Movie Diary 3/30/2020

Endless Night (Sidney Gilliat, 1972). An Agatha Christie story that feels very Patricia Highsmith. Hywel Bennett plays a blue-collar hired driver, left out of Swinging London but with a keen aesthetic sense, who meets the fabulously rich Hayley Mills and manages to build the mod house of his dreams in the Welsh countryside. It’s not great, and Mills is stuck doing an American accent, but there’s something authentically unpleasant about the story, and the guessing-game part of it is reasonably fun. Co-stars include Britt Ekland, an eccentric Per Oscarsson as the (I assume supposed to be gay) architect who designs the partly automated house, and a curiously animated George Sanders (his penultimate film). Bernard Herrmann did the music, rehashing some favorite modes and throwing in a Moog for good measure.

Movie Diary 3/29/2020

Outcast of the Islands (Carol Reed, 1951). This is Reed’s next film after The Third Man: an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel (which I read too long ago to remember in a detailed way). The treatment here is full of densely-composed frames and scenes that sometimes have a manic pace; on both counts, it seems as though the influence of Orson Welles loomed large on Reed’s approach. Trevor Howard plays the greedy anti-hero, fetched up in a jungly outpost (shot in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon) and plotting against the ship captain (Ralph Richardson) who saved his life. Robert Morley and Wendy Hiller run the colonial mercantile business at the outpost, and Morley’s real-life daughter (you can’t mistake the resemblance) plays their kid. The physical production of the port is an amazing jumble of pier and docks and little canoes scudding around; Reed really had a talent for creating these kinds of crowded cultures. Howard is terrific in a very nervy, jumpy performance, a true scoundrel on the make. The native woman he pursues is played by Kerima, who later married this film’s assistant director, future 007 helmer Guy Hamilton.

 

The Friday (3/27/2020)

resistance

Jesse Eisenberg, Resistance (IFC)

A new review this week for the Scarecrow Video blog:

Resistance. “The material itself is compelling enough to succeed without the strong-arm tactics.”

New posts at my 1980s review website, What a Feeling!: Behold the mysteries of Clara Law’s Reincarnation of Golden Lotus; Ferdinand Fairfax’s kids-saving-their-kidnapped-Navy-SEAL-dads-in-North-Korea flick The Rescue; Michael Crichton’s final credit as feature director, the legal thriller Physical Evidence; Martha Coolidge’s high-school comedy Plain Clothes; and Geoff Murphy’s fine end-of-the-world-in-New-Zealand story, The Quiet Earth.

 

Movie Diary 3/25/2020

Resistance (Jonathan Jakubowicz, 2019). Turns out Marcel Marceau was involved in the French resistance, sabotaging Nazi occupiers in Vichy and leading Jewish children to safety in Switzerland. So just think about that the next time you make fun of the world’s greatest mime. This film is broad and heavy-handed, but Jesse Eisenberg attempts to get something going in the central role, and it also has Clémence Poésy and Géza Röhrig (the guy from Son of Saul).

 

Movie Diary 3/24/2020

quaidesoQuai des Orfèvres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947). A lot of great dirty atmosphere in Clouzot’s worldly murder story, which features the late Suzy Delair (who just died at age 102). Here are some notes I made on the film when it was re-released in 2003 (mild spoilers here):

Henri-Georges Clouzot in noir territory. Songbird Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair, Clouzot’s mistress) loves her round, balding pianist husband Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier), and he’s jealous of every man who pays attention to her. There are many. She flirts back, and uses men to advance her career, yet she needs the husband and alludes to their very satisfactory sex life; this is in a conversation with lesbian photographer Dora (Simone Renant), who also loves her. One night Jenny goes to the home of a repulsive hunchback producer-mogul (the unsavory Charles Dullin, who likes to photograph his protegés at Dora’s, nude – or almost nude – “Not the shoes. Never the shoes,” he says to a woman about to take them off), and he ends up dead. Maurice realizes she’s there, and when he arrives with gun in hand, the man is already a stiff. Dora shows up too, after Jenny goes to her place and then realizes she’s forgotten her fox fur. At that moment we meet—in a series of bravura, aria-like scenes—the police detective played by Louis Jouvet. He has a mixed-race child from his years in the Foreign Legion, an aversion to women (or resignation that his mug will not bring them running), and a dogged single-mindedness about cracking the case. Jouvet absolutely rules the policier aspects of the picture, and his relationships with various characters are exactly drawn:  to Dora, he shrugs in lovelorn fellowship, “When it comes to women, we’ll never have a chance.” The worlds of music hall and police headquarters are beautifully drawn, down to little characters—a cabbie (Pierre Larquey) who hates cops, doesn’t want to give them the clue that he has, but reluctantly does so when blackmailed, gently apologizes to Dora when he must identify her in a line-up. Some great outré touches:  in an empty restaurant during the day, Jouvet’s interrogation of Jenny and Maurice is played against a band madly and loudly rehearsing their music. Later he uses a scrap of paper with an incriminating address written on it as a light for his pipe, to Maurice’s exasperation. Lots of forced perspective, harsh lighting, cramped spaces. Pauline Kael on Suzy Delair:  “When this voluptuous slut sings ‘Avec son Tra-la-la,’ she may make you wonder if the higher things in life are worth the trouble.” On some sort of technical level, it seems odd that the revelation of the killer involves a character who hasn’t been set up all that well. But it makes the sweet ending possible—and imagine the Martineau’s marriage as it ages.

 

Movie Diary 3/23/2020

The Quiet Earth (Geoff Murphy, 1985). The nicely-turned end-of-the-world movie from New Zealand, with Bruno Lawrence as the apparent Last Man after a puzzling global “Effect.” Hadn’t seen this one in a long time, but it holds up well, with an intelligent approach and only a few contrivances. Crackerjack ending, too. Murphy, who died in 2018, also did Utu and Goodbye Pork Pie. A nice big sci-fi score by John Charles. I really must find my review of this and post it to What a Feeling!

Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988). A periodic viewing for a Horton household favorite. Makes perfect sense that the end of it all would be scored to Tangerine Dream.

Movie Diary 3/22/2020

The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019). A droll noir from the director of 12:08 East of Bucharest and Police, Adjective. A lot of the pleasure is in the putting-together of pieces (some gritty in the manner of 70s cop pictures, some exotic – like the use of a whistling language in the Canary Islands), and in watching a nimble cast step through the paces.

Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher, 1956). Still lean, still good, still provides a kind of mathematical satisfaction. John Wayne’s production company had Burt Kennedy’s script, but Wayne bowed out of playing the role himself. That would’ve been a different movie, as the Duke would surely have brought humanity to a role that works better in Randolph Scott’s terse style – Wayne’s presence would’ve warmed the film’s bracing existential chill.