Movie Diary 1/29/2018

The Two of Us (aka La vieil homme et l’enfant, Claude Berri, 1967). Little Jewish kid (Alain Cohen) is taken out of occupied Paris and installed in the farmhouse of a pair of old folks who don’t know he’s Jewish. The boy bonds with the blustery old geezer, a Pétainist and raging anti-Semite. This would be a corny set-up were it not for the monumental presence of Michel Simon as the bigoted old blowhard. Simon rolls and thunders and looks like he ate Gerard Depardieu for breakfast; you can’t fake this kind of life force. Also, Berri’s elliptical cutting slides against the sentimentality of the situation.


Movie Diary 1/28/2018

houseinmarshroadWhite Cradle Inn (aka High Fury, Harold French, 1947). A French war orphan lives with a Swiss couple at their small-town Alpine villa. The kid is supposed to be sent back to France, but wife Madeleine Carroll wants to adopt him; layabout husband Michael Rennie (looking even leaner and hungrier than usual) hates the kid but wants the wife to sign over ownership of the inn to him in exchange for the adoption. It all climaxes high up in the mountains during a climbing expedition, as any self-respecting Swiss story must. Good brisk storytelling and jaw-dropping locations. Rennie is a real rat. From the director of Secret Mission.

The House in Marsh Road (Montgomery Tully, 1960). Another one about a louse husband coveting his wife’s inherited house. Here it’s boozy would-be novelist Tony Wright plotting against wife Patricia Dainton, not realizing the old house they’ve moved into is haunted by a protective poltergeist. (Is there a faint echo of The Shining lurking in the background here?) Hubby works in tandem with the “secretary” he hires to type his novel; she’s played by Sandra Dorne, fondly recalled as the bored wife in Roadhouse Girl (aka Marilyn). Sadly, the ghost’s behavior mostly consists of moving an armchair back and forth and smashing a mirror, and tedium mostly prevails.

Crow Hollow (Michael McCarthy, 1952). After a whirlwind romance, new bride Natasha Parry is taken by small-town doctor Donald Houston to his family estate (it’s called Crow Hollow, as you may have guessed), despite someone telling her UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU GO TO CROW HOLLOW. The rambling old estate is lorded over by the husband’s three eccentric aunts, who have a weird obsession with attractive and insolent young housekeeper Pat Owens. Quicker than you can say “Get Out,” strange things begin happening to the bride, which are fairly easy to guess once the film introduces a giant hairy spider, a poison mushroom, and a bottle of strychnine. Still, this 70-minute picture moves right along and looks great, with lots of strong compositional set-ups and dire mood-setting. Natasha Parry also appeared in Midnight Lace and the Zefferelli Romeo and Juliet, and was married for over 60 years to Peter Brook.

Dirtbag Maze (This Week’s Movies)


Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson; Maze Runner: The Death Cure (courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey. “Dirtbag goes a long way to confirm his legacy. It also paints a compelling picture of mania and its contradictions.” (Herald link here.)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure. “Surprise, surprise: This is a competent and sometimes gripping movie.”

Movie Diary 1/25/2018

outrageRashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950). It remains formidable. And then our class on Westerns watched…

The Outrage (Martin Ritt, 1964). I had never seen this Hollywood remake of Rashomon, adapted from a play by Martin and Fay Kanin (and, obviously, the Kurosawa movie). Its reputation is woeful, but the movie’s interesting to look at as an artifact of 60s style (James Wong Howe’s widescreen B&W photography is frequently dreamy, with a few downright arty touches). Paul Newman, in one of his worst performances, plays a Mexican bandit; Claire Bloom is the wife and Laurence Harvey is the uptight husband (here a class-conscious former Confederate officer and high-bred son of the South). Bloom has some impressive moments. The trio in the framing story consists of William Shatner, Howard Da Silva, and a fine-fettle Edward G. Robinson. There’s a lurch in the final “testimony” toward a particular kind of 60s absurdist comedy – an indicator of the movie’s general all-over-the-place-ness. But, again, interesting to watch.

Movie Diary 1/23/2018

Sleeping Car to Trieste (John Paddy Carstairs, 1948). A cool and funny installment in the never-ending collection of movies set on trains. This one has a Macguffin in the form of an espionage diary of some kind, with various travelers on the Orient Express vying to possess it. Good ensemble cast – nobody really has the central role – including fun types like David Tomlinson (the future Mary Poppins father) as an overly-social solo traveler who keeps butting into other people’s plots), Finlay Currie as a grouchy writer of some fame, and the ineffable Bonar Colleano, who played Americans in many UK films of the period. Remake of the 1932 Rome Express, which I want to see now.

Movie Diary 1/22/2018


Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep: The Post

The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017). I am going to apply the principle that any newspaper film should be judged by the standard of whether Sam Fuller would have approved of it. I think The Post passes that test. Spielberg weaves from well-executed procedural stuff to big-headline political statements, including a few messages printed in bold. It’s sometimes blunt moviemaking but it’s driven by the urgency that at this moment in history telling a good yarn is not enough. I can’t argue with that, or at least I don’t want to right now. The very end of the film is case in point. (Not really spoilers, ‘cuz, you know, it’s history.) The Pentagon Papers section concludes, and Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) has a line about how she never wants to go through that again, and har har, because we know Watergate’s coming – then Spielberg just goes ahead and shows a scene at the Watergate, the night of the break-in. This is Spielberg in Schindler mode, making a document, and you can roll your eyes at the gaucheness of spelling it out, but he’s got a point – there are millions of Americans who have never heard of Watergate. But two things make this justified. One is the suggestion that the end of the story is never the end, that there’s always another eruption of malfeasance about to happen (“The end of this story can only be written by you” – the end credit of Samuel Fuller’s Run of the Arrow). The other is the final image, and Spielberg’s power as a visualizer: a shot, from across the street or some hanging-in-air space outside the Watergate, of a bank of windows, darkened inside but with the burglar’s flashlights dodging about, and on the other side of the frame an African-American night watchman whose diligence changed history. (Thoughout The Post, as in so much of Spielberg, there’s an inclusive eye for how little people on the periphery may play important roles in the story.) That vision – lights dancing in the darkness, beautifully framed by a distance that sets the image in history – is echt-Spielberg, a born moviemaker even when he wants to play journalist.

Movie Diary 1/21/2018

Secret Mission (Harold French, 1942). A spiffy wartime espionage picture, as four Allied spies drop into a small French village for some recon and mischief: Hugh Williams and Roland Culver are British military (they masquerade as champagne merchants to infiltrate the German HQ, a nifty sequence), Michael Wilding a comical soldier reluctantly returning to his French wife in the village, James Mason as a French freedom fighter. A very witty script, quite jaunty at times.

Freedom Radio (aka A Voice in the Night, Anthony Asquith, 1941). Fascinating wartime inspiration picture, with Clive Brook as a Berlin physician who gets involved with an anti-Nazi short-wave radio broadcast during the weeks before the outbreak of war. Breezy and funny in its early stages, it gets increasingly taut as it goes along. Diana Wynyard plays the doctor’s wife, an actress-producer hired by the Nazis; her character seems explicitly based on Leni Riefenstahl. It’s not really in the same mode as To Be or Not to Be, but lines occasionally intersect; the movie begins with the doctor exiting Hitler’s office, having diagnosed the fuhrer’s sore throat as a case of too much shouting during speeches.