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P.O.V.: Revolution '67 (2007)
Still Useful Look Back At Why Newark Exploded 50 Years Ago
This is a thorough study of the day by day events of the riot or rebellion that flared up in Newark in July 1967. The episode was made 40 years after, and features at least one prominent talking head, Students For A Democratic Society leader Tom Hayden, who is sadly no longer with us. Also during the decade since this aired there have been new flareups involving the police and black victims, leading to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the US has had its first black President. (At one point the film quotes an activist to the effect that after the events the community pushed to put more blacks, who had become the majority in that city by the mid 1960s, into positions of political power, only to realize later that this did not necessarily solve the city's long festering problems. Similar with having a black President who did not arguably do all that much to help other blacks.) The trajectory interrupts the chronology to go back in time to explain issues that had built up resentment in the community and does a good job clarifying the roles played by outsider white organizers like Hayden, the city police, the state troopers, and the National Guard. The argument that there was significant sniping by armed blacks which the authorities had to respond to is more or less demolished. The use of graphics is quite clever. My only complaint is that the editing style at least early on tends to hype things up too much by cutting back and forth nervously, which goes against an otherwise calm, distanced reflection on this momentous historical moment.
L'âge de Monsieur est avancé (1987)
Late Etaix Film Shows More Influence Of Guitry Than Of Silent Slapstick
Despite a career setback with a 1971 documentary, the great French comedian Pierre Etaix was able to complete two more features before his recent passing. This 1987 play about a play which he also wrote is closer in its self-referential boulevard verbosity to the work of Sacha Guitry, a photo of whom is brought onto stage in the third act, than to the silent clowns who Etaix had previously borrowed from. It's basically a three character farce, with Etaix as a struggling author sitting at his desk on stage, summoning up the props and furniture that he wants via special effects-they will later be rearranged and the reality of several of them, such as a coffee cup and a telephone, will be questioned philosophically. Etaix debates with his "regisseur" who repeatedly crosses through the imaginary wall of the set, what he should write. A story pivoting on male-female relations and fidelity raises more philosophical questions. By the third act, Etaix expands his playfulness to include doubles: we see him sitting in the audience as well as on stage; the "regisseur" is both acting the role of the butler and also behind stage working; the wife played by veteran Etaix actress Nicole Calfan is seen as both dark haired and blonde; the film's color switches back and forth with black and white; the set briefly becomes a real apartment. During all of this the director often cuts to inserts of audience members reacting to the play, and sets up running jokes around them, One of the crowd is, I understand, Etaix's long time writing collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere.Though we hear, but don't see (the camera has moved to the night time outside the theater) the audience applauding at the conclusion, the end of this film leaves viewers like myself, especially when we can't appreciate every word of the unsubtitled French, a bit disappointed,especially after what we've seen of Etaix's earlier career.
Low Key Triangle Drama With Several Unusual Aspects
Sehnsucht (Longing) is an interesting variation on the clichéd triangle romance, as its (female) writer-director stresses, for the most part, a grounding in the banal day-to-day realism of a small town. The movie is centered on the young husband, Markus, who we see doing his bit as a volunteer for the fire brigade and at his job as a metal worker focusing on locks. He seems happy with his wife (who is aggressive about how much she wants him) and son, but in the course of a brigade trip to another small town meets a waitress in a pub and suddenly wakes up in her bed, not sure what he's gotten into. Director Grisebach employs either rather close shots of the participants, often in steamy passion, or longer shots where we are distanced, which then take us out of the story aspect and let us look more at the surroundings. She has used some of the townspeople in the Brandenburg villages where it was shot to add a non-professional documentary dimension to the presentation. At several points though there are sudden,jolting lurches into melodrama such as when the waitress falls off her balcony after Markus has told her he wants to break up; or when Markus, who we see then back at work, tries to kill himself. The movie's highpoint is the charming epilogue in which a group of local children share the story of what we have just been through, try to understand it from their point of view, and leave us guessing as to what its resolution will be. If Grisebach, who has directed only one other feature, is not quite up there with Ida Lupino, who made a similar film, The Bigamist, about a man sharing two women, she shows at least with this scene that she has a talent to keep in mind for the future
Highway 301 (1950)
Several Beautifully Shot Noir Scenes In Tri-State Gang Thriller
The HD copy of Highway 301 currently available through Warner Archive is a special treat for those who appreciate noir cinematography. The picture starts off with location footage of Winston Salem, North Carolina, one of the three states in which our gang of robbers moves back and forth. (In the intro which precedes the opening bank heist, the real governors at the time of North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia attest to the ominousness of these fact-based exploits, one of them even describing them as "criminal terrorism.") But after another heist, this one of a railway express truck where the stolen money turns out to be cut - gang leader Steve Cochran later describes it as "shredded wheat"- the last part of the film turns into more of a studio bound, moodily photographed exercise in noir style. The first such scene shows Cochran trying to escape from cops, after his partner has been shot, through the dark, wet streets. The second, especially exciting scene shows the French-Canadian wife (Gaby Andre) of one of the other crooks (Robert Webber) fleeing through a park at night,to escape Cochran who she suspects will kill her because she knows too much- she lands up getting into a cab which turns out to be driven by Cochran! The film climaxes in a tense hospital episode where another of the gang women (especially well played by the underrated Virginia Grey) pretends to be a reporter, so she can scope out the setup where Andre, shot earlier by Cochran, is hidden and the gang can finish the victim off, she almost fools the police sergeant. Carl Guthrie's lensing of these three sequences along with Andrew Stone's writing and direction make of this seemingly ordinary crime picture something memorable.
Veteran Writer Crane Wilbur Enriches Prison Formula
If you see the name Crane Wilbur in the credits, either as writer or director, especially if it is a crime picture, you can be sure that it will be above average. Wilbur used his skills as a veteran actor (going as far back as the silent Perils Of Pauline serial) as an author and later as a director to deepen the quality of the genre work he took on, often through research before shooting, so that the results had more unusual dialogue and a richness of realistic detail. Here he starts off what is basically a standard movie formula by having the prison itself, in this case Folsom, narrate the story! The plot pivots on the contrast between sadistic warden Ted De Corsia who wants to restrict the menu his inmates can eat ("Beans three times a day") and a well meaning new captain of the guard David Brian who believes in psychology and compares the De Corsia character to history's dictators (" You're as much a psychopathic case as any man in here") The treatment also benefits from use of the real Folsom location, touted in the opening (it would later be used again in such as Revolt In The Big House) some nice lensing (the scene where 5 convicts in a cell make plans, after the lights have been turned off early, their faces glimpsed in the dark) and effective musical underscoring by William Lava. If there is a big flaw in the film it's the decision to portray the brutal conditions as something way in the past- the turn of the century, in fact- and to assure the audience at the end with the return of narration that things have now improved, a somewhat false sweetness and light conclusion. If you want to learn more about Wilbur's fascinating career I recommend the biographical article by scholar Brent Walker in the Spring 2011 issue of the publication Noir City. Walker says that Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison "may be Wilbur's signature work."
Revolt in the Big House (1958)
Good Actors Lift Level Of Standard Prison Pic
This is a standard prison picture helped by the presence of a number of good actors.Tough guy Gene Evans, whose story is told in flashback, stars as Gannon, a big time criminal planning a break out where his fellow convicts will get gun parts smuggled in from connections outside, hidden in boxes of large soap cakes,conceal them inside bales of jute being stored in the mill area, and assemble them until they are ready to use. In the climax, where the prisoners all burst out of their cells, taking food from the canteen and generally rioting, there is an exhilarating rush from seeing these men strive for their freedom. The Evans character, however, deliberately lets others be killed by the guards he knows are waiting on the other side, so he can selfishly sneak over a wall a different way on his own. Robert Blake co-stars as a young Latino convict Gannon grooms to become embittered enough to help them. Rather than hire a real Latino performer, Hollywood at the time often used actors with a vaguely swarthy background (Blake came from Italian stock) and cast them as Mexicans or Indians. There is a subplot involving the trouble the Blake character gets into with the heavy set captain of the guards, played by Walter Barnes, who is a racist: At one point the Latino is called a "little chili picker," at another the captain tells a group of inmates speaking Spanish, "From now on you monkeys better stick to English."Timothy Carey delivers another of his patented weirdo jobs as Bugsy, running a racket inside. John Qualen as an older prisoner acts as more of an observer, who stands back and reacts to what is going down with bemused, quizzical expressions. And in a somewhat smaller role Emile Meyer is on hand as the warden. He had previously played the warden in the much superior, Don Siegel directed prison film, Riot In Cell Block 11. Meyer was usually cast as an authority figure: a police official or detective, or a sheriff if in a Western.
The Steel Jungle (1956)
Pretty Good Prison Vehicle For Perry Lopez
Perry Lopez is one of a number of not so well known actors of Latino ancestry who tried to make a career in old Hollywood, with its prejudices and casting limitations. This fairly conventional prison picture gives him a rare starring role, in which he acquits himself admirably, as a bookie trying to support a wife and a baby she's going to have soon. He thinks "the combination," as they call it in the parlance of the time, will pay off the judge to keep him from going to jail when he's caught, but no dice. The prison scenes are enlivened by the presence of stalwart tough guys Ted De Corsia (as combination honcho ) and Leo Gordon (his enforcer) and by the cinematography of veteran Peverell Marley. There is an interesting scene in which the cops use what they describe as an "identicast" to get the neighbor of Lopez's wife to give a better description of two phony policemen she saw take the wife away from her apartment building. In a somewhat sappy conclusion, all ends well and the Lopez character gets out to see his wife again and their new baby. The writer-director Walter Doniger worked later mostly for TV, there is an excellent,detailed IMDb bio on him by fellow contributor I S Mowis.
Hot Rod (1950)
Fun Jimmy Lydon Vehicle A Treasure Trove Of Souped Up Cars
Hot Rod is a fun little Monogram, shot by the great silent cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton (Lonesome) and starring Jimmy Lydon, who'd played Henry Aldrich in that film series, as a likable school kid who is frustrated when his rival for the girls can show him off by driving faster in a souped up hot rod. The boy's father, played by Art Baker, is a strict judge who doesn't approve of such hot rods and only reluctantly allows his son even to get a car for his new job delivering the paper. In a somewhat contrived Hollywood plot detail the boy's older brother is one of the small town's cops. All works out well when the boy uses his car, which he has fixed up into a hot rod without his father knowing, to help apprehend a robber. Then the judge gives his OK to the opening of a legal timing strip, where the youth can work out their energies without getting into as much trouble. The boy's sidekick, Swifty, is played by a squeaky voiced Gil Stratton, who delivers some amusing humor, which reminded me a bit of the more well known smart aleck kid actor William Tracy. Those who are more into car culture than I am will get a kick out of seeing the period postwar automobiles that are used.
Stakeout on Dope Street (1958)
Interesting Early Youth/Drugs Entry
The underrated director Irvin Kershner is best known for the second Star Wars film but early in his career specialized in films and TV programs about troubled youth. I've seen an episode of the series Confidential File he directed on the danger posed to youngsters by comic books, and one of his best theatrical jobs, Hoodlum Priest. This was his first feature and has interesting credits: photography by Haskell Wexler (under a pseudonym)a jazz score by Richard Markowitz performed by the Hollywood Chamber Jazz Group, and as one of the three protagonists, Jim, a nice role for Haskell's younger brother Yale Wexler. Jonathan Haze, who would star two years later as Seymour in the cult success The Little Shop Of Horrors, plays one of the other boys, Ves. The story of teenagers finding abandoned drugs (at first they are so naive they think the heroin is pimple powder) suffers somewhat from obtrusive Dragnet-style narration and most of the other players are little known "B" performers. The treatment is also rather melodramatic, such as the climax in which Jim is pursued by syndicate thugs on his trail to the top of a power tower at night. But there is a long, striking sequence in which an older man, an addict named Danny, warns Jim in lurid detail about the consequences of drug addiction; as we see scenes of Danny writhing in a prison cell in withdrawal we hear his voice-over. The episode bears comparison to the more famous scenes of Ray Milland as an alcoholic having the DTs in The Lost Weekend Here and elsewhere in the picture Kershner and Wexler use high angles (e.g through the bars above the cell) for dramatic effect. The period detail of LA locations shot in 1957 such as a Redondo Beach bowling alley also includes some curious dated slang.
Unusual, Politically Ominous Veterans Noir
It is unusual to start a film with a sequence of an American flag, flying outside a building, and have it not accompanied by the usual rah-rah-rah patriotic music but instead by a dramatic ominous, sinister cue. That's because in Violence the flags front a disturbing sort of Fascist scam called The United Defenders, trying to recruit World War II veterans who may be dissatisfied with late 1940s conditions into stirring up demonstrations of hatred which can then be used by powerful wealthy sources behind the scenes, for their own purposes. This opening further develops into a contrast between the dark basement of the building, where thugs played by Sheldon Leonard and Peter Whitney beat up (and eventually kill) a veteran who has broken with them; and the brightly lit upstairs office. Nancy Coleman, an interesting minor actress, plays the secretary who has a somewhat overplayed tic of holding her hands to her face to indicate nervousness. We learn she is really working undercover for a magazine that's about to publish an expose of this racket. In one of those plot twists which noirs are famous for, she gets amnesia in a car accident, which complicates things, but a friendly man played by Michael O'Shea who is also trying to infiltrate the group helps her. I was reminded, in one scene where a young veteran stands up to question the bullying True Dawson, leader of the group (acted in a rather loud and hammy style by Emory Parnell) of the scene in the recent film The Master where a participant in the cult presided over by Philip Seymour Hoffman dares to question their mumbo-jumbo, and what happens to him. The film culminates in a neat ending where a mysterious, darkly lit figure known as Mister X, who was going to give the United Defenders a big bankroll until one of their violent riots went astray, is trying to slip out of town on a train. We recognize him only by the signet ring he wore in an earlier scene. The scene leaves it up to our imagination if and how he will be apprehended. Violence has its crudities: an overly emphatic music score,and story points that stretch credibility, but it is of great interest as an expression of murky political turmoil in the early US Cold War years.
Good Little B Noir Offers Nice Role For Jane Frazee
Jane Frazee was one of those pleasant but minor actresses you would run across in B movies from the 1940s. In Incident she has one of her best roles as an undercover insurance agent trying to track down an inside job where crooks have been stealing valuable mink coats from a store. She has been hanging out in the neighborhood in question when she runs across a stockbroker, played by Warren Douglas, who has been victimized one night walking home from dinner with two friends. This noir plot is one of those things about how if one had only done one little thing differently, a number of other consequences that followed wouldn't have happened. Here Douglas, after being mistaken for a gangster who has supposedly ratted on his fellows to the cops,doesn't give up but keeps returning to the neighborhood to get involved further. Meanwhile Frazee puts herself at risk by moving into the same apartment building where the thief lives, flirting with him, and going out to a club with him for dinner. The actor who plays this crook (Slats) named Robert Osterloh looks somewhat by the way like Dennis Hopper. In one enjoyable scene Frazee gets in a tussle in the ladies room with the thief's girlfriend, with the result that the badge identifying her as an agent falls out and she gets in further trouble. This minor crime entry is competently directed by silent veteran William Beaudine, who was famous for not spending too much time on his takes. There is a nice opening, with narration, where we see theater marquees by night, showing the current releases Red River and Johnny Belinda.
A Fever in the Blood (1961)
Interesting Drama MIxes Political Campagning With Courtroom
The premise of A Fever In The Blood is three men who are interested in running for governor. One of them, an aggressive DA (played by Jack Kelly) may remind viewers with a longer memory of the character played by Claude Rains in an earlier Warner Brothers film, They Won't Forget- an unscrupulous attorney who prosecutes an innocent man so he can rise to political power. The other two are a corrupt Senator played by the aging Don Ameche and a somewhat flawed trial judge played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr Another aging actor Herbert Marshall is a welcome presence in several scenes as the former governor. Though the attractive Angie Dickinson is wasted as the wife of Ameche, really in love with Zimbalist. The courtroom scenes, which are fairly convincing, center on the murder of a society wife, which we saw in the dramatic opening. Marshall's nephew is wrongly accused though it is the gardener (whose sweaty nervousness is somewhat over played) who we have seen did it. In the course of the proceedings several aspects are brought in which we might take for granted today but were not commonly referred to at that time under the Hollywood production code: the victim's sexual promiscuity, the accused's girlfriend having solicited an abortion (referred to as "an illegal operation") and the judge ordering a telephone wiretap of a conversation between the DA and his partner. There is also a brief mention in the script of the previous year's Presidential candidate Nixon having used the prosecution of Hiss to promote his own success. This was one of the last features directed by WB veteran Vincent Sherman, before he went over to TV, but it shows little of the dynamic studio style that he displayed in his 1940's melodramas. It is a slick production, with sharp but somewhat overly bright lensing by Peverell Marley,and jarring, abrupt transitions between scenes that would not have been the case in the 1940s editing format. Only with the camera pulling back in the big nominating convention scene at the end, when Zimbalist is convinced by Dickinson to re-enter the fray, do we get a sense of Sherman's former finesse.
Act One (1963)
Interesting Background Of Play, Once In A Lifetime
Act One is of interest for, among other things, being the only film directed by producer Dore Schary. As previous reviewers have commented, it is somewhat bland and disappointing.Perhaps instead of pretty boy,but not much of an actor,George Hamilton in the lead as budding playwright Moss Hart, the original casting possibility of Anthony Perkins, who could have drawn on his own theatrical background as the son of actor Osgood Perkins, would have been better. I am though a big fan of the 1932 movie version of Once In A Lifetime and this biopic focuses on the production, and somewhat tedious rewriting process, of this first Hart comedy and finally his first Broadway success. I hadn't realized that in the original play Hart's collaborator George S Kaufman (played here by Jason Robards Jr) trod the boards himself in the part of the playwright, done in the 1932 film by Onslow Stevens. It was also noteworthy that Hart was able to write a satire on Hollywood without ever yet having been to California. Act One makes a bit too much of Hart's nervousness during the performances and constantly having to go to the bathroom. The best scene is a "tea" party put on by Kaufman's wife (played by Ruth Ford) in which the young Hart is suddenly introduced to a group of celebrities. Except for his yet to be famous friend Archie Leach (played by Bert Convy) whom we see several scenes with, we are frustrated that Act One doesn't make more of these other remarkable people.
Protsess o tryokh millionakh (1926)
Smart, Sparkling Satire On Capitalist Thievery
Three Thieves (also known on You Tube as The Case Of The Three Million) is one of three known film adaptations of the 1907 novella "I Tre Ladri," by Italian writer Umberto Notari. A previous (lost?) Russian version was released before the Revolution in 1916, a much later Italian remake, designed as a vehicle for the popular comedian Toto, came out in 1954.One can see why the story appealed especially to the Russians as it parallels and then brings together crooked behavior from three parts of society: a poor bum, Tapioca, who lives by stealing; a classy society type, Cascarilla; and a wealthy elderly banker, Ornano.Ornano has just made a shady deal involving a few monks and has three million he stashes overnight, until his bank reopens, at his villa. Tapioca gets wind of this and plans to sneak over and get the money. Meanwhile the banker's wife, Noris, says goodbye to her lover, a military man named Guido, as she expects her husband's return. Ornano complicates things by deciding, after a dream, to go back to the villa and make sure the money is safe. In the meantime a letter Noris has sent her lover, advising him to meet her later that night at the villa, gets exchanged by mistake with one for Cascarilla, who we see playing cards. He decides to go to the villa and besides helping himself to the money flirt with the banker's wife. Tapioca and Cascarilla, who are acquainted from before as fellow crooks, run into each other in the still empty mansion. While Cascarilla occupies himself with the wife, Tapioca hides up on the roof, where he falls asleep and is caught the next morning by the police after Ornano realizes he has been robbed. The denouement hinges on Tapioca becoming a celebrity because of the size of the heist he is credited with pulling off; in the jail he is given special treatment and Noris even comes to visit him, mistakenly thinking the other, more handsome thief Cascarilla is the one in prison A charming touch shows Tapioca's abandoned apartment, where he kept a cat, full of fellow felines who have taken over while he is away! In the climax, a big trial scene, Cascarilla suddenly appears in court, claims he is the real thief, and showers the crowd with the money, In the hubbub he and Tapioca escape together. Cascarilla reveals on the road that the money he distributed was fake and that he has the real bills, which he divides with Tapioca. In the last scene we see Tapioca, now rich and elegant, almost ripped off by an elderly bum who filches a glove from his pocket. Tapioca hypocritically pronounces the moral of the tale, which is not so much that this particular glove is precious, but the principle, that we heard expressed before, that private property is sacred. When we think of Soviet works from this era we usually recall the heavier montage classics by Eisenstein,Pudovkin,and Dovzhenko, but there were also lighter, more entertaining titles like this one, that showed an equal degree of style. The director, Protazanov, had made movies before the Revolution, emigrated to France where he worked on a few films, then returned to Russia, where besides this one he is known for an early science fiction entry, Aelita.
Ishayat hub (1961)
Lightly Amusing Farce Has Unusual Early Role For Omar Sharif
"The Agony Of Love," also known as "The Rumor Of Love," made a nice homage for me to watch after the news of Omar Sharif's passing. While we recall him as a romantic idol from his later films, it's interesting that in at least this one of his Egyptian entries he played the more offbeat role of a shy, awkward, romantically clumsy nerd. The source material is actually a 1925 three act American play by John Emerson and Anita Loos, "The Whole Town's Talking,"which was made into a Hollywood movie in 1926 starring Edward Everett Horton.The main plot device that's shared is that the hero's family try to make him more appealing to women- specifically to his visiting cousin who he secretly pines for- by stirring up a rumor that he has had a past fling with a famous actress. The story opens, after a pre-credit scene of women gossiping, with the wife, Bahiga, of businessman Abd-El-Kader trying to find out what he's up to. The businessman's male secretary Mahrous, who we later learn is his nephew, is expert at making up voices and fools the wife by pretending her husband is at work while we later find he has been out partying, we see him return home at night, tipsy. Abd El Kader also gets his second nephew, Hussien (Omar Sharif) to cover for him as well. Sharif appears at their breakfast with a mustache and thick glasses, his aunt also criticizes the out of style striped suit he's wearing. We see from the way Hussien looks at a photo of their daughter, his cousin Samiha, on the wall, that he has an unrequited love for her. As the three men go back to work in the office, Hussien's uncle tells him he is too honest and blunt about things,and that he needs to learn to be more dishonest.The wife finds out about her husband's trickery when Mahrous pretends once again that El Kader is at work, while we have seen him actually flirting with another woman by the beach. Their daughter arrives from Cairo to Port Said, where the story is set, accompanied by a mod-looking young man with long hair and a flashy shirt, who goes by the strange name of Lucy. The father thinks he is a girl and makes nothing but derogatory comments about him (at one point the father, meaning to be sarcastic, compares him to James Dean.) But Lucy appeals to Samiha, he has been around, in addition to throwing out the bits of French that we hear these upper class Egyptians do, he shows he can sing(and dance) in both Italian and Turkish! He is also Samiha's cousin. Her parents argue over who she should marry, which gets El Kader started on a plan to make Hussien more attractive. He asks Mahrous to get Hussien a new suit and then practice, as if he were a woman, flirting with him. In a night club scene Samiha and Lucy dance. This is Hussien's opportunity, shaved and better looking without glasses, to try out his new moves on some of the young ladies, though he has no idea how to dance. El Kader then fakes that other women have been after Hussien, by leaving forged evidence, in a place where their maid will discover it,that he was involved with a famous Egyptian movie actress, Hind Rostom. Mahrous uses his vocal skills to pretend to be her on the phone. The father overplays, but enjoyably so, his role of outrage at Hussien's supposedly scandalous behavior. The girls spread gossip along the beach, and instead of her previous simplicity Samiha dolls herself up to be more like an actress. But in a late plot development Hind Rostom herself (played by the real life Hind Rostom) shows up, accompanied by her tall football player fiancé Adel, who jealously knocks down any rival, Lucy who's been around knows him and brings both the fiancé and the actress to the house to stir up trouble. To get back at her overly suspicious fiancé, the actress pretends she actually does know Hussien and what's more brings along a little boy actor, who we have seen on stage with her as part of their touring act, to pretend he is their love child! In the climax Adel and Hussein keep running across the stage during the play that the actress is trying to perform, as the football player chases the so-called lover. Finally they all take bows, as the curtain repeatedly opens and closes, in a testament to the theatricality of all of this piece. While I only laughed out loud a few times during this farce, I was intrigued by the casting of Sharif in this comic role and eager to see more of his talented Egyptian co-stars. And I am really curious to see the Edward Everett Horton version, if it still survives. (In that version the actress was played by Dolores Del Rio.)
Interesting Drama Of Peasants Vs.Kulaks
Ermler's "Peasants," like the earlier Dovzhenko classic "Earth" or Barnet's "The Thaw," deals with the conflict during the Soviet period of collectivization of agriculture between the poorer farm folk and the more well off property owners, dubbed "kulaks" by the Stalinists. The film is dedicated to Kirov,the Leningrad party leader, potential rival to Stalin, who had recently been assassinated. It opens with a woman sleeping, followed by cute images of pigs nearby in their farm stalls, she is at peace with her surroundings. We will later learn this is Varvara Nechayeva Platinovich, the heroine.(She is also called Varya for short)Her husband,Gerasim, joins her, we learn that he is a kulak, whose family has been dispossessed,some of them executed, he will later worry about what more might happen to them, such as deportation to Siberia. Then we see her brother, Egor Nechayev.There is talk of how the collective's animals may need to be sold to others with money, as there is not enough land to raise fodder to feed them with.A meeting of the village council, with some argument, ensues,people are waiting for Nikolai Mironovich, the district commissar, to arrive and help. There is a nice scene of the husband and wife resting by the water, he plays on the flute. Then we see the leader driving into the farm, there will be a big sequence where he and others enjoy home made pelmeni (dumplings)around a table. It is recommended that the villagers weed shrubs to clear land for pig fodder. (We also see on the farm a cow and some ducks.) Meanwhile Gerasim drives a mare-drawn cart, his mother in the back, furiously by night to a nearby town to learn more about what may happen to his family. In an amusing animated sequence, Varya dreams in bed about walking through a town with none other than Stalin, and a little child that Stalin is holding up! Her husband returns to their bed, they argue, he strikes her down dead, then paces about, He drags her body to the barn where he hangs her up from the rafters, there is a letter she's written about how if the collective, which we learn she had applied to join in 1929, fails, she has no other option but the noose; so Gerasim makes it look like she killed herself, and later throws the weapon he slew her with into a well. The leader reads her letter aloud to the members, then we see them clearing and burning shrubs. Nikolai has taken sick, and as he lies in a bed with a picture of Lenin above, Egor visits him and plays flute music to him. This is followed by a picturesque scene of Nikolai recovering in an old fashioned Russian bath house, all of the men and boys completely nude, one man beating Nikolai with some leaves. Gerasim is discovered after some questioning and a young Komsomol boy taking an oath to be guilty, and is apprehended. The collective is renamed for Varvara, with a plaque we see at the end, in honor of this victim of the kulaks. Ermler's film is propagandistic and melodramatic, but realized with some visual flair. It was apparently a favorite of the more modern Russian director Tarkovsky.
Beautifully Visualized Feminist Statement From Soviet Golden Age
"Woman's World" is now available in a lovely copy, but with somewhat crudely translated and woefully mistimed subtitles, on You Tube under an alternate, and perhaps more appropriate title, "The Trial Should Continue." (This also helps distinguish it from the totally different, slick 1950's Hollywood movie called Woman's World.) It is a beautifully visualized feminist statement from the last years of the golden age of Soviet silent cinema. The story involves what should be the place for women in the developing Russian industrial workplace. At the beginning, five men are on trial in a crowded people's court, accused of raping a female laboratory assistant in the Elektrozavod plant.A husband (S Langovoy) does not want his wife Mashka (Raisa Yesipova) to continue to work there, he argues with her that a wife's place should be in the home. There's a nice touch when after they have both left the frame the camera lingers on their empty apartment and several of the objects in it. The wife walks through the lonely night streets by the river and comes to the entrance of the plant, lit by night, just as the door swings open and an agronomist(P Molchanov) working late drives out. He offers her a ride, she is at first grateful but then when he comes on to her, putting his arm around her, she asks him to stop and gets out of the car. As it starts to rain she sits alone in a park. A lamp overhead reminds her of the lighting tubes in the workplace.The attorney assigned to the five suspects, who we have seen earlier refusing to defend them, suddenly walks by and she lands up going to his home. But another misunderstanding ensues when he in turn comes on to her, taking her for a woman of the streets, and offers her money (What the intertitle calls "the normal price") She leaves and the next morning lands up on a bench with another woman, a prostitute, who has just received money, shows it to her, and repeats the words of the intertitle about the normal price. The attorney walks by, she asks him if he is any better than the five men he refused to defend, and tries to stop his horse drawn carriage when he attempts to pull away. We next see Mashka on a bed in the workplace, resting. The agronomist, with some nerve, visits her and continues to molest her, so she throws a glass at him, Other workers come in to comfort her and throw him out.Meanwhile her husband, in the office, reiterates that she should not be working there but should stay at home, which the other workers argue with him about. We are back to the courtroom verdict,the film's climax. After the men are sentenced and denounced not only for the rape but for harming socialism,and the crowd starts to file out, Mashka takes to the floor and denounces the two men who molested her as well as her husband. A dramatic spotlight, somewhat expressionistically, focuses on her, then on the men she has pointed to. As the crowd surrounds her, she makes her powerful plea that "the trial should continue," for these kind of men. If the message of this film sounds a bit heavy handed, it is conveyed quite effectively through the photography, the close ups, and the editing. It is an obscure work that is worth rediscovery.
Slight Story Of Bickering Young Lovers, But Colorful Ethnic Music
The title "Lyana" comes from the heroine, full Russian name Ilyana, a brunette singer from a youth music group in an ethnic collective in Moldavia, one of the former Soviet republics. The film has one of the loveliest opening scenes in any works I've seen by its director, Boris Barnet: the camera tracks a young man, dressed up and carrying a briefcase, as he moves outdoors into a landscape of sheep and terraced fields; he blows on his trumpet, kids run to join him, start to dance, then other musicians follow. He is Alexei (Alesha) one of a likable trio of instrumentalists who are on their way to a competition at the Moldavian National Theater. We next meet Andrei, who is in a home with his girlfriend, Lyana of the title, and an older man we learn is her grandfather. Several vehicles take off with the troupe. Their commune, called New Life, performs three numbers, in their colorful costumes, in the next scene in the concert hall:A folk song sung by Lyana with Andrei on the violin; a folk dance; and a third number, added with some disagreement. A panel of 8 judges takes notes on their performance and awards them diplomas. As the trio of three young men (Grigori or Grisha is the third) go back to the country, an entrepreneur coaxes them into playing for money at three weddings which are along the way, and they reluctantly agree. At one of these weddings there are intercut shots of women working in the nearby vineyards against the wind. The trio hide when their collective supervisor, Stepan, turns up, as they don't want him to see what they're doing,and they land up sleeping in the fields, where a plane comes by in the morning to spray the crops and awakens them.The three boys are reprimanded for their misbehavior and are next seen holed up studying for their duties on the farm, in agronomy. Meanwhile we see Lyana rehearsing to go to the next stage of musical competition, in Moscow, with other performers replacing the three boys, in a hall which the trio then enter. Another girl, Lyana's friend Paraschiva, flirts with the trumpeter Alexei, and they dance together in the road. She connives, with the help of the other two boys, to get Lyana and Andrei, who are bickering, back together, but Andrei resents the matchmaking. There is an interesting scene where the members of the collective watch a newsreel one evening showing the appearance we saw of them at the National Theater. But a section of the vineyard that the three boys were responsible for doesn't turn out well, they hadn't tied the vines properly, and they are chastised by Stepan. No hope for them now to go to Moscow. The entrepreneur who they had linked up with earlier returns, he has fallen on hard times and the trio eat grapes with him in the fields. We then see the train headed for Moscow, the crowds outdoors at the International Youth Festival, and fireworks. The grapes are harvested back home. Lyana and Andrei both apply to leave the New Life commune, so they can be apart from each other,but wouldn't you know they land up back together, in a sappy ending. From this description you'll realize that "Lyana" has a rather banal story of young lovers, The movie is at its best when it focuses on the trio of ethnic musicians, and the early scenes of the group showing their talents reminded me a bit of the ethnic music that has graced so many of the films of Kusturica.
Staryy naezdnik (1941)
Lightweight Barnet Shows Horse Racing In 1940 Moscow
Betting at the racetrack may sound like a decadent capitalist pursuit but it's the basis for Soviet auteur Boris Barnet's cute if lightweight entry. There is nothing political or ideological about this one. Trofimov, an elderly jockey (played by Sergei Blinnikov) been riding as a jockey since the turn of the century, though the Moscow Hippodrome crowd now mocks him for his slowness. But despite his 64 years he is strong enough to defeat his rival at arm wrestling. The scene moves to the country where Trofimov's granddaughter Maria(sweetly played by Aleksandra Denissova)is parachute jumping before a crowd . She receives by bicycle courier a recording from him, inviting her to the city as he is getting married again. Her boyfriend Marechka is too shy to tell her how he feels and consults with his friend the barber. In the city a little boy helps Maria sneak into the Hippodrome. Two bettors try to pick her brain for advice on the horses, when they find out who she is, do well enough to splurge in the adjoining restaurant, and then leave her to pay the bill. Amusingly,she pours all the different liquors they have ordered and not finished into one large kvass container she had brought from the country. She takes her grandfather back to the collective farm, where there are lovely shots of the stable horses in the morning mist. But he doesn't like it there and she has to chase after him It turns out the horse she has borrowed to stop him, named Egorka, is remarkably fast, so he returns with her to do something with that. A subplot involves the elderly woman doctor of the village (played by Anna Komolova) whose car keeps getting stuck on the road. Finally she decides to get a horse and wouldn't you know it the one she wants is Egorka. But a year later they are all back in Moscow, with Marechka now riding Egorka for Trofimov. Maria faints with excitement when their horse triumphs. Toward the end there is another nice image, of the revolving doors of the Hippodrome entrance, with the young lovers caught inside them. This is a pleasant little charmer, with good use of Russian character actors, even if it is a minor work in Barnet's career.
Odnazhdy nochyu (1945)
Few Films On Wartime Survival Have Such A Sense Of Space
Fires burn in the night and we hear the sound of machine guns as figures struggle through a wartime landscape. It is Russia in the last year of its war with Nazi Germany, and the film, Dark Is The Night, was actually shot under the harsh conditions of 1944. A girl who will become the heroine of the story takes shelter in an abandoned, ruined school, she believes her family has all been killed. We follow her (with director Boris Barnet's fluid use of moving camera) into another ruined building, where she identifies herself as Varya, to three Russian crewmen who we later learn crashed their plane in this city and are wanted by the occupying Germans.Their names are Ivan, Lyosha, and Sasha. Later her missing grandmother appears and the two women clean up the place, a man who scurries about like a toady, working for the Germans, advises them that the place is being turned into military headquarters. Varya shelters the pilots and does several things to conceal them from the enemy, such as singing a consoling song to hide any sound, and hanging out linen. She reads Sasha, as he is dying, a letter that he had received which he is unable to see well. A doctor, Orlov, arrives, she asks him for medicine, and later gets some morphine. As three other characters lurk in the darkness, a German commandant, Colonel Betts,played by Barnet himself,warns them about hiding prisoners, and shoots two of them.The citizens are summoned to the arena of an abandoned circus where several of the elders are encouraged to speak about collaborating. Instead an older man courageously urges them not to cooperate, and guns are fired. Both of the men Varya is hiding now decide to get out, one at a time. Her aunt Ulyana also turns up. But a German officer follows her as she moves through the space that we have now become familiar with, to her attic hideout, and when he asks her to remove the hanging linen she shoots him. She and the grandmother then appear before the commandant to answer about what happened to the missing officer. The Germans later arrive in her area to search, this time with a dog, and eventually track her to the attic,where the remaining pilot still is. When the linen comes down again, it appears that Varya has been shot. Explosions in the night follow, we see cannons and tanks with the Russian star advancing, the Germans along with their toady fleeing. Now it is Russians who enter the building. They find Varya, who has survived after all (contrary to the inaccurate plot outline above)and one of the crew she sheltered, recognizing her and embracing her, vows vengeance. This story of wartime resistance may seem similar to anti-Nazi movies made around the same time in Hollywood, but because of the gritty conditions under which it was shot it has a feeling similar to the neo-realist war films of Roberto Rossellini that would be made in Italy also at that time. The evocation of the particular space in which the heroine shelters the men is remarkable, and stays in the memory.
Shchedroe leto (1951)
Prettified Color View Of Collective Farm In Post WWII Russia
In "Bountiful Summer,"a later work, in color,we see some of the feeling for landscape and the lyrical quality that graced a number of Russian director Boris Barnet's earlier films. The setting is a collective farm called "Forward," and the first of the main characters, Oksana, is introduced among a group of young women arriving by train to a town of the Ukraine; she is singled out as a heroine of labor for her achievement in the industrial sector, but now she is going to work in the countryside. The first of several songs occurs (the movie is almost a musical) when the townspeople go down the street with her,accompanied by accordions. In a second musical sequence another girl, Vera Gorosko, is introduced singing atop a haystack on a wagon being driven by two oxen; a man Piotr joins her in song, until she falls into the water. As they meet and talk she mentions how she admires Oksana. Piotr, who has returned from the war, joins his old friend Nasar and Nasar's mother in their home, they have started their life anew as well.Piotr mentions that he has no family or relatives, from which a Russian viewer would have inferred that he lost them all during the war. There is a third song with Piotr and Nasar on the accordion.Oksana and other girls arrive to share a family feast with Piotr and Nasar, as the mother heaps piles of food on the table, suggesting that post WWII Russians were not struggling to survive. Nasar talks about his impending marriage in the fall. As the women go to work in the fields, Vera chides her squad to work as hard as that of Oksana, with whom they are going to compete. Meanwhile Piotr is taken to the office where he will be working, and starts an argument when an older official thinks he is meddling and changing things. The two friends argue as well, but Piotr makes his case before the whole group.We then see the older man keeping track of how much milk is coming from the cows. In a visually lovely moment after the work day the two friends row in a boat toward the women, who are singing and eating under the trees by a fire. Finally we have the scenes of the harvest, as mechanization has been brought in. The two women's groups compete for the best statistics. At the end of the film, we see other kinds of animals on display, and the crowd sings, which builds up to the obligatory conclusion, a speech praising Stalin, whose larger photo towers over the other ones around it. "Bountiful Summer" could be criticized for projecting a rosy, romanticized view of labor on a collective farm. On the other hand most American films of the time did not deal much with people actually working, so the emphasis in the Russian movies, even if propagandistic, on the working class makes an interesting contrast. It is also an intriguing entry in the still underrated oeuvre of its director.Its sense of relative optimism and exuberance stands in contrast to the darker, more brooding black and white films of his I've seen from the 1940's, with their strong feeling of struggle.
Stranitsy zhizni (1948)
Women's Friendship In 30's-40's Building Of Soviet Union
Pages Of Life is of interest as a film by the great Russian director Boris Barnet even though it may be off-putting to some as a typical sounding example of Soviet propagandistic ideology from the Stalin era. Nina the heroine is one of many we see at the beginning coming from all corners of the growing new country in the early 1930s to help in its construction, specifically in Kharkov,She seems lost but Dusia, the older woman in charge of her work brigade, guides her.The brigade triumphs under Dusia's leadership but using an invention by the younger Nina. There are also two men in the story: an engineer Khomutov whose principle will later be used and a teacher Valerian.The story continues through stormy weather in the mid 1930s and into the early World War II years as Nina goes away from Kharkov, we see the Ural mountains from her train and hear of the big battle going on at Stalingrad. Nina has gotten married and is devastated by her husband's death during the war. She takes out her frustration on an older worker, when something goes wrong during the making of cement and she berates him on how the cement could have been used to help on the front. Then she learns the old man was upset himself, by the loss of his family in the war, and she consoles him and lets him get back to work. After brief scenes of marching and celebration in 1944-5 the two women go back to the ruins of Kharkov to rebuild. Nina recalls some lines of a poem about love we had seen her husband earlier recite from memory. There is an accident when something she recommends, based on Khomutov's thinking, causes a collapse, but during the scene in which they argue over what happened a younger worker explains it was not the fault of Nina or Khomutov. We see a young girl approaching with a suitcase, also appearing lost, which reminds Nina and Dusia of where they were 16 years before at the start of the story,but now their workplace is enormous and there are huge pictures of Stalin overlooking the hall. Nina gives a speech, in this somewhat hard to take final scene, about what she and her comrades have done to help the growth of Communism. While there is more dialogue in this movie (the version I saw from You Tube has Italian subtitles only) there is a visual fluidity if not as much interest as in earlier ones by this director. The main strength is the portrait of the bond between the two women, much as in his lovely By The Bluest Of Seas the setup is the bond between the two men.
Bond Street (1948)
Anton De Grunwald's Interesting Episode Film About A Dress,A Pearl,A Veil, And Flower
Episode films like this tend to be uneven. In "The Pearl," the second of the four segments all set in London's exclusive shopping district after World War II, we have the most satisfying and visually interesting piece, a sort of noir short story. Derek Farr plays a crook on the run through the wet, shadowy night streets after robbing a jewelry store. He lands up in the apartment of a woman of the streets, who has also just committed a crime, stealing bills from a drunken older man who's flirted with her.While a brief romance develops between these two cynical, hard-bitten thieves, a pearl that has fallen out from Farr's loot,near an old woman sleeping on the street, leads to his being eventually captured by the police after he has shot his lover, and fled over the roofs into the floor show of a night club. The first episode, The Wedding Dress,has some interesting social commentary on class resentment during this period as frustrated,struggling seamstress Kathleen Harrison rips the dress she's supposed to get ready for a seemingly spoiled rich woman who's in a hurry. Her fellow workers show their solidarity by staying late to help her patch it up. In a twist the rich woman is shown to have problems of her own and the two land up bonding with each other In the third episode, The Veil, there is a nice performance by Leslie Howard's son Ron as a young commercial salesman who helps a woman in a clothing repair shop fend off her sleazy blackmailing husband. The fourth episode, The Flower, is more humorous and cute. Hollywood actor Roland Young is droll as the father of a bride to be who flirts with the bridegroom's old flame, a Scandinavian blonde the groom met during the war who has suddenly turned up.There is some topical commentary on postwar austerity as the restaurant they go to doesn't have some of the food the Scandinavian woman would expect to be able to order. There are other funny scenes where they go to a music business to request an obscure Danish drinking song and where Young manages to cleverly get ahead of the others in a line waiting for airplane tickets, which are much in demand. All in all this is a well produced entertainment. Though Gordon Parry is the director, and Terence Rattigan one of the writers, the true auteur of this portmanteau is producer/co-writer Anton De Grunwald, who would make similar episode films later, and with more big stars, even more elegance, and color, such as "The V.I.P.s" and "The Yellow Rolls Royce."
The Sophomore (1929)
Mildly Amusing College Comedy, Interesting For Director And Star
"The Sophomore," which the previous reviewer claims to have seen in its sound version, is a rarity by the great director Leo McCarey which has recently surfaced on YouTube in its silent version.It is a mildly amusing,at best cute, college comedy also of interest as a vehicle for the underrated, charming star Eddie Quillan. This version as it has been posted is missing the dice gambling scene, referred to by the previous user review and by the contemporary New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall,which explains why the sophomore of the title lost the funds with which to pay his tuition.Contrary to what the user review says, the Quillan character does not ask his mother for a loan; he is too proud, but the waitress in the soda shop where he tries to work covers for him, without telling him, borrowing in turn from her boss. There are some funny gags such as a distracting cat landing on the trail of the woman's gown Quillan goes on stage with for a school play, McCarey uses a similar gag later in one of his Bing Crosby religious films. This occurs in the first of the two extended comedy sequences. The use of drag by Quillan, who appears as the Princess in a corny medieval setting, is of historical curiosity, especially as the Quillan character later refers to himself disparagingly as "a powder puff" in an intertitle,and as we have seen him prancing about somewhat, for deliberate humorous effect, in the soda shop footage. In the second extended sequence he saves the day, but in a surprising way,when this clumsy, short, not especially athletic student is called upon to play in the football match finale. Let's hope the sound version also turns up, especially as there was a musical number in it, a song that the waitress, played by Sally O'Neill, croons to the sophomore.
The Lady from the Sea (1929)
Creaky Early Brit Sound Meller
The Lady From The Sea is a creaky early British talkie melodrama, of interest mainly for the young Ray Milland, before he came over to Hollywood, and for some nice cinematography. In fact the DVD I watched brought out especially well the sharp lighting and carefully thought out compositions from famous lenser Theodor Sparkuhl. Milland plays a lifeboatman off the dangerous English Goodwins coast who is injured at sea just before he is supposed to be married, to his childhood sweetheart. A French femme fatale(played by the exotic Mona Goya)whom he has rescued, flirts with him. When his brother tries to break up the threatening romance, she comes on to the brother instead, and he plays along so that the Milland character will give her up, but the brother suddenly dies in an accident. Despondent,the lifeboatman disappears just as his mother has taken sick. After a big rescue scene in a storm, he returns in time to see his mother recover and realize that his first love is really the one for him. The production was shot at Elstree studios but released stateside by Paramount.