The Old Maid

#85. The Old Maid (1939, Goulding) (USA)
Write-up coming with Potential Double Feature #4: The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance (1943) post which I hope to have up next week.

#86. Under the Skin (2014, Glazer)

Madonna of the Seven Moons
#87. Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945, Crabtree) (UK)

Ludicrous Gainsborough Melodrama of a woman who is raped as a girl and develops a split personality when she gets married. The prude and old-fashioned Christian Maddalena disappears every handful of years as the earthy mistress of jewel thief Nino (Stewart Granger). Watching Phyllis Calvert play two sides of the same coin is a treat, and she smartly counters the material by underplaying it. Jack E. Cox’s camerawork impressively captures some electric hysteria in close-up on Calvert’s face. There’s something here about the ways in which society shames  women with sexual trauma, Maddalena’s victimhood renders her unable to process her trauma openly, or even internally. But the film on the whole doesn’t seem too concerned with this. It’s a mite too outlandish and, much more importantly, uneven. Her condition isn’t explored so much as it’s just used to drive a story that doesn’t have much going for it besides the high concept and Calvert’s performance.

#88. Angels of Sin (also known as Angels of the Streets or Les anges du péché) (1943, Bresson) (France)

Robert Bresson’s directorial debut. As much as I love some of Bresson’s more definitive work, I find I have an equal fondness for his pre-formalist days (Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is still my favorite film of his, even though his personal stamp is scarce). Nunneries and prison (which would become a recurring setting of his) are equated and combined as Anne-Marie, a new misguided recruit (Renée Faure) from a well-off background, becomes obsessed with reforming Thérèse (Jany Holt), a troubled soul, at a nunnery known for taking in just-released women from prison. The central dynamic is a complicated one, mostly because Anne-Marie’s pushy and condescending insistence suggest an odd superiority complex planted in piety and correlated by her background. But we don’t go deep enough with Thérèse, which makes the dynamic off-balance in its characterization, holding the film back from being something truly special.

There are two scenes, both involving Thérèse (and one right after the other), in which Bresson reveals inklings of future endeavors. Thérèse buys a gun and then shoots the man who framed her. We do not see the other man in either scene, the camera keeps on her start-to-finish as the scenarios play out and she exacts her revenge.

The nunnery is a hideout, a sanctuary, and a place to reform. The rituals and hierarchy of the place are closely observed. The outside world is depicted as uncertain and dangerous. Renée Faure gives an engagingly stand-out classical performance of conviction, and has the looks of a female Johnny Weir. Her character becomes a sort of martyr and the film wavers between engaging in the complexities and hypocrisies of the character and being one with her. I am still somewhat unsure of how the film sees her.

It’s the Little Things:
– The scene when Anne-Marie knocks door-to-door in an act of humility, to ask for a character assessment. Harsh stuff.
– I’ve realized I’m such a sucker for nun dramas.

#89. Cheap Thrills (2014, Katz)
A sledgehammer of a black comedy chamber piece; blunt, lean, and mean. Two friends (Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) in separately desperate monetary circumstances; dire straits are busy aligning with long-time-no-see when a wealthy couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) who get off on having the working class under their thumb gradually ushers them into a night of dares in exchange for increasingly large sums of money to whoever performs the assigned task first. Craig’s all-in decision, which mirrors Pat Healy’s performance, ignites a power play between the two friends, as Vince’s (Embry) initial enthusiasm wanes and escalating frustration sets in. There is a ton of class warfare here, not just between the two pairs, but between Craig and Vince. To the characters in the film (save one), human worth is equated with economic and educational standing. That callous reasoning comes shockingly natural to the players involved. David Koechner’s buddy-buddy exterior masks a sinister edge, and his improv abilities make Colin’s suggestions seem on-the-fly even though they aren’t. I love Sara Paxton (her performance in The Innkeepers is one of my all-time favorites, the most underappreciated performance in years), so I wish she had more to do here, but it was enough to see her and Healy together again.

It’s the Little Things:
– Nice touch – the skyline that Colin shows Craig and Vince is unattainable through shallow focus. Later on, as large sums of money are earned, the skyline is made visible. Craig’s made it.
– That last shot. My God.


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