Archive for August 30th, 2011

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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