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_Von Smaltz (Maids a la Mode, 1933)
_Captain Schmaltz (The Bargain of the Century, 1933)
_Heinie Schmaltz (Call Her Sausage, 1933)
_Schmaltz (The Rummy, 1933)
_Louie Schmaltz (Rhapsody in Brew, 1933)
_Schmaltz (Keg o’ My Heart, 1933)
_Mr Schmaltz (Movie Daze, 1934)
_Meyer Schmaltz (Music in Your Hair, 1934)
_Professor von Schwarzenhoffen (The Music Box, 1932)
_Dr Hofbrau (Nifty Nurses, 1934)
_Professor Emmanuel Frederick Gottfried Maximillian Wiesenfader (Violets in Spring, 1936)
_Dr Von Blatt (Who’s Looney Now?, 1936)
_Dr Van Loon (Swing Fever, 1937)
_Nikolas Popadopolis (Millions in the Air, 1935)
_George Poppupoppalas (Bulldog Edition, 1936)
_Joe Papaloupas (On the Avenue, 1937)
_George Papaloopas (Broadway Melody of 1938, 1937)
_Mr Papalapoulas (Maid’s Night Out, 1938)
_Joe Pettibone (His Girl Friday, 1940)
_Popopopoulos (One Night in Lisbon, 1941)
_Chef Popodopolis (Sleepytime Gal, 1942)
_Billy (Strange Innertube, 1932)
_Billy Gilbert (Taxi for Two, 1932)
_Billy Gilbert (Bring Em Back a Wife, 1933)
_Mr Gilbert (Asleep in the Feet, 1933)
_Mr Gilbert (Fallen Arches, 1933)
_Billy (Taxi Barons, 1933)
_Doc Gilbert (Roamin’ Vandals, 1934)
_Dr W.J. Gilbert (Nurse to You!, 1935)
_Billy (The Brain Busters, 1936)
_Billy (Sea Devils, 1937)
_Mr Gilbert (Block-Heads, 1938)
_Billy (Spotlight Revue, 1943)
_Billy (Crazy Knights, 1944)
Così ridevano (1998)
Mysteries of Turin
This film about the complicated bonds of love and loyalty between two brothers is carried forward on the strength of its mysteries. The profoundest mysteries inhere in the subject, of course; others arise from Gianni Amelio's elliptical, episodic approach. Beginning in 1958, the brothers are part of the Sicilian migration to the industrialized North of Italy, specifically to the city of Turin. The younger Pietro has been there for a year already, going to school; he's the White Hope of his family, the one with brains, expected to amount to something and chafing at the responsibility, though delighting in the bella figura he gets to cut. The elder brother Giovanni arrives intending just a short visit, but winds up staying on; at first sight he's a sweet-natured lunk, but then we see his steel. He goes to work to support Pietro's schooling; is exploited by the labor brokers who take an extortionate cut of the migrants' wages; little by little gets out from under them, and then replaces them: a familiar migrant's tale, one that usually brings tragedy in its wake.
Everyone in the film is more and different than a first estimate can take in. They make choices that defy our prediction. We see the effects, but learn the why and wherefore only partially, and always belatedly just before the story propels us forward a year or so in time, and we have to get our bearings all over again.
The large-scale recreation of the city of Turin in its historical moment is beautiful, melancholy and alluring. Amelio has a showman- poet's sense of just how long to tantalize us before pulling back to reveal the full scope of this wonder: those are moments of quiet awe. At times, too, the characters are foregrounded while the city stretches wide and deep miles deep behind them. It almost could be rear-projection or green-screen trickery, but then the characters turn and walk off into the distance, which is real. The city feels a living thing then. And as they move away from us there comes a pang, as if foreboding a time when the loss will be final.
El sol del membrillo (1992)
An essay in idleness
A documentary of a painter, painting, "Dream of Light" is at the same time a work of fiction. That's how it seems to go whenever a documentary takes narrative form: even the most straightforward story can only come about by shaping; and where you have shaping, fiction will get in, like dust you can't keep it out. You might as well welcome it (fiction, that is, not dust so much); consider it a feature, not a bug.
As you watch the artist in Victor Erice's film set up his painting apparatus, you may wonder where all his meticulousness is to lead. He is painting en plein air, but no Impressionist he; he carries Academic studio practice out of doors, and the lengths he goes to might give even some Academicians the quivers. The more you see of his method, the more there is to question; but given no explanation all you can do is watch and wait.
The time is summer, the subject is a quince tree in the garden. The painter, an elderly gent, goes about his work without hesitation or hurry: his confidence is palpable; it seems he knows what he's doing. The garden where he sets up is tiny, cramped between the wall to the street and the wall of his house. He starts by constructing a box- like frame around his tree. He puts dabs of white paint, then more and more of them, on branch and twig, leaf and fruit: a constellation of dots. A taut white string traverses and segments his field of vision, and a plumb-line, defining the vertical, segments it again. He locks and marks the position of his easel's legs, and the height of the rail on which his canvas rests. When he takes up his stance to paint, he drives nails into the ground marking where his feet go. His purpose, with all this marking and measuring, is to find his place, over the course of the work each day to find the exact place where he left off the previous day, despite all the changes brought on by weather, accident, or growth of the tree. He's in it for the long haul: you can almost hear him saying, I mean to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
Given the artist's structural, architectural set-up, you might think when he finally addressed himself to his canvas he'd first reach to the structure of his subject: that his brush in a stroke or two would find the spine in the quince's mottled trunk, or the essential geometry in its tangle of limbs. Or alternatively that he'd lay on areas of color, or of light and dark, to establish his picture's space, then work to refine it toward completion. What you wouldn't guess is that he'd begin, as he does, with cautious, abruptly punctuated strokes, to draw, in ghost gray, a short segment of a branch, as it presents itself to him near front and center of his tree with a stubby bit of twig extending up from it; and a forlorn little leaf, half-folded back upon itself. More like something from the margin of a sketchbook, this botanical detail floats, alone, in the middle of his blank white canvas: floats there for days it seems, as he works at an inchworm crawl, with rubbing and corrections, to get the bark ridges just right, the texture. This is drawing; and please, sir, when will we have painting?
Are we even supposed to ask? Whether the artist ever used this method before, and whether it proved successful, we can't know. Has he set himself up to fail? Erice quiets us with the sensual calm that holds the scene and all in it. And the very definiteness of the old man's activity wants to persuade us that all will be well. So does his whole demeanor: he wears such a lived-in face; and is too absorbed in what he's doing to put on a show for us. Visitors drop by; conversation is desultory, a bit of reminiscence mixed in; the tip-tap of workers' hammers somewhere off. Summer seems endless, though it's passing away. The camera, like a patient naturalist, observes, does not interrogate and the artist-subject, being asked no questions, answers none, but simply goes about his business.
Guilty Hands (1931)
An inside-out murder mystery, one in which you know who dunnit and watch only to see if he can get away with it, "Guilty Hands" gets right down to business, as it has to - this isn't the kind of material that can take much stretching. It's already a bit of a stretch. But in a good way.
At just over an hour, the film is essentially a programmer, never meant to be the main attraction of a night's entertainment. Exhibitors would pair it with a bigger picture, and add a couple of specialty shorts, choosing from among the available cartoons, song plugs, and travelogs. A night at the movies ca. 1931 set the pattern for a night around the TV-set in later decades. On that analogy, "Guilty Hands" is like a middling-to-better episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; it even sports an opening hook worthy of that show: a voice in the dark, talking of crime, says that a really clever fellow might commit a perfectly undetectable murder - and that under some circumstances, murder might be justified.
The dark room turns out to be the smoking lounge of a train passing through a long tunnel, and soon after we come into the light the speaker, a lawyer who has in his varied career both prosecuted and defended murderers, finds himself in a tight spot that practically invites him to put his theory into practice. Lionel Barrymore, as the lawyer, leads a cast who do nothing short of a good professional job of putting across the high and low mischief that ensues. Barrymore's target, a rich rotter played by Alan Mowbray, is so dried out with debauchery that it comes as a surprise how much fight he has in him when he knows he's a marked man - cussedness seems to get his juices flowing. Soulful-eyed Kay Francis, as Mowbray's lover and (she hopes) Barrymore's nemesis, moves with the right mixture of languor and ardor - her character is half vamp, half noble sufferer - but she's been directed in one scene into some hambone-pantomime attitudes of terror, a style of acting that was already terribly old-fashioned in 1931. She does it expertly, and she's so beautiful we'd want to go on watching her anyway; still, the fustian is unfortunate. Less lucky in their roles are Madge Evans, as Barrymore's daughter, and the lad who plays her ideal young suitor: both characters are so bland the actors can do nothing with them but say their lines and try not to look too foolish. They manage it, and the film doesn't linger over them.
Not lingering is the movie's best tactic for wriggling past its occasional weaknesses, especially the implausible motivation of that daughter character - she is possibly a watered down version of whatever the writer originally intended. The brisk pace comes from the makers' showbiz savvy; and if there was watering down, it was likely caution based on the same kind of wisdom about "what the traffic will bear." Those pre-code movies were seldom as daring as they're now cracked up to be; they were bent on entertaining, and a little bit of salaciousness could stir the plot - but they tried not to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.
Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have, to wear away this long age of three hours between our after-supper and bed-time? "Guilty Hands," plus a couple of shorts - and another, better movie, thanks.
He Walked by Night (1948)
Not a little masterpiece as some of its fans would claim, "He Walked by Night" is just standard cheapie police-procedural: a manhunt for a cop killer, with the police techniques spelled out as if for an audience of simpletons. What distinguishes it from dozens of similar movies is the very energetic light-and-shadow work by cinematographer John Alton. Alton's brief must have been, in the first place, to disguise the low-budget deficiencies of the production (unable to shoot sound on location, unable to build elaborate sets); and he succeeds in covering them up, but then he keeps going, and going . . . until the film becomes a black-and-white graphic-arts explosion. (The editing is a let-down though, merely smooth and adequate, not up to the mark of the photography.) The sound design (although it wasn't called that back then) is sharp and inventive too, especially the noises and voices at a crowded streetside investigation late at night, and the echo after the concluding gunshot.
A promising young actor named Richard Basehart, still new to films, plays the killer at the center of it all, and he holds us right from the start; but as it soon becomes apparent the film isn't going to explore his character, it turns into a hollow exercise. There's a scarily intense self-surgery - no on-screen gore, but we can read every detail in Basehart's face. The other actors are a drab bunch, especially the ones playing cops, with the exception of Jack Webb, who takes advantage of his colleagues' mopishness to indulge in some shameless scene-stealing: it's petty theft - he ought to be ashamed. Dependable Whit Bissell plays a shopkeeper, dependably.
Ankhon Dekhi (2013)
I might be wrong . . .
An Indian film (Hindi) - old Bauji, narrating by way of introduction, tells us he has a recurring dream of "flying through the clouds," and the camera hovers above the little kitchen where his extended family's meals are prepared; it drifts through a window and hovers above the narrow lane, meanders over a tangle of streets, and drifts up to the tops of the buildings in Delhi - it's a twilight hour, the sky is like a glowing bruise for color, and down below it's quiet, no one about - then we are back in the apartment, and all is commotion: Bauji's young niece Rita has been out with a boy whose reputation is not good - the whole family, three generations, make an uproar about it. When some of the menfolk rush off to give the boy a walloping Bauji goes along, and finds that the boy is nothing like he's been painted. Bauji protects him, and later reflecting on what almost happened he resolves never again to believe anything he hasn't personally experienced. So thoroughly does he hold to this resolution that he can no longer perform his job, selling travel packages over the phone: he confides to customers that he doesn't really know what time the plane will depart and land, or if there will be a hotel waiting at the other end - he hasn't seen these things for himself. The manager must let him go. Being idle himself, Bauji attracts a circle of other idle men; at first they tease and mock him, but finding him so positive in his new way of life they become his disciples. What follows you must see for yourself. I could tell you that "Ankhon Dekhi" is that rarity, a philosophical comedy that's really funny - but that would just be me telling you; you won't really know, will you, until you see it.
Full Moon in Blue Water (1988)
Full Moon in Blue Water
A wonderful little movie that got overlooked in the distribution mill at the time of its release, "Full Moon in Blue Water" is overdue for rediscovery. It has so many parallels to "Moonstruck" that one could mistakenly peg it as a copycat, but guess again: "Full Moon" was completed before "Moonstruck" was ready for previews; the similarities are merely coincidental; and there's no need to choose between the two, when both films are so easy to love. Gene Hackman leads as Floyd, the owner of a rambling, cozy restaurant-shack on the Gulf Coast of Alabama: he's a man emotionally stalled by the disappearance of his beloved wife. She disappeared while swimming and everyone presumes her dead, but Floyd can't accept this; he believes she was drawn away by an undertow and struck her head: that she's wandering now with amnesia but someday will return to him. Business is dwindling at the shack, but he refuses all offers to buy him out: he's keeping the place for Dorothy to come home to. In the meantime Louise (Teri Garr) keeps him company, and wants more, a real commitment from him - her frustration is touching and funny. She can argue down all of his high-flown romantic notions, and his practical objections too, but when he remembers his loss he grows wistful and drifts away where she can't reach him. Their sad-tinged love affair is played out with screwball logic. It's Jimmy (Elias Koteas), a mildly retarded young man who sweeps up around the shack and cares for Floyd's in-and-out senile father (Burgess Meredith), who twists the screw to its tightest, by doing something so ghastly - something that would be absurdly funny if it weren't too appalling for laughter - and then tops even that by springing the worst possible plan to resolve matters, at the worst possible moment. "Full Moon in Blue Water" takes a kidding approach to the "magic" of romance, but on some level believes in it too; that it's able to keep both attitudes in play at the same time may be the best of what it shares with "Moonstruck." Its special distinctions are worth discovering.
Down in the dumps
It begins with the evisceration of a corpse, and that could be a metaphor for the way this alleged adaptation proceeds - except that Goethe's "Faust" is not dead, only given the dead-letter treatment here. The film's emphasis is on gross, clumsy physicality: you never saw so many actors stumble as they walk, bumping into things and one another; too artless and unfunny for slapstick, the universal jostling is prevented from being laughable by funereal pacing and the array of hangdog faces. Since the Faust figure (Johannes Zeiler) conveys very little in the way of intellect, all that elevates him is that most of the other characters have been made open-mouthed gapers, presumable halfwits. Wit is barred out anyway by the color-palette, all various hues of mud - the surest sign of high-serious intentions in movies nowadays. In exterior shots the sky is overexposed so it shows as a gleamless white blur; the earth is dun-colored, greens are gray-tinged, and reds are virtually absent, on their rare appearance tending to brown, like bloodstained linens oxidizing. The cut of the men's clothing updates the story to several decades after Goethe's time: trousers are worn, rather than breeches and hose. The fabrics are thick, heavy, coarse, and of course dark-dyed and fraying badly. No one could think of playing the dandy here. Strangely, there seems to be no Republic of Letters either. The few characters with intellectual interests neither write nor receive letters; they're isolated from enlightenment and worldly affairs: no one awaits the postman; no one looks at a journal of science or politics or the arts - this is a stupefying omission, as false to the historical period as it would be to Goethe's own. Sokurov's flight from historical particulars strands his Faust: the fable and the character become "timeless" in all the wrong ways. Faust doesn't represent his age's high hopes, or its seeds of self-destruction; but then he doesn't represent our age either. Sealed off in its remoteness, Sokurov's "Faust" is just another - all-too-familiar - sulking, glooming art-house reverie.
A late film from Kon Ichikawa, approximately the eightieth in his sixty-year directing career. An honest magistrate uses guile as well as samurai skills to clean up a corrupt feudal fiefdom. The tale is framed by two scribes recording the "official" version of events: their ironic comments are funny as they gossip about all the juicy stuff they have to leave out of their chronicle; but behind their worldly-wise cracks, they really don't know what's going on, so the irony doubles back on them. The hero plays a shifty game going after his prey; his dodges are very amusing, and the star Koji Yakusho really seems to be enjoying himself. The corrupt port city, a medieval Big Easy, is a big rotten playground in nacreous colors that bleed into each other. About the only hard edges to be seen - until the blades come out - are the checkerboard squares on the robe of the determined Miss Keiko, who pursues the magistrate all the way from Edo. Ichikawa keeps his touch light and sure - what other great director has aged so well? - his mastery intact, with no sign of faltering or hardening.
El descanso (2002)
"El descanso" [ also known as "El hotel" ] (2002) From Argentina, a loose-limbed road movie and one of the happiest surprises of my recent viewing. Two pals, Oswald and Freddy, drive away from the stress and pace of Buenos Aires for a vacation in the hill country, and to meet a friend and celebrate Oswald's birthday. They never get where they're going, because in a drowsy moment in the heat of the sun, they drive off the road and wreck their car. While waiting for a local mechanic to get them rolling again, Freddy goes exploring and turns up a derelict hotel, long ago the pride of the region, now a ramshackle dump with no owner on record - and just like that he gets the idea to put the place on its feet again.
The comedy here is low-key and rises from character. The two buddies are a study in contrasting temperaments, like the pair of gamblers in "California Split." When Oswald asks, "Why are we working on our vacation?" Freddy replies, "If we have a hotel, we'll be on vacation for the rest of our lives!" Freddy likes to start things, and people, spinning, and let them follow their own course - whatever happens, it's bound to be interesting.
Most of the town, which is pretty much just a dusty crossroads, bustles into activity for Freddy's pipedream party. But there's a lawyer in the works too, who knows the secrets of the confused ownership of the hotel, and discounts all Freddy's charm and hope, knowing that in the eyes of the law he's just a squatter. So the film chronicles another chapter in the eternal war between those who live to enjoy the moment, and those who own it, or try to, or pretend to.
L'autre vie de Richard Kemp (2013)
L'autre vie de Richard Kemp
"The Other Life of Richard Kemp"? . . . ye-es, but not exactly. The deadpan title works in French, but in English it's a bit of a blank; something else must be found, but the distributors have come up with "Back in Crime," suggesting a banal Time-Cop movie. "L'autre vie" is something else entirely - the time travel serves as an uncanny portal: Chief Inspector Richard Kemp is thrown back twenty years, to when he was a lone wolf detective, over-proud of his rep as best on the force, Co-existing in 1989, the older Kemp is afraid to approach the younger - he spies on himself, and works secretly in parallel to undo the mistakes that let a killer get away. And meanwhile the older Kemp is falling in love with the psychologist he first met on the last day of his first life. A "rebirth through water" motif might be a nod to De Palma's "Femme Fatale"; and the seductive camera movements and layered compositions also hint that the writer-director Germinal Alvarez has learned from his great precedent. But Alvarez brings out a triste atmosphere that's all his own. Best romantic thriller I've seen in a long time.