#19. Endless Night (1972, Gilliat): C
Largely sluggish but with a great twist at the end, and some nice touches on the dialogue. Also a whackadoo 70’s house and George Sanders in one of his last roles (he committed suicide before the film’s release). Memorable Bernard Herrmann score. I wish Britt Ekland’s character and purpose had felt formed instead of wobbly. It did actually leave me wanting to read Agatha Christie’s novel and to see the other two Mills/Bennett collaborations.
#20. Code Unknown (2000, Haneke): A-
Speaks about racial tension, communication, avoidance and how we deal with violence in ways that circumvent the cliches of the hyperlink film by maintaining an elusive quality. Each segment, almost always in one take either stagnant or tracking, could stand on its own and is in some ways meant to based on the cut to black that separates them. But bring them all together to consider them as a whole, and Haneke gives you a lot to think about and mull over.
#4. The Maltese Falcon (1941, Huston)
First Seen in: 2005
I’m picky with my film noir. Sure, I like a lot of them but love comparatively few. This is definitely one of my favorites. With Sam Spade at its center, corrupt characters move in and out of his way at breakneck speed with snappy repartee abound. It says something that Spade, who cannot at any cost be bested, giving nobody the benefit of the doubt, still manages to lose the upper hand several times along the way. He has a total absence of grief over partner’s death. No angel himself, he is surrounded by amorality, but oh what forms they come in. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet; iconic characters. Lorre with his phallic cane and gardenia smelling cards and Greenstreet, a hulking mass in front of Huston’s low-angle shots, his form engulfing the frame. No noir tropes yet formed for the screen allows for Mary Astor’s atypical femme fatale casting which works though her deception is nowhere near as colorfully mounted as her male counterparts. Love Spade and his secretary Effie. Legitimately exciting when all major players converge at the end though it says something that Astor has like zero dialogue during this scene. Love the shadow of the bars almost making a falcon stamp across Astor’s face as the elevator gate shuts. I’m not sure I buy Spade’s confession at the end. I always forget that this was John Huston’s first film. Insanity.
#5. Notorious (1946, Hitchcock)
First Seen in: my guess would be 2003
When I first saw this as a teenager I was underwhelmed. Suffice it to say I was an idiot. Hitchcock’s most romantic film with his most nuanced romantic pairing at its center. This is really about a layered love triangle under the guise of a spy thriller and the Macguffin of a wine bottle full of uranium. There’s a simple narrative throughline which everything is built off of and it shifts from section to section with ease. Grant’s Devlin is cold, afraid of his own feelings (and of women, but he’ll get over it) favoring an easier unresponsive state. Bergman’s Alicia is trapped by her father’s past and her own past, always being watched, she is both looked down upon as ‘that sort of woman’ yet is needed for being exactly that. Bring the two together and we see the evolution of a romance provoked by Grant’s passivity and Bergman’s actions in reaction to his passivity.
And those are only the basics of what these two have between each other. Bring in Claude Rains as Alex, a sympathetic villain who wears his foolish heart on his sleeve, the opposite of Devlin, and there’s a riveting triangle at play. The luminous close-up is front and center. The drinking motif, the act of watching and being watched, of playacting, etc. I love Bergman’s Alicia; my favorite performance from her I believe. I had gotten so used to seeing her as Ilsa, a character I’ve always found pretty uninteresting. There is a sophistication here in Hitchcock’s work that feels like a man working at his peak. Everything came together on this one. It’s precise and mature. Truffaut said to him “of all your pictures, this is the one in which one feels the most perfect correlation between what you are aiming at and what appears on the screen”. He’s right, and Hitchcock, who is constantly self-critical in their interviews, doesn’t have a bad thing to say about it.
#6. Rope (1948, Hitchcock)
Seen twice, both times between 5-10 years ago.
Hitchcock is a virtuoso at editing, using it to create, build and sustain suspense like no other. So by taking editing out in its entirety, you have a most interesting self-imposed challenge. Camera movement thus takes on double the importance it normally has, substituting his usual shot distance:importance ratio. He still gets to maintain that ratio; he just has to go about getting there more inventively. I think the experiment or gimmick of Rope mainly works, but it can’t help but feel like a trick being played for the sake of it. I don’t feel Hitch’s connection or devotion to the story, but more his preoccupation in wowing everyone with the technical achievement that it most certainly is. Arthur Laurents does a lot with his script, trying to do what he can, but he’s stuck with a very one-note central dynamic. Dall and Granger give broad performances that don’t quite work for me.
The mounting suspense is thrilling, especially with the way Brandon keeps pushing the situation, daring others to suspect and generally overplaying his hand. It’s the central party that has me glued to the screen. Loving Joan Chandler’s dress in this by the way. Everyone has their part to play and I love the loaded double meaning dialogue. The camera is like a guest itself, wandering around, snooping in on conflicts, discussions, heated conversations, etc. I lose track of time during this second act, that’s how caught up in it I am. Jimmy Stewart’s face (a miscasting that works only because Stewart is always great) as he slowly begins to suspect. His observational moments are a highlight as is his interrogation of Philip as he plays Mouvement Perpétuel No. 1 more and more nervously. The scene where the camera lingers on the chest as Mrs. Wilson disrobes the coffin of its dining room status. The alternating between the green and red lights at the end has a claustrophobic, walls-closing-in effect. And that silent final image is exactly like the end of a stage play; you can practically feel the curtain go down. Definitely some issues that keep this from top-tier status, but still fabulous.
#7. Marathon Man (1976, Schlesinger)
First Seen in: 2008
Marathon Man has me in its grip from start to finish. Uses the audience’s lack of information in the first half as a constant source of paranoia, using that old rule that prolonging the knowledge of what’s important by nature makes everything important. The first half features some careful character and mood based table setting. I love how it’s just a bunch of disparate elements floating about, slowly being brought together by the plot. Uses running and the accompanying endurance of pain to connect Babe’s journey, from legs to teeth. It also fuses the past via the Holocaust’s infinite trauma and its imprint on New York City and couples it with various crises, tensions and crime rates in the then-present climate. The scene where Szell is recognized on the street surpasses its superficial purpose of creating tension and feels disturbingly weighty. The second film to use the Steadicam for all of the running scenes. And speaking of Olivier, his monstrous Szell reminds me of Geri the Cleaner from Toy Story 2. Am I right or am I right? The plot feels a little flimsy by the end (The Division feels far too abstract), which is mostly overcome by not having plot be its main concern in the first place. Creepy high frequency score by Michael Small as well as alternately gritty and grand photography by the great Conrad Hall.
#8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Polanski)
First Seen in: 2003 or 2004
#9. The Asphalt Jungle (1950, Huston)
First Seen in: 2005
When I rewatched The Maltese Falcon, I mentioned I’m picky with my noirs. Well here we have another one, more specifically another one directed by John Huston, that I consider among my favorites of the genre. It’s a crossbreed between an A & B picture. Rising above the pack primarily because it knows that the broad motivation of money is not enough to sustain interest or longevity. This is character-based, spending all of its time first, individualizing all participants motivation, weaknesses and general character. Secondly, it examines the individuals within the collective through themes of loyalty, teamwork and male bonding. I’ve watched this twice tonight, the second time with commentary and what struck me the second time was how successful the dialogue is at subtle foreshadowing and repetition. Sam Jaffe always intrigues me like few other actors employed in the Hollywood studio system. And Louis Calhern is stupendous, sympathetic in spite of his deeds. And Gus! So good. Sterling Hayden has always eluded me. I can’t dig into that one-note of musky ruggedness and it has always hindered me from feeling much towards him. His character’s loyalty to Jaffe won me over though.
Poor Jean Hagen. It’s pretty clear that Hayden doesn’t feel much one way or the other but she is needy like a wounded puppy. In Huston’s world there is little room for women. They exist on the outskirts; resigned, clinging, invalid or in the case of Marilyn Monroe a wide-eyed sex kitten who likes scandalous green bathing suits and trips to Cuba. Favorite scenes include Jaffe in the diner, Calhern and his wife playing cards, Calhern’s final moments, Jean Hagen and her malfunctioning fluttering eyelash and that magnificently ironic and tragic end. Dense, multiplaned low-key ‘noir’ photography gives plenty to take in. Who can forget the quote “After all, crime is just a left-handed form of human endeavor”
2013 Book Challenge:
#7. The Little Friend – Donna Tartt: 9/10