Green for Danger

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British detective film Green for Danger (1946) kept me guessing. Set during WWII in a rural hospital, Green for Danger begins with a postman, who dies on the operating table. Was it an accident or murder? When a senior nurse suspects foul play and starts to investigate, she winds up dead and it seems there’s a murderer in the little group of doctors and nurses. One doctor is quite a ladies’ man and is wooing/stealing the anesthesiologist’s fiancée. The hanky-panky makes figuring out what happened and why all the more difficult.

Enter Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim), who has the driest sense of humor I’ve ever seen. Cockrill, aloof and observant, makes Sherlock Holmes look convivial. Yet in the end, with great creativity, Cockrill discovers the culprit.

Green for Danger is a sophisticated who done it that kept me guessing and entertained. It’s got the with and gravitas of a Golden Age film. There’s plenty of steamy romance and betrayals.

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Day for Night

In the film world Day for Night refers to shooting a night scene during the day using a filter over the camera lens. I’d read a bit about the making of this film in Truffaut’s biography.

But when I started watching this film about making a film, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Early on I felt Day for Night was too self-aware, however I soon warmed up to Jacqueline Bissett, Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut himself as soon as their vulnerabilities became clear and the success or completion of the film was in jeopardy. Bissett plays a fragile woman who’s recently recovered from a nervous breakdown. As usual, Léaud is a n alter-ego for Truffaut. It’s not new territory, but he carries it off like no one else can.

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When the film gets into the actors various relationships and the hanky-panky that takes place, I got more into the film and it won me over. It caught the 1970s well.

Also, Truffaut’s montages were creative and engaging, without overdoing it. I’d say this isn’t a must-see, but it is an entertaining film. Given Truffaut’s biography, I’d say the hanky-panky shown, it’s true to life. I felt it was a realistic view of filmmaking, which shows the art, business and relationships of a film crew.

 

The Living Magoroku

cdotaiofhyuttkgzilvy8q4mvei6tg_smallMade and set during WWII, Kinoshita’s The Living Magoroku didn’t wow me. Though the film begins with an action-packed sequence of a samurai, the rest of the film wasn’t on par with his Morning for the Osone Family or Port of Flowers. 

In a nutshell, generations ago the Magoroku family’s field was the site of a bloodbath. They believe a legend that says they shouldn’t plow or cultivate this land. Moreover, the living Magoroku’s believe that their eldest male child will die early. This belief has currently haunted the oldest son, who’s coughs a lot and has some psychosomatic condition. The widowed mother won’t let her daughter marry just in case the son does die. This curse or legend is still strong.

One of the villagers believes that the 72 acre field should be cultivated for food. Japan is in the midst of a war and would benefit from using fertile land.

Keeping this land fallow and the efforts to get the Magoroku’s to change their mind, leads to a a couple engagements getting put on hold.

I would say the film does show how films were used in the war effort, how they tried to persuade the audience to sacrifice. Yet the oldest son’s acting as rather stiff and the story wasn’t as engaging as what I’ve seen from Kurosawa or Ozu. There are better Japanese films to invest your time in.

Morning for the Osone Family

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Keisuke Kinoshita’s Morning for the Osone Family (1946) probably couldn’t get made today. It’s an anti-WWII film that exposes how the military and government squelched free speech and exploited citizens even when Japan was at a point when it was clear they were bound to lose.

Curiously, the film begins with the Osone family celebrating Christmas and singing “Silent Night.” After some chit chat, the eldest son is summoned by law enforcement and is soon imprisoned for writing an article that subtly questioned Japan’s militarism.

It’s a big hit for a family whose father died a while back. The mother has tried to live up to the father’s pacifist philosophy. She continues to support her second son, who’s a struggling artist, and her daughter who wants to marry for love, but now that her fiancé has been drafted, is getting pressured by her uncle to marry a scion he’s lined up.

The family unity continues to dissolve. The painter gets drafted and the daughter goes to work in an army support job. The uncle, who’s an officer and very pro-war moves into the family home with his haughty wife. Their presence, and particularly their lavish lifestyle enjoying black market goods, while most citizens starve, sickens the mother and daughter. The final straw is when the uncle urges the youngest son, who’s still in high school, to enlist in the army.

Morning for the Osone Family offers a beautiful, moving view of history. My hunch is few Japanese have seen this film, but they should. We should too. I’m glad I did.

Hidden Fortress

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The Hidden Fortress (1958) is another Kurosawa masterpiece that blew me away. Like characters from Shakespeare, two pusillanimous peasants bicker over how irritating they are to each other as they head home after escaping from a wartime prison. One stumbles upon some gold hidden in a stick in a river. An emblem on the stick shows that the gold is the fortune from the clan that lost the war. Greed overcomes the men and they start trying to get all the sticks they can. They become obsessed and go back and forth between cooperation and conflict over the gold.

This ancient, Japanese vaudeville act is soon upset when a strange man sees them hunting for the gold. Eventually, they learn he’s a legendary general who’s intent upon saving an exiled princess and returning her to safety and restoring her clan. As foolish as the peasants are, they do occasionally come up with clever ideas. The gruff general realizes their counterintuitive plan to go through enemy territory could work since no one expects them to take that route.

What follows is a story of courage and honor, peppered with outstanding action scenes, wit and just plain foolishness that made me smile. Toshiro Mifune is outstanding as the general, who’d probably love to ditch the peasants but keeps them with him just because they’d probably do more harm to his mission and themselves if left to their own devices.

The princess exudes force and honor as no other character, I can recall. Raised like a boy, she’s strong, brave and willful. Kurosawa shows that she cares for her people because she insists that the general buy one of her subjects who’s been sold to a brothel owner even though taking another person on their journey is risky. Various viewers have noted that the princess is played by an actress whose career never took off and that the performance is rather one dimensional. I see what they mean, but I don’t think that one weak performance hurt the film that much. The princess was quite compelling and not just a stereotypical character who needed saving so the story had momentum.

The one thing about the princess that puzzled me was that for some reason her eyebrows were drawn on at 45° angles. They were very dark and dominated her face.

Like many Kurosawa films, The Hidden Fortress has great power and grab me emotionally. All in all, The Hidden Fortress is a classic that’s not to be missed. It inspired George Lucas when he conceived of Star Wars. 

All Through the Night

If you’re looking for a fun gangster movie with a message, pick up All Through the Night (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veldt, who played Major Strasser in Casablanca, and Peter Lorre, who was also in Casablanca, William Demerast (of My Three Sons), Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason. Bogart plays Gloves Donnahue, head of a minor gang of gamblers in New York. Devoted to his dear old mother, when she calls Gloves because she’s got a weird feeling about the disappearance of the baker who lives below her, Gloves comes running. Soon the baker’s body’s found and Gloves gets wrongly implicated in the man’s murder.

To get the police off his case, Gloves must get to the bottom of this mystery and he soon encounters a group of Nazi spies operating under the U.S. government’s nose, planning all sorts of evil. Some romance is added to the story through a pretty German singer Gloves meets. Whether she should be trusted remains to be seen.

The film moves briskly and there are plenty of quips in every scene, as you’d expect in a Bogart film. By the end, the jaded gamblers are protecting their country and offering examples to the audience on how we should all band together. All through the night entertains, despite its occasional hokey joke.

Gigot

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Serendipity brought me Gigot starring Jackie Gleason of The Honeymooners fame. I remember Gleason’s sitcom from my childhood, but my view of him as an actor in film was vague, i.e. I knew he was in movies, but hadn’t watched any, not even Smoky and the Bandit.

Gleason wrote the story of Gigot, a pet project of his. Gene Kelly directed it and someone else wrote the screenplay. Gigot is a mute janitor in France. He’s the butt of everyone’s jokes and pranks. His landlady cheats him. Yet kind-hearted Gigot lives according to his own generous principles. He never gives up on goodness, though no one treats him well.

Late one night Gigot runs across a prostitute and her young daughter trembling in the rain and he gives them shelter in his basement apartment. Soon Gigot and the girl bond and his life mission becomes keeping Nicole, the girl, in good spirits. The scene where Gigot follows Nicole inside a church and she asks him what this building is was beautiful. Gleason astonished me with his acting. He showed so much heart and intelligence behind the veil of his character’s disability.

The prostitute is just as jaded and conniving as many of the villagers. She argues and berates Gigot, until the scales fall from her eyes, for a time.

The film is moving, but if you can’t take some sentimentality you won’t like it. If you want to see Jackie Gleason’s depth as an actor or just enjoy a movie with a lot of heart, before sarcasm became en vogue, try Gigot.