to being a flip murderer and thief, reveals himself to be a hit-and-run critic, himself being among the many targets he sprays. His first move is to tell us, “After all, I’m an asshole.” When speaking for himself (and his clique of brethren, modestly designated, “the New Wave”), Godard adopts Michel’s free-floating resentment toward the planetary cast of characters. Hence:

“After seven of itching, he [Wilder] decided to no longer bring tragedy to the joke, but on the

contrary to bring the comic to the serious. He took out an insurance policy on cinematographic

survival, and success invited itself in.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1931 83m) DVD1/2

Aka. Freedom for Us

Pre-Modern Times

p  Frank Clifford  d/w  René Clair  ph  Georges Périnal  ed  René Clair, René le Henaff  m  Georges Auric  art  Lazare Meerson

Raymond Cordy (Louis), Henri Marchand (Emile), Rolla France (Jeanne), Paul Olivier (Paul Imaque), Alexander d’Arcy (Gigolo), Jacques Shelly (Paul), Germaine Aussey (Maud), André Michaud (foreman),

René Clair is a definitive example of the director who has been through the full hyperbole of critical opinion.  His films were originally seen as groundbreaking and as a director of feather light comedies he was unsurpassed.  However, in the eighties and nineties he became unfashionable and, in my opinion, this was simply down to one thing; availability.  Clair’s best films, that is to say A Nous la Liberté and Le Million, were never seen in the UK and very rarely in the US (and even then in faded insufficiently subtitled prints) so that if critics were mentioning him at all it was for his later American films.  Though I Married a Witch, It Happened Tomorrow and And Then There Were None were marvellously enjoyable entertainments (two of the three are listed here), they were not as innovative as his French work.  The same thing happened to the contemporary Lubitsch in America, who is now fêted for Ninotchka and Heaven Can Wait, rather than for the real ‘Lubitsch touch’ films of the early thirties because they were never seen and his later films were.  But it had become unfashionable to like Clair, just as Carné and the poetic realists became unpopular with the Cahiers du Cinema generation. 

            The fact is that they do Clair an injustice to slight him.  Nowadays A Nous la Liberté is known mainly for its being copied by Chaplin in Modern Times and, for sure, there are many marked similarities.  But it could be argued that Clair himself borrowed from Chaplin, not only his shorts but in the central relationship, which is reminiscent of Chaplin and Mack Swain in The Gold Rush (as well as Chaplin and Harry Myers in City Lights, though Clair could not have seen that while making his film).  The story follows two convicts as they are about to bust out of prison, only for one of them not to make it.  The one who escapes to freedom slowly becomes a powerful phonograph magnate, while his friend is eventually released to unemployment and misery.  That is until he gets a job at the very plant owned by his old friend… (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1931 80m) DVD1

Aka. Dangerous Female

The strange History of the Little Black Bird

d  Roy del Ruth  w  Maude Fulton, Lucien Hubbard, Brown Holmes  novel  Dashiell Hammett  ph  William Rees  ed  George Marks  Joseph A.Burke  art  Robert Haas  cos  Earl Luick

Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade), Bebe Daniels (Ruth Wonderly), Dudley Digges (Caspar (sic) Gutman), Dwight Frye (Wilmer Cook), Otto Matieson (Joel Cairo), Thelma Todd (Iva Archer), Una Merkel (Effie Perine), Walter Long (Miles Archer), J.Farrell MacDonald (Det.Tom Polhaus), Robert Elliott (Det.Lt.Lundy),

The positioning here of Roy del Ruth’s original take on the Dashiell Hammett classic shouldn’t be mistaken for an act of preference.  No-one could say that it was as good as the immortal Huston/Bogie version a decade later, and yet stranded on the desert island with these good companions by my side, there would be a gnawing itch at the back of my head while I was watching Bogie send Mary Astor over; an itch with a distinct smell of pre-code sex and sin.  So that while I’d always take the remake over the original, only by being greedy and taking both would the itch go away.

            For a time it lay almost forgotten, not helped by being known under the ho-hum title of Dangerous Female when showing on US TV.  It’s true, it moves differently to the later film, and it’s also two reels shorter.  The plot is the same, probably more so, and shows Sam Spade having an affair with his partner Miles Archer’s wife Ida, seeing Archer get killed on a somewhat dubious job for a mysterious young woman called Ruth Wonderly, and Sam get put into the spotlight as chief suspect by the somewhat dim-witted flatfoot Lundy.  Sam and Ruth wind up having an affair in the aftermath, when it transpires her cover story was just that and her real motive was the recovery of a priceless black statuette of a Falcon, worthy millions of dollars and also the motive for murder of a group of three crooks led by the portly Caspar Gutman.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 93m) DVD2 (Spain only)

Oedipus Wrecks

p  Samuel Goldwyn  d  Frank Tuttle  w  George Oppenheimer, William Anthony McGuire, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin  story  George S.Kaufman, Robert E.Sherwood  ph  Gregg Toland  chariot sequ.  Ralph Cedar  ed  Stuart Heisler  m  Alfred Newman  ch  Busby Berkeley  m/ly  Harry Warren, Al Dubin, L.Wolfe Gilbert  art  Richard Day  cos  John Harkrider

Eddie Cantor (Eddie/Oedipus), Verree Teasdale (Empress Agrippa), Edward Arnold (Valerius Caesar), David Manners (Josephus), Ruth Etting (Olga), Gloria Stuart (Princess Sylvia), Alan Mowbray (Majordomo), Willard Robertson (Warren Finlay Cooper), Stanley Fields (slave trader), Clarence Wilson (Boggs, the museum keeper), Lucille Ball,

Nearly eighty years on, the star vehicles of Eddie Cantor now seem to belong to another era, rather like the Danny Kaye vehicles a decade later.  The comparison is not idly invoked as both were the flagship comedic talents of Samuel Goldwyn in their respective eras.  And there’s even a link from Kaye back to Cantor by way of homage which seems to have been missed by most reviewers.  Cantor’s star reign was from around 1930-1935, like many other comedians he lost his lustre with the killjoy enforcement of the hays Code.  He would make a comeback in the likes of Thank Your Lucky Stars and Show Business, the latter the first of a successful partnership with Joan Davis, but they’re diluted, almost self-mocking Cantor.  Despite the incidental pleasures of Whoopee (in which he sang ‘Making Whoopee’ as only he could), The Kid from Spain and Kid Millions, there’s only one of his films that comes close to the level of classic.

            Eddie plays Eddie, living in West Rome, a small American town with corrupt politicians trying to put up prisons and museums of Roman artefacts and evicting the local poor in the process.  Eddie stands up for them and gets himself marched to the city limits and told to keep walking.  This he does, but a mile or so outside town he imagines himself back in Ancient Rome (after one assumes a bang on the head).  Sold to friend of the people Josephus in a slave auction, he quickly finds himself in trouble with the tyrannical emperor Valerius.  After a flirtation with the lions and then with torture, he finds himself food taster at the Imperial Court, a position so precarious it amounts to being an ‘Official Sacrifice’.  Throw in an English princess blackmailed into being the emperor’s concubine and an empress trying desperately to poison her husband.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Irene’s bark was worse than her bite.  What was initially seen as a monster hurricane as menacing as any in well over a hundred years, was downgraded to a tropical storm, that was mainly notable for it’s eight-to-ten inch rain, and a wind display that was no worse than medium-strength noreasters.  But those of us living in the NYC area aren’t gloating by a long-shot.  We’re actually grateful the prognosticators overplayed their hand, rather than the other way around, especially as the most dire forecasters had envisioned downed power lines, falling trees and flooded homes.  A little bit of each did occur in a number of areas, but thankfully not in Northeast New Jersey and in the city, where Maurizio Roca, Joel Bocko and Bob Clark are presently residing.  Here in Fairview, New Jersey, power stayed on all through Saturday night, into Sunday, and only a nagging house leak in our first floor bedroom was a reminder of the storm’s wrath.  As I pen this part of the diary, the storm is practically gone, heading in a diminished state to New England, leaving behind dampness and overcast skies.  Monday and Tuesday will be sunny days according to weathermen.  But the harrowing experience made everyone wiser to cope with nature’s surprises and threats to our way of life.  It’s an episode that brings to mind what was recently, suffered by our friends in Tokyo and New Orleans, and how everything must truly be placed in the proper context.  I’d like to thank my dear friend Dee Dee, and so many others who asked for updates during the night and offered their well-wishes: dear people like Laurie Buchanan, Terrill Welch, Pierre de Plume, Michael Harford, Maurizio Roca, John Greco, Tony d’Ambra, Jamie Uhler, Joel Bocko, Craig Kennedy, Sachin Gandhi, Pat Perry, Judy Geater, Jaime Grijalba, Jim Clark,  Jon Warner, Jason Marshall, R.D. Finch, Roderick Heath, my very good friend Alan Hardy at the Film Forum, Branko C., and of course Alan Fish, and several others.  I beg everyone’s indulgence too for the incessant updates, which I could well understand coming off as redundant and a supreme annoyance.

The musical countdown is well underway, and the comments are flying in fast and furious.  It’s been great to have Dee Dee’s remarkable sidebar contributions, which have unearthed some amazing foreign posters of the selections, and links to some of the more renowned clips, and essays from guest writers Brandie Ashe, Kevin Deany and Brian (a.k.a. Classic Film Boy) as well as Judy Geater’s stellar piece on Guys and Dolls, which inspired one of the site’s all-time monter threads.  The site remains deeply indebted to Richard “R.D.” Finch, of The Movie Projector for his spectacular work in promoting the project, finding writers, and offering up his usual brand of incomparable thread comments that get right to the heart of every film and essay presented.  His work for WitD deserves a medal.  He’s been a long-time friend, and his own site writing has been exceedingly first-rate, but only now have we seen the true breath of his kindness and unwavering support.  His inspiration and ceaseless energy will never be forgotten, and are prime reasons why the countdown has gotten off to such an extraordinary start.  Today’s selection is a repeat of an Allan Fish review that originally appeared in the still-running pre-code series of the delightful Roman Scandals, which I recently saw at the Film Forum’s “Pre-Code” Festival. (more…)

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by Brian (a.k.a. Classic Film Boy)

Casual Walt Disney fans may be aware that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was his first feature-length animated film, but they are unsure how to place it within his career.

The enormous and ongoing success of Mickey Mouse can overshadow Disney’s tremendous output during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and some just think he came up with Mickey and followed it with “Snow White.”

In reality, you can chart Disney’s progress as an innovator during the decade before “Snow White.” That film wasn’t a happy accident – although detractors called the notion of a full-length animated film “Disney’s folly” – but a natural extension of what Disney was producing since the beginning of his career. To fully appreciate “Snow White’s” impact, it’s important to understand his career leading up to that achievement.

Before Mickey Mouse made his auspicious debut in 1928, there were Alice and Oswald. And between Mickey Mouse and Snow White, there were the Silly Symphonies. All told, Disney made hundreds of short animated films between 1924 and the release of “Snow White” in late 1937.

Did you know, for example, that Walt Disney was the first recipient of the animated short film Oscar in 1932? And, did you know he would go on to win that category for eight consecutive years, through 1939? Most of those winning shorts were Silly Symphonies, and it’s here that Walt honed his studio’s storytelling flair, animation techniques and use of music that led to “Snow White.”

But let’s start with the Alice comedies. Perhaps, in a very general sense, Alice is Disney’s first princess. In 1923, influenced by Max Fleischer and his “Out of the Inkwell” series, in which animation was inserted into live action, Walt began working on “Alice’s Wonderland” and reversed the situation by inserting a live action little girl into a world of animation. At the age of 21, Disney wrapped up his completed film, grabbed a train and headed to California. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 86m) not on DVD

A chain of circumstantial evidence

p  Lucien Hubbard  d  James Flood, Elliott Nugent  w  Joseph Jackson, Earl Baldwin  ph  Barney McGill  ed  George Amy  Bernard Kaun  art  Esdras Hartley  cos  Earl Luick

Warren William (Vincent Day), Sidney Fox (Celia Farraday), Aline MacMahon (Miss Hickey), John Wray (Barton), Mae Madison (Elaine), Ralph Ince (J.B.Roscoe), Guy Kibbee (bartender), Stanley Fields (boxer), J.Carrol Naish (Tony Rocco), Murray Kinnell (Thompson), Walter Walker (D.A.Forbes), William Janney (Johnny Morris), Morgan Wallace (E.A.Smith), Charles Lane (hotel clerk), Berton Churchill (judge),

Gentlemen of the jury, my case is simple.  The accused is an actor too long dismissed as lightweight by serious film buffs.  It’s true, he was miscast as Julius Caesar in de Mille’s Cleopatra – but he’s hardly the only person to have been so miscast by C.B., this is the man who cast Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane – and he was later relegated to the somewhat interminable Lone Wolf series.  Yet let it not be forgotten, Cary Grant has such disasters as Madame Butterfly, None but the Lonely Heart and Night and Day on his C.V., while Bogart had The Return of Dr X, The Oklahoma Kid (as vampire and cowboy respectively) and The Two Mrs Carrolls.  To come to the crux of the matter, Warren William is one of the most unjustly overlooked figures in pre-code cinema and one who needs to be reclaimed.

            The first words he speaks in The Mouthpiece are the same four words as begin this entry.  He’s a hotshot D.A.’s assistant charged with taking an open and shut murder case and getting a conviction.  He gets the conviction and the young defendant is sentenced to Old Juicy, but then the real killer is apprehended it’s too late to stop the execution.  Guilt-ridden, he resigns and gives up his job to defend innocent people.  When there prove to be few of them he is cajoled into representing the guilty as the most successful mob mouthpiece in New York.  Everything goes swimmingly – money, society women, the occasional sampling from the stenographer pool – until one such piece of jailbait, Celia, attracts his attention.  He falls for her but she doesn’t want him, preferring instead her young beau Johnny.  When Johnny gets framed for a robbery he takes his case for Celia, but finds that to do so will cross the mob he himself is a tool of. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

As we move into the final stretch of Rene Laloux’s creative output on film, we run into a few little snags in terms of appreciating them in available video. Though his final feature, 1988’s Gandahar, is thankfully available both in R2 DVD and in various online destinations with a helpful set of English subtitles, there doesn’t appear to be as much in the way to help those wishing to view his last shorts from around the same time, How Wang-Fo Was Saved, or The Prisoner, all three made with the assistance of his final collaborating art-designer, Phillipe Caza. In the case of the first short, we at least have the short-story from author Marguerite Yourcenar to provide a basic formula of the story, and the actions onscreen make everything pretty clear even without that assistance. An almost supernaturally talented painter in the Orient is called to the court of a stern, heartless Emperor distrustful of the power of art, who sentences him to death. The painter’s assistant, Wang-Fo, attempts to fight back against the cruel ruler and is beheaded. As a last request, the artist is allowed to paint a final landscape, to which he is magically transported, sparing him from death, to a world in which his loyal assistant remains alive and well.

For a short, it’s surprisingly well rendered, with the same full breath of fluid animation that Laloux exhibited in his previous feature, Les Maitres du Temps, and would soon put into practice in his next and final feature. Furthermore, his pairing with Caza on this film looks forward to the far more florid partnership they shared on Gandahar, and helps put some of its eccentricities into better context. As the first of the director’s films since Les Escargots to take place in some odd kind of reality (a hazy, mythographic version of Asia from the imagination of the West) and not some far-off alien planet, we get to see Laloux’s sensibilities brought back to the grounding instincts of terrestrial locales and civilizations, reigned in however slightly by the subtle limitations of representing peoples and places that have actually existed, in some shape or form. Most of all, however, it offers a beautifully personalized depiction of the director’s brand of artistry, creating whole and wholly enchanting environments out of nothing but pen, ink and subtle motion, as well as a defining mission statement on the power of art to evoke and sustain life, even in tyranny. For an animator whose work routinely explored worlds dominated by one form of dystopia after another (Fantastic Planet‘s transcendental Draags, Time Masters‘ various all-powerful political and psychic bodies), the kind of despotism on display in How Wang-Fo Was Saved is not only the most realistic of all his dictatorships, but also the most grounded in human motivations, which helps make the artist’s victory over the Emperor that much more satisfying.


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