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The Smiling Lieutenant

If there is a trace of Oscar Strauss in the music, it escapes me. This is a Maurice Chevalier vehicle at most and shows him at his most - not "best" or "worst". The sound-action-music combo is labored here with examples of people talking, visually, covered up with music, and other instances of singing where the camera is glued the the actors' mouths. The train-set "trains" are clumsy and transparently fake and the "rat-a-tat" leitmotif (for all the ooh-la-las) pushed well beyond the point. This is the Maurice Chevalier show starring Maurice Chevalier with an occasional bow from the great Lubitsch (no irony here) but that's all. It's an early talkie and we are constantly reminded that it is.

The Love Parade

Lubitsch Shines Through
This film did a number of things supremely well, given the limits at the time of the VERY early talkies and a rather bland musical score. First - and perhaps foremost - the songs were integrated into the action and the plot beautifully. Unlike so many other "talkathons" of the time in which the camera stares at the characters' mouths all the time, we follow the characters as they go about their lives normally - while singing at the same time! Lubitsch didn't miss a step here. And although the two quite different styles of singing were in deep contrast, so were the characters! Although the country was about to be invaded by a Puritanical "Code" a bit later - and Prohibition in full swing - the film is in no way whatsoever crude or lewd. Neither was its director who could show more action filming a closed door than most others could depict in an entire film. I enjoyed this romp very much.

Shall We Dance

old-fashioned warmth so missing lately
Yes, indeed, this movie didn't display much eroticism. It wasn't meant to be erotic. Yes, agreed, this movie doesn't cover any new ground or new techniques. It was quite appropriate to work with things that have been tried in the past - in different ways - once again, and yes, by all means, things worked out in the end the way they so seldom do in films of our time, much to my surprise. It was a happy ending to (basically) a happy movie and there's nothing whatsoever in the world wrong with that. Even more, it's handled well on all levels - acting, script, music, dancing, color, camera movement...It's a film that fulfilled a need that many of us feel when the world doesn't go where we want it to go. It simply moves the world!


Much More than Meets the Eye
Making a movie - particularly scripting one - about a great screenwriter must have been a daunting experience. The dialogue throughout is quite brilliant and should deserve serious consideration for an Academy Award by itself, but the acting should be up for grabs too. With a film like this, so well organized, there isn't really much space for camera antics which would only detract from the interior motion of the screenplay. It doesn't opt for this and we are left with some wonderful talents in an unadorned state addressing an issue which still bothers so many people so deeply for reasons as flimsy and undeserved as the ones shown in the film itself. Putting the real excerpt of Trumbo himself speaking of his travails in the end credits was pure genius.

Little Women

An Interesting Period Piece
This is Hepburn's film, no question about it. Her sisters are there merely for decoration or to play up her role. The novel itself is quite episodic which doesn't always make for an easy adaption to the screen, running from one plot element to the next without stopping for breath. When it does stop on occasion the sentimentality of the day (the early Thirties of the film) is often cloying for today's tastes so the rhythm is often out of step. And it was hard to distinguish the personalities of the other sisters and how they developed. Even their names were hard to catch.The fact that Selznick fought for its right to be made and seen speaks well for him and was instrumental for the movies of the period.

House on Haunted Hill

The "Horror" Of It All
I've seen dozens of horror films over the years ranging from the silents through the fifties and some phenomenal examples later on. This is a film that doesn't so much rely on suspense or build-up as it does just throwing in one "scary" thing after another. The sound track never stops and the entire experience is fatiguing. It feels like hearing someone say "boo" time and again for just over an hour and that wears quite thin. There isn't much plot - or need for one - and the actors go through their motions with a gory script that doesn't really go anywhere but does manage a fairly good rehash of William Castle's original (which seems pristine and underplayed next to this). Why was it made would be first question...

The Maze

Some Nice Pay-Offs
William Cameron Menzies directed an odd bag of films and designed some fabulous sets in his lifetime. As usual, he was working on an uncompromising budget and that, to some reviewers, seems to mean that his talent wasn't somehow up to the task. This is a sorry reward for such an intelligent designer. The script gets in the way at times, admitted, but the sets - and the fabulous musical score by Marlin Skyles - give us so much more than a few laughs from dated dialogue. It's all far-fetched with the explanations at the very end but it builds up nicely, the actors are all on cue, and the lighting alone make it worth the visit. In general, so many of the horror films of the 50s are fascinating to watch today.

L'univers de Jacques Demy

An Affectionate Valentine
This film is a marvelous tribute to an excellent director not well- enough known in the States. It is in French and the French moves very, very fast and the subtitles sometimes chop of some of the dialogue, be warned. It is a charming valentine from Agnes Varda to her late husband with many interviews of actors and actresses who worked with him. There is also, of course, the director discussing his own work and ideas. It's particularly interesting to hear what the director had in mind to film before each film starts and how he found it. This is NOT Nouvelle Vague material at all. First, it appeals to a large public and second, the characters don't all die at the end. It is not presented in chronological order, however...just reminiscences of a life well-spent in the company of many famous people who adored working for him and with him. What a rare pleasure!

The Quatermass Xperiment

Vivid Memories
I saw this as a child and it scared the living daylights out of me. This is an excellent example where less is more. The less we see the more we are left to imagine. Much of this was budget-oriented, agreed, but the audience filling in the missing blanks ix excruciating. Donlevy is out of place here, unfortunately, but the "silent" character is absolutely phenomenal. The music works quite well for me and I'm a professional musician. The pacing is spot on. It's the first of the Val Guest movies for me and I'll keep my eyes peeled for others. What good horror movies they made in the fifties and early sixties! Curtis Stotlar

Isole nella laguna

short and (bitter)sweet
This is a short film, some thirteen or fourteen minutes only and appears to have won a documentary prize somewhere. "Isole nella laguna" refers to islands in the lagoon - in this case the islands around Venice. The copy I caught on YouTube was narrated in Italian only with no translation available but the Italian was slow, artistic and well-pronounced and shouldn't discourage those with somewhat of an acquaintance with the language. The images are phenomenal throughout with water and land constantly paired and compared and death not too far in the background. The musical score was composed by someone with a Slavic name and sounds distinctly non-Italian with a Germanic late-Romantic sadness. This is wonderful work and a quite untraditional tour of the backroads of a great city.

Curtis Stotlar

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Romantic Ghost Story
What's not to like in this film that covers so many categories and comes on top of all of them? The story, of course, is hyper-romantic but it's held in order by an under-stated treatment it so much needs. The music by Bernard Hermann is absolutely perfect in every way, unapologetically romantic and dreamy at the same time and never, never over-stated or saccharine. The leads are perfectly cast and feed off each other beautifully as if they were inventing the script as the events happened, which leads me to the point in particular that surprised me the most: so many writer-directors make films that are labored with verbose scripts which lack anything else but words on paper. Mankiewicz is guilty of this on a number of occasions in other films he's directed but here he is ideal and even memorable in his role as virtuoso director. This is a film to treasure.

Curtis Stotlar

He Who Gets Slapped

THEy Who Get Slapped
Lon Chaney had stated that he needed a strong director to keep him from over-acting and here he found one in Victor Sjöström's (Seastrom's) sober direction. The Swedish director who later directed "The Wind" in Hollywood was a dream for this production and Chaney was at his level best. Tod Browning, had directed this wonderful actor several times with what seems like a camera nailed to the floor whereas Sjöström's camera had a beautiful fluidity that the script needed badly. It was a courageous move on the part of MGM (or just Irving Thalberg???) to hire a "foreign" director for their first film but the choice was brilliant. The audience throughout the circus acts was horrendous in its own way, sometimes almost frightening, and we are made to see that cruelty isn't necessarily funny at all and that laughs aren't always "laughs". This film was worth the wait!

Russkiy kovcheg

More Than Meets The Eye
A film in one take! Of course let's not forget Murnau and "The Last Laugh" made 75 years before. It is a technical feat to be sure but it runs out of steam not too long into the film. We figure the trick out early on and visually, the film just seems to ramble. It feels at times like a guided tour of a huge museum where there so much great art the mind simply turns off. Trying to fit a plot of sorts into such a project is hard enough as it is, but an uninteresting story line... I enjoy long takes - please don't get me wrong on that issue - but we have been spoiled by some virtuoso directors who can use them and cut brilliantly as well. Bravo for the technique but one viewing was more than enough.

Curtis Stotlar

Zazie dans le métro

Fasten Your Seatbelts
I don't particularly relish being the odd man out here but a I found this film exhausting to watch. It is amusing however to see the author show off his stuff with the camera and editing and in fact parts of it DO look Nouvelle Vaguish. Even by French standards the girl here - Zazie - has a foul mouth and her insolence does wear on the nerves quite a bit even by midway through the viewing. The film is or isn't going somewhere/ nowhere very, very fast. In all honesty this is nothing next to "Lacombe Lucien" or "Au Revoir Les Enfants" or even "Atlantic City" where Malle practically glows in the dark. It feels to me like a film with a few skits that's been pumped up to the length of a full-length movie and I found myself really rather happy to see all the action come to a halt. Tant pis!

Hallelujah I'm a Bum

All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing!
This is Rodgers and Hart at their level worst. The tunes aren't very tuneful and the words creak with age. Jolson over-acted least in this film and his endless spiels were left out or at least curtailed. There wasn't any black-face in this but there was a little black actor who, from his part in the movie, might just as well have been in black-face given the script. There is music everywhere in this film - when the characters are singing, of course, and when they are just acting or when there aren't any characters to be seen, and this omnipresence is often nerve-wracking and tiring at least. The great, great Harry Langdon of silent days shows up in a minor role here. His ego caused his immediate demise a few years before when he had fired all those around him responsible for his success and went on his own with disastrous results. Here he plays the part of Egghead with some dialog.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Hollywood vs England
Donat's performance is/was spectacular as always and that alone would make this film worth the watch. Hollywood has always had a rough time depicting England. It all turns out to be so terribly, terribly English that it makes fun of the country and its inhabitants without actually intending to do harm. In other words "Ye Olde Englande" according to the American establishment all too often makes the culture look quite silly. Whether part of this is indeed planned or not, it doesn't help out the English cause at the outset of World War II by making the people and their society seem so miserably anachronistic. "Cuddly" isn't a word appropriate to a country soon to be besieged by war. Certainly Hollywood could have done better.

The Freshman

Harold Near the Top
I'm always surprised to hear the chorus of spectators claiming "The top Three Great Comedians of the Silent Screen - Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd". This is an excellent film, please don't get me wrong, and it is truly quite funny, but it has very little original material. It doesn't "invent" as much as it invests from previous ideas from the world of silent comedy. There isn't anything as sophisticated or beautifully choreographed as in Chaplin's work and nothing as awe-inspiring as Keaton's genius for pure comic invention. I certainly wouldn't put Lloyd in Harry Langdon's league (termed by some as the fourth "great" comic genius of his time) and the gags and situations are extremely good but this is the work of a very talented man rather than a genius. We float that word around too easily. I enjoyed the movie very much but somehow I don't feel any urge to discuss it at the end with friends who love movies...Keaton or Chaplin, yes, but Lloyd?

Vera Cruz

For a Few Dollars More...
This is the film I'd been waiting for and I wasn't disappointed at all. It's true that Burt Lancaster was the "star" (after all, it was his production) and Gary Cooper was pretty much there for show, but there were some wonderful supporting roles as well and the film had an undeniable verve. At this time in his career Robert Aldrich was making history, particularly with his influence on the "spaghetti westerns" that followed this one and "Kiss Me Deadly" which stopped Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane and the whole crew dead in their tracks. "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" started a trend as well and is still by far the bunch of that lot. It's easy to see why this is considered a cult film.

Don Quixote

Chaliapun versus the Windmills
Any excuse to hear Chaliapin sing is worth the listen and the watch. Also, it was great pleasure to see Pabst take on such a task in English. His camera never missed a beat and the scenery was magnificent. There are the things to object about as brought up by sever reviewers. It's true that Chaliapin's English was not good. He probably learned his lines phonetically. I've coached several singers in my time and it does sound like that. The music, by Jacques Ibert. was really quite good throughout and the players around Quixote himself were truly fine. This is a film for the history books - Pabst meets Chaliapin meets Ibert meet Cervantes meet the English language. They all win, but we do have to listen very carefully to the English. It is on the border of comprehension at times.

I Confess

Less Than Meets The Eye
I hadn't seen this film for some years when I caught it on TV. My opinion(s) have changed since the first viewing and since I've seen or re-seen all of Hitch's films, a certain new perspectives came into play. Guilt and oppressive authority pop up so often in the director's films, some times directly but quite often by insinuation. In this film, these two topics take a major role. It has been written that Montgomery Clift was drinking while the filming took place although I couldn't see anything in the final draft. I know also that he was "method" while Hitch was definitely not, so that might have been a source of conflict. Again, nothing was apparent on screen. Actually, the role of a priest in this work would not have been happy hunting ground for any method actor. Clift was settled on after a number of extremely good actors turned the role down. I've always enjoyed the visual aspect of Hitchcock's cinema and his daring "behind" the camera but in this film there was no room for unusual angles, editing brilliance or anything like that. It turned out to be a film of ideas and conflicts within agreements and there is nothing "cinematic" about that. I am happy to have seen this film once again as I would be with just about any film directed by Hitchcock, particularly during the fifties and sixties, but this once takes back seat to almost all of the others around it.

The Salvation Hunters

Promising First Attempt
I caught this on YouTube of all places and the copy was quite decent, with an appropriate musical score on a theater organ to accompany it. The inter-titles in the beginning set the tone - incorrectly - of a pretentious talk-a-thon but soon the images took over and Sternberg was able to show the world just how wonderfully talented he was with his camera. The enormous dredge seen throughout the beginning made a powerful statement. Its very size dwarfed the players and its angles provided an abstract geometry not seen in many films of the day. The purpose of this huge machine, as we are shown, was to scrape out mud which would subsequently fall back into the depths where it was found - further implying the uselessness of life for the protagonists. This initial feeling and their eventual "escape" to another world was essentially the plot. I enjoyed seeing this very much. It was one of the last films of the director I hadn't seen and I wasn't disappointed.

Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru

A Swedish Saga
I have waited for years to see this film and finally caught it on Youtube - in excellent condition. It was definitely worth the wait! The film was made in 1918, a time when most cinema consisted of small segments of celluloid patched together with the standard melodramatic or comedic situations, clumsily filmed indoors on make-shift sets. This is absolutely nothing of the kind although it took Hollywood what seemed an eternity to figure out that a movie could, indeed, be shot out in the open with great success. Several reviewers have mentioned some sort of connection with early Westerns made by directors of little artistic talent and less scope. Actually, this film has nothing whatsoever to deal with standard plots with famous actors. The plot is extremely simple, as it should be in this case, and all - virtually all - of the over-the-board overacting and the theatrical motions and over-emotions suppressed, with natural gestures replacing them in natural settings...and what beautiful settings they are! No, there aren't any tied-together happy ends around and little to titillate the audience, villains with mustaches or any of the standard American clichés here. The film is Scandinavian, filmed and acted by Scandinavians, shot in North Sweden far, far away from the ole corral. I don't know how well the director, Victor Sjostrom, was acquainted with American cinema at the time - there wasn't really much of anything of much value going except from Griffith and one or two others, but the film borrows nothing and invents everything for its own uses. The cinema up there created a universe of its own, albeit a harsh one. Bergman would follow fifty years later. This was a welcome hour or so spent in the company of people who made some astoundingly good films and this is certainly one of them.

Curtis Stotlar


Hot Air in Aerograd
For those who fondly remember the terrific visuals of Dovzhenko's "Earth", this is a very, very long way off. As some have mentioned this IS propaganda but the sort that shoots itself in the foot rather than pointing fingers. In the first thirty minutes alone there were three monumental speeches, all over-stressed and so painfully long they made me actually home-sick for the Academy Award-winning overacting we know so well. There's not really much of a plot here - the screaming propaganda would have buried it anyway - and the characters themselves go no deeper than comic-book roles. In fact, the characters don't develop either, so the film is quite static in just about every way. All the foreigners here are despicable as well as people making the signs of the cross. This is a textbook example of Stalinist film, with exclamation points at the end of every sentence. And as we remember from grade school, too many exclamation points weaken the ideas. Perhaps that was why the film is so tiring.

Adieu Philippine

an historic document
This is indeed "nouvelle vague" in ways many other films of the time claimed to be but really weren't. The "innocent" onlookers on the side look at the camera, the dialog seems improvised to a large degree and the actors/actresses "introduced" were for the main part never heard from again. There's not really much of a plot as there were in many N.V products and at times it feels invented as it was made. The comedy throughout and the joyful music lighten the restrictions (and making it seem more 'nouvelle vague") but there are several elements just below the surface which are in sharp contrast. Two girls who swore fidelity in friendship are torn apart, the young protagonist is off the fight a very unpopular war, the young man who refuses to talk about his experiences fighting in Algeria... The film survives as an historical document of new ideas in French film-making of the time and as such rather severely dates itself. It's easy to understand why it was so popular when it was made but that fact works against it decades later.

Hi Diddle Diddle

More than meets the eye
This period in American movies saw such delights as "Hellzapoppin". Here the actors bring to attention that they are playing in a film. They make faces at the audience, wallpaper comes alive, there is a woman who keeps popping up in scenes where she isn't even acting. The dialog and the plot move lightning fast and there's no time at all to waste in this pleasant and often hilarious comedy. There's a wedding reception before the wedding, fortunes earned and lost in a space of minutes, a married couple disunited throughout. What's not to like? This film has been in public domain and has been copied, often badly and on stock of poor quality, so viewer beware...

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