Archive for the ‘Allan’s 50s Countdown’ Category


by Allan Fish

(Sweden 1956 95m) DVD1/2

Aka. Det Sjunde Inseglet

Dance of Death

p  Allan Ekelund  d/w  Ingmar Bergman  play  “Tramaining” by Ingmar Bergman  ph  Gunnar Fischer  ed  Lennart Wallen  m  Erik Nordgren  art/cos  Else Fischer

Max Von Sydow (Antonius Block), Bengt Ekerot (Death), Gunnar Björnstrand (Jons), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Nils Poppe (Jof), Gunnel Lindblom (Girl), Ake Fridell (Blacksmith Plog), Inga Gill (Lisa), Maud Hansson (Tyan), Inga Landgre (Block’s wife),

A skull is more interesting than a naked woman” Gunnar Björnstrand is told by a painter when examining his mural of the very same dance of death in a village church.  Though he’s entitled to his opinion, one can hardly see Hugh Hefner building up an empire out of showing pictures of bare craniums.  Thank goodness God disagreed and gave the naked Eve to Adam in Eden rather than a skull.  And God is very much to the fore here, for unlike Bergman’s later bleak studies of faith in the early sixties, this is a film that tries to answer, through its troubled protagonist, that age old question; does God exist?

            In the middle ages a knight returns home to his native land with his squire and the two are washed up on the beach.  Into this Homeric scene there suddenly enters a black cloaked ghostly individual (reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come).  Recognising that he is in the presence of Death, the knight challenges him to a game of chess in the hope that he can answer the burning questions that trouble him in the time it takes Death to get him into checkmate. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1953 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Ugetsu/ Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain 

Greed begets nothing but greed

p  Masaichi Nagata  d  Kenji Mizoguchi  w  Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Yoshikata Yoda  book  “Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon after the Rain” by Akinara Ueda  ph  Kazuo Miyagawa  ed  Mitsuzo Miyata  m  Fumio Hasayaka, Ichiro Saito  art  Kisaku Ito  cos  Kusune Kainosho

Machiko Kyo (Lady Wukasa), Masayuki Mori (Genjuro), Kinuyo Tanaka (Miyagi), Sakae Ozawa (Tobei), Mitsuko Mito (Ohama), Mitsusaburo Ramon (captain), Ryosuke Kagawa (village chief), Sugisaku Aoyama (old priest), Kikue Mori (Ukon),

There’s a wonderful section in Peter Bogdanovich’s book about his discussions with Orson Welles where the two come to discuss the great directors of world cinema.  When Bogdanovich brings up Mizoguchi, Welles feigns ignorance.  Only later does he admit his respect for him when declaring “he can’t be praised enough, really.”  Not only is Welles right about Mizoguchi’s career, but about his great films.  Of those great films none had quite so big an impact as Ugetsu, his haunting adaptation of two tales by Akinara Ueda.

            In 16th century Japan, during a Civil War and close to Lake Biwa, two farmers, Genjuro and Tobei, dream of escaping their drudgery by making money from their other side-earner, pottery.  They risk both their own and their families’ lives to go off to market to sell their wares, only for Genjuro to leave behind his wife to go off with a mysterious noblewoman, Lady Wukasa.  Meanwhile Tobei purses his long-standing wish to be a samurai.  However, in their absence, their wives suffer much misfortune, with one raped and ending up a prostitute. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1950 110m) DVD1/2

It’s the pictures that got small

p  Charles Brackett  d  Billy Wilder  w  Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M.Marshman Jnr  story  “A Can of Beans” by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder  ph  John F.Seitz  ed  Arthur Schmidt, Doane Harrison  m  Franz Waxman  art  Hans Dreier, John Meehan

William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich Von Stroheim (Max Von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (J.D.Sheldrake), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Cecil B.de Mille (himself), Buster Keaton (himself), Anna Q.Nilsson (herself), H.B.Warner (himself), Hedda Hopper (herself), Jay Livingston (himself),

So Kevin Brownlow titled his book of interviews with forgotten stars of the silent era in 1969 and the title could be seen to encapsulate Billy Wilder’s wonderfully acerbic look at Hollywood as well as any, with Joe Gillis even saying at one point that Norma Desmond was “still waving proudly at a parade which had long since passed her by.”  Sunset Boulevard is a film to make one mourn for the silent era in more ways than one, undiminished by several imitations and an inferior Lloyd-Webber musical treatment.  A veritable mausoleum to twenties Hollywood, as forgotten as that mansion Norma calls home which, to quote Gillis, “seemed to have been stricken by a kind of creeping paralysis.”

            The plot follows a down and out movie writer from Ohio who is one step away from returning home and calling it quits when he gets a flat tyre on the eponymous Los Angeles road and turns into the first drive he can to escape the finance officers with a court order on his Plymouth Convertible.  It turns out to be the driveway of a forgotten legendary silent film star, Norma Desmond, who is expecting a man from a funeral parlour come to bury her beloved chimp with almost necrophiliac care (indeed, later on, when she talks of the scene in her Salome script where she kisses the decapitated head of John the Baptist, Gillis quips “they’ll love it in Pamona…“).  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1954 207m) DVD1/2

Aka. Shichi-nin no Samurai

The One and Only Magnificent Seven

p  Shojiro Motoki  d  Akira Kurosawa  w  Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Mashimoto, Hideo Oguni  ph  Asaichi Nakai  ed  Akira Kurosawa  m  Fumio Hayasaka  art  Takashi Matsuyama 

Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Takashi Shimura (Kambei), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei), Kuninori Kodo (Gisaku), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Daisuke Kato (Schichiroji), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi), Ko Kimura (Katsushiro), Keiko Tsushima (Shino), Yukiko Shimazaki (Wife), Kamatari Fujiwara (Manzo), Bokuzen Hidari (Yohei),

The Seven Samurai is one of those films that has entered popular myth, the sort of film that brings together the art-house loving intelligentsia and the plain old “I know what I like” film fan in its praise.  It was the first Kurosawa film to be remade in Hollywood (as The Magnificent Seven – a fine film, but those who put it remotely in the same category are living in fantasy land), a trend later followed by The Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo, which were reworked as Star Wars and A Fistful of Dollars respectively.  For the time, it’s an incredibly long film, nearly 3½ hours long which, for what is essentially an action film, is quite a long stretch.  Not a great deal happens for the first hour, but when the action does come and the tension erupts, no screen on earth could contain the excitement.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1953 105m) DVD2

Aka. The Earrings of Madame de…

Hearts will never be practical until they can be safely sold

p  H.Baum, Ralph Baum  d  Max Ophuls  w  Marcel Achard, Annette Wademant, Max Ophuls  novel  Louise de Vilmorin  ph  Christian Matras  ed  Boris Lewin  m  Oscar Straus, Georges Van Parys  art  Jean d’Eaubonne  cos  Georges Annenkov, Rosine Delamare

Danielle Darrieux (Countess Louise de…), Charles Boyer (Gen.André de…), Vittorio de Sica (Baron Fabrizio Donati), Jean Debucourt (Mons.Remy), Lia de Léa (Lola), Mireille Perry (nurse), Jean Galland (Bernac), Hubert Noel (Henri de Malville), Leon Walther (theatre manager),

Someone once said of Max Ophuls that the mere mention of his name makes all cameras stand rigidly to attention.  Never was it more evident than here in this wonderfully cynical yet romantic eulogy to the very idea of romance and, indeed, truth.  Its protagonists belong to an altogether more civilised era, but an era no less open to falsehood and deceit.  “I lie so badly” the heroine tells her husband, but both we and the husband know the opposite is true.  Yet he doesn’t mind, the reason being that he is equally adept at deceit.  It also seems to have a plot determined almost by predestination.  In La Ronde we saw love itself go on a merry go round, in de… it’s a token of love, but the idea remains the same.

            Louise, whose surname we never find out (hence the title) is a Countess who has spent too much and needs to sell something to pay off her debts.  She decides to sell the diamond heart earrings given to her by her husband when they married and takes them to the very same jeweller who sold them to her spouse, a general.  However, when she fabricates losing them at the opera, the husband thinks they’ve been stolen.  The jeweller then explains the situation, but the husband does not return them to his wife, instead going along with her innocent charade.  He instead gives them to his mistress, who is leaving to start a new life in Constantinople.  However, down on her luck, she loses them over the roulette table and they come into the possession of an Italian baron, who soon after falls in love with a French countess, none other than Louise… (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1955 103m) DVD1/2

Aka. Bob the Gambler

Je t’aime le Pigalle.

p  Jean-Pierre Melville  d  Jean-Pierre Melville  w  Jean-Pierre Melville, Auguste le Breton  ph  Henri Decaë  ed  Monique Bonnot  m  Eddie Barclay, Jo Boyer  art  Claude Bouxin, Jean-Pierre Melville

Roger Duchesne (Bob Montagne), Isabelle Corey (Anne), Daniel Cauchy (Paolo), Andre Garret (Roger), Guy Decomble (Inspector Ledru), Gerard Buhr (Marc), Claude Cerval (Jean), Simone Paris (Yvonne), Colette Fleury (Suzanne), Howard Vernon (McKimmie),

If someone were to ask you what the coolest film ever made was, or at least the coolest character, it would be open to contention.  Indeed, Hotdog magazine ran such a piece in late 2003 and of course the winner was a recent character (Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden, if my memory serves me).  Yet for me, you can take all your James Bonds, your Tyler Durdens, your Jack Sparrows, hell even any other great French characters, such as Michel Poiccard in À Bout de Souffle; the one and only coolest character of all time is Bob, the compulsive gambler in Jean-Pierre Melville’s sublime heist movie.  Nothing is said in this movie that cannot be intoned by a look or a gesture.  This isn’t just cool, it’s cryogenic.  Douglas Fairbanks Jnr once said in Angels Over Broadway, “this town’s a giant dice game…”  Well, Bob certainly sees it that way.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1954 112m) DVD1/2

Preview of coming attractions

p  Alfred Hitchcock  d  Alfred Hitchcock  w  John Michael Hayes  story  “It Had to be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich  ph  Robert Burks  ed  George Tomasini  m  Franz Waxman  art  Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMillan Johnson  cos  Edith Head

James Stewart (L.B.Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Wendell Corey (Det.Thomas J.Doyle), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonely Hearts),

Rear Window is a film that splits opinion to this day, and was also a film it took me some time to appreciate.  For sure it was always easy to admire the technical virtuosity of the piece, but it was the emotions that took a while to show through.  Rather like the later Vertigo, it grows on you.  It also contains what is Hitchcock’s most singularly relevant cameo appearance; he’s glimpsed early on setting the time on a clock in an apartment opposite, which could not be more appropriate.  He has time in his hands and James Stewart’s L.B.Jeffries has too much time on his hands.

            L.B.Jeffries is an action photographer who has broken his leg and is laid up in his apartment for the seventh straight week.  His only company are the daily visits of his nurse, Stella, and his rich society girlfriend, fashion expert Lisa Fremont.  They warn him about his spending too much time spying out of his window with binoculars and a long focus lens (“you get to looking out the window, seeing things you shouldn’t see; TROUBLE!” says Ritter at one point), but he continues doing so.  However, when he begins to believe that one of his neighbours has killed his harridan of a wife, he gets himself and his cohorts in deadly trouble. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1959 141m) DVD1/2

With my sweet good companions

p  Howard Hawks  d  Howard Hawks  w  Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett  story  Barbara Hawks McCampbell  ph  Russell Harlan  ed  Folmar Blangsted  m  Dimitri Tiomkin  art  Leo K.Kuter  cos  Marjorie Best 

John Wayne (Sheriff John T.Chance), Dean Martin (Dude), Ricky Nelson (Colorado Ryan), Angie Dickinson (Feathers), Walter Brennan (Stumpy), Ward Bond (Pat Wheeler), John Russell (Nathan Burdette), Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (Carlos), Claude Akins (Joe Burdette), Bob Steele (Matt Harris), Harry Carey Jnr (Harold), Estelita Rodriguez (Consuela), Malcolm Atterbury (Jake), Bob Terhune (Bartender), Ted White (Bart),

Rio Bravo is one for the desert island, Howard Hawks’ final masterpiece (the memorable reworking El Dorado not withstanding) and one of the most beloved films of its decade.  It’s been remade by John Carpenter as the excellent Assault on Precinct 13 (on which Carpenter disguised his editing duties under the name John T.Chance by way of homage) and been influential on every film Quentin Tarantino has yet made (he even paraphrased dialogue from it in his Natural Born Killers script when Mickey Knox says “let’s make a little music, Colorado” prior to killing Robert Downey Jnr.).  In other words, this is one for the movie connoisseurs, not the intelligentsia.  A movie for movie lovers in which, as David Thomson observed, men are shown to be more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world.  Though in this modern age it could be seen to apply to women, too, but I think Hawks knew that.  After all, his women were strong, cynical dames in a man’s world.  Rio Bravo is no exception. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(India 1955 125m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Song of the Little Road

The road to greatness 

p/d/w  Satyajit Ray  novel  “Aparajita” by Bhibutibushan Bandopadhaya  ph  Subrata Mitra  ed  Satyajit Ray, Dulal Dutta  m  Ravi Shankar  art  Banshi Chandragupta

Kanu Banerjee (Harihar, the father), Karuna Banerjee (Sarbojaya, the mother), Uma Das Gupta (Durga as girl), Subir Banerjee (Apu), Chunibala Devi (Indirtharkun, the old aunt), Runki Bannerjee (Durga as child),

When Satyajit Ray’s debut was first shown in Cannes in 1956 François Truffaut walked out, saying it was insipid and Europeanised.  It may have been influenced by European cinema, particularly the neo-Realist school that dominated Italy in the years leading up to its release, but it’s very much its own personal vision.  One look at the DVD cover for the UK release and you see how Ray is viewed by the majority of his fellow directors, with Dickie Attenborough, Martin Scorsese and Fred Zinnemann waxing lyrical.  It is right that he is so feted and, if the sequels Aparajito and The World of Apu are probably technically superior, they didn’t have the same impact as his debut.  It’s the film that single-handedly removed Indian cinema from its fantastic but dramatically shallow Bollywood foundations and into what would one day be called the art house.  With the possible exception of Ritwik Ghatak, Ray led his nation there virtually single-handedly.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1955 93m) DVD1/2

Leaning on the everlasting arms

p  Paul Gregory  d  Charles Laughton  w  James Agee  novel  Davis Grubb  ph  Stanley Cortez  ed  Robert Golden  m  Walter Schumann  art  Hilyard Brown  cos  Jerry Bos

Robert Mitchum (Harry Powell), Shelley Winters (Willa Harper), Lillian Gish (Rachel), Don Beddoe (Walt Spoon), Evelyn Varden (Icey Spoon), James Gleason (Birdie), Peter Graves (Ben Harper), Billy Chapin (John), Sally Jane Bruce (Pearl),

The Night of the Hunter truly is one of the weirdest movies ever made, but also one of the most wonderful.  It’s very hard to categorise and it’s easy to see how audiences didn’t respond to it at the time with all its pure symbolism.  Many films before and since had contained crooked or fallen preachers, but this protagonist is no Elmer Gantry.  Harry Powell is one of the most psychotically evil and self-righteous people in movie history and it could so easily have become pantomime in the wrong hands.  When Charles Laughton took Mitchum out for a drive to discuss the role, he told Mitchum that what he was looking for was someone who could play a despicable shit.  Mitchum just turned to him and said “present.” 

            Set in thirties Ohio during the depression, Ben Harper has just committed a robbery and the police are about to corner him.  He hides the money in his daughter’s small doll (though we don’t know this until halfway in) and is arrested, sentenced and hanged.  Meanwhile, evil preacher Harry Powell, who has become a bible-busting Bluebeard who kills widows for their money, is sentenced to a month inside for car thieving and overhears Harper whispering in his sleep about the stolen money.  Powell is released after Harper’s execution and sets off after his widow to find the money. (more…)

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