Friday, April 28, 2017

EUROPA '51 (1952, ITALY), UMBERTO D (1952, ITALY), SENSO (1954, ITALY), OSSESSIONE (1943, ITALY)

THIS WEEK'S MOVIES

The dying son in Europa '51
 
"The neorealist films repeatedly show that unjust and perverted social structures threaten to warp and pervert the essential and internal human values- Gerald Mast A Short History of the Movies

The above quote about Roberto Rossellini really brings home my takeaway from Europa '51, a film about a wealthy couple living in European society whose life is changed by the death of their often neglected son. The wife's (Ingrid Bergman) life is changed, anyway. She begins to make some form of amends after her son's death by helping those less fortunate and those that are struggling and poor. She eventually gets put in a mental institution by her husband and the society unaccepting of her change. But many of those she helped still support her, and Rosellini (and hopefully the audience) clearly sides with the poor, working class and compassionate.
 
The loyal dog in Umberto D

The hard to please New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther raved about Vittorio de Sica's Umberto D upon release calling it  "a comprehension of human feelings and fatalism that pierce the heart and mind." The film does strike me as having the same feel of de Sica's more famous The Bicycle Thief, but with an old man and a dog instead of a guy trying to make ends meet and his bicycle. I don't mean that comparison in a negative way. Umberto D is a truly moving and often heartbreaking film with an ending that should bring a tear to your eye. Spoiler: The dog doesn't die...but it's still sad.

 The insincere lover in Senso

It's interesting to see some classics listed in the 1001 book that I see for the first time in a complete and restored form without thinking about a particular movie was rarely seen like this until recently. Luchino Visconti's Senso went through a name change (Aslo known as The Wanton Countess), being released in severely edited versions and not released widely in the U. S. until 1968! There are lots of charms in this film in the restored form: romance, war, history, betrayal, compassion..and Alida Valli. Similar in theme and setting to Visconti's The Leopard, I would choose Senso, if you made me pick between the two of them.


"Body Heat 1943" in Ossessione

My favorite of all Visconti's films might be his early film Ossessione, the first of many adaptations of James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. Rawer than the later Hollywood remake (though I like that film, too), this film is ugly (in a good way) and the characters seem like real and damaged people and there is certainly no nice ending in this one...In fact there isn't a happy ending in any of the films on today's blog...so are classics made, I guess.

Until next time...

Friday, April 21, 2017

THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939, FRANCE), LA CHIENNE (1934, FRANCE), THE GOLDEN COACH (1952, FRANCE)

THIS WEEK'S FILMS

The players scramble over the checkerboard
in Rules of the Game

I first saw The Rules of the Game during a summer film comedy class at university during the 80’s. It wasn’t the typical comedy I was used to in this class, but I did like this French comedy of manners and social class from director Jean Renoir. I took a History of Film class (So I like classes where you get to watch movies!) the next year and saw this film again and really began to appreciate it so much more. It’s so smooth and so perfectly done it strikes me as a rare combination of slapstick silliness, ballet, operatic drama all spread over the canvas of the director which is certainly on a par with anything that his father Auguste painted. I have seen The Rules of the Game about five times over the years and it is definitely a movie to be watched and appreciated over several viewings over any cinephile's lifetime.

Michel Simon's everyman falls for the pretty bitch
in La Chienne
Renoir’s La Chienne is an interesting film about an unhappy middle-aged married cashier that falls in love with a pretty younger woman whose devious motivations are geared towards using the poor man for his money and is assisted in her nefarious scheme by her boyfriend/pimp. Like Rules of the Game, La Chienne also explores class in a natural but complex way and in a way that can only lead to a tragic conclusion.

All the world's a stage...Anna Magnani in The Golden Coach

Renoir’s later The Golden Coach really takes on this class theme head on featuring the plot of a viceroy that falls head over heels in love with a commoner (an actress, gasp!) and must make choices between his status and position over true love. But does she love him? And if so, how? And others fall for her too, what are her feelings for them? I like the fact that the actress is played by Anna Magnani, who isn’t traditionally beautiful, but has a charismatic appeal that makes it easy to understand why all these men fall for her. All of this plot revolves around the golden coach of the title, a bauble of status which all seem to strive for, but only has value when given away by the possessor.

Jean Renoir as Octave in Rules of the Game

Friday, April 14, 2017

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), HUD (1963)

1963
Steve McQueen and motorcycle in The Great Escape

The Great Escape has always been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it on television in the seventies (in two parts over two nights). The story of the great Allied World War II prison escape from a German P.O.W. is exciting, historically interesting, has a great cast and has many memorable little moments, too. And I must also acknowledge that Steve McQueen being chased by Nazis on motorcycle will never cease to be anything but awesome! My favorite character has to be Charles Bronson as Danny, the claustrophobic tunnel digger. The movie is so bloody enjoyable I often lose sight of the fact that most of the prisoners are either killed or recaptured!


Origin: The movie is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Paul Brickhill.


Hud the movie
 


Hud is a movie I’ve never seen before. It is about a no-account, but somehow likeable modern day cowpoke played by Paul Newman. Much of the conflict of the film revolves around Hud’s relationship with his honorable father (Melvyn Douglas), idol worshipping nephew (Brandon de Wilde) and attractive housekeeper (Patricia Neal). Despite Hud being depicted as a bad boy in the film, the description of the character in the original book Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry has Hud as a much more unsympathetic character. It’s beautifully shot in black and white and I would agree it is something to be seen at least once.

Hud the book

Here are some other films released in 1963 that I've seen that didn't quite have the right stuff to make the 1001 movie book, many of which have book origins of their own.

 Grant and Hepburn in Charade

Charade-I finally got around to seeing this Hitchcock-like thriller featuring the unbeatable team of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn only recently. Lots of twists and turns in this fun and recommended Stanley Donen film.

Origins: Book by screenplay writer Peter Stone. Did the book/story come before the movie? Apparently that’s complicated.
 





 From the Broadway play

Bye Bye Birdie-Adaptation of the hit musical with Ann-Margaret, Dick Van Dyke and Ed Sullivan.

Origins: The Broadway musical is based on an Elvis-like entertainer that gets drafted. A new version of this  show is probably coming soon to a community theater near you!

Movie poster for Call Me Bwana


Call Me Bwana-The Bob Hope movie formula had run a little dry by the 1960’s. I remember this had a few laughs when I saw it as a kid.

Origins: Not sure…but I do recommend Richard Zoglin’s book Hope: Entertainer of the Century if you are interested in the life and career of Mr. Hope.


 That Muscle Beach Party novelization
you've been waiting for!

Beach Party-The first of the American International beach movies featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

Origins: Apparently form the mind of legendary B-movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff. No books for Beach Party, but I did find that Muscle Beach Party was deemed worthy of a novelization! That would be an interesting collector's item that your neighbor in all likelihood doesn't have!


A Child is Waiting novelization
by Abby Mann


A Child is Waiting-Moving film about a school for developmentally challenged children from director John Cassevetes and featuring Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland.

Origins: This was a originally a teleplay from Abby Mann in the 1950’s first shown on TV as an episode of Westinghouse’s Studio One in Hollywood….You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse!


The Courtship of Eddie's Father
novel by Mark Toby

The Courtship of Eddie's Father
comic book from Dell



The Courtship of Eddie’s Father came to the screen this year with Ron Howard as a boy trying to find a suitable mate for his widowed dad, Glenn Ford.

Origins: Of course, when I think of  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, I think of one of my favorite childhood television shows with Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz in the roles of father and Eddie. The show even spawned a brief comic book series! I believe the Cracked (or was it MAD?) magazine satire of the show was called The Cornchip of Oddie’s Father…Anyway, the actual origin of all of this was a novel of he same name by Mark Toby.
 

 King's Ransom, origin story 
for High and Low

High and Low-For those who may think of Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune films as only being of the Samurai variety, I would highly recommend this modern day police procedural with Mifune playing an unusually sympathetic character for him as the father of a kidnapped girl.

Origin: Interesting that the origin of this story is from the Ed McBain thriller King’s Ransom!
 


 Ian Fleming's 
From Russia with Love


From Russia with Love is one of the best of the Sean Connery Bond films. It helped that this was released while the Cold War was a bit warm and featured Robert Shaw as a dastardly villain.
 
Origins: From Russia with Love was Ian Fleming's fifth James Bond novel and published in 1957. The order of the release of the Fleming novels actually surprised me. Casino Royale was first. Followed by Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds are Forever.
 
 
The rather bland cover of the 
Fun in Acapulco soundtrack
(If you have Ursula Andress in a movie,
put her on the damn record cover!)


I remember watching the Elvis Presley film Fun in Acapulco on television the night that Elvis died.

Origins: Not sure who really came up with those Elvis movie plotlines. It’s mostly about the soundtrack, anyway.



 The definitive Lord of the Flies book cover

Lord of the Flies-The first and probably best adaptation of William Golding’s book about a group of stranded boys who slowly begin to resort to their most primitive nature was Peter Brook’s film from this year.

Origins: Who among us wasn’t assigned to read this book in school at one time or another?

MAD magazine's take on
Stanley Kramer's 
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-Stanley Kramer’s all-star comedy epic about a mad search for a fortune will always be one of my favorite movies even if a perhaps less biased eye might think it hasn’t aged too well. Of all the stars in the movie, I think it’s Dick Shawn as a beatnik mama’s boy that steals the show.

 Origins: From the pens of screenwriting couple William and Tania Rose 




A New Kind of Love-Forgettable romantic comedy with the powerhouse team of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Origin: It did have a literary origin, a novel of the same name by Henry Williams…though after further study it appears this is just a novelization. I wonder if more people read A New Kind of Love the book or Muscle Beach Party, the book?





The Pink Panther-The first (though not the best)  in The Pink Panther/Inspector Closeau film series starring Peter Sellers.

Origin: Blake Edwards was listed as the screenwriter as well as being the director. The film led to several films with Peter Sellers in the role of Closeau, one with Alan Arkin, a re-adaptation years later with Steve Martin in the title role, a 1970's cartoon featuring the actual cartoon panther and briefly a cereal in the early 70's (pictured above) that I mostly remember as tasting like Frosted Flakes.

Raven


The Raven-One of many low-budget American International pictures from this era based on Edgar Allan Poe stories. Roger Corman directed horror legends Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre here.
Origin: The 1845 poem by Poe. All adaptations of Poe's short works require embellishment for feature film treatment.




The Silence-The one film in the Bergman trilogy of films from the early sixties which include Winter Light and Through a Glass Darkly that did NOT make the 1001 book. I think it's as good as the others, so watch it anyway if you are any kind of  Bergman fan.
Origins: The dark mind of Ingmar Bergman, I suppose. I really like the poster above for the Danish release of The Silence.



Sword in the Stone-Last Disney animated film made before the death of Walt Disney.
Origins: T. H. White's 1938 novelization of the legend that was published in 1938.


I will also list three of my favorite Mystery Science Theater episodes from that show that features 1963 movies..
 The Skydivers

The Skydivers, which depicts the goings on at a small skydiving school with hip musical interludes and directed by legendary bad film director Coleman Francis.

 Devil Doll

Devil Doll, not the best film about a ventriloquist dummy that takes on human features but lends itself well to satire from the MST crew...

 The Atomic Brain

 ...and The Atomic Brain aka Monstrosity, one of the funnest of the brain transplant movies this side of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, The Thing with Two Heads and The Brain that Wouldn't Die!




One of my favorite works of literature of the 60's is J. D. Salinger's 1963 novella, Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters. So, yes, he did write something other than Catcher in the Rye! Until next time...