Friday, November 26, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Given its popularity last week, I'll be sticking to the multimedia format from now on. I've also made some changes to the blog layout, as you can probably see, so feel free to explore. I've added an eye-catching sidebar feature which takes you straight to my picture gallery; beneath it is a lineup of features to help you explore the blog (topped by a "Top Posts" link which has just been extensively updated to include my strongest work from the past few months). My blogroll now features post titles, in the hope that it will draw more people to the sites in question - I find it's already working wonders for me personally, getting me caught up with my fellow travelers on a more regular basis. Finally, at the bottom of the sidebar is a somewhat pointless but nonetheless nifty tool which keeps track of the most popular posts of the past 7 days. Several "Remembering the Movies" entries are usually on there at any given time, so thanks to all of you for frequenting the feature.

This week we can be thankful for a dancing Astaire, a bumbling Fields, and a swashbuckling Fairbanks (my capsule review this week will be for The Mark of Zorro), so settle in, relax, and enjoy the show. Just look out for Kathy Bates...

10 years ago (December 2, 2000)


"Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive 2: Birds (2000) alternates between ultraviolent scenes of yakuza war and a tender story set around a country orphanage. While there are countless action movies with a sentimental streak (most notably those by John Woo), this one feels without precedent in suggesting two separate movies run simultaneously. The mosaic approach is still disorienting, since Dead or Alive 2 remains uniformly sincere regardless of whether it's being familiar or absurd. You never sense quotation marks around the genre elements —or carelessness behind the non-sequiturs, for that matter. Miike simply invests himself in every moment as though it were a wholly new experience, much like a child watching his first film. ...

Are there political ramifications to the filmmaking? Miike would seem to think so. In the most audacious sequence of Dead or Alive 2, Shuuichi and Mizuki pull off a series of violent hits and spend their salaries on vaccinating children in the third world. "Vaccinations cost as little as 40 cents in some countries," says Mizuki in one of the film's long static takes (which recall two other great films about epiphany amidst violence, Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks and Shohei Imamura's The Eel). 'Get rid of one jerk, and you vaccinate 100,000 kids.' Violence is juxtaposed again, this time with documentary footage of refugee children in Africa and east Asia. Images originally created in despair are repositioned to become images of hope."
- Ben Sachs, The Auteurs


20 years ago (November 30, 1990)
Misery (1990)

30 years ago (November 27, 1980)

"Halfway into the film I scribbled on my notepad: I love this movie! And I did! It was thought-provoking, interesting, sensitively handled, well-acted and gorgeously photographed on location in Karnataka. But then it went off the rails, combining revenge masala with religion-mythology in a recipe which I am certain my father would tell my mother to go ahead and throw away. Thoughtful became jingoistic, interesting turned to predictable and cliched, sensitive handling and good acting were tossed out the window in favor of bulging eyeballs and sequinned jumpsuits. What a shame! ... It’s like two different people wrote and directed this film. I am sure many references from the Mahabharata went past me (although they weren’t what anyone could call subtle); but even had they not I would have found this disappointing. Not even the arrival of Aruna Irani and a little helping of tawdry disco could help, and this actually proves my point: the first half didn’t even need disco." - Memsaab Story

Hum Paanch (1980)

40 years ago (December 2, 1970)

"Vittorio De Sica's lyric evocation of a vanished group of people (the cultivated, aristocratic Jewish-Italian landowners) and a vanished mood. ... This extraordinary film, with its melancholy glamour, is perhaps the only one that records the halfhearted anti-Jewish measures of the Mussolini period - which were, however, sufficient to wipe out the Finzi-Continis and all they represented." - Pauline Kael

"The subject of the Jews under Mussolini has never been the main matter of a film, as far as I know; it's an interesting idea and I wish the result had been better. The fundamental flaw is the script. The story is about the love of a middle-class Jewish youth for the Finzi-Contini daughter and her inability to return anything but sisterly love. So the chief motions of the plot are utterly divorced from the theme. There are plenty of peripheral incidents that deal with growing Fascist oppression, but the plot is simply not an engine of the idea; it's only a time-filler..." - Stanley Kauffmann


50 years ago (November 30, 1960)


"The striking sense of spontaneity, realism and truth which Truffaut achieves in his film is all but lacking in Duvivier’s. Boulevard is made according to the old rules – polished performances, a conventional narrative and a cinematographic approach which had hardly changed since the 1930s. The film is technically well made, but in comparison with Truffaut’s, it is soulless, with hardly any of the charm and emotional impact of Les 400 coups. It doesn’t help that most of the characters in the film are the most grotesque stereotypes, including a shrewish step-mother that looks like something Hans Christian Andersen created and a pair of Parisian artists who clearly never missed a day at the Quentin Crisp school of in-your-face campness." - James Travers, Films de France
Boulevard (1960)

60 years ago (November 29, 1950)

"No one should be surprised to find Actress Hutton a match for Astaire in vitality, but she also proves adept at dogging his dancing steps in their single full-blown number together. On her own, she gets a chance to hurtle through some galvanic shenanigans, practically no chance to show her more impressive ability as an actress. Astaire's feet seem more facile than ever. In one solo he does a delightful ballet version of Jack and the Beanstalk while singing a bright lyric by Frank Loesser. In both he is nimble and ingenious enough to stop the show. Unfortunately, the show goes right on." - Time Magazine, 1950

"The replacement they came up with was the painfully self-conscious, painfully dykey Betty Hutton, one of the least feminine leading ladies in the history of Hollywood, one step, maybe, behind Martha Raye. Like Martha, Betty covered up her insecurities by constant and painful mugging, which often made her difficult to watch. She's probably most appealing in the famous Preston Surges comedy The Miracle of Morgan Creek, one of his rowdy, two-fisted, regular guy comedies. ... In retrospect, it's hard to see why anyone would think that putting Mr. Elegance and Miss Ballbuster in the same film together would be a good idea. And Loesser, whose Guys and Dolls would open on Broadway at the same time that Let's Dance was released, probably saved his best tunes for the Big Apple. Let's Dance isn't quite Fred's worst musical — I'd give that distinction to Yolanda and the Thief — but it's second in line — not quite a complete disaster, but almost always in critical condition." - Alan Vanneman, Bright Lights Film Journal

Let's Dance (1950)

70 years ago (November 29, 1940)
"That's W. C. Fields swallowing a lit cigarette, an old vaudeville bit... In fact, it's about as far from narrative coherence as you can get; Fields never bothered much with structure or plot. The opening titles, for example, feature a safe door being blown open. That's the last time you see that safe, hear anyone mention a safe, or see any explosives. That's par for the course; no one involved in the film gave a damn about telling a story. The movie exists just as an excuse for W. C. Fields to do his W. C. Fields thing: putter around drunk, get into trouble, and say and do morally reprehensible things. Fortunately, that's more than enough to keep me amused." - Matthew Dessem, The Criterion Contraption [Awesome, awesome blog by the way - an inspiration to me when I first started out, at which time it was defunct. I had no idea it was up and running again, but apparently it's been back for two years now. Check it out if you haven't yet.]


80 years ago (November 29, 1930)
"Min and Bill, in a deft and efficient 66 minutes, offers a semi-comic spin on the kind of dockside melodrama popularized by Eugene O'Neill in works like Anna Christie (adapted to the screen the same year as Min and Bill, with Dressler in the cast). Something about the wharfs, a perennial locale for late-20s and early-30s cinema, prompted actors, directors, and other artists to crystallize strong, almost rough emotions within concise but deceptively layered story structures. While Min and Bill is less visually poetic than something like Sternberg's The Docks of New York, director George Hill's straightforward style nonetheless serves the material and the actors perfectly. Dressler and Beery clearly connect with the audience and with each other in ways that modern movies rarely ask, and which even the greatest bygone stars seldom achieved. The hefty, exaggerated muscularity of their acting, the very quality that might on the surface seem dated and uningratiating, locates Min and Bill on a subtle, exciting, hugely entertaining, and era-specific intersection between theater and film." - Nick Davis, Nick's Flick Picks

Min and Bill (1930)

90 years ago (November 27, 1920)


The second Zorro film to grace "Remembering the Movies" in several weeks (the first was the 1940 swashbuckler starring Tyrone Power), this is often held to be the best or at least very near the top. Unfortunately, it's hemmed in by unimaginative filmmaking for much of its running length (characters tend to stand about and talk), and is way too reliant on intertitles to relay its complex plot. Nonetheless, The Mark of Zorro remains fairly entertaining, due largely to the iconography of the character and story, and especially to the insouciant charm of Doug Fairbanks, who's as amusing when he's portraying Zorro's layabout alter ego Don Diego as he is dashing when he's the Z-scratching bandit. The character is an interesting reversal from the parts Fairbanks cut his teeth on. In early Fairbanks pictures, he's an ordinary man who only dreams of achieving extraordinary feats, here it's the average person (in temperament, if not wealth and position) who represents the charade.

The Mark of Zorro truly comes alive in the last reel, when Fairbanks (rather than fight) leaps, somersaults, and dives across the screen, evading his would-be captors with a mixture of playfulness and dexterity. This is Fairbanks at his best, but the film's a bit skimpy on offering the goods. I'd recommend Thief of Bagdad first, for its gorgeously outlandish sets (and set pieces) as well as Fairbanks' more prodigious acrobatics. As is often the case, I didn't get to watch everything I'd hoped to see before writing this capsule; both The Black Pirate and Robin Hood sit on my computer, as of yet unwatched. So further comparisons will have to wait, but the latter at least (from the glimpses I've taken so far) looks very enticing.


100 years ago (November 30, 1910)
"This is the third version I've seen of the Pushkin story, and, for a bare-bones 15 minute treatment of the story, it's not bad. It manages to distill the story to its essence, though if you're not familiar with the story, you may be a little confused by what actually happens in the last few minutes. However, having enjoyed the classic 1948 British treatment of the story, I didn't have a problem. Apparently, quite a few silent treatments were made of the Pushkin story, though very few of them are extant." - Dave Sindelar

8 comments :

Jaime Grijalba said...

"Misery" is one of my favorite King adaptations, two of the best acting turnarounds and one of my favorite movies as well.
While the book is way more stomach churning than the movie, it still manages to be as emblematic as the superb written word of the maestron Stephen King.
(It does take a while to load the whole thing, but I love it, have you seen any Miikes?)

MovieMan0283 said...

The only Miike I've seen is Audition - did you bring him up because of the similarity to Misery (which never occurred to me before), because of the first Miike film I included, or both? That Dead or Alive movie sounds bizarre & fascinating, something I'd never heard of before doing this series, one reason I like doing it.

Jaime Grijalba said...

Both reasons!
They are very similar, and Miike did draw some inspiration from the book to do it. If you read some trivia, you may find out what was the influence.

Sam Juliano said...

I've always adored THE BANK DICK, and especially that scene you refer to here in your poster lead-in when the two woman stand outside the house and observe the mailbox. One says "Edward Souse?!?", to which the other replies, "Oh no, Egbert Soo-Zay!, with the umlout over the last syllable!" as if the name were of distinguished French origin. Ha!

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, as always you inject this weekly post with serious serious movie love. I am a longtime fan of MIN AND BILL, THE MARK OF ZORRO and DeSica's wrenching THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS, and I am thrilled to see THE QUEEN OF SPADES, as I adore the Pushkin story and Tchaikovsky's opera on the work.

MovieMan0283 said...

I was a latecomer to Fields, and still have a lot to see, but I generally preferred (and found funnier, which may amount to the same thing) It's a Gift to The Bank Dick on first viewing. When I watched the start of this clip though, I was literally laughing aloud, everything from Fields swallowing his cigar to threatening to hurl that flower pot at the little girl. Absolutely hilarious!

Joe Thompson said...

I think the only ones I have seen are "The Bank Dick" and "Zorro." I enjoy any movie with Fields. "Bank Dick" is like a summary of everything he had done up to that point. I don't know how the title and the Black Pussy Cat Cafe got past the censors. The British insisted the title be changed to "The Bank Detective."

Fairbanks did "Don Q, Son of Zorro" a few years later. It is much better paced, and it has Mary Astor.

Sam Juliano said...

IT'S A GIFT is absolutely better than THE BANK DICK, and I'd even on balance go with THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE as the runner up.

Judy said...

I'm slow to comment on this posting but just wanted to say that I recently saw 'Min and Bill' and was impressed by its grittiness and by Marie Dressler's performance in particular. The scene where she and Wallace Beery fight is amazing.