Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fin

Rumour strongly has it that after two or three years of hanging on by a thread, there will be no more print editions of the Time Out Film Guide. True that it had grown to a monstrous doorstop of a book, and true that the information could far more efficiently be stored, updated and indexed online, but it is obviously a sad passing, for in various volumes of growing size it has been my bible since, aged sixteen, I received the second edition as a school prize (we got to choose our own books). So I am stuck with George Clooney's mug on the final edition, but its place by my TV will be forever assured until someone decides that books are OK after all. RIP (and many thanks to marvelous editor Johnny Pym for his kindness and encouragement over the last few years).

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Duelle (une quarantaine)

(1976, Fr, 121min)
d
Jacques Rivette p Stéphane Tchalgadjieff sc Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilù Parolini ph William Lubtchansky ed Nicole Lubtchansky pd Eric Simon m Jean Wiener cast Hermine Karaghuez, Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Jean Babilée, Nicole Garcia, Claire Nadeau, Elizabeth Wiener

Rivette’s aborted filles de feu series concerned two rival goddesses descended to Earth, here in search of a magical jewel allowing them to stay beyond their allotted forty days. Ogier and Berto are radiant as the daughters of the Sun and Moon, interacting in mysterious fashion with a plucky brunette heroine and an enigmatic blonde, with the odd man out (Babilée, a dancer) shifting his character dependent upon which woman he is playing opposite. Conceived under the twin lights of Cocteau and diabolic noir The Seventh Victim­, in a fashion extreme even for Rivette, the skeletal plot and oblique, last-minute dialogue are a means to put his cast through a series of doubled/opposed combinations whilst enacting a meticulous mise-en-scène full of sinuous/sinister Ophuls tracks and cinematic allusions; the relentless exploration of filmic space extends to direct-sound piano improvisations from veteran Wiener, unobtrusive but incongruous in the background. Strange, obscure and infinitely self-reflexive, yet those with some sympathy will glide trembling through the movie mirror to an endlessly seductive twilight world of invented myth.

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Noroît (une vengeance)

(1976, Fr, 145min)
d Jacques Rivette p Stéphane Tchalgadjieff sc Eduardo di Gregorio, Marilù Parolini ph William Lubtchansky ed Nicole Lubtchansky pd Eric Simon m Jean Cohen-Solal, Robert Cohen-Solal, Daniel Ponsard cast Geraldine Chaplin, Bernadette Lafont, Kika Markham, Babette Lamy, Elizabeth Lafont, Humbert Balsan, Larrio Ekson

On the wild Brittany coastline, pale romantic Geraldine Chaplin cradles her (perhaps) dead brother, whilst skeletally intoning a poetical text vowing revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Lafont). They are, respectively, Moon and Sun goddesses engaged in a battle to the death (perhaps). Rivette’s filles de feu tetralogy was built on genre, here the action/adventure pirate mode, from Moonfleet and Anne of the Indies. But genre is only a starting point, an excuse to explore movement (most of the cast are dancers) and music (provided by a terrific trio improvising on camera) and, as ever, play-acting, from Lafont resplendent in a purple leather pant-suit to frequent quotation from the other Tourneur, an accusatory play-within-a-film, and a fantastical midnight masque finale. Highly idiosyncratic, almost too privately-conceived to be satisfying, and as such a mystical, mythical and wondrous leap into uncharted territory.

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Berlin Alexanderplatz

(1931, Ger, 90min, b/w)
d Phil Jutzi p Arnold Pressburger sc Alfred Döblin, Karl Heinz Martin, Hans Wilhelm ph Nicolas Farkas, Erich Giese ed Geza Pollatschik m Allan Gray cast Heinrich George, Maria Bard, Margarete Schlegel, Bernhard Minetti, Gerhard Beinert, Albert Florath, Paul Westermeier, Oscar Höcker

Not without charm, but a self-defeatingly brief dash through Döblin’s book, notable mainly for the author’s involvement in the screenplay, extracting the slender narrative elements from a novel in which the story is purposely unimportant. It starts off like a 20s city-film with Franz Biberkopf (a too-appealing Heinrich George) riding a tram fresh out of jail, unaccustomed and queasy at the pace of modern life all around him. Unfortunately, apart from a handful of fascinating semi-documentary cutaways in and around the Alexanderplatz, and a glimpse of 1930’s German holidaymakers at the seaside, the film eschews anthropology and any effort to appropriate the novel’s collage style, broaching in only the most superficial ways the sociological problems facing an ex-con starting his life over again without fully understanding how (or if) he fits into the modern world into which he has been reborn.

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Black Magic (aka Cagliostro)

(1949, USA/It, 105min, b/w)
d Gregory Ratoff, Orson Welles p Gregory Ratoff, Edward Small sc Charles Bennett ph Ubaldo Arata, Anchise Brizzi, Otello Martelli ed Fred R. Feitshans Jnr, James C. McKay, Renzo Lucidi ad Jean d’Eubonne, Ottavio Scotti m Paul Sawtell cast Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff, Frank Latimore, Valentina Cortese, Margot Grahame, Stephan Bekassy, Charles Goldner, Berry Kroeger, Lee Kresel, Raymond Burr

Narrated by Dumas père to his fils (an unlikely and distracting Raymond Burr) this gears up to be a splendid romp through the capitals of eighteenth-century Europe, with gypsies and castles and magic, before getting bogged down in the intrigues of the Parisian court, a Marie-Antoinette lookalike and the nobleman who hung Cagliostro’s parents. Welles has a whale of a time with the title role, phony prestidigitator and genuine hypnotist with delusions of theism, and he oversaw great chunks of the picture while Ratoff hovered on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sets and costumes are lavish, but despite some atmospherics and high-toned playing, it’s a largely two-dimensional affair, most notable for being the movie for which Welles forsook the Macbeth editing suite, and for introducing him to the subsequently invaluable Tamiroff.

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The Constant Nymph

(1943, USA, 112min, b/w)
d Edmund Goulding p Henry Blanke sc Kathryn Scola ph Tony Gaudio ed David Weisbart ad Carl Jules Weyl m Erich Wolfgang Korngold cast Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Brenda Marshall, Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn, Dame May Witty, Peter Lorre, Jean Muir

Mainly of interest for Korngold’s attempt to elevate the general standard of music in films (and for its disappearance into a rights limbo almost since release) this has Boyer and Fontaine both on classic form, he brooding, free-willed and artistic, she simpering, mooning and sickly. The composer who will only rise to greatness once he learns to cry gets a splendid opportunity to do so by the end, while the spectre of Letter from an Unknown Woman hovers close at hand. Various European settings stink of the Warners soundstage, and for all the debate about musical artistry and the lush symphonic poem that crowns the story, Korngold’s contribution never transcends traditional movie-music schmaltz, which sort of emotive nonsense Boyer so sensibly contemns for much of the film. The weepie mechanics are sound, however, and the supporting cast is top notch.

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Sanatorium pod klepsydra (The Hourglass Sanatorium)

(1973, Pol, 124min)
d/sc Wojciech Has ph Witold Sobocinski ed Janina Niedzwiecka pd Andrzej Plocki, Jerzy Skarzynski m Jerzy Maksymiuk cast Jan Nowicki, Tadeusz Kondrat, Irena Orska, Halina Kowalska, Gustaw Holoubek, Mieczyslaw Voit, Bozena Adamek. Ludwik Benoit, Janina Sokolowska

Making The Saragossa Manuscript look positively straightforward by comparison, Has's Schulz adaptation is - literally? - a dream of a movie. Joseph son of Jacob, woken by a blind Charon-like conductor on an uncomfortably evocative train full of Jews, is visiting his father in a strange, magnificently decrepit sanatorium whose inmates are sustained by the slowing down of time. Pretty soon, Joseph sees his own self approaching the building, and conventional notions of time and space are out the window, in favour of a disconcerting picaresque through memory and fantasy. Cousin to that other mittel-European Joseph (K), his bewildering purgatory is replete with an invisible bureaucracy that arrests him for his dreams, copious skulls, cobwebs and semi-sentient clockwork mannequins of historical figures plus, this being 70s European art cinema, women who have trouble keeping their blouses closed. Surrealism mingles with arcane allegory and metaphor, underpinned by the horror of the Shoah and the passing of a particular form of Jewish European culture, and if its hallucinatory allusiveness may obstruct full understanding, it's still a stunning head-trip of a movie.

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La ilusión viaja en tranvía (Illusion Travels by Streetcar)

(1954, Mex, 90min, b/w)
d Luis Buñuel p Armando Orive Alba sc José Revuelta, Mauricio de la Serna, Luis Alcoriza, Juan de la Cabada ph Raúl Martinez Solares ed Jorge Bustos pd Edward Fitzgerald m Luis Hernández Bréton cast Carlos Navarro, Fernando Soto, Lilia Prado, Agustín Isunza, Guillermo Bravo Sosa, José Pidal, Javier de la Parra

Buñuel’s fond picaresque has handsome “Curly” and portly Tarrajas requisition their beloved tram for one last ride before she’s consigned to the scrap heap. They are inundated with passengers whom they refuse to charge – one illusion is free socialized public transport. On their circuitous route back to the yard, Buñuel’s mockery encompasses oppression via capital and religion, and a drunken duke whose topper is unseated by a swaying pig snout. It's a deliberately inconsequential, gentle comedy, however, firmly on the side of the old-fashioned and of the working class, those whose obscure stories make up the fabric of a city. Designed to give them a moment onscreen more than to rail against their plight, it’s a mischievous, drunken wheeze cooked up during a delightfully ramshackle staging of Genesis, complete with beer-swilling Lucifer and sexy Eve.

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Liliom

(1934, Fr, 118min, b/w)
d Fritz Lang p Erich Pommer sc Fritz Lang, Robert Liebmann ph Rudolph Maté, Louis Née ad René Renoux m Franz Waxman cast Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray, Florelle, Alcover, Henri Richard, Barencey, Maximilienne, Raoul Marco, Antonin Artaud

Liliom is a carnival barker, charming on the merry-go-round, a lazy sponging hooligan otherwise. His redeeming feature is that he is a brutish young Charles Boyer, dancing on the balls of his feet, alternately glowering or child-like. Lang stopped in Paris long enough to direct the first Fox-Europa production for Pommer and it’s the lightest thing he did (and one of his favourites), with splendid carnival scenes and the feel of romantic comedy, but telling a cruel story of implacable Langian fate. Sadly, it takes far too long to get to the payoff (it’s from the same play as Carousel), wherein Boyer ascends to heaven with two eerie conductors (Cocteau took them for Orphée), gets a comically appropriate reception, and is shown a startling movie of his own inner thoughts. The film rests on Liliom’s appeal, but his loutish machismo (Boyer’s charisma notwithstanding) is more dated than masterful, and the sadistic conclusion espouses an attitude to domestic violence that no longer plays, even with allowances.

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Of Human Bondage

(1934, USA, 83min, b/w)
d John Cromwell p Pandro S. Berman sc Lester Cohen ph Henry W. Gerrard ed William Morgan ad Carroll Clark, Van Nest Polgase m Max Steiner cast Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Frances Dee, Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny, Alan Hale

Although abounding with such risqué material as unwedded cohabitation, single motherhood, prostitution and syphilis, this is a superficial trot through Maugham’s novel, enlivened only by a fiery Davis in her star-making turn as the slatternly shrew of a cockney waitress to whom Howard feels eternally bound because he once cared enough to ask her to marry him. Sympathy is guaranteed by his long face and buttoned-up exterior, concealing the sensitivity and melancholy of a failed artist, and the Englishman’s classically pointless shame, a clubfoot. Davis aside, Maugham’s cold-hearted cruelty is cripplingly underplayed and the final scene, pilfered from Sunrise, is radically misjudged in ham-fistedly replacing psychological resolution with a cacophony of car horns; by that time, however, Davis is out of the picture and along with her, any reason to care.

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The Pleasure Garden

(1925, UK, 6,458 feet, b/w)
d Alfred Hitchcock p Michael Balcon, Erich Pommer sc Eliot Stannard ad Ludwig Reiber m Lee Erwin cast Virginia Valli, Carmelita Geraghty, Miles Mander, John Stuart, Ferdinand Martini, Florence Helminger

The Pleasure Garden is a London nightclub, but also an apt description of how chorus girl Jill takes life. Sexy theatrical goings-on fade with her into the background, however, as her straighter room-mate Patsy takes centre stage. The pleasure garden is certainly not Africa, where their fiancé and husband respectively go to work; illness is reported and Patsy heads off, only to find hubby being nursed by a native (of Polynesia, by the looks of her). Insanity descends in striking style. Balcon’s American import Valli was a big deal for Hitch’s debut and she comports herself well, even if Geraghty is much more fun. Over-emotionalism is largely kept at bay by a brisk pace, and whilst the style is still nascent, the story is built around doubles/opposites (sex, class, morality) and familiar touches already appear, from the peeping camera of the opening show, to a nicely callous drowning that ushers an atmospheric climax.

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Power of the Press

(1943, US, 64min, b/w)
d Lew Landers p Leon Barsha sc Samuel Fuller ph John Stumar ed Mel Thorsen ad Lionel Banks m Paul Sawtell cast Guy Kibbee, Lee Tracy, Gloria Dickson, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory

More fervently even than Park Row, Fuller’s script makes an impassioned case for the ideals of honest American journalism in murky international times. A New York publisher is murdered, leaving his paper to an idealistic old small-town friend who, with the help of the bright plucky secretary and hardnosed managing editor, takes on the suavely dastardly co-owner. The latter’s motives beyond personal gain are a muddle of isolationism, general bigotry and even communism but the battle lines are as clearly drawn as in a punchy leader (truth and the little people vs manipulation, self-interest and anything that might aid the Nazis). Landers’ direction is occasionally eccentric and the repeated sermonising saps both character and vitality, but the impassioned moral outrage is invigorating.

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El rio y la muerte (The River and Death)

(1955, Mex, 91min, b/w)
d Luis Buñuel p Armando Orive Alba sc Luis Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel ph Raúl Martinez Solares ed Jorge Bustos pd Gunther Gerszo m Raúl Lavista cast Columba Domínguez, Miguel Torruco, Joaquín Cordero, Jaime Fernández, Victor Alcocer, Silvia Derbez, José Elías Moreno

This sardonic folk tale was intended by the producers to illustrate how education can overcome violence. Buñuel was having none of it. Dr Gerardo, the nominal hero, is made to relate much of the film's flashback structure from the confines of an iron lung (suffering even a slap on the face!). The honor of a long-standing blood-feud in his home village rests now with him, but from the comfort of civilised Mexico City he disdains such macho barbarism; the village is a place where the priest carries a gun under his cassock and "there's no Sunday without a dead man". Buñuel revels in the morbidity, but also conjures a fond evocation of rural life; not only is Gerardo dishonouring his mother by refusing to fight, but when he makes it home as the cityboy milquetoast, it’s left to his rival, the rougher-edged Rudolfo, to prove himself the more noble man.

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Sugata sanshirô (Judo Saga)

(1943, Jap, 80m, b/w)
d/sc Kurosawa Akira p Matsuzaki Keiji ph Mimura Akira ed Gotô Toshio, Kurosawa Akira ad Tozuka Masao m Suzuki Seiichi cast Fujita Susumu, Ôkôchi Denjirô, Todoroki Yukiko, Tsukigata Ryunosuke, Shimura Takashi, Hanai Ranko

Box office success and a subsequent career of unparalleled international prestige amply justified Toho’s leapfrogging Kurosawa through the assistant ranks to helm his first feature. The tale of a judo student mastering his art and his self displays many familiar characteristics already in place, from the period setting to deft use of seasons and weather. It opens with an atmospheric moonlit confrontation of overwhelming odds and climaxes with a terrific duel on a wind-battered mountain pasture. In between, dynamic show fights are conducted like dances and result in violently broken bones and walls; a putative love affair is sweetly conducted (paired shots of outrageous visual innuendo aside) earning a nice psychological tension; and the bad guy is pointedly distinguished by his westerner's suit. The loss of seventeen minutes of negative during the war hardly seems to detract from the thoughtfully-crafted entertainment.

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Tall Man Riding

(1955, US, 83min)
d Lesley Selander p David Weisbart sc Joseph Hoffman ph Wilfrid M. Cline ed Irene Morra ad Stanley Fleischer m Paul Sawtell cast Randolph Scott, Peggy Castle, Dorothy Malone, William Ching, John Baragrey, Robert Barret, John Dehner, Paul Richards, Lane Chandler

Scott is the Tall Man, riding for vengeance. What enhances the generic B-values of the picture, however, is how his righteousness is wrong-footed from the start, slowly starting to look like stiff-necked pride; likewise the old tale of trouble between ploughmen and cattlemen employs a gradual and natural shifting of sympathies. Scott doesn’t go in for Stewart-esque neuroses, but there are rumblings beneath the granite face as he starts to doubt the course of action he’s initiated. The men (fearsome patriarch, oily businessman) puff their chests out and it’s left to self-sufficient womenfolk Castle and Malone to get them out of trouble and tell it to 'em straight. Selander directs with efficient discretion, most notably in a strange shoot-out in a darkened cabin, to an overblown but not unappealing score; and a perfunctory happy ending belies the unusually textured morality of preceding events.

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Up! (aka Russ Meyer's Up!)

(1976, USA, 80min)
d/p/ph/ed Russ Meyer sc Russ Meyer, Roger Ebert ad Michael Levesque m William Loose, Paul Ruhland cast Raven de la Croix, Janet Wood, Robert McLane, Larry Dean, Monty Bane, Bob Schott, Kitten Natividad, Linda Sue Ragsdale, Edward Schaaf, Mary Gavin, Marianne Marks

Meyer’s penultimate feature is a cornucopia of his lunatic obsessions, with more blood and nudity than ever before, fantastically elongated prosthetic penises (in teasing glimpses), the magnificent Raven de la Croix doing her best Mae West impersonation, and a piranha-in-the-bathtub murder (the victim: a distinctively mustachioed Adolf "Schwarz"). Will the villain be Eva Braun Jr? Or perhaps hulking, axe-wielding backwards backwoodsman Rafe? What about sleazy Leonard Box? The action is frequently interrupted by joyous scenes of idyllic rural love-making, and regular recaps from the irrepressible Kitten Natividad as a leather-booted Greek chorus, the perfect hostess for such mythologically fetishistic excess. With a frolicsome pace, a consistently witty script from none other than Roger Ebert, a sense that Meyer has perfected his personal form, and just plain good film-making, it’s a masterpiece, of sorts.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Filming Othello

(1978, WGer, 84m)
d/sc/ed Orson Welles p Juergen Hellwig, Klaus Hellwig ph Gary Graver m Alberto Barberis, Angelo Francesco Lavagnino with Orson Welles, Hilton Edwards, Michael MacLiammóir

Presented as an informal living room chat about the convoluted production of the ’48-’52 movie, Welles’s final completed film continues his dependence on the essay form and the primacy of editing. It’s less tricksy than F For Fake (though outrageous in its splicing of a lovey luncheon with Edwards and MacLiammóir with Welles’s questions, clearly shot quite separately). A disjointed series of notes, it takes in production history, musings on theme, character and imagery, critical commentary, and some plummy recitations; looming over a moviola, Welles is as congenial a host as ever, though at his most sparky with a real audience, in brief post-screening footage. More of a footnote than a coda, the film represents the conjurer’s (or out-of work film-maker’s) trick of pulling something out of nothing, touching in Welles’s enthusiasm, and poignant in its smallness of scale.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Another Sky

(1954, UK, 86m, b/w)
d/sc Gavin Lambert p Aymer Maxwell ph Walter Lassally ed Vera Campbell cast Victoria Grayson, Catherine Lacey, Taïeb, Ahmed ben Mohammed, Lee Montague, Alan Forbes

The sole directorial effort of Gavin Lambert, co-founder of Sequence, editor of Sight & Sound, novelist, biographer, screenwriter and sometime lover of Nicholas Ray. It tells of Rose, a young buttoned-up Englishwoman in Marrakesh, companion to a rich eccentric, who finds herself overwhelmed by exoticism and a mad passion for oud-player Tayeb. The clipped, would-be poetic voiceover is rather dated, but wordless desert sequences are swathed in wind and music, market scenes are crowded with drums and chatter, and together with (feature debutant) Lasselly’s rich photography of arid days and sweltering nights, the film has an ethnographic power that effectively evokes the heady Otherness that so intoxicates Rose. Grayson is barely adequate, but her nervy demeanour helps ease the descent into mad romantic folly; not a great success, but fascinating, and would only have been more so if the protagonist had been, perhaps more naturally, a man.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Libeled Lady

(1936, USA, 98m, b/w)
d Jack Conway p Lawrence Weingarten sc Maurine Dallas Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, George Openheimer ph Norbert Brodine ed Frederick Y. Smith ad Cedric Gibbons m William Axt cast William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Walter Connelly, Charley Grapewin, Cora Witherspoon, E.E. Clive

Bullish newspaperman Tracy is compelled to hire back his slippery libel man (Powell) to bust a case brought by haughty “international playgirl” Loy (eyebrows on good form) and the reverse honeytrap he hatches, including a fake marriage using his own fiancée (Harlow), goes inevitably awry. Powell is in his smooth-talking element and Loy is luminous, even if restrained by her (underdeveloped) socio-economic distance; Tracy is best when reduced to s(t)olid second string and the raw deal handed Harlow’s character finally justifies her incessantly piggish indignation, even if it is gratingly one-note (not so her succession of ever-more fantastical outfits). The script is witty if not quite a firecracker and the ambiguous/antagonistic relationships aren’t sufficiently skewered, but a healthy irreverence towards marriage, a crazy set-up (and ending) and sheer star-power are quite enough for a basic good time.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Stereo

(1969, Can, 65m, b/w)
d/p/sc/ph/ed David Cronenberg cast Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Iain Ewing, Clara Mayer, Paul Mulholland, Arlene Mlodzick, Glenn McCauley

Somewhere in the north woods of Ontario the “Canadian Center for Erotic Research” is conducting group experiments into biochemically-induced telepathy – it’s Cronenberg’s debut (mini) feature. Unable to afford sound stock, he goes with a dryly academic voiceover, full of phrases like “experiential space continua” and “schizophonetic partition”; the distancing effect is compounded by the fact that the voiceover reports a period of experiment that took place prior to the “events” we see onscreen – for the unidentified subjects, much of the experience seems to involve being at a loose end in the lowering concrete complex of a Toronto University building (in medieval tights for some reason). Cronenberg wields the camera with an effective sci-fi eeriness, and although a watchable curiosity bubbling under with familiar physical/psychic/erotic obsessions, it remains a fatally disjointed, opaquely hermetic and largely unilluminating experiment.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Blast Of Silence

(1961, USA, 77m, b/w)
d Allen Baron p/ph Merril S. Brody sc Allen Baron, Mel Davenport (Waldo Salt) ed Merril S. Brody, Peggy Lawson ad Charles Rosen m Meyer Kupferman cast Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Peter H. Clune, Danny Meehan, Charles Creasap, Lionel Stander

Channeling Cassavetes’ side-walk style as much as the existential isolation of Pickpocket (with strong echoes of Melville), Baron directs, scripts and stars (before disappearing into TV) as Frankie Bono, dour hitman with a George Scott schnoz on de Niro’s mug. The terrific abstract opening plays to a gutter-poetic second-person monologue as Bono is rebirthed from a stint in prison; he arrives in the city on a job where he is tempted from self-imposed isolation with bleak consequences, the downbeat atmosphere reinforced by terrific long takes of wintery New York in the wind and rain. The roughest no-budget edges are in the acting, though Baron is hypnotic and Tucker is unnerving as the soft-spoken, venal fatty who gets in his way. The unusual voiceover is awkward at times but, written and delivered by blacklistees Salt and Stander, mostly works to unsettling effect in conjuring a weird, internalized character of its own, at effective odds with the street-level realism.

© Time Out Film Guide

PS (19 June 2012)
Richard Brody has sharper eyes than I do (or than most people, for that matter) - he spotted that camera operator Erich Kollmar is he who had shot Cassavetes' Shadows a couple of years previously, which no doubt has something to do with the wonderfully street-level feel of the above.
 

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The Boy Who Turned Yellow

(1972, UK, 55m)
d Michael Powell p Drummond Challis, Roger Cherrill, Emeric Pressburger sc Emeric Pressburger ph Christopher Challis ed Peter Boita ad Bernard Sarron m Patrick Gowers, David Vorhaus cast Mark Dightam, Robert Eddison, Helen Weir, Lem Kitaj (Dobbs), Brian Worth, Laurence Carter, Patrick McAlinney, Esmond Knight

A charmingly nonsensical reunion and final collaboration for the Archers (and Challis), at the service of the Children’s Film Foundation. In fact, a whole tube train turns nicely yellow as schoolboy John is on his way home. That night, he’s visited by Nic (as in Electro-nic), a vision in yellow oilskin, skis and motorcycle helmet with flashing light, who arrives through the TV set (like an anarchic but still schoolmasterly Roger Livesey). They travel via electric waves to retrieve John’s lost mouse at the tower of London, where John’s sentenced to be beheaded after a neat fight on a spiral staircase. The beefeaters eat beef, Esmond Knight pops up as an avuncular doctor and all the children are frightfully well-spoken. Pressburger’s script celebrates history, Englishness and education, both at school and in front of the TV, and Powell contributes some endearing overplaying, cheerful undercranking and an overall sense of jolly good fun. The kids thought so too: it won the CFF “Chiffy” two years running!

© Time Out Film Guide

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De Mayerling à Sarajevo (aka Sarajevo)

(1940, Fr, 95m, b/w)
d Max Ophüls p Eugène Tucherer sc Carl Zuckmayer, Marcelle Maurette, Curt Alexandre ph Curt Courant, Otto Heller ed Myriam, Jean Oser pd Jean d’Eaubonne m Oscar Straus cast Edwige Fieullère, John Lodge, Aimé Clariond, Jean Worms, Debucourt, Raymond Aimos, Gabrielle Dorziat, Gaston Dubosc

The opening title assuring historical accuracy, followed by hordes of nameless mittel-European officiaries, bodes ill for this tale of the run-up to WWI, made in France in the run-up to Occupation. Heir thanks to his cousin’s suicide at Mayerling, Franz Ferdinand and his modern ideas are kept in check by the Emperor, but an undesirable marriage is cautiously permitted. The wider political climate remains disappointingly sketchy, sharing screen-space with the languid love affair between Lodge’s straight-backed but romantic Archduke and a charming Edwige Feuillère as his morganatic wife. Ophüls conjures a couple of dreamy Romantic moments, but the fire is stifled by a feeling of historical chess-pieces being maneuvered into place.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Docks Of New York

(1928, USA, 7202 feet [c.76m], b/w)
d Josef von Sternberg p J.G. Bachman sc Jules Furthman ph Harold Rosson ed Helen Lewis ad Hans Dreier cast George Bancroft, Betty Compson, Olga Baclanova, Clyde Cook, Mitchell Lewis, Gustav von Seyffertitz, George Irving

With one night’s shore-leave, Bill the stoker rescues a suicide, marries her, and ships out in the morning. Sternberg’s last silent inspired Chaplin to claim that Hollywood had perfected its art (just as sound came along): the performances are vivid, and Sternberg’s skill with emotionally-loaded photography is unparalleled, but forget realism in character or setting – this is one of his enclosed fantasy worlds, the Bacchanalian dockside tavern filled with a Boschian sea of grotesques, resolutely outside normative moral codes; on the waterfront, all is shadows and fog; and the chiaroscuro stoker’s hole from which love redeems our hero is a fiery pit of hell. Bancroft’s eyes display wary intelligence behind his beefy exterior; Compson is simultaneously hard and vulnerable as a girl who’s had “too many good times”; and despite an excess of world-weary self-pity, bar-wench Baclanova slouches splendidly as the disillusioned embodiment of Compson’s future, pace the guarded (and uncharacteristic) optimism with which Sternberg ends.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Flamingo Road

(1949, USA, 94m, b/w)
d Michael Curtiz p Jerry Wald, Michael Curtiz sc Robert Wilder ph Ted McCord ed Folmer Blangsted ad Leo K. Kuter m Max Steiner cast Joan Crawford, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, David Brian, Gladys George, Virginia Huston, Fred Clark

Flamingo Road is the wealthy avenue of achievement in a sleepy southern town where circus girl Crawford decides to put down roots. Her battle of wills with corpulent, corrupt sheriff Greenstreet ranges from the soda fountain to the senate and furs and jewels appear in due course. She marries into local politics, and a sophisticated intrigue threatens to emerge from broad-stroke class issues and amped-up melodrama; the dialogue has its moments, the camerawork is striking if occasionally fussy, and Curtiz keeps up the pace, but Scott is rather lost as Greenstreet’s puppet (until he starts to hate himself); the fat man embodies sweaty evil and leers into the camera; and Joan remains luminous, appropriately lived-in (though generously referred to as a “girl” throughout”), and tough as old boots.

© Time Out Film Guide

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La Ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much)

(1963, It, 92m, b/w)
d/ph Mario Bava p Massimo De Rita sc Mario Bava, Enzo Corbucci, Ennio De Concini, Eliana De Sabata, Mino Guerrini, Franco Prosperi ed Mario Serandrei ad Giorgio Giovanni m Roberto Nicolosi, Les Baxter cast Léticía Roman, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Titti Tomaino, Luigi Bonos, Milo Quesada, Robert Buchanan

Or, The Girl Who Saw Too Much (But Didn’t Know Enough): time and again, appearances are deceptive for Nora, a young American in Rome entangled in a murder mystery. But what appearances – terrific photography (by Bava himself) drenches the film in chiaroscuro, with wide angles, deep focus and a Wellesian eye for old European architecture that amply shores up the rather silly plot (Nora witnesses a murder and seems to be next on the list). Only an otiose voiceover jars, while Bava keeps us guessing with a cast of highly suspicious characters (led by “Dr” John Saxon) and a high quota of truly striking moments (eerie bare lightbulbs in a white hallway; a string and talcum powder trap; Langian bullet-hole shafts of light), whilst still finding time for cheerful ogling of his leading lady’s shapely gams and a nice priest gag on which to end.

© Time Out Film Guide

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The Good Fairy

(1935, USA, 98m, b/w)
d William Wyler p Carl Laemmele Jr sc Preston Sturges ph Norbert Brodine ed Daniel Mandell ad Charles D. Hall m David Klatzkin, Heinz Roemheld cast Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Herbert Marshall, Reginald Owen, Eric Blore, Beulah Bondi, Alan Hale, Cesar Romero

Sweet naïve Margaret Sullavan is released from the orphanage to be a cinema usherette and charged with performing a good deed every day. One is enough: an infatuated older man (Morgan) wants to make her (fictitious) husband rich, so she randomly plucks upright struggling lawyer Marshall from the phone book. Molnar’s play had her as an amoral temptress – who’d expect Sturges to clean things up? But good clean fun it is, as he distills the plot to a purity of ridiculousness, the script bubbling with linguistic confusion and ludicrous names. The Budapest setting, as in Shop Around the Corner, provides a fairytale backdrop where such unlikely events seem perfectly possible and despite Morgan’s one-note stridency and some clumsy direction, the day is carried by Sturgian headlong momentum, amusing support from Owen and Blore, and the supremely winning charm of the two leads.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Hôtel Monterey

(1972, Belg/USA, 65m)
d Chantal Akerman ph Babette Mangolte

In a silent series of long, slow and defiantly “uninteresting” shots, Akerman films the drab corners and empty corridors of a low-rent New York hotel. With strikingly abstract geometric compositions, the painterly eye of DP Babette Mangolte (channeling Vermeer and Hopper in particular) and the robust grain of the 16mm film itself, she builds a patient structuralist portrait of things which would normally be ignored. Thereby, à la Alphaville, the quotidian becomes unsettlingly unfamiliar: it’s almost a sci-fi movie, an anti-2001, complete with waxwork-still hotel room, and long slow tracks through pools of corridor lighting that play like a doped-out star-gate (and it wouldn’t be Akerman without a sexual dimension: she makes creamy thighs of white-painted walls either side of a dark, intriguing doorway). When the camera finally ventures outside, smokestacks take off like rocket-ships, but the exterior world is literally barred; only in the final, slow pan do we see that life goes on, far below and far away. Hotel living is a lonely business.

© Time Out Film Guide

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I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname

(1967, UK, 97m)
d/p Michael Winner sc Peter Draper ph Otto Heller ed Bernard Gribble ad Seamus Flannery m Francis Lai cast Oliver Reed, Carol White, Orson Welles, Norman Rodway, Harvey Hall, Ann Lynn, Wendy Craig, Lyn Ashley, Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Marianne Faithfull, Frank Finlay, Edward Fox

Brooding Oliver Reed is a director of commercials with a semi-ex-wife, a clutch of dolly-bird mistresses and a violent disgust for the dishonesty and superficiality of his profession. His plan for a clean slate leads only backwards, to his uni chum’s literary rag, a school reunion (weak proto-If…) and a flagship commercial (for Super8 cameras, no less) with which he determines to “tell the truth”. This is, charitably, a spout of inarticulate rage; more accurately, supreme (holocaustploitation) tastelessness. Ditto the film as a whole, its smug self-knowingness overflowing with ham-fisted irony, and contempt for all concerned. Welles enjoys coasting as the Mephistophelian boss, Reed is woefully unequal to his dramatic climax and the fundamental misogyny is best demonstrated either by the gratuitous disposal of Carol White, or by Marianne Faithfull’s ghastly haircut.

© Time Out Film Guide

postscript: I just got to see Don Levy's rare and strange (and interesting but, frankly, not entirely successful) Herostratus. It was made in '64-65 but not screened til '67 and then only in a week-long engagement to inaugurate the ICA. Fascinating to wonder who saw it then - Roeg maybe; Cammell surely; Mike Hodges maybe; and Michael Winner without a doubt. Turns out he ripped it off to a shameful degree, tho both to serve himself (Ollie Reed marching to the adman's office, axe on shoulder) and to ridicule (the above-mentioned holocaustploitation). Basically, a fat greedy bastard having his cake and eating it - watch out or he'll have yours too!

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Magnificent Obsession

(1935, USA, 102m, b/w)
d John Stahl p John Stahl, Fred S. Meyer sc Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, George O’Neil ph John J. Mescall ad Charles D. Hall m Franz Waxman cast Irenne Dunne, Robert Taylor, Betty Furness, Charles Butterworth, Ralph Morgan, Sara Haden

Original of the better-known Sirk film: whereas in the latter’s Imitation of Life Lana Turner is no match for Claudette Colbert in Stahl’s original (and John Gavin is no match for anyone) here the prototype suffers by comparison. Even if the stiff 30s sound-stage style cannot quite quell the melodramatic intensity of the plot, high-pitched expository dialogue settles into a stuffiness that would be unsatisfactory even without comparisons to the unstoppable force of Sirk’s headlong soap opera. The rather serious flow is interrupted by irrelevant comic interludes involving Butterworth, the inexplicably aged suitor/husband of Dunne’s step-daughter Furness (herself pleasing sharp at times). Dunne is fine if colourless, and Taylor remains effectively haunted by remorse, but also somewhat unlikable, and his transformation to the do-gooding philosophy of the Christ-like doctor who died in his stead is never quite convincing (too much eye-shadow doesn’t help).

© Time Out Film Guide

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Una mujer sin amor (A Woman Without Love)

(1952, Mex, 85m, b/w)
d Luis Buñuel p Sergio Kogan sc Jaime Salvador, Luis Buñuel ph Raúl Solares ed Jorge Bustos pd Gunther Gerszo m Raúl Lavista cast Rosario Granados, Julio Villareal, Javier Loya, Joaquín Cordero, Tito Junco, Elda Peralta, Eva Calvo

Buñuel’s tasteful family melodrama begins with a romantic idyll before flashing forward twenty years to the bitterness that results. The family of Carlos, Rosario and their two sons is upended by the arrival of an unexpected inheritance, which prompts suspicion, anger and the inflammation of old resentments. The specific social milieu (wealthy bourgeois) of Maupassant’s source story is Bunuel’s natural home and he skewers it gently but firmly. His fondness for Carlos is displayed through comprehensive cuckolding and speeches on the merits of drink, but the heart of the story is small, quiet Rosario Granados, whose depth of feeling is invisible to all, her noble self-sacrifice on the twin altars of family and society sustained only by the distant memory of an impossibly romantic union. There’s no hint of surrealism, and Buñuel dismissed it as his worst film, but the final shot ties off a thread of genuine emotional substance.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Die Niklashauser Fart (The Niklashausen Journey)

(1970, WGer[TV], 90m)
d/sc/p Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler ph Dieter Lohmann ed Thea Eymèsz, Franz Walsch (RWF) pd Kurt Raab m Peer Raben cast Michael König, Hanna Schygulla, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Günther Kaufmann, Michael Gordon, Margit Carstensen, Kurt Raab, Walter Sedlmeyr, Carla Egerer

Clad in 1970 peasant garb various figures sleepwalk through fields or remain motionless in posed tableau, where they intone, declaim and converse without emotion on problems of property, labour or the economics of bear-hunting, firmly on the side of “the people” and the smashing of fascism. With undisguised citations from Godard, Rocha, fashionable Marxism and the slogans of 1968, Fassbinder takes the story of a 15th-century peasant, instructed by a vision of the Virgin Mary to overthrow his oppressors and subsequently burnt at the stake, as pretext for an enquiry into revolution. But there is deep ambivalence as to the effectiveness of armed struggle and the “happy” ending is sarcastically dismissive; Fassbinder’s character argues for the enjoyment of wealth and represents the doubtful value of art. His most directly political film is, as ever, less a thesis than a fervid call for self-examination.

© Time Out Film Guide

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The Rainbow Thief

(1990, UK, 87m)
d Alejandro Jodorowsky p Robert Taicher, Vincent Winter sc Berta Domínguez D. ph Ronnie Taylor ed Mauro Bonnanni pd Didier Naert, Alexandre Trauner m Jean Musy cast Omar Shariff, Peter O’Toole, Christopher Lee, Francesco Romano, Jude Alderson, Jane Chaplin, Berta Dominguez D., Ian Dury

A decidedly thin tale, with Sharif as a cheerfully thieving bum and O’Toole as a prince living in the sewers, with a glove-puppet of his late Irish wolfhound. He’s awaiting the death of eccentric millionaire uncle Lee, who feeds caviar to his Dalmatians and bones to his dinner guests before slipping into a coma amidst a bevy of hookers. The setting is some fantasy old-world northern European city where Jodorowsky indulges his romanticised and caricatured view of poverty, making light stabs at capitalism and the church, and washing it all clean with an apocalyptic rainstorm finale. The fairytale tone is a failure, O’Toole is grossly wasted and Sharif is mostly annoying. The production was fraught and Jodorowsky disowned the result, and apart from the scene of a midget being beaten by children, it’s just neither sufficiently weird nor cruel.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Sadie McKee

(1934, USA, 93m, b/w)
d Clarence Brown p Lawrence Weingarten sc John Meehan ph Oliver T. Marsh ed Hugh Wynn ad Cedric Gibbons m William Axt cast Joan Crawford, Gene Raymond, Franchot Tone, Esther Ralston, Edward Arnold, Earl Oxford, Leo G. Carroll, Jean Dixon, Akim Tamiroff

Abandoned by her deadbeat boyfriend once they hit the big city, Crawford takes to nightclub dancing in a skimpy outfit and snares herself a millionaire, useful to spite childhood chum (soon real-life husband) Tone, now a smug lawyer who likes the way she’s filled out. Joan gets lots of jewels and a husband too drunk to bother her, but she’s quite misjudged as a gold-digger, of course, and steps up when her husband needs her. As well as fatal alcoholism, the movie covers prostitution, TB, class warfare and a hint of women’s lib, but it’s a rickety concoction, frequently grinding to a halt for musical numbers (the trundlebed of dancing girls is quite a sight) whilst Joan neatly sidesteps all moral quandries. Never mind – this is a thoroughbred show, be she in a pinny or a sparkling bikini, or at her best taking tea in one of Adrian’s more outrageously avant-garde creations.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Street Of No Return

(1989, Fr, 93m)
d Samuel Fuller p Jacques Bral sc Samuel Fuller, Jacques Bral ph Pierre-William Glen ed Jacques Bral, Jean Dubreuil, Anna Ruiz ad Geoffroy Larcher m Karl-Heinz Schäfer cast Keith Carradine, Valentina Vargas, Bill Duke, Andréa Ferréol, Bernard Fresson, Marc de Jonge, Joe Abdo, António Rosário

One would expect explosive Fuller material from a David Goodis source novel and a plot involving race riots instigated to debase real estate values, but all that can be said in defense of his final cinema feature (two TV films followed) is that it spent a year being tinkered with after he delivered his own cut. Carradine’s alcoholic bum searching for the lost love of his old life as a pop star makes for a weakly passive protagonist and aside from the opening shot, an abstracted shoot-out finale in a tear-gas-filled apartment building, and a gunshot castration, it’s a banal mess. Smothered in a horrible synth score, Carradine sports a frightful wig, Vargas acts best without her clothes on and Bill Duke looks suitably pissed off throughout.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Woman in Question (aka Five Angles On Murder)

(1950, UK, 88m, b/w)
d Anthony Asquith p Teddy Baird, Joseph Janni sc John Cresswell ph Desmond Dickinson ed John D. Guthridge ad Carmen Dillon m John Wooldridge cast Jean Kent, Dirk Bogarde, John McCallum, Susan Shaw, Hermione Baddeley, Charles Victor, Duncan Mcrae, Lana Morris, Joe Linnane, Vida Hope

Further evidence, as if it were needed, of Bogarde’s pre-eminence amongst screen actors. The year before Rashomon hit Cannes, this early effort has him as one of five protagonists giving statements to the police about their role in the murder of fortune teller “Madame Astra” (real name: Agnes). With a slippery central figure, the secondary characters carry the show admirably, and the flashback material is for the most part nicely modulated under Asquith’s typically professional if uninspired direction, but when we return to the business of actually having to solve the crime, tension dissipates and one largely ceases to care. Later in life, Bogarde spoke of the camera’s invidious ability to see into one’s head, and the marvelous transparency that makes his work so effective and affecting is already (un)comfortably in place, as neurotically-charged as anything in the Archers’ films of the period, and foreshadowing the more emotionally naked work to come.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Andriesh

(1954, USSR, 63m)
d/p Sergei Parajanov, Yakov Bazelyan sc Yemelian Bukov ph Suren Shakhbazyan, Vadim Vereshchak pd Viktor Nikitin, Oleg Stepanenko m Igor Shamo, G. Tirceu cast Giuli Chokhonelidze, Konstantin Russu, Nodar Shashik-ogly, Lyudmilla Sokolova, K. Stirbu, Yevgeni Yereke, Dominika Dariyenko, R. Klyavin, Trifon Gruzon

Expanded from Parajanov and Bazelyn’s Moldovian Fairy Tales diploma film, this has plucky little shepherd Andriesh journeying to the evil sorceror’s castle to rescue his flock, his faithful dog and the girlfriend of people’s hero Voisovan, assisted by talking trees, a giant and a flying horse, all to the accompaniment of a stridently Soviet (ie over-emphatic) score. With only the lyrical opening actually shot out on the steppes, the weird sets and light of the studio render the special effects acceptably charming, coming off like a low-rent Russian Thief of Baghdad. Prajanov described it as expressing “an absence of experience, craftsmanship and good taste”, but it’s no less enjoyable for that, even if one cannot help but feel that Andriesh is rather cheated by the denouement.

© Time Out Film Guide

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The Comancheros

(1961, USA, 107m)
d Michael Curtiz, John Wayne p George Sherman sc James Edward Grant, Clair Huffaker ph William H. Clothier ed Louis R. Loeffler ad Jack Martin Smith, Alfred Ybarra m Elmer Bernstein cast John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin, Michael Ansara, Bruce Cabot, Patrick Wayne, Joan O’Brien, Jack Elam, Bruce Cabot, Edgar Buchanan, Bob Steele, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams

Curtiz’s final film is the enjoyably lightweight tale of a Texas Ranger and a professional gambler going up against the Comancheros, whites and Mexicans who ride with the Comanche. The story flows smoothly from the “civilised” world of the Mississippi riverboat, via “authentic” outdoor ranch life, to the alternate, self-contained society of the Comancheros, with the developing West nicely detailed along the way. The final act runs out of steam but the point is to enjoy the ride, and Wayne certainly does, in his relaxed and professional Hawksian mode, sparring good-humouredly with the quietly-confident Gilbert. Balin and Persoff provide charismatic support and the half-scalped Lee Marvin tears apart his tiny role with the help of an odd topknot, a bottle of whiskey, and an energy sorely missed on his exit halfway through.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Crime Wave

(1954, USA, 73m, b/w)
d André de Toth p Bryan Foy sc Bernard Gordon, Crane Wilbur, Richard Wormser ph Bert Glennon ed Thomas Reilly ad Stanley Fleischer m David Buttolph cast Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Buchinsky (ie Bronson), Jay Novello, Timothy Carey

Following House of Wax, De Toth’, Wilbur and Foy toughen up with the story of ex-con Nelson whose former cell-mates won’t let him go straight. Warner resignedly allowed them off the lot and to shoot mostly at night, and dividends are paid not only in the direct-documentary style of the terrific opening (a midnight gas-station hold-up), but also in the small-hour police station scenes, and sticking up the actual Glendale Bank of America. The shadows crawl, literally and figuratively: Nelson is torn between his girl (Kirk) and the life of crime he is unable to escape, whilst Sterling Hayden is the tough cop disgusted with his dirty job, and no less with himself, painfully aware of the gap between the inviolable law and common sympathy for another human being, except unlike Nelson, he can handle it without the bellyaching. Touches of social conscience, a loony cameo from grinning Timothy Carey, and brooding Charles Bronson round out the package: nasty brutish and short, no less.

© Time Out Film Guide

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The Devil Thumbs a Ride

(1947, USA, 62m, b/w)
d/sc Felix E. Feist p Herman Schlom ph J. Roy Hunt ed Robert Swink ad Albert S. D’Agostino, Charles F. Pyke m Paul Sawtell, Roy Webb cast Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford, Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon

In between drunken brawls and traffic offences off-screen, Lawrence Tierney was the toughest-talking, most steely-eyed bad guy to come out of Hollywood in the forties. Or any place else, any time, see. He never graduated beyond the Bs, but dominated each one in which he appeared, his aura of menace and psychopathy fizzing off the screen. Here he is, the eponymous devil of course, fleeing a bank hold-up in San Diego, avoiding police roadblocks and, with the cheerful sucker who gave him a lift and two dames who missed the bus, holing up in an empty beach house for the night. Poverty row economy, good character acting and nice shadowy camerawork are backed up by a tight script that brings matters satisfyingly to a head in under an hour. Reminiscent of Ulmer’s Detour, although without the poetic aspirations, it’s as tough and to the point as Tierney himself.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Empty Saddles

(1936, USA, 67m, b/w)
d Lesley Selander p Buck Jones, Irving Starr sc Frances Guihan ph Herbert Kirkpatrick, Allen Q. Thompson ed Bernard Loftus ad Ralph Berger m Felix Mills cast Buck Jones, Louise Brooks, Harvey Clark, Charles Middleton, Frank Campeau, Lloyd Ingraham, Earl Askam, Gertrude Astor

Amongst Brooks’ final screen appearances, this is a typical Buck Jones-produced oater and a sad affair: the fighting cattlemen and haunted dude-ranch have less sophistication than an episode of Scooby Doo. Brooks plays sweet as “Boots” Boone whom Jones doesn’t notice is in love with him until the last minute, and his dull stolidity stands for the film itself, wooden in acting, direction and script, with a particularly poor soundtrack and even Brooks failing to distinguish herself.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Angst vor der Angst (Fear of Fear)

(1975, WGer[TV], 88m)
d/sc Rainer Werner Fassbinder p Peter Martesheimer ph Jügen Jürgens ed Liesgret Schmitt-Klink pd Kurt Raab m Peer Raben cast Margit Carstensen, Ulrich Faulhabeer, Adrian Hoven, Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Kurt Raab, Ingrid Caven, Lilo Pempeit Hark Böhm, Armin Meier

Even before her new baby is born, Margot is going crazy and has no idea why, terrified of losing her mind, and terrified that people will notice. None of valium, suicide or adultery can help her, trapped in an empty bourgeois existence with a tender but distant husband and hateful in-laws; unable to slot neatly into her social roles, she has lost the ability to understand or find meaning in an orderly world, a not-too-distant relation to Rowlands’ woman under the influence. But with shimmering waves of focus and a recurrent woodwind motif, this could almost be a Joan Crawford picture; Margit Carstensen’s toothy death’s-head and clear-skinned angular beauty perfectly conveys the brittle emotional state beneath, all the more affecting for being eerily muted in comparison to her equally-imprisoned Martha. As ever, no answers from Fassbinder but a terrible warning as Margot, permanently detached from reality, ends by foreseeing uncomprehendingly her own fate.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Flaming Feather

(1952, US, 77m)
d Ray Enright p Nat Holt sc Gerald Drayson Adams ph Ray Rennahan ed Elmo Billings ad John B. Godman m Paul Sawtell cast Sterling Hayden, Forrest Tucker, Arleen Whelan, Victor Jory, Barbara Rush, Richard Arlen

Sterling Hayden’s career in Hollywood was an extensive one, but the high points relatively few. Often terrific, his air of suffering integrity or self-loathing could lift even the most undistinguished oater. Flaming Feather is all too typical: the Sidewinder, an outlaw riding with Indians, effortlessly escapes capture for twenty years. Tex McCloud loses home and cattle in a raid, and with Hayden’s familiar resignation sets off in single-minded pursuit, whilst Whelan (conniving) and Rush (sweet) provide irrelevant plot strands that do little to distract his attention. Awkward moments in the script, an under-explored racial element and the over-egged (but appealing) score are balanced by verdant landscapes and direction which, like McCloud, is decent, unfussy and has a job to do, wrapping everything up in a focused if unremarkable 77 minutes.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Flight To Fury

(1964, USA, 74m, b/w)
d/ed Monte Hellman p Fred Roos, Eddie Romero sc Jack Nicholson ph Mike Accion cast Dewey Martin, Jack Nicholson, Vic Diaz, Fay Spain, Joseph Estrada, John Hackett, Jacqueline Hellman, Juliet Prado, Lucien Pan

Shot in the Philippines whilst Back Door To Hell was edited at night, this is a rather baggier film than its companion, written by Nicholson from transcribed chats with fellow passengers on the boat coming over. The result is a discursive and lackadaisical thriller in pursuit of a bag of diamonds, treading water for too long before a plane crash deposits an appealingly motley band of strangers in the jungle. Nicholson revels in an early psycho role and the tone is pleasingly stark and amoral, but it is an unfocused precursor to Hellman’s later work, only stepping up in the climactic chase, filmed with the obsession of The Shooting, with the final shot of dead-man’s shoes summarising the futility of the preceding 74 minutes in logical prefigurement of Two-Lane Blacktop’s conclusion.

© Time Out Film Guide

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A Girl Must Live

(1939, GB, 92m, b/w)
d Carol Reed p Edward Black sc Frank Launder ph Jack Cox ed R.E. Dearing ad Vetchinsky m Louis Levy cast Margaret Lockwood, Renée Houston, Lilli Palmer, George Robey, Hugh Sinclair, David Burns, Mary Clare

In this terrifically funny offering from Reed, Margaret Lockwood escapes from a Swiss boarding school to make it on the London stage. Rooming with two chorus girls, she’s quickly on her way and piquing the curiosity of the handsome (and rather louche) Earl of Pangbourne, object of several voracious attentions. A girl must live in a manner to which she could become accustomed, but she must also live and have a good time with it. Launder’s script frequently shifts up to breakneck pace, a rare match for Sturges, and equally unsentimental; like Sturges also, there’s terrific and memorable support right through the cast. Specially introduced at the beginning, Houston and Palmer’s gold-diggers are marvelously unscrupulous, Burns and Robey are particularly good when drunk, and Lockwood rises calmly above the screwy antics going on around her. An unusually flip, brash, sexy and self-assured English comedy, that can almost live up to the (American) Burns’s comment on the grand Baronial Hall set – “it’s better than Hollywood”. And the costumes are sensational!

© Time Out Film Guide

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Der Heilige Berg (The Holy Mountain)

(1926, Ger, 106m, b/w)
d/sc/ed Arthur Franck p Harry R. Sokal ph Sepp Allgeier, Albert Benitz, Helmar Lerski, Hans Schneeberger pd Leopold Blonder cast Leni Riefenstahl, Luis Trenker, Ernst Petersen, Frida Richard, Friedrich Schneider, Hannes Schneider

Riefenstahl is Diotima the Dancer, unquestioningly worshiped by mountain sportsman Karl. She loves him for his sensitivity and for his implacable cliff-face beauty, but her attentions are distracted by his pal Vigo, victorious in an exhilarating long-distance ski-ing race, and off the two men must go to scale the “dreadful Santo-north face”. Loyalty is the greatest attribute for the mountain sportsmen; its betrayal can end only in tragedy. The plot is as old as the mountains themselves but given that Riefenstahl cited Franck as her cinematographic mentor, it is no surprise that the photography is wonderful in this “dream-poem with scenes from nature” (a prologue has her offering her art to the sea). The bergfilms of the 1920’s were the natural inheritors of that gloomy German romanticism, focused on the sublime in nature, best typified by Friedrich in the nineteenth century and Kant in the eighteenth, and the film’s aim – and success – resides in its use of consciously archetypal narrative and characterisation as vehicles through which to reach for the ineffable.

© Time Out Film Guide

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El Húsar de la Muerte (The Hussar of Death)

(1925, Chile, c.72m, b/w)
d Pedro Sienna p Alfredo Woinitsky sc Pedro Sienna, Hugo Silva ph Gustavo Bussenius cast Pedro Sienna, Clara Werther, Dolores Anziani, Hugo Silva, Guillermo Barrientos

Of around 78 silent films made in Chile only three survive; the fate of most was to be sold to comb factories for their celluloid content and El Húsar de la Muerte escaped only thanks to the diligence of restorer Sergio Bravo. Chilean cinema had been fired by the showing of the Lumières’ films in Santiago in 1896, and although never prolific or developing an industry infrastructure, native films began to appear in a steady trickle. El Húsar de la Muerte is a rough and ready account of the life of Manuel Rodriguez, legendarily instrumental in the country’s liberation in the early 1800s; his life had inspired the very first Chilean feature, and Sienna had already taken the lead for Arturo Marion in the second version of 1920. His return to the story was hugely popular and immediately hailed as the greatest of all Chilean films. It may lack in sophistication, but the tale is told with some pace and wit; now declared a National Historic Monument, it enjoyed popular revivals in the 1960s and 1970s, when the time for a revolutionary hero had returned. A rare and valuable survivor both for cinema history and for the history of its people.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Jubal

(1956, USA, 100m)
d Delmer Daves p William Fadiman sc Russel S. Hughes, Delmer Davies ph Charles Lawton Jr ed Al Clark ad Carl Anderson m David Raksin cast Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Felicia Farr, Basil Ruysdael, Noah Beery Jr, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam

Just like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Ford’s “Jube” Troop emerges from the dust to stop awhile as hired hand for jolly rancher Borgnine and his young and dissatisfied wife, with fairly predictable results. The ever-worthy Daves aims for voguish psychological realism with a “modern” treatment of adultery and clear relevance to the HUAC hearings in the theme of an innocent man hounded by superior forces. Characterisation tends to the schematic, and although Ford works hard, even pulling off a passionless liaison with drippy Mennonite Farr despite an obvious disinterest in all matters (hetero)sexual, his poker face hides hides a curiously empty centre to the film. Bronson and French are decent in support, but Steiger’s hyper-neurotic Iago-figure threatens to overbalance everything; meanwhile, the hothouse plot drives matters relentlessly forward and if emotional involvement is kept largely at arm’s length, the literate script sustains interest, and the cinemascope photography of Grand Teton National Park is gorgeous.

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Jumping Off Bridges

(2006, USA, 90m)
d/sc Kat Candler p Kat Candler, Lorie Marsh, Stacy Schoolfield ph Jim Eastburn ed Nevie Owens pd Lisa Laratta m Christopher Case cast Bryan Chafin, Michael Emerson, Glen Powell Jr, Katie Lemon, Savannah Welch, Michael D. Conway, Anne Nabors

A pleasant breather from the attention-seeking and self-conscious hipness of much independent cinema, Jumping Off Bridges is a gentle drama about coping with grief, and how to go on living beneath the twin shadows of guilt and self-accusation. Zak’s family harbour a secret hurt that has sent his mother into withdrawal, therapy and medication, and when a second tragedy occurs, he threatens to follow suit. The film wavers between measured thoughtfulness and off-handed detachment but the restrained approach is largely successful, allowing ample space to solid performances from local Austin talent and a handful of LA support (Emerson is particularly effective). The central metaphor is never laboured (the title is the favourite pastime of Zac and his friends) and if the script probes less deeply than it might, the honesty of intention before and behind the camera is enough to elicit sympathy and understanding.

© Time Out Film Guide

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Kansas Pacific

(1953, USA, 73m)
d Ray Nazarro p Walter Wanger sc Daniel B. Ullman ph Harry Neumann ed William Austin, Walter Hannemann ad David Milton m Albert Sendry, Marlin Skiles cast Sterling Hayden, Eve Miller, Barton MacLane, Harry Shannon, Tom Fadden, Reed Hadley, Douglas Fowley

The North want the Kansas Pacific railroad built. The South for some reason do not, and an oddly dapper Quantrill does his best to disrupt proceedings with his motley band of unshaven ne’er-do-wells. Captain Sterling Hayden, young and eager before the self-loathing kicked in, is dispatched to oversee the remainder of the construction, wins over the incumbent boss and his daughter, and the North lives happily ever after. The run-up to the Civil War is a rare backdrop and casts a sober shadow over proceedings; the railroad here is not a symbol of the opening and modernisation of the West, but a parallel Mason and Dixon line between northern civilisation and southern barbarity. An apparently larger budget than the usual oater provides superior explosions and gunshots (albeit with anachronistic arms and dynamite) and the overall effect is efficient and likeable, if largely unremarkable.

© Time Out Film Guide

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