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!

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Remorques

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Remorques (1941) stars Jean Gabin as André, a tugboat captain, married to the lovely, devoted Yvonne (Madeleine Renaud). As the film opens André and Yvonne appear to be the perfect couple. Everyone at a wedding for one of André’s crew members, looks to Yvonne and André, who’ve been married 10 years as the perfect couple. I sure did. They are loving, practical and truly care about each other deeply.

When the Cyclone, André’s boat is called to rescue a ship caught in a wild storm, Yvonne offers to console the bride whose honeymoon must be postponed and whose husband faces peril with his comrades. Yvonne shares how distraught she gets anytime her husband goes to sea and how lonely she is. Yvonne’s built her life around her marriage, while André’s first priority is his boat and its mission with his wife coming in a close second.

As the waves and storm attack the boats, the scenes of the storm thrill.

The rescue is daunting enough, but the greedy captain of the endangered ship doesn’t want to be rescued. If his boat is saved, he’ll have to pay the tugboat for doing so. He’d rather lose all his crew and cargo and collect the insurance. Now that’s a villain.

Disgusted by the evil captain, his wife Catherine (Michele Morgan) and some crew members escape in a raft and the tugboat takes them aboard. Of course, Catherine is stunning. She’s decided to leave her nasty husband.

You can probably guess what happens. Yep, Catherine tempts the faithful André. The film gets sentimental and predictable but Gabin, Renaurd and Morgan’s performances make Remorque compelling. It’s not a masterpiece, but it held my interest.

Alfie (1966)

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I’ve seen the 1966 Alfie before, but that was long ago and the film was well worth re-watching. Michael Caine plays a confirmed philanderer Alfie Elston, who shares his rather silly views on women and life directly with the audience throughout the film. The humor comes from Alfie’s preposterous ideas about women. Because he’s so daft, I felt sorry for him even though he left a train of pain in his wake.

It’s hard to keep track of all of Alfie’s liaisons, but his first main girlfriend was a cute, but mousy girl who decides to have his baby and raise it on her own. In spite of his cavalier philosophy, Alfie forms a bond with little boy. When the girlfriend decides to marry her dull, but reliable suitor to better her lot, Alfie’s soon forgotten. He’s surprised how much that hurts.

Yet he continues on with his womanizing. Women let him. He’d run from any commitment. He takes up with a sexy older woman played by Shelley Winters.

Though he’s so selfish and immature, there are times when Alfie’s rather kind — in his way. When he gets a spot on his lung and is confined to a sanitarium, he befriends his roommate and generously shares his useless advice. As only Alfie could do, he manages to seduce his roommate’s wife and still have the audience like him.

Yet there are consequences and Alfie meets his comeuppance, which gives the film its moral message.

I liked Alfie’s asides to the audience, which were both witty and foolish. I thought the film entertained while showing the real consequences of poor decisions. The film was remade on 2004, but I doubt I’d find it as charming as this version.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Across 110th St.

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This week I watched the police drama Across 110th St. starring Anthony Quinn as Capt. Mattelli. Made in 1972, Across 110th St. is a look at racial tensions during that era. Quinn plays a middle-aged detective afraid of losing his job to a younger, Black detective named Lt. Pope.

When that movie begins, some mobsters are dividing $300,000 from drug deals when a couple of gangsters dressed as police officers force their way into the apartment the mafia is using. The Black gangsters make off with the cash and the mafia vows to get even. In spite of their icy relationship the police have to get both the mafia and the gangsters behind bars.

Harlem is impoverished with high drug use and other crimes destroying the neighborhood. 

There was a lot of brutal violence, which I couldn’t take. Thus I didn’t enjoy the movie and when much have preferred less violence, and more detective work. The theme of racial tension is significant and worthy of our consideration, but I just couldn’t  take the brutality.