Samstag, 28. April 2012

One Week (Keaton, Cline, 1920) #DTC 636

A futile attempt to build a do-it-yourself house goes completely off the tracks, when some of the plans are held the wrong way.

I do often favor Keaton's films over Chaplin's from that time. Although Chaplin has developed his tramp character way more thoroughly than any of Keaton's figures I feel that the variety of hapless characters in Keaton's films is much bigger. While all of Chaplin's films share the same character, in Keaton's films all they do is share a certain characteristic determination, combined with a stroke of luck and complete and utter clueless behavior.

Although this film has a comparatively weak storyline, there are still many great ideas to marvel at. The poor husband comes up with an extremely creative though useless ideas to solve the many problems he faces during the construction of the house. Biggest laugh is the actual house, "freely deconstructed" and nevertheless the couple decides to live in it - and pretending that everything is normal, even organizing a housewarming.

Many of the smaller comic moments still work fantastically well. 

Freitag, 27. April 2012

Amadeus (Forman, 1984) - #TSPDT 341

The former court composer Salieri has gone mad as he accuses himself being responsible for the death of the genius composer Mozart.

The trick of the film is to have the audience accept that Mozart killed himself, by indulging to the powers of writing a requiem. And it manages to do that - although it felt a bit long at one of two points, until that important revelation and connection between Mozart's inner working and his physical condition is established. The most intriguing thought for me was how Salieri arrives at the conclusion that not he himself kill Mozart, but he managed to cheat god into killing him. And his madness depends about the upholding of this mental construct.

There are many other aspects of the films which fascinated me: the scene where Mozart dictates the composition is quite amazing, also from a musical point of view. That little deconstruction and analysis of that little part of the requiem reminded me that there are few things as gratifying as studying the masters - independent of their craft.

Some of the shots were amazing. Especially seeing Mozart direct throughout the various stages of his career for filled, empty, bored and excited audiences was interesting. The face of the evil Salieri, halfway buried in shadows and the amazing physiognomy of the emperor were all great visual treatments of the time. I was particularly amused by the treatment of the subject cleavage by Forman.


Mittwoch, 25. April 2012

The Spiral Staircase (Siodmak, 1945) - #DTC 742

A mute housekeeper is under the threat of a murder in the house where she lives.

There are a couple of great moments in this film: First of all, there is the weather. Similar to Key Largo the weather is menacing, shutting off communication though not completely. The telephone is still working, but of what use is that to a mute woman who tries to get help.

Although I liked the movie, I had the feeling that the "psychologisation" of the lead character - a trauma resulting in muteness - was too obvious. This also lead to some heavy handed script decisions, e.g. her trying to make a call and then realizing she was mute.  (?)

But there are some other great scenes. The showdown on the staircase was quite amazing, and I really loved the the idea of the "threatening eyes" and the strong sense of POV throughout the film. A lot of times the camera watches out from the killer's head.

Dienstag, 24. April 2012

Hail the conquering hero - (Sturges, 1944) #DTC 810

A dismissed soldier is forced to return to his hometown under false pretenses and is received with undeserved glory

The story moves fast enough to keep you entertained. The poor boy is put from one bizarre situation to the next - all of them for his own good, but completely against his will. The gathers a lot of its funny moments just from those confrontations. Most of the other highlights come from the quirkiness of the other characters. They are all weird, offensive and at the same time extremely charming human beings that make life for the hero so unbearable.

I was really impressed by this one. The ending is slightly expected and the coming-out of the mistaken hero is something I have seen in a gazillion movies since, but even here Sturges found quite an original ending, with everybody in the town marching down the street. Look at this for great dialogue.

Montag, 23. April 2012

Listen to Britain (Jennings, 1942) #TSPDT 362

 A visual commentary on the state of Britain during the war, non narrated.

The biggest impression I had from the soundtrack of this short film. It is used to blend scenes together and to create a rich texture of impressions, which manage to transport me back to that time much more touching than the imagery (which is very nice too). Two weeks after seeing it, mostly impressions of industrial environments remain. An especially memorable scene was the ballroom dance of the officers and the women, the elegance in the movement is overwhelming, although in one of the shots the individual couples are still felt to have an independent existence within that crowd in an array of different emotional states.

The absence of too exaggerated patriotic exclamations, especially verbal ones, gives this stripped down portrait of wartime England a very authentic quality. I could really get a sense of "people" there.

Sonntag, 22. April 2012

This Gun for Hire (Tuttle, 1942) - #DTC 927

 A contract killer meets a beautiful girl on his futile attempt to outrun the law.

Obviously, there's a lot more story to the movie than can be written in one short line. Although the movie gets great reviews, I didn't manage to find a way into the story. But it had all the hallmarks - an anti-hero, Veronica Lake, and it's downwards from the first shot on. I felt that there were too many accidents (sitting next to each other on the train, etc) which made the story quite fantasy-like. A bit more straight drama would have been nice.

The most interesting part is Alan Ladd's lead. His portrayal of the killer is quite multi-layered. Maybe the script tried to help him just a bit too much, by having him "save the cat" and "spare the kid". Anyway, he's a bad man with a good heart - and I am actually not quite sure if that was responsible for his downfall. The story to me felt more like the grinding of the cosmic cogs, and by the way crushing the man in a pool of desperation and blood.

The final sequence was quite interesting, too - and I had a strong sense of deja vu, although I didn't manage to remember which film I had seen that.

Donnerstag, 19. April 2012

Gaslight (Cukor, 1944) #DTC 552

A fragile woman - unsettled by witnessing the murder of her mother - is driven to insanity by her ruthless husband.

I found the story a bit contrived, but within the universe it set up it worked wonderfully. Maybe because of the expectation of something closer to Hitchcock it took me a while to get immersed into this universe.

What really stood out for me was Bergman. It was a perfect role for her, hovering on the verge of insanity, being fragile and demanding at the same time. Also Charles Boyer, slowly stepping up the coldness and ruthlessness of his husband act was extremely convincing. Joseph Cotten perfectly rounds out the cast and Angela Lansbury was hilarious to watch.



Zemlya (Dovzhenko, 1930) #TSPDT #134

A farmer collective forays into new grounds, by pulling together and obtaining a tractor - much to the disapproval of the older generation.

The construction of the film strikes me as odd. The murder scene is outright bizarre and felt like a very anti-climactic point. The tractor scene was quite funny and gained a lot of tension from the simple and even unseen fact that the vehicle brakes down in sight of its goal. The solution to their problem was as simple, as it was funny - and depicted in a way that would have never been possible in eg. the American film market - although I've just read that it didn't get past Soviet censors too.

The photography is gloriously breathtaking and many of the pictures still remain in my mind very vividly. Not only the landscape shots, but also the quality of the faces. This is definitively worth intense study. Especially the father's piercing eyes are easily recalled - a certain brutal honesty gets transported through them with everything the character does.

Mittwoch, 18. April 2012

The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971) #TSPDT 677

Two cops try to uncover a big heroin deal of which only they are convinced is taking place.

It's the supposed realism that the film is shot in, that helps to bring the ruthless character of Hackman's character. On second thought, there are many surreal elements in there, that make the detective look more like a caricature.

My favorite little piece was when he overtook a girl on a bike wearing red boots with his car. The next thing is we find him in bed with her. I do own a bike and I also have a drivers license which I have set to use in many countries around the world. I have to sadly admit that I seem to not to possess enough skills on either vehicle to pull off something to this effect.

The chase sequence worked so well in my opinion, because the film managed to lock me in with Hackman's determination - the chase itself is not very high speed compared to the hackfests of nowaday with two to three edits per second.

Another interesting little detail is that the films easily works in two languages (French/English). Something that seems to have disappeared from most main-streamish movies. But it works fantastically and I'd love to see more of it. People can read subtitles, maybe even better than in the 70s where you could get around without Twitter and texting.

Dienstag, 17. April 2012

The Devil and Daniel Webster (Dieterle, 1941) - #DTC 1027

A poor farmer sells his soul to the devil in a moment of despair and within a few years becomes the richest man in New Hampshire.

This was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a beautiful modern fairy tale, where the morale has been supplanted with a liberal political message: The good will triumph, even in court (which reads strangely ironic). The urge to deliver simple, inspiring truths during the wartime probably helped this picture along, but it still stands beautifully now. The structure of the movie was straightforward as far as I could tell - I'm sure they went by the book, from the point of dramaturgy.

What I found exciting was the devil portrayed by Walter Huston. This creature is effervescent with good humor and when he's listening to the farmer he's absolutely honest about his empathy.  He was a delight to follow on the screen. More of his work!

The final jury scene is a classic and at least famous enough to be copied by the Simpsons.

Freitag, 13. April 2012

The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, 1942) #TSPDT #168

The woman of a hapless inventor tries to divorce him, flees to California and gets picked up by a billionaire.

There are a lot of really nice scenes in the film that felt like they posessed a light and innocent quality - although there were a lot of innuendos and hints at adultery in all directions. I especially loved the scenes in the beginning, the old sausage maker, the couple discussing their divorce and some of the slapstick scenes in the train.

But at a certain point the story fell a bit apart for me - the characters don't change enough throughout most of the picture. When all the errors resolve, most of that felt contrived to me. I really enjoyed most of everything else by Sturges, but I couldn't follow well on this one on my first viewing.

Red River (Hawks, 1948) #TSPDT #139

When the ruthless father drives an enormous herd north of Texas, his son decides not to support his brutal leader style.

Most of the story took me in. A lot of the tension came through the relentless brutality that Wayne's character displayed to everybody. The development of the story let me feel the rising madness, paranoia and control obsession of the leader of the trail. There were two or three historical hints, but in general it felt pretty convincing as a story in itself. On a sidenote: I have never seen written text in a movie presented so fast - I could barely follow the text on the page whenever excerpts of the diary were presented. 

The cast was perfectly chosen and the drift between Clift and Wayne was deepened by the knowledge at how far those two actors were in real life - in pretty much every sense.


One or two things bothered me slightly: The "other" gun hero and Clift never get that showdown that the story promises in the beginning. There is some rivalry between the two and it even gets noted by the other characters, there is a woman they could over, but ... nothing happened. There should at least have been some alienation between the two.

Also, the ending felt extremely sudden and slapped onto the rest. That was quite a let down and I wonder if the studio insisted on this type of ending (or the stars). Might be interesting to study the making-of, especially trying to find out if Hawks wanted to go into another direction with the ending.


Sonntag, 8. April 2012

The Snake Pit (Dmytryk, 1948) #DTC 612

A woman with a personality disorder experiences the different stages of hell in an asylum.

The idea for the film was quite striking, and the first scene impressive: A woman comes to her senses in an asylum and has not slightest idea how she got there. After a while the movie reveals the bigger picture: She has been a patient for a while and she is desperately trying to suppress one or many memories of her childhood. Unfortunately, I lost the film completely when it tried to "explain" the whole problem - it even had an educational feel to it. Maybe, in regard of the public opinion on mental illness that was a prerogative to spring such a film on an unsuspecting audience.

Olivia de Havilland was quite impressive as the disturbed wife of the faithful, but shaken husband - although I felt that her personal development was not continuous and the resolution is rather swift. The story postulates that she had to lose her crush on her doctor to be healed was a bit too much for me. But especially her descend into the maddening aspect of her sickness was convincing and interesting to watch.


Hellzapoppin' (Potter, 1941) #TSPDT 572

The oldest meta-film comedy I know of and highly slapsticky, too.

After seeing this a couple of weeks ago, I can only remember a few, pretty physical things about the movie. There is a reference to Citizen Kane, so the original must have made quite a stir already when it came out. If they referenced any other movies, I didn't see them.

I do remember: Elisha Cook Jr as the frustrated 40s version of the screenwriter - looking like the shriveled version of Billy Wilder. There is some kind of count, posing as a poser of a count and counting. And there is a big swimming pool with all sorts of shenanigans going on - basically synchronicity swimmers on acid (something I would very much like to see).


Samstag, 7. April 2012

Los Olvidados (Bunuel, 1950) - #TSPDT #109

A boy from the slums tries to escape his fate as a criminal but it keeps coming back at him.

It was an amazing watch and the depressing feeling already eminent in the beginning got worse during the course of the film.

There is the incessant knocking of evil on the door throughout this film. Although the movie itself feels pretty upbeat in a way - which might have to do that most of the characters accept their fate and try to make the best of it. The only thing that sets the hero really apart from the others, is his respect towards other people - even if there is only very little. And although we try to sympathize with him, the scene in the correction facility with the hens shows, that - even though not without hope - he is already pretty far advanced on the path towards doom. (There's a thing with chicken and evil)
The evil boy - lustful, revengeful, hateful and enticing at the same time - is definitively a great villain to hate and, funnily enough, I really longed for him to get punished. I wonder if it's easier to hate the bad guy than admiring the hero - or is it just easier to summon the mean into a character, maybe because there are so many sources to draw from.

Donnerstag, 5. April 2012

Born To Kill (Wise, 1947) #DTC 942


 A reckless murderer seduces a naive heiress when her adopted sister falls for his brutal charms and tries to manipulate him.

Although the plot is a bit convoluted - and I have indeed forgotten most of it - the characters were extremely memorable in all their bold and rottenness. I enjoyed Tiereney and Trevor both equally, and they both had it coming, I guess. Although there is the happy ending obligatoire I felt that there was a silent agreement between director and the audience (me) that it was just tagged on to comply with some unseen movie force - it's not real and the story actually sinks into an ocean of evil and the bad triumph.

Esther Howard, Walther Slezak, and Elisha Cook are just as enjoyable in the smaller roles and those details make the film much more enjoyable as it is already.

As I was not really too familiar with Tierney it was amusing to learn that he mostly played variations on this role up to Tarantino's Reservoir dogs. Worth re-watching if just for that - and to support the color-blind.

Definitively worth to look again closer at Tierney's character on this one.

Lifeboat (Hitchcock, 1944) #DTC 988

 After being attacked by a german sub the survivors take a German into their lifeboat - the only man with navigation capabilities.

We're all in that same boat, viewers included. One of the earliest films with that premise that I've seen. The characters were quite memorable, but the German character was the most memorable of all. His ambivalence as a doctor (doing good) and at the same time being one of the enemy and trying to get back to his people was amazing to watch. I went through a lot of back and forth concerning his character and I guess this was all that the movie was about. I'm also pretty sure that the reactions in the audience of the time were much stronger. Hitchcock might wanted to exhort the audience that the enemy should never be underestimated - neither in good or bad.

I've found the "rich" guy a bit too complacent and the card bet was just a bit too contrived to work. Maybe his character didn't feel life-like enough to make such a bet believable. But the dry comments of the lead actress was quite amazing. Her love interest was just a tad too much, but I understand that the story might have needed something to balance out the characters. (again, she might have been a bit too onedimensional in the beginning)


The Lady vanishes (Hitchcock, 1938) - #TSPDT #381

A traveling woman is doubting her perception when the elderly lady disappears from her compartment. 

The film was highly entertaining - even when it went a little crazy in the end, being somewhat unrealistic. But I didn't mind as I bought into all of the action. Some of the set-ups were just a tiny bit too obvious, such as the writing on the window. But then again, maybe it was exactly what Hitchcock intended - let me make the highly informed guess and let her take forever to remember that the writing was there.

Although the "showdown" doesn't hold up with the notion of these days on what is meant by spectacular it's still worked well on me - powerful stuff I would say. The humor is quite nice, I really loved the completely idiotic attempt to kill somebody by letting a flower pot fall from the window.

There are a lot of good examples of keeping up the tension in there.

Montag, 2. April 2012

Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock, 1940) - #DTC #986

A practical, but highly unpolitical foreign correspondent finds himself at the heart of political turmoil in WWII Europe

A very enjoyable movie, although the overall plot seemed a little constructed within the greater realms of things. Just about when WW2 is to break out, Europe already seems infested with the bellicose virus carried by warmongerers and other despicable criminals. This is the mess that Joel McCrea steps into and tries to get out of. Action story and love tales are always difficult to combine convincingly, I've found, but it works here to some extent.

There is not a lot of character development throughout this story. McCrea's guy basically sticks to his guns, and the delightful George Sanders basically rules most of the action in the picture. I would have liked to see more fundamental doubts/changes in the characters.

The scene at the mill is quite fantastic. A lot of suspense as McCrea doesn't try to get caught, while moving most of the time. It's quite amazing how the spatial sense transfers from the screen - you always know exactly where you are, and it's not a simple setup.

Murder, my Sweet (Dmytryk, 1944) #DTC #306

Philip Marlowe is hired by the ex-convict Moose Malloy to find his vanished bride.

This story has become quite a classic for me, as I've heard the BBC version quite so often. There are some differences with the film version towards the end, but by and large both renditions seem really close. This seems to have been John Paxton's (screenwriter) big break. Nevertheless, I spent quite some effort trying to keep up with some of the more surprising twists in this sinister tale.

I was positively surprised by Dick Powell's performance. I didn't know him before, but his version of Marlowe was full of ambivalence. I've read the behind-the-scene story that the studio and director were strongly opposed to him playing the hard-boiled detective, but I think it is a great role for him. (Chandler seems to have agreed)

The first scene of the film with the interrogation by the police officer had very impressive imagery. Many sinister shadows and the lamp as a blinding spot in the darkness work great.