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Contraband Spain

From the trough in British film making post WW2, comes this thrill-less British thriller with suit wearing uperclass heroes (Greene is supposed to be American so he says "All this is a bit of malarkey" in his RADA accent) tracking down murderous counterfeiter gangsters who have a line in buying Euro gold with fake US Dollars.

Opens with them stealing watches in Burgos and offing Greene's gang member brother. The leads standing round in drab studio interiors are butted onto Barcelona and Dover location shooting with doubles which is just as boring. Most of the action occurs off screen till we get to a tame final punch up with Nieto in the ship's hold.

The only class element is Anouk's performance as a French chantoosie involved with the dead brother. Once again (Simone Signoret in AGAINST THE WIND, Marcel Dalio and Simone Simone in TEMPTATION HARBOR) the continentals steal the picture.

How the West Was Lost

Unenlightening compilation
Disappointingly familiar coverage reeks of Pauline Kael with Hall as a mean cowboy wanders round the present day western scenery - lots of derelict Prairie Schooners. It starts in with a Tombstone coffee mug and abusing a kid with a lap top. Shane & High Noon in the 1952 era when a quarter of Hollywood production was westerns and Son of Paleface Was their biggest earner. He compares the action with American national policy - High Noon as a Coalition of the Willing. ("The dude can't network")

Hall puts forward a contrast between the straight forward values of My Darling Clemantine and the increasingly perverse action of westerns from the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam eras, the Searchers follows integration etc. Misfits & Hud represent contemporary deglamorisation like Liberty Valance, along with Little Big Man and McCabe & Mrs Miller, Sergo Leone.

The odd unfamiliar story like Peckinpah killing his horse by trying to get it into a hotel lift. Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, Richard Dix don't figure. The famous (mainly 50s) scores turn up often of different films. Passable documentary production values and unsurprising interviews.

Move along - nothing happening here.

Le Paradis Perdu

French silent comedy short.
The twelve surviving minutes (at 15 f.p.s) of this two reeler represent an assured but rather lame society comedy where Count Luguet, with Briliantined hair, finds a newspaper advertisement for a lost Bird of Paradise feather fan and shows up at the address indicated with what appears to be the item. Diamant, the lady of the house, receives him and, after some by play, husband Lefaur comes in and being a "gauffeur" offers the aristo a cash reward. Instead his wife says they should invite their benefactor to diner and we end with the meal where the guest and Fernande are playing footsie under the table.

Mainly of interest for the beautiful copy which has been impeccably digitised.

Vacation Waves

Passable silent 2 reeler.
Interesting to see a younger Horton, before his dithering character had crystalized. This one is a short produced by Harold Lloyd whose HOT WATER the mother in law character and open top bus scenes recall.

Horton's plans for a fishing holiday with fetching wife Thompson are undermined when her mother and bratty kid brother show up - predictable falling in the water gags follow.

The piece is well enough paced but the gags are too familiar. Occasional amusement from items like a title about the boat where all the holes are in the bottom where people won't see them.

Am I a Serial Killer?

Terrible TV movie.
In an area where standards are not high, this one manages to plumb new depths. A rip off of "Gaslight" set in the leafy suburban homes in which which these day time TV suburban melodramas are regularly staged, it manages to field uninvolving characters played implausibly by a short on personality cast involved in dim plot twists till we get to a really nasty ending.

Well at least it isn't the usual endorsement of motherhood.

Fei foo jing ying: Yan gaan yau ching

Passable Hong Kong Cop movie.
Dad Ng man-tat was a Yau Ma Tei Police Station cop who pushed peddlars around and killed his oldest child swinging a gas drum in a fight. Now he runs a club where he has to drink to calm heavies. Jacky Cheung is his other son, now grown and an officer in "The Flying Tigers" elite Special Duties Unit, an Ok performance with him sauntering and tasting the blood on his face when he meets the fetching Sammi Cheng after the gangsters try to kill him.

This one is very violent with the boss smashing the bottle Ng is drinking into his mouth and Jacky dumping one of his the killers into the temple furnace and emptying the automatic into him as he tries to escape, while the boss is making offereings.

Fair production values in this early work of the IP MAN/ SHOCK WAVE director which has its moments.

The Third Woman

Undistinguised SQAW MAN rip off.
Routine entry in the Ramona, Squaw Man cycle with star Blackwell less grotesque when younger here as the product of the unions of an Eastern States business man and an Indian mother. ("Luke has some of the desert in him. Some day he'll hear the call")

This one starts like a society drama then picks up with village life second unit of grinding flour for corn bread as an introduction to "Sun baked pueblos neath the painted mesas." However the western segment is also static. The Indian fiancé gets little time in the Reservation School material where Blackwell has become a teacher to connect with his heritage.

We get Lovely as the Third Woman who sets out after Blackwell in a Prairie Schooner and Walter Long (BIRTH OF A NATION) as the blackmailing bandit who Carlyle fights though he's been shot, in the finale.

Competent dullish direction by Swickard who once handled HELLS HINGES. There are the usual attempts at style - masking and irises and a painting that comes to life.

Bandits en automobile - Épisode 2: Hors-la-loi

Proto serial & cop movie.
From the director of the first Nick Carter films we get an indication of the crime-action cinema to come. This one is more the heir of the GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY than an acknowledgement of the character cinema of contemporary Griffith work but there are some shots (the sustained two car moving inset) which still impress and there is a notable absence of the del sartor gesturing we associate with early film. No close ups and the personnel are barely identifiable.

The mustache twisting Bonnot (become Bruno) gang do robberies and murders using their car but a superimposition of the dream guillotine foreshadows their grim fate.


Michael Powell Public service filler
Suppressed Powell short. made on the eve of WW2 to promote an alternative to the Poor Law Institutions for out of work middle aged ex servicemen.

Richardson is right on target as a suburbanite off loaded by boss Jeayes after twenty one years.He tells wife Robson in the under decorated set. Ralph even gets action out of the del Sartor business of covering his eyes in grief.

He goes to the Center and gets the pitch about workshops - shoe repair, basket weaving and the evening leisure activities - snooker, theatre, film.

Soon he's back home contributing his new job pay rise to the centre.

Another one of these British public service filmlets that is now depressingly more revealing of the society than was intended.

Powell could have shot it in a day.

Il primo Natale

Nice team comedy handles it Christmas theme skillfully
The twenty year teaming of the star-directors has overtones of Aldo, Giacomo and Giovani with whom they worked.

The new box office hit transfers them to Palestine at year zero, as Christ is about to be born. The production walks a tight rope between getting laughs from sacrilege gags and not offending devotees - rather winningly. A nice twist has the priest loose his faith at the point where the thief is converted.

Good production and strong support cast with striking features

Quartieri alti

End of war Italian A feature
Perilous little Italian film from pre-1945 circulates abroad so I was keen to see an A feature made by established director Mario Soldati begun in 1943 and finished in 1944 after the fall of Rome.

This one turns out to be an accomplished piece - strong leads and polished and imaginative production. Massimo Serato, the youngest I've seen him, is the conman gigolo who supports family and friends by his affair with a cheese heiress but aspires to romance with student Adriana Benetti. He sets up an elaborate false identity to appeal to her but things aren't going to plan on the night of their scheduled meeting.

The film is derived from the Jean Anouilh play "Le Rendez-Vous de Senlis" produced in the theatre by Andre Barsaq in 1941. This is both a strength and a weakness. The story shows considerable ingenuity and works up some tension over whether Serato's schemes will come unraveled but the development, dialogue and relationships distractingly echo the stage. Soldati has attempted to deal with this - giving an extra tension by showing what we see as being observed by characters hidden in cupboards or outside windows and accounting for the theatricality of some of the older player performances by having the characters being former actors hired to boost the deception.

He has added cinematic flourishes - cut to a spinning car wheel to account for a journey, the introductory furtive removal of the photo while the woman takes a bath in the next room and showing both sides of the frequent 'phone calls. The film remains quite modern in playing, pacing and setting but the stage form does distract and the simple ending is unsatisfactory after such a complex build up.

Among the cast Jucci Kellerman, who did not have a great career, is particularly effective.

The You Tube copy is better than most and has clear English sub titles but the constant advt. breaks are irritating.

Desert Valley

Good natured silent Buck Jones western
Down on his luck Buck comes across the herd where the cow has died of thirst leaving a calf next to the pipe line he shoots a hole in. Suit & tie wearing Malcolm Waite has got the area's water tied up in the pipe refusing to sell so that he can get the small ranchers out.

Buck can't resist mammy's pies cooling on the sill setting her, heroine Browne Faire, comic deputy Eugene Palette and the dogs on his trail & he ends up in jail. However he outsmarts Palette and makes a prison break finding a dice game with comic ethnics where he manages to win the complete cowboy outfit.

He whistles up Silver to join him (the horse does the rescuing in this one) and after some comic bull riding, he escapes and shelters from a dust storm in the shack where he protects Brown Faire from heavy Waite before joining the girl in riding through the storm to get to the (comic) trial where her dad Johnson is accused but the mob takes off after Buck again with some 1920's parcour over the town hall roof, the cattle barn and descending on bent trees.

The big action climax is the punch-out in the back of the racing wagon

Agreeably light weight and having some OK stunt work by Jones' character probably doubled. A couple of "thinks" superimpositions and a fair amount of production value suggest a bit of silent movie imagination. Jones, younger than we're used to seeing him is totally in his element.With

The You Tube Copy is tinted and runs at the right speed though it's not all that sharp.

Något att minnas

challenging animation
"Six moments in the future," bird head mother & child in clothes sing to empty cages , more bird men in a bedding show room, a mole and a snail record, a caterpillar and a mouse are at a night time petrol station and singing insects join in with one already fallen. Surreal modern images take up the child song. Haunting.

Superior craft skills. To ask what it means would be impudent.

Mes jours de gloire

Youth in torment - again.
Fielding the fresh French talent of the moment, this one looks like another run through of the tribulations of joining adult life that we used to get from Truffaut or Claude Berri but as it rolls on we get something more perverse and finally more substantial.

One time child movie star Lacoste meets frustration at every turn as he finds his late twenties slipping away. Lost keys precipitate homelessness. Moving in with mum shrink Devos and dad Lambert, whose major preoccupation is mixing tomato and vodka doesn't make thing any more secure. His loser friends are no help and getting together with winning school girl Noée Abita when he's having trouble getting it up (erectile disfunction is impossible at 27 the doctor prompts) is bound to be a disaster. He loses the leading role in a life of De Gaule to the fellow actor who jokes about Vincent's fear of nudity. He can't even get therapy right.

Devos' reappearance give the piece the extra substance it needs and then at the last minute they manage to turn this around one more time.

First time director Antoine de Bary has expanded the film from the short he did with juvenile of the moment Lacoste with excellent performances and film craft. It's kind of winning.

Le cinéma du diable

Creaky TV compilation
Creaky L'Herbier TV compilation on French fantasy film offers no suprises.

The blonde interlocutor gets to do unremarkable interviews with Presle and Marie Déa as a brunette, spacing clips that go back as far as Meliés, VISITEURS DU SOIR and LES JEUX SONT FAITS prominent.

The Kirsanoff RAPT provides the least familiar material. L'Herbier's own title on LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE is held long.

The City

Landmark Documentary
Curious to find THE CITY evoking such antagonism eighty years after it's production.

After half a Century I had another look at it and was impressed to see the effect it had had on subsequent work including my own. The elements are impressive - the Copland score which I immediately remembered, Morris (THIEVES HIGHWAY, VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE) Carnovsky's reading of Lewis Mumford's commentary and Theodore Lawrence's editing which is a link between the Soviet montage work and Hollywood. The film was cannibalised into a Passing Parade and the Warner HUMORESQUE.

The message about substandard housing ("places where a man sent up for crime can have a better place than we can get for our children") still resonates though their solution sits uneasily with our knowledge of over population and urban planning now but it set up a dialogue with fiction films like SUNRISE, STREET OF WOMEN or LA TERRE QUI MEURT. It's not too far away from the ideal industrial community shown in MAJOR BARBARA.

This one stood out when I started watching non theatrical movies and I still enjoy watching it.

Transmagnifican Dambamuality

Seventies experimental short
Hectic domestic activity in a black suburban home subsides when the son sits down to play the living room grand piano. Freeze frames, battle sounds - grainy B&W.

Haceldama ou Le prix du sang

Early Duvivier melo.
First Duvivier movie is a simple minded melodrama which is not without ambition - action scenes staged in rugged terain, name players including Severin Mars, the lead of the Gance LA ROUE and some quite sophisticated camera trickery among which note the sustained take where Jean Lorette moves between the two chairs where he and Mars pop on.

Plot has Didier and gaucho Camille Bert arriving to settle business with local magnate Mars with heavy eye shadow and becoming involved with his ward Pestrat.

Cracker: White Ghost
Episode 8, Season 3

Fitz in Hong Kong.
Taking our burly police profiler overseas doesn't really help. On a lecture tour (opening has him singing to his audience) Coltraine is recruited into a murder inquiry which they manage to turn into an anti colonialist exhortation - giving the piece some resonance. The usual darker side plotting.

Conventional TV production values enlivened by glimpses of Hong Kong, the appearance of Ricky Tomlinson and a few familiar faces from the colony's movies.

Dorothée cherche l'amour

French forties fantasy.
This turns into one of Greville's most chaotic efforts. Star Dauphin doesn't appear until the film's been running an hour. There are extraordinary lapses like the oil lamp trailing an electric cord while it's carried down three flights of stairs.

Blonde Suzy Carrier / Dorothée is celebrating her engagement to Henri Guisol when she spots her dad paying paying him her dot in cash and, outraged, seeks an escape. Jules Berry returned from purgatory figures this as a chance for the good deed he needs to redeem himself. He takes her to his old home, complete with his portrait. Burglar Claude Dauphin and her share a scene on the bed made an island when a tap is left running. He involves her in a Jewellery store scam but Berry repays his karmic debt.

This incoherent, studiofied forties French movie struggles to be a companion piece to NUIT FANTASTIQUE, VISITEURS DU SOIR and LES JEUX SONT FAITS which it anticipates.

A Political Party

More history than hysteria.
This one has become, over nearly ninety years, more of a social artefact than an entertainment.

The plot about chimney sweep Leslie Fuller who runs for the spot of local member (cf. the George Formby HE SNOOPS TO CONQUER) is passably lively though the music hall sketches they try to incorporate register as feeble - the baker and the sweep getting covered with one another's products, smashing Blimpish aristocrat Maltby's family china and using items from round the room to make over the singer doing Loch Lomond into a Scotsman. It all plays better than similar material in the CARRY ON films twenty years later.

However it's take on politics, ("Socialism. communism and rheumatism") the woman's place, class ("The working man's wife who is more like a mother to him") and regional divisions will put the teeth on edge of even the casual viewer.

Young John Mills joins in nervously but the only character who qualifies for any sympathy is a blonded Enid Stamp Taylor as the villain's citified daughter.

The Kentucky Derby

Presentable programmer.
Preceding Denny's career as comic actor, this racing melodrama goes from plantations populated by Kentucky Colonels and compliant darkies through having our hero Shanghaied, sea going adventures and confronting the impersonator who is planning on fixing the big race. It moves along quite well but it's far fetched plot is not helped by imperfections of 1922 film making technique.

The shooting is lengthened by Churchill Downs locations which contribute to the jerky race climax. Denny emerges credibly and it's curious to see Lionel Belmore a decade before he became ubiquitous in horror movies.

Circulating copy appears to be missing small sections.

L'avventuriera del piano di sopra

Lively war time De Sica comedy.
This Rome filmed comedy tries for a contemporary set Fedeau style farce with De Sica as the lawyer involved in confusions in the marriage of glamorous neighbor Clara Calamai (OSSESSIONE, PROFONDO ROSSO) while his own wife (played by his wife Giuditta Rissone - Mario Soldati's wife plays Calamai's family maid) is at her sister's wedding. Misunderstandings are finally resolved by an inspired legal oration by De Sica.

Film making is smooth and pacing superior though the piece never rises above the level of amusing studio-filmed light entertainment. For the record, the only telephone in sight is not white but black.

There's no hint of the war and the style has no connection to the director's later turgid weepies. This one appears to have had no English language showing.

The Hermit

Video doc on a modern day recluse
Video doc about 'North Pond Hermit' , a man who walked into the woods and lived for 27 years, stealing from cabins (accumulating a stack of used porta gas tanks in his tent & mattress lair) recounted by his victims, the officer who interrogated him when he was apprehended and local residents. One story has him watching a mushroom grow for two years.

We never see the man who was in the pen when the film finished.

Low key presentation holds attention well enough.

Le homard

Early French curiosity.
This pre WW1 French one reeler retains some interest as it unrolls the story of duplicitous lover Perret claiming to have braved the waves to get the fresh Dinard lobster object of his desire Grandais craves, when he actually bought them from a fisherman after spending an afternoon at the movies. Split screen and a glimpse of one of the more accomplished film making teams of the day.

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