Zine Peek: Top Ten By Year: 1978 – The Shout


Two weeks ago the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978, including write-ups on my ten favorites. For both this and my previous issue (1943), my plan was to rewatch the films and revise what I’d originally written years ago when I chose these years for my Top Ten By Year project (in which I spend 6 months to over a year with a particular year in film). What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. In the end, a handful of thoughts remained, but almost everything I wrote for both zines is entirely new.

I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups from each. Here is the second I’m sharing from 1978, on Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout. It is my #10 of that year.

MV5BNzBjYzkyODAtZTAzOS00Zjc4LWI3ZGUtZjQzZDQyNTc1MGExXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_

“Every word of what I’m going to tell you is true. Only I’m telling it in a different way. It’s always the same story…it’s always the same story but I…I change the sequence of events, and I vary the climaxes a little, because I like to keep it alive you see. I like to keep it alive”. 

Two men keep score of an asylum cricket game that unfolds with a kind of waiting-room menace, as if the world may end as soon as one team wins. One of the men tells the other a story, a story about aboriginal magicks in the English countryside, a story with unreliable layers of remove before we even begin. There is an air of Caligari to this framing device, the disturbed living in a limbo where the mix of delusion and reality exists in a beguiling muddle. Of course it’s a cricket game. Cricket makes no goddamn sense to the eye, but there is an order and logic to it we cannot see or know. I may as well be describing The Shout.

The central couple in Crossley’s (Alan Bates) tale are more placeholders than people. John Hurt is terminally aloof, and Suzannah York all-too soon becomes a symbol of sexual submission and the conqueror conquering. We meet them as they wake from a shared apparition of an aboriginal man in a tailcoat. The wife notices that her belt buckle is missing. They just woke up, and unbeknownst to them they’ve already lost the hearth and themselves. There are no clear motivations. Why them, why here? This is a reality where visions, the vessels of the inanimate, and especially the sonic, are what dictate will, power, and fate. Where everything may be a lie, or worse, everything may be true. Where people can be controlled as long as you have their belt buckle, or trap their soul in a stone.

Crossley claims to have obtained the “Terror Shout” from a shaman, a deafening scream that has the power to immediately kill anyone or anything within earshot. Anthony (Hurt) is a composer who spends his time experimenting with sound by manipulating electronics and everyday objects, unlocking what they hold within. An early sequence shows him recording various sounds, such as marbles and water rolling around together on an aluminum baking sheet. Throughout the film, there is an awareness of the potential for the extraordinary by what is put into and brought out of the ordinary. But in The Shout, the extraordinary uniformly manifests itself in the evils of the fantastic. We are thus trained to be more attuned to sound moving forward, to listen with a keen ear of curiosity and unease — to listen with the ears of a musician…or a wizard. The Shout weaves an aural tapestry for us, with an innovative 4-channel Dolby mix, one of the first of its kind, and an ambient and subdued synth score by Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford of Genesis.

There is a moment when, yanked down into position, Suzannah York recreates a Francis Bacon work seen on an inconspicuous clipping on Hurt’s studio wall. Director Jerzy Skolimowski doesn’t over-telegraph this recreation. He creates an uncanny familiarity, giving you just enough to know you’ve seen that pose somewhere before, and what the hell does it mean that you’re seeing it again? Is it part of Crossley’s power over the house that creates these mirror images, part of the film’s conveyances, or the inanimate’s surplus of energy? Any or all? These are the kind of patterns (this one more direct than the rest of the film) that make up the film. Watching it you feel first dislodged, then powerless. Even the opening credits, in which a man zig-zags his way through a shot grainy enough to be Bigfoot footage, are hazy and out of reach. The Shout leaves you engulfed in layers of suspicious supernatural uncertainty as you go off into the world acutely aware of your own corporeal limitations .

Zine Peek: Top Ten By Year: 1978 – The Fury


Two weeks ago the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978, including write-ups on my ten favorites. For both this and my previous issue (1943), my plan was to rewatch the films and revise what I’d originally written years ago when I chose these years for my Top Ten By Year project (in which I spend 6 months to over a year with a particular year in film). What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. In the end, a handful of thoughts remained, but almost everything I wrote for both zines is entirely new.

I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups from each. Here is the second I’m sharing from 1978, on Brian De Palma’s The Fury. It is my #3 of that year.

960_the_fury_blu-ray_08_The Fury is the best X-Men film ever made, and in an ideal world it’d be considered a model for what pop cinema can be. But as Brian De Palma’s follow-up to his masterpiece Carrie it was destined to disappoint, in part because of how much they have in common. Both are based on novels about a telekinetic girl. Both feature Amy Irving as an empath who tries and fails to save a peer-in-need. And both enjoy playing at an offbeat pitch; but while Carrie does so within an unmistakable horror designation, The Fury is an ice cream sundae of genres – a coming-of-age supernatural espionage government conspiracy horror-thriller. Got all that? Add an experimentally self-reflexive cherry on top, and you have a film that audiences and critics did not, and largely still don’t, know what to make of. But to De Palma devotees (and some film devotees) it is an essential work, and an irresistible opportunity for writers to intellectualize De Palma’s relationship with cinema through cinema. It’s an exercise that often, for all its worth, makes the film itself sound like a narrative thesis. There is often a clinical disconnect that obscures The Fury’s entertaining and emotional immediacy.

Watching The Fury, the main thing you notice is that even through its early slower section it is blisteringly alive, as if De Palma has some unspoken knowledge that this will be the last film he ever makes (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). It is so in tune with its own wavelength, and with the emotional stakes of its characters, that the preposterously schlocky story feels like it matters (this is greatly helped by John Williams’s momentous Herrmann-eqsue score, by turns eerie, epic, and playful. “For Gillian” is his Harry Potter before Harry Potter). It maintains the same two-fold hold on me every time I watch it — a mix of uncommonly strong investment in the characters and story, and a near-constant awe at its formal power. With an opening set-piece that involves a betrayal by way of (who else but?) John Cassavetes, a terrorist attack, a kidnapping, and a shirtless 62 year-old Kirk Douglas letting loose with a machine gun, an “all-aboard!” line is drawn in the sand. Either hop on or get ready for a long two hours.

That ice cream sundae also contains eccentric pockets of comic relief. Scenes open on oddball peripheral characters, whether it’s the cop who just got a brand new car, the little old lady who delights in helping out a trespasser, or the two security guards who pass the time by negotiating trades of Hershey bars and coffee (it also has the priceless reveal that the elderly Kirk Douglas’s ingenious disguise is to make himself look, wait for it, old!). All that Kirk and quirk gradually give way to the more sincerely executed dilemmas of the teenage Gillian (Amy Irving in a performance that belongs in my personal canon), a new student at the Paragon Institute coming to grips with her increasingly cataclysmic and all-seeing powers.

It’s trademark De Palma to toy around with the nature of cinema, and as The Fury unfolds it begins to self-engage, reaching back into itself in ways that are still hard to fully fathom. Gillian’s telekinetic link to the missing Robin (Andrew Stevens) is depicted visually, including us in the intimate and exclusive psychic link they share. Since Gillian’s visions are triggered by touch and experienced by sight, she acquires information by watching scenes play out in front of, or all around, her. She learns and we learn through her. She becomes submerged in cinema — part of the audience. Gillian experiences harrowing psychic access to Robin, and through the immediacy of the filmmaking we are given that same experiential access to Gillian. This is cinema as the ultimate form of communication, information (surveillance is a recurring theme here too, another De Palma favorite), and feeling, seen as capable of transcending the confines of the screen. As part of his brainwashing, Robin is even shown the first five minutes of the film. Cinema weaponized and all that jazz.

The tricks in De Palma’s formal playbook make all this possible. The editing (at times flickering in-and-out like a flip-book) and rear-screen projection are used to emphasize and envelop. Characters are brought together by overlapping space and sound. The camera often tracks conversation by circling around characters, knowing that the more an image changes, the more we can percieve. A bravura slow-motion sequence turns the notion of the escape scene into a cathartic reverie gone wrong. It isn’t until the end that we realize the slow-motion is in fact stretching out a character’s final moments. It is the perfect encapsulation of how De Palma, at his best, uses pure stylization to not only enhance, but become emotion. Gillian’s shake-ridden fright and confusion, Hester’s (Carrie Snodgress) heartache and longing, and Peter (Douglas) facing the consequences of his quest, are all deeply palpable through this fusion of performance and form.

The Fury carries the devastating punch of his most emotional works like Carrie, Blow Out, or Carlito’s Way, but without the ever-lingering bleak aftertaste. It hijacks the senseless loss that came before with a vengeful ascendance so absolute it can only be called the money shot to end all money shots. And it wouldn’t be The Fury if it didn’t replay from every imaginable angle — wiping our memory out with pure orgasmic vindication.

Zine Peek: Top Ten By Year: 1978 – Coming Home


Two weeks ago, the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978. I’d written about my ten favorites in 2015 (the year of my 1978 deep dive), and my plan was to rewatch and revise everything to improve what was there. What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. There are a handful of thoughts that remain, but everything I wrote for the zine is entirely new.

I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups each from the 1943 (which was similarly revised almost from scratch) and 1978 zines. I will also be doing this for the 1943 zine.

So, here is my write-up on Hal Ashby and company’s Coming Home. It is my #2 of 1978.

coming home

Coming Home delivers its message by way of human texture and deference. 1978 marks the year Hollywood began to grapple with the atrocities of the Vietnam War (this and the harrowing collapse-of-camaraderie film The Deer Hunter were both nominated for Best Picture). But Hollywood didn’t decide to make Coming Home; Jane Fonda did. And she brought in collaborators (director Hal Ashby, stars Jon Voight and Bruce Dern, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, producer Jerome Hellman, etc) that, like her, were coming from a place of long-time activism and grievance. Together they came up with one of the most empathetic films ever made (Coming Home is full of one-of-the-mosts of mine), a film about the basic need for human connection in times of uncertainty and ruin. Their research on the stories and struggles of those who returned home held significant sway, and they shot at an active veterans hospital, incorporating the patients and their conversations into the film (Jon Voight and Robert Carradine are the only actors among the hundred plus credited). It is by some miracle (that miracle being the people involved) that they never feel like exploited window dressing. The film opens with patients playing pool and speaking unscripted about the war. Originally, Jon Voight was meant to chime in, but as they shot the only thing that felt right was to stay silent. Instead, he is seen listening intently with his head down, his real-life respect becomes Luke’s pain. This is what I mean by deference.

Hal Ashby’s camera was always one of sensitive objectivity: simply put, he can see. He’s often far away (because of the lenses he favors, even when he’s close he’s far), taking in the whole before finding the details. This sense of discovery with a documentarian’s eye – seen in, for example, every shot from the Fourth of July picnic – contains a decree that we also see, and become one with the camera’s discoveries. It is through this that the film finds its uncommon compassion, allowing the actors to seamlessly integrate themselves with the environment and each other.

Ashby’s hang-back approach (he and Altman really are kindred spirits) facilitates another crucial rarity about Coming Home: it’s one of the sexiest films ever made. I challenge you to show me anything as erotic as the way Jon Voight looks at Jane Fonda in this movie (Voight’s work here is critical to my love of Coming Home; a hugely important performance to me, one of rare lived-in emotional access). The two dance around that most charged of scenarios; the anticipatory zone before anything happen, when the tiniest touch, gaze, or exchange is liable to occupy your daydreams (“You know, I spend 95% of the time at the hospital thinking of making love with you”). The realm of unconsummated desire. Their desire functions as a kind of healing, as a way for the broken and abandoned to put themselves together again. The reason it’s so sexy, besides the chemistry between Voight and Fonda, is that nobody is in communication with the camera. Every touch, gaze, and exchange is caught or glimpsed. The camera is not a participant or a voyeur, but an observer, freeing up the actors to share space and immerse themselves with their characters and each other (for instance, the scene at the beach between Luke and Sally regarding Bob’s return was shot with an 800mm lens, placing the camera over 400 yards away from the actors). Their romance never feels constructed for us. Between the performances, and the camera’s unobtrusive and intimate observations, the intimacy we see and feel is amplified.

Hal Ashby is well-known for integrating music into his films, and in Coming Home it’s a throughline — a blank check catalog of the era (it may understandably read as Cliche City to some — there are 5 Rolling Stones songs. 5!), but it stitches together the frequent cross-cutting and provides structural cohesion for the observational filmmaking. Whether unassuming or front-and-center, the music always plays over the scenes. It never punctuates or syncs up with any individual moment or action (in general, this is how music used to be employed – it was much less in conversation with the onscreen moment-to-moment than recent decades). It is used as a blanket of meaning and subsiding impact. Through the music, Sally, Luke, and Bob are unified by the pain of their era and entwined fates. It is thus that “Out of Time” plays over the opening credits, as Bruce Dern’s straight able-bodied jog is cross-cut with an influx of clashing steel and wheels within hospital hallways. And it is thus that we close with divergent ends paralleled, as Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was” shelters the hopeful and the hopeless as they co-exist with overwhelming totality.

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter


Previous What I’ll Remember posts:
1925, 1930, 1943, 1958, 1965, 1969, 1978, 1982, 1992, 2012, 2013, 2014

It’s that time again! The What I’ll Remember posts are a Top Ten By Year trademark; a fun, engaging, and personalized way of collecting movie memories that represent my time with the years chosen for this project. It’s something I work on gradually while making my way through the watchlist, whether it’s writing down observations, grabbing screencaps, or making notes of what to include. When I look back on these long afterwards, I find countless things I would have otherwise forgotten (despite the name of this feature!) and am always so grateful for having made them. What we take from movies should be more than the, understandably, ‘big picture’ way we tend to evaluate, enjoy, or talk about them. Hopefully this does a little to parse out all the different ways that film, whether taken individually or as a group, can be memorable!

I started 1949 one year ago. The Top Ten By Year: 1949 Poll Results went up in October (almost 300 people voted for ove 250 films!). You can also enjoy 100 (or so) Images from the Films of 1949 which went up last week. The Top Ten By Year: 1949 write-up should go up within a month’s time. And then after that: 1990!

(Note: I am posting this without having actually seen Le Silence de la Mer. It is the last one on my watchlist and I will update this post with anything I need to afterwards)

Raoul Walsh saying everything he needs to say with masterful shot compositions & blocking in Colorado Territory

Max Ophüls saying everything he needs to say with his masterful shot compositions & blocking, his fluid camera constantly recalibrating the characters & their relations to each other, in Caught & The Reckless Moment

UK murders done drolly
(The Hidden Room, Kind Hearts and Coronets)

The sandy desolation of Une si jolie petite plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach)

The peppy and shamelessly horny women of On the Town

Julien Duvivier’s Au royaume des cieux (The Sinners), so unseen & unavailable (only 39 votes on imdb & 13 views on letterboxd!), & so completely essential. The lost girls reformatory film of your dreams

The thrilling ball sequence in Madame Bovary, a 360 degree manifestation of delirium in which Emma’s inner ecstasy and social fantasy are externalized by a sudden & urgent call to “Smash the windows!”

Begone Dull Care” is really cool. Somewhat less cool: its flickers and sputters almost triggered a panic attack

Harry Lime’s self-satisfied entrance in The Third Man, even better when you realize he never meant to be seen and had seamlessly pivoted into it for the theatrics

Celeste Holm as the all-seeing yet unseen homewrecker Addie Ross in A Letter to Three Wives, an arsenal of sumptous half-whispered poison. The filmis good and all, but give me The Addie Ross story over drunk Jeanne Crain stressing about entering society life any day

Needing Gene Kelly to calm the fuck down in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Level of Ham: Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins

In recent years, Joan Crawford has gone from someone I’ve always casually enjoyed to a pivotal personal icon. The very underrated Flamingo Road, part of her Mildred Pierce stretch of playing tenacious & sexually mature women, illustrates why. Through these roles, her gorgeously soft-lit turmoil & determination are a constant through the barrage of bad luck or bad choices her characters battle

The Fantasia-esque visuals of “Inspirace”, where droplets and the like morph into a transluscent fairy-tale

Post-WWII Americanization abroad (Late Spring, Bitter Rice, Rendezvous in July)

Joan Greenwood’s voice is like some majestic creature that is going to lull you into an eternal sleep. She is a kind of infuriating opiate in Kind Hearts and Coronets

The Secret Garden 1949 00009The Wizard of Oz-esque use of Technicolor for the garden sequences of The Secret Garden

Brunhilde Esterhazy: best character name or best character name? (and best character!) (On the Town)

The amusingly superficial posters on the walls of Dorothy Dale’s Charm School, such as the Personality Recipe (the components are appearance based), and the Which Shape Is Your Face? chart, filled with geometrics such as the very not face-shaped triangle (Caught)

Turns out that French films from 1949 with less than 300 views on letterboxd are my jam (Une si jolie petite plage, Rendezvous in July, Au royaume des cieux)

Four characters locked in by glares & jewels & power plays (oh my!) in Bitter Rice

madame fashion

tumblr_p52tb9wg1E1r7h84eo1_500Two show-stopping costumes presented as spectacles in their own right: Madame Bovary’s whimsical ballgown confection & Delilah’s opulent peacock ensemble (surely a greatest of all-time contender) (Madame Bovary, Samson & Delilah)

The sing-off turned brawl (recalling 1956’s “Lucy’s Italian Movie” which would use this film as inspiration) in Bitter Rice

The outré existence of Jose Ferrer’s astrologer/hypnotist character in Whirlpool. He casually outs a party guest as having recently tried to commit suicide (to the amusement of everyone including the man!), hypnotizes himself into post-surgery painlessness, warns his enemy of the alignment of Mars, and says things like “I bow to your abysmal scruples”

That huge plate of spaghetti in House of Strangers

The harrowing post-rape sequence in Bitter Rice. Rain, rice fields, and pain externalize the just-past

That all-too-brief moment when we’re treated to Jean Hagen & Judy Holliday looking really hot in drag in Adam’s Rib

A Letter to Three Wives basically invented auto-tune! (“Why th-hh-hh-ee bl–uuu–eeee ssuuuu-itttt?”) (Courtesy of Sonovox!)

The whip-pans of Au royaume des cieux

Coming around to Richard Conte in a big way with rewatches of Whirlpool and Thieves Highway, and a first-time viewing of House of Strangers

“Setting the Scene” opening narrations
(Beyond the Forest, Border Incident, Flamingo Road, A Letter to Three Wives, Abandoned, The Reckless Moment)

Title cards! Some favorites!

The ache of seeing Gene Tierney try to keep her projected congeniality together for her husband in the face of a murder charge & a muggy mind. She has never been more  available to us onscreen (Whirlpool)

The metaphoric horror show of Blood of the Beasts, catapulting me into a meltdown that can only be described as unhealthily distressing

Max Ophüls making 2 (TWO!) films that interrogate what it means to be an American woman. While Leonora has to face the worth of her ideals head-on, Lucia faces the challenge of remaining Steadfast Mother Hen in the midst of violent crisis
(Caught and The Reckless Moment)

The shot of the dam breaking in Au royaume des cieux

tumblr_p6g19lM7141vnek3io1_540The borderline surreal climactic heist-in-the-smoke of Criss Cross

The way James Cagney plays the I-talk-to-my-dead-mother confession to Edmund O’Brien. So intimate and watchful; a critical test that, if he passes, promises the rareness of trust (White Heat)

Semi-documentary trends popping up in films one wouldn’t entirely categorize as such (1949 is in the midst of the semi-documentary procedural craze yet there aren’t many any from this particular year)
(Border Incident, Follow Me Quietly, Abandoned)

The Third Man, a sweet spot masterpiece. How corny but true to say but every time you watch it it’s like “wow, people made this & now we have it & it’s a thing that exists, how beautiful is that?”

The terrible grotesquerie of Beyond the Forest which I can honestly say is one of the worst films I’ve seen (worth watching for how weirdly bad it is, I’ve never seen anything quite like it)

All those two shots with Francesca and Silvana in Bitter Rice

The famous sewer chase in The Third Man, even better than you remember, even greater than you know it to be. Cinema’s apex? Food for thought….

The central boxing match in The Set-Up. An absence of humanity, just hungry faces barking for blood, and one man’s committment to redemption

The canted & cluttered off-kilter world of post-war Vienna in The Third Man

The bold 1st act of Pinky which, Jeanne Crain casting aside, depicts remarkably honest dilemmas and scenarios about race that are actively confrontational towards white audiences, especially for its time. And then…it ends up being about the film’s one uninteresting story thread!

Seeing Setsuko Hara’s fortress beam of a smile disintegrate as Late Spring unfolds

The dead vigilant eye of Dame Edith Evans, in death her knowing glower locks onto Anton Walbrook for life in The Queen of Spades

I remember being a teenager when I saw White Heat for the first time, and being shocked by the emotion on display when Cody finds out his mother is dead (“She’s dead.” “She’s dead.” “She’s dead.” etc). It still shocks. A totally unrestrained feral piece of acting by James Cagney

The “ok byeeee” nature of Harry Lime’s exit (“So long Holly!”) immediately following the cuckoo clock speech in The Third Man. Also, Orson’s delivery of this speech and all of the rest of it. Nobody else would say Harry’s lines in his perfectly natural offhand way, with a rhythm that is its own kind of music. It makes you love the character. There is an urge to shout “No, wait, don’t go, you just got here!”

Geraldine Brooks in The Reckless Moment making me wish it didn’t take until the 50s for us to see teens with modern gumption onscreen

Elizabeth Taylor playing her first adult part (Conspirator), while still shaking off now-awkward kiddie roles like Amy in Little Women

The first halves of Tension and I Was a Male War Bride. Before the detective enters the scene, Tension is the best kind of lurid noir. And then there’s the sexy outdoors slapstick of I Was a Male War Bride, before it gives way to pleasant but ho-hum bureaucracy humor

Money destroys
(The Rocking Horse Winner, Too Late for Tears, Caught, Thieves Highway)

Anna’s forthright walk through the autumnal street; past Holly, past us. Through two funerals, she shuns the living through her loyalty to the dead
(The Third Man)

The height of the social problem film trend of the late 1940s, which would emerge as a mainstream trend in the 1950s
(Pinky, Intruder in the Dust, Home of the Brave, Lost Boundaries, The Lady Gambles, Never Fear, Not Wanted, Knock on Any Door)

The surrealist wall paintings in Audrey Totter’s apartment in Alias Nick Beal

Time, As a Factor
(On the Town, The Set-Up, D.O.A.)

Silvana Magnano’s face and body in Bitter Rice. Just go see for yourself.

Samson & Delilah: DeMille still kinking it up with incredible costumes, scope, & Technicolor. I loved it.

Flashback Fever:
(The Fan, The Accused, Beyond the Forest, Champion, Criss Cross, Knock on Any Door, Twelve O’ Clock High, Edward, My Son, A Woman’s Secret, Black Magic, House of Strangers, Not Wanted, Kind Hearts and Coronets. A Letter to Three Wives, The Passionate Friends). These last two feature particularly intricate flashback structures, which confused some audiences at the time

i shotThe beautiful and sensual closing scene of I Shot Jesse James. They are outside but you’d never know it. They are faces emerged from blackness, a woman soothing her man in his final moments

Francesca’s character arc in Bitter Rice, from tossed aside moll to solidarity among hard-working women

The dance-hall scene in Caught; freedom in a crowd. Ophüls’ roving camera canvasses the outskirts. Two characters connect with their guards down, making room for candid and infectious laughter

Claude Rains unmatched ability to humanize characters who might otherwise not have been (The Passionate Friends)

We don’t meet the son in Edward, My Son!? We don’t learn why the confession happened in A Woman’s Secret?! These might work if the films were any good but they aren’t so it’s just nonsensical and very frustrating

easy livingThis shot from Easy Living (1949, Tourneur), so full of longing. The film is barely regarded, even by Tourneur enthusiasts, in part because it was one a “one for them” of his.  But it’s got a Daisy Kenyon vibe in that it’s a refreshing drama from the late 40s about complicated adults with complicated adult problems

A hill of tumbling apples & a fiery truck. A man burns for capitalism, but capitalism doesn’t burn for him (Thieves Highway)

Women in conflict with their desire for the finer things in life and for true love. Two different choices are made in The Passionate Friends and Caught

Kirk Douglas’ final scene in Champion; some of the most nakedly raw pre-Brando acting out there. Between him & James Cagney’s similarly animalistic outbursts in White Heat, 1949 features really powerful moments showcasing the vulnerability of male monsters

The Tale of the Countess Ranevskaya in The Queen of Spades

tumblr_nlxgovRqnt1szayaxo6_540
This particularly hot Burt Lancaster look in Criss Cross

The way The Passionate Friends illuminates interior lives & times past

One of life’s great joys: watching Anton Walbrook become untethered onscreen (The Queen of Spades)

The German Professor Bhaer in Little Women being very obviously Italian (played by Rossano Brazzi). Actually, most Professor Bhaer’s aren’t German now that I think about it!

The end of Easy Living; a shocking, nakedly misogynistic action, and a truly bold storytelling choice. I’ve rarely felt this kind of disappointment in a character

Di1YuVxU0AA0GycFeeling immediate worship and loyalty for Audrey Totter based on this early moment from Tension (delivered like “Drrriiiffffffttttt”)

The remnants of an apple peel and their heartbreaking significance in Late Spring

Apartment life at the end of the Chinese Civil War in Crows and Sparrows, only released at the end of the Chinese Civil War because it dared to be in opposition of Chiang Kai-shek’s corrupt government

A special shout-out to Lt. Kitty Lawrence, a bit character in I Was a Male War Bride whose short time onscreen is used for explicit kink-wishing. (“He could leave marks on me anytime. I’d bring the stick!”)

Flights of Fantasy (films that break with reality in different ways)
On the Town, My Dream is Yours, The Passionate Friends, Alice in Wonderland

20190111_132013Rendezvous amphibian20190111_140233The funky car-boat in Rendezvous in July, whimsically floating down the Seine, and featuring eye illustrations that reappear on costumes & decor throughout the film

The stale taste left in my mouth as I watched scenes from The Shop Around the Corner (presumably from its source material) lifelessly recreated word-for-word by the cast of In the Good Old Summertime

Dan Duryea’s nickname for Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (“Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart”)

Adaptations using badly dated, and entirely invented, framing devices with the authors as characters (Black Magic, Madame Bovary, Alice in Wonderland)

Toshiro Mifune finally allowing himself to release all of his pent-up emotions in The Quiet Duel

tumblr_papn29Fchm1tqsk9wo3_540The faceless mannequin in Follow Me Quietly, and that chilling time we are fooled by it

With Jour de Fête as my 4th Tati, it might be time for me to admit he’s just not for me

Lizabeth Scott completely and unapologetically owning her roles as the most materialistic of women in both Too Late for Tears and Easy Living

Deborah Kerr’s bitter drunken hag performance in the last act of Edward, My Son. Is it good? Is it bad? Hell if I know, but it’s something

Hoping that one day Lou Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland can be seen in better condition. It’s not good, but the stop-motion animation & sets are quite imaginative. Fuck Disney for going out of its way to successfully squash this (they are even responsible for the subpar color film stock they ended up using)

Whirlpool & The Reckless Moment: two very different 1949 women’s noirs exploring the masks projected by married women at the sacrifice of themselves. In the former the turmoil is internal, about the psychology and relationship. In the latter, things spiral externally; noir and family are inextricable as Joan Bennett puts a brave face forward in juggling it all alone (the husband is away). They each even write letters to their respective spouses that are either thrown away or not completed

The # of films across genres from western to sports drama to fantasy to noir that are just about nuanced humans with palpable lived histories & relationships. These films transcend their genres & feel primarily identifiable and connceted by this instead
(Colorado Territory, Rope of Sand, Easy Living, The Set-Up, Alias Nick Beal, Caught)

Audrey Totter and the boxing ticket. To tear or not to tear? (The Set-Up)

Traces of gay!
(“Christmas USA”, “Puce Moment”, Such a Pretty Little Beach, Au Royaume des Cieux)

The evocative autumn backgrounds in the otherwise pretty dreadful The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

_315x420_86c859bcce9ba532d15afc4d0eedabc205631598494298286d0fc18edcb19b39

David Brian aka: The Pits. As if Hollywood thrust a crusty newscaster into leading roles (romantic opposites with Joan & Bette, the nerve! Bette is cheating on Joseph Cotten with this bag of sand in Beyond the Forest) showing a total disregard for audiences everywhere
(Intruder in the Dust, Beyond the Forest, Flamingo Road)

The age of Pseudo Psychoanalytic films winds down with Whirlpool. Preminger’s characteristically sober touch makes an unconventional approach for this kind of story

The Set-Up as a collective conduit for all the souls who inhabit the film. Such vivid empathy and consideration for the various crushing predicaments and hopes of these characters

The unlikely focuses of Thieves Highway. A roadside breakdown patiently unfolds as a life is saved and a bond is formed. You expect it to have bearing on the plot. It doesn’t. But it has plenty on the story

Confirmation upon rewatch that I still don’t care for Adam’s Rib

Screenshot_20190320-130256_Message+“Puce Moment” becoming a literal aesthetic board when I got prints made of screenshots and now have them taped to my sides of my vanity

Montgomery Clift’s inherent tenderness complicating his performance & putting him intriguingly at-odds with his character in The Heiress

Van Helfin’s suppressed & then unstable guilt in Act of Violence, initiating the film’s left-turn segue into the underworld

Father and daughter on opposite sides of the road in Late Spring; change is already here

The deep affection I developed for Christine in Rendezvous in July. She is maligned by her friends for her mean streak & envy, but her actions, driven by insecurity & mediocrity, are easy to understand. The more unforgiving the film & its occupants are toward her, the more I came to empathize and love her

crissFacing imminent death straight-to-camera in the final moments of Criss Cross

Orson goes to Europe
(The Third Man, Black Magic)

The brutal historical noir of Reign of Terror, courtesy of Anthony Mann. Invasive close-ups, tight spaces, paranoia, double agents, and plenty of beheadings

The hypnotizing hypnotizing sequences of Black Magic!

The sympathetic eye that Ida Lupino lends Sally Forrest in her social issue melodrama Not Wanted. Nobody is an archetype, there is no “don’t do this & you’ll be fine” angle. It’s all refreshingly light on didactics

Amy - 5Adult Amy’s outfit entrance. Autumn-as-dress; magnificent (Little Women)

Favorite Performances of 1949:
Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice, Doris Dowling in Bitter Rice, Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road, Gene Tierney in Whirlpool, Judy Holliday in Adam’s Rib, Claude Rains in The Passionate Friends, Audrey Totter in Tension, Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory, Celeste Holm in A Letter to Three Wives, Juano Hernandez in Intruder in the Dust, John Ireland in I Shot Jesse James, Lucille Ball in Easy Living, Gerard Philipe in Such a Pretty Little Beach, Dan Duryea in Too Late for Tears, Orson Welles in The Third Man, Barbara Bel Geddes in Caught, Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel, Setsuko Hara in Late Spring, Chishû Ryû in Late Spring, Richard Basehart in Reign of Terror, Anton Walbrook in The Queen of Spades, Doris Day in My Dream is Yours, Mary Astor in Act of Violence, Lee J. Cobb in Thieves Highway

Favorite Characters of 1949:
Lane Bellamy (Joan Crawford/Flamingo Road), Christine (Nicole Courcel/Rendezvous in July), Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller/On the Town), Brunhilde “Hildy” Esterhazy (Betty Garrett/On the Town), Francesca (Doris Dowling/Bitter Rice), Silvana (Silvana Mangano/Bitter Rice), Claire Quimby (Audrey Totter/Tension), Sadie Dugan (Thelma Ritter/A Letter to Three Wives), Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott/Too Late for Tears), Vivian Martin (Eve Arden/My Dream is Yours), Anne (Lucille Ball/Easy Living), 1st Lieu. Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan/I Was a Male War Bride), Harry Lime (Orson Welles/The Third Man), Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee/The Third Man), Connie (Arthur Kennedy/Champion), Addie Ross (Celeste Holm/A Letter to Three Wives), Martha Gibson (Doris Day/My Dream is Yours), Lt. Kitty Lawrence (Marion Marshal/I Was a Male War Bride), all the girls in Au Royaume des cieux, Rui Minegishi (Noriko Sengoku/The Quiet Duel), Beatrice ‘Bea’ Harper (Geraldine Brooks/The Reckless Moment), Fouché (Arnold Moss/Reign of Terror), Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan/Act of Violence), Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell, Thieves Highway)

Least Favorite Characters of 1949:
Kip Lurie (David Wayne, Adam’s Rib), John Gavin Stevens (David Brian, Intruder in the Dust), Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet, Flamingo Road), Midge (Kirk Douglas, Champion), Walter (Vittorio Gassman, Bitter Rice), Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly, Take Me Out to the Ball Game), Hester Grahame (Valerie Hobson, The Rocking Horse Winner), Sibella (Joan Greenwood, Kind Hearts and Coronets), Andrew Delby Larkin (Van Johnson, In the Good Old Summertime), all the kids in The Secret Garden, Hon. Charles Adare (Michael Wilding, Under Capricorn), Lizaveta Ivanova (Yvonne Mitchell, The Queen of Spades), Mr. & Mrs. Manleigh (Florence Bates & Hobart Cavanaugh, A Letter to Three Wives) everyone watching the boxing match in The Set-Up, Arnold ‘Red’ Kluger (Charles McGraw, The Threat), Mademoiselle Chamblas (Suzy Prim, Au royaume des cieux), David Harper (David Bair, The Reckless Moment), Masa Taguchi (Haruko Sugimura, Late Spring), Robespierre (Richard Baseheart, Reign of Terror)

Actors I saw the Most in 1949:
Robert Ryan, Jeanne Crain, Janet Leigh, Richard Conte, Robert Mitchum, Van Johnson, James Mason, Audrey Totter, Joseph Cotten, Lizabeth Scott, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Arthur Kennedy, James Mason, Victor Mature, Kirk Douglas, Margaret O’Brien, Claude Rains, Gene Kelly, Orson Welles, Virginia Mayo, David Brian, Sally Forrest, Barbara Lawrence, Van Helfin, Sydney Greenstreet, George Sanders, Dan Duryea, Doris Day, Jack Carson, Trevor Howard

The consistently gorgeous dissolves & compositions of Døden er et kjærtegn (Death Is a Caress)

The last major year of Margaret O’Brien’s career, capping at age 12 with lead roles in two major adaptations of beloved classics (Mary in The Secret Garden, Amy in Little Women). She’d appear in other films & TV, but there was no place made for her as an adolescent

Bette Davis saying “I’m Rosi Moline” over and over again in Beyond the Forest, while I just kept hearing Nomi Malone

Of Mankiewicz’s two films from 1949: House of Strangers > A Letter to Three Wives

Betty Garrett openly lusting after an atypically girl-shy Frank Sinatra in both Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town

mother is a freshman 4mother is a freshman 5Mother is a Freshman 1mother is a freshman 3

Loretta Young’s wardrobe in the hyper-slight but genuinely pleasant Lloyd Bacon Technicolor comedy Mother is a Freshman, in which everybody wants…..Van Johnson…

The Miss Turnstiles Ballet sequence, the perfect example of my (and Kelly/Donen too!) penchant for abstract monochromatic sets from studio-era Hollywood. Vera Ellen gets to show off her talents and be the perfect hyper-faceted non-existent fantasy woman, all in just a few minutes.
The “Cool Girl” equivalent of its era.
(On the Town)

Dear Everyone,
How did it take me this long to love Doris Day?
Sincerely, A Former Fool
(My Dream is Yours & It’s a Great Feeling)

On the Town, the first musical shot (very much in-part) on-location, the bulk of which is the film’s opening number. It’s a thrill seeing these actors buoyantly hit every major tourist spot in the fantastical time-compress only the movies can provide

Finally having context for that oft-used all-timer Judy Garland gif
(In the Good Old Summertime)

🎶🎶”The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down”🎶🎶
(On the Town)

The bonkers part-animation dream sequence that comes out of nowhere in My Dream is Yours. Ever wanted to see Jack Carson hop around in a bunny costume? Well, here’s your chance

Loving three-strip Technicolor as much as Two-strip Technicolor!
(It’s a Great Feeling, In the Good Old Summertime, Little Women, Mother is a Freshman, My Dream is Yours, On the Town, Samson and Delilah, The Secret Garden, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Under Capricorn)

The screaming match between Mary (Margaret O’Brien) and Colin (baby Dean Stockwell) in The Secret Garden, two of the most abrasive minutes in cinema!

tumblr_nlpd3sZc901qz8c8to1_500Joseph Cotten’s in-the-moment choice not to give Ingrid Bergman the rubies in Under Capricorn. Such a sympathetic moment as he awkwardly hides them behind his back

The stone-cold hardening of Catherine’s (Olivia de Havilland) soul through heartbreak in The Heiress

Seeing one of the glass figurines that Karel Zeman used in his stop-motion short “Inspirace” at the Karel Zeman Museum, and finally getting around to watching it!

Joan Crawford giving Sydney Greenstreet what for in Flamingo Road with a couple of swift and much-deserved slaps…….an action she lampoons in It’s a Great Feeling, one of cinema’s best cameos!
(Jack Carson: [after being slapped]: What was that for?
Joan Crawford: Oh, I do that in all my pictures.)

S.Z. Sakall’s delivery of “and anyways she-she’s a dog” in My Dream is Yours

tumblr_ozt4ourqa41rusn89o1_540

 *** QUOTES ***
(littered, of course, with The Third Man)

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly!”
(The Third Man)

Aunt Penniman: Can you be so cruel?
Catherine Sloper: Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters.
(The Heiress)

“Hell is other people…”
(The Reckless Moment)

“I don’t want people to like me. Nothing pleases me more than when they don’t like me. It means I don’t belong.”
(Beyond the Forest)

Claire: How’d you feel if someone broke your dinosaur?
Ozzie: Never had one. We were too poor.
(On the Town)

“Men are no good. They’re devious. Before marriage they only show their good side, but once they have you, everything awful comes out. Even if you marry for love, you never know what you’re getting”
(Late Spring)

“Death’s at the bottom of everything Martins. Leave death to the professionals”
(The Third Man)

“I bow to your abysmal scruples”
(Whirlpool)

“Smash the windows!”
(Madame Bovary)

“Mariah: bolt the door”
(The Heiress)

“No part of marriage is the exclusive province of any one sex.”
(Adam’s Rib)

Louis: [after murdering his cousin along with his cousin’s mistress] I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably during the weekend already undergone a fate worse than death.
(Kind Hearts and Coronets)

Amanda Bonner: And after you shot your husband… how did you feel?
Doris Attinger: Hungry!
(Adam’s Rib)

“A person doesn’t change just because you find out more”
(The Third Man)

“This is it. I’ve been waiting for it, dreaming of it all my life – even when I was a kid. And it wasn’t because we were poor, not hungry poor at least. I suppose, in a way, it was far worse. We were white collar poor, middle-class poor. The kind of people who can’t quite keep up with the Joneses and die a little every day because they can’t.”
(Too Late for Tears)

“The most dangerous thing about completely immoral women is their tremendous unused and unpredictable reserve of honest feeling.”
(Rope of Sand)

“Do you think women live in vaccum-sealed containers like tennis balls?”
(House of Strangers)

“I’m being constantly disillusioned. Has money completely lost its power? Is everyone motivated now by love?”
(Rope of Sand)

Lucia: You don’t know how a family can surround you at times.
Martin: Do you never get away from your family?
Lucia: No.
(The Reckless Moment)

Martins: I was going to stay with him, but he died Thursday
Crabbin: Goodness, that’s awkward.
Martins: Is that what you say to people after death? “Goodness, that’s awkward”?
(The Third Man)

“If you ever tried to get away from me, I’d follow you ’til I wore the earth smooth.”
(Rope of Sand)

Alan Palmer: This money’s like poison, it’s changing you, it’s changing me.
Jane Palmer: I wish it were that easy, I’ve always been this way.
(Too Late for Tears)

Capt. Henri Rochard: My name is Rochard. You’ll think I’m a bride but actually I’m a husband. There’ll be a moment or two of confusion but, if we all keep our heads, everything will be fine.
(I Was a Male War Bride)

“You’ve rejected your place in the world and I hate untidiness”
(The Spider and the Fly)

Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs – it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.”
(The Third Man)

“I’ve been rich. And I couldn’t get a breath of fresh air or feel the ground under my feet” (Colorado Territory)

Deborah: Why is it that sooner or later no matter what we talk about… we wind up talking about Addie Ross?
Addie Ross: [voiceover] Maybe it’s because if you girls didn’t talk about me you wouldn’t talk at all.
(A Letter to Three Wives)

“Always looking for a new way to get hurt from a new man. Get smart, there hasn’t been a new man since Adam”
(House of Strangers)

 

“Even getting hit by Reno was all velvet”
(Colorado Territory)

“You were born to be murdered”
(The Third Man)

“You going legitimate is like a vulture going vegetarian”
(Abandoned)

Sheriff Titus Semple: Now me, I never forget anything.
Lane Bellamy: You know sheriff; we had an elephant in our carnival with a memory like that. He went after a keeper that he’d held a grudge against for almost 15 years. Had to be shot. You just wouldn’t believe how much trouble it is to dispose of a dead elephant.
(Flamingo Road)

“Right from the beginning you might say she had a–well, she just had a voice with hormones”
(A Woman’s Secret)

 

100 (or so) Images from the Films of 1949


Hi everyone! Lots happening lately in the Top Ten By Year Project:

  • The 2 zines I made, for 1943 and 1969, are in permanent stock over at my etsy site Femina Ridens. Please go check it out and pick one (or both!) of them up.
  • I’m pretty much done with the 1949 watchlist so you can look forward to 2 other posts besides this one going up in the next month. They are What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter & the Top Ten By Year: 1949 write-up.
  • Next, I’ll be taking on 1990. My watchlist is the biggest one to date. I doubt I’ll end up watching everything, but I’m excited to post it next month so keep a look out for that too!
  • I’ll also be starting on a new zine, this one on 1978 (which was done several years ago for this project; I’ll be revisiting, revising, and reinterpreting everything I did for that year into a new booklet)

For my What I’ll Remember posts, I always include some favorite shots & images from the films of whatever year I’m doing. However, I’ve only ever done one of these 100 Images posts before (for 1930). It felt time to make this an official part of the Top Ten By Year project.

Many of these screengrabs are mine, some are not. This isn’t comprehensive. Some films aren’t represented here at all, and it’s not because there was nothing standout in them. But from what I was able to capture on my own, as well as what was available on various websites, this is a pretty decent overview of my favorite images. And there are a lot of great images I saved but chose not to use here. Many of these mean more with context, some are purely for aesthetics, most are a combination of both. For the most part, there is some rhyme or reason for the order in which they are presented.

(I have a few more films to watch so I may or may not be adding a few to this post over the next week)

So go check out the previous one of these (1930 is not the static wasteland you’ve been led to believe, not by a longshot), and please enjoy this one!

puce (1)PUCE MOMENT (director: Kenneth Anger / cinematography: Curtis Harrington)

quiet duel.jpg
THE QUIET DUEL (director: Akira Kurosawa / cinematographer: Sôichi Aisaka)

passionate 2THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (Director: David Lean / Cinematographer: Guy Green)

Queen of Spades 8THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

third manTHE THIRD MAN (director: Carol Reed / cinematographer: Robert Krasker)

Border IncidentBORDER INCIDENT (director: Anthony Mann / cinematographer: John Alton)

tumblr_pertvhjilR1rpy49jo2_540INTRUDER IN THE DUST (director: Clarence Brown / cinematographer: Robert Surtees)

tihrd 6THE THIRD MAN (director: Carol Reed / cinematographer: Robert Krasker)

such a prettyUNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE (Such a Pretty Little Beach) (director: Yves Allégret / cinematography: Henri Alekan)

les sangLE SANG DES BÊTES (Blood of the Beasts) (director: Georges Franju / cinematography: Marcel Fradetal)

set up 2THE SET-UP (director: Robert Wise / cinematography: Milton R. Krasner)

tumblr_pdvutbxvar1txwnz8o8_540WHIRLPOOL (director: Otto Preminger / cinematography: Arthur C. Miller)

reign 3REIGN OF TERROR (director: Anthony Mann / cinematography: John Alton)

Follow Me QuietlyFOLLOW ME QUIETLY (director: Richard Fleischer / cinematography: Robert De Grasse)

Flamingo RoadFLAMINGO ROAD (director: Michael Curtiz / cinematography: Ted D. McCord)

Act 2ACT OF VIOLENCE (director: Fred Zinneman / cinematography: Robert Surtees)

Black MagicBLACK MAGIC (director: Gregory Ratoff (& Welles uncredited) / cinematography: Ubaldo Arata & Anchise Brizzi)

FollwFOLLOW ME QUIETLY (director: Richard Fleischer / cinematography: Robert De Grasse)

Death 4DEATH IS A CARESS (Døden er et kjærtegn) (Director: Edith Carlmar / Cinematographer: Kåre Bergstrøm)

under 3UNDER CAPRICORN (Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff)

reckless momentTHE RECKLESS MOMENT (Director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Burnett Guffey)

Passion ateTHE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (Director: David Lean / Cinematographer: Guy Green)

tumblr_osohl6W20Z1v5e4kpo3_540CAUGHT (director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Lee Garmes)

third amnTHE THIRD MAN (director: Carol Reed / cinematographer: Robert Krasker)

under 5UNDER CAPRICORN (Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff)

crissCRISS CROSS (director: Robert Siodmak / cinematography: Franz Planer)

tumblr_ogh7ljrCU21todh85o9_540CAUGHT (director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Lee Garmes)

bitter 1BITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

ChampionCHAMPION (director: Mark Robson / cinematographer: Franz Planer)

reignREIGN OF TERROR (director: Anthony Mann / cinematography: John Alton)

Border Incident 2BORDER INCIDENT (director: Anthony Mann / cinematographer: John Alton)

tumblr_nmqca1iWaX1txum4do4_1280WHITE HEAT (director: Raoul Walsh / cinematographer: Sidney Hickox)

Queen of Spades 18THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

DzFPsnDWsAk9uFyAu royaume des cieux (The Sinners) (director: Julien Duvivier / cinematography: Victor Arménise

third man 2THE THIRD MAN (director: Carol Reed / cinematographer: Robert Krasker)

les sang 4LE SANG DES BÊTES (Blood of the Beasts) (director: Georges Franju / cinematography: Marcel Fradetal)

rocking (2)THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (director: Anthony Pellisier / cinematography: Desmond Dickinson)

InspiraceINSPIRACE (Inspiration) (director: Karel Zeman / cinematography: Antonin Horàk)

puce  (3).jpgPUCE MOMENT (director: Kenneth Anger / cinematography: Curtis Harrington)

InspiaceINSPIRACE (Inspiration) (director: Karel Zeman / cinematography: Antonin Horàk)

underUNDER CAPRICORN (Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff)

Late Spring (2)LATE SPRING (director: Yasujiro Ozu / cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta)

thieves 2THIEVES HIGHWAY (director: Jules Dassin / cinematography: Norbert Brodine)

Queen of Spades 7THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

recklessTHE RECKLESS MOMENT (Director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Burnett Guffey)

DfSreeLX4AE5ThR“BAD LUCK BLACKIE” (director: Tex Avery)

images-w1400WHIRLPOOL (director: Otto Preminger / cinematography: Arthur C. Miller)

tensionTENSION (director: John Berry / cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.)

DzFO3KvX4AAFQeNAu royaume des cieux (The Sinners) (director: Julien Duvivier / cinematography: Victor Arménise)

BitterBITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

bitter 2BITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

puce (2)PUCE MOMENT (director: Kenneth Anger / cinematography: Curtis Harrington)

my dream is yours58MY DREAM IS YOURS (director: Michael Curtiz / cinematographer: Wilfrid M. Cline & Ernest Haller)

samsonSAMSON AND DELILAH (director: Cecil B. DeMille / cinematographer: George Barnes)

bitter 3BITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

under7UNDER CAPRICORN (Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff)

queen of spades 2THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

les sangLE SANG DES BÊTES (Blood of the Beasts) (director: Georges Franju / cinematography: Marcel Fradetal)

Queen of Spades 1THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

such a pretty 2UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE (Such a Pretty Little Beach) (director: Yves Allégret / cinematography: Henri Alekan)

Late SpringLATE SPRING (director: Yasujiro Ozu / cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta)

tension 2TENSION (director: John Berry / cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.)

tension 3TENSION (director: John Berry / cinematography: Harry Stradling Sr.)

tehieves highwTHIEVES HIGHWAY (director: Jules Dassin / cinematography: Norbert Brodine)

FLamingo Road 2FLAMINGO ROAD (director: Michael Curtiz / cinematography: Ted D. McCord)

my dream 2MY DREAM IS YOURS (director: Michael Curtiz / cinematographer: Wilfrid M. Cline & Ernest Haller)

deth77DEATH IS A CARESS (Døden er et kjærtegn) (Director: Edith Carlmar / Cinematographer: Kåre Bergstrøm)

rocking 2THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (director: Anthony Pellisier / cinematography: Desmond Dickinson)

I Shot JesseI SHOT JESSE JAMES (director: Samuel Fuller / cinematography: Ernest Miller)

Black Magic 2BLACK MAGIC (director: Gregory Ratoff (& Welles uncredited) / cinematography: Ubaldo Arata & Anchise Brizzi)

Death 2DEATH IS A CARESS (Døden er et kjærtegn) (Director: Edith Carlmar / Cinematographer: Kåre Bergstrøm)

I Shot Jesse (2)I SHOT JESSE JAMES (director: Samuel Fuller / cinematography: Ernest Miller)

easy livingEASY LIVING (director: Jacques Tourneur / cinematography: Harry J. Wild)

Christmas USA“CHRISTMAS U.S.A” (director: Gregory J. Markopoulos)

set upTHE SET-UP (director: Robert Wise / cinematography: Milton R. Krasner)

Death 3DEATH IS A CARESS (Døden er et kjærtegn) (Director: Edith Carlmar / Cinematographer: Kåre Bergstrøm)

Bitter 0BITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

DeathDEATH IS A CARESS (Døden er et kjærtegn) (Director: Edith Carlmar / Cinematographer: Kåre Bergstrøm)

Act 1ACT OF VIOLENCE (director: Fred Zinneman / cinematography: Robert Surtees)

tumblr_pi3q66Ltxm1qmemvwo1_540WHIRLPOOL (director: Otto Preminger / cinematography: Arthur C. Miller)

Quiet DuelTHE QUIET DUEL (director: Akira Kurosawa / cinematographer: Sôichi Aisaka)

passionate 5THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (Director: David Lean / Cinematographer: Guy Green)

Late Spring 3LATE SPRING (director: Yasujiro Ozu / cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta)

Colorado TerritoryCOLORADO TERRITORY (director: Raoul Walsh / cinematographer: Sidney Hickox)

tumblr_pi3rr9s1sX1qmemvwo1_540WHIRLPOOL (director: Otto Preminger / cinematography: Arthur C. Miller)

tumblr_ozist7OTZK1s39hlao5_540THE RECKLESS MOMENT (Director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Burnett Guffey)

tumblr_ogh7ljrCU21todh85o7_400CAUGHT (director: Max Ophüls / cinematography: Lee Garmes)

tumblr_oxbw62mMhb1rws4l6o1_540THE HEIRESS (director: William Wyler / cinematographer: Leo Tover)

Flamion 3FLAMINGO ROAD (director: Michael Curtiz / cinematography: Ted D. McCord)

rockingTHE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (director: Anthony Pellisier / cinematography: Desmond Dickinson)

third man 4THE THIRD MAN (director: Carol Reed / cinematographer: Robert Krasker)

salonSALON MEXICO (director, Emilio Fernández / cinematographer: Gabriel Figueroa)

Follow 2FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (director: Richard Fleischer / cinematography: Robert De Grasse)

les sang (2)LE SANG DES BÊTES (Blood of the Beasts) (director: Georges Franju / cinematography: Marcel Fradetal)

Slightly FrenchSLIGHTLY FRENCH (director: Douglas Sirk / cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr.)

bitter 5BITTER RICE (director: Giuseppe De Santis / cinematography: Otello Martelli)

AdventuresTHE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD & MR. TOAD (directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney)

Adventures 2THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD & MR. TOAD (directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney)

les sang (2)LE SANG DES BÊTES (Blood of the Beasts) (director: Georges Franju / cinematography: Marcel Fradetal)

on the town 3ON THE TOWN (directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly / cinematographer: Harold Rosson

Kind HeartsKIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (director: Robert Hamer / cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe)

Criss 3CRISS CROSS (director: Robert Siodmak / cinematography: Franz Planer)

MadamMADAME BOVARY (director: Vincente Minnelli / cinematographer: Robert H. Planck)

take me outTAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (director: Busby Berkeley / cinematographer: George J. Folsey)

pucePUCE MOMENT (director: Kenneth Anger / cinematography: Curtis Harrington)

under capricornUNDER CAPRICORN (Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff)

Queen of Spades 9THE QUEEN OF SPADES (director: Thorold Dickinson / cinematographer: Otto Heller)

Criss 2CRISS CROSS (director: Robert Siodmak / cinematography: Franz Planer)

ontown08ON THE TOWN (directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly / cinematographer: Harold Rosson

Adam RibADAM’S RIB (director: George Cukor / cinematographer: George J. Folsey)

 

 

 

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #61-66


wreck-it-ralph
#61. Wreck-It-Ralph (2012, Moore)

Sweet and endearing film that gets all the big-picture high concept material right on the money. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are a couple of perfect odd-couple outsiders. What the film lacks in nuance it makes up for with heart, Loaded with video-game references that thoroughly went over my head, noted thanks to my boyfriend consistently guffawing at my lack of basic knowledge. There were a couple of wrenches thrown into the plot that pleasantly surprised me. There’s an undefinable feeling that some of the film’s run time could have been put to better utilized but I’m not sure how, and the score felt irritatingly ‘now’. All in all an endearing enjoyable animated feature.

STK-3223.NEF

#62. Stoker (2013, Park) Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/review-stoker-2013-park/

Jewel Robbery 2

#63. Jewel Robbery (1932, Dieterle)
Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/review-jewel-robbery-1932-dieterle/

Seance on a Wet Afteroon

#64. Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964, Forbes)

My God, what an underappreciated film. I had been wanting to see this for several years, never getting around to it, and even had seen Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s reworking of it, simply called Seance. This did not disappoint at all. The peculiar and attention-grabbing synopsis draws you in, but it’s the intertwining psychosis of the husband and wife that drive the film. Kim Stanley gives one for the ages as the wife whose conviction remains unmovable but whose stability inches closer to oblivion. We try to parse out where that conviction belongs in her world, which Stanley uses to chilling effect as her conviction disguises her stability throughout. Her adamant and soul-cutting demeanor are often targeted at her husband, the weak-willed Attenborough whose dedication and empathy for his wife and her current mental state have driven him to constant reluctant commitment to their plan. Every time he questions, she cuts him down. He can’t get around her. Living in their world of accommodated delusion is a haunting experience.

As great as Stanley is, and it’s hard to put into words just how great, Attenborough captivated me even more. His cold frightened stare, off-putting prosthetic nose and penchant for looking down or away at Stanley make his internal will-he-or-won’t-he-of-course-he-will debate compelling. The focus is often on his reluctance and not on her stability, smartly cementing the necessary balance between the couple into place.

You know this scheme will go wrong. The question is when and how. The answers aren’t quite what I expected and the film is all the better for it. The direction of the story keeps character first, suspense second and uses this prioritization right up to the end. That final scene will stay with you. So will the whole film, a psychological drama that tests the devotion of marriage to its limits.

ClassofNukeemHigh-Still2

#65. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986, Haines & Kaufman)

So this weekend I got to appear as an extra in a music video for Troma’s upcoming Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Lloyd Kaufman appeared in the video and was on-set all day. I figured since I’ve only seen 3 Troma films, I should probably see more. So last night my boyfriend and I sat down and had ourselves a Troma double feature of 2 films I’d been meaning to see for a while. Class of Nuke ‘Em High and The Toxic Avenger.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a lot of fun, excelling at that Troma brand of low budget self-aware horror badness. A lot of the comedy in these films comes from the acting. A main Troma trait are reliably awful performances, but I’d actually argue the opposite in many cases. It’s a brand of acting that focuses on self-aware comedy, an art to the bad performance. So many of these actors are able to milk every line for more than their worth. So much enjoyment just comes from this. Fun b-movie schlock, that starts out a lot stronger than it finishes, but still manages to mostly live up to its cult status.

toxicavenger2

#66. The Toxic Avenger (1984, Herz & Kaufman)

The picture above is of Bozo, aka the greatest character ever. He is a prime example of a performance in which every single line delivery had me in stitches, working within the Troma brand to exaggerate every moment to its fullest potential. This was even more fun, what with the Avenger’s straight-laced superhero voice, the fitness center setting and the extreme moments of gore. Bozo forever.

 

The Narrow Margin (1952, Fleischer)


The Narrow Margin

From the word go, credits careen towards yo, setting the pace for this bracingly economical, twisty b-noir that knocked my socks off. Not only one of my personal favorite noirs, but now one of my personal favorite films. The majority takes place on a train, from Chicago to Los Angeles, that moving transport full of confined spaces, trapping all major players and conflicts aboard. It’s a pressure-cooker setting that ignites an already dynamite set-up. The train is full of one-trait caricatures we repeatedly run into as Charles McGraw plays musical compartments.

McGraw plays an LAPD officer, has been assigned to protect and escort a mob boss’ widow (Marie Windsor) who plans to testify before a grand jury. They must take a long windy train ride together, and outsmart the men onboard who are there to get a payoff list and murder her. But hours earlier McGraw’s partner Forbes was murdered while escorting Mrs. Neall out of the building and while he mourns and she scoffs, it is clear the two are going to have to work together if they want to get off the train alive.

The tension between the two leads lends to the claustrophobia of the situation. He resents this wholly unpleasant woman for being alive instead of his partner, and she hurls that resentment right back in his face. And that goes double.

Marie Windsor, who I always enjoy seeing, is like a proto-Illeana Douglas. Her Mrs. Neall is a brassy high-wired dame who has no time for ‘weepers’. She tells is straight, expects you to do the same. She has no sympathy for you and she wants bacon, eggs, toast, a bucket of coffee and some cigarettes. Oh, and she likes her bacon crispy. Charles McGraw has a super-serious demeanor that can get some surprising laughs at just the right moments, whether intentional or not.

If you think you know what The Narrow Margin will be, guess again. It moves along at such a snappy pace that you can hardly keep up with the run-ins and it throws in some plot developments that genuinely threw me. It completely overturns gender conventions already implicit within noir that are, additionally, covertly set-up at the beginning of the picture.

Its formal make-up thoroughly impresses. There’s no score, no non-diegetic sounds in The Narrow Margin. This allows the sound design work to be in the forefront; the chug-chug of the train, the scratch-scratch of a nail file. The tension of the tight hallways and corridors is amplified by consistently inventive techniques. There’s some handheld, clever use of reflection that even plays into the plot and a camera that kinetically follows action, not afraid to gets its lens dirty. Clocking in at 71 minutes, this is a vastly underrated blast from the gritty world of 50’s B-noir. A must-see. Who doesn’t love a film mostly set on a train?

Random Observations:
“All robbers carry guns madam”

 

Reintroductions #21-23. Knife in the Water, The Earrings of Madame De… & Marnie


This year I’m devoting more time to revisiting films I’ve seen only once, a practice I’ve shamefully neglected. My Reintroduction posts are a place for me to jot down some thoughts and observations after revisiting and reading up on each film.

Knife in the Water

#21. Knife in the Water (1962, Polanski)
First Seen in: 2008

I’ve got an alphabetical list of the films I want to revisit. I have a system for picking films at random. I keep going until I land on one I have access to and am in the mood for. So I’m happy to have stumbled on Knife in the Water not so long after revisiting Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. Polanski forgoes dealing with WWII, unlike fellow Polish filmmakers of the time, instead enclosing a trio of characters in an open space of endless pale grays.

People call this a thriller, but I don’t really see it like that. I see it more as a claustrophobic chamber drama of underhanded class competition and male pomposity. I don’t feel a lot of suspense or tension, but more of the feeling of entrapment which I’d say is different than suspense. Petty competition rules the day. The audience is always aware of the body both as a physical form and a sexual one. Pretty much all of the sexual tension here comes from framing and cutting, very rarely from anything actually happening in this regard.

Polanski allows his framing, dialogue, characterization, blocking, movements and changing weather conditions to contribute equally to the overall effect. For a chamber drama, there’s not a lot of talking and there’s no plot. But you get the intended effect when you take everything in especially in the visual sense (this is FILM ya know!). The claustrophobic aspect really comes into play when you consider how difficult it was to film Knife in the Water.

I’m in love with Polanski’s framing; he stretches out and plays with all his possibilities in some really memorable ways. He favors high contrasting the distance between characters in the frame. He’ll often have one character really close in the foreground, hogging a good portion of what we see, with another character(s) comparatively miniscule, visually trumped. It closes us in more, makes us feel the palpable presence of their close proximity through great distance. There are other shots, like the one above that display a single character, often against the dark gray sea and light gray sky (or in this case, the yacht) which emphasizes the body through silhouette. Finally, there are the shots that put all three characters on the same wavelength, like the jackstraws scene.

Polanski’s debut introduces a lot of elements that will pop up again and again in his films. The outsider, non-conformity, chamber pieces, psychological claustrophobia and characters who can be manipulative, cruel and underhanded. It’s a nice touch at the end to realize that either way Andrzej loses. It’s up to us to decide which he’d rather believe.

Earrings of Madame De

#22. The Earrings of Madame De… (1953, Ophuls)
First Seen in: 2010

The Earrings of Madame De… is an example of a film that I admire and glean from as a piece of immaculate filmmaking over anything else. While I enjoyed it more the second time around, the story simply doesn’t grab or engage me the way I want it to. Just one of those things. But as always with the opulent Ophuls, there’s much to focus on even if I merely like it.

Set in that favorite period of the director’s, late 19th century Vienna, rococo decadence is a prison where a world of debts, money and materialism allow no room for actual emotion or depth. All of our characters are caught up in this world even as it is the thing that eventually destroys them.

With Ophuls, it’s always about elaborately naturalistic camera movement (which must have always been supremely difficult but it appears effortless onscreen). The camera is ruled by where the characters move, tracking where they look and where they go, always making sure to keep enough distance in order to capture the over-decorated surroundings. The mere feat of his tracking shots wow to this day. The camera also makes sure that Louise and Donato are intertwined, crossing paths by meeting at the middle. His repeated theme of what becomes of us when love and desire take hold is certainly present here. Suffering for love becomes its own art form.

The earrings of the title at first carry a lot of symbolic importance but little meaning to Louise. By the end, they carry multiple strands of symbolic importance and mean everything to Louise. A symbol first of her marriage, then of her love for Donato. For Andre they represent control and a way to damage and inflict pain if used at the right moment. In fact, the earrings are over-symbolized by these characters. It’s as if they don’t know how to let emotions exist as they are. They must infuse meaning into a shiny material inanimate object.

Danielle Darrieux is nuanced elegance. Charles Boyer is underrated in this as a general whose occupation has trained him to never show his hand and to plan his moves strategically. Vittorio De Sica is the one I attach myself to most. He is gentle and easily lovable, bursting with humanity even while caught up in a somewhat trifling triangle.

Random Observations/Things I Want to Remember:
– The dance montage stands out. Communication can only exist in this world while engaging in public ritual. Even then it takes time to peel away the layers of artifice as we see the barriers drop between the two.
– Louise throwing out the ripped paper

Marnie 2

#23. Marnie (1964, Hitchcock)
First Seen in: 2008

Marnie plays out like Hitchcock’s wet dream, even perhaps over Vertigo, both of which fixate on identity and obsession. His visual arsenal is in peak working condition, creating a brazenly filmic representation of Marnie’s psyche. All the clues to Marnie’s repressed trauma are explicitly depicted, but that’s what’s so voluptuously addictive about it; there’s nothing like Hitch indulging in his artificial but incomparable ‘pure cinema’.

For all the love I have towards Marnie, Hitch bit off more than he could chew in certain regards. He slaps some stirringly dauntless ideas up onscreen without doing anything with them. What I mean of course is the character of Mark, the virile fetishist who gets off on the fact that Marnie is a compulsive thief. Marnie correctly calls him out, accusing him of trapping her like something he’s caught. Sure, he wants to help, but Mark has flaws that Hitchcock thinks his audience will overlook simply because he’s got Sean Connery in the role. This is Marnie’s film to be sure, and the focus needs to be on her, but the master’s need to shine everything through a grotesquely romantic prism goes further to ignore the psychosexual realm that he explores so minutely in Vertigo. Instead, you’ve got a character that rapes Tippi Hedren without us ever dealing with the implications of the assault. And since Mark really does want to help her in his own misguided way, all of his actions by the end feel absolved. Because of his interference, Marnie can start to heal. It dismisses his actions instead of exploring Mark’s delve-worthy characteristics. Hitchcock sets up all the pieces for an equally layered character, only for the layers to lie limp in the aftermath of Mark’s sexual assault.

Tippi Hedren is awe-inspiring in what was only her second film. Marnie is brittle and stunted, covering her frigidity with ‘decent’ manners, a woman who has no identity for herself.  She goes to some exhausting places for this role and the sympathy she arouses makes us desperate for her to have a breakthrough as we inch towards the conclusion. Louise Latham is walking rigidity as Bernice, embodying self-inflicted mental confinement. It’s a theatrical performance, Latham was much younger than Bessie, but since Marnie is in its nature manifest, she fits in like a haunted washed-out glove.

Even with its shortcomings (dropping Diane Baker’s character like a hot pancake and a climax that mostly works despite its touch of falsity are others) Marnie remains one of Hitchcock’s most hypnotic works. He drowns us in signifiers, the color red being the flashiest. But there’s some graceful character work that is easy to miss amidst the flamboyance. So much of Marnie works not just because we care so deeply for her, but because beneath the sheen of formalism, there’s a considerate and layered character study of a woman without an identity to call her own save a love of horses.

Random Observations:
-Bruce Dern as the sailor!
-“Well, I just swan”
– The pivotal sequence with Forio is impossibly expert
– Edith Head’s costumes, particularly for Diane Baker, are great. Always high necklines for Tippi. Always.
– That crane shot at the party that mirrors Notorious
– The only two conventionally suspenseful scenarios Hitchcock has in Marnie is the robbery at Rutland’s and Strutt’s appearance at the party.
– Screenwriter Jay Presson Allen (she was hired after Evan Hunter felt too uncomfortable with the rape scene) says that she doesn’t consider the scene a rape. Just some marital trials. So basically, Jay Presson Allen is fucking out of her mind. Noted.
– Now that I’ve revisited Marnie, I’m finally ready to embark on Hitchcock’s final four films, none of which I’ve ever seen before. How exciting!
– Bernard Herrmann’s score reminds me so much of Leonard Rosenman’s work for Rebel without a Cause that I can’t think of anything else.
– Funnily enough, I placed Marnie and Mark on my list of  Top Ten Heterosexual Couples that Scorched the Screen. I admit I find nothing really romantic between the two. So why did I put them on my list? Click the link to find out!
Top Ten Heterosexual Couples that Scorched the Screen: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/list-10-cinematic-heterosexual-chemistries-that-scorched-the-screen/

Reintroduction Post #5: The Divorcee (1930, Leonard)


divorcee-movie-title-still

Reintroduction Post #5:
The Divorcee (1930, Leonard)
First Seen in: 2008

“I’ve balanced our accounts”. The Pre-Code that started it all, sanctioning women to explore their sexuality freely and defiantly. The Divorcee breaks open the double standards of infidelity, testing limits, turning tables and presenting a progressively symbolic ‘what if’ whose controversy would remain intact for the next several decades of American film. That Norma Shearer leads the audience into this journey of sexual self-discovery is undoubtedly why MGM got away with it. Her wholesome and relatable exterior and demeanor grabs sympathy from the masses of the time.

The Divorcee admittedly suffers from some of the stiltedness of early talkies, most notably the tendency to overload scenes with stagily shot repetitive and excessive dialogue. Jerry’s (Shearer) conflicting impulses in the first half of the film are related to us with conversations that go back and forth. And those early scenes between Jerry and Ted (Chester Morris) being all lovey-dovey are laid on more than a bit thick. “It doesn’t mean a thing” becomes a mantra, something to test sure, but it’s said about twenty times, no joke. My favorite moments from Shearer’s performance though, are the way she underplays those conflicting emotions. She has no grand plan. She’s lost at sea.

The Divorcee 3

Still, it doesn’t much lessen the experience, and The Divorcee remains such a satisfying treatise on issues that remain relevant today even if the shock of their existence has long since worn off, thank goodness. And her fault lies not in the infidelity but that she gave up trying to patch things up with Ted.

I love the plot threads introduced at the beginning and the way they are worked in and picked up again throughout. Chester Morris makes me laugh, even though he’s not really meant to, and is quite entertaining. His slicked back hair, blocky head and bombastic moments are alternately endearing and bullish. But The Divorcee reminded me just how much I adore Robert Montgomery, though I recently watched him in When Ladies Meet. This was his breakout role, as Ted’s best friend Don. He is so memorable, a dapper drunk whose wide-eyed line delivery and subtly quirky facial tics and mannerisms make him the one to watch whenever he’s onscreen, whether speaking or silent. Don is carefree, always looking out for himself, somewhat oblivious, slightly stumbling, with an air of feigned confusion and a put-on of gluttonous sincerity. All in maybe twenty minutes of screentime.

My favorite shot of the film
My favorite shot of the film

My favorite sequence is the wordless three-scenes that very quickly and efficiently show that Jerry has slept with Don. Covered in black and shot openly from the front (a departure for the normally shot-in-left-profile Shearer) in the otherwise bustling nightclub, as Don’s hand creeps into the frame, you know exactly what she’s contemplating. And the way Don looks at her in the club and in the taxi oozes sex. Finally, the curtain closes.

A word about which of Adrian’s costumes stuck out for me. First, the black head-wrap she wears out to the nightclub and second Jerry’s awesome one-piece pajama-suit on the night of her three-year anniversary.

The Divorcee pajama suit

The Divorcee came at a time when acknowledging the idea that women could or would desire or have a sex life was almost completely unheard of, staunchly denied or labeled heathenish. Not only is the film centered on this idea, but links it to marriage, divorce and patriarchal hypocrisy. It was and remains important, ushering in a wave of sensational films filled with sin, repent, and more sin, almost entirely committed by women.

Reintroduction #4: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, LeRoy)


gold-diggers-of-1933-trailer-title-still-03

Reintroduction Post #4:

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, LeRoy)
First Seen in: 2009

Of all the pre-code Busby Berkeley/Warren & Dubin musicals, Gold Diggers of 1933 packs the biggest socially conscious punch. Bookended with two numbers that directly address the Depression, Mervyn LeRoy makes the meat of his times-are-tough sandwich a romantic fantasy of sorts. Monetary issues plaguing Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon and Ruby Keeler gradually melt away, replaced by playful deception, romantic pairings and always redeemable misunderstandings.

The first part of the bookend is “We’re in the Money” which takes an ironically humorous approach to the era, ending with its disruption by creditors. It’s probably my favorite bit of the film, with Berkeley’s trademark “parade of faces” and its brief foray into a jabberwocky dreamland. That extreme close-up of Ginger Rogers, with the camera pushing in and pushing in, losing focus before regaining it, is one-of-a-kind. With so many other memorable shots that ‘wow’ for the opposite reason, this is the shot for me.

Gold Diggers of 1933

The ‘meat’ of Gold Diggers is the backstage ‘let’s put on a show’ variety, just like all the Berkeley musicals. This also means of course that the song-and-dance numbers take place within the context of the show. No bursting out into song here. Instead, we get outlandish setpieces clearly made for film despite the stage show context, each trying to top the next. “Pettin’ in the Park” has some über-risqué content, including actual nude silhouettes. “Waltz of the Shadows” is top-notch in all its visual details from its intertwining and versatile hoop dresses to the hilly landscape stairs shot from different angles, each making you see the set design in a new light.

It has all been written about Berkeley before, but it really is impossible to emphasize how justifiably cherished his musical numbers are. He created a kind of spectacle that remains his own, unparalleled to any other kind of spectacle on film. There’s never been anything like them and there never will be. He plays with abstraction, with kaleidoscopic shapes and with ever-evolving scenarios. There’s randomness to his ideas. Neon violins? What? Billy Barty as a perverted infant? What? And there’s an appreciation for classical female beauty without it seeming vulgar, despite seriously pushing skin-bearing boundaries even by Pre-Code standards. I still can’t figure out how he accomplishes this.

Gold Diggers of 1933 forgotten man

Berkeley’s setpieces are part of the culminating stage show, which allows his work to exist solely to please the audience, giving him free rein. The film’s plot exists around these setpieces; it for them, not them for it. They don’t push the story forward. They don’t even feature characters from the film; here, those actors exist solely as performers. Berkeley also goes far beyond what would be feasible in an actual stage setting in set scale, transitions and in shot choices, meaning not even the ‘audience’ in the theater can fully appreciate what they see. His work is standalone, existing for us and only us. We are hypnotized and transported as a result.

The story itself is fun, fast-paced and quick-witted, everything you expect from Warner Brothers musicals of the time. Joan Blondell, always the sparkling firecracker, remains a highlight of pre-codes from this studio. My favorite material is when she and Warren William take over the narrative. “Cheap and vulgar. Cheap and vulgar. Cheap and vulgar.” Too good. William is so damn fantastic here as is character actor Guy Kibbee. And Aline MacMahon manages to upstage Blondell at least in the firecracker department. Her relentless schtick greatly entertains. Of course, there’s never enough Ginger Rogers who became an expert in the language of glamor-snark with these early supporting roles. I used to adore Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell as a teenager. Now, I admit I’m pretty weary of them but they are a reliable source of comfort in these films, always true to their formula, even if they are consistently my least favorite element.

macmahon-rogers-blondell-keeler-diggers-33_opt

At the other end of the bookend is “Forgotten Man” which is what the entire film leads up to. LeRoy and the screenwriters make sure it is built up with mentions to the number and its purpose throughout. It closes the film, though I believe it was originally meant to be the first number but Jack Warner decided to switch the two. We don’t even go back to the frivolous romantic comedy. Just as you’ve lost yourself in Berkeley’s shapes and synchronicity, Warner slams you with Blondell’s bottom dollar prostitute. Straits are so dire, it has even infiltrated purified escapist cinema; now what do you say to that? The normally fantastical world of the musical, especially in the earlier decades of film, is used here to acknowledge not just the state of things, but specific groups that were boldly political to highlight such as the plight of women and war veterans left adrift despite giving so much to their country.

I need to watch 42nd Street again (I’ve seen it twice) to see which I prefer, but Footlight Parade will always remain my favorite Warner Brothers Busby Berkeley musical because the presence of James Cagney is unbeatable by a mile as far as I’m concerned. But that shouldn’t be seen as something lacking in Gold Diggers, which is just as pleasurable now as it must have been then.