Archive for August, 2011

by Sam Juliano

Ingmar Bergman was laid to rest on a misty morning in early August, 2007 on the island of Faro, where he spent the last years of his life.  At the cinema master’s request the ceremony was short and attended by only 70, including celebrated Bergman stock company thespians, Liv Ullman, Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephson.  Eulogies were noted for their brevity and the musical itinerery was a sparing employment of J.S. Bach by way of organ and cello.  This modest presentation may be been selected for it’s simple purity, but it underscored a deep passion for classical music that manifested itself from the very earliest films.  Music in Darkness (1948) tells the story of a young pianist left blind by a shooting accident; To Joy (1950) narrates the misfortunes of an ambitious violinist, and Summer Interlude (1951) recounts the life of a ballerina at the Stockholm Opera.  Generous excerpts from Beethoven, Mozart or Mendelssohn are found in these films.  In the opening feature of the celebrated “Faith Trilogy”, Through A Glass Darkly, the extensive use of classic compositions completely supplanted the original film music that was more common during the late 50’s period when Smiles of a Summer Night and Wild Strawberries appeared.  In Darkly the ‘Sarabande’ from Bach’s Cello Suite no. 2 appears four times.  It’s usage here signaled a marked upsurge in classical accompaniment all the way up to his final film Sarabande in 2003.  While it’s clear that a number of the pieces were vital structural and metaphorical components in his deep philosophical inquiries, there was a clear enough passion for the intrinsic beauty of the music that was deftly used as a mood device.  Robert Schumann’s ravishingly beautiful and gloriously romantic Piano Quintet in E-flat major set the tone for Fanny and Alexander under the film’s lengthy credit sequence, and underlined the film’s brighter contexts.  Conversely, there is telling use of Bach’s Partita in Shame, The Passion of Anna and Hour of the Wolf that connotes despair in its rawest constriction, and the Bach passages in Cries and Whispers are used to piercing effect.  Bergman connects characters to music a number of times, including the sequence in Autumn Sonata when Charlotte sketches the figure of Chopin, before beginning to play the Prelude, and the one where Johan listens at full blast to the scherzo of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony in Sarabande.  Lastly, Bergman experiments his sense of musical analysis during an entire film with In the Presence of a Clown, which recounts Schubert’s last days, in both a free and erudite manner. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 65m) DVD1

Let me die because it’s my destiny to die

p  Phil Goldstone  d  Phil Goldstone  w  W.Maxwell Goodhue, Frances Hyland  ph  Ira H.Morgan  ed  Otis Garrett  m  Heinz Roemheld 

Zita Johann (Nora Moran), John Miljan (Paulino), Alan Dinehart (D.A. John Grant), Paul Cavanagh (Governor Bill Crawford), Henry B.Walthall (Father Ryan), Claire du Brey (Edith Crawford), Sarah Padden (Mrs Watts), Ann Brody (matron), Otis Harlan (Mr Moran), Aggie Herring (Mrs Moran),

In a poll The Sin of Nora Moran’s poster was rated the no 1 poster of all-time, but if you saw a list of the top 100 films in that poll, chances are it would be the only one you’d not recognise.  One look at the poster is all you need.  On it, a young woman, with seemingly curly strawberry blonde hair is sitting semi-upright on the floor, one leg pulled back so her head rests on her knee, the other flat on the ground but pulled back into a kneeling stance.  Her arms are brought round into a sort of protective position, one over the back of the head, the other resting on her lower leg.  We can’t see her face, but it’s what we can nearly see that hypnotises us.  Through what seems a flimsy, translucent material, we see her breast almost popping out of her nightdress.  It’s all very pre-code, very racy, and designed to pull in the punters, but forgive me when I say it has absolutely no bearing on the melodrama that follows.  Even the title promises something we don’t actually get. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

Three years after Walt Disney produced the first full-length animated feature film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RKO released the follow-up to that mega-hit, Pinocchio. Originally intended to be Disney’s third film, its production was accelerated when the studio ran into trouble with the animation of Bambi (that film was eventually completed and released in 1942).

The story of Pinocchio is familiar even to those who have never seen the movie—a lonely wordworker, Geppetto, crafts a wooden boy and wishes upon a star that the boy could be real. His wish is granted by the benevolent Blue Fairy, but Geppetto’s naive new “son” is easily led astray by conniving tricksters, getting into all kinds of trouble that even his “conscience,” in the guise of one Jiminy Cricket, cannot prevent: he joins a marionette show run by a domineering, maniacal old puppeteer; he becomes dissolute and nearly finds himself turned into a donkey; and he is swallowed by a mean, gigantic whale. And on top of all that, Pinocchio’s nose grows to gigantic proportions whenever he tells a lie. Can the pseudo-kid ever catch a break? (more…)

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by Kevin Deany

A major criticism of “Brigadoon” (1954) is it was shot on the M-G-M soundstages and not on location in Scotland. If there was ever a musical that should have been shot outdoors, some say, it is “Brigadoon.”

I never really bought that argument because the Scottish village and hillside created for the movie are so gorgeous to look at. While the idea of shooting on location in Scotland does sound appealing, the often unpredictable nature of Scottish weather could have seen costs soar. The fact that M-G-M used AnscoColor instead of Technicolor means they were definitely watching the bottom line.

Plus, because so many theaters were still unequipped to show movies in the new Cinemascope format, “Brigadoon” was shot twice, once in the standard wide-screen format and again in Cinemascope. Shooting in Scottish weather once would have been daunting enough, but shooting twice would have been tempting fate.

“Brigadoon” is a fantasy along the lines of “Lost Horizon” and a most beguiling one at that. Brigadoon is a magical Scottish village that appears only 100 years. It is discovered by accident by two American hunters who find themselves lost in the Scottish highlands. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

America’s “singing sweethearts” Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were brought together by Louis B. Mayer in 1934 after each had climbed different ladders.  The baritone Eddy sang for the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company and appeared in concerts and on radio, (later landing small roles in three minor musicals) while the liting soprano MacDonald appeared on Broadway and in a memorable series of musical films for Paramount that included four by Ernst Lubitsh (The Love Parade, One Hour With You, Monte Carlo, The Merry Widow) and Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, a musical generally acknowledged as one of the finest ever made.  Indeed, as “Princess Jeanette” MacDonald beguiled audiences with her charming and timeless “Isn’t It Romantic,” with Maurice Chavalier, a Rogers & Hart standard that to this day is regarded as one of the greatest of all musical numbers.  MacDonald’s exceptional work in The Merry Widow was tempered by her well-publicized dislike for co-star Chavalier, whom she called “the fastest derriere chaser in Hollywood.”  Chavalier in turn derided his female co-star with charges of “prudishness” and “highhanded ways.”  In any event, Mayer was stoked to build on his budding star’s popularity and chose a melodic 1910 operetta by Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young.

Naughty Marietta was conceived after concerted arm-twisting by Mayer to enlist MacDonald’s services, and a shot-in-the-dark offer to the essentially untested Eddy, who brought no real acting experience to the table aside from some limited opera work.  But Eddy was blessed with dashing good looks, was blond, and posessed a classically-trained baritone voice.  The production was rife with uncertainty from the start as the budget was  limited, and the chosen director wasn’t someone of George Cukor or Lubitsch’s caliber but W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, known as “one-take Van Dyke” for his studio-friendly but artistically-alienating propensity to get a production in on time and within the confines of the budget.  As is often the case in film musicals, particularly historical ones, the narrative is nonsensical and the machinations contrived.  Yet, Naughty Marietta, set in Pre-Revolutionary America, offers up a serviceable story for the glorious music and singing that both heightens the film’s ample melodrama, and serves as an emotional underpinning for what is visually an exquisite costume drama. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1931 90m) DVD2

Beware of false prophets

p  Harry Cohn  d  Frank Capra  w  Jo Swerling  play  “Bless You Sister” by Robert Riskin, John Meehan  ph  Joseph Walker  ed  Maurice Wright

Barbara Stanwyck (Florence Fallon), David Manners (John Carson), Sam Hardy (Bob Hornsby), Beryl Mercer (Mrs Higgins), Russell Hopton (Bill Welford),

It would be easy for me to say that The Miracle Woman is Frank Capra’s first great film, but it’d be wrong.  The Strong Man, the best vehicle of Harry Langdon, was that.  Another factor to enter into the equation is that The Miracle Woman is so little spoken of, and Capra’s accepted breakthrough is generally conceived to be in 1933 with Lady for a Day and the only recently critically reclaimed The Bitter Tea of General Yen.  For decades it was out of circulation as a product of the pre-Code era, and a couple of uses of racial terminology (Manners referring to Stanwyck’s voice over the radio as coon shouting) make it persona non grata to the extent that it still awaits a DVD release in its native US. 

            Florence Fallon is a young girl in her early twenties who has devoted her life to her pastor father, and when, after twenty years of service, he is ousted by the hypocrites in his congregation in favour of a younger man, the heartbreak kills him and Florence finishes off his unfinished final sermon in the form of a swift broadside to the gathered wolves.  Bitter and with nowhere especially to go, she hooks up with conman Hornsby as an evangelist and makes a fortune suckering gullible types into giving money towards a tabernacle.  Everything goes cynically swimmingly until a blind man who lost his sight flying in World War I steps up on stage and she falls in love with him, to the chagrin of Hornsby, who tries to blackmail her into his own bed and away to fresh climes.  (more…)

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by Judy Geater

Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn

Music and lyrics: Frank Loesser

Screenwriters: Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows, Joseph L Mankiewicz, Ben Hecht (uncredited)

Choreographer: Michael Kidd

Cinematographer: Harry Stradling Sr

Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company

Main actors: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine


Frank Loesser’s amazing score for Guys and Dolls has to be one of the greatest ever written, packed with unforgettable songs, from Fugue for Tinhorns to Luck, Be a Lady and Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Michael Kidd’s fast-moving choreography in the colourful street scenes, using Cinemascope to its full effect, adds to the atmosphere, while the dialogue is full of sharp one-liners. However, the film has had much adverse criticism over the years and, in this countdown, I was in a minority of one in putting it top of my personal list of favourites.

So what’s the reason for the widespread lack of enthusiasm? I think it might be mainly that the stage musical is so beloved and frequently revived, with the film coming off second-best by comparison . As with so many adaptations, a few of the songs from the stage show were jettisoned for the film, including such greats as I’ve Never Been in Love Before – Marlon Brando, controversially cast in a singing role, is said to have struggled with some of the notes. However, as compensation, Loesser wrote some new songs for the film, including A Woman in Love for Brando and Sinatra’s show-stopper Adelaide, which, going full circle, is now sometimes included in stage productions. (more…)

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Brit Marling stars in affecting guilt and remorse drama "Another Earth", which also yields some intriguing metaphysical underpinnings

by Sam Juliano

The U.K’s Judy Geater of Movie Classics has set the Top 70 musical countdown in motion today with her terrific review of Guys and Dolls (1955), a film that made the Number 1 position on her personal ballot.  Finishing at Number 70, Guys and Dolls launches a venture that will extend all the way until November 10th, and will include six musical reviews a week on every day except Saturday.  As conveyed to the wide array of participants by e mail, the musical reviews will appear early in the morning and will top any other feature at the including the Monday Morning Diary and the “Fish Obscuro Series.”  Any other strategy would detract from the urgency of the project and slight the work being done by friends, affiliates and guests.

Kudos to our Chilean friend Jaime Grijalba, who has worked hard to promote and perpetuate his “Richard Kelly Blogothon” at Exodus 8:2.  It is hoped that any people with even a remote interest in Kelly’s brief but celebrated filmography will head over to Exodus 8:2 to make contributions of any kind.  Kelly’s Donnie Darko is a cult favorite that has steadily risen in critical esteem since it’s original release.

Dee Dee, Jamie Uhler and Marilyn Ferdinand have been attending “Noir 9” in Chicago, and reports have been emanated from posts at thie sites and through e mail correspondance.  It appears that some real rarities have surfaced in addition to some established genre classics and clut items.  Wonders in the Dark again extends its undying gratitude to Movie Man Joel Bocko for his spectacular service of linking writer’s posts together on the sidebar.  The time and work expended on the enterprise was staggering, and the results remarkable.

With the completion of both the “Pre-Code Festival” and “Buster Keaton Mondays” at the Film Forum over the past weeks and months, I have strived to take a break from festival appearances, (and succeeded for several days anyway!  Ha!) but returned on Wednesday night for two films in the Robert Ryan Festival and then again on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon for two more titles in that retrospective.  The weekend viewings of Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground and Born to be Bad (both with Ryan, of course) seem to be perfectly timed with our friend John Greco’s recent interview with the author of a recently-released Ray volume, and with an upcoming Ray Blogothon at Tony Dayoub’s Cinema Viewfinder. (more…)

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Howard da Silva and William Daniels in William H. Hunt’s ‘1776,’ which finished among the 50 ‘nearlies’ in musical countdown launching tomorrow

by Sam Juliano

With the Top 70 musical countdown set to launch tomorrow, I’d like to take a brief-look at the also-rans – fifty films that narrowly missed the cut by placing from Numbers 71 to 120.  As mentioned in previous posts, seven (7) voters cast ballots which were then tabulated by Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr:  Greg Ferrara, Pat Perry, Marilyn Ferdinand, Judy Geater, Dennis Polifroni and Sam Juliano.

71.  Holiday Inn (1942; Marc Sandrich)

72.  Tommy  (1975; Ken Russell)

73.  Pajama Game (1957; George Abbott, Stanley Donen)

74.  Damn Yankees  (1958; George Abbott, Stanley Donen)

75.  Funny Girl  (1968; William Wyler)

76.  High Society ( 1956; Charles Walters)

77.  Everyone Says I Love You (1996; Woody Allen)

78.  100 Men and a Girl  (1937; Henry Koster)

79.  Porgy and Bess (1959; Otto Preminger)

80.  Pennies From Heaven   (1981; Herbert Ross)

81.  Sweet Charity (1969; Bob Fosse)

82.  Flying Down To Rio (1933; Thornton Freeland)

83.  Across the Universe (2007; Julie Taymor)

84.  Anchors Aweigh  (1945; George Sidney)

85.  Congress Dances  (1931; Eric Charell; Germany)

86.  Jailhouse Rock  (1957; Richard Thorpe)

87.  Duck Soup  (1933; Leo McCarey)

88.  Fra Diavolo  (1933; Hal Roach)

89. La Boheme  (1968; Franco Zeffirelli; Italy/France/West Germany)

90. Hair  (1979; Milos Forman)

91. Bye, Bye, Birdie  (1963; George Sidney)

92. Topsy Turvy  (1999; Mike Leigh; UK)

93. 1776  (1972; Peter H. Hunt)

94. First A Girl (1935; Victor Saville; UK)

95. Love Me or Leave Me  (1955; Charles Vidor)

96. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999; Trey Parker)

97. Black Orpheus  (1959; Marcel Camus; Brazil France)

98. Evergreen (1934; Victor Saville; UK)

99. Kismet (1955; Vincenti Minnelli)

100 Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975; Jim Sharman; UK/USA)

101. Tales of Hoffman  (1951; Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger; 1951)

102. Down Argentine Way  (1940; Irving Cummings)

103. Phantom of the Opera  (2005; Joel Schumacher; UK/USA)

104. Cavaleria Rusticana  (1982; Franco Zefirelli; Italy/France/West Germany)

105. The Great Ziegfeld  (1936; Robert Z. Leonard)

106. Carmen  (1984; Francesco Rosi; France)

107. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967; David Swift)

108. Broadway Melody of 1940  (1940; Norman Taurog)

109. Camelot  (1967; Joshua Logan)

110. Rent  (2005; Chris Columbus)

111. Awaara  (1951; Paj Kapoor; India)

112. Moulin Rouge  (2001; Baz Luhrmann; Australia/USA/UK)

113.  White Christmas  (1954; Michael Curtiz)

114.  The Commitments  (1993; Alan Parker; Ireland/USA/UK)

115.  Madama Butterfly  (1995; Frederic Mitterand; France; Italy)

116.  The Three Little Pigs  (1933; Burt Gillett)

117.  Victor Victoria  (1982; Blake Edwards)

118. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  (1968; Ken Hughes; UK)

119. The Harvey Girls  (1946; George Sidney)

120. The Muppet Movie  (1979; James Frawley)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 71m) DVD1

Such a beautiful welcome home

p  William A.Wellman  d  William A.Wellman  w  Robert Lord, Wilson Mizner  ph  James Van Trees  ed  Howard Bretherton  art  Jack Okey

Richard Barthelmess (Tom Holmes), Loretta Young (Ruth Loring), Aline MacMahon (Mary Dennis), Berton Churchill (Mr Winston), Gordon Westcott (Roger Winston), Robert Barrat (Max Brinker), Grant Mitchell (George W.Gibson), Charley Grapewin (Pa Dennis), James Murray (blind soldier), Edwin Maxwell (Laundry president), Margaret Seddon (Jeanette Holmes), Douglass Dumbrille, Tammany Young, Ward Bond,

There have been plenty of forgotten classics from the pre-code years, forgotten from years of neglect, of the Production Code never allowing reissues, or of being tragically lost and ne’er seen again (oh for a copy of Convention City to turn up) or of simply being forgotten and even going out of copyright.  To that select list add Heroes for Sale, one of the first major works of Wild Bill Wellman.  Not his very first – gangster classic The Public Enemy, Night Nurse, Safe in Hell and silent Beggars of Life all predated it by several years.  What seems to make Heroes such a pleasure is that it seems, in essence, to be a hodge-podge of all the social critiques Warners were fond of in this era, in between the gangsters and chorus girl musicals.  More than any other studio they captured the spirit and, more importantly, the dispirit of the great Depression.  In Heroes, they distilled it completely, like best illegal moonshine.

            It follows one Tom Holmes, all but killed in the trenches in World War I when on a mission to bring back a German officer for questioning, only for his cowardly superior to be proclaimed a hero in his stead.  Tom is left to recuperate in a German field hospital and is still in agony from steel shards in his spine when the Armistice is signed.  To get over the pain he is given morphine tablets to which he becomes addicted, so that when he returns home – and is given a job by the initially guilt-ridden superior officer – he cannot hack it and is sent to a Narcotic Farm for six months.  Let out, he moves to Chicago, meets a young girl, has a whirlwind romance and becomes a hit in a laundry business where his friend, Max, invents something to ease the working day but, when their kindly boss dies suddenly and new owners take over, they exploit the invention to the maximum, laying off 75% of the work force.  Tom is then berated by his former co-workers, and when they start a riot he tries to stop it, only to be taken as a ringleader. (more…)

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