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La vérité (1960)
Just a masterpiece, like any Clouzot's work
It appears that the outstanding director Henri-George Clouzot was unable to make movies short of being masterpieces. "La Verite" may be defined as the "European Rashomon", and, well aware that my opinion will be considered a sacrilege, I venture to say that Clouzot's film is even better than Kurosawa's celebrated masterpiece. In fact, the essence of both "Rashomon" and "La Verite" lies in the quest of the truth of a story, reconstructed through a sequence of flash-backs.
"La Verite" narrates the trial of the breathtakingly-beautiful-sexy lost girl Dominique (Brigitte Bardot), for the murder of her former boy-friend Gilbert (Samy Frey). Everybody (Dominique herself, her former friends and various lovers, her enemies, notably her own sister, as well as lawyers and prosecutors) states his own version of the facts, but what is the actual truth? To simplify the question: is Dominique just a ruthless killer, or was she a weak, enamored girl, victim of Gilbert's selfishness and bullying? As always in Clouzot's movies, "La Verite" is extremely intense, packed with a profound and uncompromising psychological study. The almost obsessive pace of events gives no break to both the characters and the audience. The script is first-rate, with plenty of cynical sense of humor, in spite of the dramatic facts told.
Brigitte Bardot was a great actress, endowed with an outstanding talent. A careful viewer could easily get it even from BB's performances in minor movies, like, say "Mademoiselle Pigalle". Here, under the sound direction of a genius like Clouzot, she is just sensational in a highly dramatic role. Of course, also the acting by the remainder of the cast is excellent, especially, needless to say, by the legends Charles Vanel and Paul Meurisse, as the two lawyers.
Possibly, the main credit of this fantastic movie lies in a gelid, sarcastic, misanthropic representation of human society. Arguably, this is the trade-mark of Clouzot's style, together with suspense, which here is present but not exasperated like in his other works. The world of the adults is wholly despicable, permeated as they are with hypocrisy, with prejudice and fear, especially in sexual matters, and with sickening cynicism, as masterly represented by the lawyer Paul Meurisse.
However, the youngsters are no better than the adults. They are just fatuous, selfish, conceited loafers, only able to utter pseudo-intellectual chats. As a matter of fact, when Dominique founds herself in dire straits, none of her young friends moves a finger to help her. And Dominique often appears even worse than the others. From some point of view, she might be considered a totally negative character.
So, what's the point of Clouzot? I think that's not an issue. He just shows what he sees; that's the style and the aim of one of the greatest artists in the history of cinema.
"La Verite" is a total masterpiece. It is impossible to be disappointed. Highly recommended.
What did the director expect from this movie?
Since, after all, a movie is meant to be seen by an audience, I don't get what the director Meyjes expected from his work "Manolete".
Indeed, the "aficionados" (i.e. corrida-lovers) can only feel outraged by the huge amount of falsities and distortions, concerned with both life and personality of the actual Manolete, that one finds in the movie. On the other hand, the large majority of people, being corrida-haters, will be uninterested, if not deeply bored, by a straightforward love story of a torero and his mistress, worth of a cheap XIXth century novel. (The actual love story of Manolete and Lupe Sino was much more psychologically intriguing than the stuff shown in the movie.)
Speaking of the movie, the photography is fine, and the costumes are beautiful. The jobs of Brody as the torero and Penelope Cruz as Lupe Sino are acceptable. There is some very short but interesting 1940s footage of the true Manolete fighting in the plaza de toros. However, the film badly fails in recreating the atmosphere of Spain in the years after the civil war.
Indeed, the inaccuracies of the movie are really dismaying. Lupe Sino is surprised seeing that a torero wears pink socks. C'mon! It's like showing a young American woman not knowing that football players wear helmets! Manolete enters a crowded hall, participates to parties, and everybody ignores him. C'mon! It's like seeing Michael Jordan unnoticed at a meeting of basketball fans! Manolete's popularity was literally unbelievable all over the world, among common people, as well as among big time politicians and major cinema stars, that fought to have him at their social events. A couple of instances. When Manolete died, Winston Churchill sent a personal message of condolence to his mother. The Mexican government was forced to cut some scheduled corridas, since people didn't buy food to save money for the tickets of Manolete's bullfights (source: "Time Magazine" year 1946).
The movie also contains a number of so obvious clichés, like the torero's greedy relatives, or the fatuous and hypocritical catholic priests, or the incompetent doctors (this latter a really dirty slander!), etc. Of course, to know something of the actual Manolete, you have to neglect the character shown in the movie, and rather read some of the dozens of books dedicated to him, even in very recent years. Indeed, I bet that in this very moment someone is writing a book on the legendary torero.
The portrait made of Lupe Sino is liable of aggravated defamation. Forget that Lupe was much younger and more beautiful than Cruz, and that, obviously, she was an aficionada, contrary to the character of the movie. Forget that Lupe was a smiling, sweet-tempered, cheerful girl, deeply in love with her man, contrary to the perpetual ferocious grudge against everybody and everything shown by Cruz's "Lupe". What is unacceptable is that the film- maker turns her into an unfaithful, spiteful, foul-mouthed bum.
As far as I know, the movie "Manolete" was badly unsuccessful, as predictable. I didn't like it.
Gene Tierney as a symbol of "what we fight for"
"Thunder Birds" is an innocuous movie of war propaganda, made by W.A. Wellmann, a first- rate director, with his usual professionalism. The locations are beautiful, the Technicolor is outstanding, and the flying scenes are accurately shot. The story is standard, a nice blend of adventure-action and comedy, with some good emotional scenes in the part placed in England, dominated by Dame May Witty.
What makes "Thunder Birds" special, and its message stronger, is the use of Gene Tierney as a symbol. Yes, she is called to represent exactly "what we fight for". We (the young men from America, Great Britain, China) fight for that dream of a girl, for her smile, for the hot dogs we devour with her, for her nylon stockings, for our freedom and prosperity that she embodies. And she doesn't leave us alone, like a damned arrogant European princess. She helps and supports us, with a merry smile and without any conceit. Here, among us, there's no room for the gruesome death-rhetoric of the barbarian killers we fight.
To be honest, I admit that anyone out of the mass of splendid American actresses of the 1940s could play the role of Gene Tierney in "Thunder Birds", with excellent results. But only with the Goddess of Beauty, shining on the screen, all the parameters go to infinity.
A death-sentenced prisoner with hand grenades in his pockets?
For not completely understandable reasons, the soldier-of-fortune Wilson (Robert Mitchum) is sentenced to be shot by his ex-friends, the Mexican revolutionaries. However, he escapes from jail using two hand grenades he has in his pockets! This is just the highlight of the many absurdities of the story of "Bandido". As a matter of fact, the Mexican revolutionaries look so incredibly stupid to suggest some racial prejudice against them. Fortunately, this is manifestly impossible, since the film-maker keeps showing himself totally sympathetic with the revolution, even too much.
Some other outstanding examples of dumbness. The beautiful hostage Mrs. Kennedy has a gun in her purse, since nobody has searched her. The revolutionaries instantly trust the slimy arm dealer Kennedy (by the way, perhaps the nicest character in the movie), that tells them the weapons are hidden in a false place, where the federals are fixing an ambush. Later, the revolutionaries decide to whimsically shoot Wilson, the only one who can help them.
However, in spite of the film-maker intentions, Wilson doesn't seem much smarter, either. He gets that Kennedy lies and is planning some trick. Why doesn't Wilson openly explain the situation to his friend Escobar? This little omission will cost him a death sentence. Later, when Wilson and Escobar make it up, they immediately ride to the hidden arsenal. Only, they are closely chased by a battalion of federals! Wouldn't it be better to leave behind the enemy, in the first place?
Other major flaws of the movie are concerned with the action scenes. The revolutionaries on horse-back attack a train, defended by federals with machine guns. I say, isn't a train faster than horses? Don't the machine guns easily exterminate the chargers (it is well-known that these weapons caused the disappearance of the cavalry charges). And why the engine-driver suddenly stops the train? (To be pedantic, the horses should be exhausted and unable to charge, since they have run all the preceding night long.) At the end, Wilson and Escobar destroy in one shot the battalion of federals, making a boat full of dynamite explode. That is totally unrealistic. At the very best, the explosion would have killed Wilson and Escobar, as well.
I'm sorry for my negative comments, since the director Fleischer is a solid professional, that made a number of very good noir-films in the early 1950s. Well, "Bandido" actually has a remarkable merit, the stunning beauty of the Mexican locations, enhanced by an accurate and stylish photography. There is some good wise-cracking dialog, as well.
Unfortunately, the beauties of Mexico are not enough to make "Bandido" a recommendable movie.
Det sjunde inseglet (1957)
A miracle. The greatest work of art of the 20th century
"The Seventh Seal" goes beyond the notion of movie. For me it is a miracle. Much simply said, the greatest work of art of the 20th century. The abyssal depth of this film is stunning. The greatest questions that have shaken the human mind and soul from the beginning of the species, Death, God, Love, Evil, Meaning of Life, Desperation, Hope, are here faced with sound courage and outstanding intelligence.
No doubt that the director Ingmar Bergman was a genius. But his other works, though many of them extraordinary, were just movies, while in the "The Seventh Seal" he reached the level of the greatest artists of human history. The images are worth of Duerer, Bosch, Bruegel. The script, the psychological study of the characters and the poetry are worth of Shakespeare and Goethe. The depth of the philosophical and theological investigation is worth of Spinoza and Swedenborg.
The Middle Ages of Northern Europe are recreated with the accuracy and care for details of a great artist. The monk's sermon on sin and repentance grates to our modern ears, but we realize that it is perfectly coherent and realistic for the Middle Ages. The knight and his squire see the witch executed on the stake. They are disgusted, but they accept it and do not interfere. That's the way people were in those times. And the disturbing scene at the tavern, were, for no reason, the innocent, meek tumbler is abused and everybody laughs at him, is fully realistic, as well. That was people's sense of humor in those ages.
The ancient Nordic culture is represented in all its terrible splendor: the plague, the flagellants, the witch hunt, the mystic visions of the tumbler, the encounter of the knight and his skeptical squire with the wandering actors, the fool girl, the reading of the Apocalypse. And, of course, the chess-match with the Death, one of the most powerful symbols in the history of art.
Among uncountable instances, I record a wonderful subtlety of the script. The knight says to the Death "I don't fear to die, but, please, tell me: is there a God?" But not even the Death can answer. He just knows his own dreadful existence.
Since, after all, we are speaking of a film, let me remark that there isn't a single moment of bore in "The Seventh Seal", in spite of the profound problems it deals with.
Are the above enthusiastic comments somehow exaggerated? I don't think so. Watch "The Seventh Seal" and merge yourself into Art at its highest level.
La traversée de Paris (1956)
Funny and profound; a gem of French cinema
"La traversee de Paris" is a brilliant and often profound blend of comedy and drama. The story is rather uncommon and told in a most anti-rhetoric way. During World War II, in Paris occupied by the Nazis, two men have to deliver four cases filled with pork meat, for the black market. They cross the city overnight, trying to avoid French cops and German soldiers, as well.
The fun is mainly based on the duets between the two "heroes", Grandgil (Jean Gabin), and Martin (Bourvil), supported by a first-rate witty script. These two characters are drawn with psychological depth. Grandgil is somehow a mysterious man. Sometimes he seems to be a sort of thug. He despises and bullies innocent by-standers. He wants to cheat and steal the pork meat, following a sort of selfish anarchism. But many clues make the viewer feel that all this should be a Grandgil's joke. On the contrary, Martin is proud to be a decent person, and to keep honest and correct even working for the black market. The unavoidable quarrels arising between the two men build a non-standard but deep friendship. Extraordinary is the actors' job. Jean Gabin is deservedly a cinema legend, and never disappoints the audience. Here the always excellent Bourvil is on a par with his great partner.
On the background we have the masterly rendered atmosphere of those bleak years. French people is oppressed by deprivations and lack of food. Patriotism and heroic resistance are far from being appreciated. People are widely depressed by French defeat on the battle-field, and just wait for the end of the war and of German invasion. The first scene sets the tone of the movie. A blind beggar plays the Marseillese with his fiddle. Martin is displeased. What's the point of vainly provoking the Nazis? However he gives a coin to the beggar. And even a German officer gives money to the blind man. As a matter of fact, German soldiers do not appear as cruel barbarians. The officer who questions Grandgil and Martin is even nice. But when something wrong happens (namely, an attack against a German colonel), then the inhuman ferocity of Nazism shows his face. And the French hostages blame the partisans for that! Meanwhile, the swashbuckler Grandgil, always ready to despise other people's cowardice, realizes that in tragic circumstances one must care only for himself and his own life. There is a lot of depth in these scenes, believe me.
It is not surprising that this excellent movie was reviled by French audiences and critics when released. This anti-heroic, even petty representation of French people at war-time, was surely hard to swallow.
A magnificent nocturnal photography and artistic camera work, together with a first-rate direction by Autant-Lara, add further value to this superb movie.
The final scene may appear somehow stuck to the movie. But it contains an important message. Life has won, life continues. Common, simple, decent people survived. Barbarians have lost, doomed to destruction by their own infernal wickedness.
"La traversee de Paris" is a gem of French cinema. Highly recommended.
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
Nice blend of comedy and adventure
I did not like the first Zorro-movie with Banderas, namely "The mask of Zorro". Strangely enough, its sequel "The legend of Zorro" is, in my opinion, a much better and thoroughly enjoyable movie. The main original and pleasant idea in this new Zorro-film is to show the hero facing not only the usual legions of bad guys, but also the family troubles that bother the average modern man. You know, he has no time to stay with his kid, to take him at school, and so on. His (adorable) wife Elena gets annoyed since he's never at home and neglects his family, and the fact that Zorro's job as a legendary hero is very demanding is not a sufficient justification for her. Actually, shortly after the beginning of the story, Elena abandons Zorro and asks for a divorce! (we are informed that something peculiar is going on, though). To see Zorro in these irksome common-life circumstances is really very funny, and the comedy avails of a brilliant script, as well.
Nicely blended with the comedy, we have a well-written adventure story. Of course, there is plenty of spectacular, totally unrealistic action (even too much) and of great stunts and special effects. Graphic violence and atrocities, that at times marred the first Zorro-movie with Banderas, here are virtually non-existent. A very good idea, in my opinion.
Banderas as Zorro makes an accurate job, and he is extremely nice and admirable for self- irony. The supporting cast works very well, although the bad guys sometimes are a bit over- the-top, even for this kind of movie.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is the major fringe benefit of this nice movie. Of course, she acts well, and she is lively, funny and determined as Elena, a character as central as Zorro is. But, well, let me make some comments on her amazingly wonderful beauty. Zeta-Jones is by far the most beautiful actress in the world. But to overwhelm other current actresses is an even too easy task for Catherine. There is much more. Actually, she stands on a par with the legendary beauties of the Golden Age of cinema of the 1940s and early 1950s, with Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth, Jane Greer, Grace Kelly, Frances Farmer, Marilyn Monroe and all the other goddesses of beauty. I even dare say that Catherine is enough close to the top one, the divine Gene Tierney. She is a real joy for the eyes of the viewer.
A minor flaw of the script is the use of a too modern language, especially when the characters keep saying "I can't believe it... Can you believe it?"
"The legend of Zorro" is a recommendable movie, very entertaining and funny, accurately made and sometimes even brilliant. Moreover, we gentlemen have got Catherine Zeta- Jones... and, well, there is also Antonio Banderas, in case the ladies are interested.
Operation Dames (1959)
Can you believe it? This movie is beautiful
Can you trust me that "Operation Dames" is a beautiful film? In general, you don't expect much from a movie thought for the drive-ins. Moreover, the title and the beginning of the movie are misleading. You expect some more-or-less-funny (and probably silly) comedy about military life. In fact the starting point is a company of comedians, dancers and pretty girls traveling in the 1950 Korea to entertain the US troops, with girls singing, kissing the soldiers and all that. A sudden major attack from the North Korean army turns the comedy into drama. The company is trapped behind the enemy lines, the South Korean escort soldiers are killed, and the guys drift, abandoned in a hostile country, ruthlessly chased by the reds. Fortunately, they meet a lost patrol of US soldiers. Now they must join their forces, to make a desperate attempt to cross the lines and reach the US army.
The movie clearly had a meagre budget at its disposal. Nonetheless, it is remarkably well- made. The camera work and the photography are first-rate, with a creditable quest for simplicity. The action scenes are realistic, and sober as in an authentic war documentary, but very well filmed. The dialogue is dry and suited to the dire straits these men and women are in. The psychological study of the characters is accurate. Exaggerations or over-the-top melodramatic situations are avoided. There are moments of emotion, and several love- scenes of rare intensity. And the ending is satisfactory, as well.
The job by a bunch of unknown actors and actresses is generally very good, somehow surprisingly. Chuck Henderson as sergeant Valido is really remarkable. Few words about Eve Meyer, the main heroine. Of course, she is gorgeous. But she can act, as well. Here she gives an intense performance, both physically and vocally. Well, I've read that she was a Playboy model, and I guess that this fact essentially erased her chances of a career on the screen. She acted just in two movies. Seeing "Operation Dames", I think that a talent was wasted. Eve Meyer was not just pretty and sexy.
Well, believe it or not, "Operation Dames" is a recommendable movie. Seventy minutes of very good cinema.
Gun Crazy (1950)
What is the quintessence of a film-noir? A good answer is: an evil strong woman that manipulates a weak, although basically decent, man, involving him in a crazy love, doomed to a tragic ending. Then we can safely state that "Deadly is the Female" is a perfect instance of film-noir.
The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre. Justly celebrated are the scenes filmed with the camera inside the car, like that of the bank shot in Hampton, a true cinematic gem. John Dall and Peggy Cummins, in the roles of the doomed lovers Bart and Annie Laurie, make a great job. The story starts slowly (a minor drawback), but as soon as the two lovers cross the border of legality, the movie acquires a quick, exciting and ruthless pace and presents a powerful finale.
The psychology of Bart and Annie Laurie is studied with care. Annie Laurie is a systematic liar. With Bart she always looks sweet, deeply in love, even subdued to her man. To justify her shootings and murders, she always whines with Bart that she had lost her nerves, that she was scared. But when Bart is not present, the viewer gets from her body language and the cruel expression of her eyes that she just loves to kill. Great job by Peggy Cummins.
So does Laurie just make use of Bart for her dirty purposes, to satisfy her own depravity? Not at all. Oddly enough, in another famous scene we see that Laurie really loves Bart with all her heart. Only, she is bad and cruel, that's her inner core. And is Bart so stupid and bewitched not to realize that Laurie is going to ruin him? No, he knows it, and he deeply suffers, but ultimately he doesn't care. Only Laurie counts. Desperately crazy love... how fascinating! (at least in a film-noir).
The script offers several memorable lines, and the many subtleties give realism to the story. For instance, Bart and Laurie are not professional criminals, and they show it when they carelessly spend "hot" money, which will cost them dearly.
"Deadly is the Female" is an excellent film, a relevant nugget in the film-noir gold mine. Highly recommended.
The slowest pace in the history of American cinema?
I wonder if "Bullitt" has the slowest pace in the history of American cinema. Of course, "Bullitt" is a legendary movie and it was a tremendous hit when released. In my opinion, that was mainly due to Steve McQueen, who right in those years had exploded as a major superstar. I do not deny that the movie was rather innovative for the late 1960s. The cinematography is fine and the locations in the San Francisco area are accurately shot. The whole cast works well, and the stars Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn give remarkable performances. The story is interesting, although not much exciting.
But the pace of the movie is so incredibly slow... All the various scenes and episodes are excruciatingly lengthy, notably those of the surgeries at the hospital. However, the best instance of snail-pace is a scene at the airport in the finale. The airplane arrives at the terminal. The whole maneuver of the aircraft is shown in full details... Then, finally, the passengers slowly start to get off the airplane. Bullitt-McQueen silently stares looking for the bad guy. People slowly get off... Bullitt stares... People get off... Bullitt stares... I say, this single scene lasts longer than the whole Apaches' attack in Ford's "Stagecoach"!
The story is not intricate, but the movie is so slow that one finds it difficult to follow... Bullitt gets off the taxi, taking all the due time; then he calmly walks toward the parking area; he opens the door of a car; after a while, he shuts the door of the car; he broods over something for another long while (there's no hurry!); finally he starts the engine, another long operation... In the meantime, the viewer has forgotten what the heck the guy was doing for the purposes of his investigation.
All along the movie, the behavior of the policeman Bullitt is highly unprofessional. But then, to make a number of idiocies just for the sake of disobeying the authorities, that was considered cool in the late 1960s (and also now, at least in the movies). Actually, Bullitt's deeds at the end of the film are not just unprofessional. In the real life, they would cost him several years in jail. And what is the point of beautiful Jacqueline Bisset? Her character seems stuck to the movie, just to show that Bullitt-McQueen is sexually active. Did anyone doubt it? And who cares, anyway?
Of course, the film contains the over-celebrated car-chase. Certainly innovative for that time, but ultimately disappointing, in my opinion.
I've always thought that the bore of Altman's "Thieves like us" couldn't be surpassed. I was wrong. "Bullitt" is the most boring action-crime movie I have ever seen.