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L'homme fidèle

Yes, you will be hooked
First, let me celebrate the 60 years in the business that Jean-Claude Carriere will soon mark. He'll turn 90 next year, and this old collaborator with Luis Bunuel, Louis Malle and so many other great directors is still writing lovely scripts. Second, this is an impressive film from Louis Garrel, who manages to pull off the always challenging feat of directing and playing the male lead. I thought only men like Orson Welles could do that. Garrel plays Abel as somewhat hangdog: imagine what it would be like to hear from your live-in girlfriend that she's pregnant and she's through with you because she's been having an affair with your best friend--ouch!--then, years later, her son confides in you that he thinks his mom killed his dad. Superb acting here from Garrel and the wonderful kid Joseph Engel. Finally, Laetitia Casta and Lily-Rose Depp are both very good. Casta's part is the more challenging, she's got to be like Maria Casares in Les dames du Bois de Boulogne, and she brings it off.

Whispering City

No competition for I Confess
I'd give every point of comparison with Whispering City to Hitchcock's film. Use of locales, actors, script--everything. Helmut Dantine doesn't seem fully engaged with his part, and he's the hero. Mary Anderson played small roles in some good films, she can't carry a lead role. Paul Lukas was an engaging villain in many films but here seems a little stiff, as though he'd done it too many times before. I Confess is the one to see.

Le roman d'un tricheur

Sacha shows us how
Sacha Guitry was the greatest orator in movie history. Even greater than Orson Welles, in my estimation. But that does not make him the greatest filmmaker. He had real trouble in SHOWING the audience what was going on, rather than telling them. I think Story of a Cheat is the most successful of his films because he found a way of creating action--an example being the jewel thief who comes up with a novel way of stealing gems from unwitting marks. The two scenes with Marguerite Moreno in the cafe are wonderfully done, with great dialog. Otherwise the story is told through narrated flashbacks.


She died young
Sophie Marceau, in her two previous outings in period costume--Chouans! and La fille de d'Artagnan--showed us how well she could play historical subjects. Marquise died young, only 35, but had enough time to vault to the top of the theatrical profession. She was the lover of both Moliere and Racine, to whom she bore a son. The film moves along at a brisk pace with so much material to cover, and Bernard Giraudeau as Moliere, and Lambert Wilson as Racine give Marceau solid support. Patrick Timsit as Gros-Rene has the most inventive death scene I can remember, it's fabulous.

Occupe-toi d'Amélie..!

Feydeau done well
I've never seen this play on stage, so I can't tell if it's a faithful translation into film, but I do know that the acting is very fine (even when done at an absolutely frenetic pace). Danielle Darrieux, whom I'd seen in dramatic roles in the past, shows a talent for rapid-fire comedy, and Julien Carette, that Renoir stalwart of the Thirties, is superb as Amelie's father. What a piece of uproarious comedy is the marriage scene, with the continual interruptions of Carette. Autant-Lara directs very capably--he said it was the favourite of all his films. The excellent decors are by Max Douy.


The key to this review revealed itself fairly early on, when Dakota Johnson tells Tilda Swinton (who looks divine here, as usual) that she went to three performances the company gave in New York, and she had to hitchhike twice. That tells you the depth of commitment that a dancer has to have if she's to progress in her art, and Johnson never shows us one scrap of that commitment from first scene to last. Her performance is listless, as is the movie.


In 1887, the stranglehold the aristocracy held over the other classes is weakening. The Countess de Bonafé can no longer whip her servants, she can only brandish her cane at them. But the working class has not yet gained its full power; Fabien and Irène have to tread very carefully lest their affair should be discovered. There are two love triangles here: Engelbert-Irène-Fabien, which is very unstable, owing to Fabien being a coward and thief, and Irène not being able to solidify her hold on Engelbert, and the far more stable one of the Countess-Douce-Engelbert, three people of the same family and class who can unite when it becomes necessary to do so. Autant-Lara shows a solid hand as director; the low camera angles may distract some viewers, but the decors are excellent.

L'art de la fugue

When I came upon this video in my public library, I was attracted by the superb cast; many of the younger generation of actors are here. Laurent Lafitte especially has been a favourite over the years. Alas, this story has some strange twists and turns that are not sufficiently explained. The relationship between Gérard and Ariel, where she is dominant (and enforces her dominance by anger) is poorly drawn. Thankfully there is Marie-Christine Barrault, whom I have not seen in years, to walk off with several scenes. I give 10 for the actors, but only 3 for the story.

Dead Ringer

Identity issue
I enjoyed this one, despite it looking like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that has been expanded into feature film length. Bette Davis performs very well, even though we can't forget Jeremy Irons playing twins in Dead Ringers, an even better performance. Karl Malden as the cop gives another excellent performance, but the real scene stealer is Estelle Winwood as Dona Anna; she's a bit terrifying in her aristocratic manner. I didn't know Peter Lawford could act so sleazy, he'd always seemed such a nice guy in anything I saw him in. The fate reserved for Lawford is entirely deserved, I think.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Radio days
I listened to Agnes Moorehead's radio performance before writing this; I wanted to know how the original 25 minute play was inflated to an 88 minute movie. Barbara Stanwyck plays Mrs Stevenson with steely determination in the flashbacks, which puzzled me greatly because I saw no connection between this woman of steel and the neurotic, bedridden harpy we see in her bedroom on the phone. Stanwyck gets good support from Burt Lancaster as her husband, and William Conrad as a rather odd gangster. Ann Richards as the woman Lancaster might have married has an odd accent which I found distracting.

Double Indemnity

Great actors, where's the story?
I failed to find in Double Indemnity a story that I could accept as a view of life, no matter how cold and cynical it is. When I watch The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, Scarlet Street and any number of other noirs, I always see an attempt to get away from the sordidness of the crimes, to catch a bit of sunlight amid the gloom, even some wild humour. Billy Wilder seems totally uninterested in the human condition, only in spinning his banal tale of insurance fraud. Does anybody really care about the policy? that it pays out double in certain circumstances? or do we just want to open a window to get some fresh air after it's over? Robinson is just about perfect as the investigator with a little man inside him; Stanwyck, despite an ugly wig, delivers her lines with a silky and vicious smoothness that's very effective; Macmurray looks the part--we believe he could be a decent guy at heart who gets lost in a woman's treachery--but delivers his lines too fast, no doubt at Wilder's request.

There's Always Tomorrow

Turmoil in suburbia
All is not well in the Groves household. Clifford is making it clear (or would be if she were paying attention) to his wife Marion that he needs some time alone with her, a weekend at a spa perhaps, or a concert. Marion for her part is busy guiding their three kids through the perils of adolescence and early adulthood: she's an early example of the helicopter mom. She's doing her best to ignore her husband's needs, while Clifford boils inside. Meanwhile son Vinnie is playing inquisitor, leading an investigation into his father's suspected infidelity and driving his girlfriend Ann nuts while he's doing so. It's no fun at all dating a bluenose, as she makes it very clear. Into this messed up family bursts Barbara Stanwyck as Norma, clothes designer on the way up. She injects some honesty into the proceedings, at some cost to herself. Fred Macmurray is a wonderful partner for Stanwyck, who was too often saddled with incompetent actors. HIs yearning for romance, desire to recapture his youth and sour recognition of all the compromises he's had to make are very affecting. The star, for her part, is at the top of her game; glamourous and emotional, always drawing you in to her character. A wonderful movie.

All I Desire

Barbara Stanwyck and some others
You could criticize the studio for making films on the cheap: this story really needs colour, and some more exterior scenes. Also, the star is surrounded by lesser lights; I don't see much ability in Richard Carlson and Lori Nelson, while Maureen O'Sullivan seems ill-at-ease in her part as Carlson's lady friend. Still, it is Sirk, and Stanwyck plays splendidly. We believe her when she complains about living on the fringes of show business, being billed below the dog acts.

The Lady Gambles

Character study of gamblers
There are lots of films about drug addiction, and lots of casino heist films--Ocean's Eleven is just the most famous one--but films about the nuts and bolts of gambling, the suffering at the individual level are few. California Split and La Baie des Anges are the only two that come to mind, and now I add The Lady Gambles, in which Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Preston form a nearly ideal couple. She's about 40, and suddenly discovers a passion for cards and dice while on a trip to Las Vegas; he's a reporter who tries to deal with the increasingly obsessive behaviour of his wife. Edith Barrett as the clingy older sister, and Stephen McNally as the oily casino boss provide excellent support. In the first scene, gamblers punch Stanwyck in the face repeatedly; she's a star who isn't afraid to look terrible.

Love & Mercy

Today's Brian more interesting than yesterday's
I was much more engrossed by the performance by John Cusack, playing the aging rock star, anxious and terribly needy. Unfortunately for Brian, he was needy for the attentions of a charlatan who mulcted him for millions. It was pathetic to see him trying to establish a relationship with a woman under the basilisk stare of a quack doctor. Cusack, Banks and Giamatti are all superb in these scenes. I found myself responding less to the young Brian, played with some commitment by Paul Dano, a visionary with a vision that was going nowhere. Jimi Hendrix made a crushing remark about the conversion of the Beach Boys to the avant-garde: they sound like a psychedelic barbershop quartet.

The Bride Wore Boots

Stanwyck needed better support
I kept thinking about The Philadelphia Story while watching this; the masterful way George Cukor works out the story line with Grant, Hepburn and Stewart all competing for attention. Well, Irving Pichel is no Cukor, and while Stanwyck easily equals Hepburn in comedic skill, Cummings and Knowles don't match Grant and Stewart in ability. Stanwyck and Peggy Wood, playing her mother, supply all the fireworks in this one. Albert the horse does everything but talk, maybe he's the real star.

Voici le temps des assassins...

Great film? No
Were it not for the final 15 unbelievable minutes, I could have given this one 9, because the direction is assured, and the cinematography by Armand Thirard is wonderfully evocative, both of Les Halles and the Seine riverbank. Gabin and Blain playing two men suckered by a woman give excellent performances, Lucienne Bogaert as the woman's junkie mother gives another in a long line of vicious performances (how I've loved to hate her over the years), and the woman herself, Daniele Delorme, playing the crazed daughter of Gabin and Bogaert manages to hold her emotions in check until those final unbelievable minutes.

I grew up watching Duvivier's films: Carnet de bal, Pepe le moko and La Bandera. I saw in them a mastery of detail and a way of working with actors that pleased me very much. His work in the 50's doesn't equal what he did then.

My Generation

Good, but I wanted more
It's always a treat to see Michael Caine being interviewed; he has so many stories and they're all funny. But for a comprehensive statement about what Britain in the 60's was all about, we need more. The painters who refashioned the visual arts are barely mentioned: David Hockney, Richard Hamilton (whose Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes...? blasted its way into my teenaged mind), R. B. Kitaj and more all deserve more coverage. Instead we get lots of footage of David Bailey, Brian Duffy and other photogs--frankly it just isn't that interesting. If there was a novel or book of poems published during this decade we never hear of it.

The political turmoil of the time isn't mentioned. Tariq Ali, Caroline Coon and Michael X don't get name-checked; you'd never know that Godard made One plus one/Sympathy for the Devil with the Stones and all the London activists he could find. But you can ignore these criticisms and just sit back and enjoy a well-constructed time capsule.

Golden Salamander

Three reasons
There are three reasons for watching this movie: first Trevor Howard gives a performance of some conviction--he always seems to believe in what he's doing even when it's somewhat improbable. Then Anouk is ravishing, as she had been in Les Amants de Verone made when she was 16. Finally Wilfrid Hyde-White gives a very assured performance as Agno, the hotel pianist and factotum. Add to this the often stunning locations in North Africa, and Ronald Neame's assured direction, and this is a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. This was the last film from the British Noir box that I watched. It's not a noir, just a thriller.

The October Man

John Mills superb
Another film from the British Noir box, and this time a real noir, with realistic characters in believable settings--the rooming house Mills takes refuge in is beautifully evoked, the slightly seedy rooms with electricity that isn't too dependable at times. Mills plays the wounded hero very well, with a haunted look that reminds me of the best noir heroes: Sterling Hayden in Asphalt Jungle, Glenn Ford in Gilda and many more. Joan Greenwood hadn't yet made Kind Hearts and Coronets, which established her as England's light comedy queen; here she's doggedly determined to support Mills through all his troubles. The supporting cast is excellent.

They Met in the Dark

Well, at least there's James Mason
Another of the British Noirs from the Koch Lorber box. It takes place in England, with English characters: at least we have some coherence of plot and setting. What is the plot, exactly? Something to do with Nazi spies trying to strike at a warship; James Mason has vowed to stop them. I kept thinking of Hitchcock's 39 Steps; Mason and Joyce Howard sticking together the way Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll did--handcuffed--as they traipsed through Scotland. I don't think there's any value to labelling this movie a noir--it's a wartime thriller, pure and simple, and enjoyable for that reason. Where is the hard-bitten but honest detective, where the dangerous woman? no noir here.

Venetian Bird

A Venice for tourists
Another British Noir, with the same faults that seem to have afflicted this genre: dislocation of culture and customs in a foreign country. Dennis Price was lost in Alpine Italy, now Richard Todd is just as lost in Venice. I can't take the plot seriously, as I suspect few could when the film was first released. There are some attractive interiors (sets built at Pinewood), and a terrific ending with a chase over the roofs around St Mark's. I should compliment the director Ralph Thomas for this chase sequence; I didn't expect it from the director of the endless series of Doctor films.


This is included in a 5-pack video from Kino Lorber called British Noir. For the first hour, it's a cinema verite doc on life in an Italian ski resort, with dull comedy from the innkeeper and his wife going unappreciated because there are no subtitles! It's relentlessly talky--and not interesting talk either--until the moment when the scriptwriter remembers that he's supposed to be writing a thriller, then things pick up. Dalio and Price are wasted, and they phone in the work as a result. Lom as a heavy was new to me, and I will say that he does well here, but the story is so dull, so clunky with cliches that you don't care. For cinema buffs, there's Mila Parely who appeared in La belle et la bete and La Regle du jeu, where she was much better used.

Yoidore tenshi

Shimura is wonderful
I enjoy early Kurosawa more than the later one; I guess it has to do with social issues being addressed versus samurai codes of ethics. Takashi Shimura gives an outstanding performance as the frustrated doctor who's surrounded by corruption and cowardice on all sides. The filthy pond full of industrial effluent and food waste symbolizes the world he has to struggle with, and his angry outbursts at the yakuza Mifune are wonderfully effective. Mifune, who reminds me of a Japanese Montgomery Clift, does a fine job of playing the menacing, tubercular thug who can't stave off doom no matter what he tries.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Not the best production, but good enough
I came to this after seeing the Newman-Taylor film again; I was mainly curious to see how the freer moral code of the 80's would affect the story. In general, I was pleased by this version: some of the acting could be improved, but the greater licence offered to the later version led to more truth. In particular, the story of the Moroccan woman and her daughter as told by Rip Torn to his bemused son could hardly have been told by Burl Ives to Newman. Big Daddy as played by Torn is much tougher, more cynical than the Falstaffian figure of Ives, and truer to life.

Torn's performance is better than Ives's, Jones is at least as effective as Newman, Kim Stanley outshines Judith Anderson as Big Mama, and that's saying something. Only Jessica Lange has trouble with her part: her voice is too breathy, lacks firmness. Elizabeth Taylor has no trouble being Maggie for the ages.

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