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Reviews

Kvinna utan ansikte
(1947)

Not One of Bergman's Better Scripts
From the early period when the later renowned Ingmar Bergman would be directing his own screenplays, this melodrama from the veteran Gustav Molander (most famous for discovering the other Bergman, Ingrid) suffers from the unpleasant writing of the main female character (a poisonous "femme fatale" reminiscent of some of the worst of Hollywood film noir) and an unnecessarily complicated story layout tricked out with flashbacks and narration.

It is competently enough made but leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Medan porten var stängd
(1946)

Worthy Ekman Entry Delineates An Apartment Building Overnight
This intriguing post WWII character study is a worthy entry from Hasse Ekman, a director well known in Sweden who has been getting a re-evaluation stateside after a 2015 revival of some of his work at New York City's Museum of Modern Art.

The setting is a Stockholm apartment complex where the concierge locks the main entrance at 9 p.m.daily (we later see him reopening the building at 7 a.m.) He and his voyeuristic wife don't get much rest though during these after hours as characters are constantly coming in and out, perking the curiosity of the wife and squabbling by the man.

We get to know a number of characters whose fates will become intertwined that night: A cheerful prostitute soliciting business,a wife receiving divorce papers from her husband, an elderly man out for a stroll who tries to impress people by dressing elegantly and dropping French phrases, a partying baron who specializes in picking up different women, a washed up old actress who tries to cajole her former producer into giving her a part again ,in a Strindberg play.

The night takes a dark turn for several of them. There is a skillful balance in the way their little dramas are presented though arguably too much emphasis on the aged thespian as she hits the bottle and lurches toward suicide.(Though one understands, given director Ekman's family background in the theater, why he places so much weight on this subplot.) One of the better films that has been made about an apartment building.

See also, the Russian silent House On Trubnaya Square by Boris Barnet and of course Hitchcock's Rear Window.

Iris och löjtnantshjärta
(1946)

Neglected Romantic Melodrama
Though Bergman got most of the attention, Alf Sjoberg looms large as arguably the master director of the period in Swedish film between the groundbreaking silents of Sjostrom and Stiller, and the modern achievements of such as Troell, Widerberg and Roy Andersson.

This romantic melodrama, following somewhat in the line of the Hollywood "Waterloo Bridge" it references, deserves to be compared to the more well known entries in that genre by the likes of Ophuls, Borzage, and Stahl. It is a love affair doomed by class difference which is carefully observed.

There is a possibility Sjoberg had seen the work of Welles from a few years earlier, as there is at least one Kane style low angle of characters at a dinner table looking up at the ceiling, and the scenes of family members squabbling on a staircase with the forum y patriarch, in a somewhat theatrical way, are reminiscent of The Magnificent Ambersons.

The two leads are strikingly portrayed by Alf Kjellin and Mai Zetterling.

Soldaten og Jenny
(1947)

Frank Treatment of Abortion Issue
It is especially striking, for an American viewer, to see a drama made in Denmark in the mid 1940s that discusses abortion so openly as one of the story's main themes, at a time when Hollywood films were not only forbidden by the puritanical Production Code to mention the word abortion but also had to be very careful about how they even suggested it.

In this complicated story in which the lives of various characters intersect (is it by chance, or is it God's hand, the dialogue asks) several points are made about abortion.

The wife of a strict prosecutor, whose trial papers on a group of patients found to have had abortions over the past few years, have been delayed, scolds him for the misery he will unfairly inflict on these women (meanwhile she is having an affair with a rising young lawyer who hypocritically tells women he impregnates to have an abortion even though he is assisting the prosecution) In the main story, a pugnacious soldier learns that the woman he has come to love has had a past which includes being one of these abortion patients,and that she is planning to kill herself.

The dramatization of these themes and characters is well done .

Krvavi put
(1955)

An Unsung Classic of the Norwegian Cinema
There have been so many films made about World War II that it takes something special to make an example like this one stand out.

In this case, the cooperation in the filming between the Norwegian actors and crew and the actors and crew from socialist Yugoslavia mirrors the theme, which the resulting production makes quite moving, of friendship between local resisters under the German occupation and Serbian prisoners brought into a strange new place.

The two user reviews mention most of the story being set indoors, but that was not the film I saw, which makes vivid use of the northern landscape in the glorious tradition of Scandinavian cinema in general, going back to the 1910s, especially in the magnificent scenes of the young prisoner Janko struggling to make his escape through rocks and rapids and fog and night.

There was also, I would argue with one of these reviewers, nothing routine about Blood Road.

It is a film that deserves to be more well known, and more talked about.

Harry og kammertjeneren
(1961)

Kind of a Danish "Ruggles of Red Gap," and Charming
Most American based readers are likely familiar with the classic 1935 Hollywood version of the story, Ruggles of Red Gap, spoofing a culture clash and the social pretensions when a representative of the British class system is brought out as a manservant to a wild and lowbrow Western town in the more open and democratic USA Here we have a clash between a representative of the Scandinavian servant elite, with not so many opportunities anymore in a more modern world to serve aristocrats with civilized tastes and fine manners, taking a job with a grocer's assistant, who lives in an auto junkyard, to maintain his pride in his profession.(The assistant has come into an unexpected inheritance and that's what he wants to spend his money on) At first shocked by the low rent situation he has gotten into, the new butler comes to enjoy serving not only the assistant but his con artist cronies a "bishop" and another character named Igor ,and to find a welcome place for himself in the humble milieu.

This unpretentious little comedy wins a viewer over with its sweet charm.

One Fine Day
(1979)

One of the finest directing jobs ever from Frears
Most viewers know British director Stephen Frears from his later career as a successful commercial director, including for Hollywood with such accomplished work as The Grifters. Less well known are his skillful earlier Tv adaptations of plays written by the brilliant Alan Bennett. Often these Tv plays carry their main strengths in the dialogue and acting but in the case of One Fine Day, with its long stretches of mostly visual scenes where the protagonist is camped out alone in an empty office high rise, with excerpts (strikingly used) of opera on the track, the role of the director in visualizing Bennett's ideas is the factor that makes the difference.

The play is also memorable for stand up comic Dave Allen's unusual role as a melancholy, timid and frustrated estate agent and for its devastating portrait of a sales culture. (in the field of real estate, it gives the more well known David Mamet "Glengarry Glen Ross" a run for its money.)

Stars of the Roller State Disco
(1984)

Creates Its Own Special World
If one test of a memorable work of art is whether it creates its own special world which the spectator/reader/ listener becomes fully absorbed in, then this strange Tv drama from the dystopia obsessed 198Os era certainly qualifies.

As with director Clarke's earlier ,equally claustrophobic Psy Warriors, the viewer is never shown any exteriors and now there is only one single (remarkably designed) set where all the action occurs. The young people institutionalized in a Depression style marathon of constant roller skating to wallpaper disco are almost always on the move, but rarely get anywhere. Details build up an Orwellian regime presided over by a Margaret Thatcher style bureaucrat but our main character Carly seems on one level to have become so comfortable with this regime that he really doesn't want to accept opportunities to make an exit.

This heartbreaking and scathing social satire deserves to become more well known.

Baal
(1982)

Interesting Comparison With Schlondorff Version
This striking vehicle for the great rock star David Bowie makes an interesting comparison with the earlier 1970 New German Cinema adaptation in which the Bowie role of the outrageously misbehaving scruffy poet was played by none other than Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The original production of the 1920s play by Brecht started Oscar Homolka, later to be seen as a sometimes comforting and heartwarming character actor in Hollywood films. The

But the Baal character, based on a part animal legendary figure of the 17th century, is hardly at all comforting and makes the scampish bum in Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning look like a paragon of the bourgeois.

I have not seen a more recent German adaptation but contrasting the 1970 and 1982 versions I prefer the way director Alan Clarke in the later one relies on old fashioned tableaux combined with simplified stylized backgrounds and split screens to the way in the earlier one Schlondorff used smeared lenses and hand held camera work.

Plus Bowie's rendition of the song lyrics is spot on.

Play for Today: Psy-Warriors
(1981)
Episode 27, Season 11

Like Shock Corridor In Offering Us Not A Single Exterior
This harrowing Tv drama by the great Alan Clarke is stark in its depiction of three subjects being tortured by British authorities, a subject that spoke at its time to English viewers aware of the controversial treatment by their government of Irish freedom fighters and that now speaks, since the program has been made available to a wider audience in places like the US, to the later use of torture by the Bush administration in its wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.

Part of the starkness is that we are immediately set in an unnamed interior where the action takes place in a limited number of spaces and we are never given a single establishing exterior shot or any scene outside. Similarly, the American director Samuel Fuller dropped us dramatically into its protagonist's entry into an insane asylum by also never giving us any outdoor footage (except in one of the mental patients' nightmares.)

Bukovsky
(1977)

Documentary on Abuse of Psychiatry Makes Several Strong Points
Bukovsky is a precious document on the history of how psychiatry was misused as a tool of political repression in the USSR of the 1970s and how that abuse was responded to in the West. It is a miracle that the film survives as it was shelved by the BBC and elements were left to neglect.

While the focus is on the prominent dissident of the title, the discussion brings out two strong general points.

First, the shameful way fellow psychiatrists around the world, aware of the abuse of their profession, chose not to speak out so as not to offend their colleagues who they would be meeting at conferences such as one in Mexico City in 1972, where they would schmooze and act polite and say nothing.

Second, the way the British media generally felt the story of Soviet dissidents and psychiatry was "boring" so decided to give it little coverage. But then when Bukovsky became a celebrity the media, as Clarke shows us, would not give the man a moment's peace but hover over him even as he attempts to eat a meal.

Born Yesterday
(1956)

Makes Interesting Comparison With the More Well Known Film Version
It is good that we have a record from this 1956 Tv production, of Garson Kanin's play more or less how he directed it for the stage ten years earlier.,and with the original Harry Brock role as first played by Paul Douglas who is somewhat less boorish and gangster like than the way it was played in the 1950 film by Broderick Crawford, fresh from his depiction of Willie Stark in All The Kings Men.

Another difference is that the film was carefully paced for laughs so there would be more pauses for some of the dialogue to be better heard by an audience, whereas for Tv viewing the delivery of the lines can be speeded up a bit.

Mary Martin is nowhere near as distinctive as Judy Holliday was in the film and uses a Southern accent (she was born in Texas) as part of the Billie Dawn character's shtick.

The reporter character as played by Arthur Hill is rather more of a nerdy type than the more glamorous William Holden was in the film.

The Wednesday Play: The End of Arthur's Marriage
(1965)
Episode 39, Season 1

Why Save When You Can Spend?
These lyrics come from one of the striking Brecht style musical numbers that grace this remarkable mid 6Os British teleplay, one of the more unusual specimens from an especially fruitful period for a younger Ken Loach, at the BBC.

The entire comedy plot (one of the few films from the usually serious and often grim Loach that can be described as funny) fits the mold of what critic Robin Wood described, in his analysis of the screwball romances of Howard Hawks, as "the lure of irresponsibility" A husband prepared to put the down payment of 400 pounds on a home for his wife and daughter is missing several financial documents (no great loss, the house is a disaster) and decides to pamper the little girl he favors by treating her to a spending spree in the posh West End topped off by a tour of a zoo and the purchase of an elephant (the poor animal is later abandoned when as darkness falls father and daughter join a band of groovy disco dancing youth on a river cruise.) The kind of class critique that runs through the entire oeuvre of the director manifests itself in the writing of the shopping scenes, featuring a salesman and a pretentious watch,which spoof the snooty rich the way a film from around the same time, Schlesinger's Darling, memorably did.

Also memorable is the long passage where father and daughter navigate a tedious footpath to the house through an ugly gasworks complex and a desolate abandoned area that could be the setting for a Beckett play.

This little known Tv feature is indeed a rich concoction and it leaves a disturbing aftertaste.

Play for Today: The Rank and File
(1971)
Episode 21, Season 1

Rousing Call for Real Democracy
This early Tv film by the great politically conscious British director Ken Loach (arguably no other movie maker has done more with their work to illuminate timely issues of social justice) uses an event that had happened just one year before the telecast to call for industrial democracy. Workers in a company town at a glass factory go out on a wildcat strike for fairer pay when the bureaucratic union structure that is legally supposed to represent them fails to support their issues.

The dramatization, following up on a similar exploration of labor problems in Loach's The Big Flame two years before, raises a larger question of democracy beyond just the workplace. Governments around the world not just in the UK claim to be democracies but in fact leave most of their citizens without any direct say in politics and with a system of representation where the officials claiming to act in their interests have become way too settled and comfortable with the corporate powers and have actually sold out and become corrupt.

Loach's recreation of a specific local action in its historical context is devastating and we are reminded that the British Labor Party hadn't really done much to help the workers since 1926, when there had been a General Strike.

Dear Ruth
(1947)

Mediocre Rom Com Supposedly Inspired J D Salinger
Despite its popularity the only claim this utterly mediocre romantic comedy has to fame is that rumor had it the author of Catcher In the Rye took the name of his main character from the last names of the two stars on a marquee. The story pivots somewhat mechanically on the confusion between two sisters (such a plot gimmick was a favorite of original playwright Norman Krasna) and on family jokes, not all that funny, which Edward Arnold laughs at.

If this material had been made during the heyday of screwball comedies about a decade earlier it might have been enlivened by "behavioral" touches but by the post WWII era American film humor had gotten more coarse and crude. Columbia was churning out some of the more unsubtle and obnoxious examples of this kind of farce so it is surprising to see that Dear Ruth is a Paramount production: a studio once known for the sophistication and subtlety of Lubitsch, Sturges and Leisen.

Ben Casey: An Expensive Glass of Water
(1961)
Episode 5, Season 1

Lovely Performance by Neva Patterson
Another satisfying early Ben Casey episode, here pivoting on the showboating presence of veteran tough guy movie star Chester Morris. But as often happens it is a supporting performance, that of Neva Patterson, which haunts the story. Patterson, likely best known to today's viewers as the fiancee of the Cary Grant character in"An Affair to Remember," plays the boss' secretary, an elegant and efficient businesswoman who has been well paid for her so far 14 years of service though perhaps taken for granted, and who harbors an unspoken affection for a man who is otherwise portrayed as arrogant and mean spirited. The character is a bit reminiscent of some of the secretary roles played in 1930s Warners films by the character actress Aline MacMahon, though hers tended to be more wisecracking and sarcastic.

Ben Casey: I Remember a Lemon Tree
(1961)
Episode 4, Season 1

Magnificent Contributions By Two Of Our Finest Actors
This early Ben Casey episode benefits enormously from the appearance of two guest stars. George C Scott is the young visiting neurosurgeon who is behaving strangely and quite rudely to his former colleagues and it is revealed that he is addicted to morphine (blaming the disappearance of a large amount of the hospital supply on Casey's woman doctor friend) and later that he has a fatal illness. He is equally rude to his wife, asking her for a divorce just as she tries to tell him she is pregnant, the wife is played by Colleen Dewhurst.

Two of our finest actors add something quite special to this episode with their performances here.

Life for Ruth
(1962)

Interesting Forerunner of "The Children Act"
In 2017, Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci starred in a courtroom drama based on the same late 1930s legislation that is used for the manslaughter case in this Relph and Dearden message movies collaboration. The later film was based on a novel by popular writer Ian McEwan.

The theme is similar: the refusal of a blood transfusion based on a religious dogma. A difference is that in Life With Ruth, the onus for the decision fell on the father, whose eight year old girl was not yet of age to really understand the faith he had taught her and to make a decision for herself. Whereas in the later story the decision is made by a teenage boy on his own, though he is not yet an adult according to the law so is covered as a child.

In both films there is a subplot about a crumbling marriage though in the Emma Thompson film it is the lawyer's marriage that is affected.

The original Dearden film is an impressive piece of craftsmanship with black and white lensing by veteran Otto Heller, good supporting performances and well cast leads. My sympathies were on the side of the outraged doctor but the script is balanced enough to allow us to understand why the jury would acquit the father.

Though some of his best films (The Captive Heart, The Smallest Show On Earth, The League of Gentlemen, Khartoum) fall outside the rubric of the socially conscious message format, Dearden's work in that format far surpasses the comparable Hollywood contribution of someone like Stanley Kramer and can be better compared to the achievement of the French director Andre Cayatte.

Youth on Parade
(1942)

A Treasure Trove of Jive Talk
This silly Republic musical is worth seeing for two reasons. One, it introduced the number, "I've Heard That Song Before," by Styne and Cahn, which went on to become popular. Second, the students at the college give with the slangy jive talk of the period such as "Take a reef in your garter, sister".

The fact that World War II is happening is not brought in until nearly the end, when a less memorable song, " You've Got to Study, Buddy," emphasizes the need for brains as part of the national defense effort.

Code of the Fearless
(1939)

Minimal Fred Scott Vehicle
Among the singing cowboys, Fred Scott has his fans though I find his vocal style somewhat operatic, he does three numbers here.

The setup is a familiar Texas Rangers one with the hero pretending to be an outlaw to infiltrate a gang, leading to his being suspected of robbery.

There is one at least one unfortunate, rather politically incorrect moment where he pretends to be a stereotypical Indian.

El amante de las películas mudas
(1994)

Interesting Subject Needs Better Treatment
The premise of a youth growing up in a film obsessed household, that of a former star,(his mother has been hired to play piano for the silent showings) is promising but director Pablo Torre handles the material with a slow rhythm and occasional showy camera moves, someone like Carlos Saura or Bernardo Bertolucci might have brought more to it.

There are striking tidbits along the way, however: a woman provocatively sticking a piece of sugar up her vagina, the man aspiring to be the next Valentino by dancing the tango, the quote he attributes to Louella Parsons that "A kiss without a mustache is like an egg without salt." Schubert's Trio for Piano, Violin and Violoncello is helpful as one of the musical themes.

Trail of the Axe
(1922)

Lumberjack Meller Has A Bit of Lefty Politics
This 5 reel Dustin Farnum action vehicle opened as half of a double bill and provided fans at the time some predictable melodrama in the form of a conflict between the good brother the mill foreman played by the star, and his drunken brother played by George Fisher, and a bit too of romance (the rival brothers in love with the same girl, the daughter of a doctor, she is played by Winifred Kingston.) The bad brother isn't just a warning for the evils of drink (Prohibition was in effect when this was made) but is also the kind of agitator politicians were on their guard about after WWII, he stirs up the workers to smash the sawmill, riot over conditions, and burn down the camp, which is summarized in one intertitle as the "crew turning Bolshevik." But then that mob suddenly turns around and tries to lynch the brother who was stirring them up, in a far fetched conclusion.

The Last Trail
(1933)

Pleasant Enough Mix of Western and Gangster Motifs
Contrary to what the commentator in the Trivia says, the film did survive, my review is based on a VHS bootleg tape "chained" from a collector's 16mm print, that I viewed in 1996, and the contributor to the 1930s American Film Institute catalog was able to see a print for that 1993 publication. Fox combined motifs from Western and crime genres in this hour long programmer, with heroine Trevor as a gangster's moll (actually a reporter sleuth) who is later used by the crooks to pretend to be the wife of cowboy O'Brien so they can claim an estate. (It turns out ironically he is the real heir.) Nice support along the way from Matt McHugh as a gangster admiring O'Brien's western antics on a train, J Carroll Naish as the boss of a protection racket, and Luis Alberni as a customs officer on the Mexican border. El Brendel contributes one of the songs. This would have played on a double bill.

The Last Stand
(1938)

Pleasant Minor Early Joseph H Lewis Effort
Last Stand is a typical B western with the oft used strategy of the hero pretending to be a wanted bandit so he can infiltrate a gang of outlaws,and with that hero played by the popular Bob Baker a singing cowboy to boot, here he puts over three disposable tunes. The action is staged nicely enough, such as a scene with a dark narrow passageway to the hideaway of the villains. Constance Moore who Universal was building up as a new Star around that time is the love interest.

Forced Landing
(1935)

Far Fetched Ensemble Drama Loses Interest
Not a bad little cast was assembled for this mid 30s Republic aviation programmer, but the far fetched plot setup of how these motley characters, stranded after their plane is forced to land, had previously been involved with each other, fails to sustain interest even through a short, barely over an hour, running time. But fans of old films will enjoy seeing: lovely silent star Esther Ralston as a cabaret singer, Sidney Blackmer as a gang leader, Toby Wing as a young fiancee, Eddie Nugent as the pilot, Barbara Pepper as the stewardess, Willard Robertson as the singer's lover and a number of others in smaller roles.

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