The Circus

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I just loved Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. I’d never heard of this film, but recently saw that The Criterion Collection had just released it on DVD. In this 1928 film, The woebegone Tramp mistakenly gets caught up in a police chase for inadvertently taking a man’s wallet. The crazy chase that ensues leads to the Tramp bringing down the house as an accidental clown act at a circus.

This circus is run by a nasty, hothead Rimgmaster who continually abuses his lovely, innocent step-daughter. The Tramp soon falls for her and tries to be her savior, but she soon falls for a dapper tightrope walker.

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Throughout the film we’re treated to marvelous scenes including a chase through a house of mirrors, accidental clown acts that have the audience laughing in the aisles, a scary standoff with a lion and a death-defying tightrope scene.

According to the commentary Chaplin didn’t like this film much because it was made at a time when his life was at a low point. His wife was divorcing him for his affair with the female lead, his mother was terribly sick. a storm destroyed most of his set and the tabloids where having a heyday gossiping about Chaplin’s personal life.

Nonetheless, The Circus is hilarious and often poignant. It entertains from start to finish. I’d say it deserves a place beside any of Chaplin’s classics from The Kid to City Lights.

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The Saphead

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Buster Keaton’s first starring role in a feature film was playing Bertie Van Alstyne in The Saphead. Saphead sure is a disparaging way to refer to someone. It refers to a weak-minded stupid person. Is Bertie Van Alstyne really a saphead? His tycoon father certainly thinks so, but Agnes, Bertie’s adopted sister disagrees. She’s smitten. When she returns home Bertie defies his wealthy father and tries to elope with Agnes. Their plans are comically foiled and Bertie shows his father that he’s no wimp or fool (well not completely either) so the wedding proceeds until Mark, Bertie’s lazy, crooked, philandering brother-in-law plants a letter from his dead mistress on Bertie.

Bertie is framed. His father stops the wedding so that sweet Agnes isn’t married to a philanderer with an illegitimate daughter. Crushed, but noble, Bertie goes to the cosy house he bought for his new bride. His solo dinner amidst the wedding decorations is a sad scene indeed.

The next day Bertie tries to lift his spirits by going to the Stock Exchange where he’s recently purchased a seat. Of course, the traders laugh at his expense and play him for a fool. Yet the tables get turned when Bertie, inadvertently saves the day when he foils his brother-in-laws plot to take over the family fortune.

The version I got from the library needs restoration. Many of the outdoor scenes looked green, while the indoor ones were black and white.

The Saphead charmed me with it’s innocence and simplicity. Keaton’s facial expressions and physical humor stole the show. The plot took turns I didn’t expect and other than forgetting all about Henrietta’s poor orphan child, the story was a delight.

I am Waiting

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Another film in Criterion’s Nikkatsu (Studio) set is I am Waiting (1957). Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara, I am Waiting tells the story of an ex-boxer who rescues a young woman from suicide. She couldn’t take working at a mobster’s low-end bar anymore. Her savior offers her a safe place to live and work at his restaurant. She gets happier, and calmer.

This nice guy dreams of joining his brother in Brazil, where the brother has bought a farm. Time passes and there’s no word from the brother. About the time the nice guy, whom we learn was a prize-fighter reveals that he wants to escape his guilt for killing a man in a fist fight. The club owner any lackeys find a girl at the restaurant. This mobster figures the girl owes him two years worth of work performing in his club. Despite her disgust, she agrees to return to protect the nice guy. 

Then the guy starts retracing his brother’s footsteps and discovers the brother never got on the ship to Brazil. The nice guy deducts if there’s a connection between his brother’s disappearance and the mobsters. 

I enjoyed the plot in performances particularly those of the lead man and woman. The film never got sappy or simpleminded it’s portrayal of this couple. I wouldn’t call this a thriller, it was definitely noir with plenty of dark, inky shadows.

The story was absorbing and my heart went out to all the beautiful losers, nice guy, the girl he rescued and the doctor cum mentor, who drank too much.

 

Cover Girl

I learned about Cover Girl from 4 Star Film Fan, here you can always discover wonderful film classics. Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly an, Eve Arden and Phil Silver, Cover Girl shows Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a captivating beauty and talented dancer who performs in her boyfriend, Danny McGuire’s Brooklyn club. Silver is a comic and the pair’s buddy. Rusty is down to earth but when she hears about a magazine contest she becomes curious about the big time.

Mix ups and show tunes ensue. Danny hopes Rusty will stay in Brooklyn. Briefly he stands in her way, but soon figures Rusty doesn’t really love him if she’s so impressed by the Manhattan set. Of course, Rusty wins the contest. It turns out that the sponsoring magazine is run by a man who fell in love with Rusty’s grandma, who turned him down, married an ordinary piano player and led a happy life.

The emotions were convincing. You hope that Danny will declare his love and that Rusty doesn’t settle for the high life rather than try love. I enjoyed the joking and friendly traditions Hayworth, Silver and Kelly’s characters share. Some numbers ran a little long, but the dancing was solid. I particularly enjoyed Kelly in a scene with his conscience who tries to advise him. You just don’t see such scenes carried off well nowadays.

Cover Girl’s a fun film well worth your time.

Rusty Knife

57760-the-rusty-knife-0-230-0-345-cropPart of a collection of Japanese noir films, Rusty Knife (1958) packs a punch. A relentless D.A. won’t give up on getting justice for a murder that was wrongly categorized as a suicide. He hunts down two reformed gangsters, who witnessed the murder as other yakuza (Japanese mobsters) killed a city official. One of the witnesses now owns a bar and has turned over a new leaf. However, the guilty and anger towards these gangsters who brutally raped and murdered his true love. As the D.A. urges him, the reformed gangster pursues the yakuza and seeks revenge.

The emotions run high and the plot has some great fight scenes. The plot offers plenty of surprises. I recommend this film and would certainly watch more of director Toshio Masuda’s films.

The Band of Outsiders

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Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1964  Band of Outsiders has gotten under my skin. It’s full of powerful imagery and perplexing characters. Beautiful and naive Odile meets two friends, Arthur and Franz in an adult ed English class. The young men are smitten with Odile, though the Alpha male of the pair Arthur pursues her and leads the trio in a robbery of a man who lives with Odile in her aunt’s home.

I kept hoping that Odile would stop Arthur’s pursuit and look for a better man. She saw that Arthur’s plan was both wrong and foolish, but she continually went against good sense. Arthur isn’t kind to Odile and Franz occasionally stands up for her, but throughout the film Arthur, who comes from a family of boorish gangsters, treats Odile poorly. He’s too selfish to be kind to anyone. He’s a ruined person.

I often winced at the psychology of the relationships on screen. I did understand and feel sorry for Arthur, whose relatives beat him so he’d get them the loot faster. I wondered why Franz couldn’t find a better friend and I understood that Odile was a weak person easily influenced by flattery and attention, but all that was hard to watch.

What saved the film for me was its magical moments. In one scene the trio decides to try to beat American tourist Jimmy Johnson’s record of racing through the Louvre in 9 minutes 45 seconds. Probably my favorite scene was in a café when Odile gets the boys to dance. You see the trio of needy people entangled in an ambivalent love triangle dancing. I can watch this again and again.

Godard’s narration is full drôle commentary. The black and white images are compelling. So despite my quibbles with the relationships, this heist film that’s full of ennui is well worth seeing.

Gate of Hell

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I’d never seen a film with a bolder use of color than Gate of Hell directed by Kinugasa Teinosuke. During the Heiji Rebellion, al hell breaks loose when Lord Kiyomori is traveling. Rebels lay siege to the lord’s castle. During the coup Moritoh, a loyal samurai, asks for a volunteer to pose as the lord’s sister while the sister and father escape. Kesa, a lady-in-waiting steps up and this beauty impresses the samurai and he’s smitten.

After defending the lord’s castle, Moritoh returns to his home with Kesa in tow and finds his brother has gone over to the side of the rebels. Loyal to the Lord rather than his brother, Moritoh warns Lord Kiyomori of this rebellion. To reward Moritoh, the lord offers to satisfy any wish the samurai has. He asks permission to marry Kesa, however she is already married. He’s offered a chance to ask for anything else, but Moritoh’s so obsessed with this honorable woman, that he spends the rest of the film pursuing Kesa.

Kesa’s married to Wataru, a wonderful man who cherishes her. She has no desire to leave him. Moritoh challenges Kesa’s husband to a competition. The story ends with a surprising turn. At least it surprised me as a Western viewer.

The film begins at high speed in the rush of battle and then moves to a meditative pace, while keeping the audience engaged till the last scene. The film won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and Costumes. The kimonos are gorgeous and it’s worth it just to watch to see them.