Review: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947, Godfrey)

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947, Godfrey)

Published on on March 29th, 2011

Sometimes ideas are better left unfulfilled. A case in point; taking two of the biggest studio stars of all time, Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, and putting them in a suspense noir with strong Gothic overtones. In concept, this is not a bad idea; it gives each star a new and unfamiliar angle to play with Bogart as a mentally unstable painter and Stanwyck playing a passive and helpless victim a year before her superior turn in Sorry, Wrong Number. When no aspect of the project is inspired, the result is a dud. Newly available on DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is a sad and lackluster combination of elements fused together with an utter lack of spirit.

Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart) is a painter who woos Sally (Barbara Stanwyck). Very early in the film, she discovers that he already has a wife and a daughter named Beatrice (Ann Carter). He tells her his wife is an invalid but she does not want to continue their romance. Shortly after returning from his trip with Sally, Geoffrey’s first wife mysteriously dies. Two years later, Geoffrey and Sally are married happily. Geoffrey uses Sally for inspiration for his paintings just as he did with his first wife. His inspiration is running dry and his gaze is straying towards Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith), a rich young woman who also has her eyes on Geoffrey. How far will he go to ensure his own artistic expression? Will Sally or the mature young Beatrice become privy to Geoffrey’s nefarious scheme?

The Two Mrs. Carrolls has nothing to say. As long as a film can work purely on a surface level, as a concise piece of storytelling, depth does not necessarily equal a detractor. When the film cannot tell a story with ease, then there is a problem. Bogart and Stanwyck do not feel like a couple. Their relationship and subsequent marriage is given no time to flourish. They do not have as many scenes together as they should and when they do, it never feels like any connection is established. It does not help that the two stars have no chemistry. In fact, there is no cohesive thread between the actors. They all seem to be operating on different planes; nobody looks like they are really connecting with anybody else. It also does not help that the film is predictable from the start, making it even harder to become in any way absorbed.

Bogart is completely miscast as painter lacking in sanity. It is impossible to buy him as a psychopath. He is always great in expressing inner torment, but not when it is used outside the persona of self-destruction he has plays so wonderfully. Bogart plays psychosis by staring off wide eyed and looking confused. He is out of his element, resulting in a stale and muddled performance.

It does not help that he is given little to work with. There is nothing to convey any reasoning or depth to Geoffrey’s madness. The only signifiers for his instability are the moments where he touches his head. It is silly and does nothing but funnel his illness into a quirk. Since is it meant to be taken seriously and the film never goes beyond the idea that he no longer gets any inspiration from his eventual victims, Geoffrey Carroll’s mental illness never becomes more than an abstract gimmick. Bogart is even forced to be embarrassingly self-referential by saying “I have the strangest feeling that this is the beginning of a beautiful hatred”.

Peter Godfrey’s direction is a hodgepodge of tropes from other genres and films thrown together with no clear understanding of how to use them effectively. This is a suspense film with no suspense. Melodrama as a sensibility is used through Franz Waxman’s excruciatingly present score and as an overall substitute for suspense. The few times suspense is employed it is poorly influenced from Hitchcock films, most strikingly in Suspicion, and the attempts falls flat.

The direction also strongly indicates a desire to use recognizable visual traits of the Gothic genre. Again, with no understanding of how to use these traits, they simply exist within the film and do nothing to enhance mood or atmosphere. The film is filled with blustery days. Wind and rain are always seen and heard. There are a lot of windows that bang open and church bells are often in the soundtrack. There is also the archetypal cranky housekeeper. There is some recognizably noir lighting, but nothing makes enough of an impact. All of this is recycled and brings nothing new to the table, feeling exhausted and dead on arrival. They become empty decorations.

It demands mention that the film is based on a play by Martin Vale. Either the source material was equally inert, or the adaptation by Thomas Job truncated so much of the play that nothing was left to work with. Either way, The Two Mrs. Carrolls has no idea how to put the previous work of other filmmakers and authors into action and is further dragged down by an indifferent performance by Stanwyck and an outright shoddy performance from Bogart. The transfer is iffy in parts, notably at the beginning but overall is sufficient with a trailer being the only special feature. For Bogart, Stanwyck or studio system era completists this will fit within their criteria; for everybody else, feel no shame in skipping this one.

Review: Jane Eyre (2011, Fukunaga)

The story of Jane Eyre shares several similarities with the phenomenon known as the teen romance, which has taken over young adult literature and film in recent years. A young inexperienced girl, a potentially dangerous and fiercely attractive male and a series of hurdles the two have to overcome before being together. Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel was not written for teenagers, but many elements have been reconfigured in young adult stories. Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of an already much interpreted classic takes us back to basics, showing us how to really tell a romance with his compelling version of Jane Eyre.

Most people know Jane Eyre and her “tale of woe”, but here is a brief summary for those who are unfamiliar. Jane (Mia Wasikowska), an orphan whose childhood consisted of a cold aunt, an abusive nephew and an even more abusive education, is employed as a governess at Thornfield Hall by Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) for his ward Adele (Romy Settbon Moore). As her relations with Rochester progress, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a dark secret he desperately wants to keep hidden.

Those who know the story will be interested to know that the film takes Jane’s encounters with Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters and shuffles events. The film begins with her arrival at Rivers and then flashes back and progressing through her story from there. This was a very smart move from screenwriter Moira Buffini. In addition to writing an outstanding adaptation, all potential pacing issues are solved by spreading out the important but uncharged interactions with Rivers as opposed to tackling it in an entirely separate segment, which might have brought the film to a definite halt.

Many period films, especially those depicting the Victorian era, unsurprisingly and understandably tend to have the same look and feel. Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman create a very precise atmosphere, making full use of the many conventions of the Gothic romance. The film feels naturally lit throughout, creating an often dark and gloomy look with muted grey and brown tones. The barren landscapes, wind and rain and foreboding manors are just a few conventions employed here with stunning effect. Dario Marianelli’s score fills the soundtrack with emotive violins that express the suppressed passion that Jane and Rochester keep below the surface. Fukunaga has a clear vision which he executes with conviction, making it stand out from many adaptations of classic Victorian era literature.

Mia Wasikowska, destined for an exciting lifetime of impressive performances, captures the essence of Jane Eyre. Her dignity, guardedness and centered unwavering morals are all perfectly portrayed. She is understated and powerful, conveying subtle transitions in her face at every turn. It might just be the perfect incarnation of the heroine. Another newly risen star, Michael Fassbender, gives Rochester the appropriate coldness and inner torment, proving with his presence exactly why he is getting the attention he fully deserves. It is when the two actors are brought together that magic happens. It is a rare thing when the two romantic leads have the chemistry the story demands them to have; these two do. The film is most engaging when the two are onscreen together, not just from of the power their scenes have, but because of the way they portray the evolution of their relationship. Buffini makes sure that different circumstances surround each scene they have together, making every single interaction between the two unique.

An aspect of Jane Eyre that disappoints is the dilution of several key themes of the novel, making this adaptation a bit more simplistic than it ultimately should be. In regards of Jane’s character, the novel makes it explicitly clear throughout that she has a fear of losing her freedom. Being locked in the Red Room is a literal example. Her romance with Rochester is a continual inner struggle because she fears losing her identity through marriage. She needs to be in control of her own freedom and identity and this aspect of her character is not explored enough. This specific gender issue would have been refreshing to examine, considering so few romance stories bother to do so. Thankfully, Wasikowska captures the rest of her character so perfectly, that one can only complain about this up to a point.

Similarly, Bertha Mason ceases to be relevant in any way whereas she is probably the most analyzed aspect of Brontë’s novel. Granted, she is in such a small portion of the book, it is hard to expect much. Here though, she is never given the chance to have a purpose, much less a symbol. Lastly, Jane and Rochester’s romance is more conventionally structured here. Their mutual affection for each other makes itself known sooner and in a more straightforward and obvious manner than the novel does. Whether this is a flaw is unclear. On the one hand, I admired the complexities of the novel more but on the other hand, I was more taken in by their romance in this film.

In the end though, the film should be taken as its own work. A film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is impossible to discuss without addressing the source material, particularly when taking into account how many times this story has been adapted to the screen. Jane Eyre succeeds because what it does take on is executed with memorable specificity as well as containing some of the best chemistry between two romantic leads in years. For those who are sick of the kinds of romance films that come put today, whether comedy, drama or fantasy, Jane Eyre provides an opportunity to revisit a classic. Was yet another adaptation necessary? Probably not, but it is hard to imagine anyone complaining about it after seeing Fukunaga and Buffini’s splendid interpretation.

Poll: Favorite Elizabeth Taylor Performance?

The beautiful, iconic and gifted legend Elizabeth Taylor passed today at the age of 79. Film bloggers everywhere are writing tributes to an actress we will all miss very much. I will let everyone know the results to this in two weeks. Which performance of Taylor’s do you treasure most? If the performance you would choose is not listed, be sure to vote under Other.

Late Monthly Round-Up: February 2011

This is a list of the films I saw in February of this year for the first time. There will be another one at the end of March. Starting in April, I hope to start a screening log, which will briefly state my feelings on the films seen in a very simplistic and to the point way.  In bold are the films that stood out to me the most from the bunch, so much so that the bold films I now consider amongst my very long list of favorites.

44. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987, Malle)
45. La jetée (1962, Marker)
46. Look Back in Anger (1959, Richardson)
47. Centre Stage (1992, Kwan)
48. Lord of the Flies (1963, Brook)
49. The Housemaid (2011, Im)
50. Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (2000, Hong)
51. L’Eclisse (1962, Antonioni)
52. The Illusionist (2010, Chomet)
53. Flirting with Disaster (1996, Russell)
54. Greed (1924, von Stroheim)
55. Hunger (2008, McQueen)
56. A Short Film About Love (1988, Kieslowski)
57. Life is Beautiful (1998, Benigni)
58. Another Year (2010, Leigh)
59. Revanche (2009, Spielmann)
60. A Woman is a Woman (1961, Godard)
61. Bigger than Life (1956, Ray)
62. Dream Home (2011, Pang)
63. The Piano Teacher (2001, Haneke)
64. Summer Hours (2009, Assayas)
65. All the Real Girls (2001, Green)
66. Peppermint Candy (2000, Lee)
67. Violette Noziere (1978, Chabrol)
68. Oasis (2002, Lee)
69. Alien Space Avenger (1989, Haines)
70. Raise the Red Lantern (1991, Yimou)
71. Dogville (2003, von Trier)
72.  Mädchen in Uniform (1931, Sagan)
73. Homicide (1991, Mamet)
74.  La Cérémonie (1995, Chabrol)
75. To Live (1994, Yimou)
76. Shock Corridor (1963, Fuller)
77. Two-Faced Woman (1942, Cukor)
78. Two Weeks in Another Town (1962, Minnelli)

Review: I Saw the Devil (2011, Kim)

Review originally posted on on March 19th, 2011

Revenge films have been done plenty of times. Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy and Tarantino’s Kill Bill have reestablished the subgenre as the go-to subject matter for hip hyper-violent cinema. They allow the audience to actively justify their desire for onscreen violence because, well, the bad guys deserve it don’t they? Plus, the morality issues at hand can make for juicy thematic material. I Saw the Devil transcends all of this by taking revenge as far as it can go, thereby making itself automatically relevant. The film excels, managing to overcome its flaws because noted South Korean director Kim Ji-Woon knows how to tell a story with effectiveness and panache, unlike many others who venture down extremist territory.

The plot is purposely simplistic due to a reliance on repetition. The emphasis on immersing the audience in the utter brutality of Kyung-chul, (Choi Min-sik) and the incessant and questionable determination of Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is essential. Kyung-chul takes pleasure is assaulting and murdering women. The film starts out with his capture and murder of a young woman named Joo-yeon (Oh San-ha). Her fiancée Soo-hyun, a secret agent of some kind, immediately sets out to find the killer. When he finally confronts Kyung-chul, in what would function as the climax of a typical film of its kind, Soo-hyun beats his fiancée’s killer severely, but does not kill him; he lets him go. The rest of the film depicts a repetitious game of cat-and-mouse so Soo-hyun can carry out his revenge again and again and in increasingly merciless ways.

I Saw the Devil takes the revenge film as far as it can possibly go. It forces the audience to not only experience events from Kyung-chul’s perverse perspective, but it throws itself head-on into the pit of torture, pain and violence that the two men engage in. All that exists for Kyung-chul during the film is an unhinged sadistic desire and all that exists for Soo-hyun is a need for revenge that is impossible to deter.

Its examination of what revenge does to a person might not be an outstandingly complex one, but it does its job well and pulls no punches. The idea that one must become a monster to destroy a monster is familiar. The really wonderful study that takes place in the film are Soo-hyun’s craving to prolong the satisfying feeling revenge gives him, and the idea of revenge as a functioning stopgap between the actual mourning process. One of Kim Ji-woon’s strengths is his execution of specific moments that elevate the material. There are two moments where his study on revenge is fully realized. One is when you can actually see in Soo-hyun’s face that the feeling he has choking Kyung-chul is something he does not want to end. The second moment comes at the very end and is very affecting and adds a lot to our understanding of Soo-hyun. This is something Kim does with similarly excellent results in A Bittersweet Life, also starring Lee-Byung-hun.

Kim Ji-Woon is a filmmaker who knows how and when to use style. He chooses his moments carefully and infuses them with a trendy sensibility without allowing style to overwhelm his film. His always impeccably choreographed fight scenes are on display, riveting as ever. A confrontation in a greenhouse as well as a rather incredible scene that takes place in a taxi cab are two scenes where Kim’s penchant for building up tension and delivering action heavy scenes are on display. The pacing in I Saw the Devil is among the most accomplished in recent memory. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, the film flies by, yet it never feels rushed. Kim takes his time letting the story unfold and allowing atmosphere and mood to sink in, without the running time ever imposing itself. It is fully engrossing throughout which is not an easy feat.

There are still weaknesses that cannot be ignored. The first is that Kim’s characterizations can be a bit too simplistic. It may be thematically understandable for the film to have a one track mind given the very succinct motives of the characters but Soo-hyun and Kyung-chul could have had more depth without losing the ferocity of their motives. This can be attributed to screenwriter Park Hoon-jung (this is Kim’s first film as director only), but characterization has never been Kim’s strong point. There are certainly moments that add quite a lot to our understanding of the two, but it is hard not to wish there had been a bit more.

This film is meant to be extreme and you will not see any arguments from me on the level of violence on display in relation to Kim’s vision. At a certain point though, seeing sexual assault after sexual assault on women adds nothing to the proceedings. This kind of violence is always a tricky subject and it is always going to be somewhat problematic. Aligning us with Kyung-chul and showing us his encounters with women is important to the story. The film is meant to be extremely disturbing but after a couple of these scenes, the audience full well understands the kind of person Kyung-chul is. Certain scenes could have been cut or shortened without losing any kind of its extremist point-of-view. It gets to a point where every time a woman walks onscreen, one can assume there will be an assault, and it becomes disconcerting and obnoxious.

It is impossible to give a blanket recommendation to I Saw the Devil because it is not for everyone’s tastes. Its problems cannot be ignored, and yet I cannot shake it. There is so much to admire here in the ferocity of its vision and execution. The performances are thoroughly strong but it is Choi Min-sik who is nothing less than captivating, giving one of the most memorable portrayals of a serial killer. Whether one thinks it is trussed up trash or a meaningful study on the nature of revenge, it makes no apology for what it is. Unlike many an empty-headed slasher film, I Saw the Devil shows that something meaningful can be said when it uses violence and its impeccable orchestration makes this a must-see for anyone up to the challenge.


List: 10 Films I Instantly Knew Were Special

Have you ever started watching a film that you click with instantly? Whether a simple but solid realization the film is right up your alley or a profound moment that sticks with you for life, the feeling is what counts. This is a pretty unconventional list based on a specific feeling. Some of these films I saw for the first time ten years ago. Some of them I saw for the first time within the past year. It is impossible to describe the required feeling that makes up this list. The best way to describe it is a surge of understanding or an eye opening intensity. I had to be able to recall having this specific feeling in order for a film to be represented here. I also had to be able to recall the moment during the film where the feeling occurred.  There are a number of things that must be pointed out. First, many films are not meant to have that immediate pull and function in different ways. Second, there are a great number of films I had an immediate reaction that are not in the list because I cannot recall that specific elusive and indescribable feeling even if I can assume it occurred. There are other instances where that feeling occurs and it can be recalled, but it is too far in the film to qualify. Some of the entries on this list correlate directly with the age I was during these first viewings. Personally, I found a lot more recent films popping up in my head while brainstorming for this. I believe that the stylistic innovations and use of elaborate camera work, music, pacing and more are geared towards this specific immediate reaction. There is a heightened drive from many modern filmmakers to grab audiences from the start. This is not to say that any which way is better. Some of my favorite films are purposeful slow burns. Others I did not start seriously loving until a second viewing. It must be pointed out above all, that these ten films are not necessarily better than the countless films not on the list. They are simply the ten films I recall being intensely grabbed by within minutes. Unsurprisingly, music is a big component on this list considering that music can be an extremely immediate and emotional experience. The great thing about this list is that personal stories come with each entry and that everybody’s list would be entirely unique between the films and the experiences, memories and importance attached to them. My question to anybody reading this is; what films would make your list?

10. The Graduate
The Graduate was a film that took me two viewings before I counted it amongst my favorites. I was very young when I first saw it and I wasn’t quite ready to relate to the film nor to fully comprehend the satirical aspects. Nevertheless that “feeling” made itself forcefully present during the opening credit sequence. “The Sounds of Silence” being one of my favorite songs from a very young age and being a dedicated fan to Simon and Garfunkel allowed me to be entranced as Benjamin rides the walkway remaining immobile and passive. I felt it was speaking directly to me.

9. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I am not sure what I expected from the original Dawn of the Dead when I saw it for the first time last October. I had already seen several zombie films, including Snyder’s remake. There was a major assumption going in that it would begin either before the zombie attacks or in an post-apocalyptic environment. I did not expect the film to begin mere hours after the attacks begun and for the focus to be the chaos inside a TV station trying to stay on top of and cover what they can. It caught me off guard in the best way possible. My limited experience of the subgenre allowed the approach to be a refreshing way of throwing us right into the situation without reverting to either brief pre-apocalyptic character development or a series of now ineffective shots of stranded and void masses of land and cities.

8. Re-Animator
Our introduction to Herbert West and the subsequent kick-off of the stellar opening credits sequence set to Richard Band’s revamped version of Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Psycho score provided an immediate reaction on my part when I first saw it last October. I remember turning to my boyfriend, who was showing me the film, and saying “That was fucking awesome. I’m going to love this”. The scene immediately establishes the film’s off-kilter and charcoal black humor that will remain throughout.

7. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
Noah Baumbach’s first feature starts with a college graduation party that lasts for about 15 minutes and introduces us to all the major characters. “Cecilia Ann” by The Pixies perfectly starting things off as the ennui and neuroses of the characters shows itself in the immediacy of graduation. It was one of those moments that had me thinking within the first few minutes “Where has this film been all my life?”

6. Ghost World
Being a 15 year old girl who was cynical about my high school surroundings and weary of everyone around me, watching Ghost World allowed me to have a new role model in the form of Thora Birch’s Enid. We are introduced to her as she spins around and dances to “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” in her red graduation outfit in a celebratory moment before she leaves high school forever. I immediately connected to her in such a strong and long lasting way. I have since grown out of my admiration for Enid and as I get older I align myself more (sadly) with Seymour or even Rebecca. She remains one of my favorite film characters even if I don’t connect with her the way I once used to. That opening scene was a revelatory moment for me on a character based level.

5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I was about 12 when I first was introduced to Monty Python. I watched it at a sleepover with some friends. I had heard of Monty Python but had no idea what their type of humor was or what to expect from their work. I had also never been exposed to humor on an absurdist level. Some of the shows I watched when I was younger certainly employed anarchic humor of this kind, but I did not recognize this about said shows until revisiting them years later. The opening credits features a black screen and some rather odd music. Then some stuff starts to go down including sacked projectionists’, some Swedish inspired subtitles that contain nonsense about the moose and an in-your-face orange and yellow llama centric credit spectacle. None of it makes sense and as someone being introduced to their trademark style of humor, I was hooked immediately. After the film, we watched it again that night and came up with llama centric nicknames for each other.

4. House (1977)
Saw this for the first time last summer. At this point, between my twitter avatar, my blog header and its placement in my Top Ten favorite films of all time should make clear how strongly and quickly I fell in love with this film. The surge of feeling came as soon as the it started. On a fundamental level, I understood I had never seen anything like it, would never see anything like this again and that its place in my life would last indefinitely.

3. Magnolia
My first experience with Paul Thomas Anderson was when I was fourteen. The extended opening sequence about coincidence with the voiceover narration of Ricky Jay followed by another extended sequence set to Aimee Mann’s cover of “One” as all major characters are introduced left me astounded. The way Anderson uses tracking shots, montage and his use of the camera as hyperactive participant was love at first sight. I had never seen anything like Magnolia at that time and my primary thought was that I was extremely grateful that the film was three hours. I gave myself over to it completely and have many more times over the years.

2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
This is a special case. I do not consider Altman’s revisionist Western among my favorite films. I think it might be Altman’s best along with Nashville but it was a film that overall I merely liked a lot and appreciated. I saw it about three years ago. It remains the profound moment for me on this list. It’s the only entry here that I would say legitimately changed my life. The reason for this is that it was the first time I heard the music of Leonard Cohen, now my favorite singer/songwriter of all time. Hearing “The Stranger Song” was like a world opening up for me. At first, I wondered if this should count because it was so closely connected to a musician. It’s not just the music though; the entire scene is entrancing beyond words. The song directly correlates to Beatty’s entrance and purpose within the film. It is the perfect start to this film and it has stuck with me ever since.

1. Requiem for a Dream
At the age of 15 I sat down to watch Requiem for a Dream with a friend who had been raving about it. I was not keeping up with much of anything regarding film at this point so I was unaware of what I was in for. The film starts off with split-screens being used in a way I had not seen before. Leto and Wayans take the television set and Clint Mansell’s “Summer Overture” kicks in as the film’s title slams down, pushing the image off the screen with a sound effect that can be likened to a prison door being shut on the viewer. The music immediately have a massive effect on me, with the soundtrack essentially taking over my life for the next several months. I didn’t know quite what I was in for once the film started, all I knew was that it was going to be intense. At that age, I didn’t know film could be used to produce the kind of overall effect Requiem had and to see what film could do made a considerable impact on me as a blossoming cinephile.

Review: America, America (1963, Kazan)

Originally posted at on March 10th, 2011

America, America (1963, Kazan)

Elia Kazan’s deeply personal and ambitious epic America, America is based on his uncle’s immigration to America from Turkey at the turn of the twentieth century. Right at the start of the film we are aware of the director’s direct connection to the material when he introduces himself through voiceover narration, giving us a bit of historical background. This is the only film that Kazan aligns himself with in this way; it is not something I can recall another director doing. Finally getting a DVD release, film buffs should make a point to seek this one out.

America, America is a film that captures the immigrant experience in an authentic yet carefully self-conscious way. Instead of focusing on what happens when our protagonist arrives in America, it tracks his tumultuous journey and escape from his homeland. It is a tribute to the struggles and desperate efforts of the countless trying to flee their homeland, carrying with them the fate of their family. On the other hand, this is the individual story of Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis), an oppressed Greek living in Turkey whose journey to America allowed Kazan to be the artist we revere today.

At the start of the film, Stavros is a Greek living in Turkey where Greeks and Armenians are oppressed. Stavros dreams of going to America. His father Issac (Harry Davis) eventually entrusts him with the families few valuables including money, rugs, meat and jewelry. Issac tells Stavros to travel to Constantinople and meet with his cousin who owns a carpet business. Once there, he can make enough money to slowly transport the rest of his family to the city one by one. His subsequent experiences are arduous and plentiful. He deals with a number of hardships including theft, betrothals, hard labor, affairs and poverty. By the time the film ends, we understand that America was not simply a place that represented prospects. It was a place of importance because it was an alternative to the often harsh realities the immigrants came from. Hardships certainly existed in America too, but Stavros (and the film) is not concerned about what happens once he arrives; all the importance is placed on what it takes to get there.

The film is also about the process of growing up, which is the driving force of Stavros’ arc. When Stavros beings his journey, there are two people who exploit his naiveté. The first is a Turk named Abdul (Lou Antonio) who clings onto Stavros for as long as he can, slowly stripping him of his possessions. The second is a prostitute who steals all the money he spent six months saving by doing dangerously hard labor. Stavros’ smile, a visual motif, makes him open and vulnerable. After this, he grows a mustache and makes a point of never smiling. It is his way of protecting himself. It is hard to take seriously as his very earnest efforts are pretty amusing because his new demeanor is so clearly against his nature. When Stavros finally reaches a happy medium, it is triumphant to see him allow himself to be who he is. The emotional journey and process of growing up is all reflected in whether or not Stavros allows himself to smile.

Stathis Giallelis who plays Stavros, is critical in the audience’s capability to relate and attach ourselves to the protagonist and his plight. This is an openhearted portrayal of a man who has a lot at stake and who is susceptible to human error. Kazan puts a lot of emphasis on Giallelis’ face and it pays off, giving the film the humanistic power it needs.

In America, America, Kazan contrasts realism and conscious storytelling. The realism is represented through the “true story” aspect and the on location shooting in Turkey and Greece. The conscious storytelling comes in through the sprinkles of melodrama throughout and Kazan breaking the fourth wall, provoking the audience’s awareness they are watching a film from the moment it starts. This contrast is also seen in Dede Allen’s editing, used to represent mounting and unmanageable anger. There are scenes traditionally edited placed against scenes that are boldly and dynamically edited with startling results. America, America is a technical standout from top to bottom. Haskell Wexler’s stark use of black-and-white stunningly compliments the film. He highlights Stavros and his families living conditions avoiding any superficial embellishments. The art direction by Gene Callahan, winning the film’s only Oscar is spot on, making the most in contrasting the lower and upper classes.

America, America’s only special feature is a commentary by Foster Hirsch. He starts off by claiming himself to be the foremost champion of the film. His attachment and contextualization to the film are admirable, making for a serviceable if not particularly standout commentary. America, America’s exceedingly slow arrival to DVD is a shame, but its current availability should be celebrated and taken advantage of. Parts of the film do not work and it is not completely consistent. These are relatively easy to overlook though, and anyone who is a Kazan fan needs to seek this out. Not only is it an important film in the context of Kazan’s career, but it is a wonderful epic that stands on its own as a compelling tale of maturity, family, immigration and hope.