The Upturned Glass (1947)

Part of a DVD set with three great British thrillers, The Upturned Glass stars James Mason as an ultra serious neurosurgeon who tells a college class about a case of a sane man murdering in cold blood. We soon figure out that Mason’s Dr. Michael Young is the “sane” murderer he believes exists. Dr. Michael Young meets Emma Wright whose daughter has a condition that will lead to blindness unless this talented surgeon can operate right away. As the case progresses and the girl improves, Michael and Emma grow close. Both have spouses far away and they continue seeing each other after the girl’s treatment ends. Of course, they fall in love.

So why the need for murder?

Emma is found dead and Michael attends the inquest. He can’t believe it’s an accident. He notices some strange glances between Emma’s daughter and her jealous, greedy sister-in-law, who learns that Emma has cheated on her brother. The two were never close and this was the sister-in-law’s reason to get even.

This superstar surgeon is soon taking matters into his own hands.

The film had lots of unpredictable turns and kept my attention from the first scene. Hitchcock drew upon it for some of his later films. It’s sure to entertain.

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The Children are Watching

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Be careful of your heart. De Sica’s The Children are Watching Us (1944) will tear it apart. We see a family breaking apart through a 4 year old boy’s eyes. His mother breaks a date to take her son to the movies in favor of taking him to a park where she meets her lover. The paramour has a new job far from Rome and she can’t resist his begging her to come. Pricò, the boy senses something’s wrong. When mama’s gone both father and son are devastated and shamed by the neighborhood gossips.

Pricò is passed to a cruel grandma and careless aunt. The boy’s soon ill and mama returns. The father is distant but on the whole forgiving. He decides the best thing for the family is a summer seaside vacation, though mama hesitates. Although the mother doesn’t like the other vacationers, she’s willing to stick out the vacation. She does want to be a good mom. Yet when the father must return to work, mama’s brazen lover turns up at the resort and mama’s not strong enough to resist his charms. Pricò sees what’s going to happen and runs away almost getting himself killed by a train.

Throughout Pricò tries to be stoic and tries to protect his father and mother to no avail. It’s powerful to see the boy’s hurt and how little he understands about his parents, though he does understand his family’s fragility. The young actor’s performance is heart-breaking. The Children are Watching is a moving film that will stick with you.

An interesting note: though the film shows the harm that infidelity causes a family, De Sica began an affair with actress, María Mercader. Ah, human frailty!

Downton Abbey, the Film

I admit I was worried that the film wouldn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps it wouldn’t translate to the silver screen.

The main plot involves the Crawley’s hosting the King and Queen of England (Elizabeth II’s grandparents). Will they be up to the task? What will go wrong?

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By framing the story around this glorious event, writer Julian Fellowes hit the target. It’s a story that puts both the family and the servants in a tizzy. Since perfection’s required, Carson’s called out of retirement as the once sneaky Barrows isn’t experienced enough as butler. As the residents of Downton unite, conflict enters in the form of the supercilious royal servant staff. They elbow our favorite servants into a corner. No cooking for Mrs. Patmore. Poor Mr. Mosley, who’s taken time off from his teaching to return to serve, won’t get to. The royals bring all their food, drink and personnel.

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A suspicious stranger comes to town and starts sniffing around Tom, the Irish son-in-law. What is this man who booked a room over the parade path in town up to? How will he implicate Tom?

Other subplots include Violet’s scheming to get a cousin to leave her fortune and property to Robert. Violet is beside herself when it seems that a maid will get everything.

Lonely Thomas may at last find understanding and possibly love (in a sequel?) but not till after surviving a very close call.

Widower Tom is pivotal in the film. He’s tied up with the mysterious strangerr, befriends the maid who’s to inherit a fortune and offers sage advice to a distraught royal.

It’s good fun to see this familiar cast again. Edith’s life has improved dramatically now that she’s married. Her problems are manageable, rich girl problems now that she’s away from Mary and has moved out and upward in status.

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Violet and Isobel spar with wit. The saddest scene takes place towards the end between Violet and Mary.

The pacing was brisk and the film was clever and entertaining. With a such a large cast it’s hard to get everyone a good part. Mr. Bates didn’t have much to do and Mary’s husband was out of the country most of the time.

As usual the costumes and sets were amazing. Lots of delights for the eyes. It’s a film that’s sure to delight Downton fans, which is its aim.

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.

 

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.