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Double Indemnity (1944)
Double Indemnity is based on a novel by James Cain adapted to the screen by great novelist Raymond Chandler, who made here his most important contribution to the cinema history in his career, though somehow matched by following screenwriting work for 1946 Howard Hawks' classic The Big Sleep, and Billy Wilder, who previously worked as a screen writer for Ernest Lubitsch and had been already nominated three times for Academy Awards in the process before making Double Indemnity, which nevertheless played the key role in establishing him as one of the best writer-directors in Hollywood, and giving him his fourth Oscar nomination as a writer and his first one as a director.
Double Indemnity was the third feature Wilder directed after 1942 The Major and the Minor and 1943 Five Graves to Cairo, but it was definitely the first film, his primary American tragedy where the author for the first time revealed his black and somehow hopelessly pessimistic view of the American society and of the human society in general, blackishly desecrated in the film simply by populating it with exceptionally sordid characters, who independently of being a victim or victimized, of being the protagonists or just simple supporters are never really able to transcend the utterly low and devilish motivations in theirs as a consequence sordidly painful lives and reach such a state where the viewer might get relieved by considering one of them as a positive element. Instead the characters' lives shown in a continuous noir flashback of Fred MacMurray's not-a-confession are driven from the start to the very end by an utter greed in a form of double and not only indemnities with consequential and inherent to it risks and fears in a rather unsure world of insurance.
An insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a man with `no visible scars', starts to lose his already shaky dominance over his mind's yearnings when glimpses on a horizon a possibility of becoming a recipient of a monetary fortune along with no less seductive desire from a part of unhappily married and as devilishly beautiful as resourceful in pursuing her zany in its deadliness schemes, an ultimate femme fatale blond Phyllis (marvellously portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck).
Initially apparent as a romantic, the relationship gradually mutates into double confrontation of the two fears of the two characters in their greedy and ambitious pursuits, a conflict which at one point apparently results in a sort of humanization of Phyllis' character, appearing hiding the eyes of her soul behind the sun glasses, a humanization which is let to happen by her only to accentuate later her unchangeably fatal nature.
The double confrontation gradually evolves into a triple one when the threatening presence on the scene of no less and probably more resourceful character of Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) becomes more and more evident, as a result of his continuous and obsessive investigation conducted with different but nor less ambitious motives. A motives which find its ultimate revelation in a most touching, but finally most hypocritical scene of declaration of love (I love you - I love you too) between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes in the end, exactly reflecting the same nature of previous interactions between Walter and Phyllis, where such moments with the very words used, such as the supreme word of loving affection - Baby lowered to an unthinkable extent, only were a mere preparation to struck another blow in yet another outburst of hate caused by a new misfortunate complication in carrying out so well devised and apparently perfect plan.
Permeated right from the start to the very end with the flavour of unstoppable fatality in an extent that a few other film-noirs achieved, accentuated by the wonderful music score by Miklos Rozsa, Double Indemnity's story is motored by the money like in nearly all of Billy Wilder films. But in this case all the misery produced by it as evident as never before resulting in utter corruption of already corrupted characters and their descent into a such a deep abyss of human misery as probably never before or after in a Hollywood film history, an abyss with no exit, with omnipresent hypocrisy, with no place for sincere human feelings of love, friendship or affection, an abyss to where the characters descent under the monotonous tune of Miklos Rozsa's score, which serves as a reflection of their monotonously hypocrite and ultimately doubly doomed lives. 10/10
The Bergman File (1978)
Documentary on life and work of Ingmar Bergman
Finnish writer-director and now politician Jorn Donner made the Bergman File in 1978. It features a series of interviews and excerpts from the press conferences with Ingmar Bergman, where he recalls his childhood experiences, talks about the things, places and people who influenced him in his artistic development consequently having a major influence on his films, about making of which is also told quite a bit. The film finishes at the time it was made - 1978, with Bergman's fleeing Sweden to Europe and than to the US as a result of problems with Swedish Tax Department.
Overall The Bergman File is very similar and significantly weaker compared to another Jorn Donner's documentary made at about the same time as this one - The Three Scenes with Ingmar Bergman, which explores the same ground with significantly more precision and appears to be quite a bit more interesting than The Bergman File mostly because almost one hundred percent of the film is told by Ingmar Bergman himself representing his own point of view on things and not someone else's interpretation of it. 7/10
Bonjour tristesse (1958)
The Bittersweet Tristesse of life
Bonjour Tristesse is based on a novel by Françoise Sagan published in 1954. It was the first novel she had ever written and caused quite a stir at the time of its release being considered as one of the most remarkable and scandalous post World War II writing debuts with literary critics coming as far as naming it provokingly immoral.
The film version is marked by a certain what might be called Puritanism of its director - Otto Preminger, which was a result of not only Preminger's artistic vision, but also of the obligatory following the rules of the time system in cases when morally delicate matters were concerned.
Whatever the reason, it ultimately serves for the best, resulting in a clever and masterful representation of the sin as a slightly blatant notion matching thus its true qualitative nature of a thing mostly concealed inside of a man's heart not always erupting from the subtle mental level on a gross surface of palpable to the material senses reality. The struck of genius on the part of the director was also filming it partly in black and white, partly in colour, with colour flashback sequences representing the happy old days of bizzarely cheerful co-existence of David Niven and Jean Seberg's characters shared with young, beautiful and comprehensive but unfortunately dull Elsa (Mylene Demongeot) set on the alluring background of the French Riviera in a time when the sin was still dormant in the jovial hearts of film's protagonists awaiting its time to reveal itself using out-of-the-past Deborah Kerr's character as an instrument in disrupting the very foundation of their mindless existence in an unavoidable action-reaction circle, throwing them apart and together again this time in a black and white reality of Paris, reality of a bittersweet awareness of the unpleasant present, resembling Adam and Eve cast out of Paradise, with a new vision of the world acquired with final Deborah Kerr's banishment into the blue vastness of the ocean, leaving only an inexplicable trail of a black smoke serving as a symbolic representation of the ultimately and untimely burned sins of an equally burned and crashed life. 8/10
Little Big Man (1970)
Little Big Man represents the highest point in Arthur Penn's career. The film was made soon after his masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde and stands, in my opinion, right beside it as one of the most significant achievements not only of Arthur Penn's work, but also of the world cinema in general. Unfortunately the chain of remarkable movies began with this two wasn't destined to continue, with director's following films proving to be quite disappointing. But nevertheless Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man remain as the two fine notables for which Arthur Penn will always be fondly remembered.
Also mustn't be discarded the role of the time when the Little Big Man was made, the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, which most certainly found its reflection on the film, critically paralleled in portrayal of the ruthless and mindless slaughter of the Indians by the American troops.
The film's story is told by Jack Crabb, a very old man of more than 100 years old, the only remaining witness of the events he is telling to an oral histories collector.
We follow his life story as he is kidnapped and raised by the Indians, after a few years escaping from them only to return back again to witness the brutal death of his friends and loved ones from the hands of the American soldiers under the command of vicious and eccentric General George Armstrong Custer who finally has to pay for his inhuman deeds in the battle of the Little Big Horn that is shown in the end of the film and which might be considered as the natural consequence of the brutal tactics employed by the American troops in conquering the Indian territories, and finally represents a significant lightening of the karmic burden for them, achieved by the purificatory and relieving death in the fight with the Indians whose victory symbolize only a temporarily successful culmination of destined-not-to-last-long struggle.
Though in Jack Crabb's life story we basically revisit a number of very familiar for a Western genre fan fields, one of them being the battlefield of the Little Big Horn, the masterful way in which revisiting is done turn it into an unforgettable viewing experience during which you'll most certainly find yourself moved from laughing at the perfect comic moments of parody on some of the most used Western clichés to shedding tears when tragic happenings unveil on the screen, always remaining absorbed by it, mesmerized by the superb acting delivered by all of the actors involved and the film's visually vast beauty. 10/10
Track of the Cat (1954)
"When I had fears that I may cease to be"
William Wellman wanted to make a film out of the novel by Van Tilburg Clark promptly after reading it in 1949; the only problem was the fact, which he realized quite well, that no producer could possibly finance such film. The only thing he could do is wait, and he waited till the opportunity knocked on his door 5 years later with the enormous success of his film The High and the Mighty, which was nominated for several Oscars including third and the last nomination for Wellman himself in the Best Director category.
Inspired by such a success, the film's main star and producer John Wayne swore that now Wellman could film whatever he'd like to, even if it would be a phone book, and that Warner would produce and distribute it. Wellman took the chance, not offering to John Wayne the phone book though, but this story, imposing his conditions, which were basically the filming of it in Cinemascope and in a black and white-colour, which meant to photograph the film with all colours reduced almost to back and white with the exception of some of the key items in the film, such as blue matches, the colour of fire, the colour of Robert Mitchum's coat etc.
The artistic touch of the director and fabulous work of the film's cinematographer resulted in a breathtaking luminous beauty of dark and bright colours which created a visual detachment of the film from the reality, giving it a sort of mysterious aura with the accentuated feeling of threat and emptiness of the scenery which serves as a background on which the internal, almost an infernal emptiness and painful loneliness of the film's main characters are reflected, the characters who are unstoppable in their quest for the black panther, in which all of their mysteries, frustrations and secret sins are incarnated, whom we hear mentioned all the time, whose roar we hear, whose murderous trail we follow along with the film's protagonists but whom we are never really able to see and who finally appears as almost a symbolic figure-representation of the crippled internal world of the characters, which is in fact the only real palpable threat to their pitiful and fearful existence, the very thing from which Robert Mitchum's character is running away finally falling into the cold abyss of nothingness while the other characters remain in the burning fire of their troubled and aimless lives as seen from the grave point of view in the film's final sequence, which represents the unavoidable not-too-soon-to-come end for them.
Beginning with the snow, coming through the fire, the film leaves us where it has begun lost in an enormous threatening emptiness of the landscape still following the mysterious trail of an equally mysterious cat in the never resolved quest for outer discovery of something that has a rather inner nature. 8/10
Man of the West (1958)
"You outlived your life, you outlived your kind"
Man of the West was the last Western directed by Anthony Mann, it also stands as one of his best works in the genre. The film belongs to a transition category of Westerns, it was released in a period when the Western practically ceased to be a pure and innocent adventure of cowboys and Indians, a conquering of the West by hopeful pioneers and instead was substituted by a more pessimistic, somewhat more mature, adult and even philosophical approach. The Man of the West is a clear representation of that change, being one of the pioneers in the category along with John Ford's The Searchers, which was made about the same time, the change that was finalized in what is considered as a symbolic death of the Western classical genre - John Ford's The Man Who Shoot Liberty Valance. With all its pessimism and extreme, almost sadistic violence, Man of the West is also an undoubted predecessor to the Westerns made later in the '60s by Sam Pekinpah, beginning with 1962 Ride the High Country and culminating in what considered his best 1969 The Wild Bunch. In Man of the West the transition, the change in the genre incarnates itself in a figure of Link Jones wonderfully played by Gary Cooper. Right from the opening scene of the film we are introduced to him as he appears on the horizon of the classical Western's landscape, a figure that looks like it had been moulded out of as much marked by the time as the hero himself surrounding scenery. And when he enters the town in a classical Western manner of a stranger sure of his strength, the voyage to the past really begins, a past which starts to hunt the main character in almost an exact proportion as it revealed to us. A past that finds its threatening personification in a most evil character of Dock Tobin, superbly played by Lee J. Cobb. An old outlaw who once was Link's buddy and who somehow managed to survive all those years, still remaining in action, outliving his kind, outliving his life, representing no more nor less than a shadow of the classical Western bad guy figure and opposing Link, his once best friend and now enemy of equally phantomous nature. The confrontation reaches its peak and draws to its conclusion in the phantom-town of Lassoo, left by its inhabitants a long time ago and populated only by ghosts and aged Mexican couple before our heroes' arrival. This is where the final duel between the two parties takes place, a duel where again the deviation from the classical Western style is so obvious, where actually the classical duel scheme finds its end when the opponents breaking all the codes and leaving all the moral preoccupations aside shoot each other in pure struggle for survival motivated by the overwhelming hate and the desire to erase the past. The final result is one of the most tragic and pessimistic Westerns in the cinema's history. 9/10
"Jesse James was a man who lived outside the law and nobody knew his face"
The True Story of Jesse James was the third Western directed by Nicholas Ray after fabulous Johnny Guitar and rather average Run for Cover. At the time director took the project he was at the peak of his prestige mainly due to an enormous success of the film he made prior to The True Story, which is Rebel Without a Cause. He was one of the highest paid directors in Hollywood at the time and the most beloved one by James Dean. Also he was one of the few directors who managed to get a certain independence from the Studio's control, an independence that was proven in making of Bigger Than Life, when his opinion won over the one by film's main star and producer James Mason.
But with the True Story of Jesse James, those glorious days where over. It was the first Nick Ray's film where his artistic freedom was completely taken away by the producer and the studio, the first film where he didn't have the final word in making of it, and also the most hated one by the director himself, who later referenced to it in `F**g awful' terms, as being the film completely different from the one he was intending to do when took the project.
One of the main points he mentioned later was the construction of the story in ill-achieved and ridiculous flashbacks, instead of which Ray wanted to move the story back and front several times without any explanation to the viewer, avoiding using the cliché flashback sequences with the narration by Jesse's mother and Zee, which were used in final version of the film, regardless of his opinion re-edited by the order of then Fox producer Buddy Adler, who found it difficult to understand the development of the story while seeing it in the director's cut. Also with The True Story that Ray obtained the reputation of the rebel, of a difficult person to work with and realized that his artistic freedom was quite limited.
In the film we follow the true-life story of legendary James brothers, Jesse and Frank, played by Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter, which starts with the ill-fated bank robbery that goes wrong and while the brothers are on the run from the authorities, the story moves back and tells as the 18 years of their lives prior to that, the circumstances which lead them to become the most famous outlaws in the history of the West, their successes and final separation which resulted in tragic end for Jesse and helped in moulding of Jesse James' figure as a legend of the West, the beginning of which is shown in the film's marvellous ending with the blind man singing the Jesse James song predicting so the future immortality destined to the hero.
The True Story of Jesse James continues with the chain of rebel personalities so characteristic of the Nicholas Ray films with Robert Wagner as Jesse James following James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and John Derek in Run For Cover where the role of the characters' past in forming of their without a cause future is quite obvious.
Ultimately it's one of those numerous films in Hollywood history, which probably could have been great, provided the director was given the opportunity to make it the way he wanted. 7/10
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Marlon Brando's debut as a director
One-Eyed Jacks was the first and the last film Marlon Brando ever directed. First the project was assigned to Stanley Kubrick, but soon he dropped it and went to direct Spartacus instead with Brando substituting him. It's quite a fine Western beautifully shot mainly in California seaside. The film's story mainly concerns the friendship, betrayal and revenge themes thus following the traditional Western story pattern.
Rio (Marlon Brando) and Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) are two friends and notorious outlaws on the run from the authorities after a recently committed robbery. Things start to look pretty bad when they find themselves trapped in the mountains. Dad manages to escape by betraying his friend and letting him to be captured. Rio soon is convicted and spends several years in prison from where he eventually escapes. Striving for revenge, he immediately starts trying to find out the whereabouts of his treacherous friend, very soon discovering that he is no longer a bandit but a very respectable sheriff in a town in South California.
The first half of the movie is smoothly paced and looks quite excellent with a number of good action sequences, touches of suspense and perfect comic moments provided not only by witty dialog lines but also by outstanding performance from Marlon Brando. But as the story draws to its conclusion the film louses its freshness and starts to become a bit too slow. Nonetheless with all its flows it's still a very remarkable Western that provides quite a pleasant and memorable viewing experience. A must-see for any Marlon Brando or Western fan. 8/10
Beat the Devil (1953)
One of John Huston's weakest
Beat the Devil is based on a novel of the same name by James Helvick. John Huston co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of it, like in case with many of his other films, this time with the help of Truman Capote. The film begins with an introduction of a group of crooks, who while stuck in Italy because of the problems with the steamer they are travelling on, learn of the existence of a piece of land rich in the uranium somewhere in South Africa, which might be bought by a very cheap price because of the present owners unawareness of the fact. Hastily they embark on a journey to the place, which, as they think, will put an end to their lifetime troubles by providing them with a considerable wealth for the rest of their lives. A peculiar Dannreuthers couple, played by Jina Lollobrigida and Humphrey Bogart, joins them in pursuit of this `noble' task obviously intending to share a part of this enormous wealth, which supposedly awaits our heroes there.
Beat the Devil is a sort of cynical adventure comedy which thou features a superb cast of actors and is co-written and directed by brilliant John Huston, nevertheless fails to enter the quality category of nearly all of Huston's other films, still remaining a worth watching film with a number of fine lines in the dialogs and quite a good acting that makes one tolerate a rather weak story and other numerous flows. 6/10
Silent lunatic comedy
Phi-Phi is arguably the best and undoubtedly most surprisingly imaginative and well-known work of a French filmmaker Georges Pallu. He directed it under the fictitious name of Dimitri Fexas, an alias that he probably assumed to accentuate the Greek mood of the film. It's quite an unusual exception among director's other works, which always tended to have a religious, mainly Catholic thematic.
It's based on an operetta by Andre Willementz and Felix Solar, which I've never seen so it's impossible for me to compare the two. The film counts with the presence of one of the most popular French comic actors at the time - Andre Deed, who incarnates Pireu, one of the many peculiar characters to grace the screen in this no less peculiar film which might be called a worthy predecessor to the lunatic comedies of Mel Brooks and even Zucker brothers.
The action of the film takes place in an ancient Greece where were follow mostly amorous adventures of the film's main hero - Phidius, more intimately known as Phi-Phi, who happens to be one of the most renowned sculptors in Athens. He is helped by even more odd character - Pireu, who always tends to get into trouble, mainly because of his obsession with rarely lucky betting on the horse races and his master's beautiful women-models. The film promptly turns into a screwball comedy when a Greek prince Ardimedon falls in love with Phi-Phi's wife and tries to work as a model posing for his new sculpture in quite a pleasant and most desirable company with the sculptor's wife. Meanwhile Phi-Phi's servant Pireu gives away all the statues from the sculptors shop to pay his debts earned by the unsuccessful betting.
Besides the screwed relationships' gags the viewer might be brought to laugh by numerous use of completely out-of-time items, such as a hilarious version of an Ancient Greek telephone, a phonograph, and even a sort of motorcycled chariot.
Overall Phi-Phi is quite an enjoyable and easy-to-watch early silent version of lunatic comedy worth to take a look at. 7/10
Kirk Douglas' debut film
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was directed by two times Academy Award winning director Lewis Milestone who was particularly successful in directing war dramas, most renowned of them being 1930 legendary landmark All Quite on the Western Front for which he won his second Best Director Oscar. Later in the '40s he came back to directing the films in the war drama genre delivering quite a few remarkable movies such as The Walk in the Sun, The Purple Heart and Edge of Darkness. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers though isn't a war drama, but mostly a Film-Noir still represents one of the highest points in director's career. This film is also remarkable for being Kirk Douglas actor's debut.
The film's story is basically about the raise and fall of a quite an authoritative woman of rather strong character Martha Ivers, convincingly played by Barbara Stanwyck, the story of whose life we follow throughout the film, beginning with her troubled childhood marked with the dominative presence of a detestable in the eyes of a young girl's aunt (played by Judith Anderson). But the girl-aunt's rather troubled co-existence wasn't destined to last too long interrupted by a sudden and not entirely accidental aunt's death by falling down the stairs not without young Martha's willing help, a tragic and quite a decisive for the main characters in the film moment, which happens on rainy and stormy night providing the film with one of its most memorable scenes.
Martha's little friend Sam happens to witness all those events and frightened to his bones promptly flees the town only to return there 18 years later to find quite a number of changes beginning with the town's name which is now Iverstown, named so in the honour of its most respectable and influential citizen - Martha Ivers, whose power, as he very soon discovers, is due to her marriage to Walter O'Neal (brilliantly played by Kirk Douglas), a district attorney who belongs to the town most influential family, but in spite of all that finds his weak persona under an utter control of a tough and commanding character of his wife. At this point in the film's story one of the main Film-Noir ingredients is launched, when Sam tries to derive a bit of profit for himself by blackmailing poor Walter with the fact of possessing the knowledge of Martha's shadowy past. What he nonetheless failed to consider is the surprising resourcefulness of Walter, who turned to be quite an adversary while being in such a desperate situation and, of cause, the wilfulness of Walter's wife.
Overall The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is quite a notable Film-Noir classic featuring fine acting, a good, Oscar nominated story which follows some of the trademark Film-Noir patterns in a quite a unique way and last but not least the notable music score by brilliant, three times Academy Award winning composer Miklos Rozsa. All that combined together provide quite a remarkable viewing experience, which is not to be missed. 8/10
Easy Living (1949)
A weak drama
Easy Living is based on a story Education of the Heart by Irving Shaw, who was previously in 1942 nominated for the Academy Awards for co-writing the screen play of George Stevens' The Talk of the Town, and directed by Jacques Tourneur best remembered for his Horror and Film-Noir classics such as Cat People and Out of the Past.
Easy Living is basically a story of a struggle in life of Pete Wilson (played by Victor Mature). He is the highest paid professional football player in the league, who knows nothing in life except to play football. His life is apparently settled, he is married to a beautiful woman Liza (Lizabeth Scott), owns a nice home etc., his future looks bright till the day when a serious heart ailment is discovered after a medical test which may result in fatal consequences in case Pete continues to play football. All his world falls apart beginning with his marriage to Liza who now shows her real interests in marriage to Pete being the easy living provided with the money he earns as a football player, an occupation he is unable to continue anymore by obvious reasons.
Overall it's a weak drama in all of its aspects: the story, the acting and even directing from otherwise brilliant Jacques Tourneur.
A very boring, though not very long (the duration of film being 77 minutes) viewing experience. 5/10
Cat People (1942)
A landmark in the Horror genre's development
Cat People was the first collaboration between the RKO producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur that later resulted in more two films I Waked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man forming this way now classic and at the time commercially successful Horror Trilogy.
Cat People is generally considered the best of the three and it was the first film where Jacques Tourneur used his innovative, which later became his trademark suspense technique in direction, which basically consists in not showing the most frightening moments in the film's action using instead shadows and sounds leaving the rest to the viewer's imagination, a technique that resulted perfectly at the time of film's initial release in 1942, providing its astounding for the B horror movie success at the Box Office and establishing Jacques Tourneur as the master of the genre. Now, 60 years later, it still knocks with full impact generating a chain of the perfect moments of chilly horror.
The film's story is about a very mysterious and beautiful young artist of Serbian origin Irena Dubrovna (played by Simone Simon) who lives in New York and is haunted by her childhood memories of the stories her parents told her about a women who turn into panthers. Soon she meets a handsome young man Keith Smith (Oliver Reed) who promptly falls in love with her.
As the time passes his love to the troubled young woman grows more and more and so the Irena's obsession with panthers that leads her to regular visiting of the zoo to observe and draw the animals. Soon she comes to believe that she suffers from an ancient curse that may result in her turning into a panther every time she is emotionally disturbed. At the beginning Keith refuses to take seriously her mental problem but soon decides to take Irene to a renowned psychiatrist Dr. Judd (Tom Conway). The situation is aggravated when Keith starts an affair with Alice (Jane Randolph) who happens to be the couple's mutual acquaintance and his colleague at work.
A genuine Horror classic, a must-see for every one. 9/10
Phantom Raiders (1940)
Nick Carter is back again
Phantom Raiders was the second (the first being 1939 Nick Carter - Master Detective) and the last film directed by Jacques Tourneur about the adventures of a popular detective Nick Carter whose character was created still in the end of the 19th century and who served as a protagonist of several films before this one during the silent era. Here yet again Walter Pigeon plays the main part of invincible detective and is joined once more by his peculiar assistant Bartholomew known as the Bee-man (hilariously played by Donald Meek). They were destined to reunite only once again the same year as Phantom Raiders to film Sky Murder but this time under the direction of George Seitz.
In Phantom Raiders Nick Carter answers the duty call while on vacation and is sent to Panama to investigate the mysterious sinking of several cargo ships near the Panama coast where he is joined by his eccentric assistant Bartholomew who as usually provides sometimes a valuable help and on other occasions creates havoc though always remaining handy. Soon they discover that a nightclub owner Al Taurez is involved, but very soon our heroes discover to their disappointment that he's a bit tougher then appears to be at first sight. A little weaker than its predecessor - Nick Carter-Master Detective, The Phantom Raiders is still a decent viewing experience. 6/10
Interesting mixture of Film-Noir and Romantic Comedy
SPOILERS! Jim la houlette roi des voleurs (Jim the Cracksman, the King of Thieves) was produced by Albatros Company that was founded in the beginning of the 1920s by "White" Russian émigré community in France. Their main star at the time was talented comic actor of Russian origin Nicholas Rimsky who began acting still in 1917 while in Russia. Later in France he tried his hand in co-directing several films beginning with 1925 Le Negre Blanc. Jim the Cracksman, the King of Thieves was his third feature he co-directed this time with Roger Lion also starring in the main role.
Jim the Cracksman is a sort of Film-Noir romantic comedy where Nicholas Rimsky hilariously plays the part of Moluchet, a timid secretary of a well-known French thrillers writer Bretonneau. He is hopelessly in love with the writer's daughter Pauline and is ready to make any sacrifice to conquer her love. Opportunity knocks when an ingenious idea of how to improve the sale of Bretonneau's books visits the mind of the writer's publisher. The idea is to use poor Moluchet to impersonate the most famous Paris thieve Jim the Cracksman who has terrified the city's population for already 10 years, to break into writer's home during the big party which will provide a number of witnesses, and steal the only copy of a just finished novel. All that Bretonneau has to do next is supposedly to write down the novel again and publish it with a guaranteed success due to all the publicity because of Jim the Cracksman involvement.
But everything goes different from what was planed when the real notorious thieve decides to pay a visit to writer's home exactly at the time when Moluchet is supposed to make his move. As a result Moluchet is arrested at the scene of the crime he didn't commit and is brought to trial which is a culmination of the film where our hero learns that he has finally won the heart of Paulina, but only because she thinks that he's indeed the courageous thieve Jim the Cracksman, so Moluchet in order to keep her love promptly confesses of committing all of the crimes attributed to the famous thieve and is found guilty. But at this decisive moment the real Jim the Cracksman enters the scene again and proves himself to be quite a noble and courageous fellow.
A pleasant to watch French romantic comedy. 7/10
Mission of Danger (1960)
Three episodes of 1958-1959 TV Series "Northwest Passage" put together
Jacques Tourneur begun working for TV in 1954 and made 26 TV episodes in total during his career, for such diverse TV films as The Martyr (which was his first one and featured Ronald Reagan in the title role), The Stopover, Aftermath, Night Call, The Alaskans and Northwest Passage for which he directed eight episodes during 1958-1959 and presumably the best of them was included in the Mission of Danger montage that was made out of Northwest Passage TV Series produced by MGM and based on the book of the same name by Kenneth Roberts that was once already turned into film in 1939 by King Vidor. Mission of Danger consists of three episodes the central of which was directed by Jacques Tourneur and the other two are of the authorship of George Waggner.
In this new version of the film the story is quite different from the King Vidor's. Major Robert Rogers (played by Keith Larsen) and a bunch of his rangers is given a mission to enter the territory controlled by French troops and hostile Indians to find out about an English spy who disappeared a few month before while attempting to find a new passage for the English troops through the mountains. Presumably he is in the hands of the French and what is required from Major Rogers is to receive the information whether the passage was found or not, and if yes, its whereabouts.
But the luck seems to run out for the rangers when they are caught by the French soldiers and sent to a war prison camp where they are treated quite badly by a certain officer and from where they nonetheless persistently try to evade in the best tradition of prison escape movies.
Overall Mission of Danger is a pleasant and very easy film to watch, with quite an interesting story and decent acting. 7/10
The Tin Star (1957)
`You are more temporary then you think'
Directed by Anthony Mann, The Tin Star is quite a remarkable Western that revisits a classic pattern of the genre though deviating from it a bit by introducing some new models. It features superb performance from Henry Fonda as an experienced ex-sheriff Morg Hickman who recently lost his wife and only child and travels to a small town where the newly appointed young and ambitious sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) faces quite a strong opposition from much older and tougher Bogardus who has a shot at occupying his post.
The two of them soon become friends and Morg starts to give a valuable help to the young man passing him his vast experience in practicing sheriff's job. Meanwhile Morg finds a place to live at home of a widow Nora Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) who lives with her young son and is treated like outcast among the town's population, especially Bogardus and his gang because of her previous marriage to an Indian. Promptly they develop quite a deep attachment for each other primarily based on their similar nature of being quite different from the other people surrounding them and the bonding fact that both of them suffered a deep personal loses of husband in Nora's case and wife and son in Morg's.
The confrontation between the two parties ensues when one of the town folks is attacked and killed by a couple of unknown men and the next day the same fate riches the most respectable and loved Dr. McCord (John McIntire) whose entering the town on a carriage at the day of his birthday scene is probably one of the most remarkable in the Western's history. The town's people join Bogardus and form the party to find and lynch the murderers while young sheriff Ben wants to capture bandits alive and give them a fair trial and is joined in this undertaking by Morg.
The Tin Star is undoubtedly a very important Western featuring some of the most memorable and heart-warming moments of the genre's history and a wonderful performance from Henry Fonda. 8/10
The King and Four Queens (1956)
`No woman is immune to a man' especially when the man is Clark Gable
The King and Four Queens marked the fourth time Raoul Walsh tried his hand in directing a motion picture in Cinemascope, the first three of them being Battle Cry, The Tall Man and The Revolt of Mamie Stover the second of them being also the first film out of three in totality that Walsh made with legendary Clark Gable.
In The King and Four Queens Gable plays a handsome middle-aged adventurer Don Kehoe, known in the West for his skills in using a gun who comes to a rancho called Wagon Mound with its entire population consisting of five women, four of them being beautiful widows of the McDade gang brothers recently killed while attempting to rob a bank. They are led by a tough middle-aged Ma McDade (Jo Van Fleet) who is quite feared and respected not only by the four young widows under her command but also by a population of all villages and towns a few hundreds miles around the ranch. Promptly upon our hero's arrival, the rivalry among the four sisters as about conquering of Don Kehoe's heart ensues, resulting in many insignificant troubles manly for the old mother-chief. The purpose of Don Kehoe's joining of such a pleasant company nonetheless is a large sum of money that, as a word goes around, is hidden at the ranch and which hiding place he ought to find by any means.
Overall the average Western as it is, The King and Four Queens provides much less viewing pleasure then one may expect from an average one, but nonetheless it has its interesting moments and is a worth watching experience for a genre fan. 6/10
`There's nothing fair or unfair under heaven.'
Directed by a veteran Hollywood director Henry King who began his career still in 1915, Love is a Many Splendored Thing was one of his last great films. It was based on a bestseller by Han Suyin called simply A Many Splendored Thing the phrase that was borrowed by the author from the poem The Kingdom of God by Francis Thompson where that many splendored word `love' was used in quite a different and rather transcendental context meaning the love of God. Made in the 50s, the film marked along with works by such directors as Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli a sort of renascence of melodrama, its florescence and reaching yet again a peak of popularity.
The story begins when a handsome American reporter Mark Elliott played by William Holden yet once again typecast in one of his irresistible `playboy' roles comes to the Hong Kong and meets there a young and pretty Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) of half-Chinese half-English origin who is working as a doctor at a hospital and whose husband was recently killed by the Chinese communists. Instantly Mark feels a rather strong attraction towards her but at the beginning his deep feelings are not quite reciprocated by Han's heart left cold after the death of her husband (`I believe in human heart now only as a doctor'). But very soon she yields to the persistent courting of tempting as hell Mark and both of them enter a passionate relationship apparently stoppable by nothing, even by the fact that Mark is unhappily married and his wife doesn't want to give him a divorce or social differences and prejudices caused by Han's Chinese origin. But still it's the fate that has a final word to say in determining the fairness of the eternalness of such a blissful loving relationship for no matter how enduring the two assume it to be the merciless time is waiting in a rather alarming form of death, prepared at any given moment to prove its impermanence.
Undoubtedly one of the most romantic films ever made, Love is a Many Splendored Thing features fine performances from William Holden and Jennifer Jones, wonderful Academy Award winning musical score by Alfred Newman and extremely romantic, touching, heart-warming but ultimately heart-breaking story. Don't miss that many splendored film. 8/10
The Cobweb (1955)
`The difference between doctors and patients is that doctors don't get better.'
With this rather cobwebby drama director Vincente Minnelli and producer John Houseman proceeded with their partnership, which has already resulted in a birth of a remarkable film The Bad and the Beautiful prior to the regrettable `miscarriage' which The Cobweb unfortunately is. Luckily enough, the authors carried on unshaken by total failure of the film at the Box Office as well as among the critics and delivered quite a pleasant Lust for Life biographical film on the life of Vincent Van Gogh a few years later. The Cobweb is based on a novel by William Gibson who also wrote some additional dialogs to the film. The story follows the troubled life of two groups of people one of them being the patients of a mental hospital and the other - doctors who try to run the hospital along with their rather disturbed families.
Dr. Stewart McIver (Richard Widmark) has introduced a new method of curing the mentally ill on the grounds of a Hospital whose medical director is Dr. Douglas Devanal (Charles Boyer) who isn't quite supportive of the project. The curing method consists in giving the patients maximum freedom (`I'm a doctor, not a jailer' says Dr. Stewart in the film) and engaging them in healthy activities they have inclination for. What the majority of them productively do by making drapes for the Hospital's library. The story of one of the patients not involved in this healthy enterprise and who also happens to be the most troubled of them - Steven (John Kerr) we follow throughout the film. He is a talented want-to-be painter with suicidal tendencies who is given a freedom to paint and exhibit his works on the Hospital's grounds, what he successfully does meanwhile entering a romantic relationship with another patient, a shy girl Sue (Susan Strasberg) who had never ever left the premises of the mental institution and is quite fearful of the outside world.
The relationship between the two of them is probably the most touching element of the film that could actually save it from being a complete bore in the relationships field which happens to be the very thing film is about, but unfortunately it never gets to be developed enough while other characters we are left with are utterly helpless to make the viewer care about them in a long and tedious journey through their miserable lives inside the `human cobweb' in search of the solution for `the drapes for the library' problem. A rather disappointing drama from Vincente Minnelli that stands poorly compared to his other works. 5/10
The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)
`Isn't it nice to face life together, being in love always in love.'
The Adventures of Hajji Baba is remotely based on the book by a British writer James Morier who was actually raised in a harem and later served as an English diplomat at the court of the sultan of Iran in the first part of the 19th century. The book called The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan enjoyed quite a success at the time of its release in 1824 not only in England but also in Iran, the fact that encouraged the author to write a sequel called The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan in England where our hero is sent to learn its customs and way of life. This film version hasn't borrowed much from the book except perhaps the name of the main character Hajji Baba (played by John Derek) and his profession the barber whose banal, but sweet story we follow as he runs of with a beautiful but very capricious princess Fawzia (Elaine Stewart) who tries to escape from marriage to a man she isn't really crazy about which is imposed by her authoritative father Khalif (Donald Randolph) who is not particularly inclined to consider his daughter's opinion regarding choosing her lifetime partner especially when his power and monetary interests are at stake. But the main Hajji Baba's interest in helping the fugitive princess lies not in her attractive physical appearances but in a ring with a priceless emerald in it, which she happens to possess and which Hajji happens to covet. But gradually a struggle ensues inside of our hero's heart as about the change in the flow of his preferences to the girl instead of the emerald, which are also fed by the attraction the princess feels each time stronger towards the irresistible barber.
While all this internal fight is going on, our heroes come through numerous adventures most excitingly dangerous of them being caught by a band of beautiful women-outlaws several of whom were once Fawzia's personal servants who managed to escape mainly from princess' ill temper and promptly turned into bandits.
Overall Adventures of Hajji Baba is an ultimate what can be called sex and sand adventure comedy with a lot of beautiful women and sand in it all filmed in larger than life Cinemascope, which somehow covers the films poor story and is significantly helped by a pleasant title song performed by Nat King Cole which can be heard several times throughout the film - `Hajji, Hajji, Hajji, Hajji, Hajji Baba, Hajji Baba.' 7/10
Vera Cruz (1954)
A long way to Vera Cruz
Vera Cruz is considered one of the best Robert Aldrich's films. It was the fourth feature film he directed soon after finishing his Apache, which also starred Burt Lancaster.
The action of the film takes place right after the end American Civil War. A middle aged ex-confederate officer Ben Crane (Gary Cooper), who lost all his wealth because of the war and is on his way to Mexico, bumps into a young greedy adventurer Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) to whom by the force of circumstances he has to stick in order to go on. Their background and age maybe different but nonetheless they're temporary united by one aspiration: to get some dough and recuperate his former glory in Ben Crane's case and start a new and better life, but again with money's help, in Joe Erin's.
Soon they arrive to the court of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian (George Macready) who, impressed with their skill in using a gun offers them a very nicely paid but equally dangerous job of escorting a French Marquise Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to the city of Vera Cruz through controlled by Mexican rebels territory. While on the way they soon find out that the most valuable cargo is not Marquise Marie at all, but three million dollars in gold sent by French government and destined to help Emperor Maximilian remain in power.
When the rebels attack them it becomes clear that they are not the only ones who are aware of the existence of the treasure. A game of duplicity and deceit begins over the gold involving every imaginable character including Marquise de Labordere (Cesar Romero) who promptly enters the game.
Overall Vera Cruz is quite an average Western that sticks to the genre's clichés and doesn't offer anything particularly remarkable in terms of acting or story, however providing a decent entertainment. 7/10
Johnny Guitar (1954)
`There was never a man like my Johnny'
Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) walks into a saloon run by Vienna (Joan Crawford), who is his past love whom he hasn't seen for five years. He's looking for a job as guitar player. Many things has changed since they saw each other for the last time, Vienna turned from a plain saloon singer to its owner, and Johnny Guitar, also known as John Logan, one of the fastest to draw the gun in the West, passed through many tribulations too, but one thing immediately becomes clear as they meet again (`I've waited for you, Johnny') that the major suffering they had to pass through was the solitude, the pain of separation from each other.
But five years is a long time and `How many man have you forgotten? As many as you remember.' There's a man she hasn't forgotten yet called Dancing Kid and there's also a woman who haven't forgiven Vienna for not forgetting him, his most dangerous rival in life and in love Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), ready to stop before nothing to have her revenge on Vienna and get Dancing Kid's heart back from her possession.
But `Spin the wheel, Eddie!' and here is Emma together with town's Marshal accusing Dancing Kid and his partners of recently committed robbery. The accusation that soon makes them go against the law and flee together with Johnny and Vienna. `Keep the wheel spinning, Eddie!' There they are on the run towards the end culminating in a duel between the two women and in so many loves and so many deaths. `Stop spinning the wheel, Eddie!'
Fabulous acting by fabulous actors, wonderful script with unforgettably intelligent and witty dialogs, magnificent direction and intensity of passions surpassing the impact of deaths of `cowboys dying with the grace of ballet dancers' (François Truffaut in his review on the film). What more can I say? Simply one of the greatest Westerns ever made that deserves to be seen and seen again. 10/10
`I fight alone'
Apache was the third feature Robert Aldrich directed. Before he worked as an assistant director to Jean Renoir, William Wellman, Lewis Milestone and even Charlie Chaplin and also made several episodes for TV films. He was invited to direct Apache by its co-producer and main star Burt Lancaster.
The Apache's particularity is that it doesn't enter the classic Western scheme of almost obligatory showing of the Indians as bad guys, thou the most illustrious example of this probably belong to John Ford's 1964 Cheyenne Autumn with which the legendary director bid a farewell to the genre. Also Apache's distinctiveness resides in the treatment that is given to the central theme of the Western genre, which is revenge.
Here the Indian rebellious warrior Massai, wonderfully played by Burt Lancaster is obsessively seeking revenge facing the enemy not only in a form of one person or a small group of people in accordance with traditional Western vengeance system, but in a form an entire society either Indian or White, a society that he considers his enemy and against which he courageously fights alone not looking for help from anyone till he meets an equally strong character Nalinle (Jean Peters), a woman who simply accepts him as he is ready to share all the difficulties of Massai's life and even to sacrifice her own life for the man she loves. From this point on as his affection for Nalinle increases, his desire to fight everything and everyone proportionally decreases resulting in his settling down looking for more peaceful existence, which is hardly possible due to the burden of his past deeds which weighs over him personified in a collective figure of the American authorities who unceasingly continue to hunt him down.
A weak, but also in many ways remarkable Western featuring convincing performances from Burt Lancaster and Jean Peters in a tale of self-sacrificing love and courageous but ultimately pointless fight for imaginary cause. 7/10
I Confess (1953)
Forgotten Hitchcock's gem
I Confess is one of the less seen Alfred Hitchcock films that deserve much more attention. It remotely based on a French Stage Play of the beginning of the 20th century by Paul Anthelme called Nos Deux Consciences. It was a film Hitchcock wanted to make for a about a 20 years, but kept postponing it realizing difficulty of acceptance it would have in the society because of the subject the film is about.
Father Michael Logan is a young priest in the late 1940s Quebec who hears a confession from Otto Keller (Otto Hasse), a poor German refugee who works as a caretaker at Father Logan's church, who tells him that he has just committed a murder of a lawyer by the name Vilette, in whose home he broke in with the intent to rob a big sum of money that would improve his, and most importantly his wife Alma's life, whom he can't stand seeing working hard anymore.
Soon the body of the victim is found and Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) begins to conduct an investigation. He finds witnesses who had seen a priest going out of Vilette's home around the time he was killed. The suspicion falls on Father Logan when discovered that he knew Vilette personally and had a strong personal motive to kill him. In addition to that Otto starts to testify against him also. Now Logan has to make a choice of remaining silent and probably being hanged for a crime he didn't committed or break the secrecy of confession and tell the truth about who the real murderer is.
An intelligent, neatly constructed in the best Hitchcock's trademark style film, definitely deserves to be seen. 8/10