#91: Moonfleet (1955) January 14, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : adaptations, 3 stars, 1950s, Adventure, Historical, 2012 , add a comment
A colour CinemaScope Hollywood adventure movie from a director best known for epic German silents or dark film noirs?
#29: The Court Jester (1956) December 23, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Musical, 4 stars, 1950s, Adventure, 2012 , add a comment
Danny Kaye stars in today’s 100 Films Advent Calendar review, a swashbuckling musical comedy…
#47: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) July 24, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Thriller, Crime, Western, adaptations, 4 stars, 1950s, Mystery, 2012 , add a comment
Bad Day at Black Rock is on Film4 today at 5pm, and again on Thursday at 12:40pm. My review:
#34: Night of the Demon (1957) September 23, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, adaptations, 3 stars, 1950s, British films, 2011 , add a comment
Adapted from an M.R. James story, Night of the Demon sees Dana Andrews as Dr. John Holden, a psychologist arriving in Britain to discredit satanic cult leader Julian Karswell. To cut to the chase, Holden begins to wonder if Karswell has placed a curse on him, and perhaps what he had set out to disprove isn’t such mumbo jumbo after all…
A horror movie in the old fashioned mode — creepy and uncanny, rather than aiming to make you constantly jump or turn your stomach with lashings of gore. A scene at a children’s party at Karswell’s house is particularly unsettling, the apparent jollity contrasting with the ominous winds and undercurrent of evil. There are some other effectively tense sequences too, like Holden breaking into the villain’s house for a late-night search, or meeting a rather odd family during his investigations. These weak descriptions don’t do it justice, clearly.
Tourneur’s film is beloved by some, but I don’t think I quite got it myself. There are some great sequences, but I didn’t always find it hung together in between. Ironically, while many have criticised the actual appearance of the titular beast at the end, I think it works rather well — it’s surprisingly well realised, and you can take it as either a real manifestation or part of one character’s deranged imaginings. It’s an effective climax.
One to watch again someday and re-assess, I think. For now, though:
#58: The Thief (1952) June 15, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, Crime, 3 stars, 1950s, silent films, 2011 , 3 comments
Ray Milland stars as Dr. Allan Fields, a nuclear physicist working at the United States Atomic Energy Commission, who is photographing secret files and passing them to The Other Side, until something goes wrong and the authorities are on his tail. But that’s almost beside the point, because if The Thief is known for anything it’s for its dialogue — as the poster proclaims, “not a word is spoken…!”
At some points in cinema history that would go without saying, obviously, but this is 25 years after the first talkie, so it’s being Experimental. It’s not silent film styled either, unlike recent attempts to recreate that early era like La Antena or 2011 Cannes competitor (and Palm Dog winner*) The Artist. There’s a minimal use of text here too — certainly no intertitles, and only a couple of printed pages to help us follow the story. I’d argue most of those aren’t needed either. They all crop up fairly late on, by which point we’ve grown accustomed to interpreting what we’re seeing without the help of words, so it’s almost a shame Rouse resorts to them.
It’s credit to Rouse’s direction and performances, particularly by Ray Milland, that we can follow what we’re seeing without more text. That said, it is a fairly straightforward and archetypal story — while it demonstrates that you can tell a story without dialogue, it might leave one wondering about the possibilities for telling a wholly original or truly complex story that way. Obviously we can look back to the silent cinema for that kind of thing, but while that era could probably still teach many filmmakers something about visual storytelling, it’s hard to deny that the advent of synchronised sound adds a helluva lot to the ability of film — if it didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken over so fast and remained virtually 100% dominant for the last 80+ years.
But anyway. Milland conveys the necessary emotions through his face and actions alone. Rouse manipulates the plot to suit a little showcasing of his direction: mostly it’s a tale of espionage, meaning tense chase sequences that are often only underscored by music in regular films anyway, but the second half presents an aside in which an alluring Rita Gam — credited only as The Girl — seduces Miland as he hides out in a New York apartment. “Look,” Rouse seems to say, “we could do a romance too.”
It’s unusual that the hero is working for the other lot. Sure, there are plenty of murderers and assorted other crooks as heroes in film noir, but here we’re expected to identify with a Commie traitor? How very dare they! Perhaps this is why the villains are never explicitly named. But they’re definitely not American! Tsk tsk. More crucially, it’s a bit slow at times — it seems to take longer to explain things when stuck doing them through visuals alone. That said, it could probably have survived a speedier approach even doing what it does — perhaps, then, Rouse is playing for time: the film only runs 87 minutes in spite of its pace.
The Thief tells its story and relays the thoughts and feelings of its lead character effectively, even if that story is a bit simplistic and even if there are times when it’s clearly jumping through a hoop or two to make sure no dialogue is required. The lack of dialogue is certainly a gimmick, albeit one that — more often than not — works. It’s an interesting film, I’ll certainly give it that.
* I didn’t know they had a Palm Dog award until this. That’s… well, I think that’s awesome; as the Americans like to say, your mileage may vary.
Audrey Hepburn, er, ‘Week’… June 3, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Romance, 1960s, 1950s, 2011 , add a comment
Following Valentine’s Day — yes, I’m talking about way back in February — Channel 4 attempted a week of Audrey Hepburn films. Except for some reason they didn’t schedule one for Monday. And then Friday’s, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was replaced by delayed horse racing. And for my part, I forgot to record Thursday’s film, Funny Face.
So following Valentine’s Day, Channel 4 showed a pair of Audrey Hepburn films (that I saw). One of those I posted a while ago — it was Roman Holiday — but I’ve caught Funny Face since, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the racing-motivated repeat, so I’ve actually wound up with three Hepburn reviews to post. None are particularly long, so here they all are:
Then there’s Humphrey Bogart… At least his character is pretending to fall for [Hepburn] in order to get her away from his wastrel brother. But it actually feels very mean-spirited — Sabrina is likeable enough that we dislike his machinations. Which means that there’s no truly supportable lead character.
a surfeit of excellent humour, choreography, cinematography, light satire of both the fashion world and the intellectual world… Indeed, dishing out said satire in both directions means the film never comes across as either snobbish or anti-intellectual… it takes fair jibes at both equally.
this version is certainly more Hollywoodised. Some hate it, and I can see their point… but it is fun, and it’s plain to see why men and women alike have fallen for Hepburn’s Golightly. A more sordid adaptation of the book might be interesting, but that doesn’t negate the unique qualities of the film.
Comedy, Musical, Romance, 4 stars, 1950s, 2011 , add a comment
Pair this lot up with Roman Holiday and you can see plenty of connections, overlaps, similarities and juxtapositions between Hepburn’s roles… few of which I’ve drawn out in this set of reviews. Plenty of actors play the same character with tiny variations in multiple films; while Hepburn’s parts may not be poles apart (especially if you take Tiffany’s out of the equation), I’m sure the dedicated might find some interesting points to observe.
Like Sabrina, Funny Face has Audrey Hepburn falling in love with someone old enough to be her dad. Fortunately, there’s enough other entertaining stuff going on to keep us distracted from that fact.
But let’s start with the negatives anyway. The plot, about a bookworm intellectual girl reluctantly being drawn into the world of high-fashion, falling in love with a photographer in the process, is as predictable as they come. It doesn’t matter, aside from the aforementioned fact that Fred Astaire is 30 years Hepburn’s senior and, though it’s obvious the characters are destined to get together, it doesn’t feel like the actors should. In fact, I’m not even really sure the characters belong together — of course they’re going to go that way, but the film doesn’t put a great deal of effort into making us believe it.
But the rest of the film does make up for that, with a surfeit of excellent humour, choreography, cinematography, light satire of both the fashion world and the intellectual world… Indeed, dishing out said satire in both directions means the film never comes across as either snobbish or anti-intellectual. It could well have dismissed the shallow world of fashion in favour of the depths of intellectual thought, or dismissed the dullness of philosophy for the glamour of couture, but it takes fair jibes at both equally — it’s not mean-spirited or cynical or dismissive, just… quite true.
All films look better in HD (when well done, naturally), but some seem to benefit more than others. Funny Face is one of those. It looks stunning — vibrant colours (especially in the opening Think Pink sequence), gorgeous location shots of Paris, the smokey confines of the intellectuals’ cafe… It’s a beautiful film. What it lacks in widely-remembered songs it makes up in the stunning visual sequences that accompany them. The opener may again be the standout, even though it features neither of the leads, but Hepburn’s barmy interpretative dance in the Paris cafe is also memorable, as is the three-way Bonjour, Paris!, or Astaire’s solo in the courtyard of Hepburn’s hotel, or their little darkroom number…
The cast are all great; specifically the three leads. Hepburn shows a perhaps-surprising affinity for dance (I wouldn’t say she’s known for it) and singing (she was dubbed in the later My Fair Lady); a rare film role for Kay Thompson as the fashion magazine editor, like Meryl Streep’s take but 50 years early (even the office looks familiar; which means they both look just like Anna Wintour’s — the more things change, etc); and Astaire is, naturally, brilliant.
Funny Face seems to have plenty of critics — mainly on the notion that Hepburn could be said to have a funny face. Pretty shallow reason to dismiss a whole film, if you ask me. While there are couple of bits that don’t wash with my appreciation — the age gap; I could take or leave the two scenes at the church — there’s far more to love about the film.