The Southerner

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I saw Jean Renoir’s The Southerner (1945) described so beautifully on 4 Star Film Fan,  that I had to get it. I was curious about how a French director would portray the Old West.

The Southerner begins with Sam Tucker’s old uncle dying in the cotton fields where he’s picking cotton along with Sam, his wife Nona, and Granny. The uncle’s dying words to Sam are that he should get his own land and not work for someone else. This convinces Sam to buy a plot of good land that’s been neglected for years. His boss lays out all the risks inherent in farming on your own and promises Sam, he can always return to work for him. The boss isn’t a villain; he does seem to care about Sam and his family and someone needed to give him a head’s up, because contrary to what I’d learned and seen in films farming is not a sure thing.

Sam packs up his family and belongings on an old jalopy. When they get to the land, they see that the house is a shack that’s one windstorm away from destruction. Sam admits that he should have checked out the house before buying the land, which was when I knew that the outcome for Sam sure wasn’t certain. Sam’s a nice guy and strong. Both he had his wife work hard, but Sam held some romantic notions about farming that gave me pause. He’d forgotten to check on the condition of the well.

The well wasn’t usable so Sam had to beg an ornery neighbor for water. As time goes on, the skinflint neighbor resents Sam more and more. As mean as the neighbor was, he did have a point. Sam and other pioneers should thought out their plans more.

The tensions build as bad luck and naive pelt the Tuckers throughout the film.

Hardworking and always cheerful, Nona is the perfect wife. She soon makes the shack homey and repairs what she can. She keeps the kids clean and happy and usually puts up with Granny’s constant complaints.

Sam’s friend Tim has moved on to the city where he works in a factory and makes a fortune, $7 per day. He offers Sam a job, but Sam envisions the life of a small farmer as his vocation. Often I thought Sam should take his family to the city.

A major threat in these parts is Spring Sickness. Granny’s a Cassandra always harping on about it because several of her children died of it. Caused by poor diet, lacking dairy and produce, Spring Sickness can be lethal. Just as you can’t see a gun on a set in Act One and not have it go off in Act Two, someone was bound to get Spring Sickness because the Tuckers’ diet was mainly fish, coffee and corn mush. Sure enough, Jot, the son who’s about 4, comes down with Spring Sickness and has a massive open sore on his face. The boy is lethargic and may not make it. The kindness of the doctor and a friend of Sam’s helps the Tucker’s obtain milk and veggies. The idea that one can make it on his own in the West is simply not true. It probably ain’t true anywhere. I did think that Renoir would have the boy die. I wasn’t long into the film before I expected disaster and I think sparing us the worse was a shortcoming of The Southerner (both the novel and the film).

Hard times hit repeatedly. Storms beat down the house and the fields, the final one sets the family back to square one.

One of the best lines in the film comes from Tim:

All you farmers is just the same. Gamblers! That’s what you all are, to a man. Year after year you starve yourself to death and hope that some fine day – well, I think you’re loco.

I’d never considered how true this line is. Farmers, especially in the past, were in some cases just as reckless as the people who raced to San Francisco or Australia during the Gold Rushes.

The Southerners is an earnest film that showed me a different side of Western Expansion from what I’m used to. There’s no language that would be a problem for children. There’s a scene with a “lady of easy virtue” in a saloon, but she comes across pretty tame and the banter veils the non-family friendly subject matter.

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You Were Never Lovelier

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Starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, You Were Never Lovelier is good light entertainment. Astaire plays Robert, a New York dancer who’s gone to Buenos Aires and wants to work at a a night club that’s owned by a man who’s got four daughters. The first daughter is married and soon never seen again. The second daughter is in no hurry to marry but her two younger daughters have secret fiancés lined up. However, the father just finds Astaire to be irritating.

Dear old dad decides that he’ll write mysterious love letters to Maria, daughter #2. He has no idea how this game will end or actually give her daughter long time happiness. Maria does get swept off her feet by the romantic letters and mistakenly assumes Robert has been writing the letters. A typical 1940s plot unfolds. Rita shines and Astaire is Astaire. They both dance wonderfully and the costumes are dazzling. Yes, the story is far fetched and the jokes rather corny, but the film is fun.

The song’s lyrics aren’t the best. Some rhymes are forced, but I was entertained.

Trivia

Astaire once said that his favorite dance partner was Rita Hayworth. He said that if she was taught a complicated dance in the morning, she’d have it down by lunch.

Le Ciel à Vous

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Jean Grémillion’s Le Ciel à Vous, stands out as it’s uplifting film. Released during the occupation during WWII, it’s the story of a married couple, who must move their family’s home and business when their land is sold to make room for an aviation club’s airfield. Thérèse and Pierre Gauthier are happily married and even when they disagree they respect each other. They have a daughter and a son.

When Lucienne Ivry, a famous aviatrix, performs at the airfield, the Gauthier’s flock to the show. Nostalgic, Pierre remembers his days as a mechanic in WWI. He’s a master mechanic and saves the day when Ivry’s airplane’s engine fails.

Pierre grows more and more keen on flying and takes it up as a hobby. Meanwhile, his competent, beautiful wife gets more jealous. Her jealousy propels her to take up flying herself on the sly. When Pierre finds out, he panics. But when he sees how much she loves flying, they begin to share this somewhat dangerous hobby. Since Pierre’s a great mechanic and Thérèse has a knack for business, they are able to afford their own plane. In fact, they soon start winning prizes for aviation. All isn’t smiles though, when the family hits some financial troubles, the parents decide to sell their daughter’s piano. (The daughter was a fabulous pianist, but the mother made her quit the piano since she wanted the girl to enter a more practical field.)

Gremillon_Filmw_CielVous_originalEven when the going gets tough, and it seems that they should sell their plane, Pierre and  Thérèse keep flying. She racks up so many trophies her mother complains of all the extra dusting. As proficient as he was, Pierre knew their plane couldn’t break any more records for me. Then Thérèse decides she has a good chance to break the women’s long distance record of 2000 some miles. Her mother is against it and Pierre is torn too. He wants her to seek fulfillment and he does believe she can do this, but he also realizes it’s dangerous. Grémillion gives us such a multi-faceted marriage at the film’s core. Each wants the best for each other. Both Pierre nor Thérèse believe in fulfilling their duties to their business and family. They don’t just do what feels good. They’re cheerful, smart people throughout the story and while they may disagree, they do so with respect and dignity, which was so uplifting to watch.

The plot held my attention and I admit I wasn’t certain what would happen at the end. This is a film I’d definitely watch again.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

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Directed by Kurosawa, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) follows a group of seven samurai warriors t who dress as monks to travel through their enemy’s checkpoint. Adapted from classic story that both Noh and Kabuki theatre had covered, Kurosawa adds a comical character, a self-described blockhead who’s a porter taking the same trail as the warriors. For me he was the highlight of the film.

It’s a short (59 minutes) and simple film with little violence considering it takes place during a time of war and the characters are samurai. The theme that struck me most was reverence. The leader hid his face most of the time and his soldiers, particularly his second in command treated him like a god. I was struck by this as my own culture so emphasizes equality that I just couldn’t imagine feeling so in awe of any person.

The climax comes early in the film when the warriors must convince the lord at the checkpoint that they are monks. The lord has been told to look for seven warriors in disguise. It’s dramatic, but more suspenseful than high octane as a modern film would be.

The film’s good for people wanting to get to know the breadth of Kurosawa’s work, otherwise I wouldn’t say it’s a “must-see.”

Thirst

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Call me a philistine but Thirst (1949) is the first Ingmar Berman film I’ve seen. Hmm. I can’t say I liked it, though there were shots that were captivating like when two young dancers are seen in a dressing room mirror and their grouchy teacher’s seen in the mirror beside it.

However, this film about a married couple and their previous lovers didn’t do much for me. I was put off by their intense “go for the throat” arguments. The heroine, a young dancer who’s career’s ended, was egotistical, selfish and mean. No doubt Bergman wanted to show intense feeling when you want to kill or tell your partner to go to hell, but do we need 100 minutes of this? All the characters seemed both sadistic and masochistic. I suppose the raw emotion and language was modern for the 1940s, but it didn’t do anything for me, except make me not want to visit Sweden.

Seeing that last week I saw and enjoyed Passing Fancy, which I grant is a comedy so not comparable, it was perhaps harder to appreciate Thirst. In Passing Fancy we also see characters who’ve had it with each other, who tell each other they hate them, but the storm passes and other emotions exist. In Thirst when a couple reconciles a bit you believe they still want their partner to die and go to hell. Lovely. Charming.

Actually, Thirst seemed like a bit of hell on earth.

I won’t swear off Bergman, but I’m not in a hurry to see more.

I think I need to see more Poldark and Ozu to counteract the Bergman effect.

Miss Annie Rooney

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With the end of 2014, came retrospectives reminding us of all the talented, accomplished people who died last year. One was Shirley Temple Black so I thought it fitting to watch one of her movies. Netflix just had Miss Annie Rooney, which I’d never seen so the choice was easy. (I’d expect Netflix to have a few more.)

Shirley plays the title character, a young teenager with dreams of high romance. Annie and her friend live half their lives in a very romantic dream world where they quote plays and use as many elegant words as they can without fussing about whether they use them correctly. They’re cute and funny.

Annie’s family consists of her father who’s just one “get rich quick” scheme away from becoming a millionaire and her grandfather, a retired policeman who’s traded his uniform in for an apron as he is the chief cook and bottle washer at home. Grandpa is only the Rooney with both feet on the ground. Her father is a salesman attracted to get rich quick schemes and unable to keep money in his pocket to pay the rent. As the story progresses, the father imperils the family financially, while the grandfather tries to keep them afloat by borrowing from his pension.

Annie soon meets a very wealthy young man and is smitten with his polish. Trouble arises when he invites her to his birthday party without telling his snobbish parents. Annie’s introduction into society is not what she’d dreamed. I loved the dialog and slang. A drizzle puss is a wet blanket and pocket lettuce means cash. There are dozens of such  gems.

Joey, there are times when you positively curdle me.”
“Come on gate! Let’s circulate”
“I won’t know any arithmetic under a million.”

This Shirley Temple film was a balm to my soul after watching the masterful, but dark Happy Valley, The Village and One Wonderful Sunday, a Kirosawa movie I’ll soon review. It’s light-hearted fare and a fun way to see Temple as an older character.