Virtual Bourgeois

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Archive for August 9th, 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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