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Archive for the ‘Allan’s up to 1929 Countdown’ Category

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1926 61m) not on DVD

Aka. Kurutta Ippeiji

The inmates have taken over the asylum

p  Teinosuke Kinugasa  d  Teinosuke Kinugasa  w  Yasunari Kawabata  ph  Konei Sugiyama  m  Minoru Muraoka, Toru Kurashima  art  Chiyo Ozaki 

Masao Inoue, Yoshie Nakagawa, Ayako Iijima, Hiroshi Nemoto, Misao Seki, Eiko Minami,

It’s not overstating it too much to say that Teinosuke Kinugasa is rather a forgotten figure in world cinema, not just among the average reader of Total Film, Variety, Premiere or Empire, whose knowledge of world cinema is at the least limited, but to the more eclectic readers of the world’s movie periodicals.  Some film historians could wax lyrical about his Oscar-winner from 1953, Gate of Hell, with its luscious colour cinematography, but that was an overdue return, not the arrival of a new talent.  Kinugasa was rather a figure who predated the more famous, illustrious names of the thirties who followed, and has probably been unjustly slighted.  Still, it could have been a lot worse had the director not found the print of his twenties masterpiece A Page of Madness in a storeroom in the early seventies.  He brushed it up as best he could, added a soundtrack of rhythmic, repetitive noises best summed up as torturous, but in a deliberate way (just think of the drumbeat of the noise accompanying the torrential rain outside in the opening sequence).  It’s not only one of the most imaginative of silent movies, it’s also probably the purest example of cinema ever perpetrated, being as there is not a single title in the film.  Even the credits move, as they are turned over by a barely seen hand, before kicking into the uninterrupted visual assault. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1928 143m) DVD1/2

Aka. Spies: The Spy

Appointment at Parkstrasse 24

p  Erich Pommer  d  Fritz Lang  w  Thea Von Harbou  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner  m  Donald Sosin  art  Otto Hunte, Karl Vollbrecht

Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Haghi), Gerda Maurus (Sonja Barranikova), Lien Deyers (Kitty), Louis Ralph (Morrier), Craighall Sherry (Police Chief Jason), Willy Fritsch (No.326), Lupa Pick (Dr Akira Matsumoto), Fritz Rasp (Colonel Jellusic), Paul Hoerbiger (Franz), Hertha Von Walther (Lady Leslane),

Spione is a film which is slowly coming back into vogue.  For years it was overshadowed in film histories by the Dr Mabuse crime films made either side of it, and for sure they had a massive impact.  Yet to these eyes Lang’s best underworld drama – indeed, best contemporary German film, after M – is this 1928 spy effort.  Coming on the back of his folie de grandeur, Metropolis, it was a return to commercial form for a director then considered a loose cannon.  For here is one of the great spy dramas, one that may have little to do with the worlds of Fleming, Deighton, la Carré or Forsyth, but which still has an imperishable legacy.  For where would those illustrious authors have been without the successes and popularity of Alfred Hitchcock’s spy dramas (from The 39 Steps to Sabotage, from The Lady Vanishes to Foreign Correspondent)?  Not only would Hitchcock’s films follow the blueprints of the great Teutonic master, but producer Pommer would himself come to Britain in the thirties.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Denmark 1922 105m) DVD1/2

Aka. Witchcraft Through the Ages

Ode to Sprenger and Kramer

p  Ernest Mattison  d/w  Benjamin Christensen  ph  Johan Ankarstjerne  ed  Edia Hansen  md  Gillian Anderson  art  Richard Louw

Maren Pederson (Maria, the Weaver), Astrid Holm (Anna, the scribe’s wife), Oscar Stribolt (Friar), Elith Pio (Johannes, the judge), Clara Pontoppidan (Sister Cecilia), Karen Winther (Anna’s sister), Benjamin Christensen (Satan), Kate Fabian (Old maid), Alice O’Fredericks (Nun), Wilhemine Henriksen (Apelone), Emmy Schoenfeld,

It has long been recognised even from the earliest times, during the first groupings towards the essential conveniences of social decency and social order, that witchcraft is an evil thing, an enemy to light, an ally of the powers of darkness, disruption and decay.”  Those words were written in 1928 for Montague Summers’ preface to his translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, the book used for nearly 300 years from 1484 to root out witchcraft.  Benjamin Christensen’s film begins, more succinctly, with “the belief in sorcery and witchcraft is probably as old as mankind…”, yet the essence is the same.  Indeed, I have always wondered whether dear old Reverend Summers ever did see Christensen’s film less than a decade earlier, as Christensen certainly read the Malleus Maleficarum.  I also wonder what the fanatical 15th century authors James Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer would have thought of it.  They would probably have said moving pictures themselves were witchcraft and sorcery.  And there can surely be no greater irony that that. 

The fact remains that there truly is no other film quite like Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan, which in this day and age still has the power to shock.  After all, how many silent films would still get 18 certificates when released in the UK?  For a long time the only version seen was a visually inferior 75m version with narration from William Burroughs.  Needless to say, the full version, which is the one available in the US on DVD courtesy of those lovely people at Criterion, is something altogether different. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1925 72m/85m) DVD1/2

T’Aint a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast!

p/d/w  Charles Chaplin  ph  Rollie Totheroh  ed  Harold McGhean  m  Charles Chaplin  md  (1942 version) Max Terr (including N.Rimsky-Korsakov, P.I.Tchaikovsky)   art  Charles D.Hall 

Charles Chaplin (the tramp), Georgia Hale (Georgia), Mack Swain (Big Jim McKay), Tom Murray (Black Larson), Henry Bergman (Hank Curtis), Malcolm White (Jack),

So the line quoted above is not even a Chaplin line, but rather the immortal catchphrase of W.C.Fields in his classic short The Fatal Glass of Beer which, likewise, is set in a snowy cabin in the middle of nowhere.  But much as though Fields was hardly a fan of Chaplin (“the son of a bitch is nothing but a ballet dancer”), he was also astute enough to know the comical situations that could arise from such a setting.

            The story of what would become Chaplin’s first classic feature film (no disrespect to The Kid in 1921, but that was more of an extended mini-feature, and A Woman of Paris – in which he didn’t appear – was a failure with the public which, though critically admired in various quarters, was not a mistake he was going to repeat) is simple; a lone prospector in the Yukon hooks up with another lone prospector (played by Chaplin’s regular partner in crime, the great Mack Swain) in their attempts to find gold, during which time Charlie falls for a music hall girl.  It is in essence quintessential Chaplin, displaying all of his virtues and some of his faults.  Sure, it’s ripe with sentimental pathos and has a Victorian view of romance. (To watch Chaplin plead love is so indicative of the times, and also very reminiscent of his friend Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers, all wild arm gesticulation, holding of hands to chest, pointing into the distant blue or grey yonder, like he’s paying homage to a queen rather than making romantic allusions.)  Indeed it’s more a series of great set pieces than a great whole.  But what set pieces! – the cliff-hanging cabin, the gourmet shoe eating, the chicken shoot, the waltz to Tchaikovsky tied to a dog, the dance of the bread rolls, the list is endless.  Trying to pick a favourite moment is hard, because there are so many, but for me it has to be the cliff hanger on the cabin, if only because its style is not really typical of Chaplin, it’s the sort of thing more associated with Buster Keaton or, in particular, Harold Lloyd.  It’s comparable to the best hair-raisers Lloyd ever did, even if Chaplin didn’t quite risk as much personal injury as Lloyd did in the likes of Safety Last and Speedy(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1927 83m) DVD1/2

A Hickory from Hicksville

p  Harold Lloyd  d  Ted Wilde, J.A.Howe, Lewis Milestone  w  John Grey, Tom Crizer, Ted Wilde  ph  Walter Lundin, Henry H.Kohler  ed  Allen McNeil  m  Carl Davis  art  Liell K.Vedder 

Harold Lloyd (Harold Hickory), Jobyna Ralston (Mary Powers), Walter James (Sheriff Jim Hickory), Leo Willis (Leo Hickory), Olin Francis (Olin Hickory), Constantine Romanoff (Sandoni, the thief), Eddie Boland (Flash Farrell), Frank Lanning (Sam Hooper), Ralph Yearsley (Hank Hooper),

It may not be the most famous of Lloyd’s vehicles, an honour probably held by Safety Last, but The Kid Brother is the best film of the comedian generally rated behind Chaplin and Keaton in the lists of the mighty.  Why is this?  Partly because Lloyd’s persona has dated slightly, partly because his influence was not as strong as the others, partly because he didn’t really have too much creative influence, not writing or directing his films.  Yet one glance through this work and you’ll find The Freshman, Never Weaken, Movie Crazy, Safety Last and For Heaven’s Sake, The Kid Brother is my nomination as his best film.  And though set in a rural country setting more associated with Keaton rather than in the urban town he seemed so much a part of, and not really containing any death-defying stunts or seriously violent humour, as characterises the building climb in Last and the use as the tackle bag in Freshman, The Kid Brother is a little gem of a film that deserves more recognition than it currently gets. 

            Harold Hickory is the youngest of three sons to a roughneck sheriff in a small rural town (Hickorysville, what else?) who falls for Mary, a travelling show girl.  When the show is burned down he invites Mary to come and live with his family, but when the town’s money is stolen by thugs from the show, Harold’s father is blamed, so Harold sets out to prove his innocence and win his father’s respect (as well as his girl’s hand). (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1929 111m) DVD1/2

Aka. Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen

Deform school

p  Georg W.Pabst  d  Georg W.Pabst  w  Rudolph Leonhardt  novel  Margaret Böhme  ph  Sepp Allgeier, Fritz Arno Wagner  ed  uncredited  art  Ernö Metzner, Emil Hasler

Louise Brooks (Thymian Henning), Josef Ravensky (Robert Henning), Fritz Rasp (Meinert), Edith Meinhard (Erika), Franziska Kinz (Meta), Vera Pawlova (Aunt Frieda), André Roanne (Count Nicholas Osdorff), Sybille Schmitz (Elisabeth),  

The second and final collaboration between director G.W.Pabst and star Louise Brooks was for a time regarded as very much the inferior of the two.  Rumours persisted for decades that it wasn’t so much unfinished as deliberately finished early.  Writer Rudolf Leonhardt maintained his script was left half finished and the film does indeed end rather abruptly, but Diary remains a film so full of fascination, visual beauty and seedy subtexts as to beggar belief for its day.

            Thymian is the virginal daughter of pharmacist Robert Henning who is being prepared for confirmation, to celebrate which she is given a present; namely a diary.  On the self same day, her beloved housekeeper Elisabeth leaves in mysterious circumstances and she is replaced by the insidious Meta, who becomes the mistress to Thymian’s father.  Desperate to find out what happened to Elisabeth, she agrees to meet her father’s assistant Meinert, only to pass out and be carried to her room by him and raped.  Cut forward nine months and Thymian has given birth and Meta gets Thymian’s diary opened to find out the identity of the father.  Refusing to marry Meinert, after seeing her child taken to a sinister midwife, Thymian is sent to a terrible correctional institute for girls, run like a prison by a distinctly lesbian mistress and her creepy male assistant.  Soon she becomes desperate to escape. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 77m) not on DVD

The end of many journeys, the beginning of many adventures

p  J.G.Bachman  d  Josef Von Sternberg  w  Jules Furthman  story  “The Dock Walloper” by John Monk Saunders  ph  Harold Rosson  ed  Helen Lewis  m  Gaylord Carter  art  Hans Dreier

George Bancroft (Bill Roberts), Betty Compson (Sadie), Olga Baclanova (Lou), Clyde Cook (Steve), Gustav Von Seyffertitz (Hymn Book Harry), Mitchell Lewis (engineer), Lilian Worth, Guy Oliver,

How might Wilkins Micawber have summed up the works of Josef Von Sternberg?  Maybe like this – “in short, sex with the right young girl; end result?  Happiness.  Obsessing after sex with the wrong young girl; end result?  Misery.”  Throughout his career, the ersatz Von Sternberg carried that mantra as his good companion and, though it received its greatest flowering in a series of memorable studies with Marlene Dietrich, the first great example came with this visually extraordinary dockside drama of the late silent era.  Compare it to Clarence Brown’s Garbo starrer Anna Christie two years later and one begins to wonder whether talkies really were an advance on the silent masterworks, for no film truly evoked that era and location quite like Von Sternberg’s film did.  It’s a film that preserves the world of Eugene O’Neill far better than any film of his works. 

            Bill Roberts is a ship’s stoker who is given shore leave of one night to have some fun on the New York dockside.  While walking along the waterfront, he notices a young prostitute jump in and he jumps in after her to save her.  Bringing her back to his lonely room, he becomes instantly enamoured with her, and even offers to marry her.  However, the morning after, he realises he must leave his young bride to return to sea.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1922 20m) DVD1/2

Secret Policeman’s First Ball

p  Joseph M.Schenck  d/w  Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline  ph  Elgin Lessley

Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Eddie Cline,

How many people today have really seen any Buster Keaton films?  Of course many have seen the house gag from Steamboat Bill Jnr and the train sequence in The General, but who has actually seen the films in question?  Hopefully, since the advent of DVD and the superb Keaton box-sets in the States, France and eventually the UK, that will be rectified, but his shorts are another matter.  As with Chaplin, though the shorts are available, they are unjustly overlooked.  Critics may rave about them, but rave about them to each other, rarely actually converting anyone to them.  So how can I hope to convert anyone to Keaton’s shorts?  The first thing is to make sure I pick the right one and, in this reviewer’s opinion, there are three all-time great Keaton shorts, all of them from the annus mirabilis that was 1922; The Electric House, The Paleface and, my favourite, Cops.  It certainly isn’t that I like Cops any the more, but that it rather has a truly Keatonian narrative style.  The Electric House is a joyously hilarious piece of pratfall farce exquisitely rehearsed and The Paleface a wonderful tale of Buster’s running into some Indians.  Yet Cops is definitive Buster in that, like his greatest feature The General, it’s an escalation of gags.  Keaton’s most typical works are like cinematic Rossini overtures, building to crescendo upon crescendo with each gag topping the previous one and the pace quickening by the minute.  That much is certainly true of Cops(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1925 117m) DVD1

Aka. Faces of Children

Portrait of mama

p  Dimitri de Zoubaloff, François Porchet  d  Jacques Feyder  w  Jacques Feyder, Françoise Rosay  ph  Leonce-Henri Burel, Paul Parguel  ed/art  Jacques Feyder

Jean Forest (Jean Amsler), Victor Vina (Pierre Amsler), Rachel Devirys (Jeanne Dutois), Arlette Peyran (Arlette Dutois), Pierrette Houyez (Pierrette Amsler), Henri Duval (Curé of Vissoy), Suzy Vernon (Jean’s mother), Charles Barrois,

My first sighting of this celebrated but long unseen silent drama was, as with many other films of its era, in Brownlow and Gill’s all-encompassing Cinema Europe series back in 1995.  Like many of the films seen therein, I little expected to ever get to see them in their entirety, so it was with great pleasure that the announcement of a DVD release of this and other Jacques Feyder silents was greeted in 2006.  By some fluky coincidence, I watched it the same day I reviewed Jean Delannoy’s magisterial tragedy La Symphonie Pastorale, for both share one fundamental common factor; the location, namely the snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps. 

            Shot and set in the Upper Valois region of the Alps, the film takes place in the village of Saint-Luc, where we find a house in mourning for the loss of its matriarch.  Her widower and their two children witness her coffin bring brought down the stairs for burial, and father and son, Jean, follow the funeral cortege to the burial place.  There, Jean faints, overcome with the emotion of the tragic event, and he begins to retreat into a personal form of mourning.  His father, however, decides after a suitable bereavement period has passed to marry again, and chooses a woman who had also lost her spouse and in need of a father for her young daughter.  From the outset, Jean does not take kindly to his step-mother and especially his step-sister, between whom an animosity develops.  This finally comes to head when, after tossing away his step-sister’s favourite doll when on a sleigh journey, he sends her out into the wintry conditions to look for it, only for an avalanche to leave her stranded and Jean guilt-stricken.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1924 90m) DVD1/2

Aka. Der Letzte Mann

Do you know what you will be tomorrow?

p  Erich Pommer  d  Friedrich W.Murnau  w  Carl Meyer  ph  Karl Freund  ed  Friedrich W.Murnau  m  Giuseppe Becce  art  Robert Herlth, Walter Röhrig

Emil Jannings (the doorman), Max Hiller (the bridegroom), Maly Delschaft (doorman’s niece), Hans Unterkirchen (hotelier), Emilie Kurtz (aunt),

If ever a film summed up German cinema and its ambition in the twenties, this was it.  Just one look at that list of credits tells you that much, reading as it does as a who’s who of German cinema of the period.  All the names in question played their part in what is still, after eighty intervening years, both the perfect representation of German expressionism and its antithesis.  By which I mean that, though it may also be very much a film about the distortion of the psyche, it contains few of the encircling, distorted sets and camera angles that mark out the expressionist films of the era.  The Last Laugh shows the distortions of the mind through the camera’s eye, whereas expressionistic films seem to show the camera through the mind’s eye.

            The story such as it is follows an ageing portly doorman at the Atlantic hotel who loses his job on account of his frailty (ageism, as we would now call it) and is reduced to being a washroom attendant.  Yet his beloved niece is about to get married and his position as doorman was seen as respectable, so he endeavours to try and keep up the pretence of his former job and disguise his new, humbler employment.  Needless to say, he doesn’t and he thus reaches a new low, only for the title to be given meaning when a twist of fate sees him the beneficiary of a remarkable stroke of luck. (more…)

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