Freitag, 14. Juni 2013

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz, Keighley, 1938) - TSPDT #464

Robin shoots arrows, wears tights, defies the evil Prince John and has horrible table manners. And he has a fling with Maid Marian, who likes to dress up in some sort of medieval burkas.

The colors are stunning. Never have I seen a meadow so green (they painted it), costumes so lush, cheeks so glowingly red, and teeth so refreshingly unbleached. It's quite amazing how this film is visually gripping just by this explosion of chroma. It would be nice to see a film like this again these days - although animation seems to have taken on the adventure of exploring color space.

The script seems quite disjoint - but when I was a kid, it impressed me for weeks. There seems to be a different mechanic at work underneath, which my gut feeling tells me has a bit to do with Vogler's heroes, but there's also something else. Maybe it's the way that Flynn gets represented as a hero who never loses faith in himself. The "all is lost" point where he is captured feels artificial, Flynn barely reacts to it on screen. I felt a certain mechanic lifeless quality of how the story progressed, but maybe it was just disappointed childhood memories.

Mittwoch, 12. Juni 2013

The Hustler (Rossen, 1961) - TSPDT #336

The pocket pool hustler Fast Eddie tries to win against the king of billards: Minnesota Fats, but his blind ambition and hubris makes him lose. He manages to overcome his faults but pays a high price.

Newman was impressive in the film, but the performances of Piper and Scott took the cake. Her vulnerable, strangely undetermined Sarah, confronted by the unscrupulous and straight-talking Bird was fascinating to watch. The way Piper delivered her lines was amazing, especially the love scene. I felt I could almost touch her constant wavering of opinions. Newman left me strangely cold, it's hard to pinpoint why - maybe he should have been established more ruthless in the beginning of the picture.

There was a highly surrealist element in the script: the incessant drinking. The characters easily downed a load of bottles of Bourbon and who knows what during the first big match at Ames. Everybody seems to be drinking gallons of booze throughout the picture, yet they seem only modestly drunk or tired. Maybe that's why I couldn't take Eddie's insistence to continue playing very seriously - the guy was way past alcohol poisoning of a veritable sized battleship of alcohol-hardened sailors. It's even more bizarre when he stops drinking in the second part.

Another thing I noticed that I sometimes was unsure about the mood the characters were in a particular scene. With Piper and Scott this worked great, but Newman I couldn't pinpoint - there is a scene where he "shows off" how good he can play, but that was really a bit over the top.

Samstag, 8. Juni 2013

Saboteur (Hitchcock, 1942)

The aircraft factory worker Kane gets falsely accused of having set fire to the plant. He elopes, trying to find the real culprit and uncovers a vast network of fascists that are planning more terrorist attacks.

I found this a rather strange Hitchcock film. The way it handles the political messages, mixed with more than just a bit of do-gooders morality seems a bit blunt, even if this is as good a propaganda film can probably get. But the script has so many holes and weird turns that my suspense of disbelief literally jumped out the window and is still running in around in circles on the lawn. Naked.

On the other hand, there were some wonderful scenes. The encounter of Kane with the blind man in the hut is touching and the villain Fry has a wonderful subdued manner - he doesn't feel too much like a bad guy at all. The final scene on the Statue of Liberty is gripping. Most of the bad guys were strangely subdued and had a very sophisticated air about them - quite over the top for some of them.

There are a lot of crane shots which seemed strangely deliberate and the extras had an extremely staged quality, performing actions on cue and freezing again once they came close to the edge of the frame.

Mittwoch, 5. Juni 2013

Un condamné à mort s'est échappé (Bresson, 1956) - TSPDT #130

Captured by the Nazis, the resistance fighter Fontaine meticulously plans his escape - can he overcome the prison's walls before he gets executed?

An amazing film - not just in terms of the incredibly simple setup. Bresson managed to keep everything lean and still the suspense towards the end is amazing. The camera work reflects that simplicity. Mostly closeups, most of them with the lead actor in it, very little dialogue and the voice-over is mostly describing what Fontaine is doing in the frame. Music (Mozart) is used very sparsely.

I think the story is not so simple as it appears, especially after the second viewing. The other stories that sprang into the foreground were:
  • Blanchett, his cell neighbor. Fontaine cannot see his first cell neighbor, but he can communicate with him via knocking on the wall. Blanchett is very visible, but he refuses to speak to Fontaine. Only after a very small act of humanity by Fontaine, Blanchett opens up and the two have long talks, with Blanchett "god-fathering" the escape, by giving valuable input and criticism, even motivating Fontaine to leave.
  • The priest - during the washing scenes there is a surprising amount of discussion about faith. Considering that this is a film with very little dialogue, I was surprised to realize the second time how most of it revolves of it around faith, hope and biblical messages. I am not quite sure what to make of the second priest, arriving later in the film.
  • Jost - In a strange way, Jost, has no identifiable character traits. His back story seems weird and unmotivated. But in the end he turns out to be some kind of guardian angel - although his active role in the escape is minimal. I found it funny that in a way the duo can reach higher when Jost stands on Fontaine's shoulders than the other way around. 

Here is a scribbled breakdown, that I did on the second viewing -

Title Sequence (Mozart) – Typo on stone Background
Arrival and the first cell.
Car scene – Fontaine tries to escape, but gets arrested again immediately. He is handcuffed
NOTE: The first shot shows Fontaines hands (they are his main tool for escaping) – and there are many hands visible during the movie, usually involved in small activities.
NOTE: Only rarely the faces of the occupying germans are shown.

Arrival at the prison. Fontaine is beaten for his attempt to escape. He is put into a special cell.

Beaten up again and brought back to his cell. Handcuffed again. Here the voice-over starts. He lies down to sleep. The neighbor knocks.

He is examined and put back in the cell (not sure why) – he starts to examine the cell. The cells are all the same. He climbs to the window and sees the courtyard. He talks to the other inmates. They communicate with him and give him apiece of string.

F. is allowed to wash

Knocking with his neighbor

He writes the letter and gives it back to the inmates. The danger of being caught is imminent. The other inmates give him sugar, a pin and a razor blade (which is not used again)

Using the pin, Fontaine opens the cuffs. His letters have been posted and sent. Inmates warn him to be careful.

In an office -Judge” accuses Fontaine – He promises not to try to escape again (and immediately denies it). In the cell he gets his first meal.

He is in the cell and sees female inmates and hears the executions. His neighbor is still alive.
In the new cell. The Routine
He is taken to a new cell in the top floor and he is uncuffed. The neighbors don't answer. NOTE: The guards make clanking noises on the stair's rails.

First time we see him at the washing drill. He sees his silent neighbor. The routine is explained in detail.

Washing scene – he starts to exchange information with other prisoners. Then everybody goes back to their cells.

Alone in the cell. He will escape (motive)
Examining the door – it could be broken, if he was careful. He organizes a spoon and sharpens it on the ground.

He starts working on the planks of the door, detailling his examinations in voice-over. Very carefully he progresses separating the planks. (loads of closeups of hands)

Thierry from the court is taken somewhere else. His former neighbor has been executed. He is more motivated to work now.

Washing scene – the priest is introduced. Fontaine gives him his pen.

More working on the door. His neighbor opposite keeps watch for him.

His neighbor doesn't want to talk. Fontaine is afraid and stops working on the door.

Washing 3 – (Music). His neighbor falls down and Fontaine helps him get up.

Now his neighbor, Blanchett will talk to him. He is annoyed about Fontaine's scratching. But Fontaine can go on with his work.

Door: He breaks a spoon – and needs a new one. But he is progressing.

Wash 4: The priest has got hold of a bible (It is not explained how). Fontaine finds another spoon.

Door: He manages to break off a piece of the frame. A bit too much. He puts it back in place and uses splinters to hold it there.

He talks to his neighbor, trying to inspire him to work towards some kind of freedom or goal. The neighbor has resigned, but gives valuable information to Fontaine.

Wash 5: His neighbor opposite also has escape plans. He has been betrayed by his wife.

Door: First time he takes out the door planks.

Hall: Fontaine sneaks out through the door into the corridor. He wipes out an assignment not to give food to a certain door. Then he sneaks back into his cell. (character revealing)

Neighbor: talk about escaping. But doesn't know how. Now there's also knocking. Somebody moans.

Wash 6: (MUSIC) Examines the security of the prison. The priest gives him moral support and advice. There's a short discussion about God. Orsini announces his escape vaguely.
Skylight and Hooks
He notices the skylight by watching a soldier opposite his cell operating it.

Neighbor -

Gets out the door and climbs up to the skylight. And gets on the roof, nearly breaking the glass in the window. Quickly, he goes back.

Wash 7: Orsini and Fontaine both have escape plans. Orsini's approach is different and not as well planned.

Rope: Fontaine takes apart the bed and gets wire from the mattress. He starts making the rope from cloth and the wire.

Wash 8: Orsini has no patience to wait. He gives Fontaine the details of his plan. Fontaine doesn't like the ideas too well.

Neighbor: Also the neighbor doesn't like the plan.

Wash 9: Orsini was questioned – He think's he will be released.

Wash 10: Orsini runs off. (Which probably means that Orsini was condemned to death by the "Judge" and that he lied to Fontaine in the scene before) Fontaine tries to figure out what's going on. But he has no chance to talk to Orsini anymore. He sees him running awa. MUSIC.

Fontaine back in his cell sees that Orsini was captured and is brought back to his cell and beaten (just hear it don't see it) – Orsini gives him important information about the hooks.

The “man with the hat” gets Orsini

Wash 11: They discuss Orsini's premature escape. The priest gives Fontaine a piece from the bible. When he reads it to his neighbor, they hear Orsini's execution.

Hook: Carefully, Fontaine dissembles the metal frame inside his cell, carefully breaking the glass. He gets rid of the shards in the drain.

He starts to make plans of the building, taking measuremants to bend the hooks the right way. Careful of making a mistake.

Neighbor: They discuss details of the plan. There has been a change in the neighbor.

Hook: Construction continues, using the wires.

Prison court: Everybody is told that smuggling letters outside will lead to execution. The prisoners are supposed to hand in their pencils. Fontaine has one, but at the last moment decides not to give it to the officer.
Fontaine gets a parcel. It's full of clothes. There is also a glass container of some sort. (Never shows up again) – Fontaine rips apart all the textiles and braids a long rope. His neighbor gives him another blanket.

Wash 12: Prison is filling up. There is another priest. Suspecting that there are spies among the prisoners.

Neighbor: You are waiting to long. Fontaine asks his cell neighbor for help but the man declines. Wash 13: You are waiting to long Neighbor: It's a question of faith – you have to do it

Office – The “Judge” condemns Fontaine to death. On his way back, he is afraid they might shoot him immediately. But they bring him back to the cell.
Jost enters the cell
Enter a new cell mate. A young boy, Francois Jost. Fontaine suspects him of being a stool pigeon.  Fontaine goes on and on questioning him, not knowing if he could trust him.

When they go to sleep, Fontaine considers killing him. MUSIC

Wash 14: He is pressured to leave asap. And also told to be careful

Finally, Fontaine is won over. (In a conversation about lice) – When the guard comes to get somebody from the neighboring cell, he fears that they're coming for him. Now he has to take the plunge and trust the boy. He very carefully asks him questions about escape.

Fontaine shows Jost the secret hiding place for the pencil. Jost is amazed that it's not allowed to have pencils.

During the night, Fontaine still considers killing Jost.

Wash 15: Fontaine gives his last wishes t the priest – The soldier doesn't search the priests garments.

He lets Jost in on the secret. He shows him the loose planks, the hooks and the rope. Jost agrees to go with him.

They make the last rope. It takes them two hours. They clean up the cell.

He says goodbye to the neighbor. He tells Jost how to walk silently. Then they wait for the search lights to go up. Fontaine knocks goodbye to the neighbor.
The escape
The two climb on the roof.  The guards make a lot of noise, footsteps and for the first time a train can be heard in the background. Fontaine notices some weird squeaking noise. The clock strikes midnight.They look over the side and Fontaine watches the guard for over an hour, to make sure he knows his movements exactly.

The put down the rope and Fontaine climbs down (Jost refuses to go down first). He kills the guard, we don't see how. The train drowns the noise of the killing. He asks Jost to come down.

They go over to climb the second wall. Jost is of good use to Fontaine. They come to the last barrier – a kind of circular court, they have to cross.

There is a soldier on a bike, riding around – there is a distinct voice in the background, but I'm not quite sure how it relates to the soldier on the bike. Fontaine throws the rope to the other side. It hangs into a wire. But Fontaine hesitates to go.

When he hears the clock strike four, he has to make a decision. A train whistles, and he finally climbs over.

Fontaine jumps down the outer wall. Jost follows him immediately. MUSIC

They walk down the streets, disappearing into dark and smoke. The End.

Sonntag, 2. Juni 2013

The desperate hours (Wyler, 1956)

Three prison escapees invade a family's home where they wait for the getaway cash to arrive. But the money courier is arrested and the family members try to the thwart the plans of the fugitives where ever they can.

Apart from being another very nice script taken on by Wyler, this is not a typical film-noir. It has a very straight ending, and it was not nail-biting suspense that sat me through the last third. Although Bogart was quite a surprise playing a heavy, devoid of moral whatsoever and the cast was  impressive, there was something artificial about the story.

Most interesting aspect of the film is the caricature it draws of a "perfect family" in the 50s. This family, especially the father, Mr. Hilliard, has everything that Bogart's character wants and despises at the same time. A nice, boring job, nice, boring home, with a nice and boring wife, a clueless kid and and an adolescent teenager dating a even more boring guy in a sports car. It is hard to tell if Wyler made fun of the concept, or he's playing it as straight as it might have been meant. 

This would make a sensational remake, although I doubt if things would progress as peacefully in a modern rendition of the script. Tarantino would turn this into a deluge of blood.