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Archive for August, 2017

2017 Summer Movies #6

Posted by Gerald on August 9, 2017

2017 Summer Movie #51 – The Man Who Haunted Himself (Basil Dearden, 1970): This marks the end of the Filmstruck Dearden collection, and was his last film.  He died in a car accident, and this film revolves around a car accident.  A pre-Bond Roger Moore plays a staid City of London businessman who has a car accident and dies on the operating table for a few seconds.  Then Strange Things begin to happen.  This is certainly the most visually interesting of the Dearden films I’ve seen.  The fantasy element seems to have led him to be more willing to play with color, superimposition, and other things.  Moore evidently took this role for next to no money (he was already a major star in Britain due to The Saint and other TV roles) because he really believed in the project.  He listed this role as one of his best.  I can see why, he gets to do a lot here in comparison to his usual action leading man thing.  On a personal level, there is something about these 1970s British Technicolor films with the swinging orchestral soundtracks that I have always responded too.  Just watch the opening sequence and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

2017 Summer Movie #52 – The Big Night (Joseph Losey, 1951):  This is kind of a film noir coming of age story.  A teenager celebrating his 17th birthday (John Barrymore Jr. – father of Drew Barrymore – in his film premiere) sees his father being caned by a menacing mobster during the party.  He puts on his father’s suit, picks up his father’s gun, and heads out into the night for vengeance.  Despite some overly melodramatic moments, Barrymore is good in this and the story becomes one of the pitfalls of seeking to hand out justice when you don’t know all the facts.  This was Losey’s last Hollywood film before he left for Europe after having been blacklisted.  His screenplay for the movie included uncredited work by fellow blacklist members Ring Lardner Jr. and Hugo Butler.  Losey was being pushed out even as the film was being finished and, as a result, wasn’t part of the post-production process, where he evidently intended to shape this into a series of flashbacks.  Interesting, but be aware that the print (and the sound) are kind of awful.

2017 Summer Movie #53 – Time Without Pity (Joseph Losey, 1957): A noir thriller with Michael Redgrave playing a father trying to save his wrongly convicted son from being executed for murder.  Redgrave is fantastic as a guilt-ridden drunk who can barely function as he tries to beat the clock.  There are a lot of familiar faces in this film including Peter Cushing and Leo McKern.  Lois Maxwell, the future Miss Moneypenny in the bulk of the Bond films, has a couple of good scenes as Leo McKern’s seductive secretary.  This was Losey’s first film under his own name after five years of working under various pseudonyms and it was written by fellow blacklisted artist Ben Barzman.

2017 Summer Movie #54 – The Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960): This crime drama about a convict (Stanley Baker) who pulls a heist, winds up back in prison, and then has to deal with the police and the mob trying to get him to give them the loot, is made more interesting than this often-done tale by the way it centers on what prison does to the men inside, the dynamics of the relationships between prisoners and guards, and by some interesting camera work.  It also deals with a theme of Losey’s about how those in power, whatever side of the law they may be on, are likely to abuse that power.  It is a bit above the cut for “prison” movies even though it has almost everything you’ve ever seen in one.

2017 Summer Movie #55 – Eva (Joseph Losey, 1962): I hadn’t realized that Jeanne Moreau (who plays Eva) died just last week.  This film, about a writer who becomes obsessed with a femme fatale, is really at its best when we are just watching Moreau wander around empty rooms and look into mirrors.  However, it is also good when we watch her beating up on Stanley Baker, both metaphorically and literally.  Baker deserves credit for taking on the role of the drunken loser here, but one has to wonder what might have been if the role had been played by Richard Burton, the actor originally considered for this and the man who has turned in many of the greatest drunken loser performances in film history.  There is some nice camera work here, but there is also a “what if” surrounding some of that.  Joseph Losey said that the producers re-edited the film without his involvement and that because of this he found it a disappointment.  Still, this is worth watching, even just to watch Moreau vamp around Rome and Venice.

2017 Summer Movie #56 – The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963): This is one you watch for the art, not for entertainment – but if you love film it is entertaining.  There is no describing the plot for this because it isn’t really about that.  This is the first of three collaborations between Losey and playwright Harold Pinter.  It is about a servant (Dirk Bogarde) and his “Master” (James Fox).  It is a story about weakness and domination and sexuality and inversion and, like anything worthwhile done in England, class.  Great performances all around, but Sarah Miles as the coquettish and manipulative Vera is amazing.  Douglas Slocombe’s his black-and-white cinematography is incredible.  There are beautiful scenes of winter around claustrophobic and shadowy interiors.  He repeatedly constructs shots using mirrors to give reverse angles on his scenes – focusing action in imperfect reflections.  It is just great stuff.

2017 Summer Movie #57 – King and Country (Joseph Losey, 1964): It is World War I and a British soldier is being tried for desertion.  You pretty much know how this one is going to turn out.  This is much more a study of what war does to people than it is any sort of courtroom drama.  The court martial is actually just a small part of the film.  Tom Courtenay is very good as the hapless soldier.  Even by comparison with such films as “Paths of Glory” or “Breaker Morant” this is brutal.  Losey did this on a small budget for British television, which led him to make some interesting use of still photography.  Despite this the film was nominated for several awards both in Britain and at the Venice Film Festival, where Courtenay won an award for best actor.

2017 Summer Movie #58 – Accident (Joseph Losey, 1967): This is the second of Losey’s collaborations with Harold Pinter and it is brilliant.  Like “The Servant” the story here isn’t the real point.  This film delves deeply into desire and lust, jealousy and resentment, and middle-aged ennui… also, of course, the British class system  Pinter’s script freights innocuous lines with layers of meaning, while Losey’s camera lingers on small things that tell you everything about these people.  Dirk Bogarde is great as the thwarted Oxford don.  Just watch this!

2017 Summer Movie #59 – A Doll’s House (Joseph Losey, 1973): It is interesting to realize that when this premiered in the US it did so on ABC.  Probably the most interesting thing about this is that it is an adaptation.  Losey and David Mercer abandoned Ibsen’s one-room setting.  They took expository speeches and turned them into separate scenes.  Yet still, the film gives a sense of confinement and isolation – but without the literal confinement of the stage play.  I see this as an legitimate restructuring – making something into a movie rather than simply filming the play.  Still, it is also a very different thing than what Ibsen created, and unsurprisingly it upset many purists.  Jane Fonda is good in the lead role, David Warner is both sympathetic and alienating as Torvald, and Trevor Howard is wonderful as Dr. Rank.  Worth checking out as long as one leaves the expectation of seeing the play behind.

2017 Summer Movie #60 – The Romantic Englishwoman (Joseph Losey, 1975): One of the reasons I like watching strings of movies by a director is when I can start to see the patterns in their work.  Here, as in many of Losey’s movies, we can see themes of desire, jealousy, and how complicated relationships can be.  There are also visual elements that I’ve seen again and again through these films – the use of mirrors and reflections, contrasting tight interior spaces with wide exterior shots, and subtle hints – easily overlooked – that shape the meaning of the shots.  Another theme in his work that we can see here is the blending of reality, memory, and imagination.  I enjoyed this film for all of those things, but also because it stars two of my favorite actors.  Michael Caine as a writer trying to understand how his marriage is changing and the always fantastic Glenda Jackson as a woman discovering that her life isn’t what she wants, but not entirely certain how to find the other life she seeks.  Many similarities here to “The Doll’s House” and “Accident”.  Watch this!

2017 Summer Movie #61 – Roads to the South (Joseph Losey, 1978): This is a French language film and a sequel to a movie I haven’t seen (but want to now) entitled “The War is Over”.  It deals with a lot of Losey’s frequent themes about relationships and aging.  This one centers on the difficult relationship between a man and his son during the period surrounding the death of his wife.  It is also dealing with the end of the Franco regime in Spain, against which the man (Yves Montand) had fought in his youth.  An excellent and complicated movie – watch it.

2017 Summer Movie #62 – La Truite (Joseph Losey, 1983): The last of the Losey films on Filmstruck and not the best – but still interesting.  Again we have complicated people in complicated relationships made more complex because the people don’t really understand themselves or the people around them.  This film is also a bit more explicit in dealing with one of Losey’s continuing themes – the ambiguities of sex and desire.  One thing I’ve noticed through this series: I usually look up things about these movies and not one of the synopses I’ve read of a Losey film really does justice to what the movie is about.  His stories are used as vehicles for exploring people, rather than characters existing to fill in elements of a story – hence they don’t make for easy description.  Here ends the last of the reviews for summer 2017.


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2017 Summer Movies #5

Posted by Gerald on August 4, 2017

2017 Summer Movie #41 – Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963): Despite some elements that are a bit problematic, this film is well worth seeing if you love good movie making.  Richardson was making a literary adaptation in 1963 for a major studio, yet he threw the rule-book about how one did that (serious tone, reverence for the material, …) out the window.  He made a comedy – but not just a comedy.  He plays with everything here – film speeds, use of stills, abrupt shifts of tone, breaking the fourth wall (in a time when that was unheard of rather than almost cliche), an opening scene done in the style of an old silent movie etc…  What is even more amazing is that audiences loved this.  This is almost as difficult to consider as the idea that “Twin Peaks” was once a ratings hit on a major TV network in the US.  You can see bits of what Richardson did here in everything from Monty Python to John Hughes.  Like the best examples of film, this is about creating images – painting with light, if you will – not just using images to support a narrative.  If anything, the narrative here is just a framework to hold the images together  It is part of that sensibility that came to dominate films in the late 60s and 70s, and which died in major releases with the “blockbusters” of 1977.  Watch this!

2017 Summer Movie #42 – Pool of London (Basil Dearden, 1951): Another workmanlike Dearden film with a hint of a social conscience.  In this case we have a pretty stock crime drama – there is a heist, there are chase scenes, the two leads are decent enough guys who get drawn into all of it almost by accident… This would almost qualify as noir, but it doesn’t have the visual style.  What makes this unusual is that one of the two lead characters is played by a black actor (Earl Cameron) and this is the first time a black actor had a starring role in a British film.  His character has a sort of interracial relationship with a white woman – light dating, but with overtones of possible romance; and even that was enough to cause some controversy in England.  The film touches on racial prejudice, but it isn’t the major plot element that homophobia is in “Victim”.  Frankly, you could have cast a white actor in the role and made a couple changes to some dialogue, and you would have had the same story.  Still, that it addresses the issue at all makes it stand out – and puts it into this set of Dearden films that address social issues.

2017 Summer Movie #43 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Kenji Fukasaku, 1974): The last of the five films rounds out the story of the yakuza who featured in the other four movies and shows an attempt to take some of the Hiroshima families “legitimate” (to borrow Michael Corleone’s phrase).  As with the Godfather saga, there is no escaping the criminal past and the violence continues.

2017 Summer Movie #44 – The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith, 1952): This is generally considered the definitive film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play.  This sort of thing was Asquith’s forte and he worked here from his own fairly faithful screenplay.  If you like the play, you will probably like the movie.  In a nice round of irony, the director of this movie originally went into film to escape his family reputation.  His father was H.H. Asquith, a Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister up through the first two years of World War II.  Prior to being Prime Minister, he had served as Home Secretary.  While he was Home Secretary, Oscar Wilde was tried, convicted, and imprisoned on charges of “gross indecency” (homosexuality).  At that time, both the police and the prisons were under Asquith’s ministry.  The guy who did a comps field on modern British social and political history loves this sort of thing.

2017 Summer Movie #45 – The Smallest Show on Earth (Basil Dearden, 1957): No social message this time, just a comedy about a young couple inheriting a run-down movie theater and its staff of eccentric characters (including an old drunken projectionist played by Peter Sellers).  This is in the style of the Ealing Studio comedies, where Dearden had made films for years, although Ealing had just closed before this film was made.  While looking up stuff about this film, I discovered it became the basis for a 2015 stage musical that also uses a lot of Irving Berlin songs.  Not really outstanding, but fun.

2017 Summer Movie #46 – The Boy with Green Hair (Joseph Losey, 1948): Dean Stockwell plays the eponymous boy; a war orphan whose hair suddenly turns green.  This movie is almost Wes Anderson-like in having this twee coating over a dark center.  It’s message, that war is bad and should be avoided, went a long way toward convincing America, embodied in HUAC, that Losey was a threat to all that was good and decent.  This led to his being blacklisted and then leaving the country to make better movies with the likes of Howard Pinter in Europe.

2017 Summer Movie #47 – Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017): Excellent.  Nolan managed to avoid most of the cliches used in making this sort of film.  Instead we get a series of converging stories that allow the drama of this epic event to be felt in small and personal brushes with war.  No jingoism, no empty celebration of military glory – instead we see how the glory of war is in surviving and being a human at the end.  Nolan, as always, knows how to create a fantastic shot and uses the channel and the beaches to great effect.  If there is no other Oscar here, one should go to Hans Zimmer for the score.  It is unrelenting, it NEVER stops, and it carries much of the emotional impact of the film – yet does so without the usual orchestral flourishes that epic movies usually have.  This is a great one.

2017 Summer Movie #48 – Sapphire (Basil Dearden, 1959): Another workman-like film from Dearden, this is a crime procedural.  Where it joins these other Dearden films is that the murder at the core is of a young “colored” woman who was “passing for white”.  With this, the film looks at racism of many different types.  It has that twinge of early “progressive” films where a no doubt well-meaning white guy rather clumsily addresses racism.  Still, there is some really interesting stuff here, especially about the lives of black Londoners in the 1950s.  Be prepared for a couple of unintentional but still pretty racist scenes in the midst of this film that is trying to say racism is bad.

2017 Summer Movie #49 – All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1963): This is my favorite of the Dearden movies on Filmstruck thus far.  It is an adaptation of Othello set in an all night jazz party in 1960s London.  The script was written by “Paul Achilles” – a pseudonym used by American screenwriter Paul Jarrico when he was working in Europe while under the blacklist back home.  The movie features cameos by a LOT of jazz musicians, most notably Dave Brubeck and Charles Minges.  As with any version of Othello, the big question is the performance of Iago.  In this case we have Patrick McGoohan as a pot-smoking drummer setting up band leader Paul Harris and his retired singer wife Marti Stevens (McGoohan played the drums well enough that the shots of his playing show both his face and his hands, which are hitting the right drums at the right time).  His big move involves his skill editing audio tape.  Rounding out the major cast is Dearden regular Richard Attenborough as the host of the party.  Watch this one.

2017 Summer Movie #50 – A Place to Go (Basil Dearden, 1963): Dearden made films in several genres, this is an example of a British “kitchen sink” film.  These focused on very realistic depictions of working-class life.  This film stars Michael Sarne (who was a pop star in England for about five minutes and then went on to a career as an actor and director) as a somewhat rootless working-class Londoner who, in a frequent theme in Dearden’s films, gets pulled into a crime.  Still, this is less a crime drama than a depiction of how the lives of the English working class were being uprooted in the 1960s.  One major theme is the London version of “urban renewal” which, like in US cities in the 1960s, tore apart existing working class neighborhoods sending the more successful into suburbia and the less so into anonymous government subsidized apartment blocks.  The most interesting thing in this film is watching this transition happen to the family.  Despite the grim nature of this, the film is also full of moments of romance and comedy.  I liked it.

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