Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #105-109


savage nights
#105. Savage Nights (Les Nuits Fauves) (1992, Collard) (France)
AIDS stories, still, are mostly either told from heterosexual perspectives or are glaringly saccharine or simply don’t exist. Sift through all of that and hopefully you’ll eventually find your way to Cyril Collard’s Savage Nights, a searingly open and personal portrait. Collard, the writer, director, and star, was HIV-positive, dying three days before the C√©sar’s (where the film took the top prize that year). He smartly addresses the disease by not addressing it. Jean’s (Collard) resolute inability to process haunts the entire film and his actions (or rather inaction). It is made the backdrop for a story about toxic relationships, where Jean’s condition indirectly informs all interpersonal drama.

Jean wears a key around his neck, a permanent personal indicator of what he carries within. His inability to reconcile his status leads to externalizing his destructive tendencies. He inflicts suffering on others without really fully meaning to. Jean’s not a directly malicious guy; in fact he’s full of charm. But his refusal to engage directly in relationships, letting others fawn, yell, tear their hair out over him without ever really putting in or pulling out, stands in for the ways he also refuses to engage with his virus, substituting hedonism for reconciliation.

It may be salaciously called Savage Nights, but Collard is preoccupied with dawn and dusk. Between the car rides and the obsessive pull of emotions, the camerawork tactfully implies (refreshingly not through quick editing) a fast living whirlwind with an at-times trained circling. Blue, red, yellow, the primary colors, predominate the film. The building blocks of living; separate, not in tandem.

Question; how did Romaine Bohringer not catapult to sustained stardom? I’m convinced that Jean was Laura’s first though she insists otherwise.

A tad overlong. The triangle suffers from imbalance, leaving Samy (Carlos López) and (the most taboo material) the realization of his sadistic inclinations underexplored. He ends up feeling like an afterthought compared to Laura.

longdaycloses4
#106. The Long Day Closes (1992, Davies)
(UK)
As the opening credits unfold over The Long Day Closes, the roses on the left decay via dissolve, while contrastingly, the ageless music plays. Very similar to Distant Voices, Still Lives in its autobiographical origins of Terence Davies’s 1950’s Liverpool upbringing and the ‘no story’ impetus. This time the father is already absent. It’s like a memory box framed by wall-to-wall song, depicting the essence Bud’s childhood. Davies has described himself as having a ‘photographic emotional memory’ and that’s exactly what this is. These aren’t snapshots. But lingering imprints. Film is used here¬† to interpret, preserve, represent and capture individual experience in the way memory works. Not as a quickening flipbook like The Tree of Life. But honoring the experience of memory as sense-driven, not narrative-driven in a way at once filled with minutiae and universality.

It’s like a sifter; we don’t see Bud living through childhood, but the act of remembering with a mix of fondness and sadness. I found it to be a lonely film despite its comforts. Bud is always centered, facing directly towards us, addressing us within his own recollections. It makes him removed, never fully part of anything around him good or bad. He is like us; a co-observer.

Rarely have I been more impressed by the use of both sound and dissolves. The preciseness of its construction is a wonder. Like the music, the sound of preexisting cinema is used as an additional aural layer. We hear fanfare and dialogue from the movies Bud has assumedly gazed at. Wind and rain are constants. The film brought up a wide array of reactions in me; one minute I was transfixed (“Tammy”, the shot of the rug) , the next minute listless. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, yet parts of it felt so precise as to be distancing.

rock hudson's home movies
#107. Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992, Rappaport)

Combines visual essay, humoring commentary, and a grand amount of artistic license; this is the kind of loosely defined documentary that today is common to conceptualize and execute in an age where everything is reconfigured into something else many times over. But in 1992 it’s safe to say this wasn’t the case. Rock Hudson, his persona, and his work, are reappraised, using him to reflect back at us the societal norms and expected gendered behavior of past and present. The artistic license is a bit jarring and Eric Farr lends a stilted video-exhibit feel. But it balances the more thesis-like aspects with the humor so well, never letting one encroach or take away from the other.

It’s the Little Things:
– Paula Prentiss ‘fishing’ montage
– Anything involving Tony Randall

Brother's Keeper
#108. Brother’s Keeper (1992, Berlinger/Sinofsky)

Brother’s Keeper isn’t about whether or nor Delbert Ward actually killed his ailing brother Bill. It’s about the dynamics of small communities like Munnsville, NY, where the Wards are fervently supported, without question, by all their fellow townspeople. They put up bail money, hold benefit dinners, and attend the trial with all the muster they have. Part of this support has to do with how iconic the Wards (three brothers total, not including the deceased) within the community. Some kind of know them, some kind of don’t and a few know them quite well. The populace protects the reclusive, mostly illiterate, and mentally debilitated Delbert (same goes for all three) because he is one of their own. They are, as defender, prosecutor, and populace say, ‘simple folk’. The big city versus little town friction comes into play in a major way, mostly in how the Wards were treated by the higher-ups during crucial events like interrogations and the signing of documents.

Owing great debt to the Maysles Brothers, who the film is dedicated to, we oscillate between life with the Wards, interviewing the townspeople, and the anticipation and resolution of the trial. Though the filmmakers are clearly fascinated with these people and this story in a slightly condescending way (though I really don’t know how one would avoid it), it takes a non-judgmental stance as far as the case itself. This is incredibly gripping and mysterious stuff, with more questions than answers by the end. The camera expertly observes the Wards in their environment, attempting to understand and not able to truly break through the supposed simplicity, lending to its power.

It’s the Little Things:
– Warning, there is quite a graphic pig slaughter
– I can honestly say that the scene with Lyman taking the stand is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to watch.

Film Title: Non-Stop
#109. Non-Stop (2014, Collet-Serra)

OK, so it all goes to shit in the final act, simultaneously predictable in the least inventive way and patently silly but without the fun. But the first two-thirds, publicly aired backstory and diminishing returns aside, are quite enjoyable. Liam Neeson can play these roles in his sleep, and even if I don’t for a second buy him as an on-the-outs alcoholic, watching his comfortably established late-career action man persona is always fun. And I’m a sucker for crisis-in-enclosed-spaces films (Speed, Cube, etc). I’m still waiting for people to admit that Jaume Collet-Serra is better than his reputation suggests. With Orphan he has automatic lifetime interest from me, and Unknown is considerably more astute than people seem to want to admit. Serra’s got some effectively economic moments, using the wide frame and tight shots to enhance the general incapacity for escape, particularly in how people are apt to overlap and share cramped spaces while in danger. Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson are shaping up to be a lively team, with a third collaboration currently in production.

 

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #100-104


Little Odessa
#100. Little Odessa (1994, Gray) (US)

Finally getting around to watching James Gray’s films as a mini side-project while trekking through 1992. Strong performances, or rather a ‘strong group of inherently engaging actors’, and an astonishing sense of place carries Gray’s debut. Quietly stimulating start gradually fizzles into worn-out yet oblique territory,¬†the genre focus being just enough to falter what is otherwise ostensibly a character piece. But the depiction of Little Odessa itself, the snowy streets and the all-too-real abodes, is incredibly cogent. Gray is always very conscious of how the characters exist within this environment, favoring longer takes, often from a distance, closing in to utilize actorly punctuation. Moira Kelly plays the most useless ‘obligatory woman’ character I’ve seen in I don’t even know how long. The obliqueness of the story makes her next-level pointless. She’s barely there for cliche’s sake. She’s just sort of there. Decent enough film, certainly a notable debut if only because it makes me want to see what Gray does (or did rather) next.

Full Contact
#101. Full Contact (1992, Lam)
(Hong Kong)
“Masturbate in hell!!!!!” might just be the greatest movie line of all time. I think we can all agree on that.

Same year as Hard Boiled. But this is Ringo Lam; grittier, scaled down. Chow Yun-Fat, love the man though I do, is difficult to accept with a straight face as a biker punk. But of course we go with it because we love the man. Full Contact doesn’t fully kick into gear until Chow comes back for revenge after a botched deal. Anthony Wong is so damn good at playing the cowering-to-competent thief. Lots of early 90’s club action! Bullet time! There’s a glorious montage featuring Chow, a dog, workout training, swimming, and shooting bottles. There’s also a horribly shrill female character whose part consists of cackling and making sex noises. Homophobia comes through with the (admittedly fun) depiction of an effeminate gangster…who is also kind of a magician? Chow, with the rain tinkle-tinkling on his phallic knife, rides through the streets to reek havoc¬†as if a¬†ghostly entity.

Bad Lieutenant
#102. Bad Lieutenant (1992, Ferrara)

Harvey Keitel’s dying animal wails are the kind of sounds that stay with you. The lower depths of humanity are plumbed and then some, strung along by the traipsing sounds of unintelligible and unformed pleas. We rarely see the unnamed Lieutenant’s family. The power of the contrast between his family life and personal life is that there is no contrast. We’re past contrast, arriving at the¬†absence of. Depravity and religion provide the Lieutenant’s indirectly motivated (much more powerful in its ‘just because’ presence) unstoppable descent into hell, the sensationalistic central crime of a nun’s rape bridging the two. More specifically, the nun’s subsequent forgiveness to the unknown perpetrators is the catalyst for a concurrent spiritual tailspin. He cannot comprehend the forgiveness of sin, and it builds¬†to a protracted and somewhat deformed act of salvation akin to watching teeth pulled.

There are so many shots in Bad Lieutenant I love. Abel Ferrara and Ken Kelsch’s poised camerawork rests against the lack of humanity on display. The long takes let the images burn. How does the Lieutenant relate, and not relate, to those within the frame at all times? Someone somewhere suggested you need a connection to the religiosity of the material to connect to it. Well, I don’t have an ounce of that in me, but nevertheless found this a fascinating study of faith and spirituality within the morally bankrupt. A man who has lost touch with himself as human is confronted with the possibility of being judged by a higher being; blank slate, wiped clean, lifted up and out. He had made peace with hell. Salvation throws everything off. It’s not hard to see why Scorsese is nuts for this film. The drudgery and agonized Catholicism against urban decay. And with Harvey Keitel!

Speaking of Harvey Keitel, this has got to be the closest thing to an actual¬†purging of the soul I’m ever likely to see…right? Isabelle Adjani in Possession comes to mind as a companion performance. I hereby proclaim 1992 the Year of Keitel! Naked, limp, feral, begging, provoking, whacking off, high, and making truly outrageous bets. There¬†are no other characters (in the traditional sense)¬†in Bad Lieutenant. They are enablers, examples, catalysts, set dressing. They aren’t taken into consideration beyond their visual necessities (even the nun, who serves as pure symbolic purpose). This is a one-man implosion. There’s baring the self, and there’s baring the self. This is like watching someone flayed open, and it’s all nasty bits and some excruciating levels of sadness existing free of audience empathy (pity though? yes).

It’s the Little Things:
РAs horrifying as that drawn-out scene with the two young girls is, I could not look away from it; just 100% glued.
– My first Abel Ferrara film! I’ve had Ms. 45, The Addiction, King of New York, and The Funeral high high high on my watchlist for a long time. I have to get to these at some point.

Naked-killer-04
#103. Naked Killer (1992, Fok)
(Hong Kong)
Closing out my Crime Films of 1992 Spree and crudely segueing into the LGBT Films of 1992 section of my watchlist is this Category III film (one of the tamer ones, as this reads like safe Cinemax soft porn) from Hong Kong. Male fantasy extravaganza with lipstick lesbian assassins and the characteristic on-a-whim non-plotting but without a sustainable sleazy¬†pull. Many¬†Hong Kong films, from what I can observe, emphasize manic energy over all, developing as they please and throwing out, nay, demolishing, the rulebook.¬†It’s what makes the boom years of Hong Kong film¬†a completely unique collective entity. ADHD Cinema. But while Naked Killer is delightfully weird, and boasts fabulously retro use of color in its art direction and costumes,¬†the relentless narrative and formal anarchy in this¬†knowingly trashy piece gets strained pretty quickly. And there’s the uncomfortably frivolous threat of rape everywhere. But Naked Killer is the perfect example of something I’d love to see again in a theater setting one day with other cult film lovers.

It’s the Little Things:
– Seriously though, those costumes, and that purple room.
– Overhead shot of Kitty and Sister Cindy on couch
– Guy mistaking a severed penis for a sausage
– Poor impotent Pinam

Swoon
#104. Swoon (1992, Kalin)
(US)
Heavily influenced by the avant-garde strands of silent cinema (there’s a renegade spirit to the editing and an ever-present clarinet), and Carl Dreyer, master of the close-up visage¬†against blankness. Brings together the separate entities of history (through stock footage) and the murderers Leopold and Loeb, at first wholly removed and then inextricable from each other. Swoon is about how history dictates those remembered within it, in that their crimes are only considered¬†within the context of their homosexuality (mostly referred to as perversity’ during the trial). It’s a well-made and worthwhile point, but in a trying thesis kind of way. There’s also zero access point to any sort of potential psychological study. It doesn’t justify a full-length film or attempt to build one off its central idea, which is unfortunate because there’s real beauty to these images.

There’s a radiating glow to the stark and grainy black-and-white expressionism. The diary voice-over gives a stream-of-consciousness¬†quality; close-up images rush to keep up with words, thoughts, and actions. But Swoon manages to¬†manufacture¬†swiftness while¬†remaining entirely stolid.

Films of the New Queer Cinema have the territorial feel of the unbreached regardless of how, when, or if the content has been previously depicted. It’s something in the air that can’t be replicated or manufactured. I admire Swoon as a time capsule piece and for its formal daring,¬†but sticking with it, even on a basic level, proved a surprising (and disappointing) struggle.

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #95-99


 

all-cheerleaders-die-international-sales-trailer
#95. All Cheerleaders Die (2014, McKee/Siverton)

Lucky McKee and Chris Siverton’s remake of their 2001¬†low-budget film of the same name. A shredded mess, but that still puts it several notches above McKee’s previous film¬†The Woman (will he ever again make something approaching the ballpark quality of May?). A concoction of everything in late 90’s high school-set genre tomfoolery, with a direct-to-video feel that reflects what a mid-tier theatrical release of the time might have looked like. To say there’s a lot going on plot-wise is a giant understatement. None of it’s particularly good, some of it is downright awful, yet all of it frustratingly contains potential. The film we see at the beginning transmutes into something different every half hour. I love a lot of what’s here…on paper that is; feminist-streaked witchcraft, ladies wreaking revenge, glowing crystals and even simultaneous orgasms! Is it a snark-fest comedy or an upbeat diatribe on violence against women or a lesbian love story or a horror film about literal solidarity between women?

Perhaps the biggest problem, besides a tonal disconnect that moves forward, seemingly on a lark, is that none of the motivations of or connections between the girls harbor consistency. Take Maddy’s (Caitlin Stasey) initial undercover cheerleader revenge plan. It’s prompted by the loss of¬†her friend Lex, who we only see in the first five minutes through video footage shot by Madd. Lex is shown as particularly annoying, and the montage fails to contextualize the friendship in any basic way. Since Maddy is behind the camera, the impetus for the story¬†has no standing with the audience. That failure to establish connections where we’re meant to see them continues throughout. Adversary Terry (Tom Williamson) has a very throwaway episode-of-the-week baddie vibe to him.

bob_roberts-withdylansign
#96. Bob Roberts (1992, Robbins)

Political satire as horror film. ¬†Certain satires,¬†such as Network,¬†To Die For or The Stepford Wives, are distinctly eerie¬†in tone. And now that I’ve seen Bob Roberts, a skewering of Bush-era conservatives on the campaign trail, it can mosey on up and nuzzle itself in with that lot. Much¬†of the said creepiness comes from Tim Robbins’s performance as the titular ‘rebel conservative’ character (although there really are no characters in Bob Roberts, just well-drawn ‘types’), an inverter and perverter of 1960’s counter-culture. He’s an empty enigma. The few times we are granted unfiltered covert access to him, what we see is curdled and rotten, Robbins with a glassy look in his eyes. Like a adult psychotic Kevin McAllister.

The ‘mockumentary’ format, usually used for broader comedy (especially up to¬†1992), makes up the other shuddersome airs. We are kept at¬†a conspiratorial distance from Bob and his corrupt team (who includes Ray Wise and Alan Rickman), his folksy political persona seen from the public’s perspective. The deceitful¬†v√©rit√©¬†gradually¬†shifts to doubt and investigative journalism. The cracks in the veneer start to show. There are fellow glassy eyed folk in the surrounding fanatical devotion (including Jack Black in an early role). The ‘is the camera off’ scene is alarming. A rare look into the belly of the corrupt beast, made impactful for how inaccessible said corruption is made to the audience, and thus the general public, up to that point.

Bob Roberts is largely¬†about how the media is used and misused through politics and campaigning. Gore Vidal, playing Bob’s running opponent, basically plays himself, riffing on and mourning the general state of things (and though Vidal is engaging to watch, his running monologues directly oppose the more immediately catchy folk songs and persona of Roberts) within the loose context of the ‘documentary’. The last act, from the sketch show on, is a bit of a wash, at least compared to the rest. A mite¬†over-prodded to its predictably hopeless conclusion. Sound is consistently used as a weapon of assault on the audience, with Robbins and the sound designers purposely blanket the film in overlapping aural layers of bullshit.

It’s the Little Things:
Shot of Giancarlo Esposito’s luckless crackpot journalist reflected in the TV, his voice and image never making it to air despite speaking the truth.

deepcover_photos_1637
#97. Deep Cover (1992, Duke)

Um, so I absolutely loved this. Neo-noir that deals with race relations and the hypocrisy and political corruption within the War on Drugs with surprising directness. Poetically edged hard-boiled narration delivered with the low steady hum of Laurence Fishburne’s cop who grapples with right and wrong, cop or criminal, and questioning where¬†can he do the most good within a cracked system that uses¬†his race as an asset for the higher-ups. Then bring in Jeff Goldblum’s indispensable magnetic eccentricity to his role as a slightly unhinged lawyer yuppie, self-described as having a “condescending infatuation with everything black”. He’s fighting for power and money yes, but most importantly for respect amongst the criminal minded. A¬†very moralistically preoccupied film about choices and compromise and where is the invisible line.¬†I thought I had past my expiration date for undercover cop stories,¬†but Deep Cover’s nixed that with its ability to balance¬†heady and charged politics¬†with¬†two¬†consistently engaging leads¬†that transcend¬†the walking cliches we’re used to seeing.

It’s the Little Things:
“We’ll have barbecue jumbo shrimp motherfuckerrrrrr!!!” – Guess who

light-sleeper-sarandon-dafoe
#98. Light Sleeper (1992, Schrader)

A introspective man isolated within his own cityscape environment, contending with change and battling his own¬†sense of self and place within the mess¬†of the¬†world. We’re used to this kind of thing from Paul Schrader, but what completely caught me off-guard here is the noted lack of nihilism. Willem Dafoe isn’t serving typical on-the-brink brood. He may have¬†an obsessive streak and a addictive past, but he’s pleasant, well-meaning, and even keen¬†to listen to psychics! I don’t think, in fact I know, that I’ve never seen Willem Dafoe smile this much! There’s such a natural familiarity between him and longtime associate, employer, and friend Ann (Susan Sarandon). He is alternately¬†haunted and comforted by¬†the past in his daily interactions, and very nervous about the future. Will Ann really leave the business this time? Where does that leave him?

Dana Delaney’s character seems comfortably past her demons, then desperately trying to hold on to her hard-earned stability. Dafoe is earnest but selfish in his persistence with her. By casting Dafoe, Schrader brings in a certain set of expectations and then sets on defying every one of them. This is a hopeful character piece in the guise of a thriller. We mainly follow the ins-and-outs of a drug dealer surrounded by and aiding the lonely and desperate folks in their crummy abodes. That last scene is very reminiscent of another 1992 crime drama, The Crying Game, and is similarly optimistic, celebrating the power of deep¬†connections between two people.

One False Move

#99. One False Move (1992, Franklin)
Another 1992 crime drama that focuses on racial tensions, this one not as initially explicit as Deep Cover. Where Deep Cover focuses on the War on Drugs, One False Move is about latent racial hierarchies, specifically in the South, and two interracial groups on opposite sides of the law, each dealing with their own dysfunctions as they gradually move towards a bloody collision. In L.A, a trio of criminals have just slaughtered six for money and drugs; conflicted and drugged out Fantasia (Lynda Williams), horseradish hick Ray (Billy Bob Thornton, who co-wrote the screenplay), and intelligent bespectacled sociopath Pluto (Michael Beach). Over in a small town in Arkansas the enforcers await the criminals eventual suspected arrival, which includes two L.A top brass (Earl Billings and Jim Metzler) and overcompensating gosh-darn-it rube Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton).

Starts with heavily felt and resonant murders (in an incredibly disturbing scene that manages to actually show little violence), carrying into a maintained constant tension over the threat of violence, and the when-and-how these two groups will meet (even when it becomes clear that they will spend most of the film merely in orbit of each other). Geographic markers make us aware of the increasingly narrow spatial relationships.

Once you think you’ve got a clear read on Bill Paxton’s huckster and his arc, a hidden connection recontextualizes how we see him, bringing the racial tensions to the forefront. Michael Beach is frighteningly centered, and Carl Franklin and James L. Carter frame him as such. The poignant ending, in the immediate aftermath of quick and sweeping violence marks the possible beginning of another long overdue interracial relationship, one that notably took a lot of unnecessary death to bring about.

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #90-94


wicked lady 1

#90. The Wicked Lady (1945, Arliss) (UK)
Once again, societal expectations of a¬†bygone British¬†era sets the stage for transgression. And once again Margaret Lockwood has her emerald eyes set to the limits¬†of wealth and power, as in The Man in Grey. Unlike The Man in Grey, which saw¬†Hester¬†always in control without ever quite attaining her¬†desires, Barbara acquires status, wealth, and a husband very quickly.¬†She¬†spends the majority of the film fulfilling her own need for excitement, danger, and adrenaline no matter the cost (and it is costly, I assure you). Her motives come from a valid place of stifling and boring expectations for women of the time, explored in a heightened thieving fashion, and through such a heartless character. It’s a win-win for the Gainsborough Pictures, allowing the audience to live vicariously through the Barbara’s¬†deviancy, while doubling back to give¬†her¬†an appropriately nasty end. That she¬†yearns for a traditional life at the end is almost too cruel to her, adding to the film’s ultimately very outdated gender treatment. Margaret Lockwood is wildly great, next-level Hester. James Mason and the rest of the cast apparently held contempt for the corny material and dialogue, but it only adds to the hateful energy, serving the film well. ¬†Lots of cleavage and murder.

Sanshiro-Sugata

#91. Sanshiro Sugata (1943, Kurosawa) (Japan)
Akira Kurosawa shows some chops right off the bat, but I had a very difficult time engaging with this. Prototype for Red Beard,   following the same journey of young stubborn man learning humility from older wiser figure who is at first misrepresented to the audience. The blooming lotus and travels of a lost shoe stand out as soft visual touches.

Blue-Ruin

#92. Blue Ruin (2014, Saulnier) (US)
I’ve seen so many descriptions of Dwight (Macon Blair) that cite him as an incompetent idiot. Hmmm, that’s just not what I¬†saw when I watched Blue Ruin, the anticipated much-talked about pared-down revenge noir. We mistake reality-based average competence, and being led by emotions but unprepared for the follow through, as idiocy. This is what works best about the film; seeing soft-spoken beach bum Dwight determined, but entirely out of his element. Everything in the narrative revolves around guns; their easy access, their power, and the implications of using one. Revels in its minimal story, allowing for an on/off structure of interactions and encompassing solitude. Blair is something else. Painfully ordinary; awkward and inward. But I’m not sure the film adds up to all that much besides a really solid genre exercise. It arrives at its destination and then just throws its hands up in the air.

Innocent Blood

#93. Innocent Blood (1992, Landis) (US)
An atrocious start to my 1992 watchlist. Unequivocally one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It tries to be a never-before-seen genre hybrid; a self-conscious marriage between vampires and the mafia. Innocent Blood ends up botching both big time, wholly uncommitted with one toe half-heartedly on each side of the fence. Doesn’t attempt enough humor¬†to be a comedy, nor scares to be horror, nor intimidation to be crime. Robert Loggia is aggressively over-the-top, and that’s before he rises from the dead. Anne Parillaud, in her first post-Nikita role, is woefully stilted.¬†There’s a next-level category of bad films, and it’s the most offensive kind. When a film, somehow through its uselessness, manages to¬†instill the impression of not even having watched¬†anything¬†when¬†it ends. Innocent Blood is that kind of bad.

godzilla-trailer-header-image

#94. Godzilla (2014, Edwards) (US)
Even though we are living in an age of unrelenting spectacle, most films of this ilk have no idea how to utilize the concept. Godzilla excels at spectacle, no small feat indeed. From the¬†sense of build-up, and the consistently human perspective from which we¬†see¬†the monsters, it conveys the palpable feeling that the film’s events are bigger than ourselves. Instills a distinct awe punctuated with incredible visual moments, perhaps most memorably the red-streaked plane plummet. Now here’s the rub; the people. To put it mildly, people are clearly not the point; they are place-markers. But Godzilla still tries to hit story beats within its minimal approach, stopping the film dead in its tracks when its only meant to usher narrative along its merrily destructive way.

You’ve got Bryan Cranston (who is marvelous; the man brings instant gravitas), Ken Watanabe, Elisabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche in your film, and we get stuck with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, of all fucking people, for the majority of the running time? Whaaaaaa? Why are we stuck with young bland white males as audience surrogates every. damn. time. The way Watanabe and Hawkins are used works much better. They aren’t characters, and they aren’t supposed to be, but by casting compelling actors, their story-driven concern comes through effectively.

The monster-on-monster action is to-the-moon stellar; sprawling brawling. Things of beauty. Godzilla is far more engaging a being than anyone we see. The film starts small and goes big, a refreshing narrative trajectory lost on blockbuster films with setpiece-led structures. But in trying to blend humanity with the monstrous within the small-t0-big trajectory, it¬†flatlines¬†on the former. As impressive as Godzilla is on the spectacle front, and as much as I approve of how it sees the role of characters in theory, the screenplay¬†insists on attempting to hit emotional¬†beats that it can’t even begin to support. That it does this with a lead actor whose non-performance could put you to sleep is the tipping point.

– I just wanted to give Ken Watanabe a hug the entire time. Poor soul.
– A big fat kudos to the Taylor Nichols appearance

Top Ten By Year: 1943


For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year column:
I pick years that are weak for me re: quantity of films seen. I am using list-making as a motivation to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-driven way. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on personal ‚Äėfavorites‚Äô not any notion of an objective ‚Äėbest‚Äô. I’ve done 1935, 1983, 1965 and now 1943. Next I’ll be doing 1992.

I’m going to keep this intro short because my write-ups ended up being way longer than I’d anticipated. It’s been so insightful spending time with 1943. Hollywood during WWII is endlessly interesting, if not so much for the output as a whole (though there’s lots of great stuff as always), than for the extratextual and historical elements. I was able to learn a lot about the era; about the portrayal of war before and during, how nationalities, their various struggles and how our enemies were represented for better or worse, the relationship between the government and Hollywood, and the image, propaganda and narratives that were being sold to the general public during an uncertain time of crisis. I highly recommend reading Thomas Doherty’s “Projections of War” and this year’s “Five Came Back” by Mark Harris (surely the best book you’ll read from this year).

The ratio of films I’d not seen before research versus films I’d already seen is quite different from other years I’ve done so far. While 4 of my 5 honorable mentions are new-to-me films, 8 out of the 10 on this list I’d seen before, and I revisited all of them for this list. This is also the most ‘typical’ list of the ones I’ve created so far. Most of these are quite well-known, at least within film circles.

1943 saw debuts from major filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa (Sanshiro Sugata), Robert Bresson (Angels of Sin), Vincente Minnelli (Cabin in the Sky), and Luchino Visconti (Ossessione). This was my most exhaustive year in terms of re-watching everything I’d already seen from 1943. In particular I was able to get a lot more out of I Walked with a Zombie this time around, a film that left me unenthused when I first saw it several years ago. For all the polished message films about virtue and American democratic values, there’s a lot of grit, fatalism, and darkness to be found. You just have to watch the Val Lewton-produced films from RKO to see that.Lewton used the freedom of low-budget quickies as a template for innovative atmosphere and despairing messages. A new kind of horror happening right under everyone’s nose.

Everyone is looking for a culprit. There’s a lot of finger-pointing in 1943. Just look at Day of Wrath, The Ox-Bow Incident, Le Corbeau, and to lesser degrees Hangmen Also Die! and The Leopard Man. There were other ways of dealing with wartime in film as well; by not dealing with it. Already by 1943 audiences would be starting to get weary of the corny rabbles of patriotism, looking for pure escapist fare. The prime example of this is The Man in Grey, setting Gainsborough trend for tailor made bodice-rippers targeting female audiences on the British homefront. Being a big animation fan, I also took the time to watch a ton of cartoon shorts spanning mostly from Looney Tunes to Tex Avery.

Now to pay tribute to five films that did not make my final cut, all of which I highly recommend seeking out if you haven’t seen them already:

Angels of Sin (or Angels of the Streets) (Bresson) (France): Ren√©e Faure gives an engagingly stand-out classical performance of conviction in Robert Bresson’s debut (his pre-formalist days) which equates nunneries and prison as places of protection and possible reform.

The Constant Nymph (Goulding) (USA): Rarely seen for seventy years due to legal rights, this flagrantly romantic film features a twenty-four year old Joan Fontaine uniquely capturing the awkwardness of adolescence and giving a career-best performance as Tessa. In many ways a companion piece and warm-up to Letter of an Unknown Woman with Fontaine playing a teen, tragic overtones, musician male leads, and the connectivity of music bringing it all together.

The Man in Grey (Arliss) (UK): A deliciously nasty piece of work, setting the standard template for the Gainsborough melodrama, a subset of films wildly popular with British female audiences during WWII for their aggressively escapist lasciviousness. Made me realize fully that I like my melodrama gnarled and perverse. Margaret Lockwood does wicked better than anyone.

Meshes of the Afternoon (Daren/Hammid) (US): A landmark experimental short and a touchstone of feminist filmmaking. Cyclical and symbolic, it represents the psyche in such unsettling and inventive ways. Teiji Ito’s music, added with the approval of Deren in 1959, is integral; the perfect companion of aural unfamiliarity to Deren’s images.

This Land is Mine (Renoir) (US):
Narrative propaganda that works, rife with talky preachiness that manages to strike a chord by stressing the importance of words and ideas against Nazi occupation. Charles Laughton’s transformation from mama’s boy coward to proud martyr is important, but George Sanders’s supporting arc as an informer and collaborator is even more important and resonant.

Biggest Disappointments:
Air Force
Cabin in the Sky
Watch on the Rhine
Jane Eyre
So Proudly We Hail!
Sanshiro Sugata
The Human Comedy
Lady of Burlesque
La Main du Diable

Blind Spots: (not exhaustive):
Portrait of Maria, Hitler’s Madman, The Song of Bernadette, Sahara, The Fallen Sparrow, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Journey into Fear, Hitler’s Children, Munchhausen, My Learned Friend, Destination Tokyo, Le voyageur de la Toussaint

Complete List of 1943 Films Seen: (bold indicates first-time viewings during research, italics indicates re-watches during research)
Air Force, Angels of the Streets, Cabin in the Sky, The Constant Nymph, Day of Wrath, The Eternal Return, Le Corbeau, Five Graves to Cairo, Flesh and Fantasy, The Gang’s All Here, The Ghost Ship, Hangmen Also Die!, The Hard Way, Heaven Can Wait, The Human Comedy, I Walked with a Zombie, La Main du Diable, Lady of Burlesque, The Leopard Man, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Man in Grey, Meshes of the Afternoon, The More the Merrier, Old Acquaintance, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Seventh Victim, Shadow of a Doubt, So Proudly We Hail!, This Land is Mine, Watch on the Rhine, Jane Eyre, Lumiere d’ete, Ossessione, Sanshiro Sugata, Stormy Weather

Shorts:
“A Corny Concerto”, “Red Hot Riding Hood”, “Who Killed Who?”, “Tortoise Wins by a Hare”, “The Wise Quacking Duck”, “Der Fuehrer’s Face”, “Falling Hare”, “Dumb Hounded”, “The Aristo-Cat”, “Scrap Happy Daffy”, “Pigs in a Polka”, “Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk”, “Education for Death”, “Chicken Little”, “Reason and Emotion”, “Wackiki Wabbit”, “Porky Pig’s Feat”

bfi carl dreyer day of wrath dvd review 2950
10. Day of Wrath (Dreyer) (Denmark) 

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film after an eleven-year absence sees love regarded with corruption of the soul through religious persecution. This is material that in someone else’s hands¬†might have read as rote or derivative. Its perspective is intimidating to parse through. My inability to get a grip on it guarantees its future value to me over the years. There’s an ambiguity to the proceedings as it suggests, through cross-cutting, that maybe Anne (Lisbeth Movin) does possess some kind of witchcraft¬†(as in Ordet, higher forces or abilities are affirmed) as passed down by her mother. But it’s a separate issue; not placed in support of the religious persecution¬†but seemingly vice versa, as if the power of suggestion initiates self-fulfilling prophecies. It complicates how we interpret the story, but not, critically, what happens within the story. In the end it doesn’t matter whether or not Anne has some unconscious power; the point is that that both possibilities would have led to the same place; Anne being targeted.

The pace is methodical and foreboding. Everyone moves with cautious intent. Anne is the odd one out (in many ways actually) intermittently trying to break out of the film’s rhythm with a hasty kind of half-prance. It’s a subtle and affecting way of showing how Anne has had the life sucked out of her before¬†even having a¬†chance to live, stripped down to devout duty. She¬†comes to life as the film progresses, only to have it thrown back in her face.¬†The softness of the birches contrasts¬†the hardness of the austere interiors, with Lisbeth Movin‚Äôs face bridging the two by embodying both. As¬†beautiful and alluring as the film is, it’s really Movin’s¬†performance and general presence I connect with most in Day of Wrath. She has¬†such a striking face, all archness and piercing eyes. Herlofs Marte (Anne Svierkier), a physical evocation of Anne’s mother, haunts the entire film after her fiery fate.

The Seventh Victim
9. The Seventh Victim (Robson) (US)
This¬†was a film I liked enough the first time I saw it but it didn’t live up to what I was hoping it’d be. I felt it was marred down by extraneous characters, a flat romance, underdeveloped relationships/knowledge of past relationships, and a group of elderly Satanists that don’t feel threatening at all. This time, while some of¬†those issues haven’t gone away, the message of the piece and what it turns out to be¬†is downright audacious, casting only the kind of spell that Val Lewton’s RKO cycle can lay claim to. Mark Robson’s debut shows he can hold his own with Jacques Tourneur, having learned the ropes¬†well from his editing work with him and Orson Welles.

The Seventh Victim plunges into the depths of melancholia,¬†the inescapable pull of death. It’s a sort of horror film noir packaged in a detective story. Its philosophy, which Lewton admitted flat-out, is to embrace death. It’s a shocking statement, one that RKO only gets away¬†with because the film wasn’t top brass enough for anyone to take notice. The Satanists are not the enemy. They are an empty placeholder, an unsuccessful attempt by Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) to find meaning within the darkness. They are similarly desperate, a mundane and hypocritically confused group. Jean Brooks, in an iconic role, dons a fur coat and jet black hair severely framing her face; protective shields against the world.

Kim Hunter, in her film debut, travels from the safe confines of echoing Latin and stained glass to the New York jungle. Her sisterly connection with Jacqueline is spoken of, never felt. Jacqueline is too far gone to the other side, their experiences too dissonant. There’s a real hopelessness to how little exists between them¬†once they’re finally brought together, purposeful or not.

There’s a point midway where the story is plagued by unanswered questions and you think ‘what in the fresh hell is going on?!’. Like something out of the mind of David Lynch. On the surface it’s guided by Hunter’s search, but she and the film are actually guided by Lewton and Robson’s symbolic imagery; hanging nooses, locked rooms, and staircases. There’s even a pre-Psycho shower scene, but instead of murder, vital information is passed between women through curtains, shadows, and nakedness, lending to the lesbian undertones.

Jacqueline’s perspective takes over for the final twenty minutes, and it’s the film’s big takeaway. We realize Kim Hunter, the poet, and the husband have been a means to an end. Her famous walk through the streets, fleeing from her pursuer, is a walk of the mind. She resists but it’s futile. Her search for a light at the end of the tunnel is conveyed through the lighting, the unwanted bacchanal celebrations of a theater troupe her only undesirable out. And then there’s that profound exchange with Mimi (Elizabeth Russell), a dying specter who makes herself known at the very end. The scene stops me dead in my tracks. Mimi runs towards a last burst of life. Jacqueline limps resignedly towards death. They meet in the middle.¬†The Seventh Victim may look like it’s about missing sisters and Satanists, but it’s not. To Die, Or Not To Die. That is the question.

The Hard Way 8
8
. The Hard Way (Sherman) (US)
One of the best rags-to-riches showbiz claw-my-way-to-the-top yarns with older sis making sure little sis’s dreams of performing on the stage are realized. They rise up from an unhappy marriage, grey dowdy graduation dresses, and endless soot to contracts, furs and success.

Ida Lupino’s eye-on-the-prize performance is electric (though she apparently was not fond of her work here), constantly looking for ways out and up, unabashedly seizing upon questionable opportunities that present themselves, gradually unable to tell the difference between success and personal happiness. Joan Leslie is equally good, like a 40′s Jennifer Jason Leigh (with a dash of Larisa Oleynik?). She is increasingly torn and devastated, loyalty in check far past its expiration date.

And the two male counterparts, played by Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, are just as engaging! Not something a lot of female-led films of 1943 can lay claim to. Paul (Morgan) sees through Helen and the two have a great dynamic as she tries to suppress feelings for someone who loathes yet admires her. Al (Carson) is an earnest and naive schlub whose pride and blinders prove too much. What I loved most about The Hard Way is the careful and complicated evolution between all four characters, with attention paid to who they are within themselves and in relation to each other through time as paths cross and double-cross. There’s a development in Act 2 that completely took me off guard. The direction and staging enhance our understandings of the character dynamics and includes visually stimulating and slightly surreal montage sequences.

colonel-blimp-3

7. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell/Pressburger) (UK)
Are you starting to get a sense of how packed this list is?

It takes some time, at least I find, to get on the wavelength of¬†The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. It’s a treaty on what it means to be British, more specifically in wartime.¬†Between that and its microscopic deconstruction of societal rituals it can be hard to engage with it at first. Then it gradually becomes more attachable, and long after it’s over it feels like a warm blanket (especially when Deborah Kerr is onscreen) that drapes itself over you, that effervescent Powell/Pressburger touch. It’s not entirely a comedy, a drama, or a war film. It’s all three with dashes of fantasy and dreamlike flourishes, most notably Kerr’s three character performance as the evolving youthful woman through the ages, going in and out of the lives of Clive and Theo through the decades. Re-watching this and¬†Heaven Can Wait¬†for this list, it’s interesting that, despite their similarities, the former spans seventy years of life removed from history, and the latter spans forty years of¬†history through people.¬†It’s less concerned with how¬†others¬†are during war, instead asking how¬†the collective British ‘we’ functions as a people during¬†conflict. It’s patriotic, but not blind, swerving¬†in more ways than one from what¬†British cinema tends to be. It’s lavish and heightened, and also¬†dares to feature a sympathetic German as a central character during WWII.

Speaking of Anton Walbrook, he’s such a favorite; one of the sexiest and most arresting actors to watch. Will someone just have an Anton Walbrook marathon with me where we watch all of the films? His speech, which serves as the film’s nucleus, is one of the most encompassing speeches I’ve ever seen. All in one take, almost two decades of personal history summed up in the afterglow of loss. He slowly summons the attention of everyone in the room, and of us. Powell films the speech all in one take, with an invisibly slow push-in. By the end, we’ve lost time from falling into Walbrook’s eyes and words.

Powell is brilliant at staging scenes; blocking and shot choices contain voluminous¬†treasures. The beer hall scene is a perfect example of his precision. Everything, from the use of Technicolor to the film’s intricate structure, courtesy of Pressburger, is precise and dignified without being stuffy. The way time passes, with the big game hunting montage and the browsing of an intimate photo album, are by turns witty and weepy.

Traditional British values are mourned and tribute is paid to the importance of ritual¬†by putting them front and center. Notice how we go through all the preparation for the duel only not to see it. But it’s not a simplistic ‘Remember the way things used to be’ story. We learn and see what Clive can’t; that right is not might. Unlike Clive, the film¬†acknowledges the necessity of change for better or worse. Clive is always one step behind himself, realizing his love for Edith too late. You can clearly see the moment he realizes. It’s heartbreaking, especially because Edith has also been torn, looking for a sign from him. The scenes with Clive, Edith and Theo in the hospital are my favorites. A growing camaraderie and kinship emerges between the three, a bond that comes to exist again but in a much different form, and never fully regained.

Leopard_Man
6. The Leopard Man (Tourneur) (US)

It’s the structure of The Leopard Man that leaps out at you, so ahead of its time, postmodern to the point where even today it’s still somewhat jarring to see a film led entirely by fate. Clo-Clo (Margo), oblivious¬†harbinger of doom, brushes past the lives of eventual victims (thereby¬†controlling the narrative) who we proceed to follow. The film has uncommon empathy for its victims, so much so that it dictates structure and content. These women are made human before death, given context and individual meaning.

The scenes of moonlit pursuit produce some of Jacques Tourneur’s strongest work. The most chilling moments? My vote goes to those immediately proceeding death when the pursuit stops and everything is still. The banging of the door and subsequent blood seeping underneath, the weight on the branch, the mirror closing and Clo-Clo’s desperate screams. Then there are Clo-Clo’s clickety-clacks, which we eventually recognize as the sound of death. The film neatly fits in with Tourneur’s fatalism. The fountain with its floating ball, guided and held up by something bigger than itself; not a higher being, but¬†inescapable circumstance.

The killer’s identity is clear pretty early on, but it’s notably¬†only when the first death occurs, the one committed by the frightened and threatened leopard, that Galbraith opens himself up to opportunity and urge. That “kink in the brain” addresses the makeup of a killer with animal instinct (as predator, not killer for sustenance or out of fear), connecting leopard and man thematically as opposed to the forced RKO title of ‘The Leopard Man’. The events may cause the central couple we repeatedly return to to ‘go soft’ ¬†but they cause Galbraith to go hard, giving in and letting go.

The Ox-Bow Incident

5. The Ox-Bow Incident (Wellman) (US)
It’s never a mystery whether the three men in the hands of a vengeful posse actually killed Larry Kinkaid. It’s clear they didn’t. The point is¬†casting a judging eye at vigilantism, revenge for revenge sake, and the unapologetic out-for-blood mentality of an angry mob that swiftly ignores law. Relatively speaking, it’s an easy point to make. Just like the mobs themselves, films like this are never subtle. But¬†The Ox-Bow Incident¬†is a sort of marvel all the same. It’s pure emotive power is raw and kind of overwhelming by the end. The cumulative impact of injustice creeps up on you. The senselessness of it. And that Kinkaid isn’t even dead? Forget about it. It’s an unforgiving film; enraged and resentful.

It’s surely one of the most efficient films ever made. Clocking in at seventy-five minutes, screenwriters and filmmakers could still stand to learn a lot about storytelling from¬†The Ox-Bow Incident. It manages to introduce and juggle about a dozen characters, all of them distinct, even those operating within caricature. They are one body broken apart into individual participants by the script. Gil and Art (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) are our entry point. They start out with their own hang-ups and are gradually drawn into the scenario that unfolds before them. Fonda’s Gil is a despondent man, his character coming through strongly despite this¬†not being his story. Anthony Quinn’s presence injects some commentary on racism; Juan is entirely unsurprised by¬†the events. He knows enough about people, and the way he’s likely been treated in life, to know they won’t get out of this one. And Dana Andrews. Poor terrified Dana Andrews, openly scared of dying and of leaving his wife and kids. The camera crunches him in more than anyone.

William Wellman had to fight a long time for this to get made, the compromise being that Darryl Zanuck threw it into the cheap pile. The resulting artificial sets mandate Wellman’s direction. He shifts focus away from the flat landscape and onto people and their faces. Ugly, hankering faces. People are constantly crammed on multiple planes within compositions. It’s so claustrophobic, the camera creating boundaries for people who have none. The mob puts the men on ‘trial’ while¬†the camera in turn puts the mob on trial.

gangsallhere4
4. The Gang’s All Here
 (Berkeley) (US)

Busby Berkeley, taking on Technicolor, pushes the visionary of geometric extravaganzas as far as he, or anyone in the studio era, was apt to go. Color is used for grand elegiac expression, such as the ‚ÄúPaducah‚ÄĚ under an encompassing lavender swirl that predates what¬†An American in Paris¬†would do with dancing and color eight years later. The camera, and the effects work, is periodically used to disorient, heightening our sense of movement and curiosity to a drug-inducing degree. Eugene Pallete‚Äôs disembodied head croaking out a song. A camera that arches and lilts over women holding sexualized bananas. The mere fact that a number called ‚ÄúThe Polka Dot Polka‚ÄĚ serves as a finale with women in purple outfits that look¬†like futuristic workout gear holding neon-pink lit hula hoops.

It’s also, quite simply, a lot of fun despite a central storyline that can exhaust with boredom. Although it must be said that Berkeley himself seems to view it as filler. What makes up for this is that Alice Faye grew on me, that James Ellison is blissfully absent for the entire second act, and that their romance is amusingly resolved with barely a shrug, an afterthought that clearly doesn’t deserve center stage when there are polka dots to be had.

Carmen Miranda is Queen. It‚Äôs taken me this long to actually see her in a film. A lot can be said for the ways in which her nationality¬†was used as a gimmick as well as a¬†garish ‚Äėforeign‚Äô stereotype, but what about what‚Äôs actually there? How about the performance and the work and the fact that she was able to secure a spot for herself within the studio system where every other star also, it must be said, had a¬†minutely constructed screen persona. Miranda is¬†vibrantly hilarious here, with an innate sense of comic timing, over-the-top in every moment (not just when she has dialogue), with the English language locked-and-loaded as her plaything (notably mainly restricted to our idiosyncratic sayings, not the foundation of the language). To say she steals the movie is an understatement. Berkeley sets up a world where the more heightened¬†the better; a world fit to hold and showcase Miranda at the center. She is the purest¬†harbinger of future camp and drag queen aesthetic and performance in the 1940‚Ä≤s.

Charlotte Greenwood, hip society matron and proto-Marcia Wallace with high-swinging legs is another favorite.

Le Corbeau

3. Le Corbeau (Clouzot) (France)
A particularly unsparing look at humanity and our ability to turn on each other, Le Corbeau has been dirtied by history from the day it exited the womb. Made by the German funded Continental Films, Henri-Georges Clouzot was banned from making films until 1947 (lifted from its initial lifelong stamp). It was seen as Anti-French at the time it was made, it is now seen in a more Anti-Nazi light and more broadly an Anti-People light. The misanthropy is locked and loaded even though room is made for people to find each other and for the guilty to go punished.

Le Corbeau¬†addresses the power, cowardice and impact of omnipresent anonymity in a small town that collapses like a house of cards as secrets are exposed within the community. Someone is watching. Everyone is being watched by one of their own. Dark humor is found in the recesses and hypocrisies of a town thrown unto upheaval. The power of the letters¬†is constantly given weight by Clouzot. During a funeral procession, a letter is seen in the road by everyone who passes. Nobody will pick it up; they avoid it like the plague, acknowledging its hold on them through nervous¬†neglect. There’s even a letter point-of-view shot as¬†everyone steps around it, a child eventually picking it up. Then there’s the shot of the letter floating¬†down from the rafters of the church. It’s a perfect, almost pitiful evocation of how beholden the townspeople are to their own secrets. The world Clouzot depicts feels so insular and gradually uncontrollable in its futility, most notably during a sequence in which the accused Marie flees from the crowd. Shots become exaggerated and canted, sound becomes chaotic and inescapable. It’s the film’s most blatant callback to German Expressionism.

Poison pen letters would suggest based on immediate assumptions, a female culprit. But it’s not, not really, and the women of¬†Le Corbeau¬†are an atypical group¬†who flip-flop¬†expectations at every turn. I love that Denise, presented as a supporting suspicious sexpot, is ultimately presented as good, even inheriting the role¬†of romantic lead. Her physical ailment leaves her clamoring for sexual affirmation, a need to assert herself while simultaneously listless and feigning additional illness. The nurturing Laura, a woman who seems destined for better things, is at once duplicitous and a victim. The vengeful mother, executor of justice, takes matters into her own hands, and is the one to restore the natural order. How are we meant to feel about that final act? It’s up to us. The final shot sees her as a floating faceless figure, slowly disappearing down the narrow alleyway without a trace, leaving the crime scene in our dirty hands.

Shadow of a Doubt pic 3
2.
 Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock) (US)
Easily the film I’m most familiar with on this list, having seen it many times. More misanthropy! This time with Joseph Cotten’s Uncle Charlie. “Did you know the world is a foul sty?” Listening to him, he’s a kind of murderous Eeyore. The idealized duality, which Hitchcock emphasizes in many ways including how the two are introduced, that Charlie imagines between her and her uncle is completely shattered. It’s about two sides of the same coin, the innocuous (not just with Charlie’s small-town boredom but with how Joseph and his friend lightly but minutely discuss murder; it’s abstract and distant for them, a part of other people’s stories) going head-to-head with its opposite.

Shadow of a Doubt is also importantly about the nature of family, and what happens when the veil is lifted on someone you thought you knew; someone who you are bonded with by blood. Not only all that, but someone you put all your hopes and dreams into. This is where Hitchcock gets all the suspense; by understanding that the central tug-of-war is the discrepancy between who Charlie and the family think Uncle Charlie is and who he actually is. Visual and aural cues like the emerald ring, the waltz, and the newspaper are so the audience, we at the top of the information hierarchy, can brim with tension from start to finish.

Joseph Cotten is menacing as Uncle Charlie, seething with disgust all around. Cotten also lends a depressive edge to his performance, hinting at something unquenchable. There’s also a bit of sexual tension between the Charlies. Hitchcock and screenwriters Thornton Wilder (!), Sally Benson, and Alma Reville inject such salty eccentricity from top-to-bottom. This may be a thriller, but there’s so much trademark humor to be¬†found (mostly character based) from Hume Cronyn offering Henry Travers hypothetically poisoned mushrooms, to the precocious Ann. Small-town life is gently poked at with a loving touch.¬†The rug isn’t pulled¬†out from under Charlie¬†to throw her so-called woes in her face, but to make her appreciate the family she has right in front of her.

more-the-merrier-159

1. The More the Merrier (Stevens) (US)
I’m just head over heels in love with this movie, which takes the then-serious housing shortage in Washington D.C during the war¬†and makes a screwball comedy out of it!¬†The More the Merrier¬†marks George Stevens’s last foray into comedic territory. He left immediately after the film’s completion to join the U.S Army Signal Corps, and his experiences during the war would dramatically shift the kinds of films he’d be making thereafter. This is one of the sexiest romantic comedies of the studio era. In fact it’s damn near erotic. It hilariously scrutinizes how our trio in close quarters shares space from the sitcom-esque sequence with the hectic schedule, the crowded closeness of the premise, and Jean Arthur’s increasing loss of control in her own home.

Stevens often shoots from outside the apartment looking in, using the windows as frames within frames, closing the characters in with each other and using the same techniques to bring them harmoniously together whether they like it or not. This brings¬†the audience¬†into the equation, involving us in the intimacy between Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea. The three leads are magnificent, career-best work from all. Jean Arthur is smoldering through her character’s button-cute type-A way. Joel McCrea is impossibly sexy, the opposite of Arthur in his quiet flirtatiousness and at times childishness. Charles Coburn, in an Oscar-winning role, could have been a sentimental eccentric old coot, but the writing and performance make it so much more. The dynamics between the three are so organic and joyous to watch unfold, especially the way factions within emerge such as the antagonistic boys club versus their target Arthur.

And that eroticism I mentioned earlier between Arthur and McCrea? Oh, it’s there. Just look at the scene when he gives her the suitcase, his face close to hers, showing her all the compartments. Or the long take starring Body Language with the two strolling down the street. It doesn’t get sexier than this sequence folks. Like, I think I stopped breathing during it. It’s a dance between the two. He’s outright¬†pawing¬†at her, she’s being coy. What are they talking about? Is anyone even listening? I don’t even know how this all got past the censors, because once they sit on the steps he starting feeling her up, his hand obsessing over her¬†face, neck, and shoulder. Mein Gott. Or that bedroom scene, with the camera bringing the two bedrooms¬†together as they longingly lust after one another in their separate beds. The two actors have a special onscreen connection. In an early scene, the two dance in¬†separate spaces with themselves, the camera linking them in their adorable awkwardness. Then in a later scene, the two sit across from each other at dinner with Coburn and Arthur’s fiancee. Sharing a private moment unbeknownst to the other two, they stare at each other moving their shoulders and body ever-so-slightly to the music. The sly cuteness of it all is too much.

But what about that ending? I’d love to hear what others think of it because it leaves me with a sad and peculiar taste. It uses the WWII movie trope of the quickie marriage and then settles the couple into a tired marriage with lots of Arthur wailing. That this is my favorite film of 1943, despite¬†going off-center in its finish, goes a long way in conveying just how much I’m in love with this film.

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1943: A Personal Sampling


By the end of this week I’ll have my Top Ten By Year: 1943 up. But now I continue my new tradition, the What I’ll Remember post, a way for me to pay tribute to all the year-specific viewing I’ve done and to point out a lot of notables¬†that stuck out to me. It’s also a way of stressing that, while the Top Ten list is something I love working towards, it’s really a means to an end. It goes without saying, but the most important part is the¬†process and journey of watching and re-watching these films.

Ossessione

The reversal of the male gaze in Ossessione

Big game hunting marks the years with mounted wit in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Edith Waters going from drab to fab in Cabin in the Sky’s last sinful 30 minutes before the film pulls a Wizard of Oz in more ways than one.

Phallic bananas and neon-lit pink hula hoops and disembodied heads (The Gang’s All Here)

‚ÄúYou‚Äôre going to kill someone Mr. Tyler‚ÄĚ (Flesh and Fantasy)

Joan Fontaine giving the best and worst work I’ve seen from her in The Constant Nymph and Jane Eyre¬†respectively. The former a freakishly on-point portrayal of awkward fawning teenagedom, the latter a constipated characterless interpretation of an iconic title character.

The torturous interrogation of frail elderly women in Hangmen Also Die! and Day of Wrath

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Kerr

Edith’s costumes and hats in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, particularly her first hat and the dress she wears when Theo arrives in his wheelchair to play cards

“I think she could do better” – The Ox-Bow Incident

Looney Tunes quotables like ‚ÄúAAAAYY, FATSO?‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúMeadows????‚ÄĚ (“Porky Pig’s Feat” and “The Aristo-Cat‚ÄĚ)

Achille, the sadistic family dwarf in L’√Čternel retour, threat to the disturbingly Aryan perfection of Jean Marais and Madeleine Sologne

Two musicals with all African American casts starring Lena Horne (Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky)

The softness of the birches vs. the hardness of the austere interiors, with Lisbeth Movin’s face bridging the two by embodying both in¬†Day of Wrath

The blatant eroticism of The More the Merrier

Joseph Cotton’s line reading of “Do you know the world is a foul sty?” in Shadow of a Doubt

Nicholas Brothers Stormy Weather

The Nicholas Brothers jaw-dropping am-I-really-seeing-what-I-think-I’m-seeing feat of a tap dancing number in Stormy Weather

The Leopard Man’s uncommon empathy for its victims

Hollywood narrative propaganda/morale boosters ranging from the small town homefront (The Human Comedy), to male teamwork in combat (Air Force), to women in the field (So Proudly We Hail!), to anti-neutrality after the fact (Watch on the Rhine).

The passage of time; history through people (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) and life removed from history (Heaven Can Wait)

‚ÄúHenry van Cleve, do I look like the type of girl who would take a boy‚Äôs last beetle?‚ÄĚ (Heaven Can Wait)

Barbara Stanwyck doing splits in Lady of Burlesque!

Bette Davis in pantless PJ’s in Old Acquaintance!

Watching Jane Eyre with my best friend, with disappointment morphing into hilarity. Orson Welles channeling Ron Burgundy in the final scene is the cherry on top of a shitty sundae.

The Aristo-Cat (6)

The background design work in¬†“Wackiki Wabbit”¬†and¬†“The Aristo-cat”

The most painfully uncomfortable smoking scene I can think of. Be a little more conspicuous Laughton. Or just get a grip on yourself for God’s sake. (This Land is Mine)

Realizing I’d virtually never run out of moments from The More the Merrier to put on here, so I stopped before getting too ahead of myself.

The iconic Jacqueline, fur coat and jet black hair severely framing her face as protective shields against the world (The Seventh Victim)

The final act long con pay-off of Hangmen Also Die!

The watchful dead and an orphan stalker obstruct the process of mourning before the Macauley family even learns of the death of their son in the final minute of The Human Comedy

Val Lewton at the height of his craft at RKO, an embarrassment of riches for one year (The Seventh Victim, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man) (And¬†The Ghost Ship, which I don’t really care for)

Everyone is looking at him like, "Uggh, this fucking kid"
Everyone is looking at him like, “Uggh, this fucking kid”

May I present Bodo, the most obnoxious kid in the history of film (Watch on the Rhine)

May I present Ann, the most precocious kid in the history of film (Shadow of a Doubt)

As long as we’re talking kids, what about the adolescent Rolande, bespectacled omnipresent ball-bouncer in¬†Le Corbeau?

Jean Arthur’s slippery revelation, and in face cream to boot (The More the Merrier)

The rural or isolated settings of French films made during the Occupation (Lumiere d’ete, La Main du Diable, Le Corbeau, L’√Čternel retour, Angels of Sin)

The Von Sternberg-like masked ball revelry in Lumiere d’ete and Flesh and Fantasy

The fragrant Romanticism of The Constant Nymph

‚ÄúVery much‚ÄĚ (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp)

Charlotte Greenwood

Charlotte Greenwood picking up a cat like it’s a phone (The Gang’s All Here)

An important secondary character being played by a child in blackface, engulfing The Man in Grey in supreme awkwardness amidst the picture’s otherwise entertaining luridness

Leopard-led publicity stunt with Jean Brooks in tow (The Leopard Man)

“And our message is ‚Äėdeath is good‚Äô” – Val Lewton (The Seventh Victim)

“Survey or no survey, I’m not going to start by breaking an egg” (Shadow of a Doubt)

Dull romantic male leads (George Reeves in So Proudly We Hail!, Hugh Beaumont in The Seventh Victim, John Loder in Old Acquaintance, James Ellison in The Gang’s All Here)

The hero worship I have of Bette Davis’s Kit, particularly in the first segment of Old Acquaintance. Like, I just want us to be best friends.

Purchasing¬†Walt Disney’s¬†On the Front Lines¬†for my DVD collection

Shadow-Hume-Cronyn-Herb-590px

Hume Cronyn, adorably needy as the friend who just wants to conceptualize and discuss murdering Henry Travers with Henry Travers in Shadow of a Doubt

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Master of Speech-Making, Charles Laughton (This Land is Mine)

Wait a minute folks! I present the Co-Master of Speech-Making, Anton Walbrook (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp)

Hold on! I’ve got one more! I present the Master of Letter-Reading (and as a result of Speech Making!); Henry Fonda in The Ox-Bow Incident

Resistance films portraying European struggles as primarily relatable and recognizable as something vaguely American. Prioritizing the ‘what if it happened to us’ angle (Hangmen Also Die!¬†and¬†This Land is Mine)

Still not having even an inkling of an idea of how to interpret or take or reconcile or feel about the last ten minutes of The More the Merrier

“Ah woe, ah me. Shame and sorrow for the family” – I Walked with a Zombie

Once again reminded of the warm spell Powell/Pressburger cast, a concoction all their own (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp)

The Ox-Bow Incident

The shot obscuring Henry Fonda’s eyes as he reads Donald Martin’s (Dana Andrews) letter in¬†The Ox-Bow Incident

Queen Carmen Miranda and her tutti frutti hat (The Gang’s All Here)

The surrealistic frenzy of the final minute of “Der Fuhrer‚Äôs Face”

Jean Arthur’s hair during the roof scene. Yowza. And Joel McCrea in general. Double Yowza. (The More the Merrier)

Appreciating the combination of Gothic tropes, West Indies, and colonialism in my re-watch of¬†I Walked with a Zombie and the fact that it’s a far better Jane Eyre adaptation than Jane Eyre.

Back-to-back deaths of uncommon cruelty in The Man in Grey

The not-nearly-discussed-enough and quite moving role of Emmy in Shadow of a Doubt

I Walked with a Zombie

Val Lewton’s now-trademark nighttime strolls courtesy of Jacques Tourneur and Mark Robson with existential dread (The Seventh Victim), cornfields littered with symbolism (I Walked with a Zombie) and blood seeping under a door (The Leopard Man)

They don’t want to die! (Day of Wrath and The Ox-Bow Incident)

Everything about Betty Field in, hollow-lit masked Ugly Duckling, in Flesh and Fantasy

‚ÄúDamn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!‚ÄĚ (The More the Merrier)