Tuesday, March 28, 2017

FIRES WERE STARTED (1943, GREAT BRITAIN), HENRY V (1944, GREAT BRITAIN), WHISKEY GALORE! (1949, GREAT BRITAIN), PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951, GREAT BRITAIN),

THIS WEEK'S MOVIES

The real life firemen of Fires Were Stated

Fires Were Started is a film shot during World War II about the lives of firemen during that time. It is filmed with real firemen and has a definite neo-realistic feel to it. I have to admit, is probably more historically significant than a great film. Still, I did enjoy many of the scenes where the fireman (and the women who get them where they need to go) are seen off duty where they sing, drink and show their humanity before we see them in action. 

Laurence Olivier in the color enhanced Henry V

I think it's interesting that the 1001 book includes Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944) over his more famous and Oscar winner Hamlet from three years later. The film has beautiful color and costumes, a distinctive style, skilled acting and creative storytelling. One of the most interesting aspects of the piece is how the beginning is depicted as a performance at the Globe Theater in 1600 before seamlessly morphing into something more cinematic. 

The villagers hiding the contraband in Whiskey Galore!

Whiskey Galore! is a slight but charming comedy from Ealing studios and director Alexander Mackendrick. The plot involves the residents of a small island that have taken the alcoholic contents off of a shipwrecked boat and spend much of their time hiding it from the authorities who would take it away from them. Cheers!


Ava and Mason in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a fantasy drama about a woman (Ava Gardner) who gets everyone to fall for her before she forces them all to give up something of value for her. She then meets a mysterious boatman who might be the centuries old Flying Dutchman who may turn out to finally be her match. 

I was recently reading James Kaplan's biography of Frank Sinatra (Sinatra: The Voice). The sections on Frank's marriage to Ava Gardner might be the highlight of the book. Stunningly beautiful and hedonistic to boot, her personal life might be more interesting to look at more than almost anything she did on the screen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

ORPHEE (1950), DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (1951, FRANCE), HILL 24 WILL NOT ANSWER (1955, ISRAEL)

THIS WEEK'S MOVIES

An otherworldly journey for Orphee

Only three movies added this week to the 1001 till. The first one is Orphee, from director Jean Cocteau whose most famous film is the 1946 Beauty and the Beast. Orphee has that same otherworldly wistfulness that Beauty and the Beast  also possesses. Orphee is set in modern day (1950) France, but clearly has its roots in a spiritual realm that is timeless.The flow of Orphee leads us into a series of misdirections that include a trip to the underworld and the a tribunal where love itself is on trial. The special effects of the film are by necessity antiquated, yet charming in their own way. Enchantments abounds.


 
Taking notes in The Diary of a Country Priest

More on the morose side is Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, based on the novel by George Bernanos. The subtle filmmaking style of Robert Bresson is really on display here. A young priest  is assigned to a parish where the community he serves doesn't seem to care for him too much. This communal rejection is shown in very covert ways for the most part, but overt just isn't the way Bresson films work. The priest in the film is also in extremely poor health and much of the film is his dealing with the issues of faith, forgiveness, human frailty and grace. Bresson films aren't for everyone as you can look at them as being so understated that at times there seems like nothing is going on. On the other hand, I think that is what gives his films these strength.

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer is an interesting edition to the 1001 list. It's an Israeli film that tells about a group of soldiers that defend a strategic hill in the fight for the independence of Israel in 1948. Much of the story is told in flashbacks detailing the background of the main players. This film had a different feel to it than many films dealing with war, part of that might be because of the combination of  it being a distinctly Israeli story told by Israeli filmmakers. Might make an interesting double feature with the Palestinian film Paradise Now.

Hill 24 wasn't that easy to find. The version I found was in segments on YouTube and it came with Hebrew subtitles (didn't help) and French subtitles (didn't help) and English closed captioned subtitles that got the dialogue on the screen wrong more often than got it right. I don't know what the line was in the screen shot I took above except I'm pretty sure it wasn't "yes or no now pick up pretty."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955), SALT OF THE EARTH (1954), GUN CRAZY (1950)

THIS WEEK'S MOVIES

Martin and Lewis in the massage scene from Artists and Models 

The 1950's comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis featured Dean as the suave crooner who romances the ladies and Jerry as the goodhearted goofball who specializes in slapstick comedy. After the team broke up in the late 50's, Dean and Jerry were equally successful on their own, but that's another story. I think there should be a Dean and Jerry movie on the 1001 list amd I suppose Artists and Models is as good as any.

The plot involves Dean as a struggling painter and Jerry as a struggling children's author who has an obsession with a comic called Vultureman. The movie features a lot of mistaken identity. Part of that is the mysterious Bat Girl whose secret identity turns out to be a secretary played by Shirley MacLaine. Successful artist Dorothy Malone has a thing for Dean...but doesn't want Dean to know...There's also the twist about Jerry reciting the Vulture's storyline in his dreams, and well, forget the plot. The important parts of the film are the gags. The most successful is the fact that Jerry has to go down several flights of stairs every time he has to answer the phone in their apartment. Their also is a massage scene where people in the room continue to pile on and get tangled up and is pretty funny, too.

At War With the Army, That's My Boy and Money from Home are other movies of the team I've seen.



The women decide to join the picket line Salt of the Earth

This is the second time I've seen Salt of the Earth. It is a movie to be seen for it's historical importance as well as it's storyline. The story is about poor Mexican mine workers picketing for better wages. When many of the workers are jailed or become cognizant of the fact that they are no good to their families on the picket lines, their wives take over the picketing. At that point,  the movie begins to take on a bit of a feminist bent. My favorite scene in the movie is the Union meeting where the women bring up the idea of taking over the picketing and eventually convince most of their husbands to go along with it.

In the tradition of neo-realism, the majority of the performers in the film are non-professional actors (Will Geer is an exception.) Salt of the Earth was blacklisted for years.because of its union ties and use of blacklisted performers. Despite not being seen for years, the film eventually gained an underground cult following. The first time I had heard about it was in Danny Peary's Alternate Oscar book where he dubs Salt of the Earth the Best Picture of 1954. Of course, it is also in the 1001 movies book. It's definitely in my book, too.  


The lovely but deadly Peggy Cummings in Gun Crazy

The 1949 United Artist film noir Gun Crazy has a lot going for it. It's the story about a young sharpshooter named Bart who has a thing against killing despite his talent. He gets involved with a female sharpshooter named Laurie  who has no such reservations. Laurie leads Bart into a life of crime, in the tradition of other film noirs such as Double Indemnity and Detour. The story is brisk and fast (86 minutes). The leads of the affable John Nall and the deadly Peggy Cummings are solid. I also liked many of director Joseph H. Lewis's touches, primarily the shots from the back seats of Bart and Laurie's getaway car at the end of each robbery. I'm certainly a noir fan and I'll add Gun Crazy to my list of favorites of the genre.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... (1953, FRANCE), LOLA MONTES (1955, FRANCE)

Max Ophuls's reputation as one of the great directors of cinema stems not from the contents of his films, which was often rather flimsy, but from their form. A virtuoso of the directing style that emphasized the Mise-En-Scene, his camera was incredibly fluid, constantly moving in an intoxicating array of tracking shots, crane shots, tilts and pans. -Epharim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia


 Letter from an Unknown Woman

Ophuls's foremost stylistic trait is his love for the moving camera. Whenever possible, he liked to tell his story with long sinuous takes lasting for several minutes. But this constant movement isn't merely decorative or showing off. Decor, in Ophuls's film, is all important, and in restlessly exploring his sets, he is demonstrating how his characters are defined, and often constrained by their surroundings.-Philip Kemp, 501 Movie Directors


The Reckless Moment

Ophuls's plots are not are not linear stories but a series of vignettes, held together either by the setting or an object. By deemphasizing the story, Ophuls eliminates key structural balances, comparisons and contrasts of similar actions in different circumstances or different actions in similar ones. Such balancing takes the viewer directly to the center of Ophuls moral statement on love, feelings and social customs.-Gerald Mast, A Short History of Movies

 
Earrings of Madame de...

No one had more sympathy for love than Ophuls, but no one knew as well how lovers remained unknown, stangers-David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film

 Lola Montes

It's interesting to think the same director made the creepy noir The Reckless Moment and the visually stunning Lola Montes, the romantic tragedy Letter from an Unknown Woman and the aristocratic drama The Earrings of Madame de....  However, his films may need, but certainly deserve, repeated screenings and evaluation to truly appreciate.-The writer of this blog