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7/10
Getting From A to B
19 August 2019
What I noticed first about this movie is the colors. I don't know whether it is because the Eastmancolor print aged in odd ways, whether the colors around St. George in Utah are actually those colors, or some combination of the two, but the distant hills that vary from periwinkle to lavender, the bright orange dirt and the varying blues of the sky (indicating to my mind that time passed between the two shots, despite the in-movie continuity) are startling.

It starts when Audie Murphy cuts out what he thinks is a wild horse; his own had died some time earlier. Soon enough, he is being hanged for horse rustling, only to be rescued by Dan Duryea, playing one of his quixotic gunfighters. The two of them are hired by Joan O'Brien to get them to her husband, through warring Apaches.

In other words, it's plot 2: the Anabasis, getting from point A to point B. It's also got a script by Burt Kennedy, filled with exciting situations, dark humor and homely phrases. Good pictures, good stories, good actors.
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3/10
Much Of A Type
19 August 2019
As the other commenter has noted, there were a lot of actualities of local fire brigades heading out to fight a fire in the early days of cinema. Part of it was the excitement of the action. When I was a kid, every evening local news broadcast was heralded by a promise of footage of a major fire, so that impulse did not go away. Another impulse was local pride. I have little doubt that the short of, say, the Cleveland fire department rushing to action played frequently in Cleveland.

As for this one, it's much of a muchness. True, we don't see the firehouse doors open, but we still see the horses galloping, the boilers steaming, and kids running along to accompany the wagons.

As a New York City native, I'd like to tell you where this one was shot, but other tha it being typical commercial street, there are no landmarks to identify it, There are still blocks like that in Manhattan, like 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue; however, in 1903, it could have been any of a thousand.
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The Portrait (1948)
8/10
Some People Are Just Too Good
19 August 2019
The house is very cheap, so the two developers go in on it together. They figure they can get rid of the tenants, make some improvements and flip it for twice the sum. The trouble is that the tenants -- painter Ichirô Sugai, his wife, Chieko Higashiyama, their daughter-in-law and grandson -- their son hasn't been demobilized yet -- the tenants are too nice. So one of the developers moves in with his mistress, Kuniko Igawa. She hates it. They think she is her lover's daughter, and she has to act like a good girl. Then Sugai asks her to sit for a portrait, and she doesn't like what she sees. In the picture, she's too beautiful, and too sad and too good.

It's an atypical movie for director Keisuke Kinoshita. It's too kind. It's also an atypical movie for its screenwriter, Akira Kurosawa. He was still feuding with his home studio of Toho, and how he came to write this modern-dress comedy about women is a mystery. Or is it? Although he would become known for masculine movies, often with women as the motivating demons, he always had a streak of feminine romanticism in his work. Think of his Capraesque ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY, or the soft-hearted old lady who infuriates Toshiro Mifune in SANJURO. As for Kinoshita, he often told his movies with a woman protagonist.

It's a movie proclaiming that the artist sees things in his subject that would never occur to the casual observer, and by forcing the audience to see it, changes that audience. Miss Igawa sees the portrait. She goes through all the stages of denial: denial, bargaining, drunkenness, destruction. Will she achieve acceptance, and what that entails?
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4/10
They Can't All Be Classics, Mr. Porter
18 August 2019
Here's an actuality directed by Edwin S. Porter, best remembered for THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. It shows horse-drawn carts coming to the edge of the wharf and dumping their contents to be shoveled by workers. Judging by the dust raised, it looks like there's a lot of ash from coals involved.

There is also some fairly advanced camerawork involved, as the camera pans a couple of times to show further ranks of carts dumping ashes and men shoveling. What we call a pan shot today involves turning the camera, something that wasn't much done into this moment in film history. Earlier, a pan was any moving shot, usually from a camera mounted on a train, boat, elevator or, in at least one case, a balloon.

The man actually responsible was J.B. Smith he has about five years of credits on the IMDb, almost entirely as a cinematographer. He did direct one classic of the era, SKYSCRAPERS OF NEW YORK FROM THE NORTH RIVER. For about fifty years, when you saw a movie where they gave you a boat's-eye view of lower Manhattan, it was mined from that short.
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4/10
Which Bridge
18 August 2019
A little light Googling indicates that the only New York City bridge on the East River that opened in 1903 was the Williamburg, on December 19th, so we'll say it's that. A group of men in a mixture of silk hats and derbies march across the bridge, looking around suspiciously. One of them is presumably Seth Low, whose tenure as a mayor of New York City was erased in civic memory by Tammany Hall. Presumably the crowd is composed of Brooklyn Republicans, keeping an eye out for Manhattan Democrats armed with brickbats, eggs and snowballs to knock those toppers off their heads.

One of the ways you can tell that a movie was shot at a real event instead of one specially staged for the camera is that everyone wears a hat, and some people are going to look at the camera. Here, the camera-watching is incited by a small boy carried in his mother's arms, followed by several of the politicians. Those cameramen might be Democrats.
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4/10
You Hoist The Jolly Roger. I'm Rowing
18 August 2019
Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, or at least a rowboat. They are pursued by a thirty-foot engine boat, and make their way up to another, then up the lines. Maybe they didn't say "Permission to come aboard" or "Mother, may I?" and that's what makes them pirates.

For hundreds of years, of course, people would steal trade goods out of trading ships tied up at the dock. Did putting a ship in the equation make them pirates and thus common enemy of all mankind, thieves, or perhaps burglars? I'm afraid I don't know enough about admiralty law to offer an opinion. You'd have to ask the Supreme Court -- Federal, not New York State -- for a decision.

It's also a clunkily photographed movie, as the pursuing ship and rowboat slip over the edges of the frame. Now, that should be a crime.
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Riot Squad (1941)
4/10
Nothing Endearing Or Charming About This
18 August 2019
Richard Cromwell is a doctor spending his time as an ambulance driver. He and nurse Rita Quigley are in love and plan to get married and open an office in private practice. One evening, when they are celebrating their engagement at a lavish night club, John Miljan, who runs the club as a front, calls him into his office. He has just been shot -- by the cop he has just killed; the cop was Cromwell's best friend. He offers Cromwell lots of money not to report the gunshot wound, and thus Cromwell is recruited as a mob doctor. Miss Quigley doesn't know exactly what is going on, but the blood she has to wash out of Cromwell's shirt after this incident makes her break off the engagement.

Will Cromwell redeem himself? Will Miljan be brought to justice? Will Miss Quigley finally agree to marry Cromwell? Do I care? I'm not going to spoil this movie for you, so I'll only answer the last question. No, I did not care what happened in this movie. Some of the issues I had with it include its paint-by-numbers plot, an adorable, curly-haired young moppet who sings "Those Endearing Young Charms", and Miss Quigley's apparent inability to speak a line as if she were not squinting at very small print. This is odd, because she was on loan-out from MGM, where they actually hired actors.

I blame director Edward Finney. It's one of five movies he directed. Most of the time he was a producer or executive at Poverty Row studios. According to the story he told, he tried to convince the head of Grand National to film ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, instead of SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT, the mega-flop that is usually blamed for destroying the ambitious studio. If that is true, it only demonstrates he was as effective an executive as a director.
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Mirazhi (1916)
5/10
The Rapacious Rich
18 August 2019
Vera Kholodnaya answers an ad for a reader. Her prospective employer, Arsenii Bibikov insists that she never be accompanied by a man to or from work, and that if she get engaged, she is to tell him. It turns out that his rake of a son, Vitold Polonsky, catches a glimpse of her and sets his cap.

Like many of director Pyotr Chardynin's movies in this period, the wealthy are perceived as rapacious. Chardynin had begin directing movies in 1909 and exhibited a taste for literary properties, like Gogol and Gorky The company of actors he drew on was enormously popular, and he continued working, albeit at a slower rate, through the end of the silent era. Although this movie is more of a potboiler than a prestige picture, it's still an entertaining short feature that demonstrates that, yes, there was a thriving Russian film industry before the Academicians took over.
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6/10
He Was Her Man, But He Done Her Wrong
18 August 2019
Ossip Runitsch and Vera Kholodnaya dance the tango in a dirty saloon in sunny Argentina. One day, Runitsch decides that his sweetie and he will rob the rich Ivan Khudoleyev, which involves her sitting down at his table: but beware liking him, lest they switch from the tango to an Apache!

Noel Coward may have sung about Nina from Argentina and her distaste for the tango, but this ten-minute fragment hints at some good reasons for others to avoid that dance, with its intimations that it's going to turn out that Joe and Chloe (which seem to rhyme in Argentina, or at least in this Russian version of Argentina) are going to turn out to be like Frankie and Johnny. At any rate, it looks like a burlesque of some dance-inspired tragedy to me. On the other hand, it might have been deadly serious and it's only my sense of the ridiculous that makes it seem so. It's hard to tell with only ten minutes of a work whose original length is unknown, but might have been as long as GREED before editors and time got to it.
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The Farewell (I) (2019)
8/10
Family Is Where The Heart Is
18 August 2019
Shuzhen Zhao's hospital report says she has terminal cancer. She has perhaps four months to live. They don't tell her. Instead, the family rushes the marriage of Awkafina's cousin so that they can gather with one one last time, without letting her know anything is wrong.

It's been many years since a good friend insisted I look at Ang Lee's THE WEDDING BANQUET and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN one after the other. When they were done, he said "Well?" and I said "They're so Jewish!" With his comedies of manners about an emigrant culture that sustains itself willy-nilly, rejected by and rejecting the mainstream, both groups are similar in their reliance on family and the dinner table as a means of staying together. Writer-director Lulu Wang's movie is of a piece with these two, with some very entertaining performances, and insight into what family means to people who are forced to be apart.
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6/10
Everything For Sale
18 August 2019
Circus clown Pyotr Chardynin is crippled. He tries to make a go of it playing the violin in the street, but his wife, youthful, lovely Vera Kholodnaya wearies of unending poverty and becomes the mistress of a wealthy man. Soon, his brother, who keeps getting money from him to cover his gambling debts, starts making love to her.

Chardynin also co-directed this disapproving, moralistic movie about the corrupt and corrupting rich. It's a well-told tale, even though to the modern viewer, who barely understands there was a thriving Russian movie industry before the Revolution will find it visually stodgy, with its long takes, centered camera shots and actors instead of "types" in the leading roles. Chardynin's career faded out in the 1920s; apparently he wasn't disapproving enough of the bourgeosie. He died in 1934, aged 61.
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Red Heels (1925)
6/10
A Good Resume-Filler For All Hands
18 August 2019
Lily Damita is the toast of the Montmartre clubs, the little friend of Viscount Henri Treville, and a wild dancer. Eric Barclay is an officer of the British embassy. They love each other, but he wants to marry her, and she isn't the marrying kind. So they get married and, his career ruined, they move into a country home where he fishes and she is bored.

It's a plot that was reasonably popular in the late silent era, and this German-French-Austrian production indicates the wildness of the milieu without anything untoward happening, aside from a few shots of Miss Damita naked behind a screen. Director Michael Curtiz depends mostly on over-the-top set design to indicate extravagance, although the climax, set outdoors during a wild storm, has some flair. It's very watchable, although it doesn't add much to the anyone's career, beyond showing competence.
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10/10
What God Has Ordained When There Is No God
18 August 2019
Originally a miniseries, it was edited down to 169 minutes. It concerns itself with Liv Ullman, a divorce lawyer, and academician Erland Josephson. Over the course of ten years their marriage breaks down. Written by director Ingmar Bergman in a reported three months, it was shot quickly; cinematographer Sven Nykvist later stated that, given its later theatrical release, he would have liked more moving shots. Given the short schedule and tiny budget, that seems impossible in retrospect. As it is, the transfer from videotape to film gives it an inconsistent look, event within individual scenes; that seems to contribute to its intimacy and subjectiveness.

I think the lack of rehearsal, and the two central roles being played by two Bergman regulars give the performances a freshman and lack of polish that contribute to the truth of the movie. These are two people who change, hesitantly and unwillingly, in the throes of overwhelming emotions. The lack of polish, the enormous emotional shifts with scenes give it a documentary feel, even as the characters talk almost endlessly Unlike Bergman's earlier works, which are often theological musings on why G*d doesn't give us more directions, this shows two people trying to make their way in a world where G*d, if he exists, is irrelevant. It's a search for meaning without any hope of objective guide, of people trying to snatch some happiness desperately, in a existential world. It offers no grand messages, no singular route to happiness for all of humanity, just for two individuals.
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5/10
John Carroll Is Even-Tempered: Mad All The Time
17 August 2019
John Carroll is a gangster. that's what the D.A. says, even though Carroll says he's just in the entertainment industry, running a nightclub. When the DA's son is killed in an accident at Carroll's joint, Carroll's on the hook for manslaughter. On advice, he tries a Robin Hood act, including taking care of orphan Martin Spellman. As time goes on and the pressure mounts, Carroll develops real fondness for the boy.

Unfortunately for this Monogram production, Carroll's role is written so he spells in short, disconnected sentences, and he adopts a pugnacious manner. It's not inconsistent with the character, but it's unvarying and not very interesting, totally unsuitable for developing much sympathy for him. Director William Nigh can't seem to do much to overcome this; as someone whose career as a director peaked in the early 1920s, he never seemed to have adapted to the balancing dialogue and action to tell a balanced story.
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6/10
Good "Eastern Western" Musical Sustained by Paramount Polish
17 August 2019
This beautifully presented Hammerstein-Kern musical is about the oil rush in western Pennsylvanian just before the Civil War. With oil wells gushing, farmer Randolph Scott and circus singer Irene Dunne fall in love and get married; the wedding ceremony is capped by the well on his land coming in. Yet that harbinger of prosperity is the death knell of their marriage, as laughing railroad tycoon Alan Hale determines to take over the industry, and Scott has to work hard, and Irene sees their love slipping away. So she returns to the circus.

Paramount obviously had high hopes for this movie, assigning Rouben Mamoulian to direct and cinematographers Vic Milner and Theodore Sparkuhl to supervise the cameras. The cast is likewise excellent: Dorothy Lamour, Raymond Walburn, William Frawley, Charles Bickford, and Akim Tamiroff are just two of the actors adding their talents to the spectacle.

Unhappily, the score is not among the best of the Hammerstein-Kern efforts. Other reviewers have expressed their admiration for Miss Dunne's rendition of the sentimental "The Folks Who Live on the Hill." I prefer Frawley's "Will You Marry Me Tomorrow, Maria?", but there isn't much to it, and and old-fashioned orchestration -- suitable for the 1860 setting -- makes the songs unmemorable.

What's left is the "little guys against greedy capitalists", and there are some beautifully shot sequences, especially when the circus (complete with elephants) comes to the rescue of the men building the pipeline. Yet while the camerawork makes the movie always engaging, the tired story and bad score limit it to that.
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5/10
Not A Particularly Good Entry In The Series
17 August 2019
Hopalong Cassidy and pals are at the end of a cattle drive. Hoppy seeks the comfort of sleeping in a bed -- the audience is a-tingle, wondering if he wears black pajamas to match the spotless black shirt he wears on the dusty trail. Meanwhile, perennial series juvenile Rand Brooks is fascinated by medicine-showman Earl Hodgins and his talk of his many great inventions, including a glass eye that can wink. Hodgins also gives Brooks a drink of his special tea. He says it will clear his mind. It will clear it so greatly that Brooks will do whatever Hodgins says, including giving him the money from the drive and agree to kill Hoppy.

That would have been one way to end the series, I thought, when I read the synopsis. If I give you the impression that I was not impressed with the story written by Charles Belden, you are correct. It's silly, far-fetched and there's no way that things will turn out badly for Bill Boyd when he's the producer; it would break the hearts of the youngsters who loved his screen character.

Cinematographer Mack Stengler shoots the vistas very nicely, and anyone who has seen more than three B westerns will instantly recognize the familiar rocks of Lone Pine in this placeholder entry to the series.
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5/10
A Place One Should Visit Every Half Century Or So
17 August 2019
James A. Fitzpatrick sends his Technicolor cameras north to just over the Canadian border, but keeps his shouty voice back in California to tell his audience that watching watching Mounties on horse parade is the most thrilling sight on the west coast, that they are dreaded, while music suitable for a child's social plays.

I haven't been in Vancouver since 1989, a little more than half a century after this film was released. While the downtown was built up more than it was in this Traveltalk, Stanley Park looked to be the same, barring the vagaries of gardening, and the trolleys still ran. The only difference seemed to be in the weather. I was in Vancouver two weeks, and everyone was pleased we got one whole day of sunshine. One of the locals worriedly spoke of drought. There's little but bright sunshine on view in this short. Either the place must have been turning into a desert, or the camera crew was there for a year or two.
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9/10
Desconstruction With Explosives
17 August 2019
Mexican bandit Rod Steiger and his family meet ex-IRA explosives expert James Coburn when he blows up their railroad car, and falls in love. Why not rob a bank? Coburn agrees, but has more in mind. He radicalizes Steiger, makes him a hero to the followers of Pancho Villa as some grand joke.

It's one of Sergio Leon's big, sprawling spaghetti westerns, in which he deconstructs more of the myths of the Old West, and tackles the fashionable revolutionary movements of the 1960s. Coburn may read Bakunin, but he is haunted by the violence of the Easter Rebellion. Steiger is driven by the desire for wealth, but he doesn't want to destroy the world he has grown up in, he wants to be part of it. Both men are adored by the Mexican revolutionaries, but Romolo Valli knows Coburn of old, and knows him for what he is. In the end, they are not creating a better world for people. They are only creating destruction.
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6/10
The Sound Department of MGM
16 August 2019
Frank Whitbeck narrates this MGM promotional short subject. He introduces Douglas Shearer, for many years the head of the MGM sound department. He had got the job because he was the brother of Norma Shearer, the wife of the now-legendary Irving Thalberg. Doug needed a job, no one knew anything about this new-fangled sound system.... so he got the job and learned along the way. He picked up 14 Oscars during his career. Not a bad job.

It's a promotional short, as I said, and it's used to tell you about forthcoming MGM pictures, some of which never got made, or didn't get made for five years. Along the way, you get the usual two-second portrait shots of some of MGM's stars, of which the saying went, there were more than in heaven. There's also a color test of Greer Garson. As a family snapshot album, it's a lot of fun.
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6/10
We Must Have Movies, Too
16 August 2019
This MGM promotional film covers the importance of music to movies, starting with a rather soulful woman singing "The Curse of an Aching Heart", and then a fade in and out to "the first important musical": THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929).

Well, it was important to MGM, I suppose. After that, it turns into an advertisement for the forthcoming MGM Nelson Eddy vehicle, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER. It flopped.

It was an important period in MGM when this was made. Arthur Freed had been a songwriter for MGM for a decade -- some of his songs were used in THE BROADWAY MELODY. He had been an uncredited producer on THE WIZARD OF OZ, and well working on a series of Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals. The following year would see the premiere of Gene Kelly, and a decade-long sweep of great musicals.

Oh, this ends with a series of two-second shots of a couple of dozen shots of MGM stars. The point of this short is "Rent MGM musicals. They're patriotic" and to prove it, here's Rise Stevens singing "America the Beautiful."
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4/10
Lucille Gleason, Policewoman
16 August 2019
Lucille Gleason is the police woman who supervises the local dance hall. She's friendly and approachable, and she helps out some fallen women by letting them stay at her house. She's out to get gangster Jason Robards, and has been letting his ex-girlfriend stay at her house, after escaping arrest. When Rpobards calls in a complaint about a noisy party, the police show up, the girl olts, and is taken for a ride by Robards. Plus Gleason loses her badge.

It's a decent story, and Mrs. Gleason is fine in the role, but director William J. Cowen can't raise a good performance out of Robards, and the pacing of the dialogue slows down abominably for skilled actors like Laura Treadwell, Dick Elliott and Henry Hall. The result is a 1-hour second feature that seems interminable.
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Shoot Out (1971)
6/10
Nature Against Man
16 August 2019
Gregory Peck has just gotten out of prison and is traveling, looking for something or some one. Meanwhile, James Gregory sends vicious, stupid gun man Robert Lyons to trail him and report back, but not kill him under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Peck gets notice to pick up up a package, which turns out to be a little girl whom he believes is his daughter.

It plays with the western themes of the beauties of nature versus the ugliness of people and their actions. Cinematographer Earl Rath (whose IMDb entry is in awful shape as to credits, and who seems to be alive at the age of 117 as I write this; other sources indicate he was teaching at USC at least as recently as 2002) shoots the mountain country of New Mexico as it fades from fall to winter in a bright, soft light. Henry Hathaway, long a specialist in A Westerns offers a violent, stupid west, where the only defense against evil is a bank robber. Even if it's Gregory "Atticus Finch" Peck, I'm not sure how I feel about that.
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The Dytiscus (1912)
6/10
Learning Something
16 August 2019
I didn't know the name of this sort of water beetle before I looked at this short subject on the Eye Institute site on Youtube, so that's one thing I learned from this early documentary film. It seems that the French production company, Eclair, released a bunch of these, at least in 1912. So that's something else.

It seems to be disorganized according to the way I am used to seeing short scientific films. The disorganization seems unlikely. More probably, it was a change in how scientific movies were organized and edited.

One of the bits I could have done without is the bit where the dystiscus it eating what looks like a newt as large as itself. Whoever ran this series for Eclair seems to have been fond of showing the feeding habits of their subjects.
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7/10
If You Don't Know Whether To Kill Yourself Or Go Bowling, Do What You Did Yesterday
16 August 2019
Teiji Takahashi's boss is looking for summer home, so Takahashi and his wife, Yoshiko Kuga, agree to rent him their house. It will pay for the mortgage. He will stay with a friend, and she will take their son to visit her family. They live in a mountain resort town. It's no real vacation. Hoods from the city are causing problems, and the police won't deal with them. Her sister's ice cream cart business is thwarted by cool and rainy weather. Miss Kuga makes friends with an ex-army officer who hates himself for sending his soldiers to die in the War. He lives by taking money from his separated wife to look after their daughter.

Everyone is living from day to day, treading in accustomed paths, waiting for something to happen, like the poem quoted in the movie; a line of it is the movie's title. They feel as if society has broken down, and there is nothing left to do but wearily return to what they have done yesterday.

It's the flip side to writer-director Keisuke Kinoshita's bitter comedies. It's a study in anomie and despair and very telling, a story of people at a loss how to fix anything, but they still continue out of habit.
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6/10
Some One Runs Fast
15 August 2019
Here's a late RKO-Pathe Sportscope about the breaking of the 4-minute mile. That track record was one that stood for millennia, ever since the Elian Games gave way to the Olympics. It's not that they used the mile, of course, but it's been one since the revival of the Games in the late 19th Century.

This short gives a historical survey of the fastest Olympians from the 1920s on, as the record time drops from four minutes and ten seconds, down and down by tens of a second, down to the actual breaking of the record by Roger Bannister on May 6, 1954 for a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. There's some discussion and film of more recent runs, up through 1956, when this film was released.

Hicham El Guerrouj is the current men's record holder with his time of 3:43.13, while Sifan Hassan has the women's record, pending ratification, of 4:12.33 as I write this. I expect it will be broken again.
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