The focal point of CASQUE is Marie, played with a perfect balance of insouciance and emotional depth by the great Simone Signoret. But it must be said that the rest of the cast meet her more than halfway. As Marie's lover, Manda, Serge Reggiani is ideally cast. In contrast to many stories depicting strong sexual attraction, it is Manda who is the object of the woman's lust. Reggiani may not seem the obvious choice for the part. He's not tall and has unconventional good looks. But he does have a kind of smouldering sexuality, something he shares with Marie, as we see when the plot develops. Reggiani even has two scenes in which he is clearly naked (discreetly, but still very frank for the time). It's an interesting choice, underscoring the openly sexual element in their relationship. That passion, and Marie's strong desire for Manda, energize the film in a way that goes beyond so many others that deal with similar themes. Besides Reggiani, we must recognize Claude Dauphin, who brilliantly plays Leca, the crime boss who lusts after Marie, always met with frustration.
Becker creates a palpable turn-of-the-century atmosphere, using real Paris locations and an authentic look for the actors' costumes. His directorial touch seems so assured, there is not a single scene that feel superfluous, or does not add to the meaning of what we're seeing. And Robert Lefebvre's cinematography has a beautiful, silvery clarity. It's no surprise that CASQUE D'OR was a hit with audiences (though not initially in France!). A true movie "classic" as watchable today as it ever was.
Another odd and distinguishing thing about "The Sign of the Ram" is the conflict between its setting, Cornwall, England, and its cast. With the exception of Dame May Whitty--as an entertaining, truly mean-minded busybody--there is not an English accent in earshot. People speak lines like "I was born in London" with a consummate American accent. This, along with a pervasive use of painted exteriors gives the film a strong feeling of taking place in some never never land that only resembles the world we know (see "Ivy" (1947) for more of the same).Every 2 minutes or so, the editor has inserted shots of waves violently crashing against the rocky Cornwall coast, on the edge of which is situated the beautiful, gloomy, Amberson-type mansion where the entire film takes place, with a couple of sidetrips to a dank seaside mineshaft. Yes, it's gothic, modern gothic, and we don't mind that either.
Most interesting in the cast is Susan Peters as the tormenting and tormented Leah. Condemned to a wheelchair after a freak accident, Leah--the beautiful, talented Peters resembled a combination of Marsha Hunt and Carolyn Jones--must sit by and watch her older husband's grown children (from his previous marriage) find love and fulfillment outside the house, nicknamed "Bastion", where Leah rules with a very velvet glove. The early scenes lead the viewer to think Leah is just an alright sort--taking a kindly interest in everyone and behaving quite charmingly herself (apparently Peters really did play piano quite nicely, it does not look "faked").
Then one day, her afternoon tea crony, Dame May Whitty, plants one seed of suspicion too many with her idle gossip. Soon Leah is taking far too much control of the future plans of her young step children. One nicely nasty little confrontation occurs after another, as Leah wreaks havoc in "Bastion". She also has the useful legs of Knox's youngest daughter--unnaturally devoted to Leah--to aid in her machinations.
The sometimes hysterical musical score is by Hans Salter, who contributed memorably to some of the the Universal Horrors of the 1940s, but those are only a few of the WHOPPING 384 films for which Salter presumably did musical duties
This is a frequently used plot of a government agent or policeman secretly infiltrating a criminal organization and it works very well with Duff and especially Duryea, playing the leads. Winters is a sympathetic call-girl and McEntire is great as a duplicitous character. The day-for-night locations in Mexico (or a stand-in for it) are dramatically shot with overhanging clouds and trees that seem to glow in the shadows. William Castle directs and he's at his best. Not a major noir by any means, but a fine film that deserves to be restored.
The young actors are all very committed to their roles, especially Sulpice who seems a remarkable talent. Set in a sterile suburb somewhere in France and with long silences between the dialog scenes, it may try the patience of some viewers. Watching this film is a lot like reading Dennis Cooper, who wrote and co-directed.
One night, a strange young man worms his way into one of her dinner parties, and attempts to seduce her, as a kindred spirit of his own isolation. Some time later, he returns when she's alone, and, in front of her, shoots himself in the head. The suicide drives the woman more deeply into her isolation and it seems also to affect a police detective assigned to the case. When his girlfriend leaves him to return to her husband, he feels a strong sense of identity loss, as though he had defined himself only in terms of his relationship to the girlfriend. These characters, and an intense young woman who had known the suicidal man, are the only ones we get to know (if that's even possible) in this enigmatic film. What are we to make of it? These characters are deeply affected by the actions of others, but they don't seem to have a solid sense of themselves. Perhaps the circumstances of the plot have brought out this painful realization, and they realize they are trapped. We see the detective contemplate his police identity card, then leave his home, one among identical houses in a sterile community. In the end, the woman (Redgrave) chats inconsequentially with a male friend, as they sit in a crowded bar, among strangers. The camera pulls back and we see an image of people trapped in an ultimately meaningless existence. And what of the political discussion that opens the film? It's been said that director-screenwriter David Hare was making observations about the current political situation in the UK, but the film doesn't appear to pursue this idea to any great extent.
It's all very well-acted, and filmed with a grainy, harshly lit look. The only complaint might be about the music: it's overly romantic--doesn't seem to fit the drama--and it's often much too loud.
One scene does seems strange: a character is shown rushing down stairs, but only hands on the railing are seen, and in the following shots we see only hands and hear the voice, but never directly see the actor. In the next scene, the actor is again visible as before. Perhaps some production problem forced them to film the sequence this way. In any case, a forgotten gem of 1940s French cinema.
In some ways this recent work of Claire Denis can remind a viewer of a film of Eric Rohmer, LE BEAU MARIAGE in particular. Endless discussion about what the protagonist wants. Simply wanting something from someone is not enough to make it happen. But the cinematic style of Claire Denis is miles away from Rohmer's. The editing alone puts UN BEAU SOLEIL INTÉRIEUR firmly in the art film category. Editing and narrative technique, mainly carried out through one-on-one conversation are sometimes elliptical and leave a viewer to decide what has happened. There is also an odd 'nature walk' with strangers who have a lot to say about seemingly nothing, causing Isabelle to go mad for a moment. Perhaps this is to show the extent of her frustration with life and with people in general. Denis chooses to end the film with the counselor scene: a long sequence composed mainly of close-ups of Depardieur while the final credits run, superimposed over the actors' faces.
An often funny film, very compelling thanks to Binoche's exasperating yet amiable characterization.
At the simplest level, it could be said that the film's most important element is its characters. Few films have such vividly drawn, lived-in, seemingly real characters that most of us can relate to. C.C. Baxter is naive and ambitious, but somehow he's likeable, largely due to Jack Lemmon's performance (perfectly tuned as it is), but also to a convincing, grounded written characterization and setting. With Fran Kubelik, the same can be said: she's a fool, but we don't condemn her for it. Shirley MacLaine was never better than she is in this movie--witty, charming and nearly tragic--at all times convincing. We can't even truly despise Mr. Sheldrake, whose clueless treatment of women would place him at the bottom of the list, because Fred MacMurray was so brilliantly cast against type and therefore seems like a "real" very flawed human being, if not quite a "mensch". The rest of the film is populated by equally well-drawn characters (even very minor ones).
Another factor is the New York setting. Even though only a few shots were actually taken there, the film has a strong big-city feeling, keeping characters in perspective ("little" people living their own small lives, with all the ups and downs that entails). The cinematography by Joseph LaShelle finds a way to use the wide Panavision screen to tell this intimate story, never unduly calling attention to itself.
Adolph Deutsch's terrific score, with its "lonely guy" saxophone theme could not be better suited. And the main theme--a pre-existing song composed by Charles Williams--was a popular hit at the time.
As with most good or great films, the screenplay really is the main thing, and here Wilder and I.A.L Diamond have struck gold, balancing humor and serious drama perfectly. Along the way, the script is studded with so many quotable lines, it takes several viewings to appreciate them all.
In its way, THE APARTMENT has something to say about the human condition that's as strong as most other, more "serious" films have done or attempted to do. An American masterpiece, as good as it gets, movie-wise.
A great film from director Claude Autant-Lara, it had a troubled history with its pacifist message. The French government would not support its production, due to current involvement in the Algerian War, so financial aid came from Yugoslavia. The film was never properly recognized by France, where it was poorly received by critics (probably for political reasons). It has remained obscure ever since and can sometimes be seen in an Italian-dubbed version
At the center of his very well-cast film is Julie Christie in her star-making performance Diana, a young woman of little education, but possessed of personal charm and innate intelligence. Diana is "cursed" with physical beauty in a culture that values it above almost all else. Men find her irresistible and she takes advantage of that, but always in the back of her mind is something called "happiness" that she wonders if she will ever find. It's clear early on that an intellectual lover (Dirk Bogarde, as Robert, a journalist) isn't satisfying a need for some kind of diversion ("there's something about typing" she says). But a liaison with Miles (Laurence Harvey) a hedonistic, unemotional cad, makes her think twice about Robert. Still, she continues to skate on the surface of life, enjoying the privilege of being one of the 'beautiful people' until she finds her own limit. If Robert took her too far in the direction of intellect, Miles leads the way to empty decadence. Ironically, Miles also manages to have Diana named a media star: "The Happiness Girl". After filming some commercials in Italy, Diana escapes to Capri with Mal, a gay photographer. As "brother and sister" they delight in superficial enjoyment. But Italy's comparative serenity makes Diana think she's found what's been missing. Accepting a marriage proposal from very wealthy Prince Cesare, she finds herself living in luxury, but confined to a huge palazzo, mostly by herself. In crisis mode, she returns to London and Robert, but it's too late, he's had enough of her flightiness. So it's back to her life in a castle as a lonely Italian 'princess'.
Despite Christie's lauded performance, Diana is not very sympathetic until the very end. But maybe that's part of the meaning. She thinks she knows what she wants, like so many people do she goes for it, but there is "always another corner to turn" when she gets there. It's a good illustration of the modern predicament. Too much choice, too many surface distractions. In most ways, nothing about 20th-century life in the West has changed. A bitterly ironic film (from the very opening shot of Diana's fashion ad being pasted over a plea for starving children, to the frowzy singer of "Santa Lucia" at the end), fast-paced and creatively directed by John Schlesinger.