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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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.

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.

Poem of the Week

For Veterans’ Day

A Box Comes Home

 by John Ciardi

I remember the United States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.
I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.
You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume. England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.
Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
of America. Now I see the United States
of America as Arthur in flag-sealed domino.
And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe. I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America
To equal Arthur’s living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.

The Last Metro

Starring the elegant, beautiful Catherine Deneuve, François Truffaut’s The Last Metro takes us back to WWII where Marion Steiner struggles to aid her Jewish husband who’s hiding under their theater, to put on a new play despite the government censors. The news is that Lucas Steiner has fled France, but that’s a cover. He’s hiding out in the theater’s basement, where his wife Marion visits every night. She lined up a guide to get him out, but the plan fell through as the situation has grown too dangerous.

Though he’s going stir crazy, Lucas listens through the pipes and gives notes to the performers via Marion, who must keep a cool façade while being pulled in all directions fearing that a German-sympathizing critic will censor the play, which could lead to the discovery and imprisonment of her husband.

Gérald Depardieu plays a young amorous actor, who’s also in the Resistance.

As the film is based on Truffaut’s childhood memories of the era, The Last Metro offers several light hearted moments, such as Depardieu’s failed attempt to woo one of the theater staff.

The film is well acted and paced covering a significant era, but for me it wasn’t quite as good as The 400 Blows or Zazie dans le Métro

The Screwtape Letters

screwtape-lettersC.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has been on my mental list of books I should read for years. Boy, do I regret not getting to this witty, wise book sooner.

Written from the point of view of a modern devil, Lewis’ book is a collection of letters between Screwtape, an uncle mentoring Wormwood, a young tempter as he tries to win a human over to the side of evil. The letters are clever as well as perceptive. Screwtape must make his thoughts on temptation and salvation clear to Wormwood, who’s something of a blockhead. Screwtape makes it crystal clear that for the Devil to win, he doesn’t care about the “quality” of the fallen as much as about the quantity and the modern world where people’s thinking have become sloppy and morality fuzzy, allows for evil to win boatloads of souls. The book takes you on an interesting journey as Wormwood bungles his mission.

Reading from Screwtape’s point of view was tricky. I had to constantly remind myself that for him the “Enemy” was God and that he flipped his opinion of Above (heaven) and Below (hell). I’m used to seeing as the Above being the home of the good guys.

Much of the book examines modern British society’s failings but Lewis’ criticisms are still true, at least they fit in the US where morals have been shrugged aside as irrelevant, education’s been watered down and the word “democracy” is misunderstood.

Here are a few quotations:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.”

Fanny’s Journey

Based on Fanny Ben-Ami’s true story, Fanny’s Journey shows a thirteen year old girl who must lead her sister and friends out of WWII France into Switzerland. This powerful film captures childhood very naturally. The direction and acting are authentic and captivating.

Fanny and her sisters have been sent away from their parents to live in a boarding house that secretly protects Jewish children. When a priest informs on the boarding house, Madame Forman, one of the adults who run the place, manages to arrange for the children to go somewhere safer. She gets them all fake passports and schools them on what to say to anyone asking them questions en route. Each child is given a new name and Madame Forman tests them on them day and night.

From the start it’s touch and go. Germans are everywhere and Vichy French police are an equal threat. At first an older boy, Eli is in charge of the children, but after he’s arrested, Fanny’s thrust into the lead. She must figure out where to go and what to do next once their train is redirected and they lose touch with Madame Forman. As the going gets tougher and tougher the children feel like giving up and have plenty of complaints. Some are so young they have no idea why Jews must flee or what was happening to Jews throughout Europe. Their ignorance showed their wisdom.

The tension is maintained throughout the film and you’re heart will go out to these children. Fanny’s Journey is destined to be a classic.

In the final credits, you’ll see the real Fanny, who is still alive and has lived in Israel since the end of the war.