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Ultimate film-noir
12 June 2003
Double Indemnity is based on a novel by James Cain adapted to the screen by great novelist Raymond Chandler, who made here his most important contribution to the cinema history in his career, though somehow matched by following screenwriting work for 1946 Howard Hawks' classic The Big Sleep, and Billy Wilder, who previously worked as a screen writer for Ernest Lubitsch and had been already nominated three times for Academy Awards in the process before making Double Indemnity, which nevertheless played the key role in establishing him as one of the best writer-directors in Hollywood, and giving him his fourth Oscar nomination as a writer and his first one as a director.

Double Indemnity was the third feature Wilder directed after 1942 The Major and the Minor and 1943 Five Graves to Cairo, but it was definitely the first film, his primary American tragedy where the author for the first time revealed his black and somehow hopelessly pessimistic view of the American society and of the human society in general, blackishly desecrated in the film simply by populating it with exceptionally sordid characters, who independently of being a victim or victimized, of being the protagonists or just simple supporters are never really able to transcend the utterly low and devilish motivations in theirs as a consequence sordidly painful lives and reach such a state where the viewer might get relieved by considering one of them as a positive element. Instead the characters' lives shown in a continuous noir flashback of Fred MacMurray's not-a-confession are driven from the start to the very end by an utter greed in a form of double and not only indemnities with consequential and inherent to it risks and fears in a rather unsure world of insurance.

An insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a man with `no visible scars', starts to lose his already shaky dominance over his mind's yearnings when glimpses on a horizon a possibility of becoming a recipient of a monetary fortune along with no less seductive desire from a part of unhappily married and as devilishly beautiful as resourceful in pursuing her zany in its deadliness schemes, an ultimate femme fatale blond Phyllis (marvellously portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck).

Initially apparent as a romantic, the relationship gradually mutates into double confrontation of the two fears of the two characters in their greedy and ambitious pursuits, a conflict which at one point apparently results in a sort of humanization of Phyllis' character, appearing hiding the eyes of her soul behind the sun glasses, a humanization which is let to happen by her only to accentuate later her unchangeably fatal nature.

The double confrontation gradually evolves into a triple one when the threatening presence on the scene of no less and probably more resourceful character of Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) becomes more and more evident, as a result of his continuous and obsessive investigation conducted with different but nor less ambitious motives. A motives which find its ultimate revelation in a most touching, but finally most hypocritical scene of declaration of love (I love you - I love you too) between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes in the end, exactly reflecting the same nature of previous interactions between Walter and Phyllis, where such moments with the very words used, such as the supreme word of loving affection - Baby lowered to an unthinkable extent, only were a mere preparation to struck another blow in yet another outburst of hate caused by a new misfortunate complication in carrying out so well devised and apparently perfect plan.

Permeated right from the start to the very end with the flavour of unstoppable fatality in an extent that a few other film-noirs achieved, accentuated by the wonderful music score by Miklos Rozsa, Double Indemnity's story is motored by the money like in nearly all of Billy Wilder films. But in this case all the misery produced by it as evident as never before resulting in utter corruption of already corrupted characters and their descent into a such a deep abyss of human misery as probably never before or after in a Hollywood film history, an abyss with no exit, with omnipresent hypocrisy, with no place for sincere human feelings of love, friendship or affection, an abyss to where the characters descent under the monotonous tune of Miklos Rozsa's score, which serves as a reflection of their monotonously hypocrite and ultimately doubly doomed lives. 10/10
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Documentary on life and work of Ingmar Bergman
6 June 2003
Finnish writer-director and now politician Jorn Donner made the Bergman File in 1978. It features a series of interviews and excerpts from the press conferences with Ingmar Bergman, where he recalls his childhood experiences, talks about the things, places and people who influenced him in his artistic development consequently having a major influence on his films, about making of which is also told quite a bit. The film finishes at the time it was made - 1978, with Bergman's fleeing Sweden to Europe and than to the US as a result of problems with Swedish Tax Department.

Overall The Bergman File is very similar and significantly weaker compared to another Jorn Donner's documentary made at about the same time as this one - The Three Scenes with Ingmar Bergman, which explores the same ground with significantly more precision and appears to be quite a bit more interesting than The Bergman File mostly because almost one hundred percent of the film is told by Ingmar Bergman himself representing his own point of view on things and not someone else's interpretation of it. 7/10
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The Bittersweet Tristesse of life
6 June 2003
Bonjour Tristesse is based on a novel by Françoise Sagan published in 1954. It was the first novel she had ever written and caused quite a stir at the time of its release being considered as one of the most remarkable and scandalous post World War II writing debuts with literary critics coming as far as naming it provokingly immoral.

The film version is marked by a certain what might be called Puritanism of its director - Otto Preminger, which was a result of not only Preminger's artistic vision, but also of the obligatory following the rules of the time system in cases when morally delicate matters were concerned.

Whatever the reason, it ultimately serves for the best, resulting in a clever and masterful representation of the sin as a slightly blatant notion matching thus its true qualitative nature of a thing mostly concealed inside of a man's heart not always erupting from the subtle mental level on a gross surface of palpable to the material senses reality. The struck of genius on the part of the director was also filming it partly in black and white, partly in colour, with colour flashback sequences representing the happy old days of bizzarely cheerful co-existence of David Niven and Jean Seberg's characters shared with young, beautiful and comprehensive but unfortunately dull Elsa (Mylene Demongeot) set on the alluring background of the French Riviera in a time when the sin was still dormant in the jovial hearts of film's protagonists awaiting its time to reveal itself using out-of-the-past Deborah Kerr's character as an instrument in disrupting the very foundation of their mindless existence in an unavoidable action-reaction circle, throwing them apart and together again this time in a black and white reality of Paris, reality of a bittersweet awareness of the unpleasant present, resembling Adam and Eve cast out of Paradise, with a new vision of the world acquired with final Deborah Kerr's banishment into the blue vastness of the ocean, leaving only an inexplicable trail of a black smoke serving as a symbolic representation of the ultimately and untimely burned sins of an equally burned and crashed life. 8/10
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Simply great
4 June 2003
Little Big Man represents the highest point in Arthur Penn's career. The film was made soon after his masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde and stands, in my opinion, right beside it as one of the most significant achievements not only of Arthur Penn's work, but also of the world cinema in general. Unfortunately the chain of remarkable movies began with this two wasn't destined to continue, with director's following films proving to be quite disappointing. But nevertheless Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man remain as the two fine notables for which Arthur Penn will always be fondly remembered.

Also mustn't be discarded the role of the time when the Little Big Man was made, the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, which most certainly found its reflection on the film, critically paralleled in portrayal of the ruthless and mindless slaughter of the Indians by the American troops.

The film's story is told by Jack Crabb, a very old man of more than 100 years old, the only remaining witness of the events he is telling to an oral histories collector.

We follow his life story as he is kidnapped and raised by the Indians, after a few years escaping from them only to return back again to witness the brutal death of his friends and loved ones from the hands of the American soldiers under the command of vicious and eccentric General George Armstrong Custer who finally has to pay for his inhuman deeds in the battle of the Little Big Horn that is shown in the end of the film and which might be considered as the natural consequence of the brutal tactics employed by the American troops in conquering the Indian territories, and finally represents a significant lightening of the karmic burden for them, achieved by the purificatory and relieving death in the fight with the Indians whose victory symbolize only a temporarily successful culmination of destined-not-to-last-long struggle.

Though in Jack Crabb's life story we basically revisit a number of very familiar for a Western genre fan fields, one of them being the battlefield of the Little Big Horn, the masterful way in which revisiting is done turn it into an unforgettable viewing experience during which you'll most certainly find yourself moved from laughing at the perfect comic moments of parody on some of the most used Western clichés to shedding tears when tragic happenings unveil on the screen, always remaining absorbed by it, mesmerized by the superb acting delivered by all of the actors involved and the film's visually vast beauty. 10/10
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"When I had fears that I may cease to be"
4 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
William Wellman wanted to make a film out of the novel by Van Tilburg Clark promptly after reading it in 1949; the only problem was the fact, which he realized quite well, that no producer could possibly finance such film. The only thing he could do is wait, and he waited till the opportunity knocked on his door 5 years later with the enormous success of his film The High and the Mighty, which was nominated for several Oscars including third and the last nomination for Wellman himself in the Best Director category.

Inspired by such a success, the film's main star and producer John Wayne swore that now Wellman could film whatever he'd like to, even if it would be a phone book, and that Warner would produce and distribute it. Wellman took the chance, not offering to John Wayne the phone book though, but this story, imposing his conditions, which were basically the filming of it in Cinemascope and in a black and white-colour, which meant to photograph the film with all colours reduced almost to back and white with the exception of some of the key items in the film, such as blue matches, the colour of fire, the colour of Robert Mitchum's coat etc.

The artistic touch of the director and fabulous work of the film's cinematographer resulted in a breathtaking luminous beauty of dark and bright colours which created a visual detachment of the film from the reality, giving it a sort of mysterious aura with the accentuated feeling of threat and emptiness of the scenery which serves as a background on which the internal, almost an infernal emptiness and painful loneliness of the film's main characters are reflected, the characters who are unstoppable in their quest for the black panther, in which all of their mysteries, frustrations and secret sins are incarnated, whom we hear mentioned all the time, whose roar we hear, whose murderous trail we follow along with the film's protagonists but whom we are never really able to see and who finally appears as almost a symbolic figure-representation of the crippled internal world of the characters, which is in fact the only real palpable threat to their pitiful and fearful existence, the very thing from which Robert Mitchum's character is running away finally falling into the cold abyss of nothingness while the other characters remain in the burning fire of their troubled and aimless lives as seen from the grave point of view in the film's final sequence, which represents the unavoidable not-too-soon-to-come end for them.

Beginning with the snow, coming through the fire, the film leaves us where it has begun – lost in an enormous threatening emptiness of the landscape still following the mysterious trail of an equally mysterious cat in the never resolved quest for outer discovery of something that has a rather inner nature. 8/10
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"You outlived your life, you outlived your kind"
3 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Man of the West was the last Western directed by Anthony Mann, it also stands as one of his best works in the genre. The film belongs to a transition category of Westerns, it was released in a period when the Western practically ceased to be a pure and innocent adventure of cowboys and Indians, a conquering of the West by hopeful pioneers and instead was substituted by a more pessimistic, somewhat more mature, adult and even philosophical approach. The Man of the West is a clear representation of that change, being one of the pioneers in the category along with John Ford's The Searchers, which was made about the same time, the change that was finalized in what is considered as a symbolic death of the Western classical genre - John Ford's The Man Who Shoot Liberty Valance. With all its pessimism and extreme, almost sadistic violence, Man of the West is also an undoubted predecessor to the Westerns made later in the '60s by Sam Pekinpah, beginning with 1962 Ride the High Country and culminating in what considered his best 1969 The Wild Bunch. In Man of the West the transition, the change in the genre incarnates itself in a figure of Link Jones wonderfully played by Gary Cooper. Right from the opening scene of the film we are introduced to him as he appears on the horizon of the classical Western's landscape, a figure that looks like it had been moulded out of as much marked by the time as the hero himself surrounding scenery. And when he enters the town in a classical Western manner of a stranger sure of his strength, the voyage to the past really begins, a past which starts to hunt the main character in almost an exact proportion as it revealed to us. A past that finds its threatening personification in a most evil character of Dock Tobin, superbly played by Lee J. Cobb. An old outlaw who once was Link's buddy and who somehow managed to survive all those years, still remaining in action, outliving his kind, outliving his life, representing no more nor less than a shadow of the classical Western bad guy figure and opposing Link, his once best friend and now enemy of equally phantomous nature. The confrontation reaches its peak and draws to its conclusion in the phantom-town of Lassoo, left by its inhabitants a long time ago and populated only by ghosts and aged Mexican couple before our heroes' arrival. This is where the final duel between the two parties takes place, a duel where again the deviation from the classical Western style is so obvious, where actually the classical duel scheme finds its end when the opponents breaking all the codes and leaving all the moral preoccupations aside shoot each other in pure struggle for survival motivated by the overwhelming hate and the desire to erase the past. The final result is one of the most tragic and pessimistic Westerns in the cinema's history. 9/10
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"Jesse James was a man who lived outside the law and nobody knew his face"
2 June 2003
The True Story of Jesse James was the third Western directed by Nicholas Ray after fabulous Johnny Guitar and rather average Run for Cover. At the time director took the project he was at the peak of his prestige mainly due to an enormous success of the film he made prior to The True Story, which is Rebel Without a Cause. He was one of the highest paid directors in Hollywood at the time and the most beloved one by James Dean. Also he was one of the few directors who managed to get a certain independence from the Studio's control, an independence that was proven in making of Bigger Than Life, when his opinion won over the one by film's main star and producer James Mason.

But with the True Story of Jesse James, those glorious days where over. It was the first Nick Ray's film where his artistic freedom was completely taken away by the producer and the studio, the first film where he didn't have the final word in making of it, and also the most hated one by the director himself, who later referenced to it in `F**g awful' terms, as being the film completely different from the one he was intending to do when took the project.

One of the main points he mentioned later was the construction of the story in ill-achieved and ridiculous flashbacks, instead of which Ray wanted to move the story back and front several times without any explanation to the viewer, avoiding using the cliché flashback sequences with the narration by Jesse's mother and Zee, which were used in final version of the film, regardless of his opinion re-edited by the order of then Fox producer Buddy Adler, who found it difficult to understand the development of the story while seeing it in the director's cut. Also with The True Story that Ray obtained the reputation of the rebel, of a difficult person to work with and realized that his artistic freedom was quite limited.

In the film we follow the true-life story of legendary James brothers, Jesse and Frank, played by Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter, which starts with the ill-fated bank robbery that goes wrong and while the brothers are on the run from the authorities, the story moves back and tells as the 18 years of their lives prior to that, the circumstances which lead them to become the most famous outlaws in the history of the West, their successes and final separation which resulted in tragic end for Jesse and helped in moulding of Jesse James' figure as a legend of the West, the beginning of which is shown in the film's marvellous ending with the blind man singing the Jesse James song predicting so the future immortality destined to the hero.

The True Story of Jesse James continues with the chain of rebel personalities so characteristic of the Nicholas Ray films with Robert Wagner as Jesse James following James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and John Derek in Run For Cover where the role of the characters' past in forming of their without a cause future is quite obvious.

Ultimately it's one of those numerous films in Hollywood history, which probably could have been great, provided the director was given the opportunity to make it the way he wanted. 7/10
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Marlon Brando's debut as a director
30 May 2003
One-Eyed Jacks was the first and the last film Marlon Brando ever directed. First the project was assigned to Stanley Kubrick, but soon he dropped it and went to direct Spartacus instead with Brando substituting him. It's quite a fine Western beautifully shot mainly in California seaside. The film's story mainly concerns the friendship, betrayal and revenge themes thus following the traditional Western story pattern.

Rio (Marlon Brando) and Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) are two friends and notorious outlaws on the run from the authorities after a recently committed robbery. Things start to look pretty bad when they find themselves trapped in the mountains. Dad manages to escape by betraying his friend and letting him to be captured. Rio soon is convicted and spends several years in prison from where he eventually escapes. Striving for revenge, he immediately starts trying to find out the whereabouts of his treacherous friend, very soon discovering that he is no longer a bandit but a very respectable sheriff in a town in South California.

The first half of the movie is smoothly paced and looks quite excellent with a number of good action sequences, touches of suspense and perfect comic moments provided not only by witty dialog lines but also by outstanding performance from Marlon Brando. But as the story draws to its conclusion the film louses its freshness and starts to become a bit too slow. Nonetheless with all its flows it's still a very remarkable Western that provides quite a pleasant and memorable viewing experience. A must-see for any Marlon Brando or Western fan. 8/10
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One of John Huston's weakest
30 May 2003
Beat the Devil is based on a novel of the same name by James Helvick. John Huston co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of it, like in case with many of his other films, this time with the help of Truman Capote. The film begins with an introduction of a group of crooks, who while stuck in Italy because of the problems with the steamer they are travelling on, learn of the existence of a piece of land rich in the uranium somewhere in South Africa, which might be bought by a very cheap price because of the present owners unawareness of the fact. Hastily they embark on a journey to the place, which, as they think, will put an end to their lifetime troubles by providing them with a considerable wealth for the rest of their lives. A peculiar Dannreuthers couple, played by Jina Lollobrigida and Humphrey Bogart, joins them in pursuit of this `noble' task obviously intending to share a part of this enormous wealth, which supposedly awaits our heroes there.

Beat the Devil is a sort of cynical adventure comedy which thou features a superb cast of actors and is co-written and directed by brilliant John Huston, nevertheless fails to enter the quality category of nearly all of Huston's other films, still remaining a worth watching film with a number of fine lines in the dialogs and quite a good acting that makes one tolerate a rather weak story and other numerous flows. 6/10
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Phi-Phi (1927)
Silent lunatic comedy
29 May 2003
Phi-Phi is arguably the best and undoubtedly most surprisingly imaginative and well-known work of a French filmmaker Georges Pallu. He directed it under the fictitious name of Dimitri Fexas, an alias that he probably assumed to accentuate the Greek mood of the film. It's quite an unusual exception among director's other works, which always tended to have a religious, mainly Catholic thematic.

It's based on an operetta by Andre Willementz and Felix Solar, which I've never seen so it's impossible for me to compare the two. The film counts with the presence of one of the most popular French comic actors at the time - Andre Deed, who incarnates Pireu, one of the many peculiar characters to grace the screen in this no less peculiar film which might be called a worthy predecessor to the lunatic comedies of Mel Brooks and even Zucker brothers.

The action of the film takes place in an ancient Greece where were follow mostly amorous adventures of the film's main hero - Phidius, more intimately known as Phi-Phi, who happens to be one of the most renowned sculptors in Athens. He is helped by even more odd character - Pireu, who always tends to get into trouble, mainly because of his obsession with rarely lucky betting on the horse races and his master's beautiful women-models. The film promptly turns into a screwball comedy when a Greek prince Ardimedon falls in love with Phi-Phi's wife and tries to work as a model posing for his new sculpture in quite a pleasant and most desirable company with the sculptor's wife. Meanwhile Phi-Phi's servant Pireu gives away all the statues from the sculptors shop to pay his debts earned by the unsuccessful betting.

Besides the screwed relationships' gags the viewer might be brought to laugh by numerous use of completely out-of-time items, such as a hilarious version of an Ancient Greek telephone, a phonograph, and even a sort of motorcycled chariot.

Overall Phi-Phi is quite an enjoyable and easy-to-watch early silent version of lunatic comedy worth to take a look at. 7/10
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