It's a fairly large-budget, swashbuckling costume drama set in the 16th century in the court of Catherine de Medici. She, at the time, was trying to reconcile Catholic and Protestant factions in France. She promises to marry one of her ladies-in-waiting to a prominent Protestant nobleman (who's portrayed as the bad guy in the piece), in exchange for his promoting peace. But the lady has already promised herself to a Catholic nobleman, whom she loves, and who is a good buddy of her brother's. The Protestant taunts the brother about how he's going to have his sister; they fight a secret, illegal duel, and the brother gets killed. Finally, there's a big tournament between the rival lovers, the Catholic and the Protestant, with jousting and swordplay and whatnot. The Protestant is winning. But while this is going on, the he is betrayed by a former lover, and revealed as the murderer of the brother. Catherine de Medici orders a group of her men-at-arms to arrest him, but he refuses to be taken alive. He fights to the death. As he lays dying, he asks his mother--the so-called 'Queen of the Protestants'--to forgive. But she has a vengeful look on her face... The Catholic nobleman and the lady are back together, smiling. Some dust blows in the wind. The end.
I'd be curious to know how long this film originally ran, and whether there were additional sub-plots that are now missing. What remains feels kind of skeletal in the way of those very early silent dramas of the 1900s and early 1910s--it just hits the main points of the plot and leaves the rest up to your imagination. It's not terribly engaging drama, as in scenes aren't really developed or built up to; they just sort of happen. But I guess that's to be expected if really significant portions of the film are missing. The costumes and the sets seem nice, as is some of Renoir's camera work, but the print I saw was incredibly shoddy and non-restored, barely watchable.
It's hard to judge something like this fairly, but I give it a 6/10. It's probably only of interest to Renoir completists, and maybe some history buffs.
The story: it's the year 2028. An explorer from Central Africa (Johnny Huggins, a jazz dancer of the 1920s, who appears here in minstrel makeup; he actually was black) arrives in a post-apocalyptic Paris in a flying sphere. He encounters a scantily-clad wild girl and her monkey friend. The girl dances the Charleston to try to seduce him. He thinks she's threatening him and he runs away. She chases after him, dancing ever more aggressively and seductively. The explorer begins to watch, hesitantly, but curiously. The girl draws a telephone on the wall, which turns into a real telephone, and she calls some kind of disembodied human head with wings. Some other winged disembodied heads appear. The girl hands the phone to the explorer, and one of the heads speaks to him--apparently letting him know that the girl's OK. Then the explorer and the girl dance the Charleston together. The girl leaves with the explorer in his flying sphere, her tearful monkey friend waving goodbye.
This film is all about power--how one gets power, how one can use power (to lay down The Law, or lose power, and how power relates to sex. This film is all about sex. Sometimes, it feels like it's all about Gina Lollobrigida's boobs.
The all-star European cast are all good, especially Lollobrigida and Yves Montand, who has the meatiest role in the film, as a complicated local hoodlum who wants his son to become a lawyer, who wants to be the one to lay down The Law, and who very badly wants Gina Lollobrigida, who doesn't want him in the slightest.
Sometimes, the film approaches high camp, such as a couple of odd and unexpected musical numbers, and when Marcello Mastroianni and Gina Lollobrigida romp in the surf amidst a flock of sheep, or when Gina Lollobrigida is strapped to a table by her mother and a couple of jealous maids and whipped (and with a bowl of hot chilis behind her head that's photographed to look like a halo).
It's a gorgeous film to look at. There's Gina Lollobrigida's boobs. And then there's the quaint, crumbling little backwater Italian fishing village, sumptuously photographed in that deep, saturated mid-century black and white. And there's the sea. It looks straight out of a Fellini film.
Jules Dassin's direction is lively and stylish, and keeps the film eminently enjoyable throughout. He veers effortlessly between the comedic and the sinister and the sexy, often in the same scene.
But, although I found the films very enjoyable to watch, I do have some problems with it. It felt sometimes that Dassin was trying to cram in as much of the material from the novel as possible, even when it didn't best serve the film. There were multiple storylines unfolding, but the film's two-hour running time was not enough to accommodate them in any depth. And so the film meandered back and forth between characters and situations without a great deal of focus. I think Dassin would have done well to trim a couple of the storylines entirely, which weren't fleshed out enough anyway.
Still, though, this was solid entertainment. 8/10
In any event, this is a really important film, historically, and Cecil B. DeMille's first feature--and his first film, period. Supposedly, he hadn't even seen a film until shortly before he made this. It totally shows.
It's kind of a clumsy jumble of scenes taken from a book. There's no real cinematic logic or flow. There are lots of scenes of people just standing around talking--which doesn't really work in a silent film, especially without many intertitles. Characters were hard to tell apart, because they were mostly filmed in long shot. I found it all somewhat difficult to follow, although I guess I got the gist.
Still, some of the individual scenes are interesting. I suppose the theme of interracial marriage was probably notable for the time (and its outcome predictable). And the film ws mostly filmed on location, which made it a bit easier to watch. I don't imagine I'll ever feel a burning desire to see this again, but it was worthwhile seeing once as an historical document.
C. B. DeMille did learn his craft quickly. By 1915, he was doing vastly better work than this (Carmen, The Cheat).
* Although the version I saw was a 1920s reissue, and it's possible it had some footage added, but it seems unlikely, because that almost certainly would have been jarringly obvious.
I hadn't read anything about Jersey Girl before going in, and I just assumed it was a typical Kevin Smith movie. It totally is not. Oh, sure, there're a few dick jokes and some poop and Ben Affleck, but Jersey Girl is far, far away from the Kevin Smith I've come to know and sort of moderately like.
For me, the experience of watching this film felt a lot like a time in college when I was at a Halloween party, and my one tubby, bearded, video-game-playing, football-watching stoner friend showed up dressed as Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin (1992). And it turned out he was serious. I was sort of touched and horrified at the same time.
This movie confused me as well. At first, I thought maybe Kevin Smith was making fun of all those awful, cynically-calculated tween-targeted movies like Uptown Girls, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. And I thought maybe he was packing the movie full of clichés and mawkish sentimentality as a weird sort of joke. But then as the movie wore on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I began to realize that he probably meant it, or at least was trying to mean it.
I'm generally all in favor of a filmmaker branching out and trying new and different things, but I'm very much un-in favor of an independent and formerly semi-interesting filmmaker branching out into the worst sort of hackneyed Hollywood filmmaking, without any of the wit, observation, and conversation that formerly made Kevin Smith semi-interesting.
This film felt like a film made by a filmmaker who felt he had to make a film because he's a filmmaker, and filmmakers make films, though he had nothing he felt strongly about making a film about, and so he just made a film about this crap. Is Kevin Smith washed up?
There's about 10-15 minutes worth of good cinema here, mostly where the movie's just kind of noodling along, showing us scenery. There are some cool shots of the characters zipping around Paris in a funny little Eurocar. And then there's the nightclub, with some cool late 50s jazz and the associated dancing. I liked that. At times it felt like a low-rent Fellini film, La Dolce Vita-era. And then there are the several stripteases. The stripteases aren't overly explicit, but they're nice. There's an innocence to them. It's about the art of striptease; it doesn't feel exploitative. Some of the scenes are quite creatively choreographed, although not particularly creatively filmed. The camera just kind of stands and stares. But I guess if you've got something inherently beautiful and interesting on screen, there's no reason to overcomplicate it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie insists on having a plot, and not a very interesting one. It was hard to sit through.
But overall, this film was worth a rental. I like the late 50s style. And I like vintage nudity. I'm probably being overly generous, but I'll give this a 6/10.
BTW, the DVD version I saw had, I think, the original 1950s dubbing to English. It was among the worst I've ever heard. All the male voices sounded like they'd been tape recorded and then played back at 2/3 speed. Everyone sounded like James Earl Jones. And some of the female voices sounded exactly like Monty Pythonesque female impersonations. I wonder what my neighbors were thinking; they must have been able to hear this through the wall.
The writing was dead-on, even subtitled; only once, very briefly, did it feel slightly contrived. The performances were fantastic, especially that of Alexandra Dahlström--I fell in love with her, too. The grainy look and the slightly awkward camera work were perfect for the mood of this film.
I have the feeling that Fucking Åmål was a major influence on someone involved with the production of American Beauty. Some of the conversations between Thora Birch and Mena Suvari in AB were strikingly similar to conversations in FA. Mena Suvari even looks a lot like Alexandra Dahlström, and has a very similar sort of appeal (and they're both Aquarius girls). But Fucking Åmål was a much better, and far less schmaltzy, movie than American Beauty, in my opinion. A small masterpiece.
The main thing about Torn Curtain is the photography. It's full of pretty pictures--one of the most beautifully filmed of all Hitchcock's films, with lots bold swaths of primary colors and attractive and constantly changing locations--some scenes look like they were shot on location, while others are wonderfully artificial studio creations, and they're blended together perfectly. Another cool thing about Torn Curtain is that it's constantly on the move. It never stagnates. The pacing is deliberate, but engaging. It's well-plotted and suspenseful.
It's full of fantastic little directorial touches, like the scene where Paul Newman ducks into a bathroom to read his secret spy message. Hitchcock never shows us the room. He keeps the camera tight on Paul Newman, so we can't tell who or what might be in that room with us, just out of frame. It's totally simple, but it creates a highly effective feeling of uneasiness and paranoia. This movie also features one of the strangest and best-filmed death scenes I've ever seen. Hitchcock was still on top of his game here.
Most of the bad reviews for Torn Curtain seem to focus on the acting. I don't know why.
A lot of people bash Julie Andrews just for being Julie Andrews, and that hardly seems fair. Typecasting sucks. And while I wouldn't say she turned in one of the most memorable and overpowering performances of all time, her role didn't call for that. Torn Curtain wasn't a complex character study, it was a plot-based thriller. And Julie Andrews was perfectly adequate for that, even pretty good when she was given a chance to be.
Paul Newman was perfect. He wasn't his usual charming self here. He was grim and tight-lipped and stiff--as would be appropriate for a scientist feeling out of his league, playing a spy in a hostile country, having to pretend to be a traitor--a role which he found objectionable--all with his girlfriend annoyingly tagging along and complicating everything.
I understand that Paul Newman found working for Hitchcock objectionable. It makes me wonder if Hitch deliberately made life unpleasant for Paul just to get this kind of tooth-gritting performance from him. Whatever, Hitch and Paul were both great.
And so was this film.
Not to worry. This is a great film, one of the best prohibition-era gangster films I've seen, ranking slightly ahead of Little Caesar and the Public Enemy, and maybe only slightly below Scarface (1932). Tough, tense, tightly written--interestingly, Howard Hawks is credited for the scenario--and with gorgeous DARK cinematography and Josef von Sternberg's usual excellence in direction. I barely missed the lack of gangster-speak.
I suppose this film was a template upon which a lot of gangster films were based. It struck me while watching it how much it had in common with the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990)--a love triangle between a mob boss, his moll, and his right hand man. And it's all about the gangsters' peculiar code of ethics.
I'd rate it a perfect 10, but for a muddled and badly-handled prison break sequence, which I watched three times and still couldn't figure out. Maybe I'm just dense; maybe it was actually a genius bit of filmmaking and it just flew over my head, but for now, 9/10.
This is one of those society comedies, with a large cast of characters, and various complicated goings on. Most of the humor derives from people trying to put a normal happy face on for the benefit of society, while meanwhile things are spinning out of control beneath the surface. It reminded me a little bit of Fawlty Towers, with John Cleese, for some reason. It's the same kind of humor. You've probably seen a lot of the gags in 10,000 TV sitcoms by now, but I suppose this stuff was a lot fresher in 1927. And most of it was pretty well done, I'll admit.
The story itself is simple, but you have to pay a lot of attention to keep track of all the moment-to-moment details. And I guess that's where the movie failed for me today. My mind kept wandering, and I'd have to rewind the tape to figure out what was going on, and I'd get annoyed. I was really feeling the lack of dialogue in this one. I watch a lot of silent films. They appeal to me for some reason I can't explain. But this movie felt incomplete to me. I felt it would have worked better as a talkie. But maybe it was just the mood I was in.
Anyway, there were several individual scenes that I thought were brilliant, and definitely made me sit up and take notice. One was worthy of a Seinfeld episode: it's a wedding scene; a woman notices her husband's necktie is undone, and she repeatedly nudges him and fiddles with her neck. The husband takes no notice. He sits there like a lump. But another character instinctively reaches to check his tie. This starts a chain reaction, and pretty soon everyone in the church is checking their ties, except for the husband, who's still sitting there oblivious. Another great scene is when the groom at the wedding imagines the angry military man back at his house, vandalizing everything, tossing all his possessions out the windows, tearing down walls--the film lapses into total surrealism; this is Rene Clair at his visual best. I love this scene.
For now, I'm going to rate this a 7/10. But I'll try to catch it again some day, when I'm in a better and more attentive mood, and I think I'll like it a lot better.
The story and the characters were extremely charming. Anna Sten was beautiful. The baddies were more comical than they were truly evil. And everything turns out happily in the end. It could have almost been a Hollywood movie, except the photography is better.
I'd like to see more Russian comedies.
A year later, Buster Keaton in The Cameraman would do a brilliant spoof of the famous staircase crane shot from Seventh Heaven.
I blame the writing. This was a screenplay that should have never gotten made into a movie. Just about everything related to the advancement of the plot was carried off awkwardly. Too many extreme coincidences, unbelievable situations, too many people behaving like no real human would ever behave.
In particular, there were these three wild, psychotic teenagers who appeared out of nowhere, and decided to chase and torment the two leads throughout the movie, with absolutely no motivation, and constantly reappearing at the very most improbable moments. The screenwriter relied almost totally on this for the movie's tension--just plain lazy and stupid writing. I mean, c'mon, the two lead characters were toting around a dead body for most of the movie. There are scads of more natural possibilities to build suspense around that. There's no need for crazed teenagers.
And also, unfortunately, there was no nudity in this movie, and just a couple of very brief and mostly clothed love scenes between the two women. I'm not saying that all movies, or even all lesbian movies, require sex and nudity, but since this was basically an exploitation film, it should have been a bit more exploitative, or else there's nothing much to recommend it.
I don't recommend it. 4.5/10 rounds up to a weak 5/10.
This film was about the mundane. It didn't have a much of a plot. It was just characters who lived in a town, very normal people, and stuff just happened. But it wasn't very interesting stuff, and it wasn't examined very insightfully. The film did capture a bit of a mood, but it wasn't a particularly captivating mood. And while I can't think of much that the film did specifically wrong, it failed on just about every level to do anything right.
There were a lot of characters in this film. A lot of them kind of looked alike, so it was hard to figure out who was who, and what were their relations to one another. I don't mind putting some effort into understanding a film, or even watching an especially complex film more than one time to iron out the details, but this one was a puzzle not worth the solving for me.
The only good thing I can really say about this film is that the cinematography was pleasant--functional, not brilliant, but pleasant. The camera often captured some nice postcard-type shots. But it rarely found the really interesting little details.
I've seen a handful of not-so-good films so far at the Seattle International Film Festival, but this was the only one that failed to get any applause when the credits rolled. I sensed a big collective sigh of relief when the film was finally over. But I suppose there are probably some people out there who would like it.
Hukkle is kind of a symphony of sights and sounds, without any real dialogue. It's just rhythms and patterns and cause and effect, and it's very very cool. Often funny, often disturbing, always fascinating. It's sort of like a nature documentary, with humans as just one of the subjects, just one part of the ecosystem. And underneath it all, there's a strange murder mystery.
I saw this film as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. I hope it gets a wider release, because I'd like to see it again. I want to work out some of the details that I missed the first time through.
This situation's been played a gazillion times by now, and--to me, at least--it's not that funny any more--and it's actually kind of insidious in that it's all about reinforcing the status quo and keeping women in the kitchen and men in control and like that. George W. Bush would maybe get a chuckle.
But this film's worth watching for Max Linder. It's interesting to see the little mannerisms that were later picked up by Charlie Chaplin, and I even saw (or imagined) a little bit of Harold Lloyd. However, people without an interest in film history probably wouldn't find much raw entertainment value in this.
According to IMDb, Max Linder made another movie in 1912 with the same English title as this one, Troubles of a Grasswidower (Max reprend sa liberté) in 1912. A remake?
Being a fan of silent film and porn, I was really interested to go see this when it screened tonight (to a shockingly large crowd) at the Seattle International Film Festival. Going in, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect--definitely some nudity, probably some posing in long strings of pearls and funny hats, some dancing around, maybe a bit of simulated sex. But no, this was full-on hardcore pornography, with close-ups and money shots and everything. I wouldn't say it was all overly arousing. But it was fascinating, and somewhat informative.
The women were mostly good-looking, but not in that sleek modern way. They had bulges where modern porn stars don't, they had hair growing in places and in amounts that wouldn't be fashionable today. (Although I have to say I'm getting a bit weary of the modern no-hair look.)
But what was cool about most of these films was that the people involved seemed to be having such a good time. There was a weird sort of innocent charm about the films. They didn't feel dirty so much, even though there was lots of perverse goings on--lots of nuns, a bit of bestiality (involving nuns), prostitution, some peeing, etcetera. But there was nothing cynical or ironical about them, and I appreciated that. It was all in good fun. It was almost like watching some of the really early Chaplin films, except with penetration.
I was highly surprised at, and happy about, the amount of lesbianism. Almost every one of these films contained some lesbianism, often involving lesbian nuns. I was surprised because I sorta thought lesbianism was more of a modern fixation. But I guess some things are timeless. There was also a brief, small snippet of male oral homosexuality (and the one dude looked really uncomfortable and unhappy about it, and he practically leaped up and back over to the woman when the gay part of his scene was over).
The highlight of the program, the one that got the crowd screaming and clapping, was a sick and twisted and hilarious animated film about a little man with a giant detachable penis running around and sticking it into things, cows, donkeys, etcetera, and sword-fighting. It was way better than the Disney stuff from the 20s.
The films were edited together in a clever way to keep it all from getting repetitive and uninteresting. Definitely worth my $8.50.
I've since seen two more Lloyd features, Hot Water and Speedy, but For Heaven's Sake is my favorite so far. If it weren't for a long and kinda unfunny sequence toward the late middle of the film, with Harold herding a pack of drunks, it would probably be my favorite silent comedy, period--my current favorite is Keaton's The Cameraman, incidentally.
The announcer guy at the theater claimed the print of For Heaven's Sake they were screening was the only one in existence. I don't know if it was an original nitrate print or what. I think I remember that it looked fairly pristine. I hope the film makes it to DVD soon, lest something unfortunate happen to the print, especially if they're going to take chances screening it publicly.
The tragic love story part was age-old, but fairly interesting in a pseudo-incestuous kind of way. It reminded me a little of one of the installments of Kieslowski's Dekalog, and also a little of Fellini's Variety Lights. Chaney was generally better when he was out of makeup. And Loretta Young--I can't believe she was 15 when this was filmed. Jeez, talk about precocious. I feel dirty.
Peter Lorre was good, though, and the two aunts, and I did enjoy the surrealist strangeness of it all. I love laughing at murder, for some reason. I think this film could have worked well with a different director and different lead, and maybe a few re-writes to some of the more ludicrous plot points. Bob Hope was originally supposed to play Cary Grant's part, and I think he would have been way better in the role. Some of the dialogue felt like it was written for him, and I could well picture him delivering it. I could also see this film working really well as an Ealing Studios production, the obnoxiousness turned down a notch, and the strangeness cranked up, and maybe with Alec Guinness playing the villainous brother.
Priscilla Lane had one of the sexiest mouths in cinema history. Saucy lips and a sly tongue. Just a really good, kissable mouth. Always an enjoyable addition to a film.
Overall, probably the worst Capra film I have seen, and a lesser screwball comedy. 5/10.