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Reviews

Hitler: Beast of Berlin
(1939)

Provident SOS signals about the Second World War before it had even started.
Alan Ladd heads the players' list, and although his part is minor in the context, he is the one worth following in this film, a bold early effort to sound an alert of things to come by the accelerating threat of Nazi Germany. There were quite a few films like this made for urgent warnings of the rearmament of Germany, and this was one of the first and in many ways prophetic. It clearly states for instance that Hitler's frenzy in rearming Germany and building up an invincible revenge army actually cost Germany its main resources for economical rehabilitation, where the reinforcement should have been, while Hitler instead put it into army force, perhaps his greatest mistake. The script is poor, the characters are all rather stereotypical, while only Alan Ladd adds some interest by his reluctance and hesitation, which he feels will lead him astray which it does. The main character is. Roland Drew as Hans Memling, a communist leading an underground resistance movement mainly by publishing and spreading pamphlets, who's wife is expecting a child. The main story is about them. The Nazis are grossly exaggerated as monstrous bullies long before even the war had begun, but that's the main interest of the film: it was released in America in October 1939 long before there was any general awareness of the coming war, which the film repetitively predicts, or of what Hitler's Germany really was all about. The main credit of this film is the early effort to cry wolf long before anyone in America could even suspect any such thing.

Camilla
(1954)

Idylls of domestic life in an ordinary Roman family's home through crises, quarrels, celebrations and parties
The interesting thing about this film is that it is perfectly natural. It's just ordinary people, a young doctor with his family and two children, with constant economic worries and problems, with their friends and other couples, and a domestic maid of middle age who is somehow the point of comfort in the family. She constantly tries to get away, to go home to her own native village, but there is always something happening that makes her postpone her departure, especially incidents with the children. There is nothing tragic or pathetic here, while there is plenty of comedy, but always on a modest level, never reaching the burlesque, but touching on very familiar situations that any family somehow must recognize as something of their own. There are many unanswered questions, the doctor refuses to divulge the results of his important exam, and you really never know whether Camilla will get away or not. It's a spectrum of family life like in a small universe of its own full of charm and sympathy, like a piece of cake taken out of real life.

The Mutiny of the Elsinore
(1937)

Terrific sea adventure on the last great sea novel of Jack London
This was one of Jack London's last novels, his last sea novel and one of his best novels. Naturally it was slightly remade for the screen, but on the whole the rendering of it on screen is successful. It is all realistic, the camera work on board with the seamen at work fighting storms and struggling with the sails up in the rig is absolutely terrific and well in style with good old British tradition of sailing adventures with tall ships dominating the show. This is a British film, the "Elsinore" is shown even to have been built in Glasgow, while in the novel it's a Baltimore ship sailing round the Cape Horn with an important cargo for the west coast. There is nothing of the Horn here, but all the rest is sufficient enough. You will be surprised to find Paul Lukas as the hero here and even using force, while in the novel he is more like Humphrey van Leyden in "Wolf-Larsen" all the way. In spite of the re-writing of the novel, set even in more modern times, leaving out all discussions of the last days of the tall sailing ships, which are important in the novel, it's a great rendering of Jack London's novel, his spirit is present all the way, especially the rough crew is magnificently staged, and I am sure Jack London himself would have approved of it and loved it.

Wolf Call
(1939)

Indian love call of the wild
This seems to be something like a hotch-potch with nothing of Jack London in it whatsoever but maybe casually inspired by some of his tales - there are some wolves howling, there is a dog being allured by them, there is a beautiful half Indian girl all dressed up like in an Indian masquerade for tourists, but then there is a lot of bustle about radium and a mine of it - this doesn't look like Jack London at all. And all those workers and interested parties of the mine, including some picturesque Irishmen, don't seem to mind at all that radium is supposed to be radioactive. Maybe it wasn't in those days. But the most surprising point is that the protagonist John Carroll sings, and by singing he attracts that half Indian girl who sings as well. This is now tilting at great risk to a musical in the mountains, and you almost expect Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy to pop up, like in a Sigmund Romberg operetta, but there are no more than two songs - the rest is all about radium, the dog and the wolves and intrigues about the mine. It's not a bad film and not a bad story, but Jack London would have shaken his head in utter dismay not knowing whether to laugh or to cry.

The Joker Is Wild
(1957)

Night club life from the inside and out
Frank Sinatra makes an excellent performance, but the film is too long. The first 90 minutes are excellent, but then he fails to marry the one he loves and marries the wrong girl instead, and that's not quite out of the ordinary in the night club world. Joe Lewis is successful as a nightclub entertainer in the 20s but gets his vocal chords sliced by mobsters and is put out of business for many years. His faithful accompanist Eddie Albert (in an excellent performance) seeks him out again and again, but Frank with the loss of his vital instrument turns more and more to drinking, and no wonder. He is brought back on stage and starts singing again with a partly broken voice but somehow seems to manage, thanks to drinking, although his doctor tells him it will kill him. The main interest and strength of the film is the very intriguing mixture between comedy and tragedy, as Frank after his fall makes a comeback mainly as a standup comedian, and is tremendously successful. The tragedy is always there in the background, but he gets funnier all the time and finds it his life's meaning to make people laugh. Frank Sinatra made several serious films like this, and they are all unforgettable - I think this was recently after "The Man with the Golden Arm". Being too long it overruns its own merits, but on the whole the panoramic filming of the night club life over three decades is meritorious to say the least - including a very good script and dialog, especially in the first 90 minutes.

Oh, Mr. Porter!
(1937)

Climbing rotating wind mills and chasing ghost trains into the underworld in a fabulous wild goose chase for red herrings
The amazing thing about this film is that it appears to be totally unrealistic, the main characters hardly doing anything else than messing things up, blundering and committing constantly gross mistakes in wild goose hunts, including pigs and cows and what not; but curiously enough this tremendous mess of creating havoc galore suddenly turns into a sinister thriller, as lone-eyed Joe turns up at a very theatrical moment after an ordinary Irish tavern brawl where everyone beats everyone unconscious including the entire furniture and tavern premises, and this efficient turn of the dramaturgy leads into an impressing finale of virtuoso performances actually turning one of the funniest farces ever made into a breath-taking action thriller of overwhelming turbulences. Many consider this the best comedy ever made, which it is difficult to contradict.

Ultimo incontro
(1951)

How to get out of a jam without hurting others and thereby hurting them the more.
This is another of those Alida Valli films presenting an absolutely hopeless case of a fallen woman desperately trying to extricate herself out of her difficulties, and thereby only involuntarily exacerbating her predicament. However, there is no villain here, except in two brief scenes, making himself solely responsible for unsurveyable dire consequences, but is it possible to blame her for getting into trouble? Her lover is after all Jean-Pierre Aumont, and who can resist an ardent lover like that? You cannot blame Amedeo Nazzari either, his last words, the last words of the film, make a perfectly reasonable seal on the entire film and tragedy, for this is definitely like a Greek tragedy, inevitable, irrevocable in its destiny, and ultimately resolving itself by the strange mechanisms of nemesis. Alida Valli is always worth watching, her female characters are always hopelessly complicated beyond repair, a singular characteristic that Hitchcock used to extreme advantage in "The Paradine Cae", and she is a great actress. That fact and its excellent script and thorough psychology makes this film one of the foremost of Italian moral-psychological films of the 50s, and it is all mainly sustained by Alida Valli.

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Il mondo le condanna
(1953)

"If you save a suicide from taking her life, you are responsible for her life for the rest of your life."
This is an old proverb that has a tendency to turn up to actuality whenever a potential suicide turns up. Here it is Alida Valli who attempts to jump from a train at full speed, while she is rescued at the last moment by a fellow passenger, Amedeo Nazzari, who then can'r help feeling obliged to stick to her fate to continue saving it, although he is married with two sons and has an important position. She did indeed have reasons for her suicidal attempt, being at the mercy of an abominable Parisian pimp.(Serge Reggiani) with no trace of any decency. She tried to get rid of him by leaving Paris, while she is then constantly pursued by further failures, being expelled from France and compelled to go back to her parents and family in Florence, where Amedeo Nazzari lives, and so events keep rolling on. It's a very difficult part for Alida Valli, but she handles it expertly, and gradually you learn to understand the dwindling abysmal spiral of her predicament of fate. There is finally a solution, as nemesis enters the stage, but not without casualties.

Whistle Stop
(1946)

Three men around Ava Gardner, and that's three too many
It's interesting to see Ava Gardner before she rose to fame and almost too much of dazzling beauty, while she is still young and fresh, but you can see that she is rising. The main interest of this film, however, is Victor McLaglen as the bartender, who knows too much, is too much involved, has too many concerns and does too much in vain efforts to get things straight, and ultimately almost succeeds - but has to pay for it. George Raft is as antipathetic as ever, and you might have some objection against the end. It's a noir but with a happy end, but that end drags the film down. Tom Conway makes a good impression but has to pay for it. Ava Gardner, though, impeccable in her brilliant beauty, doesn't have to pay for anything.

Adventure in Manhattan
(1936)

Great entertainment by flippant journalism and shrewd theatre acting brought together
Joel McCrea gets robbed of his wallet by some weird blonde, who proves to be mixed up with the theatre business, while he is a controversial journalist who is famous for presenting predictions that come true. It's a screwball comedy with straight and witty dialog all the way getting smarter all the time, as the plot gradually thickens, and a great bank robbery is synchronized with a great premiere of a first world war drama with reckless gunfire, bombs, explosions and plenty of smoke, and for some reason Jean Arthur gets the hang of it. She is brilliant, and so is Joel McCrea, they work splendidly together as an odd couple in constant arguments with each other about their incurable differtences, but it's a comedy - nothing to worry about.

Lo sbaglio di essere vivo
(1945)

Black comedy of a death going wrong but eventually turning death into life
Isa Miranda is the beautiful wife of Vittorio de Sica, a poor official, who suddenly dies, and she is inconsolable and organizes a grand funeral with a mass of condolences and pompous circumstances, but the problem is that Vittorio de Sica suddenly wakes up in his coffin before he has been buried. He gets up and also scares the wits out of his inconsolable wife, but what is worse is that his death means a life insurance of 30,000 lire which they simply cannot do without, as his poor job only kept them at basics. So he insists on the funeral being carried through, with him watching, and they collect the money and go for a second honeymoon. But on their journey a former suitor of hers turns up and proposes to her. And that is only the beginning of the complications.

The film has been described as something of a Lubitsch comedy, but here there are some truly sinister ingredients as the problems of the husband being clandestinely alive constantly keep piling up. The film begins with Vittorio de Sica visiting his own grave together with a gravedigger, to whom he confides his entire story and finally asks the gravedigger to solve his problem, since he can't get any job without legal documents. The gravedigger solves the problem.

They Can't Hang Me
(1955)

Hot pace thriller in a chase of an atomic spy involving issues of life and death
Mr. Pitt is sentenced to death for having strangled a prostitute, but he claims they can't hang him since he is in possession of state secrets concerning the security of the nation and possibly of the world. It's a grand opening of a very hot thriller, and in charge of the investigation with heavy loads of responsibility and under the constantly exacerbated stress of time is inspector Terence Morgan, who admirably succeeds in playing it cool all the way, in spite of gunfights with intents to kill and the threat of death of the key witness. The action is very fast, the dialog is like crossfire all the way, and the plot constantly thickens. Meanwhile, the condemned prisoner is vexed by the police officers and guards who disturb him while he is listening to piano music. The realism is convincing enough, the Poles even speak Polish (which is not translated), and the story is well contrived under the circumstances of the case of Klaus Fuchs (mentioned once) and the extreme most paranoid secrecy around the development of the absurdity of the terror balance.

Livet går vidare
(1941)

Veteran soldier coming home to devastating disappointments to meet his fate
This is a melodrama that would have suited Douglas Sirk. Mikael Bourg serves 17 years in French west Africa as an engineer building roads and bridges for the French army but has recurrent severe spells of malaria, that force him to return home. At home he has his son Ludvig (expertly played by Hasse Ekman), a happy-go-lucky careless dandy, but in his company he finds the beautiful and tender Aino Taube. It does not develop into any jealousy drama, but the son is perfectly happy with his father being entirely taken care of by Aino Taube. But the problem is that Mikael Bourg cannot live without working and cannot find work, since he is over 40. The pain of the situation is that he has been so long abroad (17 years) that the restricted Sweden has no regard for such merits and therefore discard him as being of no use, as he is simply over-qualified - a common problem in Sweden. He then has no other choice but to return to his engineering in French Africa with the inevitable malaria waiting to take his life.

It is not comparable with Anders Henrikson's sensational success of the year before, "Etc brott", but rather a melodramatic shadow of it, although the acting is good, especially by Adolphson and Ekman and also Aino Taube and Sigurd Wallén as the grumpy doctor, who is always wholesomely angry. It is not without interest, the story is good, Douglas Sirk would have enjoyed it, but it is totally dwarfed by Henrikson's earlier film "Ett brott".

La tulipe noire
(1964)

Alain Delon with his twin brother starting the French revolution
First of all, this film has nothing to do with Alexandre Dumas' great novel, which takes place entirely in Holland in the 17th century and mainly is about cultivating tulips, which was a craze in Holland at that time. In the novel they struggled with the challenge of bringing forth an entirely black tulip, which is botanically impossible. Here they present black tulips galore, as if they grew in thousands, like another signature of another scarlet pimpernel, which underscores the aburdity of the script of this film, which is practically all nonsense with great sequences of sword-fighting, colourful rides and excursions, great chases on horseback, plenty of romantic flirts and courting and a thronged mess of general fighting. The colours and cinematography is outstanding like the dazzling show-off of brilliant French theatre and diction, but the script is just awful, all characters being casually superficial and disturbingly cynical, with only Akim Tamiroff standing out as something of an original character, but you are never informed of why and how he was ultimately hanged. This is casual superficial entertainment in dashing colours and swashbuckling splendour but nothing else, with no realism and no link with reality at all. Pity, because Christian-Jacque made some of the most brilliant costume films of France, the greatest being perhaps "Fanfan la Tulipe" 1952 with Gerard Philippe and Gina Lollobrigida, which was much more ingenious and original.

This Woman Is Mine
(1941)

Discipline problems on board with only hard seamen's hands and one lady at their mercy
Grossly underrated splendid sea adventure of an early fur expedition from New York around the Horn to Oregon to do some risky trading with the Indians - all risks are taken, and paid for. But the direction and the acting is efficient to say the least, Franchot Tone is the only gentleman on board, having followed the expedition against his willl, while the rowdy John Carroll as the extremely irresponsible and sympathetically unscrupulous French Canadian is the most colorful part, always promising and doing the wrong thing, and that's how he got a female stowaway on board (Carol Bruce), beautiful and charming enough but all cheated and as unwilling to be part of the adventure as Franchot Tone. Walter Brennan is the major character as the captain, a hard one to deal with sticking ruthlessly to the formalism of discipline, while Leo G. Carroll and Nigel Bruce (both quite young here) add some comedy to ease up the ordeals. Frank Lloyd Wright made "Mutiny on the Bounty" six years earlier, and this is rather in the same vein but without any exaggerated evil - the Indians are as they were in the 1830s on the west coast wilderness, and the leaders of the expedition were well aware of that from the beginning. Eventually even captain Walter Brennan softens up enough to become almost human and saves the situation.

The Daughter
(2015)

Ibsen in darkest Australia
I knew nothing about this film when I started watching it, but gradually some details of it gave me some sense of familiarity. I recognized it but could not place it. These details turned up more and more, and suddenly it dawned upon me: This is Ibsen! Yes, he had been transformed and dressed up (or down) into Australian settings out in the wilderness, and some excellent players made justice to the leading characters, mainly Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush. Although it was all perfectly Australian and in modern times, still Ibsen shone mercilessly through, with the same gradually increasing and towering destiny of doom leaving no one out of the devastation. Was it a successful transition? Yes and no. What was missing was the clarity of Ibsen as here it was too easy to confuse some characters with each other, and as it was a theatre play, transformed into a film almost in the dark of the jungle the drama was partly lost in almost dogma scenery muddled up in darkness. It was not entirely successful, while the drama will be as shocking and upsetting as the original in whatever settings it will be presented.

A Passport to Hell
(1932)

Waltzes from Vienna in darkest Africa
There is something both of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad in this interesting drama of relationships in colonial Africa at the outbreak of World War I. Elissa Landi, who played Mercedes in "The Count of Monte Christo" against Robert Donat in the same year, makes an exquisite performance that could be her best. When her cavalier, a British officer of Dahomey, commits suicide, she knows nothing of the matter since she was in another room, but she anyway gets deported on suspicion of having driven him too suicide. She is deported to the German colony of Kamerun, where a young German officer (Alexander Kirkland) gets infatuated with her and marries her to save her from the authorities, the leading one being his father (Warner Oland), who also makes a most interesting performance in his change of character from an adamant official to a tragic father. Another German officer (Paul Lukas, as a young man in another outstanding performance) also gets infatuated with her, so there are complications, eventually leading to all kinds of tragedies and her final deportation, but she lands on her feet while no one else does.

Elissa Landi was an Italian from Venice and one of the great actresses of the 30s, unfortunately her career was interrupted by cancer, as she died at only 43. After this film Frank Lloyd Wright made the unsurpassed masterpiece of the First World War "Cavalcade" with Diana Wynyard.

1-2-3-4 ou Les collants noirs
(1961)

Four ballets in one film in sophisticated contrast to each other
Two of them are comedies, while the second and fourth are great tragedies. Everyone of them is perfect in choreography, dancing performances, impersonations, color and direction - nothing can be said against any of them. The music is originally mixed, it is both modern and classical, the most modern is in the second "Cyrano de Bergerac", while the best is in the third, "Widow for 24 Hours", which also presents the best solo ballet performance by Cyd Charisse, a very original comedy ballet, offering all kinds of typical Parisian delights, like both can-can, tango, strip tease and perhaps the best music of the whole. The fourth, "Carmen" is all Bizet. All four of them present excellent pas-de-deux, while "Cyrano de Bergerac", the second and the longest of the four, even presents a spectacular pas-de-trois, as Cyrano and Christian de Neuvillette, Roxane's two lovers, partner her expertly letting her believe them to be only the handsome Christian, while they perform this treat in marvelous communion, Cyrano always taking her over from behind, while she only sees Christian. It's a gripping and great drama, probably all made up by Edmond Rostand, but as a story it is immortal, and this ballet is a great illustration of it. Roland Petit is the choreographer and leading dancer in all four of them except the first, where Dirk Sanders makes the most impressing performance. Moira Shearer as Roxane, which is interesting to note, made this film in the same year as she made the ill-fated and unjustly notorious "Peeping Tom" with Michael Powell, who launched her in the greatest of all ballet films, "The Red Shoes" of 1948. Zizi Jeanmaire, leading in the first and last segment, is impressing as a dancer with very striking legs, but with her forced sensuality she makes almost a vulgar impression. An important detail is the great Danish dancer Henning Kronstam's short but striking appearance as Escamillo In the "Carmen" ballet. Cyd Charisse though is the jewel in the crown here, while perhaps the greatest surprise is, that the director was Terence Young, later world famous for launching the James Bond films.

Il cavaliere di Maison Rouge
(1954)

Romanticizing the last days of Marie Antoinette
Of course the subject is irresistibly intriguing, and there must be hundreds of authors and directors who have speculated in the tragedy of Marie Antoinette buried alive in an inhuman tower after her husband's execution. No one has made more of it than Alexandre Dumas. "The Cavalier of Maison-Rouge", also known as "The Last Cavalier" is based on no more than a hint of a last hope given to the Queen in her imprisonment, by a mysterious cavalier and nobleman who was no more known than under this title, if it wasn't.a sobriquet for some aristocrat, who had every reason to keep anonymous. Of this minute episode of no more than a glimpse of hope, Alexandre Dumas constructed a great novel (one of his first) of conjecture based entirely on romantic fantasy, but the novel is great and perhaps his third greatest after "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Christo". The film follows the novel meticulously and takes well care of the dramatic moments, and all the players are outstanding, especially Renée Saint-Cyr as Marie Antoinette - this role must be extremely attractive to any actress. And I never saw anyone fail in making it convincing enough. The manuscript is eloquently written all the way, the dialog is never superfluous, and the script writers have known expertly to leave out all the unnecessary stuff. The cinematography and the music are also something to relish all the way, and the towering tragedy is well built up. This is one of many Marie Antoinette films that never should be forgotten.

To all this is added Alexandre Dumas' marvellous innovative romantic mind, making the subject an inspirational source to weave a great romance around the desperate and hopeless efforts to liberate the Queen. It is not only his probably third greatest novel but his most romantic novel as well.

Very much underrated, a unique novel of romanticism, excellent Italian rendering on film, exquisite cinematography and staging, consistently in sustained style, but a warning: its is 5 hours long.

Appassionatamente
(1954)

Messing up relationships
The family d'Alberti is ruined, and their only chance to avoid dishonor and suicide is to have the daughter Elena married to the rich Andrea, who recently has bought their palace anonymously including the portrait of her beauty. But Elena loves a young doctor without fortune and future, who is just leaving for Africa. For her family's sake, Elena sees no choice but to marry Andrea (Amedeo Nazzari) without loving him. He was enamored with her portrait, but when she confesses that she doesn't love him but only married him to save her family and father from suicide, he turns into callous stone and will have nothing more to do with her except as social obligations require. There are many more twists and complications to this relationship, the major one being that she gradually falls in love with him but without any response from him. He has a female cousin who is very jealous of him, and with her husband, managing the estate, they enter the dangerous minefield of foul play.

As Andrea's major work is a mine industry, there is a great sequence after half of the film of a mine disaster, reminding of "The Stars Look Down", in epic Italian Neo-realism, which is the epic chapter of the film. The rest is intrigue, melodrama and almost murder, Amedeo Nazzari's part is typical of him, perfectly controlled in strict adherence to conventional acting, while the great part is Myriam Bru as Elena, irresistible in her beauty and gripping in her pathos. She would five years later make Katiusha in the German. Italian production of Tolstoy's "Resurrection", the best film version of that novel. In brief, if you love and understand Italian cinema, this film is one of many musts.

The Count of Monte Cristo
(1934)

The ordeals of an ordinary able sailor falling the victim of envy, jealousy and judicial murder
There are countless film versions of Alexandre Dumas' classical novel of injustice and revenge, and all these dozens of film versions grossly distort Dumas' novel, make arbitrary alterations, ignore important characters and ignobly neglects Dumas' great human message, as in the novel Edmond Dantès actually ultimately regrets his vengeance acts when he realizes they have been pushed too far. Even the long French television series with Gerard Depardieu, although admirably stylish, makes a muddle of the novel, like the great British TV series of the 60s with Alan Badel, the most stylish of them all, made a hazy dream of it all, swimming out in efforts at sophistication. There is only one thing that all these versions have in common, and that is the intrigues of the beginning and the central drama at the château d'If with Abbé Faria as the most important character of the entire story. Here he outshines all the others in his very convincing sincerity; and as even the novel tends to become boring after Dantès' acquisition of his fortune, so does every film version. Here, however, Robert Donat makes possibly the best Dantès of all, and, as he usually does, he delivers a grand finale. It's an old film and one of the best on the subject; in fact, nothing wrong could be said about it, but it's a comprehensive and complex story which needs plenty of time to be revealed, and the ordinary film scope of around two hours was never enough.

Tragica notte
(1942)

One of those early Italian neo-realistic masterworks
The action takes place in the remote hills above Florence in unknown parts of Tuscany, but there are several and most enjoyable scenes from Florence as well, showing how it was before the destruction of the Second World War, and the film is worth watching just for this. It's a grim drama though that is being enacted of passion and blind obsession of vengefulness, while actually no one is really evil here - there is no Iago in this drama of jealousy, and the instigator of the plot, the forest guard watching the rights and privacy of his master the count, has every reason to retaliate the injustice of the gross mistreatment he receives from a trespasser.and poacher he had got prosecuted and jailed, which atrocious scene introduces the film and is the most violent one. The events that follow are perfectly logical all the way. The film is crowded with fine rural scenes, and the finest of them all is probably the great harvest party when they.bring in the wheat for the winter to the accompaniment of glorious music and singing, while at the same time the drama moves on into its critical stage. The cinematography is masterful all the way, and there is no risk that you will relax from the intense pace of the drama development for one moment. The conclusion takes place in the dark, and no one can guess what the outcome will be - it is unavoidable to worry both for the count and for Nanni, the released jailbird. Mario Soldati was one of the great pioneers of the Italian neo-realism, showing the way for Visconti, Fellini, de Sica and others, and he also made international films, like the French "Eurgénie Grandet". He was a kind of Nestor of the golden age of Italian cinema from the 40s, and this is one of many jewels in his golden canon of lasting prominent films.

Fear in the Night
(1946)

A nightmare trauma manifested as a mystery - until you meet the doctor
Why is hypnotism never credible? It is used in many films with success to enhance the suspense, it's generally an efficient means for keeping the audience on edge, but it is never credible. You have to be very stupid or very inane to fall completely under the will power of another, and although this is more often than not practicable with women, a man must have enough natural human instinct and power to refuse such an absurd subordination. This thriller is efficient enough, and up to the moment when it comes to hypnotism it is a nail-biter indeed, but then as gradually the matter of the mystery is resolved you have to get sober about it. It is a B-thriller but excellent as such, the acting is perfectly convincing all the way. Paul Kelly and DeForest Kelly are well matched as a plot victim and his brother-in-law, who happens to be a cop, and their interplay is the main structure of the film. The dames fall a little aside and don't have to do or say much, but you don't miss them. This thriller must have inspired many others, like Orson Welles' "Lady from Shanghai" shortly after, "Night Without Sleep" 1952, Douglas Sirk's "Sleep my Love" 1948 (where hypnotism actually is credible) and several other psychological thrillers with doctors as villains; so you don't miss any efficiency, suspense or intrigue material here, while its short efficiency anyway must make it rather casual.

Moonlight Sonata
(1937)

Music as the supreme miracle worker
Paderewski, at the time the greatest pianist in the world, was more than 75 when he made this fim, but he seems the most ageless of all. He plays with perfect control and concentration, not letting even a glance out of his performance before it's finished, and you can study his pianistic art in detail, as there are many close-ups of his recital showing his hands and how they work in extreme sensitivity and perfection. The film begins with his giving a concert, Chopin's great sixth polonaise and Franz Liszt's greatest rhapsody, and the Moonlight Sonata as an encore. In the audience there is a young couple with a child, and as the mother's attention constantly goes to the child and the ball she is playing with, you wonder what this will lead to. It's just the beginning of the story.

The story is a wonder in itself. Paderewski with some others in a plane on their way to Paris get stranded in Sweden (!) and have to leave the plane for repairs. They are lodged in a castle of nobility with only a few inhabitants, a grandmother and her granddaughter, but among the stranded passengers is also Eric Portman, and whenever he turns up, you know there will be mischief. The drama develops into some serious business, which ultimately is solved and saved by Paderewski. The final scene is without words, but the music and the scenery speaks for itself, as Ingrid descends the stairs, and you feel her quandary as painfully as she does herself.

This is totally different from all those concert films made in America with subplots of common people with no taste and plenty of musical ignorance mixed up with some oases of serious music; as here the style is genuine and kept at a high level all the way. Marie Tempest as the baroness takes the prize, though, and Paderewski makes an adorable character in his humble and continental courtesy as the most perfect of all old gentlemen. The music though crowns this exquisite excursion into the magic of music.

Vertigine
(1942)

Overwhelming heartbreaks both on stage and in reality
This is actually a masterpiece in its mixture of opera and reality, and for us today it is a major treat to see one of the great world tenors (Beniamino Gigli) alive on screen in a part of almost himself (a world tenor) and playing it well, as it involves great human involvement with other peolple, especially his ailing daughter, for whom he gives up his career and stops singing to live only for her, after her broken heart when she has broken up with her one suitor, who proved to have another woman since five years and wasting everything on gambling as well. Opera and realism are intermixed throughout the film with great convincing virtuoso expertise, so it is both a great opera film (for Benjamin Gigli's sake) and a great human drama, touching on neorelism and at least verism. The universal compassion with the ailing girl is irresistible, she is too convincing in all her frailty and understandable incurable love, and the cinematography is also impressing, from Venice in summer to a very wintry Rome with lots of beautiful Italy in between. One of the sensations in the film is that Beniamino Gigli actually sings Wagner, but in Italian - and suddenly Wagner's music becomes better. His music remains difficult and strained all the same, but Italian at least makes it sound better. The film is of great interest above all to opera fans, as you can study in detail his manner of singing, with his small mouth he actually seems to make no effort at all, while his big head gives him perfect resonance. It is a unique film for its expert composition in mixing up opera and hard core reality in a perfectly harmonized blend, and this film certainly must not be forgotten.

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