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La vérité (1960)
Just a masterpiece, like any Clouzot's work
It appears that the outstanding director Henri-George Clouzot was unable to make movies short of being masterpieces. "La Verite" may be defined as the "European Rashomon", and, well aware that my opinion will be considered a sacrilege, I venture to say that Clouzot's film is even better than Kurosawa's celebrated masterpiece. In fact, the essence of both "Rashomon" and "La Verite" lies in the quest of the truth of a story, reconstructed through a sequence of flash-backs.
"La Verite" narrates the trial of the breathtakingly-beautiful-sexy lost girl Dominique (Brigitte Bardot), for the murder of her former boy-friend Gilbert (Samy Frey). Everybody (Dominique herself, her former friends and various lovers, her enemies, notably her own sister, as well as lawyers and prosecutors) states his own version of the facts, but what is the actual truth? To simplify the question: is Dominique just a ruthless killer, or was she a weak, enamored girl, victim of Gilbert's selfishness and bullying? As always in Clouzot's movies, "La Verite" is extremely intense, packed with a profound and uncompromising psychological study. The almost obsessive pace of events gives no break to both the characters and the audience. The script is first-rate, with plenty of cynical sense of humor, in spite of the dramatic facts told.
Brigitte Bardot was a great actress, endowed with an outstanding talent. A careful viewer could easily get it even from BB's performances in minor movies, like, say "Mademoiselle Pigalle". Here, under the sound direction of a genius like Clouzot, she is just sensational in a highly dramatic role. Of course, also the acting by the remainder of the cast is excellent, especially, needless to say, by the legends Charles Vanel and Paul Meurisse, as the two lawyers.
Possibly, the main credit of this fantastic movie lies in a gelid, sarcastic, misanthropic representation of human society. Arguably, this is the trade-mark of Clouzot's style, together with suspense, which here is present but not exasperated like in his other works. The world of the adults is wholly despicable, permeated as they are with hypocrisy, with prejudice and fear, especially in sexual matters, and with sickening cynicism, as masterly represented by the lawyer Paul Meurisse.
However, the youngsters are no better than the adults. They are just fatuous, selfish, conceited loafers, only able to utter pseudo-intellectual chats. As a matter of fact, when Dominique founds herself in dire straits, none of her young friends moves a finger to help her. And Dominique often appears even worse than the others. From some point of view, she might be considered a totally negative character.
So, what's the point of Clouzot? I think that's not an issue. He just shows what he sees; that's the style and the aim of one of the greatest artists in the history of cinema.
"La Verite" is a total masterpiece. It is impossible to be disappointed. Highly recommended.
What did the director expect from this movie?
Since, after all, a movie is meant to be seen by an audience, I don't get what the director Meyjes expected from his work "Manolete".
Indeed, the "aficionados" (i.e. corrida-lovers) can only feel outraged by the huge amount of falsities and distortions, concerned with both life and personality of the actual Manolete, that one finds in the movie. On the other hand, the large majority of people, being corrida-haters, will be uninterested, if not deeply bored, by a straightforward love story of a torero and his mistress, worth of a cheap XIXth century novel. (The actual love story of Manolete and Lupe Sino was much more psychologically intriguing than the stuff shown in the movie.)
Speaking of the movie, the photography is fine, and the costumes are beautiful. The jobs of Brody as the torero and Penelope Cruz as Lupe Sino are acceptable. There is some very short but interesting 1940s footage of the true Manolete fighting in the plaza de toros. However, the film badly fails in recreating the atmosphere of Spain in the years after the civil war.
Indeed, the inaccuracies of the movie are really dismaying. Lupe Sino is surprised seeing that a torero wears pink socks. C'mon! It's like showing a young American woman not knowing that football players wear helmets! Manolete enters a crowded hall, participates to parties, and everybody ignores him. C'mon! It's like seeing Michael Jordan unnoticed at a meeting of basketball fans! Manolete's popularity was literally unbelievable all over the world, among common people, as well as among big time politicians and major cinema stars, that fought to have him at their social events. A couple of instances. When Manolete died, Winston Churchill sent a personal message of condolence to his mother. The Mexican government was forced to cut some scheduled corridas, since people didn't buy food to save money for the tickets of Manolete's bullfights (source: "Time Magazine" year 1946).
The movie also contains a number of so obvious clichés, like the torero's greedy relatives, or the fatuous and hypocritical catholic priests, or the incompetent doctors (this latter a really dirty slander!), etc. Of course, to know something of the actual Manolete, you have to neglect the character shown in the movie, and rather read some of the dozens of books dedicated to him, even in very recent years. Indeed, I bet that in this very moment someone is writing a book on the legendary torero.
The portrait made of Lupe Sino is liable of aggravated defamation. Forget that Lupe was much younger and more beautiful than Cruz, and that, obviously, she was an aficionada, contrary to the character of the movie. Forget that Lupe was a smiling, sweet-tempered, cheerful girl, deeply in love with her man, contrary to the perpetual ferocious grudge against everybody and everything shown by Cruz's "Lupe". What is unacceptable is that the film- maker turns her into an unfaithful, spiteful, foul-mouthed bum.
As far as I know, the movie "Manolete" was badly unsuccessful, as predictable. I didn't like it.
Gene Tierney as a symbol of "what we fight for"
"Thunder Birds" is an innocuous movie of war propaganda, made by W.A. Wellmann, a first- rate director, with his usual professionalism. The locations are beautiful, the Technicolor is outstanding, and the flying scenes are accurately shot. The story is standard, a nice blend of adventure-action and comedy, with some good emotional scenes in the part placed in England, dominated by Dame May Witty.
What makes "Thunder Birds" special, and its message stronger, is the use of Gene Tierney as a symbol. Yes, she is called to represent exactly "what we fight for". We (the young men from America, Great Britain, China) fight for that dream of a girl, for her smile, for the hot dogs we devour with her, for her nylon stockings, for our freedom and prosperity that she embodies. And she doesn't leave us alone, like a damned arrogant European princess. She helps and supports us, with a merry smile and without any conceit. Here, among us, there's no room for the gruesome death-rhetoric of the barbarian killers we fight.
To be honest, I admit that anyone out of the mass of splendid American actresses of the 1940s could play the role of Gene Tierney in "Thunder Birds", with excellent results. But only with the Goddess of Beauty, shining on the screen, all the parameters go to infinity.
A death-sentenced prisoner with hand grenades in his pockets?
For not completely understandable reasons, the soldier-of-fortune Wilson (Robert Mitchum) is sentenced to be shot by his ex-friends, the Mexican revolutionaries. However, he escapes from jail using two hand grenades he has in his pockets! This is just the highlight of the many absurdities of the story of "Bandido". As a matter of fact, the Mexican revolutionaries look so incredibly stupid to suggest some racial prejudice against them. Fortunately, this is manifestly impossible, since the film-maker keeps showing himself totally sympathetic with the revolution, even too much.
Some other outstanding examples of dumbness. The beautiful hostage Mrs. Kennedy has a gun in her purse, since nobody has searched her. The revolutionaries instantly trust the slimy arm dealer Kennedy (by the way, perhaps the nicest character in the movie), that tells them the weapons are hidden in a false place, where the federals are fixing an ambush. Later, the revolutionaries decide to whimsically shoot Wilson, the only one who can help them.
However, in spite of the film-maker intentions, Wilson doesn't seem much smarter, either. He gets that Kennedy lies and is planning some trick. Why doesn't Wilson openly explain the situation to his friend Escobar? This little omission will cost him a death sentence. Later, when Wilson and Escobar make it up, they immediately ride to the hidden arsenal. Only, they are closely chased by a battalion of federals! Wouldn't it be better to leave behind the enemy, in the first place?
Other major flaws of the movie are concerned with the action scenes. The revolutionaries on horse-back attack a train, defended by federals with machine guns. I say, isn't a train faster than horses? Don't the machine guns easily exterminate the chargers (it is well-known that these weapons caused the disappearance of the cavalry charges). And why the engine-driver suddenly stops the train? (To be pedantic, the horses should be exhausted and unable to charge, since they have run all the preceding night long.) At the end, Wilson and Escobar destroy in one shot the battalion of federals, making a boat full of dynamite explode. That is totally unrealistic. At the very best, the explosion would have killed Wilson and Escobar, as well.
I'm sorry for my negative comments, since the director Fleischer is a solid professional, that made a number of very good noir-films in the early 1950s. Well, "Bandido" actually has a remarkable merit, the stunning beauty of the Mexican locations, enhanced by an accurate and stylish photography. There is some good wise-cracking dialog, as well.
Unfortunately, the beauties of Mexico are not enough to make "Bandido" a recommendable movie.
Det sjunde inseglet (1957)
A miracle. The greatest work of art of the 20th century
"The Seventh Seal" goes beyond the notion of movie. For me it is a miracle. Much simply said, the greatest work of art of the 20th century. The abyssal depth of this film is stunning. The greatest questions that have shaken the human mind and soul from the beginning of the species, Death, God, Love, Evil, Meaning of Life, Desperation, Hope, are here faced with sound courage and outstanding intelligence.
No doubt that the director Ingmar Bergman was a genius. But his other works, though many of them extraordinary, were just movies, while in the "The Seventh Seal" he reached the level of the greatest artists of human history. The images are worth of Duerer, Bosch, Bruegel. The script, the psychological study of the characters and the poetry are worth of Shakespeare and Goethe. The depth of the philosophical and theological investigation is worth of Spinoza and Swedenborg.
The Middle Ages of Northern Europe are recreated with the accuracy and care for details of a great artist. The monk's sermon on sin and repentance grates to our modern ears, but we realize that it is perfectly coherent and realistic for the Middle Ages. The knight and his squire see the witch executed on the stake. They are disgusted, but they accept it and do not interfere. That's the way people were in those times. And the disturbing scene at the tavern, were, for no reason, the innocent, meek tumbler is abused and everybody laughs at him, is fully realistic, as well. That was people's sense of humor in those ages.
The ancient Nordic culture is represented in all its terrible splendor: the plague, the flagellants, the witch hunt, the mystic visions of the tumbler, the encounter of the knight and his skeptical squire with the wandering actors, the fool girl, the reading of the Apocalypse. And, of course, the chess-match with the Death, one of the most powerful symbols in the history of art.
Among uncountable instances, I record a wonderful subtlety of the script. The knight says to the Death "I don't fear to die, but, please, tell me: is there a God?" But not even the Death can answer. He just knows his own dreadful existence.
Since, after all, we are speaking of a film, let me remark that there isn't a single moment of bore in "The Seventh Seal", in spite of the profound problems it deals with.
Are the above enthusiastic comments somehow exaggerated? I don't think so. Watch "The Seventh Seal" and merge yourself into Art at its highest level.
La traversée de Paris (1956)
Funny and profound; a gem of French cinema
"La traversee de Paris" is a brilliant and often profound blend of comedy and drama. The story is rather uncommon and told in a most anti-rhetoric way. During World War II, in Paris occupied by the Nazis, two men have to deliver four cases filled with pork meat, for the black market. They cross the city overnight, trying to avoid French cops and German soldiers, as well.
The fun is mainly based on the duets between the two "heroes", Grandgil (Jean Gabin), and Martin (Bourvil), supported by a first-rate witty script. These two characters are drawn with psychological depth. Grandgil is somehow a mysterious man. Sometimes he seems to be a sort of thug. He despises and bullies innocent by-standers. He wants to cheat and steal the pork meat, following a sort of selfish anarchism. But many clues make the viewer feel that all this should be a Grandgil's joke. On the contrary, Martin is proud to be a decent person, and to keep honest and correct even working for the black market. The unavoidable quarrels arising between the two men build a non-standard but deep friendship. Extraordinary is the actors' job. Jean Gabin is deservedly a cinema legend, and never disappoints the audience. Here the always excellent Bourvil is on a par with his great partner.
On the background we have the masterly rendered atmosphere of those bleak years. French people is oppressed by deprivations and lack of food. Patriotism and heroic resistance are far from being appreciated. People are widely depressed by French defeat on the battle-field, and just wait for the end of the war and of German invasion. The first scene sets the tone of the movie. A blind beggar plays the Marseillese with his fiddle. Martin is displeased. What's the point of vainly provoking the Nazis? However he gives a coin to the beggar. And even a German officer gives money to the blind man. As a matter of fact, German soldiers do not appear as cruel barbarians. The officer who questions Grandgil and Martin is even nice. But when something wrong happens (namely, an attack against a German colonel), then the inhuman ferocity of Nazism shows his face. And the French hostages blame the partisans for that! Meanwhile, the swashbuckler Grandgil, always ready to despise other people's cowardice, realizes that in tragic circumstances one must care only for himself and his own life. There is a lot of depth in these scenes, believe me.
It is not surprising that this excellent movie was reviled by French audiences and critics when released. This anti-heroic, even petty representation of French people at war-time, was surely hard to swallow.
A magnificent nocturnal photography and artistic camera work, together with a first-rate direction by Autant-Lara, add further value to this superb movie.
The final scene may appear somehow stuck to the movie. But it contains an important message. Life has won, life continues. Common, simple, decent people survived. Barbarians have lost, doomed to destruction by their own infernal wickedness.
"La traversee de Paris" is a gem of French cinema. Highly recommended.
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
Nice blend of comedy and adventure
I did not like the first Zorro-movie with Banderas, namely "The mask of Zorro". Strangely enough, its sequel "The legend of Zorro" is, in my opinion, a much better and thoroughly enjoyable movie. The main original and pleasant idea in this new Zorro-film is to show the hero facing not only the usual legions of bad guys, but also the family troubles that bother the average modern man. You know, he has no time to stay with his kid, to take him at school, and so on. His (adorable) wife Elena gets annoyed since he's never at home and neglects his family, and the fact that Zorro's job as a legendary hero is very demanding is not a sufficient justification for her. Actually, shortly after the beginning of the story, Elena abandons Zorro and asks for a divorce! (we are informed that something peculiar is going on, though). To see Zorro in these irksome common-life circumstances is really very funny, and the comedy avails of a brilliant script, as well.
Nicely blended with the comedy, we have a well-written adventure story. Of course, there is plenty of spectacular, totally unrealistic action (even too much) and of great stunts and special effects. Graphic violence and atrocities, that at times marred the first Zorro-movie with Banderas, here are virtually non-existent. A very good idea, in my opinion.
Banderas as Zorro makes an accurate job, and he is extremely nice and admirable for self- irony. The supporting cast works very well, although the bad guys sometimes are a bit over- the-top, even for this kind of movie.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is the major fringe benefit of this nice movie. Of course, she acts well, and she is lively, funny and determined as Elena, a character as central as Zorro is. But, well, let me make some comments on her amazingly wonderful beauty. Zeta-Jones is by far the most beautiful actress in the world. But to overwhelm other current actresses is an even too easy task for Catherine. There is much more. Actually, she stands on a par with the legendary beauties of the Golden Age of cinema of the 1940s and early 1950s, with Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth, Jane Greer, Grace Kelly, Frances Farmer, Marilyn Monroe and all the other goddesses of beauty. I even dare say that Catherine is enough close to the top one, the divine Gene Tierney. She is a real joy for the eyes of the viewer.
A minor flaw of the script is the use of a too modern language, especially when the characters keep saying "I can't believe it... Can you believe it?"
"The legend of Zorro" is a recommendable movie, very entertaining and funny, accurately made and sometimes even brilliant. Moreover, we gentlemen have got Catherine Zeta- Jones... and, well, there is also Antonio Banderas, in case the ladies are interested.
Operation Dames (1959)
Can you believe it? This movie is beautiful
Can you trust me that "Operation Dames" is a beautiful film? In general, you don't expect much from a movie thought for the drive-ins. Moreover, the title and the beginning of the movie are misleading. You expect some more-or-less-funny (and probably silly) comedy about military life. In fact the starting point is a company of comedians, dancers and pretty girls traveling in the 1950 Korea to entertain the US troops, with girls singing, kissing the soldiers and all that. A sudden major attack from the North Korean army turns the comedy into drama. The company is trapped behind the enemy lines, the South Korean escort soldiers are killed, and the guys drift, abandoned in a hostile country, ruthlessly chased by the reds. Fortunately, they meet a lost patrol of US soldiers. Now they must join their forces, to make a desperate attempt to cross the lines and reach the US army.
The movie clearly had a meagre budget at its disposal. Nonetheless, it is remarkably well- made. The camera work and the photography are first-rate, with a creditable quest for simplicity. The action scenes are realistic, and sober as in an authentic war documentary, but very well filmed. The dialogue is dry and suited to the dire straits these men and women are in. The psychological study of the characters is accurate. Exaggerations or over-the-top melodramatic situations are avoided. There are moments of emotion, and several love- scenes of rare intensity. And the ending is satisfactory, as well.
The job by a bunch of unknown actors and actresses is generally very good, somehow surprisingly. Chuck Henderson as sergeant Valido is really remarkable. Few words about Eve Meyer, the main heroine. Of course, she is gorgeous. But she can act, as well. Here she gives an intense performance, both physically and vocally. Well, I've read that she was a Playboy model, and I guess that this fact essentially erased her chances of a career on the screen. She acted just in two movies. Seeing "Operation Dames", I think that a talent was wasted. Eve Meyer was not just pretty and sexy.
Well, believe it or not, "Operation Dames" is a recommendable movie. Seventy minutes of very good cinema.
Gun Crazy (1950)
What is the quintessence of a film-noir? A good answer is: an evil strong woman that manipulates a weak, although basically decent, man, involving him in a crazy love, doomed to a tragic ending. Then we can safely state that "Deadly is the Female" is a perfect instance of film-noir.
The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre. Justly celebrated are the scenes filmed with the camera inside the car, like that of the bank shot in Hampton, a true cinematic gem. John Dall and Peggy Cummins, in the roles of the doomed lovers Bart and Annie Laurie, make a great job. The story starts slowly (a minor drawback), but as soon as the two lovers cross the border of legality, the movie acquires a quick, exciting and ruthless pace and presents a powerful finale.
The psychology of Bart and Annie Laurie is studied with care. Annie Laurie is a systematic liar. With Bart she always looks sweet, deeply in love, even subdued to her man. To justify her shootings and murders, she always whines with Bart that she had lost her nerves, that she was scared. But when Bart is not present, the viewer gets from her body language and the cruel expression of her eyes that she just loves to kill. Great job by Peggy Cummins.
So does Laurie just make use of Bart for her dirty purposes, to satisfy her own depravity? Not at all. Oddly enough, in another famous scene we see that Laurie really loves Bart with all her heart. Only, she is bad and cruel, that's her inner core. And is Bart so stupid and bewitched not to realize that Laurie is going to ruin him? No, he knows it, and he deeply suffers, but ultimately he doesn't care. Only Laurie counts. Desperately crazy love... how fascinating! (at least in a film-noir).
The script offers several memorable lines, and the many subtleties give realism to the story. For instance, Bart and Laurie are not professional criminals, and they show it when they carelessly spend "hot" money, which will cost them dearly.
"Deadly is the Female" is an excellent film, a relevant nugget in the film-noir gold mine. Highly recommended.
The slowest pace in the history of American cinema?
I wonder if "Bullitt" has the slowest pace in the history of American cinema. Of course, "Bullitt" is a legendary movie and it was a tremendous hit when released. In my opinion, that was mainly due to Steve McQueen, who right in those years had exploded as a major superstar. I do not deny that the movie was rather innovative for the late 1960s. The cinematography is fine and the locations in the San Francisco area are accurately shot. The whole cast works well, and the stars Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn give remarkable performances. The story is interesting, although not much exciting.
But the pace of the movie is so incredibly slow... All the various scenes and episodes are excruciatingly lengthy, notably those of the surgeries at the hospital. However, the best instance of snail-pace is a scene at the airport in the finale. The airplane arrives at the terminal. The whole maneuver of the aircraft is shown in full details... Then, finally, the passengers slowly start to get off the airplane. Bullitt-McQueen silently stares looking for the bad guy. People slowly get off... Bullitt stares... People get off... Bullitt stares... I say, this single scene lasts longer than the whole Apaches' attack in Ford's "Stagecoach"!
The story is not intricate, but the movie is so slow that one finds it difficult to follow... Bullitt gets off the taxi, taking all the due time; then he calmly walks toward the parking area; he opens the door of a car; after a while, he shuts the door of the car; he broods over something for another long while (there's no hurry!); finally he starts the engine, another long operation... In the meantime, the viewer has forgotten what the heck the guy was doing for the purposes of his investigation.
All along the movie, the behavior of the policeman Bullitt is highly unprofessional. But then, to make a number of idiocies just for the sake of disobeying the authorities, that was considered cool in the late 1960s (and also now, at least in the movies). Actually, Bullitt's deeds at the end of the film are not just unprofessional. In the real life, they would cost him several years in jail. And what is the point of beautiful Jacqueline Bisset? Her character seems stuck to the movie, just to show that Bullitt-McQueen is sexually active. Did anyone doubt it? And who cares, anyway?
Of course, the film contains the over-celebrated car-chase. Certainly innovative for that time, but ultimately disappointing, in my opinion.
I've always thought that the bore of Altman's "Thieves like us" couldn't be surpassed. I was wrong. "Bullitt" is the most boring action-crime movie I have ever seen.
The Public Enemy (1931)
Great film from the beginnings of the gangster-movie-genre
"The Public Enemy" is one of the starting points of the great season of gangster movies, a very interesting work. It is not the story of the rise and fall of some big boss of crime. Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) are just small time crooks, and so they remain throughout the movie. Only, they make the big money that the circumstances of prohibition offer to any criminal. Tom is just a semi-illiterate, naturally violent thug. He is not even professional. He kills just out of stupidity or desire of a pointless revenge, that ultimately will severely damage himself. Further evidence of his cheap personality is shown when he instantly falls for the vulgar, tasteless girl Gwen (Jean Harlow). By the way, Harlow looks remarkably unattractive (to our modern eyes, at least). Was it a choice of director Wellmann? Matt is slightly better than Tom, but clearly he has not the guts to cross his mate.
In my opinion a major credit of the film is that it systematically avoids cliché. Neither Tom nor Matt are outcomes of poverty and social injustice. They come from simple but honest, decent and loving families. But they are both bad (that's the word) and they use the freedom and opportunities of their democratic country to make evil.
In "The Public Enemy" we find probably the first instances of the beautiful stylish cinematography and clever camera-work that will become the trade-mark of later gangster and noir movies. Some scenes are unforgettable, like the final one, or that under the rain, or that of Cagney abusing the girl. The brief scene of the killing of the horse is pure cinematic genius.
In the film there are also some naiveness and clumsiness, though. The way Tom undergoes the personality of his good brother is far-fetched. It is not clear why a gangster in a hospital, wounded in a gun-fight, is not under strict police control. The behavior of Tom's boss in the ending is illogical. Moreover, the part where Tom and Matt are kids is too long (we audience are all eager to see Cagney!), and action is a bit scarce for a gangster movie.
"The Public Enemy" was Cagney's breakout film, and really he makes a powerful and accurate job. Actually, a strong acting is provided by the whole cast. The director William A. Wellmann handles the movie with sound talent.
"The Public Enemy" is a beautiful and historically important movie. I recommend it to any cinema-lover
Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
More psychology than sentimentalism to depict a wonderful woman
"Good morning, Miss Dove" was a major and pleasant surprise to me. I expected an over- sentimental, although well-made, movie. On the contrary, I discovered that there is a subtext of sense of humor, and the many psychological subtleties and finesses are even more relevant than sentimentalism. Of course, I do not deny that I was deeply touched by this extraordinary, wonderful woman, Miss Dove.
Miss Dove is the essence of the movie, and even the sense of humor is based on her. Her pride, her aloofness, her deep conviction to be always right, her refined, elegant and slightly ironic way of talking that never weavers, not even in dire straits, make Miss Dove a comic character, in some sense. And we see that she looks at her own over-the-top strictness with a dose of self-irony.
Miss Dove's mission as a teacher is based on a steel principle: all her pupils are equal. Any partiality is just inconceivable. Actually, she cannot help to have a particular love for some of them, especially for Bill. When, after his service in the Marine Corps, the grown-up Bill says to Miss Dove that he wants to use his saved money to complete his studies, she plainly hides her inner joy. Why? Clear: to show joy, even much time after the school-years, would mean to be partial toward her "William" (a delightful, even poetic subtlety is that Miss Dove never calls the kids by nick-name). However, at the hospital she finally affords herself to show a preference. She asks all her flowers to be distributed to the other patients, and she just takes in her room the flowers sent by her beloved, favorite "son" Bill.
Miss Dove is a genius of psychology. The equal-for-all discipline is the canvas where she paints with masterly touches. She never preaches, her own behavior shows the right way. When she sees that the little Jewish Maurice is ill-used by the other kids, she doesn't utter a (probably useless) sermon on xenophobia. She just asks Maurice to accompany her, helping to bring her books, thus showing to everybody how much she cares for the little stranger. Then it's up to the kids to understand the lesson. This episode is related to a beautiful finesse of the movie. We see Mr. Levine, Maurice's father, terribly upset and worried at Miss Dove's illness. Thus we get that, less fortunate than his son, Mr. Levine has long experimented the horrors of anti-Semitism in Europe. So he is fully aware of and grateful for Miss Dove's precious job, even more than his son.
Another great psychological job is the way Miss Dove, talking with Bill, praises Billie Jean's skills and humanity as a nurse. That's enough for Bill to learn the lesson, that is to overcome his prejudices (which coincide with her own prejudices; so, after all, even Miss Dove has something to learn). Particularly poignant is the shy, humble admiration and love paid by Billie Jean to her former teacher. That is mirrored by the nurse's naive attempts to imitate Miss Dove's elegant talk and perfect poise, which give rise both to fun and to emotion.
Some characters are conventional, others are not fully convincing, like that of the gangster Makepeace. However, this guy is instrumental in showing that Miss Dove never condemns the human being. The film is permeated with positive messages: patriotism, dignity, respect, honor, love for learning, sense of community, gratitude. I will be the very last to be displeased by that. Sometimes the sentimentalism is far-fetched. I consider it a minor fault of the movie.
Jennifer Jones as Miss Dove is just sensational. The remainder of the cast works very well, especially Peggy Knudsen as Billie Jean, in my opinion.
Let me conclude remarking a great poetic image. The little girl, from the top of the tree she has climbed (a wonderful symbol of innocence and freedom), stares with a stunned look at Miss Dove carried away by the priest and the doctor. What's up? The indestructible teacher has something wrong? Impossible...
Like the people of Liberty Hill, we all love Miss Dove, this wonderful woman, this mother of one thousand children. To enjoy this extraordinary character, I strongly recommend "Good morning, Miss Dove".
Congo Crossing (1956)
Relaxing movie, plus Mayo and Lorre
Since I refuse to dislike a movie featuring Virginia Mayo and Peter Lorre, I admit to be biased in judging "Congo crossing". Virginia Mayo at her sexiest takes the movie on her beautiful shoulders. She is perfect in the role of the gorgeous adventuress wrapped into a number of stunning dresses (not particularly suited to Africa, to be honest). Maybe a trite character, but so dear to us old-flicks-buffs. Peter Lorre, unwashed, sweat and shabby as ever, hangs about with his unclean uniform, covered by medals in the style of a South-American dictator. Needless to say, he makes a treat of his whole screen-time. The sleazy and physically scary Michael Pate is a great villain. George Nader is a nice handsome guy, unfortunately lacking of charisma. But that's not much important: Virginia has enough charisma for both.
The story has some resemblance with "Casablanca". Only, here the refugees are replaced by crooks hidden in an imaginary little African state with no extradition laws. I don't know whether the movie was actually filmed in Africa. In any case, the locations are beautiful, the photography is accurate and the atmosphere is evocative. There are several old-style but well-made action scenes.
In "Congo Crossing" there are also some flaws, typical of this kind of movies. A common one for that epoch: the villain is prisoner of the hero, and the hero never sleeps, until exhaustion, for fear to be attacked. Why doesn't he simply tie the bad guy overnight?
Besides the intrinsic credit of Virginia's and Lorre's presence, "Congo crossing" is a pleasant, relaxing movie, especially suited to lovers of classic cinema.
Et Dieu... créa la femme (1956)
Brigitte Bardot explodes
"Et Dieu... crea la femme" is Brigitte Bardot's breakout film. She explodes on the screen, overwhelming the audience (the male audience by sure). I bet that women, as well, are shocked by the thought that such a rival-bomb can exist.
The movie itself have always been underrated. It was a scandal at the epoch and we can easily see why. Actually, the erotic atmosphere created by BB in "Et Dieu... crea la femme" is amazing even for today standards (immensely superior to that of current movies, in my personal opinion). At any rate, the scandal made the movie be automatically considered bad (needless to say, people went crazy to see it). Curiously enough, a dozen of years later several ugly movies were automatically considered good by the critics because of the scandal they raised!
Now that our modern eyes no longer see the scandal, we may judge "Et Dieu... crea la femme" a nice film, made VERY special by Brigitte Bardot's presence. The stunning locations of a still tourism-free Cote d'Azur are beautifully photographed. The story is interesting and entertaining. Melodrama is systematically avoided. The script contains a good deal of typical French wit: sharp, cynical, but with a melancholic subtext. A couple of instances. The mature gentleman Eric Carradine, trying to justify Juliete's bad behavior "I am the only one to be guilty of that" and the old woman "Don't delude yourself, sir...". Again Carradine "I fell in love with a young girl and I gave money for her to marry another man. How do you call it?" and a friend "I call it wisdom".
Bardot brilliantly plays Juliete, a remarkably interesting character. Probably, more than her free and mindless attitude toward love affairs, Juliete's true personality may be described as anarchist selfishness. She doesn't give a damn for others. She just does everything she wants, not caring people's opinions, prejudices or feelings. She loves animals, though. A further point of interest is that, according to her own autobiography, BB's personality has some in common with that of Juliete's. I don't comment Brigitte's sex-appeal. Words are not enough, just look at her and enjoy. The life at the village on the sea and the various other characters are described with accuracy. Jurgens, Trintignant and the remainder of the cast work well.
The cult-scene of the movie is Juliete's Mambo dance. Here we understand what Europeans of the 1950s thought to be a torrid scene. We also see that they were right!
Seeing the movie, many are displeased that (seemingly) a dose of heavy slaps turns the wild Juliete into a devoted spouse. That looks machist ideology. Well, to begin with, to beat guilty women is just a realistic and predictable behavior in the low class environment of a village of fishermen in the 1950s. But, above all, do you think Juliete-Brigitte tamed by few hits? Come on! She accepts the slaps only because in that very moment she has thought it good to take them. But who knows the future? Believe me, Juliete is far from being tamed, and the end of the film by no means coincides with the end of the story...
In spite of possible criticism, I like "Et Dieu... crea la femme". Right or wrong, this film has a relevant place in the history of cinema.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Good but too melodramatic
"Sweet smell of success" is a good film, with an interesting and rather unusual story, a steady pace, but somehow damaged by a melodramatic script. A main credit to the movie lies in the cinematography, with plenty of beautiful shots of a nocturnal New York. The screenplay is not wholly convincing, since it seems more suited to the stage than to cinema. I mean, all the characters are so ready and brilliant in their dialogs, exactly like in a stage-play. We may expect a sharp wit from Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), since to be witty is his job. But what about, say, the cigarette-girl? Or the straightforward wife of the non-corrupt journalist? Some lines, the like of "I love this dirty city", are dated, to say the least.
Hunsecker's morbid, psychotic love toward his sister is the crux of the film, but it remains somehow unexplained. My guess is that he is eager to preserve her virginity as the unique pure thing in a corrupt world... But who knows? Sometimes he seems to love his own power more than his sister. An interesting character, no doubt.
Tony Curtis shines in his trade-mark role of the good-looking cheater, sleazy and greedy womanizer. Here we have the drama-version of the character, and I liked it, although I prefer Tony's comedy-version in masterpieces like "Some like it hot" or "Operation petticoat". Actually, Sidney Falco is the most hateful character ever played by Curtis. Burt Lancaster is very good, although slightly over-the-top. All the cast makes a fine job.
Such an overwhelming power of the gossip columnist Hunsecker as shown in the movie seems unlikely, not only today but even in the late 1950s. The movie presents some more or less subtle political messages which, honestly, I didn't appreciate. And I was even more displeased discovering that Hunsecker's character was based on a real person (allegedly, at a time when he had already lost his power). Not very elegant stuff out of authors devoted to condemn in the movie writers stabbing people in the back...
I am not sure to like much "Sweet smell of success" (in fact, I don't like the title, either). However it is certainly an exciting and interesting movie, worth to be viewed.
White Heat (1949)
Grand movie that crowns a great epoch
"White Heat" is a grand work that crowns the great epoch of classical gangster movies. The legend-director Raoul Walsh handles a complex story and matter with powerful skills. The treatment of the whole movie is brilliant. Personally, the scenes I liked most are those in the jail, the clash between Cody and Big Ed in the dark house and, of course, the grand finale in the refinery, visually stunning and perfectly elaborated. Walsh even manages to describe a possibly cumbersome matter, namely the policemen's work and techniques, without a moment of bore. The frequent action scenes are tough, exciting and photographed with extreme care. The story is fast-paced and the many events are linked beautifully.
The classical gangster movies are celebrated for their outstanding characters, and "White Heat" is second to none on this side. It is impossible to forget the crazy Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) with his morbid affection toward his mother (Margaret Wycherly), his natural inclination to brutal violence and, nonetheless, his intelligence, smartness and professionalism in crime. Ma' Jarrett, totally devoted to Cody, cruel cunning and cool- minded, with subtle and fine psychological touches is shown to be as evil as her son. Great performance by Virginia Mayo as Verna. Greedy, amoral, liar, natural-born-cheater, she is the perfect kitten-gangster-moll, always ready to make a good deal of herself (differently from Marie Windsor who in other movies was the perfect gutsy, cynical gangster moll). Big Ed and the other thugs of Cody's gang are minor but interesting characters.
What about the policeman Fallon (Edmond O'Brien)? Well, he is not very nice, isn't it? After all, he is a spy that betrays Cody's true affection. We particularly dislike him when, at the end, he fires against the gangster who "Treated him as a kid brother" (to use Cody's words). So, do we root for the criminal against the policeman? No, since director Walsh is so good in creating suspense that we feel constantly concerned about Fallon's fate.
Two more notes. First: we audience sit down in front of the screen thinking "OK, let's enjoy another Cagney's job". But after a short while we somehow forget that we are just seeing Cagney acting in a movie. We are totally caught by Cody, and he really scares the audience! That gives an idea of Cagney's powerful talent. Second: up to my knowledge "White Heat" is the first movie of an endless sequence where the police, in order to prevent a robbery, provokes damages one hundred times worse than the value of the loot. Isn't that funny?
"White Heat" is a much recommended film, that fully deserves its high reputation.
Sergeant Rutledge (1960)
Ford openly displays his art and poetry
John Ford openly displays his poetry in this magnificent film "Sergeant Rutledge". Maybe the great director and artist was annoyed that many did not get the anti-racist messages that permeate all his works (starting with "The Searchers": ever noted it?) and decided to make a definite, open statement.
To be as clear as possible, Ford willingly shows his art, poetry and trade-mark techniques in the most evident way. He masterly uses images and camera-work to convey emotion. We see Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) constrained in a small chair, his never-ending shoulders covering half of the screen. And we feel uneasy. We feel that something evil is going on, that it's deeply wrong to keep such a man in chains, let alone to hang him. And then we see Woody Strode standing out, the Monument Valley on the background, like John Wayne in many other Ford's movies. I'm sure that such parallel Wayne-Strode was Ford's deliberate choice.
Ford uses his skills of epic poet to describe characters. Rutledge is arrested and searched. They find no money or other goods, just his emancipation papers. So, here we have a Man with all his richness: his honor, his courage, his strength and an emancipation paper. Great stuff! And then Rutledge says to a wounded mate "We don't fight the whites' war. We fight for our honor". Only Ford always manages to turn military rhetoric into poetry, mainly thanks to the visual beauty of the scene.
Woody Strode makes an outstanding, deeply touching job as the black cavalry sergeant. His acting is sober, poised but intense, with no melodramatic sides, and he physically dominates the screen (by the way: what an amazing athlete Strode was, at age forty-six!).
Rutledge is the Hero, the Legend of the movie. Yet Lt. Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) is as interesting a character as Rutledge is. Cantrell is a man of the 19th century. Unavoidably, he does have racial prejudices, but he nobly endeavors to overcome them, and certainly at the end of the story is a better person than at the beginning.
I guess that the two female characters represent Ford's dream. Indeed, they both do not even understand racism. The poor murdered girl loved his friend "uncle" Rutledge, and that's all. She doesn't even get the hints of the old ladies, who disapprove this friendship. And the same can be said of Cantrell's fiancée Mary Beecher, very well played by Constance Towers. She nurses the wounded black horse-soldiers with no attitude of doing something special. And some lines of Mary's show Ford's wonderful subtlety. She has been over-night with Rutledge in a deserted hut. Mary says to a concerned Cantrell "I wasn't alone. Sergeant Rutledge was with me and he protected me as well as any officer could do". That's a lesson for Cantrell: the fact that Mary pretends to think her boy-friend just concerned about military ranks, implies that she does not even notice the color of the skin and requires Cantrell to be the same way. Well, probably the two women are not fully realistic characters, especially for the 19th century. They are idealized by Ford, as a poet has the right to dream.
A small remark. Most Ford's films (not this one, actually) raise some controversy. Many heartily love them and many strongly dislike them. I think it rather expectable. Ford is a poet, and a poet cannot please everyone. Personally, I was indifferent if not displeased by the works of some much celebrated poets. Thanks God, poets follow their own way, not caring people's taste.
"Sergeant Rutledge" is not perfectly constructed and chiseled like other Ford's masterpieces. Small defects may be found in some court-room scenes and flash-backs. However, this splendid movie deserves top grades, due to the importance of its message and Ford's sincerity in displaying his art. "Sergeant Rutledge" is another top work by the Master.
The Narrow Margin (1952)
Great camera work. Sensational Marie Windsor. Implausible story, though.
"The narrow margin" is a remarkable film-noir with great merits, unfortunately marred by an implausible story.
There is a policeman (Charles McGraw) committed to protect a key witness (Marie Windsor), in severe danger of life, along a train journey. The only reasonable and likely behavior for the cop is to take some sandwiches, lock in the cabin with the witness, and sit down with a machine-gun on his lap. Of course, that would be the end of the film. So, to get a story, McGraw goes everywhere and does everything on the train, but staying with and protecting the witness. There is also a big surprise at the end. That is really unexpected. But if we think back to the previous events, this big twist makes the behavior of some characters wholly illogical.
Well, enough with the faults of the movie. The merits of this low-budgeted B-movie overcome its defects. The stylish cinematography is first-rate, and the camera-work is outstanding. The (few) action scenes are brilliant and filmed in a very original way. See, for instance the play of mirrors in the finale. Marie Windsor is sensational, and every scene with her is a treat. What a gangster moll, gutsy tough gal she is! In my opinion, she is even better here than in "The killing". Her lines are a perfect instance of cynical wisecracking. McGraw and the rest of the cast make a good job, as well. There is a good amount of suspense and no moments of bore.
Let me conclude with a somehow daring comparison. Independently by the composers, classic music of the 18th century is always beautiful. In a similar way, I think that American movies of the 1940s and early 1950s are all good: that is just a question of style, and how I love this style!
I recommend "The narrow margin", for its intrinsic merits, and to pay homage to a great season of cinema.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
One of the best cinematographies ever, a masterpiece by an outstanding artist
Well, the main purpose of my comment is to add my voice to the chorus of people praising this magnificent movie "I walked with a Zombie" and the outstanding artist who made it, Jacques Tourneur. Not surprisingly, every IMDb user seems to have deeply enjoyed it.
I dare say that here the cinematography attains the highest levels reached in cinema history. Every single scene is a piece of art. We are in the same category of, say, "Touch of evil" or "Rear window", and that's all the more amazing considering the meagre budget at Tourneur's disposal. The story is simple but extremely original. And the uneasy, doomed, magical atmosphere created by the author is just unbelievable: what a talent Tourneur had! Well, not a surprise. This man made "Cat people" and "Out of the past"...
Of course, the most precious gem of this treasure-film is the scene with the two women's nocturnal walk in the sugar canes plantation. Beyond any possible praise... And what about the apparitions of the Carrefour? Extraordinary work of cinematic genius.
As we may expect from a film of the 1940s, "I walked with a Zombie" is not much scary (or it is? well... probably it is so beautiful that people forget to be scared). Anyway, that's not important. "I walked with a Zombie" has to be judged using the parameters of Art, like a Poe's tale.
I recommend this masterpiece with all my heart.
The Tall Men (1955)
Large means, but a disappointing outcome
Among legendary directors, Raoul Walsh is perhaps the most discontinuous one. Within his huge production, we find an array of masterpieces together with a number of mediocre works. Unfortunately "The tall men" belongs to the latter ones. In spite of large means, excellent actors and stunning locations, the movie is disappointing.
I regret to say that one fault of the film lies in the choice of Clark Gable as the hero. In some sense, Gable seems to be prisoner of his own myth of irresistible Casanova. Every woman is supposed to adore him. That quickly annoys the viewer: the real western hero (say John Wayne) is never a womanizer. The first, very lengthy, sometimes boring part of a movie is a sort of remake of "It happened one night" in western sauce.
The second part is concerned with the journey of a huge herd from Texas to Montana. There are many paramount scenes, manifestly filmed with large means and professionalism. The trouble is that the story is too similar to that of "Red River", an enormously better film. In fact, if we just compare scenes in "The tall men" with analogous ones in "Red River", we cannot help to notice that the latter ones are decidedly better, and that's all.
The character of Cameron Mitchell, the hot-head brother of Gable, is one-dimensional and unconvincing. I like Jane Russell, and I don't get why she is considered a bad actress. Her character is perhaps the best in the movie, although the script rarely offers her good lines. Robert Ryan is a great actor in every role, even the uninteresting ones, like in "The tall men".
The main defect of the film is that it is so long, long, long. Actually, there are few action scenes, very well filmed by the master Walsh. But they are like drops in the ocean of a never-ending movie.
I'm sorry to say that, since I love Walsh, Russell, Ryan and Gable (here miscast, in my opinion), but I don't recommend "The tall men", not even to western movie fans.
Party Girl (1958)
An unbalanced movie; all in all, not bad
"Party girl" is a peculiar movie, starting with its title. In fact, the title recalls a light comedy in the style of the 1930/1940s. On the contrary, we deal with a drama/gangster-story of rare toughness (for the standards of the 1950s). The violence of some scenes is really scary. We recognize the hand of director Nicholas Ray. We even have an excellent action sequence which anticipates a famous sequence of "The Godfather". The story is interesting, the cinematography is good and accurate.
Unfortunately, this is an unbalanced movie. Vicky, very well played by beautiful Cyd Charisse, is a rather innovative character. But her dance numbers, so patently instrumental to show Cyd's legendary legs and phenomenal dancing skills, are just stuck to the film. A thorough and interesting psychological study of Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor) is made. But the film is nearly marred by a huge flaw. The badly crippled Farrell has a miracle-surgery in Europe (?) and returns perfectly healed! (alas! that's not yet possible in the 2000s, let alone in the 1930s). And then the formerly crooked corrupt lawyer Farrell turns into the noblest possible person. Come on! At any rate, Taylor gives one of the best performance of his career. John Ireland is a great thug. Lee J. Cobb (as usual looking twenty years older than his actual age) makes an outstanding job as the suave, cruel gangster Rico. The action scenes, though well-filmed, are too scarce for a gangster movie. Besides the magical surgery, other twists of the plot are unlikely.
You see, "Party girl" has remarkable merits and flaws, as well. All in all, not a bad movie.
The Bonnie Parker Story (1958)
Should be a cult-movie
"The Bonnie Parker story" has the potential to be a cult movie. It is evident that a sad lack of bucks is the main cause of the faults of the film. No other reason, save some bizarre artistic choice, could justify the 1950s clothes and looks of the actors, within a 1930s story. And no bank-shot is shown all along the movie, another unwelcome by-product of a meagre budget.
In spite of its B-movie doom, "The Bonnie Parker story" has remarkable merits. The photography is accurate and evocative. The action scenes are realistic and very well filmed, the narration has a quick and smooth pace. The script oozes toughness and cynical wisecracking. In my opinion, a first rate job by the writer.
And then... that girl! That bomb of a wildcat-girl! Dorothy Provine is sensational, and not just for her stunningly gorgeous looks. Her aggressive, dynamic acting is unforgettable. She draws Bonnie's utterly amoral character, paired with an almost crazy courage, with a great force not lacking of subtlety. Huge fun to see her on the screen, especially when she ruthlessly ill-use and humiliate the male characters. An interesting, although undeveloped, side of Bonnie's psychology: she has an exclusive passion for command, while she seems not to give a damn for love. Well, let me give some credit to the little money used to make the movie. With a higher budget, probably they would have hired a more famous actress than Dorothy. What an enormous loss we escaped!
Dorothy Provine alone is largely enough to recommend "The Bonnie Parker story", but it's fair to take note of several other good sides of the movie.
Two tough women, one good one bad, dominate "Gunslinger", a nice B western, early work by Roger Corman. In spite of being so patently low-budgeted and made in a rush, the movie have several things to its credit. First of all, a considerable originality for the 1950s. The woman marshal Rose (Beverly Garland) is an uncommon character in western movies, all the more her outstanding guts and toughness. The early scene, when she shoots dead the killer during her husband's funeral service, is a shocker which, in some sense, sets the gutsy standard of the film. Personally, I never saw such an unexpected scene elsewhere. Fine stuff. Rose's counterpart is the cruel Erica (Allison Hayes), always ready to murder anyone interfering with her dirty schemes. She is uncommonly bad for a female character. These two beautiful mortal enemies are related in a love triangle with the gunslinger Cane Myro (John Ireland). I like this character, entangled in a Greek-tragedy-like strait of being hired to kill the woman he loves. John Ireland, slouching along with his dark suit, cold eyes, sad fixed grin, cynical sense of humor, is perfect for the role. In my opinion he makes a first-rate job, even too good for an unpretentious B-movie. The romantic scenes with Myro and Rose have an intensity which makes a fine contrast with the merely carnal interchange between Erica and the gunslinger. A remarkable sexy aura permeates a number of scenes, mainly thanks to three sensational saloon-girls. Even the final general killing, though far-fetched, has the merit to be non-standard. The tough, dry dialogue is praise-worthy, Garland and Hayes act adequately, and there is some good camera work (rarely, to be honest). Several sub-plots give a fast pace to the narration. It is almost impossible to get bored. After all, that's the main purpose of a B-movie, isn't it?
Unfortunately, sometimes "Gunslinger" is non-standard for goofiness, as well. An early take is so mistaken that I even suspect to be a director's deliberate choice. We see the pony-express starting from a stage-post, in theory some ten days far from Oracle, the village where the action takes place. Few seconds later he rides close to a big tree, under which we see the funeral service of the murdered marshal, in Oracle! And we have many takes of rushing horses, patently in "fast-motion". What's the point of such useless stupidity? Two potentially exciting scenes, namely the fist-fight between Rose and Erica and the attempt of the three saloon-girls to lynch Rose, are marred by a very poor editing. We find several faults in the cut of the movie, as well.
Anyway, I go back to my main point. The two pretty tough girls are exciting, the romance is pleasant, the flick is entertaining and presents some interest for a study of B-movies.
Le trou (1960)
The emotional swan's song of a great artist
Probably, to really get "Le Trou", this splendid, intense movie, you have to be conscious that the great Jacques Becker was dying during the making of the film. A quiet stoicism permeates this work of art. The story is supposed to be very sad, but it isn't. The guys on the screen are too tough, by no means apt to mourn their dire destiny or, metaphorically, to ask for the viewer's sympathy.
We have the true story of the hole dug by a bunch of in-mates to escape from a jail in Paris. The screenplay is taken from a novel of the distinguished writer and film-maker Jose' Giovanni, himself formerly a convict. Becker chooses to tell the story in the simplest, neatest possible way. No music at all, an essential, dry, sharp yet powerful dialog. The in-mates do their job, to try to escape. The director avoids the annoying cliché, typical of the American jail-movies, of showing the wardens as sadistic torturers. They are tough and strict, they don't like but they feel no hate for the prisoners. The wardens just do their job, that's all. In fact, there are no really despicable characters in the film. At his last appointment with the art of cinema, Becker seems to accept and forgive all human beings.
A brilliant idea is to show how the guys turn common objects and waste iron into the tools needed for the escape (a key, a lamp, a pick, a sand-glass). The little periscope made with a tooth-brush gives raise to a shocking scene, few seconds of great cinema. We follow the in-mates' apparently endless, exhausting labor of digging and sewing. That should be rather boring for the viewer, but it isn't. How comes there's not a single moment of bore in the film? That's the privilege of Art.
The work of the camera and the black and white photography are sensational, and convey the intense emotions of the characters. The psychological study is made in such an understated way that you may overlook it at a first view. But, after seeing the movie a second time, and knowing the development of the story, you fully appreciate how the psychology of the characters is treated, with accuracy and depth. The actors make an excellent job. This is stunning, thinking that "Le Trou" was the first movie for Philippe Leroy and Michel Constantin, later prominent actors of French cinema. And Jean Keraudy wasn't a professional actor, he was one of the in-mates that actually dug the hole fourteen years earlier! (at least, this is stated by himself at the beginning of the movie, and is testified in several books on French cinema)
Are there deep messages in the film? Two wardens bring a fly to feed a spider. There is the spider, a patent symbol of death, ghastly in its immobility. Two prisoners are peeping and wondering: what the hell are the wardens doing? Got no idea. And who cares, after all? Maybe that is Becker's dry, ironic message. Don't be too deep. Fight against bad luck, be stoic and brave. Who cares, after all?
My opinion is that the artist Becker, displaying the same toughness of the guys on the screen, just fought to leave us a major work of art. Our task of viewers is to enjoy and love it. "Le Trou" is an unforgettable film, which honors the art of cinema.
Le plaisir (1952)
Profound, clever, incredibly beautiful work by the genius Ophuls
Is it possible to take one of the best tales in French literature and make a film even better out of it? Yes, it is. The tale is Maupassant's "La maison Tellier", the film-maker is Max Ophuls, the film is "Le Plaisir". In fact, the movie is divided into three episodes, corresponding to three Maupassant's tales. In the two short introducing and final stories we actually find the bitter, acid, misanthropical sarcasm typical of Maupassant's style, though softened by Ophuls' sympathy for human unhappiness.
What really stuns the viewer is the central episode, the sumptuous narration of "La maison Tellier". The story is the same in the book and in the film. A bunch of prostitutes from "La maison Tellier", the brothel of a French province town, takes a day off to go to a First Communion celebration in the countryside. But what a difference of mood. The fact is that Maupassant detested and despised people, while Ophuls manifestly loves them and is always ready to forgive their faults and pettiness. Therefore the writer's aggressive satire is replaced by the director's gentle sense of humor. The brothel is closed, and we shortly realize that the balance of the town, the whole social order is upset. Some sailors start a brawl, and that looks rather expectable. But even peaceful middle-class respectable citizens, long-time friends, begin to quarrel bitterly. "La maison Tellier" is the key of social stability!
Then the church-scene, a perfect blend of sweet fun and profound human feeling. Overwhelmed by the intense emotion of the First Communion Mass, the prostitutes burst in tears, and they carry all the villagers with them. I guess to have noticed a delightful nuance by Ophuls. The "beautiful Jewish girl" whom, according to the director (a Jewish himself), no brothel can afford to miss (!), at first tries to restrain herself. She's not Christian, she's not supposed to be moved! But, of course, she soon starts to weep... Great emotion, great art! And the women merged in the high grass, picking flowers... it's late, they risk to miss their train... but no! It's so a gorgeous day, let's go and pick some flowers! How poetic, how beautiful... what a fantastic scene! Needless to say, as soon as the women are back, peace, order, friendship are restored in the town.
The above comments can give a partial idea of the director's extraordinary treatment of the story. But it's important to remark that just the visual beauties and the camera work by the genius Ophuls are largely enough to place "Le plaisir" among the best works in the history of cinema. Let me just mention the first scene, when we peep inside the brothel together with the outside eye of the camera, which jumps from a window to another like a little bird. That is the most brilliant cinematic idea I can remember. A perfect film forces a perfect job by the cast. And in fact the acting is magnificent.
"Le plaisir" is a profound study of human beings, of their joys and sorrows, an instance of superlative good taste in treating a risky theme, a triumph of clever cinematic technique. A peak of the art of cinema.