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L’Avventura

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Anna (L) and Claudia (R)

I admit I didn’t much like L’Avventura, the story of a rich Italian woman who goes missing while on a weekend away with her rich, jaded friends. I concede that the actors were gorgeous and skillful; the sets and cinematography excellent, but the story was lacking and the personalities were exasperating.

The story’s simple. Anna is unhappy in a general alienated 1960s way. She bickers with her boyfriend and pouts a lot because life’s missing something. When she’s off on a boat with her friends she dives in the water and is never seen of again. I do mean that. We don’t ever see her and though I can appreciate innovation in plots, this was too much. While her friends and father search for her, her boyfriend (he’s no boy – these characters seem to be in their late 20s or 30s) and her best friend Claudia go to look for her. Looking for Anna becomes insignificant compared to Claudia and Sando, Anna’s boyfriend, who embark on romance spiced up with occasional pangs of guilt on Claudia’s part.

The film is striking and beautiful. I did buy into Claudia’s dramatic emotions as she pushed and pulled at Sando. Much of the film is a critique of the shallow lives of the rich. I didn’t quite buy it, true as it might be. The characters were simply playboys and playgirls and I found it hard to actually believe they couldn’t find something to dedicate their lives to. I suppose there are people like this.

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The Freshmen

freshman_01The more I see Harold Lloyd, the more I love him and his films. In The Freshman (1925) Lloyd plays an young man also named Harold who saves up enough money to go to college. Once on campus, Harold’s main concern is getting popular by following the tricks he saw in a movie.

Instead of being the big man on campus he’s soon the butt of everyone’s jokes. His peers love putting him in awkward positions and taking advantage of him. He never catches a break as he inadvertently insults the dean, takes the dean’s car from the train station and makes wrong step after wrong step. The gags at the student assembly, the dance and the football field are priceless.

Jobyna Ralston plays the sweet love interest Peggy perfectly. Harold meets Peggy on a train and then it turns out that she’s the daughter of his landlady. Yes, it’s coincidental, but it’s a small town and she’s the one sincere woman in a sea of fakes.

I watched a Criterion Collection disc with the commentary, which I find adds to my appreciation of any silent film. I seem to need some talk.

A masterful comedy, The Freshmen is a film I can see watching again and again.

Badlands

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I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?

 

 

 

Identification of a Woman

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I thought this film was by the maker of We All Loved Each Other So Much, an Italian film that knocked me off my feet years ago. It isn’t. I also thought it was made in the 60s or 70’s. It wasn’t. So that’s two strikes.

Identification of a Woman follows a woe-begone film director, who’s divorced (and we can all guess why after say half an hour with him), as he searches for a dream woman for a film. As he does, he also pursues Mavi, an aristocrat, who’s bored, boring and gorgeous (or at least pretty and thin — it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, right?). Early on some secret thug whom we never see, whose identity is never revealed sends a henchmen to tell the director, Niccolo to leave Mavi alone. She’s the property of the thug. As any decent film hero would do, Niccolo won’t have it. He remains with Mavi, who lacks any personality, while looking for and sometimes hiding from the thug.

Later Mavi ditches Niccolo. I suppose she was tired of his obsession with the thug and his ennui, but she herself had so little in her life that I don’t quite buy her leaving him, as broken as he was.

Then Niccolo meets another woman, a young actress who’s loved him from afar. They form a relationship in the last third of the movie and that peters out.

Mainly, the film’s supposed to examine an artist, who’s lost and drifting, who doesn’t understand women, probably because he over complicates relationships. There were certainly some good elements. I liked the scenes which had Niccolo and Mavi driving through dense fog, which was symbolic and probably hard to film, but on the whole this was ho hum. Disappointing.

There’s a lot of explicit sex scenes which are a counterpoint to the lack of understanding between the characters. They were a lot more intimate than you see in a Hollywood film. I admit I have no idea what the title means. Anyone?

High Noon

High Noon (1952) is another classic I hadn’t seen till now. I remember lots of people talking about it, but never made the effort to see it — till now. As you probably, know it’s the story of  Will Kane, a marshall, played by Gary Cooper, who stands up to Frank Miller, a bad guy who’s got it out for him. There are more details though.

Cooper’s character has just gotten married to a Quaker, who abhors violence. He’s planning to leave with her and start a new life. They’re on the road, when Kane realizes he can’t leave the town unprotected. The new sheriff won’t arrive till the next day and Miller, whom Kane arrested, is on a train to the town and will arrive at — high noon. Amy, Kane’s wife lost her brother to senseless violence and won’t turn back with him. Not at first.

Upon arriving back in town Kane tries to get a posse together to protect the people, but everyone’s too cowardly to join. It’s quite dramatic to see Kane summon the courage to fight on his own, for people too chicken to help themselves.

I found Kane’s moral conviction and courage to do something you’d rather not do compelling. Despite the passage of time, High Noon still works. No wonder it’s a classic.

Speedy

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Harold Lloyd’s 1927 film Speedy is a comic delight. Speedy is hero’s name. Lloyd’s Harold “Speedy” Swift is in love but can’t hold a job for more than a few days so his sweetheart’s grandfather, her guardian, won’t let them marry. We see him lose a couple more jobs through no fault of his own.   His fanatical love of baseball cost him his soda jerk job and luck just wasn’t on his side when he tried to drive a taxi with Babe Ruth as his first and only customer.

Despite his poor job record, Speedy takes his girl to Coney Island, where a slew of mishaps continue.

His sweetheart’s grandfather owns the last horse-drawn car (i.e. a tram driven by a horse when cars and buses have taken over the streets). A railroad tycoon wants to buy him out to replace the old horse-drawn conveyance with his railroad line. After reading about the railroad deal in the paper, Speedy changes grandpa’s requested amount from $10,000 to $70,000, which the big shot who’s come to negotiate with grandpa outright refuses.

Thus the railroad man plots to prevent grandpa from completing his route. If he misses a day, the railroad can take over the route without paying grandpa anything so the shrewd tycoon hires a bunch of thugs to stop grandpa. Speedy happens to overhear the plan and volunteers to take over as the driver. Since Speedy’s batted 0% as far as his jobs go things look bad.

The film is full of sight and physical gags that amaze. How did they do these stunts? Considering how they sometimes used real streets and had to orchestrate massive, chaotic scenes with hordes of extras and animals, it’s incredible and still entertains.

Rebecca

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I’d never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the novel Rebecca, but a friend suggested it and lent me her DVD so I gave it a try. From the start, I was drawn into this film and now want to read the book.

A suspenseful, elegant movie, Rebecca tells about a mousy travel companion to an elderly woman, who’s swept off her feet by a dashing aristocrat (Lawrence Olivier) who recently lost his wife (Joan Fontaine). They soon marry, and when the new Mrs. de Winter arrives at the family mansion with its intimidating housekeeper and staff, viewers quickly wonder whether this sweet young woman hasn’t married in haste. The first wife’s presence hangs about the house and the young Mrs. de Winter accidentally makes one mistake after another. Her husband’s temper erupts with the smallest provocation. The first wife’s death is shrouded in mystery and the housekeeper’s creepy and her obsession with how wonderful Rebecca de Winter was is fanatical.

The film moves as quickly as the whirlwind romance and Olivier and Fontaine head up a strong cast. The ending was unexpected. I’d definitely watch this film again and again.

Moulin Rouge

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I didn’t know John Huston directed Moulin Rouge in 1952. A friend, who also likes old movies,  shared a couple DVDs with me and this is one of them. I never saw the 2001 Moulin Rouge (and probably won’t because it sounds like a very different story).

Huston’s Moulin Rouge is a biopic, the story of the famous painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec, played convincingly by José Ferrer, frequents this cabaret where all the colorful characters of 19th century Paris convene to dance, drink and often fight (not only the men, but he ladies). Lautrec was born into a noble family. At and early age he is injured falling down the stairs and the doctors fail to repair his bones as they should. Thus Lautrec’s growth is stunted making him a social misfit.

Yes, he’s witty, smart and talented, but when his first love rejects him running from the room when he declares his love, Lautrec decides he’ll never fit in the country, in his father’s world so he heads to Paris and paints the dancers and clowns at the Moulin Rouge and shares drinks and barbs with the best artists of his day: Cezanne, Monet, etc.

Twice in his life he meets a pivotal woman. The first is a low class manipulator and I pitied Henri as he pined for this deceptive sponge. Later he meets a woman worthy of love, but he’s too jaded to expect that a woman would really love him.

I didn’t expect much of this film, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I found it an absorbing biography of a witty, fascinating artist.

On the Waterfront

on-the-waterfront-1954-001-terry-on-swing-with-edies-glove (1)

Yippee! I can reach my blog today! How long will this last?

Not very, I’m afraid, so on to a movie review.

Though I’ve heard parodies of the “I coulda been a contender” dialogue, I’d never seen Marlon Brando as Terry Malloyin the famed On the Waterfront. It wasn’t what I expected, though I’m not sure what I expected.

On the Waterfront opens with Brando’s character unwittingly luring a union activist to his death. The mob that controls the union want’s no trouble. They don’t want fair wages or fair play. They blindly follow their corrupt boss Johnny, content to get whatever scraps he throws their way. Terry’s brother is a lawyer for the mob and his link to Johnny pulled Terry in evidently. Years ago Terry was a promising boxer, but at Johnny’s insistence threw a fight. Terry’s rough around the edges to say the least. From what I’ve read, this natural, raw acting style was quite a departure from most films of its day. Now it’s the norm so while the film pulled me in, I wasn’t sure why it’s a classic.

Terry soon meets the dead man’s sister Edie Doyle, a gorgeous, principled young woman. He becomes smitten and she’s been sheltered at a woman’s college so she’s interested in him. Presented with Edie’s view of justice, which is exemplified in the neighborhood priest who organizes and stands up for workers’ rights, in spite of the older priest’s advice to mind his own business, Terry starts to change. He sees the injustice and personal cost of letting Johnny rule the waterfront.

I liked the film until the scene where after a quarrel, Terry runs after Edie, who’s lost hope that Terry will change. She’s fled to her apartment and Terry breaks down her door after she yells out that he should go away. She’s terrified, and yes, probably attracted, but if someone broke down my door I’d call the police no matter how charming or handsome he might be. Eventually, they embrace. Right. After he breaks down the door and struggle. This may have passed for love in the 1950s, but now it’s most unappealing. I felt that Upton Sinclair’s books like The Jungle or King Coal are better ways to learn about the workers’ movement.

A Night to Remember

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

A Night to Remember (1958) is a disaster film with dignity. It lacks the sentimental love story, which was central to Titanic, but that’s why it’s a better film. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film shows the swells enjoying the high life and the boisterous fun below in steerage mixed in with the misplaced wire messages about the iceberg and the frustrating refusal of nearby ship called the California to believe the Titanic’s distress messages.

The film shows people of all sorts, some willing to help their fellow passengers and others who’ll kick and claw their way into a lifeboat. The film weaves the facts in so you don’t feel like it’s a history lecture. You root for the characters all the while knowing most won’t make it. When the boat starts tilting so much that it’s at a 45° angle, you feel dreadful. Still the film is rather emotionally restrained, much more so than the more recent film with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Criterion Collection offers a good essay on the film here.

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