Like most Fred Astaire musical films, there is not much of a story but the greater abundance of fabulous show performances. Fred's partner is Ann Miller, but as Fred is retiring, she goes on a race of her own, while Fred fishes out an ordinary vaudeville girl and starts trying to teach her to dance, which isn't easy, since she doesn't know left from right. She remains confused about this all through the film. Nevertheless, she makes a great success by just being as simple and common as she is, and when she performs "We are a couple of swells" together with Fred, he falls deep into her shadow. This is definitely one of her best films if not the best, her play-acting Is simply enthralling, and although both Fred and Ann Miller have some of their best solo numbers ever on film, Judy is the one who steals the show. She was 24 years younger than Fred and yet their chemistry works perfectly and constantly better throughout the film, and they actually share the same date of their deaths. This was their only film together, and it was quite by accident, since it should have been Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, but Gene broke his ankle, and Cyd broke some ligament in her knees and couldn't dance at all. The director should have been Vincente Minnelli, but as there were problems in his marriage with Judy at the time, who was trying to treat them with drugs, it was advisable to use another director, and so the film was all by accident or by a stroke of luck. It is one of the best Hollywood musicals ever, and it will remain so for all times.
Richard Conte is generally an excellent actor, but here he is also the director, and the result is not very brilliant. It's a rather commonplace superficial guerrilla plot led by CIA (Richard Conte) to liberate a British captain in Nazi captivity, and there is a lot of gun-fighting, knife-throwing, killing and plotting especially involving two pretty girls, while the acting is generally quite casual and unconvincing, especially concerning the Nazis - there is actually only one, the admiral, who makes a very poor show. The camera work on the other hand is interesting, and the scenery is quite unusual for a war movie. The music is only there for the effects trying desperately to make the feature more interesting without really succeeding. Rory Calhoun is the other actor making a decent performance, but all the others are just types and no characters. The dialog is poor, but Richard Conte tries to make the best of it, but fortunately this became the only film he ever directed. He was better as an actor.
There are many interesting things to this film, and the most interesting one is the psychology of the cultural clash between friendly islanders and a stranded Japanese pilot shot down on the island after Pearl Harbour. There are some other Japanese on the island also, and when they learn the truth about the pilot they try to keep it down to avoid risks to the island community. They fail to keep it down, the truth comes out, and there is havoc, as too many quite unnecessarily panic, including the poor Japanese pilot, who runs amuck. The one man who tries to keep everything in sensible control is almost a casualty himself.
The film is beautifully photographed, it's a pleasure to share the very basic and primitive life on this secluded island, the actors are all quite convincing especially when they lose control, and the story is fascinating although deeply tragic - all casualties are unnecessary. The war should never have come to this island, no one wanted it there, no one was responsible for bringing it there, and the poor Japanese pilot who brought it there suffered most for it. It is a good film although you would hardly look forward to watching it again.
The moods, the tension, the brutal mentality, the arid desert, the high-strung relationships, everything here points forward and reminds you of "High Noon" shortly afterwards, with the same kind of hardcore script and with no fooling around - they are on the same level. Here the sore tried integrity is not with the sheriff but with Susan Hayward, left alone in a hostile world with the baby of her sister, gunned down with her husband earlier on. She is now heading east from California to Saint Louis with the baby to bring it to the father's relatives, when something happens on the way. Fortunately there is Tyrone Power, who is not entirely at a loss, but who has much business to learn - which she gives him the opportunity for.
The water hole in the desert is called "Rawhide", where the "jackass stagecoach" passengers may rest and refresh themselves on the 25 days' journey across the continent, which is a suitable place for a gang of hooligans to take hostages in order to plunder the next coach, which they know is loaded with gold. That's the set-up, and the one who knows his business is Henry Hathaway, a hard-liner director, who knows exactly how to keep his audiences nail-biting. They will sit through it to the end and survive.
Fred Zinnemann's pictures are always interesting and rewarding for their sincere and thorough psychology. His characters are always convincing, and they always have interesting stories to tell. This is no exception, although it is a rather humdrum and common tale, about a young American soldier who gets a wife in Italy and brings her over to America, with complications, especially concerning relationships, since his mother is reluctant to let him go for a life of his own. She breaks down when she learns he had married in Italy. What is most interesting Is the character roles. John Ericson is no good for anything, he is too sensitive and nervous to be a soldier, he can't fight, and he constantly keeps running away from any challenge. Pier Angeli on the other hand is the stronger in both character and integrity for her weakness - she is just a frail young innocent Italian girl, with whom this immature American soldier happens to get involved, and she just accepts it and makes the best of it, and when the unavoidable challenges come, especially when she finds herself an alien in America, she deals with them in a very Italian and rational way without any unnecessary fuss. She is the gem of the film, while John Ericson is in constant need of support, but he couldn't have acted the role better. The best scenes are those in Italy just after the war when everything is in ruins, the Italians struggling against hunger and poverty to make a life after all, while the Americans just come blundering in. It's not a great picture, but it is of immense interest as a psychological documentary.
The magic of music is the chief lead of this exquisite masterpiece of rural life in northern Sweden in the early 19th century. According to the parish priest music is the devil's work bringing only curses and damnation, and he thinks he speaks of experience as he attributes the tragic death of the village fiddler with his love in the violent force of the river falls to the fact that he was a fiddler. The vicar takes care of the fiddler's son as a ward, and when the son also starts fiddling, he destroys the violin to avoid further curses. But nothing can withstand the power and magic of music. The boy grows up and finds another fiddle and starts fiddling, bringing joy to the local dancing parties. The music is perhaps the best part of the film. They were an entire team who put this music together, and it is the very pulse of life throughout the film, excellently composed and extremely appropriate to the rustic circumstances. When the two fiddlers play together at the Saturday barn ball, it's the sound of an entire string orchestra, although there are only two basic fiddles, but it doesn't matter - it only enriches the film. There is a great passion love story, the cinematography is magnificent throughout, the Swedish landscape is spellbinding in its irresistible romantic beauty, and the drama is timeless. Nothing binds the film to the early 19th century except the fact that it is clinically free of any modernism. The film is a joy of beauty all through, giving a penetrating insight into the fact that music opens up both the abysses of the human mind and heart and the necessity of exuberant joy and happiness, especially eloquently expressed in the dancing sequences.
It's a great story but not a great film. It is typically Neapolitan with all the necessary music, the romances, the complications of relationships, the jealousy and the hopeless passions. Mastroianni is a seaman from Naples, who when he stops there between his journeys he visits his brother and meets his fiancée, the beautiful Maria Raneri, who is also a singer who wins prizes. There is love at first sight, but the brother Sandro is crazy about her and will not let her go and knows nothing about Marcello's sudden great intimacy with her. Things get complicated, Sandro kills a suspected suitor of hers by accident out of mad jealousy, Marcello thinks she has killed the fellow and to protect her leaves the country to join the Foreign Legion in France. After five years he returns to Naples, and that is where the film begins. The story is told by flashbacks, Marcello Mastroianni is very young and fresh here and acts convincingly, and so does his brother Sandro (Marco Vicario, who actually gives the most interesting Performance here). Maria is played by Gianna Maria Canale, she is not another Yvonne Sanson but a fair Neapolitan copy. The story and its conclusion is a heart-wringer, and you will love it if you have any involvement with Italy. It's a great story, and they make the best of it out of a small budget.
George Simenon is perfect as usual in handling human frailty
This is a typical Simenon grey tragedy of humdrum life, pinpointing weaknesses of humanity. Monsieur Joseph is an Algerian who for forty years has been working hard to establish a small specialised bookshop in a small town in northern France, when a young girl who helps him in the shop inspires him with the idea of a marriage, better late than never. He is double her age and does not foresee the dangers of such a marriage, a very young wife of a middle-aged man is wont to look for younger men and to have escapades. When she does he does not mind but is tolerant and keeps his good faith in human nature. That is his mistake. When she disappears without a trace leaving nothing behind and no communication, people around him start to talk, and as there has been a recent unsettled murder case with a drowned young woman in the town canal, he becomes the subject of gossip and prejudiced suspicion, since he is Algerian. And so the merciless tide rolls on.
Daniel Prévost makes an excellent and unforgettable performance as the culprit of nothing, and there is actually no sadness in his role, just a typical Simenonesque casual hopelessness and resignation to the logic consequences of inevitability. At least he finally learns that his wife is still alive and that she only has betrayed him - he should have suspected such a consequence from the character of her family with a brother who is a spoilt outrage. Well, most things are learned too late.
The atmosphere is very much alike to the moods of "The Man who Saw the Trains Pass By" which is a similar story with similar outcome, a bottomless tragedy without sadness but with all the hopelessness naked in its inevitability.
Kipling himself is included in this film in the final sequences, and his poem 'Gunga Din', a kind of barack ballad, is the nucleus of the film and its chief inspiration. Out of that doggerel verses the script writers and Hollywood team have constructed a monumental adventure, that will remain inexhaustibly entertaining for all times, as you can recognise a vast number of later adventure films all erected on the base of George Stevens' masterpiece, especially the Indiana Jones series. It is no glorification of colonialism, of British rule in India, of military life or of imperial supremacy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr as sergeant Ballantyne actually hates it all and expresses his thorough disgust of military life and just wants to get married and get away from it, Joan Fontaine waiting for him. Cary Grant is in his best comic spirits, he is the same figure as in many of his best screwball comedies, and Victor McLaglen as the giant slugger of them also displays interesting human sides especially in context with his elephant Annie. You hardly recognise Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din himself, but it is him alright, the same actor who made the High Lama of "Lost Horizon" and Doc Riedenschneider of "The Asphalt Jungle", a great character actor, always making an impression. Alfred Newman provides the music at the height of his powers, and George Stevens would hardly ever surpass himself in this genre, although he had a long row of other masterpieces to follow, the last one being "The Greatest Story Ever Told" with Max von Sydow as Jesus. Eduardo Ciannelli finally makes a very convincing impression as the high priest of the thuggee, his role is quite awesome as is the character he makes, and In brief, you couldn't wish for more of glorious action sequences after Kipling's final making the point.
There is actually one murder here, but you never learn anything about it, it is never explained, the murderer is anonymous and there is no reason for it. Indeed, the film starts directly with a startling death, but that is a suicide, and even that leaves you hanging in the air to start with - did she really die, and why did she do it? Well, it is explained later on, as she leaves behind a letter to her jealous guardian, who warned her earlier not to lead such a wanton life, and you are constantly led to believe her trombonist boy friend to be the reason for her misery, whom she commands her guardian to take revenge in for her death, but he isn't. The intrigue is more subtle than that.
Actually there is a murder being meticulously planned all the way through the film, but will it finally be committed, and on whom? That is the question that will keep up your interest until the final surprising end, but there will be no real murderer here except the anonymous one who is never known but who might be the final victim of his own wickedness.
This sounds like an enigmatic riddle indeed, and it is, the construction of the film and drama is an intentional puzzlement, and it gets more contrived all the way - nothing in it is really natural. It is a typical role for Dennis O'Keefe, who is notorious for his unsympathetic leads, and this role confirms the rule. He is a rich newspaper mogul who can afford whatever he pleases in roundabout measures, and he certainly makes his own case complicated here. The only decent and natural person in the film is his secretary, Ann Sears, who is the one who behaves humanly, and she is perhaps the one who saves the film.
This is pure metaphysics in an airplane. It gets lost on a flight from Los Angeles to Washington D. C. in a climb that never ends and never can be halted. Naturally all passengers and the whole crew grow unconscious for the lack of oxygen. One passenger even desperately opens an emergency exit and runs out - at 35.000 feet. Ground control loses radio contact with the airplane as also the pilots do. But strange enough, there are three among the passengers who don't fall unconscious and who all three are involved with the making of an ultimate bomb, one of them being the professor with all the right calculations in his notebook. They end up in a fourth dimensional nowhere as a kind of limbo, where they are charged with the crime of destroying the future by people who aren't born yet and perhaps never shall be. Their punishment by a proper jury of these future unborn jurors is to remain forever out of time with no past and no future. It seems metaphysically correct but doesn't work practically, since the airplane is still there. How this equation is to be solved is the major issue of the film, and the professor, who figured the whole ultimate bomb project out, finally reaches a proper solution.
The film is highly original, very sophisticated, scripted brilliantly and disturbingly convincing, as everything makes sense. It is neither science fiction nor fantasy but pure metaphysics and, as the professor would have it, some interesting speculation in what is still unknown about extra sensory perception, the notorious ESP phenomenon, but at least you can learn something from it. It is actually all just a matter of conscience.
An interesting effort to recreate the Celtic world of the druids
It's the same old story about young Arthur's ascent to the throne with a magic sword and all but in a different way, trying meritoriously to bring it all down to basics, skipping all the castles, the romances, the knights in shining armour, and even the conflict between Christianity and paganism. There is very little Christianity here although it shows in glimpses, while paganism is predominant with two great magicians in a deadly struggle, Merlin hounded, exiled and persecuted by the all-powerful druid Aberthol (Nigel Cooke) almost palpably reminding of John Malkovich, but this film is all English, shot far from Cornwall in Staffordshire close to Wales. It is beautifully filmed, the arguments are well sustained all through, and the final settlement in torchlight without armies is not disappointing. It's the same story that Walt Disney told in his last great cartoon "The Sword in the Stone" but consistently down to earth all the way in strenuous flesh and blood struggles mainly to survive and with a Merlin practically reduced to an outcast in the woods with only his intimacy with nature to resort to as his chief magic, but that is quite enough. This is as far from Hollywood and romance as you could possibly come, it is very reminding of "Alfred the Great" of the late 60s with the same kind of consistent and convincing primitivism. I had misgivings about it at first, but as the film rolled on they were completely dispersed, and in the end the satisfaction was complete.
In desperate need for carrying on the tradition of the great epics, like "The Ten Commandments", "Ben Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia", some genius came across the idea of turning the greatest and bloodiest of world conquerors into an entertaining fairy tale for the world's mass audiences, and who would be better for directing such a film than Henry Levin, who had just finished his great cinerama production of the Brothers Grimm? There is no realism here, only great romanticism, forget about even any approximate historical accuracy, it is all nonsense and romanticism, and Omar Sharif did it only for the money. Even the music is rather second hand, ordinary Hollywood superficial pompousness with great noise and circumstance, while even the actors find it hard to play their roles with any sincerity. James Mason and Robert Morley make the best of it, Mason makes the perfect Chinese ambassador and diplomat, and Robert Morley as usual is priceless as the emperor. Among the women, Yvonne Mitchell makes an impression, while Francoise Dorleac is almost like an ordinary James Bond bride. Stephen Boyd on the other hand makes a perfect villain and sustains the role to the bitter end. Omar Sharif has his moments, while Eli Wallach comes in for the finale in a rather pathetic figure, for which he was paid more than Omar Sharif for all his efforts. In such a film of the Mongols, who after all made their empire on horseback, you would have expected more horse shows, but they are only applied here for battle scenes, in which most are brought down. Sorry, I guess we will have to wait forever for a realistic film about one of the most successful of world conquerors.
Cloak and dagger intrigues at the Spanish court, fit for an opera and at least making a formidable melodrama
There are some great names in this film, Olivia de Havilland for one in the title role, John Gilbert back on the screen as a great lover, Paul Scofield as King Philip II of Spain, Francoise Rosay as Olivia de Havilland's trusted friend and nurse, Dennis Price as a double-dealing minister and even Christopher Lee in a small part as a captain; Richard Addison has contributed a great score, and the director is no one less than Terence Young, later on famous mostly for his James Bond films. All this should add to a great film of splendour, pageantry and glory? Well, does it? The story and script would have made a great basis for an opera, but as it is, it is no more than a rather heavy-weight melodrama. It's the heavy Spanish court of Philip II in his monastery castle outside Madrid, a monumental mausoleum for the living dead, and all you miss in this film is Don Carlos and that dreary additional intrigue. Paul Scofield runs the film, it's his character that you will remember afterwards, a gloomy giant of loneliness and miserable inhumanity, while Olivia de Havilland makes a very credible martyred princess. The settings are heavy, but they should be so, and their gloom only add to the realism of this study in the incompatibility of love with power - Philip sacrifices everything for his power and especially his soul and humanity, leaving nothing left - than further disasters of his realm, like the great armada against England. The film is interesting for its story and truthful rendering of the suffocating inhibition of the Spanish court, so there is nothing wrong with it. All you lack is the sparkle of life that was banned from thence.
A beautiful young girl at the mercy of the greatest sect of murderers in India
The Thugs were an actual sect of India which in the 1820s were very active in strangling innocent people for the glory of Kali, the goddess of death. The best account of their strange society of stranglers is probably John Masters' novel "The Deceivers" which was made a film in 1988 with a very young and agile Pierce Brosnan, while the story here is total romanticisation. The story was made into a more elaborate production for television in 1991 with Stacy Keach as the captain and father, a successful series of 5 hours, while this early version is quite quick and more basic, which nevertheless includes some fascinating sequences, for instance an actual fight between a mongoose and a cobra and a palpable struggle with a tiger. There are pythons as well and very active, since the action here is staged at an Island of Serpents, which is full of these murderous snakes, and the male protagonists here is a snake hunter. He accidentally comes across the temple of the thuggee, the high priestess of whom is the abducted child of the captain (Peter van Eyck, for once in a more decent role than just ordinary Nazi officers,) who in fifteen years has been raised by the thuggee to become their sacred virgin and high priestess of Kali (Ingeborg Schöner). Naturally Guy Madison (the snake hunter) and Miss Schöner meet, and the marvellous music of Carlo Rustichelli keeps accompanying them throughout the film, which is well made with great settings and wonderful jungle photography. This is a very romantic film of India at its most exotic and thrilling, and no wonder the story was remade into a great TV series 30 years later and doubtlessly also inspired Indiana Jones to explore the Temple of Doom as well.
The plot here his that the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar called Caesarion was smuggled away and survived, being reared by the bedouins in the desert and brought up like a son of one of their chiefs, while instead another boy was sacrificed to the Romans who naturally had to have him disposed of as a political peril and threat to the dynasty of Augustus, who was only a grandnephew of Julius Caesar, while a son of his could not be tolerated. Caesarion grows up to become a leader himself of the bedouins who wage a kind of guerrilla warfare with sudden surprise attacks against Roman convoys in the desert, but he has problems with his identity, as he is not as dark in his complexion as an Egyptian should be. His stepfather finally one day has no choice but to reveal his real identity to him, and that's where the drama of this film begins.
It is beautifully made with wonderful desert settings, great riding sequences on horseback, while at the same time it is almost a melodrama, as El Kebir (Caesarion) gets involved with the daughter of the Roman prefect, the villain of the play called Petronius, who has earned the displeasure of Octavian for embezzling funds and riches of Egypt. His daughter is nothing short of a blonde bombshell. There are reminiscences too obvious of both "Ben Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia", the director has clearly been inspired by these mammoth epics and tried to at least accomplish something next to them. It is not unsuccessful. To its merits is added a marvellous score by Carlo Rustichelli, whose music generally has the power to elevate any film to a higher position than its realities. It is not a great film but highly intriguing, inspiring and interesting for its concept and impressive style.
Getting messed up on an ideal vacation in a wicked espionage intrigue
Idylls before the war turn into a nest of wasps and intrigue. James Mason is the innocent medical student on a vacation from his studies in Paris, who gets his camera 'borrowed' by someone who takes some forbidden pictures of the French navy at Toulon - just before the war. Naturally James Mason gets implicated for the heinous crime with prison, expulsion and perhaps execution to look forward to as a sudden interruption of his medical career, which was not what he had expected of his holiday in Provence by the delightful Mediterranean with some lovely young ladies around at the ideal hotel. Among the guests are a German citizen from Berlin who proves himself to be a direct victim of the Gestapo, a fugitive from Prague and a former social-democrat journalist with nothing good to expect from his Gestapo pursuers, and he is the tragedy of the case. The hotel and its environment is very much like in the comedy "French Without Tears", it's the same atmosphere and the same idyllic charm, which is brutally contrasted by sinister proceedings. Several of the guests are great comedians. James Mason makes the best of a precarious predicament, sometimes loses his temper at the risk of his life, and he is absurdly compromised, but that is all part of the game. The French police know what they are doing, and the only thing missing here is Hercule Poirot.
This is a very arguable film for its tremendous richness of ambiguities. It is both one of the best films of Rex Harrison and of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. The greatest credit lies perhaps with the script, but it is handled with brilliant eloquence and equilibration by all the actors, and their parts aren't easy. Rex Harrison is particularly excellent in his very debatable character of a perfect scoundrel who wins everyone by his charm and seems to get away with just anything just by his shameless audacity. His father, a politician, seems to forgive him anything and keeps on doing so until his death, while his female victims see him through but nevertheless also keep on loving him. The one you will remember is Lilli Palmer who becomes his wife, and they were also married for real outside the film studios. He is a man of many talents but nothing becomes of him, as he seems to live just for taking chances and enjoying risking his life for nothing, just to get a kick out of it. It's a kind of morality but without morals, it just states the case without taking any stand, and no one can be a judge in a case like this. You just observe it and enjoy its thrills and moments of temporary success and cheer, while all the time you have to worry about what will happen next as a consequence of his recklessness. The dialog is splendid and probably the best film ever created by Gilliat & Launder, but it leaves you with a kind of acid aftertaste, like as if you had to think "What a waste!" of a brilliant man letting his life just run like water off his hands. Long afterthoughts are unavoidable, and you will probably never forget it.
A true civil war story neglected by history brought to life in great dramaturgy
No romanticising here, no war heroes but only anti-heroes, no humanity but only bitterness and hate, Sherman is burning the south down, so a bold bunch of southerners venture a daredevil raid against a small town in Vermont on their way of escaping from prison to Canada, and this story is true. They actually burn the town down and rob its banks - but not without casualties. Lee Marvin makes one of his typical brutal figures of a drunken failure of a soldier, creating a spectacular scene in church as the clergyman preaches hate against the south and all rebels, which Lee Marvin can't stand, so he pulls his gun. The most interesting character though is of course Van Heflin, always fascinating, intriguing and captivating and here more than ever, as the leader and organiser of the bunch and the raid, but he gets involved with the town life and its citizens as he spies them out to plan the raid, and there are many mixed feelings here, as his heart grows soft under the influence of Anne Bancroft and the boy Larry, who learns to worship him as a hero, having lost his father in the war, and gets bitterly if not heartrendingly disappointed, as Van Heflin can't keep his disguise any longer when the moment of truth strikes. It's a great film, psychologically very interesting and one of the best civil war films and quite unique for the fact, that it shows the true story of one of the very few successful operations of the south.
Fasten your seatbelts, for this ride is jumpy all the way. It already opens up with a furious car chase, a police car chasing a black sedan, which ends up going over the top and up in smoke as a finished wreck. It contains three passengers, and two are dead. The third is a woman who barely survives. The pursuing policemen wonder at finding an escaped convict together with the district attorney and his wife in the wreckage. Both the men are hopelessly dead, but the wife has a journalist friend who visits her at the hospital, and she tells the whole story. Practically the whole rest of the film is flashbacks.
Everything in it is excellent and the more so for being a B-thriller. It's a crooked tale of corruption and gangsters and miscarriage of justice with quite a few murders and shoot-outs. The cinematography is amazing for being so primitive, and every detail is fascinating, and there is even a fantastic musical interlude with Gene Rodgers performing in a night club - unavoidable in films like this. The film is brief and highly intensive, you have to keep alert since every morsel of the dialog is pregnant, don't miss any detail, and be prepared for constant surprises. It is almost too short, as everything keeps happening at once, everything runs fast in concise concentration, and the brilliant dialog is the most important of all. In brief, the thriller is comprehensive and offers everything including constant breathless excitement.
Laurence Olivier in top form as actor and director
One may wonder why Laurence Olivier never made another Shakespeare film after having established himself as the best Shakespeare film maker of all with Henry V, Hamlet and this one. He made further film performances but only as an actor, in Othello and King Lear, he actually planned to make a Coriolanus and a Macbeth, but those two projects unfortunately came to nothing. Of his three Shakespeare films this one is the most accomplished in splendour, detail, acting and cinematographic direction. The finest scenes are those with Olivier and John Gielgud together, providing the finest diction ever pronounced on film and in any Shakespeare play. As always, the plot is extremely questionable as the historical accuracy is more or less latent in total absence. Before the film starts there is a kind of apology for this, defending the right of legend to be furthered and forwarded, and the story of the war of the roses is indeed an inexhaustible fountain of legend. When acquainted with the play Richard III it is usually ignored that it was preceded by three equally tempestuous plays about the war of the Roses, the three plays of Henry VI, to which canon the Richard III play constitutes the grand finale. Separated from the three earlier plays, an important character of the play is usually left out, namely Queen Margaret, Henry VI:s widow, who in the play Richard III plays the important character of the main nemesis figure, being the top ghost in the final act. The character of Richard III has also always been disputed, and there have been many efforts to somehow exonerate him, which has not been possible. The best characterisation of him in literature, and the most convincing, is provided by Robert Louis Stevenson in "The Black Arrow", where he appears in the final part as a ruthless warrior and commander in a psychologically very interesting portrait. The main asset of the film, like of any Shakespeare play, is the language, which you just can't have enough of or ever cease to be fascinated by. This is still an early Shakespeare play and very much in line with Christopher Marlowe's crooks of towering ambitions, and he and the earl of Oxford are among the chief suspects of having been the real author of Shakespeare. But that is another question.
Intriguing thriller of profiting from a stain on a woman's honour
The plot is thick, and it is difficult to follow all the twists and turns of this intricate concoction of the purposed perfect murder. Margaret Lockwood is perfect as the nurse under suspicion, since more than one patient of hers happens to die of poisoning. Fortunately she has a young alert attorney for her defense who sees through the web of intrigue and finally dispels it. This is typical for Sidney Gilliat's thriller construction with many difficult threads to follow through to an end which no one could have any idea of. The dialog is intensive, intelligent and sharp all through, and inspector Roger Livesey is too straight forward to be able to be fooled or to not commit mistakes. The combination of Gilliat's mastership in script writing with Carol Reed's equally masterful direction makes this film a gem among British thrillers of the 30s. We don't often see Carol Reed conduct a trial and least of all in a murder case, but he handles it expertly only by directing the human hands without any unnecessary dramatic action. This film deserves to be watched more than once, and each time you will find new values in it.
Another effort to give the Jesus case another view
I was hoping for an interesting alternative view of the Jesus case here from the aspects of Pontius Pilate but was disappointed. Jean Marais makes a good performance as usual but adds nothing interesting to the character. The film begins with a trial scene against Pilate to be judged by Caligula, and during Caligula's harsh interrogation Pilate thinks back on his experiences and we are brought by flashback into his career from the moment of his inauguration as the procurator of Judea to the critical case of the passion of Christ. Jeanne Crain plays his wife, and during the course of events she has her own experience of the Galilean and is thereafter initiated in his case. She implores Pilate to have nothing to do with the trial of Jesus, but he must perform his duty and carry through the trial, leading to the worst judicial error in history, which results in an earthquake in which Claudia perishes. Pilate has thereby lost everything. Basil Rathbone plays Caiaphas but also has nothing special to add to his role: he is a conventional high priest who has to tread carefully between the interest of the Romans and of his people and is something of a cautious diplomat. The whole film is as conventional as he. The most interesting part of the film is instead the case of Judas Iscarioth (played by John Drew Barrymore), and here is a new interesting aspect of the case. He does not betray Jesus, but when the high priests ask him to give them the opportunity to come to terms with Jesus privately, he complies without having any idea of any evil intentions against Jesus. This actually seems plausible. The finale is dramatic enough with earthquake and everything, the whole film is something of a melodrama and enough well made to be tolerable as an addition to the bulk of great Jesus films, but John Drew Barrymore as Judas is the figure you will remember here.
Chaplin questioning the economic world order of society
Of all Chaplin's films, this is the oddest one, the most controversial one, the most brilliant one, the most challenging one and the cleverest one. On top of that, it is also his most skillful cinematic achievement, as both the direction and the dialog is consistently superb, and on top of that he also made the music, while it is his only quite sophisticated film. Some things have to be born in mind here. The idea was actually Orson Welles', and the rather grimly morbid touch of the story bears his mark. The actual time setting is the great depression around 1930, which is the sinister background of the tale: Chaplin was an ordinary honest banker for 30 years until he was discharged because of the depression, thus finding himself out of work with a crippled wife and a child to support. Such a situation would bring any man to desperate measures. The film bears the clown's mask of affected jollity, while the underlying despair never shows, although it's there all right and finally shows its real face in the final scenes. At the same time it is extremely French in character, Chaplin must have carefully studied and understood French manners and mentality for years in order to make such a perfectly French black distorted farce of a comedy, it could even be called his only 'noir', although it is too funny for that. This is a film of many faces and many bottoms, and it is practically impossible to ever completely make it out. The dig is at capitalism, Monsieur Verdoux's main problem is with money, he has to get it by any means to support his crippled wife and young son, who both dearly love him, and he furtively attacks the entire economic system by presenting this very arguable case. No wonder that the Americans were infuriated and threw him out of America.
American update of Dostoyevsky with a surprise twist to the end
Dostoyevsky abbreviated in American style and turned into a bestselling pulp fiction but not without efficiency - the film is mediocre but not bad, and for a variation of a great theme its Hollywood turnabout of the end makes it quite interesting. Cookson is a very American Raskolnikov, but he is not a poor emaciated student but a medical student not without some social standing, especially among his fellow students, with whom he shares some beer. Cathy (Eileen) here is not a fallen destitute like Sonia, and she is not burdened by that miserable family Marmeladov. The victim of the murder is not an old greedy worthless woman but a male pawnbroker not without some decency. As an American version of "Crime and Punishment" it is not on par with Josef von Sternberg's version ten years earlier with Peter Lorre, which stuck to the book, but the twist to the story makes this version quite original and not be despised, although hardly to be included in any Dostoyevsky films canon.