Archive for October 12th, 2011

by Allan Fish

(USA 1934 99m) DVD6 (Hong Kong only)

Every woman is Fifi

p  Irving G.Thalberg  d  Ernst Lubitsch  w  Samson Raphaelson, Ernest Vajda  operetta  Franz Lehar  ph  Oliver T.Marsh  ed  Frances Marsh  Franz Lehar  ly  Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart  md  Herbert Stothart  ch  Albertina Rasch  art  Cedric Gibbons, Frederic Hope  cos  Adrian, Ali Hubert 

Maurice Chevalier (Count Danilo), Jeanette MacDonald (Sonia), Edward Everett Horton (Ambassador Popoff), Una Merkel (Queen Dolores), George Barbier (King Achmed), Minna Gombell (Marcelle), Ruth Channing (Lulu), Sterling Holloway (Mischika), Henry Armetta, Barbara Leonard, Virginia Field, Billy Gilbert, Arthur Housman,

For a film so well regarded in its day, it’s bizarre that it’s still not been given a legitimate DVD release in the English speaking world.  The 1952 atrocity is easy enough to obtain and now even the Von Stroheim silent has a release, if only under the bittersweet umbrella of the Warner Archive. 

            Lubitsch’s film, though critically well received, wasn’t actually that popular at the box office.  Part of the problem lay with Maurice Chevalier, who the American masses were becoming somewhat passé towards, but in general it’s hard to see why it wasn’t a roaring success.  Lubitsch, Chevalier and MacDonald were teaming together for the third time – the stars for the fourth time – and all three were brought with great fanfare from Paramount.  As one might expect at MGM’s dream factory, the emphasis is less on sophistication and more on romance, but Samson Raphaelson still manages to get in a few choice pre-code bits of banter and Lubitsch gets in a trademark shot of MacDonald in her underwear.  If not at the level of the Paramount stuff, it’s still too vital to omit 

            Chevalier plays Count Danilo, a notorious ladies man and officer in the military of the postage stamp sized European kingdom of Marshovia.  He returns from Paris to his homeland to the delight of the female populace and the dread of the authorities, but they find a use for him when they see him as the ideal man to seduce and marry the eponymous widow of the title, Sonia, who possesses the millions Marshovia needs to stay solvent.  He follows her to Paris and finally succeeds in winning her over, but Sonia then becomes aware that he was sent by the government and their nuptials are called off.  Summoned home by the king to answer charges of treason, Danilo is put on trial, only for Sonia to appear as witness on his behalf, telling how he made the ultimate sacrifice of a patriot by seducing a woman he hated.  (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

Sunset Boulevard (1950), like another drama with a Hollywood locale, namely, Drive (2011), may seem to be a saga about history closing in on a hapless risk-taker. But, though the protagonists of both films receive major burns, I think such a conclusion goes too far, and, at the same time, doesn’t go far enough. Billy Wilder, in the former case, and Nicolas Refn and James Sallis, in the second, can be seen as testing the leeway for surreal lives within rational (“real”) domains. And though it could be maintained that both “Norma Desmond” (for Wilder) and “the Driver” (for Refn and Sallis) don’t carry their torch very far, it can also be maintained that they illuminate, by omission as well as commission, avenues that might eschew disaster for the sake of more modest and productive thrills in a realm of comedy seldom eliciting belly laughs.

Wilder’s career has already traced such an endeavor, but in such a way as to be virtually invisible as such. But there are reasons (over and above it being Halloween) for turning from the tough and fascinating upsweep that is up-to-the-minute comedy, and examining one of the most fertile instances of a measure of strange wisdom going down in flames—the kind of sensational smash-up that, admittedly, strikes many perceptive artists (Refn and Sallis, for example) as most apt. (more…)

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