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French director Jean-Pierre Melville is best known for a series of hardboiled crime pictures that began as Gallic takes on American films noir and quickly evolved into unique tales of underworld ethics and rituals: Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, Le Samouraï. Melville's second crime picture reflected another of his obsessions, a love for all things American. The director frequently wore a cowboy hat while driving a large Detroit convertible through narrow Parisian streets. In 1959's Two Men in Manhattan (Deux hommes dans Manhattan) Melville takes his love for America directly to the streets of New York City.
The unconventional storyline follows two Frenchmen on a nightlong quest for a missing man. When the director of a French press agency in New York learns of the disappearance of Fèvre-Berthier, France's delegate to the United Nations, he assigns reporter Moreau (director Jean-Pierre Melville) to find him. Because the delegate is rumored to be a womanizer, discretion is called for. Moreau immediately enlists his friend Pierre Delmas (Pierre Grasset), a tabloid photographer who knows every French V.I.P. in the city. The pair are soon crisscrossing Manhattan and Brooklyn by car, checking up on possible Fèvre-Berthier girlfriends: his secretary, a Broadway actress, a stripper, a jazz vocalist and an expensive prostitute who specializes in diplomats. Two serious problems arise. The utterly amoral Delmas has no intention of keeping things quiet -- if he finds the delegate in a compromising situation, he plans to turn his photos into a big payday. Secondly, neither Frenchman is aware that another car is tailing them. It's right behind them when they finally encounter Fèvre-Berthier in a woman's apartment.
Melville's movie has style to burn, and an excellent feel for professionals in a foreign country, bending the rules to achieve their goal. The men pretend to write for a Parisian magazine when they barge into theater dressing rooms. They pull off another charade to sneak into the hospital room of a woman who has just tried to commit suicide. Scenes alternate between dialogue exchanges and a moody nighttime search set to cool jazz. Director Melville's Moreau has sad but alert eyes, and looks great in a trench coat. Pierre Grasset's handsome Delmas loves his career as a predatory lone wolf, nailing scandal photos and bedding girlfriends back at his apartment-darkroom.
Although the setup leads us to expect Moreau and Delmas to uncover foul play or a criminal conspiracy, the story goes in a completely different direction. The conflict centers on French pride and identity. Moreau subscribes to the need to uphold the reputation of the U.N. delegate. Delmas rejects any sentiment that stands between him and a tidy profit.
The elusive Fèvre-Berthier initially doesn't seem to be a man worth defending. Except for his worried wife, everybody knows about his womanizing, including his secretary Françoise Bonnot (Colette Fleury). When Moreau implies that she's the delegate's sweetheart, Françoise reveals her contrary sexual orientation. The dramatic actress Judith Nelson (Ginger Hall) admits to knowing the delegate well, as does a hostile burlesque entertainer Bessie Reid (Michèle Bailly). The jazz singer Virginia Graham (Glenda Leigh) doesn't seem involved with Fèvre-Berthier, and the prostitute hasn't actually ever met him.
In the film's key scene, Moreau's boss Rouvier (Jean Darcante) explains that Fèvre-Berthier was a legendary resistance leader and that his reputation needs saving because he represents an older era of absolute patriotism. This is a personal issue for Melville, who had himself been involved in the resistance. Years later, the director would tell the story of just such an heroic resistance figure in his epic Army of Shadows. The patriotic appeals unfortunately mean nothing to Delmas, and Moreau's personal/professional influence also fails to reach him. But Fèvre-Berthier has a daughter, Anne (Christiane Eudes), who knows what he's up to and how it will destroy her mother. Can she inspire the mercenary photographer to do the right thing?
Melville split his production between New York and Paris. The location exteriors shot in Manhattan and Brooklyn capture a documentary look not seen in many American films. The director shows his love for the lights of Times Square by having his searchers cruise past them several times. The film's impressive interiors were all filmed in Paris. The camera moves slowly across a recording studio as Moreau and Delmas watch Glenda Leigh lay down a vocal track appropriately titled "Street in Manhattan". Delmas' cluttered apartment and the clean Press Agency also seem authentic. The brothel where the boys meet the blonde prostitute (Monique Hennessey) has an opulent French-Indochinese ambience. One particular diner interior was reportedly copied exactly from a scene in Melville's favorite picture, John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle. Considering that Melville was trying to capture a New York vibe in Paris, he succeeds fairly well. The acting of peripheral characters sometimes betrays the limited access to American talent. But all the key roles are well cast, especially the independent, wary, and intriguing women on Moreau's checklist.
Perhaps the procession of beautiful women was Melville's gesture toward box office appeal. We aren't surprised to learn that Two Men in Manhattan was not given a release in America. It doesn't fit neatly into any genre mold, and it is also a little too honest for the Production Code. Delmas is a true sleaze, sneaking nude photos of the burlesque top-liner. The scene with the lesbian secretary would have had to be removed in its entirety. And it's probable that neither the U.S. censors nor the public would have responded to the film's depiction of morality as a gradient, instead of a clear choice between good and evil: in 1960 many American audiences disapproved of Billy Wilder's The Apartment simply for acknowledging that 'good' people could become tangled in sordid affairs. When Jean-Pierre Melville returned to a crime subject, he made sure to include plenty of gunplay, double-crossing and ironic betrayals. This show's intrigues are refreshingly atypical, and its pulp noir characters are especially memorable. The surprisingly happy ending takes place in a street gutter at dawn, where a man rediscovers his lost code of loyalty.
The Cohen Film Collection's Blu-ray of Two Men in Manhattan is a clean HD encoding. The B&W production is formatted at 1:37 and often looks as if it could be cropped to a wider format. The jazzy soundtrack, partly by pianist-composer Marial Solal, establishes a proper pulp fiction mood. Solal also wrote and performed the jazz music heard in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless.
Film critics Jonathan Rosenblum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky discuss the picture in a spirited half-hour featurette. Rosenblum holds the Jean-Pierre Melville book by Ginette Vincendeau in his lap throughout the discussion. Ms. Vincendeau provides the disc's insert essay. She refers to the film's parade of Manhattan night women as an erotic tour of the city.
By Glenn Erickson
David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, recently released in its Sixth Edition (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), has been selected as the featured TCM "Movie News" book for August. It was voted the best film book of all time in a poll of international critics by Sight & Sound magazine, called "the finest reference book ever written about movies" by film columnist Graham Fuller and named by editor Tom Nissley as "the greatest bathroom book of all time." Thomson himself was hailed as "probably the greatest living film critic and historian" by Benjamin Schwarz, former literary and national editor for The Atlantic.
"I am touched and flattered," was Thomson's response to these accolades in a recent interview for TCM. He seems happy for readers to pick up his 1,154-page "Dictionary," no matter the location where they choose to leaf through it: "By the TV is common. Bedside, often. And, yes, a bathroom book. But I think since 1971 - when the book began as a project - our sense of the bathroom has developed a lot."
Composed as a series of career biographies/commentaries, the book makes for compulsive reading, and every entry yields examples of Thomson's imposing knowledge and wit, along with his flair for dead-on analysis and evocative language. He writes of Marilyn Monroe, the book's cover girl in a playful pose from Some Like It Hot, "If she sometimes resembled a sleepwalker, perhaps that showed how many dreams impelled her." James Franco, who has earned an entry in the latest edition, is described as "immensely sympathetic and entirely implausible." Thomson muses of Judy Garland's compassionate performances in The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born that "Perhaps she yearned to care for people; is that the vibrato always trembling in her voice?"
The Thomson wit can sting. He describes Lana Turner as being "close to the spirit of small-town waitresses ready to be picked up by a toothbrush salesman with a cousin in casting." Of Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal (1993), he writes that an undeveloped script left "time to see how far Redford resembled used wrapping paper." Still, the assessments - however subjective - are generally positive and often generous.
Previous editions of the book were published in 1975, 1980, 1994, 2004 and 2010. Along with Franco, the more than 100 new entries in the Sixth Edition include Amy Adams, Casey Affleck, Steve Coogan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Danes, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Shannon, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams.
Along with performers, the book offers looks at the careers of producers, writers, directors and other film artists and craftsmen.
In addition to new entries, Thomson revises existing biographies as various individuals add to their credits or are the subjects of rethinking by the author. In revising one biography, he notes wryly that "Updating Meryl Streep is always eventful." His summation: "It seems possible that she is troubled by her stature now... and she is, in a plain, decent way, someone much troubled by the world. Well, she has done her best with that dilemma, and she represents the best we will ever have."
In planning his revisions Thomson has been aided by Knopf editor Robert Gottlieb, who "opened my eyes to some '30s actors and actresses and to Japanese players." Re-evaluations included those for directors Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks: "I once underrated Lubitsch. I think now I am too kind to Hawks. But what this all adds up to is the need to keep seeing the classics and questioning them."
The first edition was a labor of love, and Thomson says now that he was not sure at the time that it would ever see publication. In the early 1970s, with no access to online sources of information and limited opportunities for seeing older films, research was laborious. "Literally, I spent hours and months in the BFI [British Film Institute] Library in London, making lists of credits from trade papers because filmographies simply didn't exist. Now there are databanks so the work is easier. But the databanks are not always accurate and often films depend on some people who are not in the credits. So knowing the inside stuff matters."
In that first edition Thomson wrote that the most important actors in film history were Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum and Barbara Stanwyck. Why? "Because they are actors who would probably not have 'worked' onstage, but who bring fantastic intelligence and personality to the camera. I think if you go back to the early '70s people were generally too much of the opinion that great acting has to be theatre. It can be. But there is great acting onscreen, too. Of course, some people are good at both."
The new edition includes many individuals who are better known for their work in television than in the world of feature films, and Thomson acknowledges that TV is producing some of today's most interesting film work. "I was always opposed to the snobbery towards TV," he notes. "And now we are in a golden age of television in which long-form series are generally far better than our theatrical movies. I think it was clear with Matthew McConaughey in True Detective that we were watching a movie event. I think Top of the Lake may be the best thing [director] Jane Campion has done."
Thomson dreams of a seventh edition "that is a complete rewrite of the whole book," though "various entities have to remain in business, or alive, for that to happen." He is now "at a point where I would love the chance to redo a lot of big entries, placing these people in a newer historical perspective - for example, Griffith, Eisenstein, Chaplin, Hawks, Hitchcock, Renoir, Godard. It is not that my feelings would be different, but I think the age I grew up in - of auteur appreciation - has shifted and by now business, technology and audience response mean more. I felt I was watching movies, but I see now that I was watching screens. There's a big difference and it doesn't bode well for the art of film."
As for the exact nature of the "Dictionary," he allows that "It's up to readers and reviewers to say what sort of book it is. For myself, I think it's a collection of genres: It is a reference book; it's a kind of critical history of film; it's a memoir; it's a book about the nature of careers; and it's even a kind of novel about someone writing this book."
Thomson, born in London, began seeing movies there "at the age of five, sitting on the knees of my parents. This was 1945, and I'm not sure whether the first film was Olivier's Henry V or a Lassie movie in which the dog is pursued by Nazis [Son of Lassie] . Whichever it was, I had to be taken outside because I was in tears at my emotional involvement - with burning pageboys in the Shakespeare film, and the plight of Lassie." By the age of eight he was going on his own to three theaters within walking distance, and asking strangers to take him into the theater if the film was rated so that children required adult company. "Sounds alarming now, but it was safe then," he observes.
As a youngster he had no particular ambition to write about films: "I was mainlining on fantasy." But by the time he was 14 or so his mother had become alarmed at the number of films he was seeing when he was "supposed to be doing homework in order to go to Oxford. So she made a bargain with me. If I insisted on seeing movies, then I had to write something about them. The fantasy rush had to be turned into respectable intellectual process." He began writing essays of about a hundred words each on certain films and presenting them to his mother.
Thomson eventually enrolled not at Oxford but in the London School of Film Technique. He continued his habit of thinking and writing about films and published his first book, Movie Man, in 1967. In addition to the various editions of the "Dictionary," he has written more than 30 other books including America in the Dark: Hollywood and the Gift of Unreality (1978), Hollywood: A Celebration (2001), "Have You Seen...?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films (2008), The Big Screen: The Story of Movies (2012) and Moments That Made the Movies (2013). He has published studies on such screen personalities as Warren Beatty, David O. Selznick, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Nicole Kidman, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and Bette Davis, along with such novels as Suspects (1985) and Silver Light (1990). His books about Beatty and Kidman incorporate elements of fiction, and the 1987 Beatty book alternates chapters with a Thomson novel, Desert Eyes. In the interview he notes that "I don't make much distinction between fiction and non-fiction, and I think I get that from movie-going. Movies seem to be about fact - the truth at 24 times a second - and yet they are dreams."
In addition to his books Thomson has contributed to The New York Times, Film Comment, Movieline and Salon. Currently, he writes regularly for The New Republic.
Thomson first visited the U.S. in 1973 and came here to live in 1975. He notes that he gets back to England "once a year, sometimes more," and thinks of himself as both English and American. He lives in San Francisco with his second wife, with whom he has two sons. He has three children by a first marriage who live in England, and three grandchildren - "so far." Earlier this year he was the recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award, named after the San Francisco exhibitor and presented to an individual or institution whose work "has enhanced the film-going public's appreciation of world cinema."
Because of his 1993 book Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, written with the cooperation of the Selznick family, Thomson was asked by executive producer Jeffrey Selznick to write the script for Turner Entertainment's The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind. He recalls that project as "one of the happiest times of my life - in the Selznick archive in Austin, Texas, working with Jeffrey and Danny Selznick, the two sons of David O. Selznick, and bringing this film to life - a full two-hour documentary that was shown on TNT in 1989, the 50th anniversary of GWTW."
How about Gone With the Wind itself, which he first saw in one of its re-releases when he was 12 or so? "Today, I think one has to be honest - the film has dated. Why not? Just as it's hard now to show The Birth of a Nation  without exploring our history, so GWTW is a portrait of attitudes to the South, the Civil War, to black life and so many other things that jar in the culture of 12 Years a Slave. That's just the way it is. I think if you are an historian of the movies you have to be ready to see and admit the way in which the culture moves on.
"It's an issue that faces TCM all the time. Yes, it's fun to enjoy the past, but you have to be able to see what is archaic, wrong and dangerous. Film tries to deal with reality but it has a constant urge to turn into fantasy. It's our duty to watch this and talk about it. By 2014, GWTW and The Birth of a Nation are epic achievements over which we need to have mixed feelings."
Thomson served as a Guest Programmer for TCM in 2007, when his film picks were Act of Violence (1949), Angel Face (1953), Mr. Arkadin (1955) and The Killing (1956). He watches the channel regularly and finds it "a treasury" that "offers the chance of filling holes" in his research. "I cherish TCM, and in my world I meet many people who live by it. I love the decision to run silent films and wish it would show more foreign stuff."
By Roger Fristoe
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By Peter Ackroyd
The Little Tramp--a down-on-his-luck, plucky imp in a dark suit and bowler--became one of the most beloved characters in the history of movies thanks to Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin's story spans from the early days of silent films, when filmmaking was often governed by a seat-of your-pants creativity, to the more controlled studio-era films of the Golden Age and into the 1960s, when the studios were on the brink of changing forever.
With The Little Tramp, Chaplin became one of the first icons of the silver screen, but that persona masked the story of the hard life he lived before fame and fortune came his way. From his humble theatrical beginnings in music halls to playing the violin in a New York hotel room to drown out the sound of Stan Laurel frying pork chops, to his long lunches with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Chaplin's story is one of heartbreak, scandal, and glamour.
This new biography turns the spotlight on Chaplin's life as well as his work. Ackroyd recounts Chaplin's early career successes and his constant fight for creative control, but also the peace and stability he found in his marriage to Eugene O'Neill's daughter, Oona. The book also explores in depth the events leading up to Chaplin's exile to Switzerland in 1953, and his triumphant return to Hollywood almost twenty years later to receive an honorary Academy Award.
Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning author whose books include London: The Biography, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination and Shakespeare: The Biography. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize among others.
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By Mark Bailey
Mark Bailey, with a vintage cocktail shaker firmly in hand, takes a look at Hollywood history from its early frontier days of silent filmmaking to the rule-breaking 1970s, and in the process whips up a frothy mixture of stories and lore about some of Tinseltown's most beloved actors, directors and screenwriters.
Humphrey Bogart got himself arrested for protecting his drinking buddies, who happened to be a pair of stuffed pandas. Barely legal Natalie Wood would only let Dennis Hopper seduce her if he provided a bathtub full of champagne. Bing Crosby's ill-mannered antics earned him the nickname "Binge Crosby." And sweet Mary Pickford stashed liquor in hydrogen peroxide bottles during the Prohibition.
Bite-sized biographies are followed by ribald anecdotes and memorable quotes. If a star had a favorite cocktail, the recipe is included. Films that fueled off-screen imbibing, such as Trader Horn, From Here to Eternity, and The Misfits, are featured. Also included are stories about the legendary watering holes of the stars--such as the Brown Derby and the Cocoanut Grove--and recipes for their signature drinks.
With Edward Hemingway's two-color celebrity portraits, here's a spirited package for anyone who wants to pull up a barstool and hear the stories, drink the drinks and visit the hotspots of classic Hollywood--and share some laughs along the way.
Mark Bailey is an author and Emmy-nominated screenwriter. His books include Tiny Pie, a children's book that features a pie recipe from renowned chef Alice Waters, and Hemingway and Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Bailey is currently writing Black Panther, a live-action feature based on the Marvel superhero. He lives in Los Angeles.
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By Charles Bennett and edited by John Charles Bennett
With a career that spanned from the silent era to the 1990s, British screenwriter Charles Bennett (1899-1995) lived an extraordinary life. His experiences as an actor, director, playwright, film and television writer, and novelist in both England and Hollywood left him with many amusing anecdotes, opinions about his craft, and impressions of the many famous people he knew. Among other things, Bennett was a decorated WWI hero, an eminent Shakespearean actor, and an Allied spy and propagandist during WWII, but he is best remembered for his commercially and critically acclaimed collaborations with director Sir Alfred Hitchcock. The fruitful partnership began after Hitchcock adapted Bennett's play Blackmail (1929) as the first British sound film. Their partnership produced six thrillers: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and Foreign Correspondent (1940).
In this witty and intriguing book, Bennett discusses how their collaboration created such famous motifs as the "wrong man accused" device and the MacGuffin. He also takes readers behind the scenes, offering his thoughts on Hitchcock's work, sense of humor, and personal life.
In the process, Bennett brings to life Hollywood's rich social life while focusing on those stars in the British colony and depictions of Great Britain during the mid-1930s. The book also features an introduction and additional biographical material from Bennett's son, editot John Charles Bennett.
Charles Bennett (1899-1995) was an actor, playwright, screenwriter and director. His screenwriting credits include the films listed above asa well as Forever and a Day (1943), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961).
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French filmmaker Robert Bresson was a bona fide artistic iconoclast. His ideas about cinema go directly against established narrative conventions. His most frequent theme investigates the notion of spiritual transformation, and his most successful films generate a sense of spiritual mystery. Critic Paul Schrader asserts that for him this transcendent emotional rush was a consciousness-raising, inspirational event. Most films accost us, asking for our involvement. Schrader says that Pickpocket instead recedes from the viewer into its own mystery. If we're intrigued, we move toward it. Many critics consider Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket to be his best.
Pickpocket's melancholy loner Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a close cousin to the director's soulful, suffering Diary of a Country Priest. Vaguely referencing a philosophy about privileged 'supermen', Michel considers himself too special to work like others. He cultivates an interest in public sneak-thievery. His friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie) tries to understand Michel's odd behavior, as does Jeanne (Marika Green), a neighbor of his mother. Michel falls into league with two accomplices led by a particularly talented pickpocket (Kassagi). He is perversely intent on pursuing his criminal life, which can only end in one way.
We tend to champion mainstream film directors that profess a strong personal vision. Robert Bresson takes his ideas about cinema theory to an extreme. He has no use for movie stars, or even professional actors. As has been repeated in almost every review of a Bresson film, the director refers to his on-screen talent as 'models' and insists that they be non-actors. He asks his cast to behave without expression or theatrics, and employs special techniques to prevent them from performing in an expressive manner. If a 'model' says his line with too much emphasis or meaning, the shot is re-taken as many times as Bresson feels are necessary to 'deaden' the performance into a rote, neutral delivery.
Bresson does not want his actors to project their personalities, but to serve only as a conduit for his thesis. Alfred Hitchcock sometimes talked about using actors as posed 'objects' for his visual schemes, but for the most part he depended on star personalities to bring his films to life, to establish an emotional contact with his audience. Bresson's aims are far less commercially oriented. He controls his actors as a writer chooses words, to connect with the audience only on his terms. No psychological explanation is offered for Michel's behavior. Michel mumbles a few unconvincing words about Nietzschean supermen existing above the common morality, but Pickpocket doesn't fit human behavior into a cause-and-effect dramatic pattern. Michel is essentially as unknowable as strangers we see on the street.
Pickpocket presents realistic people in naturalistic locations -- drab rooms, metro platforms, a racetrack. Sitting in his tiny room, Michel seems absorbed by a vague discontent. When in public he's unable to commit to a few minutes of civility with his friends. He behaves as if he wants someone else to take responsibility for his existence, to change his life. Jeanne looks at him in a maddening way: interested? Neutral? To get a reaction Michel must feed her suspicions about himself. "How do you think I live without a job?" About the only thing we really know about Michel is that he's an egotist, unaware that people around him also feel trapped in their own skins.
Bresson breaks standard narrative conventions, so that we will take nothing for granted. Music is not scored to enhance the drama. Editing rhythms are slower than normal, and cuts don't happen when we expect them to. Shots are naturalistic but actions are not. Michel and his friends move as if employing a conscious act of will to do simple things like turn around, or look in a certain direction. They tend to stare without blinking, as if they were Pod people not quite comfortable in human bodies.
Bresson aim is to get beyond the 'movie experience' so as to involve the viewer more deeply. We're accustomed in films to casually identify with wrongdoers. We project our own thoughts and judgments onto Michel. He's not that different from us. Do Bresson's 'blank' characterizations function as a mirror for the viewer?
The film presents the actions of the pickpockets as strange ritualized behavior, performed like magic. Bresson uses precise, clear camera angles to show Michel first practicing sneak-thief work in his room and then performing it in public. Using the sleight-of-hand skills of professional magician and sleight-of-hand expert Kassagi, we see pickpocket 'touches' carried off both singly and in coordinated attacks. When Kassagi works in concert with Michel and a third man, they're like invisible angels, lifting wallets and rifling purses with magical skill. Is this what Michel wants, to be a phantom presence, moving among ordinary people but existing on a higher level? If so, Michel fails badly. When he prowls on his own in a racetrack crowd, Michel makes eye contact with his victims, seemingly telegraphing his intentions. We feel sure that the victim must be aware of him. Is Michel trying to be caught?
Michel's thievery provides him with the illusion of an identity free of outside control. Yet his struggle to exist independent of other people brings him more fear and doubt. Michel seems capable of appreciating another person only after losing his liberty. Much is made of the climactic scene, with its sudden reversion to conventional directorial tactics: the camera moves sharply forward to heighten an embrace. The final voice-over line is an emotional release for the audience. Yet Bresson holds back here as well -- Michel speaks the final lines as if he were narrating his life in the past tense.
Pickpocket isn't as pessimistic as Bresson's later Au hazard Balthazar and L'argent. For some it elicits strong religious feelings, as does the director's Diary of a Country Priest. The void at the center of Michel's life seems to call out for the guidance of faith, and some aspects of the final shot validate this interpretation. It is said that Robert Bresson's characters want to transcend the limits of reality, to attain some greater truth. Does Michel experience transcendence? Or does he succeed simply by making a meaningful contact with Marika?
Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Pickpocket improves on a very good DVD from 2003, with a sharper and more stable image. The soundtrack seems even more subtle and intimate. Bresson uses lesser-known classical music to strong effect behind his titles and sometimes during pickpocket sequences. The emotion-laden music cue the finish would seem to break with the director's avowed rules of engagement.
Repeated from the earlier edition, disc producer Kate Elmore's extras offer is a variety of viewpoints on Bresson's methods and theories. James Quandt's commentary is a formal analysis that holds the film in proper reverence while pointing out its endless parade of oddities. Quandt notes the apparent disconnect between Michel and his voiceover. He also notes that everything in the movie seems organized in symmetrical pairs -- trips to the racetrack, talks to the policeman, etc. The articulate Robert Bresson speaks on an old French television show; our own Paul Schrader provides a video interview explaining how Bresson inspired him to become a filmmaker. All of these witnesses (even Bresson, to some extent) seem privy to a miracle, the essence of which cannot be communicated through speech.
A pleasant TV docu tracks down all three of Pickpocket's 'model' actors, proving that human beings did indeed make the movie. Leading actor Martin La Salle is found living and working in 'obscure fame' in Mexico City. Actress Marika Green also appears in a Q&A session from a 2000 screening. Not to be missed is a French television show excerpt, in which the illusionist Kassagi performs marvelous magic tricks like eating razor blades. He also shows off his pickpocket skills, which are genuinely incredible.
By Glenn Erickson
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The Criterion Collection's prime function is making great filmmakers accessible to the home video audience. Their new dual-format disc set The Essential Jacques Demy contains excellent restorations of the marvelous French director's best films. Always a loner exploring new avenues of music and romance, Demy's work will delight fans of his international success The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Jacques Demy is not categorized as a French New Wave filmmaker, but his Lola (1961) has the look of a Nouvelle Vague feature. It was filmed mostly with available light on location in the seaport of Nantes, with all audio dubbed in post-production. The B&W Franscope images slowly build a dizzying tangle of romantic relationships that center on the handsome but aimless Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) and a singer and bar hostess, Lola (Anouk Aimée). Roland meets an attractive widow (Elina Labourdette) in a bookstore, and offers advice to her daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux). Roland encounters Lola and soon falls in love, but the timing isn't right. Lola spends the night with an American sailor friend, yet is saving her heart for a long-lost love that abandoned her with child seven years ago.
In Lola fate takes the form of accidental meetings, which happen easily in an ornate courtyard shopping arcade frequented by most of the characters. All of the lovers have histories of mistakes and broken hearts, but none of them realize that their personal stories are part of a larger, repeating pattern. Lola would rather wait for her dream lover to return than commit to Roland. When young Cécile is taken to a fun fair by Lola's sailor friend and falls madly in love with him, she's unaware that the exact same thing happened to her mother, and Lola as well. Jacques Demy is reminding us that our romantic experiences are private, yet shared by all.
Despite the gray realism of the cinematography, fantasy elements slip in. Sailors dance and drink at Lola's nightclub, where every working girl has a heart of gold. Cécile is barely in her teens, but we see her enraptured by love and ready to make a life-changing decision. 'Magical' timing brings people together and keeps them apart. Roland just misses an appointment for a job with a diamond smuggler, an accident that saves his skin. Appearing periodically through the picture is a tall man in a white Cadillac, who may hold the solution to several relationships.
Demy references other romantic movies as well. Elina Labourdette starred in the classic Les dames du Bois de Boulogne as a woman trapped in a sordid compromise; her character in Lola is determined to save her daughter from the same fate. Roland Cassard attends a matinee of Return to Paradise, in which Gary Cooper's sailor abandons his own daughter on the South Seas island of Matareva. When another character seeks to explain his long absence, he talks about being marooned on an isle called Matareva. Demy converts these previous movies into quasi-prequels.
Because its original negative was destroyed in a fire, the fine-quality restoration of Lola seen here is a genuine rescue job. Demy and his cameraman Raoul Coutard don't frequently film Anouk Aimée in extreme backlight, and she persists in looking ravishing even when the image is purposely overexposed. Criterion's extras include a 2012 interview with Ms. Aimée, another with Agnés Varda and four complete early films by Jacques Demy. One early student film points directly to what would later become the director's main theme: a young man wallows in self-pity after a romantic breakup.
Judging by the success of Lola director Demy had his pick of actresses for his next film. Bay of Angels (La baie des anges) features a remarkable performance by Jeanne Moreau as Jackie Demaistre, a serious gambling addict. Demy once again gravitates to the seaside, this time to the casinos of Southern France. Bored bank clerk Jean (Claude Mann) catches the gambling bug after winning half a year's pay in just a couple of hours. He meets and beds Jackie, an utterly charming but hopelessly corrupted devotee of the Roulette Wheel. Having left her ruined marriage behind, Jackie bounces erratically from city to city and also from man to man. Both she and Jean have excellent luck. Jean finds out what it is like to buy expensive clothes and dine at the most exclusive eateries.
But the troubled Jackie doesn't know when to quit, and loses money almost as fast as she wins it. When he first sees her, in fact, she's being ejected from a casino for attempting to steal chips. The practical Jean averts disaster more than once by announcing that he's held some cash in reserve. Jackie soon loses track of whose money is whose, and simply assumes that he'll give her everything he's got.
Other directors' movies about gambling addicts almost always end in tragedy. At first Bay of Angels makes winning a lot of money seem a possible way to make a living. But the emptiness of the lifestyle comes through as well. When he meets her, Jackie has nothing left except the clothes on her back. She talks about redeeming the jewelry she's pawned but keeps returning to the tables instead. The longer Jean stays with her, the more she revises her backstory to align with the truth, rather than the face-saving lies she told him on meeting.
Demy's direction of one of France's top stars is flawless. Just as notable is his refusal to criticize or condemn the unpredictable Jackie, no matter how reckless or abusive she becomes. Jean accepts her for what she is, and sticks with her. They're a remarkable couple; even if their lifestyle seems wholly unsustainable. The movie is a fascinating peek at a curiously detached existence.
Criterion's extras emphasize Jacques Demy's appeal to potential actresses, as the usually calm Jeanne Moreau enthusiastically endorses him in an old television interview. Instead of choosing mainstream work, Demy concentrated on expressing his romantic themes. His main collaborator would be the composer of the music for his first two films, Michel Legrand.
1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) is the movie that put Demy on the map. In America it has been rediscovered by succeeding generations of French language students, in the same way that The Red Shoes inspires budding ballerinas. French directors admire American musicals but only Demy has found success adapting the highly artificial genre to his own temperament. A fully sung jazz operetta, the movie's soundtrack had to be finessed and recorded before filming took place, so that Demy's non-singing actors could lip-synch to the lyrics. Michel Legrand's music is nothing less than enchanting, and his main romantic tune is still an instantly recognized standard. Adding to the film's legend is its 'discovery' of Catherine Deneuve, one of the most enduring of French stars.
For his first film in color Demy adopts an extravagant visual style, even though most of the film was made in a realistic setting, the port of Cherbourg. Just as in an MGM musical, bright primary colors are everywhere and costumes and props are carefully matched to the sets. Yet the story Demy tells is not an escapist fantasy. Umbrella shop girl Geneviève and mechanic Guy (Catherine Deneuve & Nino Castelnuovo) fall madly in love but are forced to separate when he's called up for military duty in Algeria. When she becomes pregnant and Guy's letters stop coming, Geneviève's practical mother (Anne Vernon) insists that she accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy diamond merchant. An undefeatable Great Love seems doomed to tragedy, as Geneviève realizes that she's just another victim in the world's oldest story.
The film surprised audiences everywhere. The format takes just a few seconds to win us over. Because the entire movie is sung to music, there are no awkward transitions between normal dialogue scenes and musical numbers. As in West Side Story we don't mind hearing people sing instead of talk in completely realistic backgrounds, such as an auto repair garage. Unlike West Side Story, the romantic fantasy flows, without stylistic breaks for ordinary scenes.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg puts some audiences through an emotional wringer. The lovers' farewell at a rainy train depot fully conveys the desire to die rather than be separated, when two years seems an eternity. But Geneviève and Guy have already succumbed to their passion in a scene that of powerful visual symbolism. The inevitability of it all is expressed when they drift in the direction of Guy's house, without walking. The lovers know where they'll end up, and the film simply cuts to static images of the path to Guy's bedroom.
The bright colors seem to depart for the later chapters, when reality forces Geneviève to betray her love. It's at this point that Umbrellas takes the leap into Jacques Demy's world of 'romantic relativity'. The cool diamond merchant sees and wants Geneviève, and maneuvers himself into a proposal as if conducting a smooth business negotiation. He's none other than Roland Cassard from Lola, played again by Marc Michel. Roland's music cue returns as well. Having lost the love of his life, Roland found his calling in the diamond trade and is more or less shopping for a wife and family on his own terms. He's sincere but cool, and by no means the same broken-hearted man who moped around Nantes. As Roland tells Geneviève's mother about Lola, we suddenly see that ornate shopping arcade again, this time in color.
We spend the rest of the movie dreading what will happen when Geneviève and Guy meet again, for each has betrayed the other. Demy and Legrand have such control over the film's emotional flow that the snowy climax of Umbrellas achieves an impact equal to that of a classic opera.
The extras grant us a full appreciation of how difficult it must have been for Demy and his designers to build a stylized reality from scratch. Demy and Legrand timed out the entire movie soundtrack in advance, leaving room for stage business and transitions. It's amazing that the final action and performances never seem locked into a rigid pattern. Several interviews cover the making of the show. Ms. Deneuve underwent a full makeover to become the film's blonde, virginal Geneviève, a change that she initially resisted. Only a director like Demy could inspire such trust.
1967's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) spreads the musical-cinematic ideas of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg across a larger canvas and adds the dimension of dance. Its multiple romances play out similarly to Lola: when a music & dance company comes to Rochefort for a big boat and recreation show, a dozen potential lovers criss-cross in the streets, almost making the right romantic connections. Every line of dialogue is sung to Michel Legrand's music score and all the stage business is choreographed. Demy's newest collaborator is Hollywood's own Gene Kelly.
This time the tone is light and breezy. Show dancers Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale) must find replacements when their female counterparts decide to run off with sailors. Enter the Garnier twins, ballet teacher Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and piano teacher Solange (Françoise Dorléac). Delphine is breaking up with the owner of an art gallery who displays a painting by young soldier Maxence (Jacques Perrin) that looks just like Delphine. Maxence has never met Delphine but he does know her mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), and tells her that he's searching the world for the feminine ideal represented in his painting. Yvonne pines for the lover she spurned ten years before for frivolous reasons. He's Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), who's just returned to Rochefort thinking that Yvonne's long gone to Mexico. Simon is soft on Solange, but she wants to go to Paris to meet successful composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). Add to that several other characters whose random destinies hinge on chance encounters in Rochefort's charming streets, and it's hard to tell who will end up with whom.
The film's ambition seems to be to revive and develop Hollywood's abandoned tradition of MGM musicals. Every scene has at least one song, and even more combine singing with dancing -- lots of dancing. The leading characters dance on the street, in hallways, just about everywhere. The twenty or so squeaky-clean show dancers do large-scale numbers in every open space in town.
The lengthy Rochefort eventually wears us out. Michel Legrand's music has energy and style but is short on truly memorable melodies. There are also talent issues, in that the non-singing actors can be dubbed but they can't become real dancers overnight. Thus pros like George Chakiris, Grover Dale and Gene Kelly rein in their skills, while the gorgeous sisters Deneuve and Dorléac seem stretched beyond their abilities. They move well and have grace to spare, but are no match for the pro dancers around them. Yet they're a knockout in shimmering crimson dresses, in a dance modeled after Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe's big number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Demy's charming screenplay is more than a little quirky. For several characters romantic Nirvana is just a chance meeting away. All subsist on their romantic dreams. Most of the older generation must live with bad decisions in their past. Yvonne told Simon she was pregnant with his child but left with another man to live in Mexico -- because she didn't like his name. In contrast to the mix 'n' match sweetness of most of the proceedings, a bizarre tangent surfaces about an axe-murderer. The weird subplot is treated as no big deal, yet has two songs associated with it.
Criterion has located vintage interviews with Demy and his collaborators, as well a TV show about the making of the film. Also included is Agnés Varda's retrospective documentary The Young Girls Turn 25. Sadly, co-star Françoise Dorléac was killed in a car accident not long after the premiere.
1971's Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne) takes Jacques Demy in a new direction. It's again a musical, a faithful adaptation of a classic Perrault fairy tale with a conclusion very much like Cinderella. Told in simple terms yet given an eccentric spin, Demy and composer Michel Legrand's show is often hilarious but never disrespectful. It was intended for all ages, although today's PC-minded parents might object to the story's main conflict as unsuitable for children. Part of the charm of Donkey Skin is Demy's refusal to soften elements of the original fairy tale. It stars the perfect fairy tale princess Catherine Deneuve.
A happy kingdom despairs when its Blue Queen falls ill: she makes her husband The Blue King (Jean Marais of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) promise to remarry only when he finds someone more beautiful than she. Pressured to produce a male heir, the King discovers that his own daughter, the Princess (Deneuve) is the only woman more beautiful than her mother. Confused, the Princess is willing to marry her father because she indeed loves him. But the opinionated Fairy of the Lilacs (Delphine Seyrig) counsels that one mustn't confuse two different kinds of loves. She has the Princess stall her father with demands for the making of three fabulous dresses. When the King still insists on marriage, the Princess asks a price that the Fairy is convinced he won't pay -- the skin of the King's magic donkey, which produces not manure but gold and jewels. But to the Princess's horror, her father makes the sacrifice and delivers the donkey skin. Now the Princess has no choice but to run away.
To our surprise, the incest theme in Donkey Skin turns out not to be a problem. As Demy and a collection of psychologists explain in the disc's interview extras, when young girls are asked who they want to marry, many will say, "Daddy". The story also includes a wealth of amusing details unlikely to surface in a Disney-fied fairy-tale adaptation. The sight off the 'Royal Donkey' defecating gold coins and rubies is hilarious, as is an obnoxious crone character that literally spits toads. Told that anyone whose finger fits into a tiny ring can become the bride of the handsome Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin), ladies and maids boil the fat off their fingers or whittle them down with knives.
Demy's fairy tale land is designed and constructed with remarkable taste, making the movie highly enjoyable just on the visual level. The servants in the Blue Kingdom are literally blue, as are their horses. The hairstyles are ornate and the three magic dresses are impressively designed. The 'dress like the weather' appears to have clouds flowing across its folds. Michel Legrand's songs carry playful lyrics that criticize the characters. When the Princess disguises herself as a ragged peasant in the forest, the villagers sing lyrics about how filthy she is. Te lovers' duet has words almost as silly as their instant affection. The story works its way to a logical conclusion without hyping the Perrault original. It turns out that the Lilac Fairy had a secondary motive in not allowing the King to marry his own daughter. His arrival on a 'magical' transport never fails to get a laugh.
Demy planned for years to make 1982's Une chambre en ville, an original opera for the screen that takes a much darker direction than his earlier work. This time his musical collaborator is Michel Colombier, who provides duets much more like traditional opera than Michel Legrand's more playful jazz themes.
A terrific B&W opening scene sees striking shipyard workers in Nantes of 1955 squaring off with riot police, and exchanging chanted lyrics in a call & response pattern. When the police charge the film suddenly cuts to color. The strike then becomes a background for the problems of François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), who argues with his wealthy landlady 'Baroness' Margot's Langlois (Danielle Darrieux). Guilbaud has decided that his faithful and adoring girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon) bores him, but he goes crazy for Edith Leroyer (Dominique Sanda), a runaway wife. To spite her impotent husband Edmond (Michel Piccoli), Edith has taken to prowling the streets for lovers, wearing only a long mink coat. Guilbaud discovers that Edith is actually Margot's estranged daughter. Violette is expecting a marriage proposal, not knowing that Guilbaud has instantly committed himself to Edith; while the insanely jealous Edmond threatens to kill Edith with a straight razor.
Une chambre returns us to the city (and shopping arcade) of Lola, adding story elements from Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Just like Genevìeve and Guy, Guilbaud meets Violette after work, but their relationship is one of discord. The strike situation seems to throw everything off-kilter, as Guilbaud chooses this time to argue with Margot and dump poor Violette, and the unbalanced Edith walks the streets looking for a way to escape a husband she's grown to loathe. It's no wonder that audiences didn't respond, as the film's mood is cheerless and there's nobody to root for. The movie is a highly personal effort by Demy, yet its meaning is elusive -- the impressively executed 'musical riot' scenes fail to connect with the overheated personal tragedy. The troubles don't let up until one person is beaten to death and two others have committed suicide.
In the extras we learn that a group of French critics took out ad space in newspapers to ask the public to give Une chambre en ville a chance. But the film didn't find an audience. Looking at it now, restored to visual perfection, in stereo sound, we admire Demy's clear storytelling. The strike-oriented material comes off very well, with the violent standoff in the streets playing like Les misérables in miniature.
The extras let us know that Demy wanted to film Une chambre en ville right after Donkey Skin, but he couldn't secure his dream cast of Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu and Simone Signoret. Richard Berry does well as the confused Guilbaud, but Dominique Sanda only seems freakish as the sexually deranged Edith.
The extras finish off with two impressive documentaries. James Quandt analyzes Demy's style and themes with a multitude of visual observations in Jacques Demy, A to Z. Agnés Varda's feature-length ode to her husband, The World of Jacques Demy illustrates Demy's life and work with many stills and movie clips.
The Criterion Collection's delightful Dual-Format Edition Blu-ray + DVD set The Essential Jacques Demy is a treasure of impressive filmmaking and entertainment. The director's work has held up better than that of many of his contemporaries.
The boxed set also celebrates Agnés Varda's decades-long mission to restore Demy's pictures to their original color and sound. The delicate colors make Umbrellas, Young Girls and Donkey Skin pop off the screen, and new stereo mixes are in place. Each title except Donkey Skin comes with a trailer and four of the titles have restoration demonstrations.
Criterion producer Kate Elmore's 68-page insert booklet contains essays on the films by Terrence Rafferty, Ginette Vincendeau, Anne E. Duggan, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Geoff Andrew, and Berthomé.
By Glenn Erickson
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Criterion's impressive Videodrome disc includes a clip from a 1982 TV talk show featuring a gathering of four then-hot young horror film directors: John Carpenter, John Landis, Mick Garris and David Cronenberg. Of the four only Cronenberg appears eager to discuss and analyze screen horror; he alone seems fascinated by the genre. Of course, we realized long before that the Canadian director was a wild card maverick. From Shivers (They Came from Within) forward, each won wide distribution, probably due to a highly commercial "ick" factor.
Cronenberg attracted quality collaborators despite being tagged as a maker of 'gynecological horror'. Shivers brought Barbara Steele back to the screen at a time when many fans thought she had retired. The Brood had Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. Even the relatively primitive Shivers has a meaningful premise, intelligently worked out; Cronenberg's pictures are disturbing because of their unblinking attitude to the fact of our alienation from our own physical bodies. Most of us are repelled by our bodily functions, as we're culturally trained to think of ourselves as spiritual beings made in God's image. Gothic horror often touched upon the idea that we have a bestial quality that needs to be repressed. Cronenberg motivates his horrors with out-of-control (or purposely perverse) science. In one show, an artificially created organ behaves like a venereal disease. Another 'custom appendage' turns its owner into a sexual vampire. An experiment that externalizes psychological traumas causes a woman to give birth to monstrous creatures that carry out her subconscious desires. None of these ideas fall within the boundaries of common Good Taste.
1981's Scanners became Cronenberg's breakout hit. He successfully translates science fiction ideas about mental telepathy to the screen and does a fairly good job integrating them into a thriller about competing psychic supermen. Brian De Palma had scored a massive commercial hit with Carrie, a movie about a telepathic teen defending herself against bullies. His flashy but disorganized follow-up The Fury added little to the concept. Scanners starts from the basics and adheres closely to its own interior logic. It's genuinely scary, and not just an exercise for ostentatious gore.
Initial viewers of Scanners often got no farther than its biggest, genuinely shocking scene, a masterful bit of Guignol beautifully teased in trailers and TV spots: this is the movie where a guy's head explodes.
The story concerns shady experiments conducted in modern research companies. The ConSec Corporation has for years been nurturing a new breed of telepaths. Called 'scanners', they were originally created by Ephemerol, a drug given to pregnant women. Having lost contact with most of the scanners it has identified, ConSec has reason to believe that a competing entity is rounding them up for unknown, nefarious purposes. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) has a big problem with Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) a crazed scanner who has gone renegade, and is assassinating all the scanners he can find. With his psychic skills Revok easily penetrates ConSec security and kills the company's staff scanner researcher (Louis Del Grande). Dr. Ruth has the derelict scanner Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) kidnapped and brought to ConSec for his own safety. The homeless Vale is helped to control his 'talent' and clear his mind of unwanted telepathic chaos from normal people. Ruth then sends his disciple out to seek out Darryl Revok and put an end to his murderous interference. Dodging Revok's killer squads, Vale joins up with fellow threatened scanner Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill). But the opposition always seems to be waiting in ambush. Could there be some kind of double agent back at ConSec, acting on Revok's behalf?
The time-tested paranoid conspiracy thriller format provides Scanners with action and mayhem, enough to satisfy fans and fill out an exploitative trailer. What's amazing is that writer-director Cronenberg doesn't compromise his fairly cerebral story concept. The Fury disintegrated into a series of ever-sillier telepathic attacks and stylish set-pieces. A decade before that, George Pal's awkward The Power was a premature attempt at a similar story that lost itself in plot detours and confusing 'surreal' imagery. Cronenberg's flow of exciting ideas is never interrupted, and his nods to surrealism are more direct. In one scene, a critical discussion takes place inside a giant artwork of a human head.
The movie features a truly disturbing characterization in Darryl Revok, an incredibly dangerous guy capable of 'fogging men's minds' and imposing his will on their actions. As played by the arresting actor Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers), Revok is scary, plain and simple. He responded to ConSec's early scanner training by attempting to bore a hole through his skull with an electric drill. Revok effortlessly hijacks ConSec's demo presentation by mentally hiding his scanning talent. He seizes mental control of his host, and so strongly bombards the man's nervous system that his brain explodes.
Cronenberg then runs wild with his central idea, brilliantly incorporating ideas from classic science fiction. When we learn that Revok's conspiracy seeks to breed a new race of scanners, we may well imagine a plague of telepathic children similar to those of Village of the Damned. The world could be conquered overnight by a drug-altered new race of men, a thought that echoes back to H.G. Wells' original novel Food of the Gods.
"Better Living Through Drugs" was the optimistic slogan that too often turned the general population into a testing ground for modern day mad scientists. The parallel of Cronenberg's fictitious "Ephemerol" to the tragic real-life drug Thalidomide is just the kind of taste-challenged content that leads Scanners into Dangerous Idea territory. Most sci-fi / action thrillers soon abandon whatever ideas they might have in favor of chase scenes and random gunfire. Scanners instead leaps onto a new level of conceptual menace. Waiting in a doctor's office, Kim Obrist suddenly realizes that she's being scanned by an expectant mother's unborn fetus. The fear of the future is the fear of change, of progress, the fear that technology will make us obsolete. Marvelously rich in ideas, Cronenberg's fairly modest production is a core title in filmed science fiction.
The young director makes sure to give his already devoted horror fans what they've come for. Dick Smith's special makeup work delivers jarring, grotesque images that really grab one by the stomach. The detonation of Louis Del Grande's head breaks all the rules by going 'full visceral' -- no smoke or cutaways intrude to 'tastefully' hide anything. Michael Ironside's powerhouse acting adds immensely to the final showdown, as Revok practically turns his flesh inside out to concentrate on obliterating Cameron Vale, mind and body. Retreating into a Buddha-like trance, Vale's strategy appears to be a passive-aggressive surrender followed by a telepathic sneak attack. Cronenberg has shrewdly front-loaded his film with its strongest shock scene, which keeps his audience hanging in nervous suspense for the rest of the picture.
Scanners shows the director relying on good casting. Fan favorite Patrick McGoohan lends his heavyweight presence to the script's complex exposition about telepathy and ConSec. Michael Ironside is a disturbing new star as the genuinely frightening Revok. Pretty Jennifer O'Neal has an unexpectedly small role but carries her end well, especially in that scene in doctor's office. New York artist Stephen Lack fronts a good look as the lost soul learning about his own powers while playing the role of psychic detective. Unfortunately, too many of Lack's most important line deliveries are just not good. A genre effort like Scanners can skate over many flaws, but Lack's performance always stands out.
Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Scanners gives this sci-fi shocker a new lease on life. It and The Brood were previously released on mediocre DVDs by MGM. This new HD transfer works wonders with cinematographer Mark Irwin's slick cinematography, and flatters the expressive designs of art director Carol Spier. Howard Shore's menacing music track gets a boost as well.
The new disc has a wealth of desirable, illuminating extras. The substantial featurette The Scanners Way is a making-of piece with plenty of input from the actors and extra attention given to the film's special effects. Mental Saboteur is an interview with the riveting Michael Ironside, who is just as forceful when speaking to a docu camera. Ironside's comments and anecdotes pull us into his spell, which is only broken when he implies that his character was based on watching a real telekinetic person in action. The interview piece The Ephemerol Diaries presents Stephen Lack as an intelligent, engaged artist who met director Cronenberg in the New York art scene. Lack remembers the film with great affection.
Beyond approving the dark and rich film transfer, Cronenberg's input is limited to an extended interview on Canadian TV's The Bob MacLean Show. After only a few seconds listening to the director, one realizes that he's the real deal, a well-adjusted serious artist with the smarts to express himself and survive in the commercial film market.
Another disc highlight is the inclusion of David Cronenberg's first feature, Stereo. Structured like a research report, the 1969 film is the work of an art student making the most of limited resources. Freaky things are happening at a place called The Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry. The jargon-laden tech talk in the voiceover (the film's only audio) lets us know that eight volunteer subjects have undergone 'pattern brain surgery' to turn them into functioning telepaths. The film is an hour of thick pseudo-scientific ramblings, but writer Cronenberg's ideas are way, way ahead of the curve. We learn that a telepathic bond must have an emotional component, which is where the sexual element enters. The investigators choose one test subject to mentally dominate the others, in the hopes of establishing a functioning telepathic commune. Some of the 'submissive' telepaths erect fake "schizo-phonetic partitions" to prevent a takeover of their personal identities. Others agree to have their speech centers in their brains removed to make telepathy their only outlet for communication.
Cronenberg's visuals are vague representations of test subjects interacting. They're often little more than a background for the intense narration, a strategy that reminds us of the experimental German sci-fi 'anti-movie' Der große verhau. Yet Cronenberg manages some arresting images. A boy caresses a biology mannequin while a few feet away his topless and blindfolded girlfriend 'experiences' his pleasure by brainwaves alone. Test subjects carry ordinary baby pacifiers... to perhaps focus their erotic thoughts? The pacifier is visually compared to the "Ankh" symbol, and at one point we see a rebellious subject cutting a pacifier into pieces. When finally covered by Variety in 1984, the reviewer "Cart." acknowledged that Stereo was virtually unwatchable, yet instantly recognizable as the work of a talent with great promise.
Seeing Stereo gives us more reasons why David Cronenberg had so little in common with his horror-director contemporaries. Lost in his grisly domain of 'body politics', Cronenberg was definitely operating on his own plane of awareness, somewhere over the conceptual horizon.
A trailer and some radio spots are included. Criterion's insert booklet contains an essay by noted commentator and author Kim Newman. The disc's arresting cover art is by Connor Willumsen.
By Glenn Erickson
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The classic film packagers over at TCM once again find an interesting hook to organize their new DVD release TCM Vault Collection Dark Crimes Volume 2. Their first Dark Crimes set from 2012 combined three top-flight noir attractions, The Glass Key, Phantom Lady and The Blue Dahlia. The title mix in their sophomore outing is downright creative, placing two films each from Fritz Lang and William Castle back-to-back. Castle is of course the brain behind everyone's favorite horror matinee gimmicks. A hotshot who made his mark emulating Alfred Hitchcock and consorting with Orson Welles on Mexican locations for The Lady from Shanghai, Castle worked hard at Columbia and Universal trying to distinguish himself as a director. The amazingly talented Fritz Lang earned no popularity prizes in Hollywood but made consistently brilliant pictures. Sampled here is a slick wartime thriller written by Graham Greene, and a rare, strange genre hybrid. It might have been Lang's attempt to create a new kind of stylized musical-melodrama crime thriller.
TCM's new "Noir Czar" Eddie Muller is a known and respected figure in disc extras. He provides introductions for all four films, going strong on human interest and relevant history plus a little academic nugget or two on the side. Each disc also carries the TCM Vault Collection's expected battery of stills and ad artwork galleries, plus a text essay overview of the collection's aims.
Let's take Lang's pictures first, as both are from an earlier era. Paramount's You and Me (1938) surely confused audiences. After his two successful social outrage films Fury and You Only Live Once, this tale is not a life and death struggle with fate. Sylvia Sidney and George Raft play employees at the department store of Jerome Morris (Harry Carey), a do-gooder who hires ex-cons to give them a second chance at going straight. Raft's former jailbird friends get itchy ideas about committing more crimes, but he vetoes their plans, as he's secretly engaged to Sidney, who encourages him to stay on the straight and narrow. Raft's morale sinks when he discovers that Sidney is also an ex-thief, and that she wants to keep their marriage a secret because it violates her parole. Raft gets the gang together to knock off the very store where they work.
The tone is mostly light and sweet, with the two lovers sneaking an exchange of affection on the elevator. It's exactly the kind of 'nice guy' role Raft coveted, and he's not bad, even if the double standard by which his character regards Sidney now comes off as mildly objectionable. Lang has no problem presenting sweet characters but his direction just isn't attuned to 'soft & fuzzy' sentimentality. The various clownish ex-mobsters are amusing but never endearing, something that the movie really needs. Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone and Warren Hymer lead the pack of goons and misfits, with Barton MacLane as the racketeer who lets them take the risk so he can skim off the profit. Looking nothing at all like a criminal type is a very young Robert Cummings.
Understanding the angle that makes You and Me a terrific, unique experiment requires some additional information. Lang reportedly wanted Paramount to make a Mabuse- like adventure with sinister Nazis and Japanese spies trying to seize a new ray weapon that causes blindness. It would have been a genuine premature-Anti Nazi film. You and Me instead attempts another German genre hybrid, using the theatrical technique of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Songwriter Weill contributes three tunes to the film, which Lang described as "something like a song without music, built only on words and sound effects." The musical sequences are brilliantly visualized but not as melodic as those Weill did with Brecht. They come off almost as chants... or perhaps a kind of proto- rap.
Three times in the picture the narrative pauses for musical numbers that are more like music videos. The "Song of the Cash Register" is an ominous warning that "You can't get something for nothing / And only a chump would try." "The Right Guy for Me" underscores Sidney's commitment to her man, even though he's got a bad record. The most elaborate number is just called the "Knocking Song". At a happy Christmas party the ex-crooks remember their Christmas in prison with a rap-like ritual centered on the chant, "Stay with the mob!" Its sense of gangland solidarity seizes Raft just as he walks out on Sidney. During these musical sequences Lang cuts away to images both literal and associative. Some of the visuals are more inspired than others but his imagination is definitely moving into new cinematic territory. Would 1938 audiences have liked these scenes? Perhaps not, as their closest correlatives would be the experimental musical numbers of Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian and Busby Berkeley, all of which were more melodic, romantic -- and far lighter in tone.
Sylvia Sidney spent an entire decade as a living symbol of the Depression, forever the downtrodden victim of poverty or the heartbroken consort of crooks and losers. It's therefore nice that You and Me takes her through the same paces but finally gives her a happy ending to enjoy... she could finally retire that character. Ms. Sidney is the main attraction in the odd, strange finish where she proves that Crime Doesn't Pay via the Fritz Lang method, a demonstration - lecture that reminds us of the classic "M". The crook's raid on the department store is also staged more or less like the big burglary in "M", as an army of crooks suddenly appears to invade the premises.
Ministry of Fear was released just last year in a pricey Criterion special edition. TCM hasn't the depth of extras to offer but the movie itself is just as satisfying. We're told that Lang was enthusiastic to adapt Graham Greene's bizarre tale of espionage and guilt, about a convicted mercy-killer that must take on an enemy conspiracy. Only after Lang signed did he find out that the contract didn't allow him to change the script. He instead embellished every scene with his personal viewpoint. As the farfetched story involves crucial secrets hidden in a cake, a séance and a master spy killer whose day job is tailoring men's suits.
In place of Greene's traumatized wife-killer, the hero is a merely conflicted man freshly released from an asylum. He's also Ray Milland, and is so handsome and resourceful that the moral issues in the novel are left far behind. Penetrating a fake war relief charity, Milland falls in love with a refugee/charity worker (Marjorie Reynolds) and helps her brother (Carl Esmond) track down the spies. The main culprit is the mysterious Mr. Cost (Dan Duryea). Under Lang's crisp direction, Ministry of Fear ambles from one dynamic set piece to the next. Cameraman Henry Sharp pours on the atmosphere, making Hillary Brooke's medium look like a spirit of the dead, and enlivening a fairly generic confrontation scene in the tailor's shop with a clever use of mirrors. The finale is given a visual kicker with another subtle but effective visual trick, an understated gunshot killing suitable for the next generation of 'cool' espionage movies.
The 'no rewriting' clause may have been a trick to keep Lang from making a political statement. His film just previous is the masterpiece Hangmen Also Die!, about a complex anti-Nazi resistance & assassination conspiracy, that has definite communist sympathies. His immediate postwar Cloak and Dagger took an "unofficial" attitude toward both surviving Nazis and the genie-out-of-the-bottle atomic threat, and mysteriously lost its last reel before release.
Ministry of Fear is a much safer fantasy. Its strongest plus is the introduction of actor Dan Duryea to the noir universe. Starting as slimy villains in this and two more Fritz Lang films, Duryea would become an ambivalent bad / good guy noir hero in many late-'40s noirs.
Forever associated with his horror-meister persona for promoting his later chiller matinee pictures, William Castle was also a connoisseur of great filmmaking. His breakthrough came with the cheap but carefully directed When Strangers Marry, which seems a conscious attempt to replicate the camera style of Alfred Hitchcock. Castle made certain that that sleeper hit promoted him to the next rung of directing assignments. Interestingly enough, 1949's Undertow is the one title in this collection that doesn't have a special gimmick. It's an inexpensive picture for Universal despite having considerable location filming in Chicago. The non-star cast features the likeable Scott Brady as the leading man, and Castle or his producer augment the two leading ladies with several walk-on lookers that definitely turn heads. Add to that, the story and its unfolding are reasonably intelligent for this level of genre fare. Undertow generates its share of excitement and has nothing to be ashamed of.
Ex-serviceman Tony (Scott Brady) was once in the gambling rackets in Chicago. He uses his military pay to buy a half interest in a resort, to start a new life and to help out his new partner, the father of a best buddy killed in action. In Reno he meets Danny (John Russell), an old associate from the Windy City who now runs a crooked casino. Tony tells Danny that he's returning to Chicago to propose to his old girlfriend Sally (Dorothy Hart). He no sooner arrives than he's wanted for the murder of the present-day gambling kingpin, Sally's uncle. Tony realizes that he's been set up and knows that his old associates will be against him. He contacts Danny for help and tells Sally to hang on. Pursued by detective Reckling (Bruce Bennett), another old friend, Tony looks up Ann (Peggy Dow), a schoolteacher he met on the plane from Reno. Can he stay alive long enough to find out who framed him?
Undertow has no special hook yet generates its fair share of suspense. We don't know exactly how to take Tony, as he is chummy with racketeers and cops alike, and is perhaps a little too willing to put the sweet Ann into the path of danger. Castle's direction makes good use of locations to open up the film. Lacking the resources for a spectacular finish, he uses a long corridor as an atmospheric place to stage the final confrontation. The script makes good use of the murdered kingpin's enormous black bodyguard Gene (Dan Ferniel) as an instrument of justice. Gene is almost like Chandler's Moose Malloy -- he nearly kills the hero and then apologizes when he finds out Tony is innocent.
Leading ladies Dorothy Hart and Peggy Dow make a nice contrast; the film would be more memorable had the screenwriters thought to give them a scene or two of their own to size each other up or perhaps become as violent as the men. In for about twenty seconds is a handsome newcomer in his first walk-on role, Roc (Rock) Hudson. His main contribution is to drink some water out of a paper cup. You can bet that Hudson's agent was working hard for his client.
Castle's intense interest in Tinseltown history becomes evident in the interesting Hollywood Story, a murder mystery that references the murder (not by name) of director William Desmond Taylor in the early 1920s. The historical crime took place in a bungalow apartment on Alvarado Street and involved booze, drugs, compromised starlets and an outrageous studio/LAPD cover-up. The fallout from the ensuing scandal contributed to the storm of outrage that brought the censors down hard on the licentious excesses of the new 'company town'.
In Castle's version the dead director is called Franklin Ferrara; it's implied that he directed the classic Phantom of the Opera. Agent Mitch Davis (Jim Backus) makes a deal for Broadway producer Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte) to move into the National Artists Studio (actually Charlie Chaplin's semi-abandoned studio on La Brea Avenue. Seeing the bungalow where Ferrara was murdered, Larry decides to turn the case into a movie, which stirs up a long-dormant hornet's nest. The old time suspects are movie stars Amanda Rousseau and Roland Paul (Paul Cavanaugh), and Ferrara's close associate Charles Rodeo, who disappeared shortly thereafter and was rumored to be related to the director. Larry's moneyman Sam Collyer (Fred Clark) withdraws his support and just as suddenly decides to keep backing the Ferrara movie. Police detective Lennox (Richard Egan) drops by to remind Larry that no unsolved murder case is ever closed. Larry finds Ferrara's favorite writer Vincent St. Clair (Henry Hull) living at the beach as a bum, and hires him. But after somebody tries to shoot Larry, Amanda's daughter Sally Rousseau (Julia Adams) shows up and implores him to stop the movie to preserve Amanda's privacy -- she was Ferrara's lover. Thinking that he must solve the crime to finish his movie, Larry helps Lennox spring a trap for the main suspect. But it soon becomes clear that more than one of his new associates could have been the killer.
Castle's fairly novel approach to a Hollywood mystery pulls together some old-time stars (Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum & Helen Gibson) for a brief scene. But the movie never forms its own myth from film history as did Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett's Sunset Blvd.. It instead, has the spirit of walking around an old movie lot with someone who can point out evidence of pictures that were filmed there -- in 1950 an insider like Castle had probably heard every bit of gossip about every corner of every studio -- which were mostly still intact. Castle's interest in Old Hollywood extended to his later The Tingler which takes place in a silent movie theater showing Henry King's 1921 Tol'able David.
The movie takes us out to Santa Monica and along the Sunset Strip, but stops short of giving us a full tour of Hollywood circa 1950. Richard Conte provides the crime movie connection, Fred Clark and Jim Backus are comedy relief, and Henry Hull actually has an interesting role to play as an eccentric, normally unemployable writer. William Castle keeps the story busily humming at all times, even if we never feel an imminent crisis coming on. And you can bet that future producer Castle sweet-talked the amiable Joel McCrea into playing himself in a brief scene with Paul Cavanaugh.
After a series of small parts in ten pictures over little more than a year, Julia Adams finally stepped up to leading lady status. From this point forward she found featured roles opposite many stellar leading men. Hollywood Story did not become a part of Hollywood lore, and William Castle wouldn't get a taste of real industry success until 1958's Macabre, a horror effort that he ballyhooed with a life insurance policy for every theater patron.
The DVD of TCM Vault Collection Dark Crimes Volume 2 splits its four films by director on two discs, with the extras discussed above accessible through a fast menu. The 1938 You and Me shows more age than the other pictures but is still in fine shape. Ministry of Fear and Hollywood Story also look to be in prime condition. Undertow would seem to be a slightly older transfer, and is less sharp with a flatter image.
Looking as vibrant and fresh as ever, Julia Adams appears in a new interview appended to Hollywood Story. Each film is fully encoded with English subtitles.
By Glenn Erickson
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Film history is filled with legends and stories of what could have been great (or at least interesting) films but were never made for one reason or another. Such projects are all potential, giving fans the chance to dream of masterpieces that could have been without having to face the reality of compromise and transformation that happens in the real world of production. The documentary of the film that was never made is something of a recent phenomenon. Films like It's All True, based on an unfinished film by Orson Welles (1993), Lost in La Mancha (2002) (about Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote), and Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009) mourn what could have been but there is also something romantic in these grand, unrealized visions, of the filmmaker as Don Quixote taking on the studio windmills.
Few dreams are as grand as the adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune that was developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the creator of El Topo (1970), the original midnight movie, and The Holy Mountain (1973), two movies that mix myth, spiritualism, primal violence, and surreal imagery. These low budget films were underground success stories, playing to small but passionate audiences and achieving cult status, and Jodorowsky planned to follow them up with an epic far bigger and more ambitious than anything he had ever attempted before.
Jodorowsky's Dune, a documentary by veteran producer and first-time director Frank Pavich, recounts the development of and creative energy behind this unlikely project with an enthusiasm that can't help but excite viewers. Most of that enthusiasm comes from Jodorowsky himself, who was well over 80 years old when he was interviewed for the film yet brings a hearty energy and youthful excitement to his description of the project and remembrance of the creative development that spanned years through the 1970s, an era that was charged with the idea of the director as artist and star in his own right. Jodorowsky is a spellbinder of a storyteller and it's hard not to get caught up in the thrill of the vision he spins of his dream adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, which Jodorowsky latched onto without even reading it first. With his track record of two cult movies, he and his producer, Michel Seydoux, managed to option the novel that Herbert would not sell to Hollywood.
With his artistic idealism and beaming smile (the man lights up with creative energy whenever he starts describing his vision of the film), Jodorowsky's enthusiasm is intoxicating and it's easy to see how he attracted such a passionately loyal and dedicated team of collaborators--his "warriors," as he called them--along the way, including artists Jean "Moebius" Girard, H.R. Giger, and Chris Foss and special effects designer Dan O'Bannon. Many of these collaborators have passed away but Pavich was able to interview producer Seydoux (who reconnected with Jodorowsky during the filming and ended up producing his new film, The Dance of Reality), artists Giger (who died before the documentary was completed) and Foss, and O'Bannon's widow Diane O'Bannon, and he found archival interviews with O'Bannon discussing his work. The detail they add to Jodorowsky's account is terrific, but the excitement that the very memory of the project brings out in them is testament to the inspiration of Jodorowsky's vision and leadership.
If Pavich gets caught up in the dreams of the Jodorowsky and his warriors and the hyperbole of commentators like directors Richard Stanley (Hardware) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), filmmakers who proclaim the project so visionary that Hollywood was scared of the possibilities, he at least gives voice to the more measured response of the studios through Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz. Any practical look at the project finds a rickety foundation built on promises rather than contracts (he secured actors Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali on nothing more than a handshake), a budget insufficient to meet the scope of Jodorowsky's ideas, and elaborate special effects beyond anything Hollywood would accomplish for years to come. And that doesn't even address Jodorowsky's utter dismissal of studio concerns of his ability to create a commercial film for the millions of dollars he was asking for. He was ready to make a 12-hour epic if that's what his muse demanded. It makes him something of a mad genius, unwilling to compromise even on the length of the film, and feeds into the flip-side of the cliché of the money-grubbing studio interested only in the bottom line: the artist who "deserves" millions of dollars from the studios to create his vision and owes nothing in return.
What's most interesting is not that the project failed to get made but that it got as far as it did. Jodorowsky and Pavich let us revel in the conceptual art, costume and character designs, storyboards, musical concepts and other elements that Jodorowsky pulled together for his presentation. We get to see an art movie of a space opera with a spiritual message and a mad poetry to its execution. Rather than treat this as a wake for a stillborn film (as many of the interview subjects do), Jodorowsky celebrates the entire endeavor as a creative effort worth pursuing for its own sake, something that inspired ideas that he later incorporated in other projects. Pavich overstates the case of the unmade project's influence on subsequent films and offers no evidence that George Lucas or Ridley Scott ever saw the grand production book that supposedly spawned ideas in Star Wars and Blade Runner, but he is more convincing in the case of Alien, which was written by O'Bannon and the alien designed by Giger. And quite frankly it is unlikely that Jodorowsky could have brought to the screen anything resembling the grand vision he shares with us given his resources and the technology of the era. But it sure is exciting to imagine, and that imagination is what powers the film: the sense of artistic freedom, idealism, and freewheeling creativity at work in the preparation, and the excitement he raised in his warriors, inspiring them to imagine beyond what had been done before. That is a work of art in its own right.
It's released on a combo pack with both Blu-ray and DVD editions in one case. The image is perfectly fine for the interview sequences, with the clarity more noticeable when showing artwork created by Jodorowsky's warriors. The few archival clips are generally adequate, a matter less of the mastering than the quality of the source material. Both editions include a collection of nine deleted scenes, or rather expanded explorations of ideas and aspects cut down in the finished film, which can be viewed individually or watched end to end as a 46-minute program. It makes sense that they were cut out of the feature but for anyone passionate about the project (and it's hard not to be after seeing this documentary) they add interesting details and are well worth viewing.
by Sean Axmaker
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DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN "HIT THE DECK": Sing "Hallelujah" as producer/host Dick Dinman welcomes back Warner Home Video's Senior Vice President of Classic and Theatrical Marketing George Feltenstein as they discuss the magnificent CinemaScope and 5.1 Surround Sound Blu-ray restoration of one of MGM's happiest tune-fests HIT THE DECK which combines the talents of such legendary musical stars as Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone and Ann Miller in one great toe-tapping ultra-widesceen delight.
DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN SALUTE "KISMET": The lavish beyond belief MGM Vincente Minnelli musical KISMET which features some of the most beautiful sets, costumes and orchestrations ever committed to film and boasts stunning vocals by Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Dolores Gray and Vic Damone has been restored to staggering Blu-ray magnificence in all it's CinemaScope and 5.1 Surround Sound glory and Warner Home Video's George Feltenstein returns to share with producer/host Dick Dinman the challenges that Warner wizards faced in restoring this fanciful film to it's former first-run sight and sound glory.
The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.
NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART ONE AND TWO).
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Don't miss the Hollywood Bowl's special movie-themed nights sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. Pollstar magazine's Best Major Outdoor Venue (ten years in a row!), the Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Throughout the summer the LA Phil presents the best in jazz, classical, Broadway, and world music, featuring artists that range from Yo-Yo Ma to Janelle Monae, John Williams to Steve Martin, and Gladys Knight to The Pixies. This summer's special movie-themed nights include many crowd favorites:
Sunday, July 13, 7:30pm
Bring the family to the fun-filled Grease Sing-A-Long, which returns with a pre-show performance and the much-loved movie musical on the Bowl's giant screen. Grease is the word! Come early for a 7:30pm pre-show with Sha Na Na.
Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), host
Sha Na Na musical guest
Sunday, August 31, 7:30pm
The Big Picture: Hitchcock
Suspense! Sinister plots! Mistaken identities! This year's Big Picture is a thrilling tribute to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock. Mesmerizing, haunting and psychologically gripping scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest), Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder) and more will be played live while spellbinding scenes are projected on the Bowl's big screen.
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
David Newman, conductor
Eva Marie Saint, host
Saturday, September 20, 6:00pm
Sound of Music Sing-A-Long
The Hollywood hills are alive with The Sound of Music! Everyone's favorite sing-along returns to the giant screen at the Bowl. Bring your costume for the pre-show parade, and warm up your vocal cords for this beloved and always sold-out event.
Make the most of your Hollywood Bowl experience with a picnic dinner. You can bring your own food or buy on site. For tickets and information, visit HollywoodBowl.com
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Turner Classic Movies Pays Tribute to Eli Wallach on Monday, June 30 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note.
The new schedule for Monday, June 30 will be:
9:00 AM Kisses for My President
11:00 AM Act One
1:00 PM How the West Was Won
3:45 PM The Misfits
6:00 PM Baby Doll
One of the most respected actors in American performance, Eli Wallach's career never quite matched his long list of stage credits in terms of quality, but he had nevertheless contributed some memorable characters to film. Movieg rs knew him best for a pair of similar characters - the cruel Mexican bandit Calvera, whose raids on a poor village prompt the formation of "The Magnificent Seven" (1960), and as the scheming, scene-stealing Tuco in Sergio Leone's groundbreaking spaghetti Western, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967). But Wallach's career stretched back a decade prior and continued on well into the 21st century, during which he played almost every ethnic type and moral stripe under the sun. While his record on the big screen remained spotty, Wallach thrived on television with an Emmy-winning performance in "The Poppy is a Flower" (ABC, 1966) and a campy turn as Mr. Freeze on "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). Over the years, he remained under the radar while performing onstage or in lesser-known pictures, only to resurface in projects like the revival of "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1978), the acclaimed miniseries "The Executioner's Song" (NBC, 1982) and Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), in which he had a memorable scene as a mobster who dies while eating poisoned cannoli. By the time the nonagenarian delivered award-worthy small screen performances on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07) and "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ), Wallach's place as one of Hollywood's most venerated character performers had been assured.
Born Eli Herschel Wallach on Dec. 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, NY, he made his performing debut as part of an amateur production while still in high school. At some point in his early life, Wallach lost the sight in his right eye, the result of a hemorrhage (Wallach was vague about the date in his autobiography). After gaining a BA from the University of Texas in Austin and a Masters' degree in education from the City College of New York, Wallach earned a scholarship to New York's prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, where he first cut his teeth on the Method style of acting. After graduation in 1940, he landed a smattering of minor stage roles before WWII intervened; he joined the Army in 1941 and served as a medical administrative officer, being dispatched to numerous points across the globe, including Hawaii, Casablanca and France. It was in the latter location that his superiors learned of his acting background and asked Wallach to mount a production to entertain the recuperating troops. With the assistance of other members of his company, Wallach wrote and performed "This is the Army?" a satirical revue in which he played Hitler, among other roles. It would be the first of many memorable villains Wallach would play during his long career.
After being discharged from the service, Wallach resumed his acting career and made his Broadway debut in 1945. He also joined the Actor's Studio, spending two seasons with the American Repertory Theater before blossoming into a major stage star in the early '50s - thanks to a pair of Tennessee Williams plays, "The Rose Tattoo" and "Camino Real." The former landed Wallach a Tony Award. The actor returned to the theater frequently over the next six decades in countless productions ranging from Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," "Teahouse of the August Moon," and "Mister Roberts." In 1948, he met and married fellow actress Anne Jackson, with whom he had appeared in countless stage productions, as well as the 1967 comedy "The Tiger Makes Out," which he also co-produced. They year 1956 marked the beginning of Wallach's screen career in the controversial Elia Kazan feature "Baby Doll." As earthy Sicilian Silva Vaccaro, who lustily pursues the teenage bride (Carroll Baker) of hapless mill owner Karl Malden, Wallach generated considerable heat for his non-traditional leading man, undoubtedly contributing to the film being banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and several international markets. The buzz generated by "Baby Doll" boosted Wallach's profile in Hollywood and overseas, where he won a BAFTA for his work in 1957. He was soon busy with numerous film projects - often playing mad, bad and dangerous variations on the Vaccaro personality, including the psychotic hitman in Don Siegel's gritty noir "Lineup" (1958); Sgt. Craig, who spits insults even after a horrific facial injury in "The Victors" (1963); and as Poncho/Baron von R litz, he teamed with Edward G. Robinson and fellow Method advocate Rod Steiger in "Seven Thieves" (1960), a glitzy caper.
Wallach's profile by the early 1960s was significant enough for him to share top billing with Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner in "The Magnificent Seven" and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monr (who babysat Wallach's daughter Roberta during the film's troubled shoot) in "The Misfits" (1961) - the fabled last film for both Monr and Gable. He was also a frequent guest star on television, especially anthology series like "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961) and "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" (CBS, 1951- ), for which he was a notable Dauphin opposite Julie Harris' Joan of Arc in "The Lark" (1957). He also made an amusing Mr. Freeze (one of three actors to play the character) on two episodes of the campy series, "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). On a more prestigious note, Wallach won an Emmy for "Poppies are Also Flowers" (1966), an all-star drama penned by Ian Fleming and produced in part by the United Nations about the international drug trade.
By the mid-1960s, Wallach was a dependable character actor with a knack for foreign characters who often wielded a degree of swagger and occasional menace. In addition to the Mexican Calvera and the Italian Guido in "The Misfits," Wallach was a Greek kidnapper in the Disney film "The Moon-Spinners" (1965), an amorous Latin dictator on the make for American female president Polly Bergen in "Kisses for My President" (1964), and an Arab shah in "Genghis Khan" (1965). In 1967, Wallach traveled to Italy to film the third in a trilogy of operatically violent Westerns for director Sergio Leone; his performance as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was arguably his best turn on screen; one that allowed him to work with his full and formidable acting palette. Over the course of Leone's three-hours-plus masterpiece, we were shown all sides of Tuco - from the duplicitous creep who would abandon his own partner in crime (Clint Eastwood) in the middle of the blazing desert, to the loyal friend who rescues Eastwood from the same fate, to the wronged brother who lashes out against his sanctimonious priest brother, to the sympathetic victim of a cruel sadist (Lee Van Cleef) who will go to any length to discover a cache of hidden gold. Wallach tackled each of these emotions with a vigor and humor that was positively riveting in every scene. His performance was a key element in the film's worldwide success.
Despite being nearly killed on three occasions during the making of the iconic film (due to faulty and lax production issues), Wallach acknowledged the movie's impact on his career on numerous occasions after its release. He even named his 2005 autobiography The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage and in 2003, he and Eastwood re-dubbed 18 minutes of footage that had been excised from the film before its 1967 release in America. Wallach also returned to Italy several times to appear in other "spaghetti Westerns," usually as variations on Tuco. Wallach was supposed to reunite with Leone for the film "Duck, You Sucker" (1973), but scheduling conflicts prevented this from happening (his role was later assumed by Rod Steiger).
Wallach remained as busy in the '70s and '80s as he did in the previous decade, though his roles were largely character parts and the quality frequently ranged from top Hollywood product to low-budget fare. Among his better films from the period were "Cinderella Liberty" (1973), in which he played a tough-as-nails Navy lifer; "Movie Movie" (1978), Stanley Donen's clever tribute to vintage Hollywood melodramas and musicals; John Huston's Bicentennial-themed short "Independence," in which he captured the intelligence and wry humor of Benjamin Franklin. Wallach also appeared in numerous TV movies, including the thriller "A Cold Night's Death" (1973), co-starring Robert Culp, about scientists losing their grip in the Arctic; the drama "Skokie" (1981) co-starring Danny Kaye, about Holocaust survivors facing neo-Nazis; and the thriller "The Executioner's Song" (1982), based on the Norman Mailer book about serial killer, Gary Gilmore. But Wallach also enlivened plenty of junk during this period, too, including "The Deep" (1977), the wretched Satanic thriller "The Sentinel" (1977), and the overwrought teens-on-drugs TV feature, "The People" (1970).
As the 1980s wore on into the 1990s and the new millennium, Wallach continued to answer the call for character parts - long after many of his contemporaries had passed on. He was a near-sighted hit man in the limp Kirk Douglas-Burt Lancaster comedy, "Tough Guys" (1986), a psychologist testifying against a seemingly deranged call girl (Barbara Streisand) in "Nuts" (1987), the candy-loving Don Altobello in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), and Ben Stiller's sympathetic rabbi advisor in Edward Norton's wry comedy, "Keeping the Faith" (2000).
In 2003, he reunited with his friend and former co-star Clint Eastwood to play a cagey storeowner in "Mystic River" - for which he was uncredited. As Wallach entered his ninth decade, he did not appear to slow down in the least. He was a former blacklisted TV writer on an episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2006- ) and enjoyed sizable roles in "The Hoax" (2006) - about Clifford Irving's bogus biography of Howard Hughes - and "The Holiday" (2006), in which he played a charming elderly screenwriter befriended by Kate Winslet in the romantic comedy. Wallach found himself back in play at the Emmy awards after a 20 year absence, earning a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on "Studio 60." After voiceover roles in "Constantine's Sword" (2008) and "The T Tactic" (2009), Wallach returned to the small screen as a dying elderly man for an episode of "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ). His performance earned the 94-year-old an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
(Biography courtesy of TCMDb)
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For the second year in a row this May, I journeyed from Los Angeles to Palm Springs for four days of gritty film noir -- courtesy of the annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This year's edition, the fifteenth, was even better than last year's, as festival producer and host Alan K. Rode offered up a solid assortment of the familiar and not-so-familiar, with genuine classics like Sunset Blvd. and The Killers mixedwith intriguing obscurities like Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. The recipe worked, as Rode reported afterwards that the festival broke attendance records and sold out several shows. Twelve films were screened in a 72-hour period that began Thursday evening, May 8, and ended late Sunday afternoon, May 11. The movies themselves (almost all in 35mm), the fascinating guest speakers, the attentive audiences, the comfy theater, the big screen, the host hotel, even the quality popcorn -- all made for a sparkling and hugely enjoyable four days. What follows is a first-person account of those days designed to give a sense of what the overall experience was like, since this festival makes for a perfect little getaway and I can highly recommend making plans to attend in 2015.
The festival was founded in 2000 by Palm Springs resident and writer Arthur Lyons. Since Lyons' death in 2008, the festival has continued strongly thanks to the aforementioned Alan K. Rode as well as Palm Springs residents and Cultural Center Founders Ric and Rozene Supple, and the San Francisco-based Film Noir Foundation, which has rescued and preserved many noir films and puts on annual Noir City festivals in Hollywood, San Francisco and other cities. FNF founder and president Eddie Muller -- also an occasional TCM host -- was on hand with Rode and film historian Foster Hirsch to introduce the weekend's screenings and interview the special guests.
I pulled into the driveway of the Palm Springs Renaissance Hotel at about 5pm on Thursday afternoon. After a two-plus-hour drive into the desert, the hotel's sleek lobby felt like an oasis. This was the festival's host hotel, and it was an ideal choice -- only five minutes away from the Camelot Theatre, and nice enough to feel like a comfy retreat without being too over-the-top or expensive. I had no complaints. And there was just enough time to grab a burger and salad in the Renaissance bar area before heading off to the Camelot Theatre for the opening night movie: The Window (1949). An hour before showtime, a considerable crowd was already gathering for what would be a capacity screening. Why The Window -- an outstanding suspense picture that was a sleeper hit for RKO back in the day -- isn't better known or more often revived is beyond me. Perhaps it's because it does not feature A-list stars. In any case, the cast that it does have -- Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll -- are all superb. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story entitled The Boy Who Cried Murder, the brisk 73-minute film centers on a New York boy (Driscoll) who is prone to telling lies and embarrassing his parents (Hale and Kennedy). Sleeping on the upstairs fire escape one night, he witnesses, through a window, his neighbors Stewart and Roman murdering a man. When he tells his parents, they don't believe him. When he tells the police, they investigate but end up not believing him either. Then, in a scene that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved, Hale marches Driscoll upstairs to apologize to Stewart and Roman, not realizing that this will place her terrified kid in genuine danger. The suspense only ratchets up from there in what is ultimately an ingeniously written, atmospherically directed little thriller -- a perfect film of its type. And there actually is a slight Hitchcock connection -- Window director Ted Tetzlaff 's last film as a cinematographer had been Notorious (1946), after which he moved full time into directing.
The Window is also notable for making the most of a limited budget with evocative sets and décor--hallmarks of the noir style. The New York tenement where the action is set is extremely convincing, aided by fine location work shot in Harlem. Tetzlaff gives the setting an appropriately claustrophobic feel, with the tenement, the surrounding run-down streets, and a condemned building next door all coming off as prison-like. In the marvelous climax, with Bobby Driscoll in mortal peril, you get the feeling there's nowhere to run.
Following the screening of this beautiful 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, Rode welcomed leading lady Barbara Hale to the stage for a very rare public appearance. The 92-year-old actress was in fantastic shape and instantly won over the crowd with entertaining tales from The Window and her overall career, which includes a long television stint as Della Street opposite Raymond Burr's Perry Mason. Hale recalled that while on location in New York for The Window -- which she saw this night for the first time in 65 years -- it was so cold that the entire cast was wearing long underwear beneath their costumes. This was remarkable to hear, for the film does a great job in convincing us that the action is really taking place during a hot, sweaty summer.
She continued that Arthur Kennedy "was so true to life that actually he seemed more like an actor when we weren't shooting," and that Ruth Roman became a dear friend as a result of this picture. Of little Bobby Driscoll, who was borrowed from Disney and won a special Oscar for his performance, Hale said that he became like her real child at the time and that she felt very protective of him. Her devastation over his later drug problems and untimely 1968 death was still apparent: "I just adored that child," she said in a shaky voice. "It's very hard for me to talk about it. He became my baby." Hale also spoke sweetly of meeting her future husband, actor Bill Williams, on the set of West of the Pecos (1945): "What a lovely fella he was... just the sweetest smile and the best daddy. I miss him terribly. It was a wonderful marriage." But her funniest story concerned her friend (and West of the Pecos co-star) Robert Mitchum, who saw her one day across the crowded RKO commissary, and shouted: "Hey, Hale! Ya gettin' any?!" "He was the biggest tease," Hale recalled with a twinkle. "Just full of the devil!"
After Hale's talk, there was a lovely, catered reception outside the theater in the mild Palm Springs night. This was followed, for me anyway, by a quick drive back to the Renaissance and straight to bed for some peaceful slumber.
Friday started off with a 10am screening of another 73-minute RKO gem: Roadblock (1951), with Charles McGraw in a rare leading role not as a villain but as a more sensitive, if still hard-edged, insurance investigator. Alan K. Rode, author of a strong 2007 biography of McGraw, said in his introduction, "This is the kinder, gentler McGraw, the conflicted McGraw who plays what I would call the noir chump." Indeed, McGraw's screen persona makes him entirely convincing both as a virtuous cop figure and as a contemptible villain, which is a key reason why his transformation here from one to the other is so credible. Shot in eighteen days in and around downtown Los Angeles, Roadblock moves like lightning and is entirely satisfying. It screened in Palm Springs in a new -- and the only known -- 35mm print, which exists thanks to the funding of the Film Noir Foundation and lab work by Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It played great to the morning audience. It was preceded by a short film by director Greg King entitled Glass Sun (2013), an imaginative, wordless throwback to classic noir.
After a nice lunch with friends at the Renaissance, Friday's second picture was Too Late For Tears (1949), continuing its triumphant tour of film noir festivals in San Francisco, Hollywood, and now Palm Springs, after a five-year restoration project spearheaded by the Film Noir Foundation. As Eddie Muller told the crowd, "It's a miracle that there's a show this afternoon." A decade ago, Muller explained, he had wanted to show the film but found there were no complete, undamaged prints known to exist. Eventually, a dupe negative of the French release version (entitled La Tigresse) showed up at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and UCLA's Scott MacQueen was able to cherry-pick the best shots from that negative and two other print sources to end up with the superb print available now.
Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, and a suitcase containing $60,000, was an independent film produced by Hunt Stromberg and released by United Artists, which is why, without the protection of a major studio owner, the prints fell into disrepair over the years. The movie plays as a fine noir thriller with Lizabeth Scott at her villainous best, in full-fledged femme fatale mode. Muller said that virtually the entire budget was spent on its two main stars, Scott and Duryea, with the production cutting corners everywhere else.
The 4pm movie, Billy Wilder's masterful Sunset Blvd. (1950), was one I have seen many, many times, so I decided to play hooky and camp out for a couple of blissful hours by the Renaissance Hotel's large, beautiful pool. It was buzzing with guests and their families, creating a very agreeable vibe. But I made sure to return to the Camelot for the post-film discussion between Rode and actress Nancy Olson, who plays the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film. I was glad I did, for Olson gave a fascinating interview that touched on details of the film's making, the cast, director Billy Wilder, and that overall era of Hollywood. A mere 20 years old during filming (not, she pointed out, 22 -- as is mentioned of her character on screen!), she still sounded incredulous that as a UCLA student who was nicknamed "Wholesome Olson" and who didn't even know who Gloria Swanson was, she had the good fortune to begin her screen career with a movie like this one. "You wonder about destiny, about how your life takes turns," she said. "The door opened and I became a leading character in one of the greatest films ever made. That is amazing!"
Olson recalled that Swanson was incredibly dedicated to her role of Norma Desmond, often "begging" Billy Wilder to stay late after filming to work on the next day's scenes. Olson also said it was usual studio practice for all the dozen or so films being shot at Paramount at any given time to have their dailies shown at 6pm in a little theater. Typically, directors and technicians would come to watch their own work and then leave before the other films' dailies began. But "then Sunset Blvd. started to show its dailies, and nobody left. It was very unusual. They had to bring in extra seats!" Of Sunset Blvd.'s timeless appeal, Olson said "this film told the truth about not only the film business but the world. It's a story that has a kind of resonance about people selling their souls, as Bill Holden did, to survive. And about falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time, and the consequences of all that."
Following Sunset Blvd., a quick, tasty dinner with friends was in order at the Camelot Theatre's upstairs cafe. Then it was back down for the evening movie, Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Film historian, noir scholar and author, and college professor Foster Hirsch introduced the film as "pure, hardcore noir -- straight up, no chaser, all the way. If you came here for fun and uplift, you've come to the wrong place!" Director Anatole Litvak's movie was based on a famous 22-minute radio play starring Agnes Moorhead that was expanded by author Lucille Fletcher into a complicated screenplay full of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the bedridden heiress who overhears a murder plot on the telephone but is unable to convince husband Burt Lancaster or anyone else of this. The movie stands as an interesting experiment in bringing the techniques and qualities of radio drama to the screen, with pronounced, heightened visual and aural effects that are akin to purely aural, old-fashioned radio plays. To me, it came off as overdone and sometimes shrill, but the movie does stay true to the storytelling mode it creates, features a great cast, and certainly it played well on this evening.
Speaking afterwards with Foster Hirsch was Victoria Wilson, author of the recent biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, the first of two volumes about the actress. Wilson has a fulltime day job as an editor for Knopf (Hirsch himself is one of her writers), so she worked nights and weekends for fifteen years to complete this volume. She said that Stanwyck's acting is timeless because "there was only one thing that really interested her, and that was the truth of whatever the situation was. Her acting doesn't age, it doesn't date, because she always went for the truth." Hirsch asked about the ramifications of Stanwyck's early years, when she was essentially an abandoned child, since her mother died when she was four and her father deserted the family soon thereafter. Wilson replied, "I don't think she ever got over it. If you think about the things that haunt you, at a certain point in your life you're able to put them aside, and they don't stand in your way. But if you really don't cope with them, they come back to haunt you. And that's what happened to her and that's what I'm going to be writing about in volume two."
It was still so warm after this screening that a walk down festive Palm Canyon Drive with some ice cream and friends seemed like a good idea, before heading back to the Renaissance for some drinks in the bar lounge.
Day 3, Saturday, kicked off at 10am with yet another 73-minute gem, Southside 1-1000 (1950), screening in a beautiful 35mm print again made possible by the Film Noir Foundation. This Allied Artists release, an obvious knockoff of the similar T-Men (1947), is nonetheless a nifty little low-budget suspenser in its own right, fast-moving and efficiently done, with some memorable set pieces. With documentary-style narration that was in vogue at the time, the film follows a Secret Service agent (Don DeFore) on the trail of counterfeiters. Produced by the King brothers (Frank and Maurice King) as a follow-up to their masterful, Joseph Lewis-directed Gun Crazy (1950), this was originally to have been directed by Lewis as well. But Lewis left for MGM and bigger movies, and the King brothers replaced him with Boris Ingster, whose Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) is considered by some to be the first true film noir ever made.This would be Ingster's third and final film as director, but as Eddie Muller pointed out in his intro, Ingster had a long, prominent screen career in various capacities going back to the 1920s, and remains a fascinating figure to study. "The King brothers," Muller said, "had a special knack for finding people that were on the way up or on the way down."
Southside 1-1000 makes excellent and imaginative use of L.A. locations, including a sequence on Angels' Flight railway filmed right inside the actual car, and Union Station. It features a solid cast of heavies like George Tobias and Barry Kelley (who memorably tells his son to "beat it" when the kid asks for some cake), as well as a fetching and strong leading lady, Andrea King. And the film contains what Muller labeled "the weirdest opening sequence ever" -- a flag-waving piece of Red-Scare-era patriotism about the Korean War and the necessity for Americans to spend money to fight Communism. It's possible the sequence was tacked on simply to pad the film's short running time. Muller said it "makes me laugh because [the King brothers] were kind of petty crooks in their early days, bootleggers, and their dad was a racketeer, and they got in the movie business through pinball machines -- and for these guys to be giving us a lesson in patriotism is a beautiful thing indeed."
The next movie was for me the biggest discovery of the festival: Storm Warning (1951). While not a particularly rare title -- it's been issued on DVD more than once -- I had never seen it or even been aware of it. It's certainly an oddball movie, with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day prominent in the cast even though the film is nowhere close to being a musical. One could argue whether Storm Warning, dark as it is, is actually a film noir, but it does create an anxious, tense atmosphere of mob violence and contains a powerful sequence in particular that is undeniably, strongly noir: Ginger Rogers walks down a dark street one night as all the shop owners turn off their lights, one after the next, making her (and us) feel very alone and ever more nervous. The scene pays off with Rogers witnessing a highly unsettling act of violence carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. It turns out that everyone in town is either part of the Klan or too scared to speak against them. Local prosecutor Ronald Reagan (quite good here in his last film for Warner Bros.) hopes that Rogers' outsider status will give her the impetus to speak up, but complicating matters is her younger sister's (Doris Day's) marriage to one of the Klan members (Steve Cochran).
Rogers and Day wanted nothing to do with Storm Warning, which is certainly among the most unusual films on both their resumes. But they are very convincing as sisters, and their against-type casting works to heighten our interest. They are both very appealing, even though Day in particular is completely deglamorized. Cochran is also terrific in a part originally meant for Marlon Brando (who turned it down), even donning a white t-shirt à la Brando in scene after scene. There is no racial violence in this film. Producer Jerry Wald, director Stuart Heisler and writers Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs instead use the Klan as a way of telling a metaphorical story with a subtext of McCarthy-era America and the HUAC anti-Communist witch hunts. Foster Hirsch explained this very well in his fascinating introduction, pointing out that the pressures of that time -- conformity, thought control, intimidation, fear, bearing witness -- are what Wald was interested in capturing here. "There's not a single laugh in the entire movie," said Hirsch, which was a strong endorsement of the serious issues at stake.
Next up was The Killers (1946), one of the all-time great noirs and Burt Lancaster's screen debut. This is a picture I could quote verbally or visually from every scene, so I availed myself once again of the Renaissance Hotel's sparkling pool area and the Palm Springs sunshine before returning for the intriguing post-screening discussion between Alan K. Rode, Lancaster's widow Susie Lancaster, and Kate Buford, author of the fine 2000 biography Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Their conversation delved into Lancaster's entire career, including his run as a very successful independent producer (with Harold Hecht) in the 1950s, a decade that began in the era of studio domination and ended in the brave new world of independent production. Lancaster's extraordinary discipline and filmmaking intelligence carried him through. As Buford said, quoting film historian Neal Gabler: "[when] you track the course of Lancaster's career in '50s Hollywood, you track '50s Hollywood."
Susie Lancaster related an evocative little anecdote from The Professionals (1966) that spoke to Lancaster's sense of professionalism. One day early on, Lee Marvin was not on set when he was supposed to be, so Lancaster rode his horse into the nearby town, found Marvin, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook some sense into him. And Marvin was never a problem again on the shoot. Susie also spoke sweetly of Lancaster the man, especially their final years together, with Lancaster working to stay in great physical shape and maintaining a positive attitude right to the end. And the talk touched on other great Lancaster performances like Ulzana's Raid (1972) and Go Tell the Spartans (1978), with Buford offering some fascinating food for thought regarding Lancaster's performance in Atlantic City (1981). She said, "Atlantic City is The Killers brought to its conclusion. If the Swede had not died, he'd be running numbers in Atlantic City. There's a beautiful integrity balancing those two movies."
Before the Saturday evening film got underway, Eddie Muller polled the audience to ask how many had seen the film before. Only a few hands went up, prompting Muller to laugh, "OK, this is not many. This is gonna blow people's minds. You people are really not at all prepared for what you're about to see! It's a treat." Indeed! Shack Out on 101 (1955), while not technically a film noir, was in keeping with the day's Red Scare theme, as seen in Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. But here, the subject is very overt and highly comedic. This is one of the oddest, most absurd comedies to come out of the 1950s -- a true guilty pleasure. It's terrible yet deliriously wonderful. It makes no sense but you just don't care while watching it. Lee Marvin, as a diner cook named Slob, and Keenan Wynn, as the diner owner, are hilarious as they trade barbs, shoot harpoons, lift dumbbells, prance around in scuba gear, and lust after sultry waitress Terry Moore. Moore is involved with nuclear physicist Frank Lovejoy, who is scheming with Marvin in a plot that seems to involve the passing of nuclear secrets. Eventually the balance of the Cold War seems to rest in these individuals in this oceanside diner. Meanwhile, the movie finds time for moments like a love scene between Moore and Lovejoy that's played as a conversation about the Bill of Rights; the more they quote the Constitution, the more hot and bothered they get. Muller called this film "inexplicable. It's as if William Inge had fallen in his studio, knocked himself unconscious, yet his fingers kept typing."
Terry Moore, now 85, was there afterwards to speak, and she was as crowd-pleasing as the film. The audience just loved her as she playfully challenged Muller ("Tell me why this movie's weird, Eddie!"), and reminisced over Marvin and Wynn, "the two funniest men I've ever known. I never enjoyed working with any two people as much as I did with Lee and Keenan. [It was] the first time anyone ever talked to me like I was one of the guys. It was an experience I will never, never forget." Moore's screen career goes back to 1940, when she had bit parts in Maryland and The Howards of Virginia, and she is still working, with a recent role in the HBO series True Detective and a new movie coming out later in 2014, Aimy in a Cage, which she said contains the best performance she has ever given. "I want to give Betty White a run for her money!" she joked about her longevity.
Moore confessed to not remembering too much about working with Frank Lovejoy, prompting Muller to say, "Well, you kissed him more than anybody in the movie. You must have some memory of that." Terry replied, "I -- I kissed so many guys!" and drew a big laugh. She added that the one man she kissed onscreen she will never forget was Tyrone Power, her co-star in King of the Kyber Rifles (1953) and "the greatest person I ever knew." Later she spoke of her secret marriage to Howard Hughes, "the first love of my life," who still shows up in her dreams, and also of her famous decision to pose for Playboy at the age of 55: "I was sick and tired of Hollywood only thinking women were worthwhile between the age of 15 and 25. I wanted to prove them wrong."
Back at the Renaissance Hotel outdoor bar area, drinks were in order as friends talked over the day's films and events. Rode, his wife, and Lancaster and Buford even stopped by for a chat. But then it was off to bed, for in just a few hours, the final day of the festival would kick off with some major star wattage in the form of Humphrey Bogart in Deadline U.S.A. (1952) -- one of the great newspaper movies. As Eddie Muller said, quoting film critic Dave Kehr, "This is a movie about newspaper people told the way newspaper people feel about themselves when they've had a few too many." The screenplay by Richard Brooks, who also directed, was inspired by the real-life 1931 folding of The New York World, once published by Joseph Pulitzer. In the film, which is first-rate, editor Humphrey Bogart launches a print crusade against a local gangster (Martin Gabel) and fights to keep his newspaper alive as the owner's heirs consider selling, which would mean the paper's end. Brooks, Muller explained, had been a newspaperman before coming to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter and novelist. "He was a passionate believer that movies needed to have messages, that they needed to say something important about the culture." The issues in Deadline U.S.A. are still timely, Muller said, issues "of who's in charge of the business, and why it exists, and what is the fate of the paper and the public that it serves if the paper isn't there."
Next was Laura (1944), Otto Preminger's all-time classic that was screened as a tribute to the late Marvin Paige, a veteran casting director and a driving force of this festival from its inception until his death late last year. This was his favorite film. Screened this day in a flawless DCP, Laura was of course as spellbinding as ever, from Clifton Webb's magnetic opening narration to David Raksin's timeless score and everything in between. Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb are all so perfect in their roles that it's head-scratching to realize that the original choices were John Hodiak, Jennifer Jones and Laird Cregar. But just as with Casablanca (1942), the pieces eventually fell into place to create the perfect cast for a great movie. Alan K. Rode noted that Andrews remains an underrated, letter-perfect actor who, like Spencer Tracy, you can never catch "acting."
After the show, Susan Andrews took the stage with Rode to share some loving memories of her famous father. Eventually the talk turned to his struggle with alcoholism, and Susan wondered if his career might have had a more upward trajectory had he turned sober before 1969. For ten years after that date, however, Andrews had some of the happiest years of his life as he toured in stock with his wife.
One of Andrews' closest Hollywood friends was Jacques Tourneur, director of the final film, Out of the Past (1947). This, of course, is another all-time classic starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. It's also a perfect movie with which to close out a film noir festival, as it is arguably the picture that most epitomizes the noir style, with one of the greatest alluring and deadly femme fatales, an iconic noir hero in Robert Mitchum, beautiful, shadowy, expressionistic lighting, and a story structure that emphasizes fatalism and doom above all else. To see it in 35mm is always a treat.
As I drove back to L.A., I marveled over how the weekend had managed to showcase so many films, guests and activities, yet still overall felt relaxing and unhurried. Surely the proximity of the Renaissance Hotel to the Camelot Theatre had a lot to do with it, as did the strategic scheduling of films with an eye to their running times, so as to allow enough time between shows to leave, actually do something like have a meal or relax by the pool, and then come back for the next screening.. And the festivalgoers were a nice group of people, passionate about the movies and respectful during screenings. I really don't have a bad word to say about the entire experience -- it was a perfect combination of moviegoing, intellectual stimulation, and plain old vacationing. Rode and the other organizers deserve a tip of the fedora and all the best for continuing the good work next year and beyond.
For more information about the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, go to arthurlyonsfilmnoir.ning
For more information about the Renaissance Hotel, go to renaissancehotelpalmsprings.com
Videotaped interviews of the special guests will eventually be posted on the Film Noir Foundation website and can be seen here: www.filmnoirfoundation.org/video.html.
By Jeremy Arnold
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Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca
Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca
Wednesday, March 20, 2011
Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle 12:00pm Casablanca Added: 1:00pm Virginia City 12:15pm Casablanca