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City Across the River (1949)
"Just a rotten corpse in the gutter" - a study in the gang psychology, extremely relevant for all times
No matter how depressing this film appears to begin with, it's a great film and much ahead of its time. It's like a documentary probing the gang mentality of youngsters getting brought up to become good fellas and worse, and there are many aspects to the drama, one being that of the teachers, who really have a hard time and sometimes can't control their own classes. It's a social drama as well, Thelma Ritter has a poignant part as the worried mother, and Frankie's little sister has an important part also. Everything about the film is professional, and they are all convincing, from the poor people of the shabby back streets of Brooklyn to the policemen, the gangsters, and most striking of all is perhaps the character of "Crazy" whose real name is Theodore (Joshua Shelley), a fantastic clown with a penchant for cruelty. Tony Curtis has only a small minor part but is already Tony Curtis - it's like a hint at a prelude to his later great appearances. The final great dancing hall scene when things are getting really hot is a masterpiece in itself of polyphony bringing out all the true colours of the major actors including the leading gangster, fabulously contrasted against the fervent musicians and their frenzied music. Although I hesitated if I would see it through at all because of its dark depressive elements, I was finally deeply impressed - a great documentary film like all those "Naked City" films.
The Scoundrel (1935)
Noel Coward turning into a ghost
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur had an academy award for best script, and no wonder. The story is very much related with Ferenc Molnar's "Liliom" (filmed a number of times even by Fritz Lang and even turned into a musical) and tells about the same story of redemption. Noel Coward is as excellent here as Charles Boyer in Fritz Lang's film. He is an unbearable snob and as vicious as a serpent as an unscrupulous publisher who decides to couple with a young poetess who is already engaged. There is more than one duel as a consequence in this film. When Cora finally sees through Noel Coward and rejects him, she curses him by hoping for him to have an aircrash accident, which he has. Then he turns into a totally different character.
The music is also very well chosen for this picture, wildly romantic at times, and finally turning into Rachmaninov's second piano concerto (but without piano) .like in Noel Coward's perhaps most personal drama and film, "Brief Encounter" with David Lean 1947. It's the scipt above all that deserves momentous credits for its sustained wit and intelligence. All the characters are convincing, from the innocence of Cora to the bathos of Paul Dekker and all the parasites around Coward. It could be seen as a major effort of Noel Coward, in making this character, to prove himself human after all, in which he succeeds.
Trent's Last Case (1952)
A strange murder that looks like suicide, but who was really intended as the victim?
Agatha Christie considered this intrigue one of the best ever written, and it certainly is. The mystery is deep here, and as it gradually is unravelled you are in for any number of surprises. The actors are outstanding, with Michael Wilding as the detective intruding on the private lives of the young widow Margaret Lockwood and the man who loves her, who is the prime suspect, while Orson Welles as the victim provides an impressing finale as he enters in the final flashback. Miles Malleson plays an important part as a reluctant participant in the plot, while the story is what really matters. Herbert Wilcox' direction is faultless but very formal, giving the film a somewhat conventional character - there is no cinematography to speak of, while music plays an important part - Eileen Joyce has a moment as a performing pianist, and the film score is by Anthony Collins, who is also seen acting as a conductor - one of his rare appearances on film. After having reached the end of the story, and Michael Wilding closing his last case as Trent, yuo just have to agree with Agatha Christie about the marvellous windings of this plot.
The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
Family problems in the hot deep south with additional problems of barn burnings
The problem about Orson Welles as he grew older is his revolting fatness, usually resulting in monsters on the screen. This was made about the same time as he worked on "Touch of Evil", and here he makes a similar character to that monstrous police officer. The problem about William Faulkner is that he talks too much without getting very much said, his novels are floods of words but with very little structure and hardly any story at all. Here a rich family in the south is exposed intimately as the old father (Welles) is desperate about getting his daughter (Joanne Woodward) married to just anyone, and he finds himself compelled to bet on the con man Ben Quick (Paul Newman) who has a notorious reputation for burning barns. Like in the novel, you never get to know what is behind this reputation of his, except that his father suffered a similar fate. The film is long, far too long for only family talks and discussions, but Martin Ritt, as always, presents excellent direction - it couldn't have been made better. Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman are the principal actors, both to advantage, and this was only the beginning of their working together for many years. Orson Welles is overbearing and unbearable, but such is also the character of the book. It was later in the 60s made into a television series with Edmond O'Brien as the father, and he was actually better, less monstrous and more credible.
Four attempts at humorous satire but only one successful
This film is only worth seeing for the contribution by Pasolini, "La ricotta", which is a rare moment of Pasolini's career for hilarious humour. This is actually very much in the style of Fellini's best, and there are hints of Fellini in the film. The story is about the screening of a Jesus epic, with Orson Welles as the director, and about one of the robbers beside Jesus on the cross and his passion for eating - it's all about his appetite and hunger. Lots of other things go on as well during the shooting of the crucifixion scene, and I was surprised to find this very humorous vein in such a gloomy and wretched director as Pasolini.
The other short films by Rossellini, Godard and one more are not bad but very mediocre, Rossellini's attempt at some comedy is not altogether funny, Godard's attempt at some philosophical science fiction is far-fetched and unrealistic but will provide food for thought, while the last item is a terribly revolting satire. All four films are satirical, but Pasolini's is at least funny.
Pasolini's film is worth 10 points, Rossellini's snd Godard's 7, the last one only 4.
The North Star (1943)
The idylls of Ukraine before the German invasion, that turns even its doctors to murderers
This is a grim war drama made extremely realistic, while at the same time it's a great musical film, mainly because of the great score by Aaron Copland, skilfully suiting the music to the occurring scenes. The first half hour is a delightfully charming musical following the life of the Ukrainian villagers to their parties and feasts of spring and summer, and the music is very convincingly Ukrainian and original - you want to join the dancing parties. Then comes the war as the most drastic possible change into a nightmare without end, involving the deaths of many of the previously happy and joyous party people. Farley Granger, Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews are all very young here and a joy to behold as very convincing and vital Ukrainians, and at least there are a few survivors. The leading German is Erich von Stroheim, who also is an operating surgeon, and his final argument with Walter Huston as the Ukrainian doctor is not quite as convincing as the rest of the film. The cinematography is terrific, you get a very strong impression of the actual nature of the war brought upon many millions of innocent people by the meaningless aggression of the German dictatorship, and if there are minor flaws and outdated details, like some propaganda stuff, you will forget it as negligeable: the overwhelmingly strong impression of the film as a realistic rendering of the German invasion of Russia and Ukraione 22nd June 1941 will remain, as this film will remain invaluable.
The Other Man (1970)
A beautiful neglected wife finds a lover who gets murdered, by her husband?
This is a very remarkable thriller, for its wondrous cinematography and extremely romantic character, which was very unusual in the late 1900s, and only flourished in films of the 40s. The story is complex and actually does not quite make logical sense, but you forgive this one flaw for the beauty and pleasure of the film, while the thriller suspense actually increases throughout the film to almost reach unbearable tension towards the end. Joan Hackett is irresistible in her beauty from the start, and your heart must be on her side to the bitter end, and the message of the film carried by her makes her triumph in the end, as love always must be victorious. In spite of its flaws, the intrigue is fascinating in its developing compexity, and who would not be sure of the husband as the killer? He loves his wife, and when she becomes involved with a lover, the lover is murdered, and who else would have any motive? Everything points at the husband, who is rather rude at that, and even though he knew about the lover and his gun was used in the murder, he insists on his innocence. No wonder Joan Hackett gets confused and afraid, especially as someone keeps stalking the house...
Diary of a Madman (1963)
The syphilitic Maupassant speculating in the power of demons
Believe it or not, but a magistrate and rich citizen above all suspicion turns into a murderer against his own will and can't help it. The story is by Maupassant, and I never really liked his stories for their callous lack of humanity, although he is a great author, and that same element gives also this beautiful film a dominating trait of revolting disgust. It is Vincent Price's film, it is like all his films, morbid and thrilling, destructive and pathologic, as if the morbidity of life fascinated Vincent Price more than anything else which fascination makes all his films fascinating. It is set in Paris in 1886 and is beautfully filmed with exquisite music, at times you are even tempted to suspect that it will turn into an idyllic romantic love story with perhaps even a happy ending, but Vincent Price never ends well. The story like Maupassant is highly intelligent in all its absurd impossibility, no one would ever be able to convince me that another power than myself could ever take charge of my body without my noticing it, but Maupassant's sense of logic finally crowns the tale and gives it an acceptable conclusion. It is very far from a masterpiece, it's not even among Vincent Price's best, but it is highly superior to many of his Hammer films.
The Golden Gate Murders (1979)
The phantom of the Bridge at large with murder even in the Cathedral
This was David Janssen's last film, and he makes a very tired impression from the start. Susannah York on the other hand plays a young nun in an interesting condition. She is certain that father Martin couldn't have jumped the bridge by himself or committed suicide, wherefore she refuses to leave San Francisco before the matter has been cleared, by which decision she risks her Catholic future as a nun. David Janssen plays the officer in charge who most reluctantly takes on the case of trying to convince Susannah that it was suicide, but as usual the officer runs into doubts. The story is interesting, you see more of the Golden Gate than almost in any other film and almost only in the dark, as all the Golden Gate murders occur in the dark. The music by Sol Kaplan gives the film a golden frame and enhances the romantic element. It is fairly enjoyable, although in the end the intrigue appears as more constructed for the effect than credible, but it's a long way there, and you will enjoy the journey.
Witness to Murder (1954)
A murderer too intelligent for his own good and an unwilling witness to expose him
There are many flaws in this plot and script, and the worst strikes you from the beginning, as George Sanders murders his victim without closing the curtains, so that anyone in the opposite house can see it, which Barbara Stanwyck does and gets upset, spreading her upset to the police who can't believe her since no dead body can be found, and eventually even causing panic in the murderer. What makes this film interesting and an ace of thrillers is the superb acting by all three and the very interesting cinematography, the artistry of which is underlined by the very efficient music. George Sanders had a knack for making advanced villains overwhelmingly credible, and Barbara Stanwyck was never better, here playing a woman falling a victim to her lack of credibility. Gary Merrill also always makes good performances, and here he is unusually sympathetic and understanding for a police. This was in the Hitchcock genre, and he must have seen it and got a lot of ideas from it, as you almost recognize scenes from "Vertigo", "North by Northwest", "Rear Window" and others - there are even reminiscences here of "The Snake Pit" and Orson Welles' "The Process" with its nightmare settings - possibly inspired from here. It is Barbara Stanwyck's film, her terror, anguish and agony cannot leave anyone untouched, and you will certainly sometime return to this film again.
Tony Curtis finding his old love in Macao
Although you recognize the set-up from "Gilda", it's the same story but in Macao instead of Buenos Aires, with Lyle Bettger for a night club manager without political ambitions instead of the megalomanisc James MacReady, with no Rita Hayworth but instead the much more ordinary Joanne Dru, and with a very young Tony Curtis chasing her to the ends of the earth, you will not be disappointed by this variation. The story is good and almost better than "Gilda", but the major plus of this interesting film is Victor Sen Yung as the pianist factotum, who knows everything and everyone and is a genius. In general, the dialog is thoroughly intelligent and enjoyable in this film. There is not much cinematography, the settings are rather cheap like in a low budget B feature, but nevertheless it is worth watching - especially for the very exotic story with its consistently tightening suspense.
Fra' Diavolo (1942)
The true story of a great lover, adventurer, brigand and politician
This is a true story of timeless interest, as the central rogue made quite a career in his short life, advancing from a mountain brigand in the hills around Naples, leading a a band robbing travellers, to becoming a leading figure of the state with considerable political influence, at the same time leading his bandits in a guerilla warfare against the French under Napoleon and having two mistresses at the same time, marrying one of them but remaining faithful also to the other, both sincerely loving him and never betraying him, here made into a spectacular movie in the middle of the second world war, very much romanticised and given an alternative ending to the tale, while in reality he was hanged by the French at only 35. The film is well made, it's all very realistic, the costumes are extremely picturesque, especially those of the brigands, the actors are also doing very well, the ladies are lovely, but best of all is the music, excellently well composed and chosen to match both frenzied chases by horse or coach, ballroom parties (with Weber's ´"Aufforderung zom Tanz") and idyllic pastoral moments of romance and tender love. The film is rather constricted, only 80 minutes, but it offers everything, and as it is a true story on the whole, the satisfaction it gives will remain.
Orson Welles' King Lear truncated for TV
In spite of the shortcomings of this production, the play reduced to a third, a budget production for TV with very limited stage room and a number of characters missing, this is an astounding production, not only for Orson Welles being one of the best Lears ever, but all the actors are excellent, and I have never seen a better fool of Lear's than Alan Badel, here still quite young. In spite of the limited TV studio assets, several of the scenes provide spectacular scenarios, especially the banquet scene at Goneril's, and what a marvellousd idea to make the hut on the moor into a windmill! The TV film standard is also miserable in its stone age flaws, but Peter Brook has made an excellent job of the direction and the editing of the play. The one thing that is not excellent is the music, which is too modern and experimental to suit the 16th century costumes and Celtic settings. Orson Welles always celebrated triumphs as an actor, and there could hardly be found any role more suited for his majestic greatness and wide range of stage ability than this one.
Il plenilunio delle vergini (1973)
Two brothers driven to Transsylvania by curiosity at the mercy of an allpowerful vampire countess
Like in all vampire yarns the plot is absurd and not in the least credible or realistic, but this film is made with a sense of style, and the actors Mark Damon and Rosalba Neri make fairly goof performances, Mark Damon playing twin brothers helping each other out of vampire predicaments and having also written the script, which actually is well written - the dialog is not bad at all. The cinematography is rather expressionistic, the colours and effects are dominating elements of the film like in so many Italian horror movies, and the story isn't bad either - the final "wedding party" is quite impressing. In brief, not bad for an absurd vampire film in a preposterous genre, and it could have been much worse.
The Captive City (1952)
A study in local corruption with journalism for once to advantage
This is a true story of moral heroism, as a lonely journalist struggles headstrongly against all odds and all advising against it to expose the firm grip of a town by a mafia, which apparently is expert at committing murders and getting away with it. The mood of the film is slightly paranoic, but, as usual with Robert Wise's films, it is efficiently made and keeps a firm grip on the audience to the bitter end, which comes as an unexpected relief. John Forsythe never became a great star, maybe he was to intense in his roles of exposed risk-takers to ever advance from that stage, but his films are always worth watching. The music, also as usual in Robert Wise's films, is exquisitely well suited and keeps up the drama. The message of the film is almost universal: this could happen to you and in any town, and the warning message is to always keep alert and never flinch at the truth.
Call Me Madam (1953)
A Balkan kingdom in desperate need of American dollars, provided by Ethel Merman
There have been a few other features from Lichtenburg, located somewhere among the mountains in the Balkans, probably in today's Romania, and all their plots have been equally ridifculous. This time Ethel Merman (of all absurd American ladies) is sent there as an ambassador to deal with the urgent need of loans in the bankrupt country, which cannot even afford a dowry for the crown princess' wedding, and she instantly falls flat to George Sanders as their foreign minister, who wants anything but American money: like a gernuine European he feels his country is not for sale for American dollars. Fortunately in Ethel Merman's luggage there is also Donald O'Connor, who saves the film together with Vera Ellen as the Princess Royal, and they have two magnificent dancing scenes together - the film is worth watching only for this. George Sanders is reliably eloquent as usual and helps in saving the film from the disastrously tedious vulgarities of Ethel Merman. The music isnt very good either - apparently Irving Berling was already getting old at this stage, and none of these melodies catch on. It's great entertainment and eloquently made by Walter Lang, but never worth seeing more than once.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
The mountain of the curse of seven vultures
Of course, that poor treasure hunter shouldn't have walked in there at all. The Indians knew and refused to place a foot there. The journalist knew nothing and wllked straight into a death trap, suspecting nothing, ultimately sharing the fate of the treasure-hunter, caught in the trap of his own vanity. This is like a fable with deep significance, which must cause much after-thought. Kirk Douglas is brilliant as the ruthless opportunistic journalist whio accepts no resistance and won't listen to anyone but himself but just keeps blundering on committing mistakes all the way - but finally realizing them and paying for them. At the same time it's a very moral tale but terrible in its merciless exposure of the almost universal fallacy of opportunism, a temptation which almost no one can refuse and most get caught in, and there are no escapes here, except perhaps for the pious mother, who stands apart from the beginning. It's an impressing looming drama as a monument to human weakness prone to get caught in any trap of vanity, and for once Billy Wilder has ciosen the right music for his film. He never repeated himself, but this film is perhaps the one that stands most apart as his most singular and virtuous production.
An orphan girl at the mercy of carnival entertainers
The action is somewhere in Provence, France, in a small town somewhere in the foothills of the Alps. A lonely 16-year old girl hopes to find her deceased father's friend there, who would give her a job, but he is dead. Instead she gets mixed up with three men attached to a vagabond carnival, one of them, Jean-Pierre Aumont, is an irresistible magician, while the other two, Mel Ferrer and Kurt Kasznar, run the puppet show. Mel Ferrer is the boss, but he is hopelessly bitter after having been turned by the war from a dashing dancer into an invalid. Leslie Caron, the girl, calls him "the angry man", and indeed he has reasons enough for his bitterness. They have no contact, but she gets into contact with the puppets, and by her talking with them like with real beings, they make a success. But Leslie Caron has a hopeless crush on Jean-Pierre Aumont without knowing he is married to his leading lady Zsa Zsa Gabor as predominating as ever. It's the Mel Ferrer character that is the chief interest of the film and story, and this is both Leslie Caron's and his best film.
There are two outstanding dancing sequences, one in the beginning and one in the end, but everything in between is also poetry. The dialog is always pregnant offering constant food for thought and reflection, while the music crowns the masterpiece - no one will ever forget this overwhelmingly charming song.
Three Secrets (1950)
Three mothers of an adopted child rescued from an air crash
Everything is perfect about this film, the story, the actors, the direction, Wise at an early stage extremely efficient, and even the music, never dominating but always reflecting the right mood. This is a literary film telling the stories of three women who all had to give up their only child because of circumstances, usually related to the war: the child was born September 15th 1944, so they all got pregnant at the highlight of the war, one by a soldier who had to obey orders, and the other two by men who left them - one of them we'll never even see. At the same time, it's a great story of journalism, Patricia Neal making the almost too perfect journalist which costs her her marriage, and the insights into her handling her profession in the quest for saving the child from the top of a mountain are almost documentary in their authentic character, while at the same time it develops into somethinbg of a thriller - there is even a murder here. Enough said, only superlatives, and they can only be repeated and continuously insisted on.
Sentimental Journey (1946)
The importance of unicorns
This is a typical Maureen O'Hara film where she shines as beautifully as ever in a tragical role for a change, but she couldn't be more convincing - she always is. William Bendix shines better than her husband (John Payne), Bendix is always an advantage to every film he is in, and here he at least makes an effort at child psychology, which the playwright doesn't. Cedric Hardwicke is the family doctor and as good as such as ever, while the child (Connie Marshall) makes the film. The story is interesting enough with its touch on parapsychology, but entering the imaginative mind of a child, everything is made credible. This is actually how it could work. Maureen feels she has to leave Bill which worries her, so she finds a child to adopt to take care of him when she is gone, which he at first fails to realize and appreciate. There is sugared music all through, and nothing wrong with that, it establishes the soft mood of sadness of the film and sticks to it, and it is finally the music that opens Bill's mind when everything else has failed. This is also quite obvious and natural. This is a film to love for its sincere warm-heartedness, and the stormy ocean is brought into the picture to accentuate the drama.
Screen Two: Memento Mori (1992)
Suspicious telephone terror among dirty old men and old ladies of questionable gaga
I read this book in the 70s and was puzzled by it and a little disturbed by the shocking intrusion of the murderer, who seemed a little out of place. Muriel Spark wrote it in her 40s and apparently meant it to be a kind of black comedy and had some fun writing it, visualizing the prospects of living circumstances around the 80s. However, the story and the plot is rather quirky, it doesn't make much sense, and when finally everything is explained, it becomes more weird than ever. There is though a bunch of all the best old English actors in here showing off at a very advanced age and all doing extremely well, although the prize goes to Renée Asherson as Charmian Colston, who is almost whisked away as a hopeless gaga case, which proves not to be the case. Maggie Smith, always excellent, is here for a change in a most abominable role, while Michael Hordern always is to his advantage as slightly gaga, and he ultimately becomes the winner. All the others are good also, and you will enjoy their party summoned by the police inspector on which occasion there is an unknown uninvited guest. This is a film to enjoy in all its unoffensive play with the always imminent presence of death.
A Rage to Live (1965)
A girl unable to turn any man down and all her men unable to turn her down, which they ultiomately do anyway
This is not just a casual movie of a bad girl making life difficult for herself by sticking to committing constant mistakes, but as you follow the banal story wíth patience, it emerges as an extremely interesting psychological study into the dilemma of a beautful woman not being capable of saying no and men not able to resist her, but actually insisting on importuning if not possessing her, not being aware of their own limits, having no sense of self-criticism and no self-discipline. The question emerges: is this the fault of her or of her men? Even her husband finally commits the mistake of rather leaving her refusing to even try to understand her, when for him her case is too clear: it's all her fault. Well, of course she can't help it,. she admits it herself, but is she really to blame? All those men forcing themselves on her shall stand without charges? Sidney Tate is the one honest man who actually saves her, even when he knows that she has some dartk stains of the past, and perhaps the greatest credit of the film is that it leaves you hanging. You will not know how it will end, you are left to guessing, and the film, like an Ibsen drama, is content with just presenting the problem. Another important credit of the film is that it is expertly made: all the actors, the music, the direction, everything is perfect and in style.
Coriolano eroe senza patria (1964)
The Peplum version of Coriolanus
The Shakespeare drama is one of the last and greatest in that production, it's a towering masterpiece of human architecture with the leading character embodying the very essence of tragedy by his pride and uncompromising integrity, based on Plutarch's biography of authentic destinies of great men. The Italian film on the subject is something entirely different, although the story is basically the same. The main force of the film is concentrated on the battle of Corioli, which established Coriolanus as the hero of Rome and becoming consul, and you recognize the battle field from the Hannibal film and his battle at Cannae. This is no Shakespeare drama, the text is grossly mutilated and cut down to prosaic basics, and they have even changed the story. This is no longer a tragedy, and all the tragic elements have been abolished. For all this truncated nakedness, it' not a bad film, although given a rather superficial and formal character, and at least it remains an epic. It's worth seen at least once, but be prepared for a surprise, if you know the story.
Penny Serenade (1941)
Heartbreak over concerns for a child not your own
This looks like an ordinary story of an ordinary family life, but it is very far from it. The humdrum character of a divorcee playing old records reviving old memories gradually transcends into a drama of much more than just a failed marriage, a good for nothing husband, a stranded career and other catastrophes, but you can always be sure of Irene Dunne turning any film into something very special, and it is very rare to see Cary Grant in tears. It begins as a happy marriage, but an interlude in Japan introduces a more critical development, and then there is the child. This will break anyone's heart. It has been called Cary Grant's best performance, and it certainly brings out sides of him you never suspected from all his comedies and thrillers. Irene Dunne doesn't sing here, but she is as she is and more reliable in her tender stability than almost any other actress. This is an adforable film, and you will never forget it.
The Favourite (2018)
The last days of the morbidly wretched Queen Anne and her grotesque court of intriguing favourites of all sexes
This is a disturbingly unsympathetic film, enterprising a thorough insight into the goings-on at the court of the old dying Queen Anne, totally invalidated and rather potty and wholly at the mercy of wicked favourites who grow the worse the more influence on her they get. There is not one sympathetic person in the plot, unless you try to mobilize some absurd sympathy for the Queen, like all her courtiers and favourites never tire of cultivating a maximum of hypocrisy of affection for her just to keep a finger in the pie. Rachel Weisz carries the burden of the play with magnificent splendour as usual, for once you can see even her truly nasty, she is almost the only man in the context, while Emma Stone starts well to develop more and more into another mummy and dummy like all the others, doing anything just to stick to her situation. There are some notable anachronisms in this otherwise perfectly realistic costume drama of the first decade of the 18th century, like music by Schubert and Schumann and Emma Stone saying "OK" and a modern word a number of times, but what perfect palace is completely dustfree? The most difficult part is that of the Queen, impeccably sustained and made totally convincing by Olivia Colman, but all the actors are perfect in their vicious and revolting characters, as is the direction, the cinematography, the composition of the film, in brief, everything - but it's a nasty story, and the more so for being true.