Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Writer: Samson Raphaelson; based on Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fekete
Cinematographer: Edward Cronjager
by Jon Cvack
In the Criterion Collection’s bonus features there was a discussion between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, which while not all that interesting, contained a brilliant point about how we’re now so self-conscious about class that films like this are no longer allowed. Haskell brings up Spanglish (2004) and how, while exploring an upper middle class family, is more about the guilt of having a servant and living a privileged life than it is about the beauty of such privilege. I never really thought about how few films portray wealthy family’s or characters these days, allowing escape to those experiencing economic hardship as seen in many of the films between the 20s and extending up to the early 1950s (Downtown Abbey is as close as I can think of). Woody Allen might be the one director who has continued the exploration, though he also idolizes this period of films, having grown up with them. Haskell is right, if such films continued, social media would have a field day. Audiences have difficulty accepting the escape such stories can provide, instead criticizing the material as disconnected.
Heaven Can Wait follows the life of Henry von Cleve (Don Ameche) from the moment he dies and finds himself in purgatory, having to explain his womanizing to the devil, named His Excellency (Laird Cregar), in order to fast track his plunge to hell. Thus begins his childhood, when his parents hired an attractive French Maid who Henry thrillingly accepts as she promises to teach him the ways of women. In this post-code film where men and women couldn’t even be shown in the same bed together, let alone suggesting sex, Lubitsch shows us the life of a womanizer and philanderer without ever explicitly stating it, to the point where if you’re not paying attention, you’d miss it.
After discovering that his successful lawyer cousin Hugo von Cleve (Charles Coburn) has brought home a girl Martha (Gene Tierney), whom Henry had met just moments before at a bookstore, pursuing her with all the charm he could muster. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, you know it’s the classical period of film when a man is willing to marry a beautiful woman literally within a day of meeting her. Thus, at the engagement party between Hugo and Martha, Henry lifts her away and they elope. Martha’s parents then disown her, vowing to cut off the dowry.
Ten years into the marriage, the couple have a child, and Henry receives a telegram from Martha, saying she ran away back home to Kansas. Again, given the code, Lubitsch’s subtly could easily be missed, as Martha produces a receipt showing that while Henry spent $10,000 on a diamond necklace for her, he also spent $500 on a bracelet which she’s never seen. At first I figured there was an excuse, and then realized, or at least suspected, that this wasn’t a mistake; that Henry actually had cheated, and Martha’s rejection of any and all of his excuses were based on a decade long era of cheating and womanizing. Of course, we don’t see any of this, and given that we don’t see it, for a moment I was on Henry’s side, until I pieced together the whole story and realized that the reason he was in Purgatory was for the fact that he had spent a lifetime cheating on his wife.
Of course she forgives him, and the two approach their silver anniversary, with their son Randolph (Louis Calhern) having taken up with a beautiful dancer who Henry hopes to pursue on the side, while also attempting to sabotage their relationship in order to prevent any damage to the family name. In a great scene, we see Henry discover his own age, realizing he’s no longer the young “casanova” as many compare him to, but a middle aged man who has begun to grow a tummy. Still, I wasn’t sure if the two ever had relations, or if it was simply a professional arrangement to get the dancer away from Randolph.
Eventually, Henry puts aside his pursuits, appreciating beautiful women, but more appreciative of Martha who has stuck by his side. And so when he discovers that she’s ill and that their 25th Anniversary has been their last, he regresses back to his old ways. Once again, we don’t see it, so much as watch as Randolph castigates Henry for being too old to be going about the way he is. Henry’s love of women is so strong that even on his deathbed, as the ‘ugly’ nurse is replaced with a beautiful blond, the narrator tells us that it brought about such a strong rush of blood that it ended up killing him.
In the end, His Excellency believes that Henry has a place in heaven; that what he was did wasn’t all that bad compared to others. It’s a testament to the way things once were, where woman were so subservient to men that they essentially had to put up with infidelity or risk losing the life they had. Still, the film is beautiful in its light approach to infidelity, showing that lust doesn’t necessarily mean love. With the Lubitsch style and touch we got to witness a world so different from our own, full of beautiful people and expensive homes and lives so far removed from most of our, shot in gorgeous technicolor. It’s a great film from the classical period.
BELOW: A taste of the film's wealth, class, and race privilege
Director: Luchino Visconti
Writer:Antonio Pietrangeli and Luchino Visconti
Cinematographer: Aldo Graziati
by Jon Cvack
Easily one of the best classic films I’ve seen all year, La Terra Trema is Luchino Visconti’s class conscious film about a small fishing village, Aci Trezza, economically stymied by the merchants who pay slave wages, keeping the townsfolk in abject poverty. The majority of the cast was pulled from the Sicilian village where it was filmed, and yet you’d never know you’re watching non-actors, with the people so embodying the film’s spirit it’s as though they’re of the highest training. The lead in particular, Ntoni (Antonio Arcidiacano), is so good that I had to double check that this guy was a non-actor. The story is very much a Marxist tale, in which the proletariat finally rise up and challenge the bourgeoisie owners. As the final image conveys, it’s exploring life in a post-Mussolini world, as communism triumphed only hundreds of miles away, not yet demonstrating its own terrors or obstacles. If you wish to see a film that embodies the Communist Manifesto look no further.
Ntoni and his brothers are continuing the family’s long tradition as local fishermen, who head out every morning before dawn, facing the tumultuous weather day in and day out, working twelve hours a day, without weekends, without vacation, without any way to save money, forced to live in the same house, sharing bedrooms with their fathers and grandfathers and mothers and brothers. In an era when half of Americans have less than a thousand dollars in their savings accounts, this film shows what happens when there’s little opportunity beyond fishing, forcing all of them to remain in poverty, with little to dream about beyond. The only other job is construction in which Ntoni’s sister, Lucia (Agnese Giammona), is attracted to a local bricklayer, whose precarious employment leads him drifting across the country, never certain where the next job will end or when he’ll return. Her only hope for escape exists in the town sheriff Don Salvatore (Rosario Galvagno), who’s twice her age and excessively creepy.
Every day, the fisherman bring their catch to the piers where the merchants pay them pennies on the dollar for what will sell for numerous times the value. None of the fishers seem to question the practice, accepting the Sisyphean life as inescapable. That is, until Ntoni finally reaches his breaking point, thinking he could challenge the merchants’ practice by selling straight to the market instead. He decides to mortgage the family house, recruiting his friends and brothers. The idea is honorable, but the practice is challenging. Ntoni quickly discover that the endeavor is far easier said than done, and after investing most of the money into salting materials to preserve their catch, a botched job destroys thousands of fish, leaving nothing to sell, and nothing to pay the bank. The family is shamed and laughed at. How stupid to have assumed they could’ve changed precedent. Ntoni, in particular, is ostracized, considered a supreme fool for even considering the strategy.
Given 99 Homes and The Big Short’s examination of the housing crisis, it was fascinating to see a similar exploration in a film that’s deriding capitalism, made across the world, and nearly seventy years prior. Unable to pay back the loan with their slave wages, the bank forecloses on their home; the one asset they have, forcing the family out and into the streets. Although Lucia is forewarned against getting too close to Don Salvatore, desperation drives her closer, sacrificing her youth and innocence for the superficial gifts of the town’s one burgher. Shamed, Ntoni is no longer welcome on the piers, regressing to a life on the streets, taking up with hoodlums, trying to find a way to escape the vicious spiral down. The bank has no concern for what could be paid back. The load defaulted and it’s now on them to hand over the keys. I was floored by the film’s prescient, and again, given 99 Homes entire plot revolving around this exact feature, which Visconti was clearly comparing to fascism, makes you hopeless. So little has improved. No, Americans are not living in such destitution, but the problem of advancement and doing better than your parents or prior generations is just as relevant. It’s eerie to consider that, while American poverty lines have been raised, we’re still dealing with the issue of many being unable to save, along with paid wages that require one to bounce from paycheck to paycheck, one professional or health catastrophe away from being tossed into the streets.
Eventually, the clouds part, and Ntoni returns to the docks, seeking work, and returning to the life that he had before pursuing his entrepreneurial endeavor. He is the butte of laughter, known for having destroyed the family name, and sending them all to the streets, with the family now living in a shack by the seaside, unable to save a nickel to get their house back. In the film’s final scene, as Ntoni is signing up to return to the piers, wearing the one torn up sweater that he owns, Visconti moves the camera from Ntoni to the recruiter to the graffiti of Mussolini's name painted onto the stone wall with below stating, “Go with determination toward people.” Although Italians have escaped his imperious rule, the economics remain the same, with no relief in sight. This is the best Visconti film I’ve seen, showing us the almost cursed life that those in poverty live in. There are no dreams, there are no hopes, there is only the work at the end to provide you the bare minimum. As with many neorealist films, the conclusion is one of hopelessness; offering a particularly tragic conclusion as we follow these characters finding the one glimmer of progress, only to watch it crash and burn before them, with nothing else left to pursue beyond a return to the water. This is an amazing film. One of Italian Neorealism’s best. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it.
BELOW: Not much on the YouTube front, so here's a documentary about director Luchino Visconti
Director: George Sidney
Writer: Natalie Marcin (story), Isobel Lennart
Cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle
by Jon Cvack
Contrary to On the Town, Anchors Aweigh’s song and dance numbers are second to its plot, which involves Clarence “Brooklyn” Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) and Joseph “Joe” Brady (Gene Kelly) as - once again - two sailors on weekend leave in Hollywood. With a woman at every port, Joe has a woman ready to call, while Clarence is the timid and shy sailor, begging for Joe to explain to him how to get girls, once again placing Frank Sinatra in a surprising role, which would eventually evolve into his famous stoicism and NYC coolness.
Unlike On the Town, this movie is more plot focused, with Clarence and Joe getting involved with Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson) and her Navy-destined son. Susan is an aspiring Hollywood movie singer, whose elegance takes on mythic proportions. Joe petitions Clarence to help him out with returning the lost son back to Susan, forcing Clarence to cancel his plans for a weekend of gallivanting. Similar to On the Town’s Ms. Turnstile, Joe convinces Clarence to help him find a way for Susan to get her big shot in a Hollywood film, eventually seeking the help of composer Jose Iturbi (who plays himself, which I expected while watching the film simply for how real of a person he was compared to the rest of the larger-than-life Hollywood character roles [it’s also interesting to realize that this subplot, involving the assistance of a big name person X in order to help out character/love interest Y and Z would get used ad nauseam in the 90s and 00s, such as Judd Apatow]). So starts a love triangle between Clarence, Joe, and Susan.
Yet again, though, in a surprising move given his superhuman stature, Frank Sinatra’s Joe eventually finds himself talking to a far far less interesting and attractive waitress who just so happens to have known him from his home town or something. Again, this isn’t to personally comment on the merits of one woman over another so much as that come the 1950s Sinatra would never get the less attractive person, nor he is even remembered for having gotten anything else.
Given the Hollywood setting, the story is more fun to watch than On the Town's New York City sets. We know that we’re in an imaginary world instead of having to buy an imaginary world. With a very Hitchcockian-vibe, the movie has a big scene at the Hollywood Bowl which shows it off in a way I’ve never seen before. The dance numbers are evenly scattered between the story, allowing us to appreciate when they come, but also excited for the story to continue when it all ends. It shows us the inner workings of wartime MGM studios and you really get a sense of how things were both so similar and how much they've changed; that while the operation has remained the same, we get a glimpse and feel for when movies were at the very top of cultural awareness, with nothing except books to compete with in terms of quality.
It’s a great film and also the first taste of Disney’s shift into the giant it now is, when during the cartoon dance number, what was suppose to be Mickey Mouse had to be replaced minute when Disney pulled out, forcing the film to reanimate the sequence at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given its recent feud with Tarantino, this is one of the elements that’s seem to have never changed.
BELOW: The bizarre dance number that today - with inflation - would have cost about $2.6 million to fix
Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Writer: Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Cinematographer: Harold Rosson
by Jon Cvack
Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra made three musicals together - On the Town, Anchors Aweigh, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (the last of which I haven't yet seen). Functioning as a musical version of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, John Favreau and Vince Vaughn, or the most recent addition of Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, the pair provides us with their second in the series, and a far weaker follow up than Anchors Aweigh.
The story involves three Navymen - Gabbie (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) - who get weekend leave and head out into the New York City streets, in order catch the sights, and more importantly for Gabbie and Ozzie, to find some girls. What both this and Anchors Aweigh demonstrate is that Frank Sinatra wasn’t always the smooth and suave man he’s now known for. In On the Town he’s a shy and humble man, whose more determined to catch every sight in his '100 Things to See in New York' book than about catching girls. Instead of getting the bombshells Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) or Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), he gets the perverse, aggressive and not all that attractive cab driver, Brunhilde “Hildy” Esterhazy (an all time great name played by Betty Garrett), miles from what we now would associate with Frank Sinatra (for all you immediate defenders, I understand this was just as he was starting out, but he also was attracting volumes of women during production).
I always wondered when I’d catch another performance from Vera-Ellen from White Christmas, who plays Ivy Smith, aka Ms. Turnstile (which is such a clever joke that it actually took me a second to wonder whether 1949 New York City actually considered such girls celebrities, or that it was as banal as it would be today [it was the later]). Gabbie is completely infatuated and chases her all over town, believing she’s some big time celebrity and creating funny - though not hilarious - situation after situation.
I had never really been into musicals, but when I went on a trip to Palm Springs and it's time warp feel, it created an immediate desire to check them out. It sounds generic to even say, but after watching Anchors Aweigh, Holiday Inn, and looking at my dad’s Rogers and Hammerstein Musical Boxet, these types of feel good musicals simply do not exist anymore.
On the Town does a fantastic job of incorporating McGuffin type devices in order to drive the story forward. As mentioned, Ms. Turnstile was introduced as the men are getting ready to hop on the subway, which later produces funny moments when the three Navymen and three women finally hit up the town. Ozzie and Claire meet at a museum where after an elaborate dance number, they’re responsible for knocking down a priceless brontosaurus, eventually attracting the police later in the film - and better - long after we have forgetten about it.
These storylines are meaningless, since like most great musicals, we’re simply for waiting for the next song and dance number, hoping that the moments in between are funny, or at least not all that boring, which the silly plots help to relieve.
I can’t think of too many feel good musicals in the last twenty years (though I’ll admit that’s with an American bias, as I probably haven’t even seen more than a half dozen foreign musicals, but I could even argue that while foreign films are great, there is an inherent sense of ‘work’ required - for lack of a better word - for having to read subtitles, no matter how easy they are; as the musicals as I discuss are completely superficial and, by definition, effortless). The first that comes to mind is Footloose, though even this contains a heavy political message. Most of what I’m seeing, such as High School Musical or Enchanted (both which I haven’t seen), are more oriented toward kids, rather than adults or even all four quadrants.
It looks like I’d have to go back 25 years - to the 90s once again - with Newsies (1992), Annie (1999), and of course Woody Allen’s throwback to the genre with Everyone Says I Love You (1996). Looks like it could use a revisiting.
NOTE: I have not yet seen La La Land, but hear that it might fit this description, which is quite the coincidence given that I wrote the first draft of this essay a year ago.
BELOW: Sinatra and his dame
Director: Noël Coward and David Lean (action scenes)
Writer: Noël Coward
Cinematographer: Ronald Neame
by Tory Maddox
Inspired by the real life event events of the HMS Torrin that was sunk by German Bombers during the Battle of Crete in 1941, this British propaganda film involves flashbacks of the various crew members as they’re training and living their civilian lives, before getting recruited and leading up to the event. Made during 1942, the film was an attempt to help relieve public opinion as England’s war against Germany was picking up steam.
It’s a fairly good film, assisted by David Lean who was brought in as Noel Coward fell in over his head with the action scenes during production . We don’t have much of the David Lean feel during the film, which is difficult to describe, though I suppose I’d have to check out Bridge Over the River Kuai to provide a more detailed breakdown. The film is relatively straightforward, clearly propagandistic than anything else.
To watch most films made during, or close to a war, and how they’re essentially championing the cause is always fascinating, especially as later films are able to revisit those same events with a more critical eye toward the war-itself or the effects thereof. The sinking of the HMS Torrin was a tragedy that was only the tip of what would claim millions of lives. We see that the men want nothing more than to maintain their lives - to get married, raise children, find a decent job and provide for their families.
Yet, for all we learn about these men, and as tragic as many of their fates were, there was something that fell short, as though Coward never allowed us to actually feel what it’d be like to experience such a tragedy. I didn’t get a sense of the terror or horror of the situation, or the sense of hopelessness that they must have been feeling. I understand such sentiments aren’t necessarily desired in a propaganda film. Still, it was a little too clean. Perhaps that’s why the Admiralty of England’s Navy referred to the film as “In Which We Sunk.”
BELOW: Slim pickings with supplements, so here's a trailer
Director: Jean Renoir
Writer: Hugo Butler, Jean Renoir, William Faulkner, and Nunnally Johnson
Cinematographer: Lucien N. Andriot
by Jon Cvack
Here’s John Renoir’s first and only foray into American film, taking inspiration from John Steinbec, tough insteadof Clai he heads to Texas and following a family who decides to try and start their own farm, after finally leaving the grueling cotton fields. They end up in an old run down cabin with a leaky roof, broken windows, and a terrible draft. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check this out on the Criterion Collection and was instead forced to watch a terrible dupe of a dupe of a duplication DVD, later discovering that - as usual with this problem - it stems from Renoir’s failure to renew the copyright, putting the film in public hands.
The family’s led by Sam (Zachary Scott) and Nona Tucker (Betty Field) with their two children Jot and Daisy, and Sam’s grandmother Granny (Beoul Bondi), who’s one of the best characters in the film; insufferably disagreeable at times and yet filled with that classic matriarchal love.
On account of the complete lack of meat and vegetables, along with infected corn, the children get “Spring Sickness” - which is Pellagra; a sickness due to vitamin deficiency and provides the “Three D’s: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia” and is worth the read. The mother takes the best care she can and Sam is tempted to abandon the farm and join his friend Tim’s factory (Charles Kemper). In a great scene, we see each argue over why their respective trade is better than the other’s, ending in a massive bar brawl, in which I think any other of Renoir’s peers (Ford, Wilder, Capra) might have concluded in following them into jail. Renoir keeps it light, as though it’s no big deal, and perhaps it wasn’t entirely.
Eventually things work out - the children recover, the crops begin to grow, Sam’s mother gets remarried, and then a storm comes into town, flooding the area and destroying the crops. As good as it had gotten, they must start all over again.
I was excited to see Renoir’s take on American culture. Regardless of the inspiration or the material there was very much a different voice working here. It was as though he desired to mythologize the story and create allegory rather than provide a true to life portrait. And yet when I think back to The River (1951), which came out six years later, I recall a very real exploration of character, with very little moral postulating. We instead witness the possibility of building a life from scratch.
To think that you could be a peasant and purchase hundreds of acres to farm is now foreign to Americans. The pulled bootstrap attitude is shifting so rapidly that many are wondering if it’s even possible anymore. This film was written around five years after The New Deal officially ended, when a generation earlier inequality was as high as it is now. It’s never been more expensive to live in America - to have a house, health insurance, and children. This film makes you wonder how within only a span of about eighty years it all went away so quickly. The hope sticks, though, and I’m pretty sure it’s on account of the Granny character, who has probably seen far worse in her younger days; lauging at how everyone believes that this particular moment is unique to them and not experienced by most others. A flood to wipe out all they overcame? That’s a fairly dark idea for what is a profoundly American film, equitable to The Grapes of Wrath (1940), though far far more underrated.
NOTE: William Faulkner was one of the four writers, which is probably a testament to its greatness. For as much as Faulkner did screenwriting for money, I bet he enjoyed this project. Or maybe he just wanted to show up Steinbeck.
BELOW: In the public domain, you can check the film out in its entirety on YouTube
Director: John Ford
Writer: Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller; Story by Sam Hellman; Stuart Anthony (uncredited) and William M. Conselman (uncredited)
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
by Jon Cvack
This is by far John Ford’s most beautiful film. It’s no wonder that Joseph MacDonald would go on to shoot some of the greatest film noirs of all time such as Call Northside 777 ('48), Panic in the Streets ('50), and Pick Up on South Street ('53), and winning three Best Cinematography Oscars. Each image is carefully composed for maximum effectiveness, often showing a combination of characters, the Monumental Valley backdrop, and the thick shadows that ease this film away from western and into the noir category.
Peter Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, who falls into the strange town of Tombstone full of outlaws, becoming Sheriff after his brother is killed by a trio of bandits. He quickly meets the real life Doc Holiday (Victor Mature) whose tumultuous relationship with local girl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) is exasperated when the gentle and beautiful title character Clementine returns to the town (Cathy Towns). Once Wyatt takes over, things begin to calm. People expect that Doc and him will have a go, but Wyatt’s diplomatic prowess calms things. That is, until Clementine comes between the two. This sets the stage for the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral.
The title is one of the most misleading in all of film history. While I was expecting a Western Romance, what we got was a dark tale about radical transformation from anarchy to organization. What begins as a lawless society begins to transform, receiving a church, and in the end, is about to get a new school. We get a slice of life throughout the film - the early mornings as the businessmen take to the streets, stopping for breakfast at the one joint in town; the late night card games and filling suppers; the beautiful sunsets that are somehow captured in all their South-West magnificence.
The movie is about a town that’s slowly coming out of darkness. The men and women who filled it looking for a lawless society where anything goes while battling against the encroaching government. Wyatt Earp doesn’t stay and it’s likely that the next sheriff won’t either. The gunfight at the OK Corral is the beginning of the end. So why was it called My Darling Clementine instead of Gunfight at the OK Corral, as a later film would be? After reading the incredibly dense WikiPedia article, the only reference to Clementine is by the film itself, leaving me with few answers.
Some other facts that might be of interest, namely 1) the gunfight had actually only lasted about 30 seconds, with conflicting reports as to who fired the first shots, 2) The town had actually implemented a law that required all weapons to be deposited in a livery or saloon. And so, even in the anarchist, Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona there were stricter laws about open carry than today. Even further, this is the entire legal justification for why Wyatt Earp was able to pursue the suspects. Similar to Al Capone’s unpaid taxes, Wyatt Earp knew that this legal loophole - of catching the outlaws carrying weapons - was the only way he could actually tap them for their crimes. And so what would eventually reflect the mythos of the early American West has grown into a greatly embellished story. Still, My Darling Clementine gives the event all of the attention it rightfully deserves, capturing the beauty and horror that Tombstone once had, while also illustrating the inevitable development and lawfulness that would enter the town, embodied by this very event. A lot of John Ford’s work reflect on the mundane aspects of whatever town they take place in. There’s something about this film and its photography that burns the images into your mind unlike any other film of his.
BELOW: I always love a good table scene (Goodfellas, Jaws, Training Day). Here's one of the early greats
Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda (un-credited) , Zoltan Korda (un-credited) , William Cameron Menzies (un-credited) [wow...]
Writer: Lajos Biro and Miles Malleson
Cinematographer: George Perinal
by Jon Cvack
Considering it was made in 1940 and looks absolutely gorgeous, winning an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography and utilizing Chroma-Key with the first ever bluescreen, The Thief of Bagdad is a pretty fun adventure that utilizes three white leads amidst countless Arabic background actors. Seventy-five years later, with Camera Crowe deciding to cast Emma Stone as the Native Hawaiian woman in Aloha ( or Gods of Egypt using an entire white cast for its Egyptian setting, it is unbelievable that we’re still experiencing the same exact problems in having white people play people of color.
Nevertheless, the movie is fun and exciting. Knowing that it was the first to use bluescreen for many of its effects, all while plagued with having six total directors, you can’t help but appreciate the early days of effects artistry, as filmmakers discovered what worked and what didn’t. For instance, while they use the tools in brilliant ways for the genie and flying sequences, for wider set ups they used what look like an action figures in static positions. Counter to that, in the most exciting sequence, right up there with the first Indiana Jones, Apu invades the Oracle building after the Genie flies him over. In order to demonstrate the Genie’s vast height, they built an extremely detailed miniature city. Thus, we get to see the physical craft that people put into creating a believable world, in constant awe that the film was made 75 years prior.
The stories were based off The Book of a Thousand and One Nights, and many of the elements would inspire Disney’s Aladdin in later years. Considering that the Ottoman Empire had just fallen only 18 years prior, I often wonder what Natives of the area must have thought. With France, Britain, and Russia rushing to grab the fallen Empire, it was during this time that countless revolts and power grabs were occurring across the region. While I’m not all that educated on the idea of Orientalism and how the Western conceptions of the Middle East were strongly based on conjecture and stereotypes, I can see how this movie aided in the process. During the time, many of the regions this movie explores were banned from non-Muslims, considered either too dangerous or based on religious decree.
The film is full of magic and adventure, and we can see that most of the people live poor compared to the extravagant lives of kings. The movie isn’t interested in politics, but I think we’re still long overdue for a film that’s from the Native perspective. I think of other films like The Darjeeing Unlimited, The Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Men Who Would Be Kings, and many others, and how we continue to examine the region through white eyes to this very day. If only we could get away from the White perspective on the land, perhaps the stereotypes would get redefined. With Bollywood going stronger than ever before I have my doubts. We are long overdue for a story from the other side.
BELOW: I try to avoid embedding trailers, but this gives a great taste of ToB's incredible effects
Director: David Lean
Writer: Eric Ambler, Stanley Haynes, David lean, and H.G. Wells
Cinematographer: Guy Green
by Jon Cvack
I’ve never even heard of The Passionate Friends and yet I’d say it’s equally as good as David Lean's Brief Encounter, serving as a kind of unofficial sequel (think Van Sant's Finding Forrest to Good Will Hunting, except equally as good). The movie involves two individuals, Steven and Mary (Trevor Hodd and Ann Todd), who had a hot brief encounter nine years earlier. The pair had drifted apart into their own relationships, with Mary getting together with a successful businessman, Howard (Claude Rains). During a vacation, Mary meets Steven and the two resume their passionate affair. Eventually Howard finds out, attempts to end it all, which works out fine until Mary sees Steven again, getting together for an innocent lunch, starting up the affair all over again, with Howard discovering in one of the film's most brilliant sequences and later leaving. Overwhelmed with despair, Mary races off to the train station to kill herself. Howard saves her.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about David Lean’s love stories that make them so powerful. There is a humanity within each and every character. Lean allows us to feel their love, experience their loss, and share their passion. He demonstrates that there are times when it’s possible to feel disparate attractions to multiple people. There is passion and there is love, and Mary is overwhelmed by this very conflict. Beneath the complexity of cheating is the very simple fact that Mary feels for the two men differently, and if the world was perfect she’d be able to share them both. Howard doesn’t provide the passion she desires. He expects to build toward love, allowing it to grow, while also accepting that security and stability sacrifice the passion the partner might otherwise experience.
On the other hand, Steven couldn’t provide any of those things. The passion might exist, except against a backdrop of insecurity. Essentially the film argues that freedom doesn’t work well in a passionate relationship, as Mary is enslaved to her passions. Such relationships are overwhelming as the partner becomes the entire focus and life revolves around an individual and their ability to make you happy, rather than your own. We’ve all had love-at-first-sight moments, some actualized and others a fleeing fantasy.
That’s why I kind of enjoy the ending when Howard comes to her rescue. It was a way to demonstrate that passion doesn’t need to be the foundation of a relationship. Love grows. It can ebb and flow, and it’s about enjoying the highs and not worrying all too much about the lows. The Passionate Friend - such an interesting title, and in the end that’s all Steven and Mary were. A marriage is about construction and sacrifice, elements that Steven could never have provided.
BELOW: The film's absolutely phenomenal concluding sequence
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writer: Scott Darling and Eric Taylor
Cinematographer: Woody Bredell and Milton R. Krasner
by Tory Maddox
Finding a list of Frankenstein movies on Wikipedia, I discovered that there have been 35 versions of the film. I didn’t dig in deep enough to pull out which of those were part of the original series, which of the Hammer Series, and which were stand alone sequels or additional remakes. No matter the number, Ghost of Frankenstein is a very difficult film to watch. Although it’s only 67 minutes long - about 20% shorter than other films in the series - and feels twice as long.
Like the slashers series of the 80s, we start where the previous ended and realize that although the Monster (Lon Chaney) was burned alive in lava, he actually survived thanks to the sulfur in some way preserving his body, assisted by Ygor (Bela Lugosi) who also made it through the estate's destruction. Son of Frankenstein's Baron Wolf's brother Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) practices medicine in town below the former film's estate. Keeping in mind that this movie picks up immediately where SoF left off (think Halloween 2), and that it's in no way implied that Ludwig has just arrived in town, we're left with massive and illogical plate holes - namely, how Ludwig didn’t know about his brother’s return to the estate? Was the brother in town during Son of Frankenstein’s entirety and why he help? Wouldn’t Ludwig have wanted the estate, which the town is about to destroy? None of these questions are addressed or even hinted upon, which makes me it all the more frustrating as they’re so obvious and glaring.
It’s only when I’m reading the lengthy synopsis on the Wikipedia page that I realize how bloated this story is. Suffice it to say Ghost of Frankenstein doesn’t just jump, but soars over the shark. It involves Ygor wanting to have a brain transplant, Ludwig getting a visit from his father’s ghost telling him to replace Frankenstein’s brain, and then Ygor’s brain going into Frankenstein’s brain. The whole narrative descends fast and hard into farce, never approached with even the slightest hint of comedic absurdity which could have made the convoluted story at least kind of work.
Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein didn’t turn to complicated narratives. You could sum them up in one sentence - BoF is when the monster gets a wife and SoF is when Frankenstein’s son returns to father's estate. They worked by having good characters, an excellent plot, and high production value. As often happens with later sequels, the powers that be are attempting to do far more than a 67 minute plot allows for. So much happens that I can just hear the executive in the development meeting saying “And then...and then...and then...come on, faster now!’ I can’t find how well it was received, or what it earned. I’d guess very poorly on both fronts. After this they began to merge the Universal monsters with films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), and Karloff returning with House of Frankenstein (1944), which included both the Wolfman and Dracula, receiving decent reviews. I haven't seen them yet, but it looks somewhat promising.
BELOW: The Misfits music video for "Ghost of Frankenstein", which might be just as bad as the movie
Thoughts on films, old and new
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