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post #2221 of 2243 Old 05-22-2019, 06:34 AM - Thread Starter
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Until They Sail (1957), directed by Robert Wise.

A minor, well-made melodrama of four sisters in New Zealand dealing with American Marines while their men are away at the war.

It has unusually blunt sexual content, with the women policing each others behavior, not always successfully. Wartime changes the old standards.

I review this one for the talent.

The crew:

  • Directed by Robert Wise, a famous counter-example to the auteur theory in film. I'm compelled to see all of his movies.
  • Photographed by Joseph Ruttenberg.
  • Score by David Raksin.
  • From a story by James A. Michener.

The women:

  • Jean Simmons is the sensible sister, making allowances and trying to keep everyone together.
  • Joan Fontaine is the oldest, monitoring the others and trying to maintain standards.
  • Piper Laurie is the man-crazy sister who marries in haste.
  • Sandra Dee (age 15, her film debut) is the youngest, always excited and large hearted.

The men:

  • Paul Newman is an American officer who drinks at night so he doesn't have to think about women. Jean Simmons, the war widow, tweaks him about that: Isn't it cowardly? The others make mistakes but at least they are involved.
  • Charles Drake was a familiar face as a supporting actor during those years. I remember him best as the sheriff in It Came from Outer Space (1953). Here he has a good role as a polite, decent Captain from Oklahoma.

Available on DVD. No subtitles, but I found a track online.



-Bill
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post #2222 of 2243 Old 05-23-2019, 04:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Belle de Jour (1967), directed by Luis Buñuel.
[Additional notes and new thumbnails from the Criterion Blu-ray].

In previous viewings I suffered from outraged romanticism: "frigid masochistic prostitute" is quite an invention but it just hurt that she could not make love to her husband because he was too nice to her.

Now it seems lighter and less serious, a witty satire from Buñuel. As a surrealist he doesn't need his films to be analyzed and will actually put in obstacles to prevent understanding.

I wonder if the popularity of the film isn't because that for many (I don't know the percentage of the population) sex is the center of reality, the axis around which everything else turns. Séverine is miserable until she achieves satisfaction by being dominated.

(Not everyone feels the importance of sex. I recall an interview with JG Ballard when the discussion turned to obsessions: "I don't have the sex thing. Wish I did").

I noticed a lot of little things this time, like how she doesn't respond until commanded. She has no idea how to deliver the degradation to others that she craves for herself. And yet she does change after her time in the brothel, becoming more confident and needing less submission and humiliation.

It is said Catherine Deneuve learned acting after she got into movies. Her passive, inexpressive demeanor at age 24 is appropriate to this mysterious character, a great contribution to the film.

The madame is played by Geneviève Page who always catches my eye. I remember her as a princess in El Cid (1961) and as the fetching female lead in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).

Finally, I will always wonder what the Japanese client had in that little box that startled everyone so. Dolls in a difficult looking sexual posture I presume, but the director claimed he had no idea what it was.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion with strong natural grain in the image.

Michael Wood, author of the British Film Institute book on the film, provides a humorous, insightful and rather blunt commentary track. He's very good at noticing psychological structures that would have escaped me.



-Bill
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post #2223 of 2243 Old 05-24-2019, 08:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), directed by Robert Wise.

To the dissatisfaction of First Officer Burt Lancaster -- who wanted the job -- new Captain Clark Gable has been put in command of the submarine USS Nerka. He drills the crew in unconventional torpedo techniques, longing to meet up with the Japanese destroyer that sank his last command.

Just how obsessive is the Old Man? Is he going to get them killed?

I haven't made a study of submarine films so I don't know if the standard ingredients originated here or were already known tropes. They rig for "silent running" while playing blind tag with another sub. To simulate their own destruction they force oil, debris and even dead bodies out of the torpedo tubes, then hear the news announced by Tokyo Rose. They don't have a tense dive below crush depth.

These scenes are always tense and dramatically rewarding, whoever invented them.

I'd forgotten which film this was from: when going to battle stations the men pat the backside of a pinup model poster taped to the wall. For luck:



This one got good comments for technical accuracy. When the torpedos hit a ship it blows up real good and looks too Hollywood to me, but I wasn't there.

Note young Jack Warden and spot Don Rickles in his first film.

Music by Franz Waxman, photographed by Russell Harlan. Some real sub footage, but also model work and rear projection.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino.



-Bill
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post #2224 of 2243 Old 06-01-2019, 07:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Cowboy (1958), directed by Delmer Daves.

Hotel clerk Jack Lemmon invests in a cattle drive, becoming partner to desperate trail boss Glenn Ford, who immediately regrets it. The boys work him hard, but dude though he is, he works and takes it seriously. After his Mexican girlfriend breaks his heart he becomes as tough as any of them.

The studio promoted this as "the West as it really was", as if no one had made a realistic western before. Still, it illustrates truths sometimes forgotten: that the cowboys did the work because it was a job, not because they loved it. That the West was where they worked, but they would rather be back in Chicago with plenty of hot water, fine dining and yes, even opera.

Jack Lemmon is an "indoor" sort of guy, but that makes him good as an outsider. You don't know what sort of grit a man will show until he is stressed. Same with Dick York and King Donovan: believably grubby on the trail, unusual roles for them.

We're more used to seeing Brian Donlevy, Richard Jaeckel and uncredited Strother Martin in the saddle and they fit right in.

What I remembered of this one from years ago: everyone kidding Donovan about having eaten an Indian once. "I only ate a haunch" he protests. And the tragic incident where Jaeckel throws a rattlesnake as a joke and kills Martin with it. And then wants his boots.

Delmer Daves is hard to pin down as a director. He presents a sort of relaxed realism. Others would heighten dramatic tension with imagery, but he tends to let it go.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with a commentary track by Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman and Paul Seydor. They say My Reminiscences as a Cowboy by Frank Harris, adapted for the film, is not exactly reliable history.



-Bill
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post #2225 of 2243 Old 06-06-2019, 03:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Kuroneko (1968), directed by Kaneto Shindo.

(Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, "A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove").

Another "Angry Ghost" story, like Kwaidan (1964).

Hungry soldiers appear like spirits from the woods surrounding the house of a woman and her daughter-in-law. The men's priorities, in order: water, food, rape, arson, murder. They fade like spirits into the woods again, but this is not the last we have seen of spirits.

Two ghosts begin haunting Rashomon (1950) gate. They lure lone samurai to their house deep in the bamboo woods, seduce them and toy with them like cats before ripping out their throats with their teeth, also cat-like.

They have made a pact with the demon world: the women may return to earth so they can kill samurai. Every samurai in the world.

This first half is creepy enough, but it takes a sad turn when their son and husband returns from battle and is given the job of dealing with the ghosts. He too is now samurai. It becomes less of a horror film and more a meditation on love: lost, regained, gone bad. We have an erotic ghost story segment.

That ghosts can grieve as well as be angry and want revenge: it suggested to me a plot device that might be used in other stories. Just as our world has its weather and tides, so might the spirit world have movements that bring the ghosts closer to us at times.

Some unsettling ghost-world visuals; I particularly like the lighted house moving silently through the bamboo grove like a ship at sea.

The score does this thing I have noticed in other Japanese ghost-story films: a creepy-ass percussion that intimates spirit presences which the characters cannot see.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion.



-Bill
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post #2226 of 2243 Old 06-10-2019, 05:22 PM - Thread Starter
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Two for the Road (1967), produced and directed by Stanley Donen.

Scenes from a marriage that was probably a mistake. It's both funny and bitter, like the dark side of romantic comedy. Witty but often cruel sniping.

The story jumps around in time, all during travels in France, from their first meeting to vacations in later years. The director said these were not really flashbacks, as their history was always with them. As they say: the past isn't over -- it isn't even past.

Who is at fault? If they were mismatched from the beginning then it is no one's fault, and how would young people know that anyway? She is the more likable character and tries to accommodate him. He is a pill and more self-centered.

Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney do great work here. We are so used to seeing her elegantly dressed by Givenchy that it is startling to see her in student jeans, then in off the rack items, getting to designer clothes later in life. In fact: her clothes and hair are the chief clues given us as to the time period of each scene. That and the cars they drive.

A funny bit: after (first?) sex she says "I dreamed a train ran through our bed last night" and they joke about it: Dr Freud cover your ears, etc. Then she opens the curtains and a train does run by on tracks right outside their hotel window.

Years later they are about to have sex in their car and she says "I've always loved happy endings" which, if I'm understanding her, is the earliest use of that particular euphemism I've seen in film.

Young Jacqueline Bisset has a couple of scenes. The director said he was stuck speechless by her beauty when she walked into his office. That's not her voice; she was gone during dubbing.

Eleanor Bron and William Daniels are delicious as an awful American couple with a spoiled devil child. Who never worked in film again; maybe she was too scary?

Score by Henry Mancini, photographed by Christopher Challis. Gorgeous color and composition.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with a beautiful image. One commentary track by Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo and another by the director.



-Bill
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post #2227 of 2243 Old 06-18-2019, 10:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Scarface (1932), directed by Howard Hawks.

This influential gangster film -- inspired by the career of Al Capone -- lays a lot of foundation work for the genre, emphasizing the gang warfare element, having as its lead an out of control hoodlum in a hurry. The new group moving in on the old families reminds me of The Long Good Friday (1980), told from the other side.

They cover the ethnic geography: Italians on the south side, Irish in the north. The lawyer is Jewish.

The action picks up when the gang discovers tommy-guns, which they use with abandon. The police are so frantic they talk about deportations and martial law.

It is fun to compare Brian De Palma's version in Scarface (1983). A lot of plot is retained.

George Raft flips his coin and Boris Karloff has a competing mob.

Paul Muni's sister is played by 20-year-old Ann Dvorak, who was off-stage friends with Karen Morley who plays his love interest.

The two Howards -- Hawks and Hughes -- are sometimes confused with each other, made worse because they sometimes worked together, as in this case where they co-produced. Hughes went to war with the pre-Code Hays Office which insisted on cuts. When required to add a civics lecture opening he included his own spin:

Quote:
This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty.

Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: "What are you going to do about it?"

The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?
An alternate ending was filmed where Tony survives and goes to trial. Paul Muni was unavailable and they used a stand-in.

Photographed by Lee Garmes (Morocco (1930), The Desperate Hours (1955), Nightmare Alley (1947)).

Available on DVD. The alternate ending is included as an extra.



-Bill

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post #2228 of 2243 Old 06-18-2019, 10:38 AM - Thread Starter
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Monkey Business (1952), directed by Howard Hawks.

Hawks goes extra-silly in this one about an absent minded professor who invents a youth potion.

A part I regret: he misses a chance for more pointed wedding night humor with the older professor and his now psychologically younger wife. It is deflected by having her melt down into hysterics and call for her mother.

Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers reunite ten years after their little-known Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942).

Charles Coburn seemed to be in everything in those years.

The DVD is included as part of a "Marilyn Monroe" collection even though she is fourth billed. It's a good part.

I suppose the fake Indian gibberish and scalping dance would cause heads to explode these days.

Hawks repeats the same wardrobe malfunction gag he used in Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Man's Favorite Sport? (1964). Something about women with exposed backsides really tickled him.

Available on DVD.



-Bill

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post #2229 of 2243 Old 06-18-2019, 10:40 AM - Thread Starter
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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), directed by Howard Hawks.

A film famous not for much in its plot -- it's a musical, after all -- as for the color, costumes, jewelry, general glamour and most specifically for its pairing of sex symbols Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn plays the material girl while Jane is (voraciously) looking for love. A happy film: I can't help but marvel and laugh.

When I was young Russell seemed much older than Monroe, but there is only five years difference between them. Although witty and charming, Russell seems tougher and has a masculine side to her power. The biting wit comes naturally to her.

If I haven't seen the films for a while I get the title confused with How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) (same year!), which could easily describe both movies.

Marilyn's tour-de-force "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is iconic, one of the famous images of cinema, often quoted. Nicole Kidman's version in Moulin Rouge (2001) was particularly fine. Monroe did most of her own singing, with a little supplemental dubbing from Marnie Nixon.

I'd forgotten: after that number Russell does a Monroe impression and then reprises the song in a funny, unglamorous way.

Hoagy Carmichael contributes two songs.

Based on a stage musical which was from a 1925 novel. A silent version from 1928 is presumed lost.

I don't think the director made any other musicals, apart from A Song Is Born (1948), an adaptation of his own Ball of Fire (1941). I give him and writer Charles Lederer credit for the wit and innuendo, but some of it probably comes from the stage play and novel.

Lovely Blu-ray image, although made grainless with DNR. The costumes, jewelry and glamorous stars are all knockouts.



-Bill
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post #2230 of 2243 Old 06-25-2019, 04:49 AM - Thread Starter
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Army of Shadows (1969), written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

The French Resistance to German occupation in WW2 immediately became the stuff of legend. Only gradually as the years passed was the mythology picked apart: not everyone supported the Resistance and the nation was not unified in opposition to the invaders.

This serious, dark-toned film gives us a kind of an "underground procedural" of how war in the shadows worked. We follow a set of people who really are heroic, even if it may not seem to to them at the time. They have to do terrible things.

Critics complained that they spend more time executing traitors in their own ranks than in fighting the Germans. Said the director: this is how it was. The plot is taken from contemporary accounts. Melville adapted his screenplay from an account written during the war. The underground leader is based on Jean Cavaillès, tortured and shot by the Gestapo.

This was a case where the film did well in France but critics were able to kill its reputation. They objected to Melville's devotion to DeGaul, a wartime hero and president, but then out of favor. The film was not even shown in America until 2006, when French critics were reevaluating it.

The cinematography has that "black and white in color" look of the crime pictures Melville did just before and after this: Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle Rouge (1970). The director denied any sort of shared world view between the Resistance and crime films, but you can see a lot of overlap: tough men, violence, secret gangs, authority and counters to it.

On Blu-ray from Criterion, but now out of print. Film historian Ginette Vincendeau gives a detailed analysis, both of the film and the historical events.

The director -- born Jean-Pierre Grumbach -- picked "Melville" as his code name in the Resistance, his homage to the American writer.



-Bill
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post #2231 of 2243 Old 06-25-2019, 09:44 PM
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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), directed by Howard Hawks.

A film famous not for much in its plot -- it's a musical, after all -- as for the color, costumes, jewelry, general glamour and most specifically for its pairing of sex symbols Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn plays the material girl while Jane is (voraciously) looking for love.
Which, of course, Madonna vamped up for her own Material Girl shtick.

Quote:
Marilyn's tour-de-force "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is iconic, one of the famous images of cinema, often quoted.
One recent quote,
comes courtesy of Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- a homage to Diamonds borne of a plot situation where Rachel's character delusionally thinks she is in a love triangle.

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post #2232 of 2243 Old 07-01-2019, 11:28 AM - Thread Starter
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The Roaring Twenties (1939), directed by Raoul Walsh.

Two Americans meet while being shelled in WW1. Years later they will meet again back home. James Cagney is affable, as tough as he needs to be but not cruel. Humphrey Bogart is darker: he likes the killing.

Back home Cagney can't get his old job back so he gets into bootlegging and hijacking. In a funny segment he looks up a woman who wrote to him while he was at war, only to discover she is still in high school. Goodbye to her until a few years later when she is singing in nightclubs and he takes an intense interest in her career.

This is Priscilla Lane, doing her own singing. She had a girl-next-door appeal and I remember her best from Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

Shady as he is, Bogart tries to give Cagney good advice about the young woman: she has eyes for the bland, straight-arrow lawyer. Not that his advice does any good.

Times are pretty exciting in the Prohibition liquor trade until the Crash and Great Depression when no one can afford to go out anymore. Cagney hits the skids, but still has to look out for his girl, even if she is married to a district attorney.

WW1 and the Twenties were recent history in 1939, but perhaps seemed like another world at the end of the Depression. The nostalgia rush must have been strong in this one.

What a treasure Cagney was, that sparkling intensity. He was tired of gangster films and this was his last until White Heat (1949) ten years later.

When watching Night Train to Munich (1940) I noticed Hitler in some archival footage, his 19th credit in the IMDB (out of over 1000). Beating that score: this film, his 15th credit. The only earlier sighting I am likely to have is Anatole Litvak's Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) at #11 .

Finally: the soldiers joke about body lice: "cooties". Had that been done before?

Available on DVD.



-Bill
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post #2233 of 2243 Old 07-04-2019, 07:02 PM
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Army of Shadows (1969), written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
Saw this at a Duke University screening of the restored version around 2006ish ... not an easy film to watch. Dread permeates the story. Possibly the Citizen Kane of WWII resistance films.

"Sell crazy some place else -- we're all stocked up here."
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post #2234 of 2243 Old 07-05-2019, 01:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Beggars of Life (1928), directed by William A. Wellman.

A young hobo stops at a farm house hoping for breakfast. He finds the owner sitting at the table with a bullet hole in his head. A young woman dressed in men's clothing is trying to escape just then and she confesses to him: "Yes, I killed him. He adopted me from the orphanage and always had his hands on me. This morning it was too much and I had to do it".

They hit the road together (foreshadowing It Happened One Night (1934) and Sullivan's Travels (1941)) and finally arrive at a hobo camp (a "jungle"). The men are a tough, dirty and debased lot. Seeing through her disguise the sexual menaces are immediate, blunt and very serious. It is a truly frightening prospect, going on for a long time.

Two against many: can they survive?

The summary makes it sound like another Wellman film, Safe in Hell (1931): a woman fleeing a murder, not safe from the men around her, the one good guy in her life unable to defend her.

This was not much liked at the time: too dark, too serious. People wanted Louise Brooks in light dancing roles. Her weightier German pictures -- Pandora's Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) -- came the next year.

Good performances all around, but Wallace Beery as the boss hobo "Oklahoma Red" is a standout. Brooks -- who criticized every aspect of the production, including her own work -- called his acting a "small masterpiece". Silent films sometimes don't have subtle acting, but that large face of his is so expressive that we actually see his thoughts without being aware of any mugging.

We want to think his bullying character has a heart of gold, but that doesn't come out until the last act.

Another sighting: Edgar "Blue" Washington, a black baseball player, policeman and actor with a long career, almost always uncredited. Here he has a significant role as a hobo caring for a feverish white man and later as part of the conspiracy to help the young couple get away. In between he has to do some comical eye-rolling expressions.

Shot on location during hot weather near the California/Mexico border. Those are real trains and the actors do many of their own dangerous-looking stunts. In an exciting sequence reminiscent of Keaton's The General (1926) they send a burning locomotive off the tracks and down a hillside.

A partial-sound version was made and distributed but that has been lost. It is said that Wellman invented the boom microphone for the sound version.

In her great collection of essays Lulu in Hollywood, Brooks has a chapter on this film, "On Location with Billy Wellman":

Quote:

We fell in love with Locomotive 102 on the first morning, when she gave two long and two short blasts on her steam whistle to call us to work from breakfast in the lunchroom. Indulgent, she let us ride all over the train -- astride the cow catcher, in the engine cab, atop boxcars, inside gondolas, and on flatcars. I chose to ride in the caboose, with its cozy bunks and fat little black stove, which glowed red in the cold mountain nights. When everyone was accounted for by the assistant director, and after a warning ring of her bell, away Locomotive 102 skipped -- up the canyons on the hour's trip to Carrizo Gorge, the central point from which we operated. If work finished at sunset, she returned to town in a frolicking mood, with clanging bell and blasting whistle. If work finished at night, she coasted to town on the breeze, with all of us lying out on the flatcars, looking up at the stars shimmering in the black sky.
Available on Blu-ray from Kino. This is from the best surviving source and is of rough quality, but is quite watchable given the age and considering it was lost for many years. It has the vignetting on the edges and in the corners often found in silent film.

The new chamber music score uses some selections from the original. It quotes the old silent music without wearying us the way those scores would sometimes do.

Two commentary tracks:

The director's son has many stories about his father and the making of this film. Of Wellman's 20 silents this was his favorite, even more than Wings (1927) which was a difficult production in many dimensions.

Another track is by the director of the Louise Brooks Society and author of a book on the film. He says Wellman wanted Brooks back for the Jean Harlow role in The Public Enemy (1931) but she wanted to be done with Hollywood by then.



-Bill
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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), written, produced and directed by Albert Lewin.

... Available on Blu-ray from Kino, but judging by online prices it must be out of print now.

The Technicolor seems desaturated to me; it must have been more vivid in the theater.

Spoiler!
Costly to buy, but available for streaming currently on The Criterion Channel, in a print restored by the George Eastman House. The color is amazing, looks like it was filmed last week.
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Emperor of the North Pole (1973), directed by Robert Aldrich.

Aka Emperor of the North.

A quintessential "tough guy" film by one of the masters of the genre. It is part of the 1970s film fascination with the 1930s.

The brutal tone is established early when we see Ernest Borgnine -- as a railroad conductor who will not allow any hobos on his train -- smash a man in the head with a large steel hammer. He falls and is torn apart under the train.

The steel sledge is Shack's favorite weapon but he also uses a chain, live steam, and a heavy metal pin on a rope, bouncing under the train to clear out hidden riders.

He is challenged by legendary hobo "A-No.1" -- Lee Marvin -- who will ride the train no matter what. Both hobos and the yard men are excited to see Shack taken down and there is betting up and down by the line.

Keith Carradine complicates matters as a young loud-mouthed and treacherous wannabe hobo who keeps getting in the way. This is another common feature of the tough guy formula: age's revenge on youth. The film is a sort of counter-reaction to the "greening of America" promise of young people taking over and leading the way. Not yet: old men still rule. Says A-No.1: "You had the juice, kid, but not the heart".

Like a modern superhero film, the climax is a big beat-down between A-No.1 and Shack. Chain, axe, the works.

Many familiar faces in the supporting cast. As always with train films the stunts look extra dangerous. The stars do many of their own stunts as if they were born to it. As with Frankenheimer's The Train (1964) we see a lot of real train mechanisms and yard operations. Something I had never seen before: the locomotive has a sand dispenser to apply grit to the tracks for traction. As for when some clever hobo has greased the rail on a slope to get the train to stop.

Watching this it first occurred to me that Ernest Borgnine can be scary as hell, but his enraged staring pop-eyes are also kind of cartoonish. How does that fit into the action thriller? We have other explicitly comic bits: stealing chickens and turkeys, invading a river group baptism.

Filmed in Oregon in the same locations as Buster Keaton's train film, The General (1926).

The title is a self-deprecating joke: king of the hobos is a worthless position, like being emperor of the north pole.

Aldrich had directed Lee Marvin twice before: Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). He directed Ernest Borgnine in six films, including The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).

Photographed by Joseph F. Biroc. Score by Frank De Vol; I would have guessed Lalo Schifrin.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The image quality is very good, occasionally excellent.

The commentary track is by a film scholar who, like a lot of academics, speaks in declarations.



-Bill

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Emperor of the North Pole (1973), directed by Robert Aldrich.

Aka Emperor of the North.


Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The image quality is very good, occasionally excellent.
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Looks to be OOP to me.
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Looks to be OOP to me.
Yes, as is the case with a lot of the TT titles. I rented it from http://www.store-3d-blurayrental.com/ which has a big selection of the label.

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I remember it as a kid playing at hte Guerneville, CA Rio Theater as "Emperor of the North," and thought it an odd title. I need to finally join up that BD rental place, you're enjoying a wealth of great limited releases from TT through them.

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His Girl Friday (1940), produced and directed by Howard Hawks.

The film is in the public domain and the poor DVDs could use an upgrade. The whites on my Alpha Video copy are often blown out.
Later: available on Blu-ray from Criterion, a vast improvement over my old DVD:



Updated thumbnails:



-Bill
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Review older films here: 1979 and earlier

YES, even just streaming on Filmstruck (RIP) it looked more amazing than I’d ever seen it. (Haven’t checked Criterion Channel.)

Still laugh just thinking of Roscoe Karns as “Stair Man.”

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Onibaba (1964), written and directed by Kaneto Shindo.

"Demon hag".

At first we think these might be actual demon women. From their hut in an endless sea of tall grass along a wide river they murder wounded samurai, strip their gear and dump the bodies in a convenient hell hole in the middle of a field. Their killing, eating and drinking is animalistic, without restraint or compunction. Later, when sneaking out to see a neighboring man returned from the wars, the lust is purely hormonal, the irresistible urge that will defy Hell itself.

They are not demons, just a young woman and her mother-in-law reduced to savagery during wartime, the only way they can survive. As it happens, murdering samurai for their gear is a literal underground economy.

The story is suggested by Buddhist fables of women imitating demons by wearing masks and the horrific consequences. The plot is coolly echoed a few years later in the director's Kuroneko (1968): mother and daughter-in-law abandoned in wartime predate on samurai until separated by desire and jealousy.

We have more nudity than I remember seeing in 1960s Japanese film, but maybe I have been watching the wrong directors.

The score combines traditional drumming with modern sax and horn jazz. As always in these spooky films the spirit-world music and sound effects are moderately creepifying.

Available on DVD from Criterion. Image quality is just fair.

In an extra the director says:

  • The swaying of the Susuki grass in the wind is meant to be sensual, a reflection of erotic impulses in the characters.
  • When the young woman runs through the grass at night the soundtrack features the eerie cooing of doves, because these birds are notoriously "fecund". The survival and sexual impulses go together.
  • Their nudity reflects their primitive condition.
  • Color film would have distracted from the story.
  • He built temporary housing on site and everyone was required to live there for the entire shoot. You get extra intensity from the actors and crew that way.



-Bill
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The Hospital (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller.

A very dark comedy and showpiece for George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. As is often the case in 1970s cinema, the vast hospital must have a real, undressed look, but the story is in a satirical universe, grasping at social commentary. The critique never quite lands; we are dealing with characters we care about, not causes.

Scott is a burned out senior physician, separated from his family, smoking and drinking, subject to rages and thinking of suicide. Three things bring him back: (1) Rigg as a free-spirit hippy chick who likes older men, (2) a murder mystery in a long string of "accidental" hospital deaths, and (3) the needs of the hospital: frustrating and dysfunctional as the place may be, he can't abandon it.

The clever bit is that the murders are arranged so that the chaotic, callous hospital does them just in the course of normal operations: it kills people all the time anyway.

In a "reverse fiasco" our leads use that same chaos to recover and get Rigg's father out and away at the end.

The message, such as it is, is counter-revolutionary. The neighborhood activists protesting hospital expansion are lampooned as emotional showboaters. When told "Ok, you run this place", that is obviously not going to happen. In the end the old white men are left to return and make the system work as best they can.

Many familiar faces, but I want to point out Roberts Blossom as the first patient to die, which triggers the string of murders. He would later have scary old man roles in Christine (1983) and Home Alone (1990).

Written by Paddy Chayefsky.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.



-Bill
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