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The Crucible (1967)
Another crucial loss
Saw this version of THE CRUCIBLE when it was first broadcast: it made a big impression on me. But haven't seen it since (so far as of 2013 not available on DVD), but the acting was astounding. I remember details of Coleen Dewhurst's performance, her rich, deep voice quivering with disbelief as the accusations mount. Most of all, Tuesday Weld gave the finest performance of Abigail i've ever seen. She was able to bring so much depth to the part, and such ferocity! I've seen several stage versions of the play, as well as the 1957 French film and the 1996 film version: no one has ever been better than Tuesday Weld. One thing: who played Tituba? I can't remember, and i can find no listing (anywhere) as to who played that part in this TV production. (I know that Jacqueline Andre played the part in the 1953 Broadway production, and Vinette Carroll went to France in 1957 to play the part in the film starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, but who played the part in 1967?) Of all the Abigails, Tuesday Weld is the only one to really bring out the sexual assertiveness, and how the thwarting of sexual expression can become "demonic". (Another thing i remember is how the married women were addressed as "Goody"; the sound of Melvyn Douglas's voice and Fritz Weaver's voice saying "Goody" to Coleen Dewhurst is a vivid memory.)
Fährmann Maria (1936)
Maria, a gem of the Weimar ocean
Frank Wisbar was one of the many talented people working in the German film industry in the late 1920s-early 1930s. He was a producer, often working with Arnold Fanck; he produced MAEDCHEN IN UNIFORM (directed by Leontine Sagan), and assisted on the production of Dreyer's VAMPYR. Obviously, this was a person with an interest in "alternative" cinema; his own work as a director also revealed his interest in non-mainstream cinema.
FAHRMANN MARIA is a fable of the occult. As such, it follows VAMPYR in trying to tell a narrative in terms of atmosphere and metaphor. The moody, shadow-shrouded cinematography is just so marvelously evocative; the settings show the great influence of Expressionist design. Yet this design is used to enhance the performances, particularly those of Sybille Schmitz (also one of the leads in VAMPYR) and Peter Voss.
Wisbar's highly promising career was cut short, as he was one of the many who fled the Nazi regime and wound up in the US; though many of the German emigres would succeed, quite a few wound up toiling in the nether regions of low-budget fare for Poverty Row studios. Wisbar, like Edgar Ulmer, was one of those who never quite made the leap to success in the major studios. Wisbar would remake FAHRMANN MARIA as THE STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP, but, though atmospheric, the mythic dimensions of FAHRMANN MARIA are contracted in the American settings. But FAHRMANN MARIA is one of the true classics of the Weimar cinema.
Une si jolie petite plage (1949)
The quintessence of Gerard Philipe
His sensitive performance as Prince Myshkin in L'IDIOT (1946) had brought international attention, and his performance in THE DEVIL IN THE FLESH (1947) made him a star; with his next two films, LE CHARTREUSE DE PARME (1948) and UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE (1949), Gerard Philipe's position as the premier leading man of French cinema in the post-war period was assured.
Just as PEPE LE MOKO, QUAI DES BRUMES, LA BETE HUMAINE and LE JOUR SE LEVE had established the Jean Gabin persona in the 1930s (what Andre Bazin had termed "the tragic destiny"), so these four films established the Philipe persona, the sensitive young man overwhelmed by destiny. In UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE, the small seaside resort out-of-season, with its fog, its desolation, and its ramshackle buildings, is a perfect setting for this story of lost souls seeking connection and (possible) redemption. Madeleine Robinson, as the young woman working at the inn, is Philipe's counterpart: a sullen girl battered by circumstances who nevertheless is touched by the fragility of the young man. The fact that, on a realistic level, Gerard Philipe does not project the hardened facade of a criminal is rather the point: the point of a star persona. In this case, Philipe's projection of an intensely isolated, even alienated, psyche which defined the existential dilemma that was being defined by writers such as Sartre and Camus in the post-war epoch, was really enshrined in this movie.
Philipe would prove to be a more versatile actor than initially assumed; his humor, his athletic vigor, and his exuberance can be seen in movies like FANFAN LA TULIPE and POT-BOUILLE. But UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE shows Philipe at the apex of his portrayals of tortured youth, a prototype for such stars as Montgomery Clift and James Dean.
Little Man, What Now? (1934)
Borzage making his way
Frank Borzage was one of the prize directors at the Fox Studio in the late 1920s; he became the first director to win the Academy Award for SEVENTH HEAVEN in 1927, one of the essential romances of the silent cinema. But by 1932, William Fox was running into trouble, and the finances of Fox were shaky. Borzage had won his second Oscar for Best Director in 1931 for the Fox production of BAD GIRL; two years later, he was working for Mary Pickford's own production company (SECRETS), Paramount (A FAREWELL TO ARMS), Columbia (MAN'S CASTLE and NO GREATER GLORY) and Universal (LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?). LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? was based on a German novel by Hans Falleda, which had been made into a movie in Germany in 1933. (I haven't seen the German movie.) But LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? would be the follow-up film for Universal's new star, Margaret Sullavan, who had made an impressive debut in ONLY YESTERDAY, directed by John M. Stahl. She was known for being temperamental, and she refused several projects before she agreed to star in LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?
In some ways, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? is the quintessential Frank Borzage movie, with many scenes and themes which echo his earlier films. There is the young couple, struggling to survive severe economic hardship; there are the effects of the Great War, leaving many with few opportunities. There is even the scene where the heroine appears in a shimmering gown, a radiant moment that is a respite from the general squalor and/or misery (this scene can be found in SEVENTH HEAVEN, in MAN'S CASTLE, in THREE COMRADES). LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? takes its young couple (Sullavan and Douglass Montgomery) through various strata of the struggling working class in Germany during the worldwide economic downturn of the early 1930s. Along the way, they encounter a variety of characters, including Muriel Kirkland as the hideously overprivileged daughter of an employer, Catherine Doucet as Montgomery's giddy stepmother, and Alan Hale as her hearty, possibly shady friend. Through it all, Sullavan's empathetic, luminous performance provides the film with its beacon of hope in the midst of turmoil and strife.
This would be the first of four collaborations between Margaret Sullavan and Frank Borzage. (Just for the record, it should be stressed that this film was made at Universal Studios, NOT MGM, where Borzage would start working in 1937; Universal has been one of the studios which has been notoriously problematic in terms of getting their films on various home-video formats, so it's no wonder that LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? is unavailable, but asking for MGM to release a Universal film on DVD is an object lesson in futility.)
Week End (1967)
What a ruckus!
As anyone who has the slightest interest in Jean-Luc Godard's career knows (and that would be anyone interested in "modern" cinema), WEEKEND marked the end of his early career, a 15-film run from 1959's BREATHLESS to this film in 1967. Few in the history of film have ever been as productive, as provocative, and as influential. One thing that has happened in the last decade or so is that many of the films from this era have been restored and re-released in the United States: BREATHLESS, MY LIFE TO LIVE, CONTEMPT, BAND OF OUTSIDERS, PIERROT LE FOU, MASCULINE FEMININE, MADE IN U.S.A. (finally having its first US commercial release), 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, LA CHINOISE and now WEEKEND.
WEEKEND begins as a rude and vicious satire in which people in cars become violent at the slightest provocation. It proceeds with a bourgeoise couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) who are bored with each other, openly contemptuous, and seemingly ready to kill. There is the wife's erotic confession, delivered in a quiet deadpan as she is shown in silhouette. This is only the first of many virtuoso sequences which show Godard at his most formally inventive. As soon as the couple gets in their car to begin a journey (they've decided to kill her mother for the inheritance), the viewer knows this journey is one which isn't going to end as expected. And it doesn't. Whimsy, annoyance, rage, disgust and horror greet the couple as this picaresque lurches from Rabelaisean to de Sade (and beyond).
When the movie first opened, Renata Adler in the New York Times wrote that the movie "was hard to take." In a sense, the years have been kind: there are now movies filled with such horrors that WEEKEND can only seem mild-mannered. But as an intellectual provocation, WEEKEND remains a scintillating experience. It should be noted that in 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER and LA CHINOISE, Godard presented his protagonists in ripe, sensual, adoring close-ups; here, everything is presented in medium or long-shot, so that the characters are kept at a distance. Yet Godard is always ready with another joke to keep the movie buoyant: his apocalyptic vision can't help but be filled with passionate rage and humor.
Toute une nuit (1982)
Romance in brief
Chantal Akerman's movies can be disconcerting: she is on the one hand a highly sensual filmmaker, with a great interest in textures and surfaces, and on the other hand, she can be highly conceptual. This combination can result in films which are enticingly seductive, or it can result in films which are abruptly alienating.
Of all her films, TOUTE UNE NUIT is one of the most seductive. Set during one night, it's a series of vignettes, some no more than a glimpse of a few seconds, of people at night. People sitting in bars near closing time. People sitting at home, waiting. People walking at night. The sense of anticipation, of yearning, becomes palpable.
Some vignettes are longer, but all these stories are fragmented: we're not given a real beginning, though we are given a few endings. There is no real dialogue: we just see a few gestures, a little action, but that's all.
People alone in a bar, then noticing each other. Will they make some sort of contact? A little girl packing her little suitcase: is she running away? Where? It's like we're given the bits and pieces of a larger narrative, but we have to decide what these bits and pieces mean. And then there are those encounters. Someone waiting alone in an apartment, when another person finally arrives. Two people running into each other on the street. All the meetings, often culminating in a kiss, seem to distill the most intense romantic desires.
We want these strangers to find a way not to be alone, and that desire on our part creates a tension which is tactile and erotic. Of course, Akerman has populated her night world with highly attractive people, so we are in a fantasy world of desire. TOUTE UNE NUIT is one of the most romantic movies that i've ever seen; it's funny that Akerman's most famous movie, JEANNE DIELMAN, is a long movie composed of very lengthy takes, while this movie is relatively short, with sharply edited, staccato little scenes. TOUTE UNE NUIT is almost the antithesis of JEANNE DIELMAN, but it shows Akerman in a romantic mood which is filled with yearning, desire and affection.
Yue guang xia wo ji de (2005)
Intriguing family drama with political overtones
Again, am writing a review a few years after viewing, so don't remember all the details. But what was most striking about the movie was the period details which were very understated.
In this movie, a mother and daughter (she is an adult, starting her own career as a teacher) live in a very emotionally confined situation. The daughter is engaged, but it's unclear whether the mother is actually accepting of this situation, or wants to hang onto her daughter.
The complexities of this situation were often revealed in little offhand scenes which give the feeling of the constrained lives of the two women. I also remember that a lot hinges on the fact that the father in the family had been arrested for some political "crime" and that this hampered the women's social and economic mobility. So the marriage of the daughter becomes the avenue for escape from this social/economic confinement, but the eventual outcome leaves both women in a situation which is even worse.
I remember this as a very subtle movie, and i think Lin Cheng-sheng's movies should have found a greater reception in the West. The subtlety of his films, as well as their quiet beauty, should please discriminating audiences who are attuned to his quiet mastery. I also note that, to date, this has been his last film, as the Taiwanese cinema has lost a lot of its momentum and funding.
Mei li zai chang ge (1997)
taiwanese drama of two girls
MURMUR OF YOUTH is a very delicate and understated drama about two girls, both from small villages, who meet in Taipei while working in a movie theater; their mutual dislocation leads to a friendship which soon becomes something more. In many ways, there is a tentative quality to this film which makes it seem almost evanescent, but this very delicacy allows for subtle emotions to emerge gradually within the story. It's actually been a while since i've seen this film, but i remember it with real affection, because it seemed so unassuming and shy, rather like the two heroines. There were some humorous touches, such as having the two girls share the same given name, and the way they tried to find space in the cramped quarters of the ticket booth where they were both stationed at work.
When this film was made, cinema in Taiwan was undergoing a radical shift, as a number of artists, led by Hou Hsaio-Hsien and Edward Yang, were trying to create an "art" cinema; Lin Cheng-sheng was one of their colleagues, and his films, though less hard-edged, tried to tell stories of Taiwanese youth and their search for relationships.
Prima della rivoluzione (1964)
the charterhouse of cinema
One of the typical ploys of modernist artists has been to take a known work, and to use that as a basis for experimentation. In this case, Bernardo Bertolucci (at the age of 22!) took Stendhal's novel THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA and used the basic plot and characters, only Bertolucci abstracted these elements, taking them for granted and simply creating a wide-ranging collage of impressions and emotions. But the central love affair between Fabrizio and his aunt, Gina (the names of the characters in the Stendhal), is the motivating heart of the film; the suggestions of incest, the need for secrecy, the impacted emotion because of the covertness: these provide PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE with a core of great integrity, so that the more "random" elements (the scene with the lament on the lake, the scene at the opera, the scene where the friend rides the bicycle in circles, etc.) are able to reflect on Bertolucci's feelings regarding politics, class, revolution, art, the search for belief.
PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE is one of the most youthful films ever made, as well it should be, since it was made by someone who was impossibly young at the time. I hate to say this, but it's the work of a prodigy, a gifted post-adolescent who is trying to find a form to contain his sometimes overwrought feelings about life, love, and politics. There had been many works catering to the teen crowd, movies like WHERE THE BOYS ARE or BEACH PARTY, but, aside from some of the works of Nicholas Ray (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), no film artist had yet tried to use the medium as a vehicle for a vision of youthful passions from the inside: Godard would follow with MASCULINE FEMININE and LA CHINOISE, Bertolucci with FISTS IN THE POCKET, Skolimowski with LE DEPART and DEEP END, but Bertolucci was pioneering when he made this movie, and the fact that it's "flawed" should not be held against it, as it represents the expression of a very young artist, trying to express his emotions as directly as possible.
I pugni in tasca (1965)
fists in the eye of the cinema
When this film first appeared in the 1960s, the effect was so startlingly individual: there had never been a film as bold, as seemingly unhinged, yet as ruthlessly controlled, as this first feature by Marco Bellocchio. The wonderfully atmospheric black-and-white cinematography seemed to be developed from some dingy dream which dared to bring out into the open the most heinous family secrets, yet the utterly dispassionate fury which animated the most frenzied sequences was so freakish it was almost funny. This constant tension somehow allowed for a sneaky kind of compassion to enter the movie, so that the family dynamics, though extreme, seemed to come out of a common nightmare. FISTS IN THE POCKET remains an embattled cry for a new society, by focusing on the remnants of the diseased upper classes, yet this tale of sound and fury seems to have been made in the kind of frenzied reverie that is analogous to the stream-of-conscious jumble which William Faulkner used at the beginning of THE SOUND AND THE FURY, and to the same effect, i.e., to chart a family's disintegration as a mirror to the decaying grandeur of a dying society.
Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge...: Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (1994)
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl
Chantal Akerman's career has been one of great variety, yet it's amazing to consider the fact that she started her career with some of her finest films made before she was 25 years old (JE TU IL ELLE and JEANNE DIELMAN). A true prodigy, she continues to work, and no matter what the form (she has made long films, short films, media installations, comedies, dramas, musicals), she remains a true master of her craft.
That said, her contribution to the series "Boys and Girls in Their Time", PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG GIRL AT THE END OF THE 60s IN BRUSSELS is one of her tightest and most suggestive works. At a little less than an hour, she captures the frustrations, the inchoate desires, and the yearnings of a teenage girl, seemingly adrift, but actually surveying her options and trying to develop her sense of self. This might seem like a slight work, yet it develops with such an assured touch that the slightest shifts seem monumental. This is, visually, a gentle and lovely work, with a bright yet harmonious palette, and some lyrical scenes which help to entrance the viewer. In its small-scale form, this is one of Akerman's most emotionally acute films, and it's one of the finest coming-of-age films about women that i've ever seen.
Masculin féminin (1966)
the film we secretly wanted to live
Godard's MASCULINE FEMININE is a very difficult film to discuss for those of us who saw it when we were young, and felt an immediate correspondence to the film. In 1966, MASCULINE FEMININE seemed to sum up our feelings: our interest in (radical) politics, our passion for forms of pop culture (especially pop music), our friendships. Godard was the filmmaker who seemed to be making films in the "now", just as soon as events happened. Protests over the Vietnam War raged everywhere, and Godard puts those in the film. On a personal level, the birth control pill was just starting to make its way on the market, and this was also shown.
But it wasn't just the immediacy that marked Godard's films as special, it was the sense of love that envelopes the film. The close-ups of Jean-Pierre Leaud, Chantal Goya, Marlene Jobert and all the others seem to catch these young people at their most vulnerable, their most charming, and their loveliest. Godard seemed genuinely concerned, fascinated, and enthralled by these young people. Of course, there are some difficulties (the ending is like a punch in the stomach; in the interview with Chantal Goya which is an extra on the Criterion Collection DVD, Goya reveals that the Godard insisted on the ending, because he wanted the contrast between Goya's childlike beauty and the horror of what she's saying), but it is a film which still maintains its hold on the affections of so many who loved the film in their youth. And i think the film is like a time capsule, and has much to show new audiences about a special time in the 20th Century.
La chinoise (1967)
blame it on my youth
When Godard's LA CHINOISE was initially released, many commented on the fact that his latest movie might be called the further adventures of the children of Marx and Coca-Cola (the designation found in MASCULINE FEMININE). MASCULINE FEMININE had been in black-and-white, and was set in Paris in the winter of 1965-66; LA CHINOISE was in color (amazingly bright, Pop Art primary colors, mostly) and was set in the summer of 1967. Filming was so fast that Godard had the film ready for the Venice Film Festival in September of 1967 (where it won the Special Jury Award).
Just as MASCULINE FEMININE concerned a group of five friends (two boys, three girls), so LA CHINOISE has a group of five friends as its focus (two girls, three boys). The political discussions which had formed one strand in MASCULINE FEMININE now take over, and the film is about the political discourse which became so much a part of the radical Left in the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet though the film may seem didactic, it is also very tender in its regard for the protagonists. As with MASCULINE FEMININE, the film is filled with close-ups which show Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto and the others at their most open and vulnerable, for all the political posturings.
Again, as with MASCULINE FEMININE, LA CHINOISE is one of those movies that seemed to sum up the times for many of us who saw the film on its initial release: it just seemed to capture our lives with an immediacy and a relevancy that was startling. No filmmaker before or since has seemed to be able to be so contemporary. Now that period is part of the past, and the immediacy has been replaced by nostalgia, yet there remains a vitality that has kept this movie fresh.
Plus that "Mao, Mao" pop song is impossible to forget once you've heard it.
My Sister Eileen (1942)
an original if ever there was one
Rosalind Russell was one of the finest comediennes in the American movies, and this in a period which saw the likes of Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn and others. Russell was a rarity: though all the others often played dizzy women, in her comedies, Russell always played smart, hard-edged career women (the exception was her first major comedy role, as the catty Sylvia in THE WOMEN).
At a time when HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS is set to open, with its lackadaisical heroine pursuing a writing career as she tries to make sense of her romantic entanglements, it behooves us to remember MY SISTER EILEEN, which (when it was filmed in 1942) is the prototype, as the two Sherwood sisters (Ruth, played by Rosalind Russell, and her younger sister Eileen, played by Janet Blair) come to New York City to try their hands at writing (for Ruth) and acting (for Eileen). The slapstick annoyances, the charmingly maladroit Greenwich Village denizens (part ethnic, part "bohemian"), the stereotypical romantic encounters, all make for a charming entertainment. In the wake of the sexual frankness of HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, MY SISTER EILEEN might seem dated, but it's a lovely reminder of the wit and the humor of the generation growing up during World War II, when women were (again) finding new possibilities in the workplace, but still had the same problems finding proper dates.
Stromboli, terra di Dio (1950)
the adventure before the letter
Or L'AVVENTURA AVANT LA LETTRE, which actually encapsulates the situation of STROMBOLI. Although the recent death of Michelangelo Antonioni brought about many commentators who discussed the revolutionary effect of the first screenings of L'AVVENTURA (Martin Scorsese wrote such a piece which appeared in The New York Times of August 12, 2007), this was a far cry from the disastrous reception that STROMBOLI had in its original release. Of course, part of the problem was the extra-filmic situation, the "scandale" of the Bergman-Rossellini relationship.
But all that's in the past. STROMBOLI must be seen as the revolutionary work that it is. In the past (and this continues today), the film was castigated for its meandering plotlessness, for its seeming aimlessness. These are, in fact, aspects of the film, because the film is not "about" the passions of a woman (though this was how the movie was advertised on its initial release), but about lassitude. In effect, STROMBOLI was the first filmic expression of alienation, literally in the plot device of having Karin (played by Bergman) a displaced person, and metaphorically in scenes such as the one in which Karin is walking through the town and hears voices - she knows that they're talking about her, but she can't understand what they're saying. (The villagers speak in their Sicilian dialect, and Karin speaks in English; there is the scene where Karin redecorates the house, and the women come to stare, but when she invites them to come in, they just stare and skulk away.)
There are so many problems with seeing this film: it was cut and reedited and a voice-over narration was added for its initial American release; the Italian archival version is dubbed all into Italian. The actual version is a multi-lingual (English, Italian, Sicilian dialect) version which runs 107 minutes, with no narrator. In this version, the documentary aspects are fully integrated into the film.
STROMBOLI deserves to be seen in its full version, and deserves to be seen as the precursor of movies such as L'AVVENTURA, Resnais's Hiroshima MON AMOUR and Godard's UNE FEMME MARIEE.
seemingly long-lost television special
I remember watching this TV drama during the summer of 1963; the novelty was in seeing Tuesday Weld in an intense dramatic performance. This show is one of countless numbers which has long been unavailable, but i remember one scene where the actress (played by Weld) is giving a press conference while in a bubble bath. She's trying to seem very giddy and glamorous, but once the press conference is over, she stands up (she's wearing a bathing suit) and breaks down in a very frenzied fit. I've seen the movie remake (directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Kim Novak), but somehow this original, with Tuesday Weld's intensity (very startling, because she had played giddy teenage roles before this, though there were hints of moodiness in WILD IN THE COUNTRY and flashes of intensity in SOLDIER IN THE RAIN; she was already a favorite because of her portrayal of Thalia in the DOBIE GILLIS TV show), remains in my memory, even after more than 40 years. (I hadn't realized it was directed by Franklin Schaffer; somehow the intensity that Weld brought to this part relates to the intensity that Joanne Woodward brought to her part in THE STRIPPER, which was Schaffer's first theatrical film, made just before this TV drama. That's another film that's been unseen for decades, though it has Woodward's finest performance.)
Pierrot le fou (1965)
The further adventures of Franz and Odile
At the end of Godard's "Band of Outsiders" (1964), it's promised that the next film will be the further adventures of Franz and Odile in South America, in Cinemascope and color. Well, maybe they didn't get as far as South America, but "Pierrot le Fou" begins with Anna Karina dressed in her school girl outfit (with matching braided buns) from "Band of Outsiders": this film gets as far as the Riviera, but it is in Cinemascope and color, as Ferdinand and Marianne try to escape from the trappings of the bourgeoise world (as exemplified by the cocktail party, in which Ferdinand meets the American director Samuel Fuller, who tells him "What is Cinema?"). For Godard, "Pierrot le Fou" represented an important milestone in his career: in it, he would document the end of his relationship with Anna Karina. It is the most agonizingly romantic of his films: there are constant reminders as the narration insists on the ultimate mystery, the inability of one person to know another (there is the moment when Anna Karina is seen in close-up, as the narrator wonders when she says it's a nice day, does she really mean it's a nice day?), and the desolation of romantic desire.
Yet the brilliant color, the rapid rhythms, even the song-and-dance numbers (there are three) color the unhappiness, making this a vibrant tragicomedy. The film veers between exuberance and exhaustion, yet for all its free-wheeling formal invention, this is one of Godard's most emotionally direct films, a piercing lament on the perils of love.
(Godard would make two more films with Karina, the short "Anticipation", and "Made in USA", both films far more "formal" and less emotionally engaged; the end of the Godard-Karina marriage, the subtext of "Pierrot le Fou", would also inspire Jacques Rivette's "L'Amour Fou".)
Bande à part (1964)
Epitaph for a Small Winner
In using the title for Macado de Assis's novel as my summary for this particular Godard film, i'm trying to bring up the fact that this is a post-modern narrative, with the narrator (Godard himself) constantly breaking into the action to give us (the audience) not just an idea of what's going on, but to clue us into feelings and ideas that his characters (Franz, Arthur and Odile) can barely express. Yes, a lot of people who are really devoted to Godard's cinema as one of innovation and technical accomplishment often overlook this film, but this is one of the most directly emotional of Godard's early films, an elegy about loneliness and the desire to live life like the movies. For many of us who saw it in the 1960s, it seemed to sum up the way we sat around and wished we were in a movie we "secretly wanted to live" (to quote from Godard's MASCULINE FEMININE). It may not be as technically dazzling as ALPHAVILLE or WEEKEND, but BAND OF OUTSIDERS is a contradictory movie: photographically, the black-and-white images of the suburbs of Paris are often delicately mournful, and Michel LeGrand's music is wistful, yet it's a film filled with love, love for movies, love for its leading lady, Anna Karina, and love for the audience, whom Godard is always addressing.
One of the true originals
It's not just that SCARFACE is far superior to the remake; it's also the fact that it was one of the most daring and controversial movies of its era (though there were compromises: the scene in the editor's office, where the "moral" is spelled out, was added after the film was completed, to appease the various censor boards), and it's still a fast, often startlingly funny, and vicious gangster movie. It doesn't ask you to feel sorry for the characters: rather, the movie assumes that you're fascinated because these characters live fast, hard, dangerous lives. Paul Muni was never better than in this movie (certainly, it's one of his toughest, most direct, least mannered pieces of work), and he's matched by a wonderful supporting cast, especially Ann Dvorak's sly, insinuating performance as his sister. Howard Hawks's direction is amazingly kinetic, and Lee Garmes's cinematography is dazzling (as layered and beautiful as his work for von Sternberg). Simply one of the great American classics!
This Angry Age (1957)
Fondly remembered jewel-of-the-mekong
This movie hasn't been around in decades, and i was only a child when i saw it, yet it has stayed in my memory as few other movies have. I remember that it was shot on location in Southeast Asia, and that the wide-screen color imagery just seemed so exotic, humid and slightly decaying. The close relationship of the two "teenagers" (Anthony Perkins and Silvana Mangano) seemed disturbing and poignant. Am i correct in remembering a scene where Mangano dances to excite a potential boyfriend, while Perkins watches, consumed with jealousy? Jo Van Fleet as their beleaguered mother, with her exhaustion and her sudden rages, seems like the third panel in the triptych of Van Fleet's "aging women" roles (the other two are in EAST OF EDEN and in WILD RIVER). I also remember Alida Valli as the sophisticated woman (does she have some sort of limo?) who gets involved with Perkins.
I've read the novel by Duras, which i love, but i haven't seen this movie since its first release, when my (twin) sister and i were taken to it by our grandmother. We were excited because there were very few movies which seemed to be about twin siblings (i didn't realize that the characters weren't supposed to be twins until i read the novel a few years later). The relationship between Perkins and Mangano did seem to be especially close. I also have no idea where this movie is: there hasn't been a public screening of this movie in the US in almost 50 years! (If there has been, i'm ready to be informed of that fact.)
A Circle of Deception (1960)
actually a remake of fox TV show
When 20th Century Fox entered TV in the 1950s, one of the programs was an hour-long anthology series. This series took many Fox classics (THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, HOUSE OF STRANGERS, MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, THE LATE GEORGE APLEY, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, et al) and reduced them to less-than-an-hour. One of the entries in that series was titled DECEPTION, and it starred Linda Darnell and Trevor Howard; it was about a woman intelligence officer in charge of a complicated spy mission: she has to pick a man who will turn out to be a coward, so that he can be given false information which he will divulge (under torture) to the Nazis. Unless i'm very much mistaken, this is one instance when the TV episode was embellished into a feature film (made in 1961). The movie provides a lot more exposition, but the story is the same, including the female intelligence officer seeking out the man after the war. This film stars Suzy Parker as the intelligence agent, and Bradford Dillman as the man; soon after this movie, they would marry and she would retire from acting. Though they don't have the same depth as Darnell (an exceptional performance) and Howard, Parker and Dillman are nevertheless quite a glamorous couple (as they were in real life).
(Though the film is well-done, the TV show, in this instance, packed more of a punch, and the performances of Linda Darnell and Trevor Howard were exceptional.)
No Greater Glory (1934)
Atypical but important Borzage classic
What makes NO GREAT GLORY atypical for Borzage is that there is no central romantic couple, but this film, a stirring and vivid anti-war drama from the perspective of children (based on Molnar's THE BOYS OF PAUL STREET, which has been filmed on several other occasions), remains one of Borzage's most powerful, and shows the great range of his talent. Using a large cast of children, he is able to get some of the finest performances from many of the child actors, most of whom were Hollywood veterans by this point: George Breakston, Frankie Darro, etc. Yet here, with Borzage's patient guidance, they give fresh and touching performances. Borzage is always able to find great humanity in his performers, and the sorrowful story becomes truly tragic, because Borzage truly engages your emotions and your mind. This is another movie that is not available, and should be made available (and should be shown as often as possible).
Three Comrades (1938)
Another Borzage classic
In the early sound era, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood was Frank Borzage: in fact, he won the very first Academy Award for Best Director (and would win a second one five years later). Yet his work is now virtually unknown. THREE COMRADES came during his tenure at MGM, where he would stay for the next five years (previously, he had been one of the star directors at Fox, and then worked at Columbia and Warner Brothers); it reunited him with Margaret Sullavan, with whom he had worked on LITTLE MAN WHAT NOW in 1934, and it would represent the only official screen credit for F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are moments (especially in the romance between the poor aristocrat Patricia and the young mechanic Erik) in which you can hear the lilt and romanticism of Fitzgerald's sensibility. THREE COMRADES was one of those movies that played a lot of television in late 1950s-early 1960s, and the moving story of three comrades (played by Robert Taylor, Robert Young and Franchot Tone) and the young woman who enters their lives (played by the great Sullavan, in her Academy Award-nominated performance) trying to find some solace and happiness in the rubble of Germany in the period immediately following the first World War is remarkably touching. Though often criticized for the (many) compromises that went into the making (this was a major studio production in 1938, beset with all the production code and commercial considerations of the era), there's still enough of Remarque's powerful story, Fitzgerald's elegant dialog, and Borzage's romanticism (as well as the superb performance by Margaret Sullavan) to make this one of the most memorable American movies of the 1930s.
Man's Castle (1933)
One of the essential Depression dramas
Unfortunately, this film has long been unavailable (as other posters have noted), but this is one of the essential dramas of the Great Depression, a lyrical and touching drama of love set in a shanty-town. It features performances by Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young that are just about the finest of their careers, and it's a surpassing example of how the director, Frank Borzage, was able to create an almost fairy-tale aura around elements of poverty, crime, and horrendous social inequity, which just proves that how truly romantic and spiritual his talents were. This film shows how love survives amidst squalor and desperate need, and it is totally life-affirming. This is a real masterpiece of the period, and is a movie that deserves to be more widely known.
Charming and rueful
OKASAN is one of the rare instances when Naruse was able to create a film with a little more humor than usual; for this reason, this study of an adolescent girl and her mother has moments of great charm, even though the general sadness which pervades so many of Naruse's films cannot help but add dimension to the story. The ending of the film is more upbeat than is usual for Naruse, and so the effect is bittersweet and rueful, rather than despairing and sad. It's a film full of delicate touches of great tenderness; it's a film that really does celebrate motherhood, though in a very unsentimental way. Though Naruse does emphasize the problems of the family, he allows the affection that the family feels for each other to texture the film with a feeling of genuine warmth. This remains a very special film for Naruse for this reason.