Classic Movie Review: Trouble in Paradise (1932) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter U

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

I couldn’t find a “U” movie to watch from these lists, so I’m going to just review another “T” movie and “U” will have to live with that.

Title: Trouble in Paradise
Release Date: October 21, 1932
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The film begins with a romantic dinner in Venice between Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins). They gradually learn that they are both posing as aristocracy: he’s a master thief and she’s a pickpocket and a con artist.  They decide to team up and find their next mark in Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), a recent widow who owns a famous perfume company.  Gaston is able to get himself hired as Mariette’s secretary (and get a position for Lily as well) and work his way into her confidence to set up robbing her safe.  There’s one problem though – Gaston and Mariette fall in love.

Thus you have the perfect escapist fare for The Great Depression – the meaningless problems of the rich, a love triangle, and nonstop droll humor.  The three leads are terrific and have a great supporting cast.  I wouldn’t say this movie is laugh out loud funny, but these characters are so smart and effortless in their banter, I can’t help but enjoy it.  I’d never heard of Kay Francis before, but I learned she was the top-paid Hollywood actress of the early 1930s, and I can see why.  You can also tell this is a pre-Code film because they’re never explicitly sexual, they don’t hide its sexiness either.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Touki Bouki (1973) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter T

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Touki Bouki
Release Date: May 1973
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Production Company: Cinegrit | Studio Kankourama
Summary/Review:

Before the opening credits of Touki Bouki are finished, the film depicts the slaughter of cattle in graphic detail. So I knew this would be a tough film to watch.  In fact, slaughtering animals is a repeating motif of this film.  If you are squeamish, consider this your warning.

The nation of Senegal does not have an extensive film industry, but Touki Bouki  stands out as a highlight of the 1970s golden era of Senegalese cinema. The film draws influence from the French New Wave and relies on some deft editing.  Scenes from the present, past, and fantasy are intercut, with some images repeated multiple times in the film.  At times it feels as surreal as Un Chien Andalou and other times it feels like an music video from the 1980s. The edits create contrasts between natural and urban settings, the ancient and modern, and the African and colonised.

The story is about a young man, a cowherd named Mory (Magaye Niang) who drives a motorcycle with a cow skull on the handlebars, and a young woman, a university student named Anta (Mareme Niang).  They meet in Dakar and decide to run away together to Paris where they hope to make their fortune.  Much of the film depicts their attempts to steal the money they need to travel to Paris.  But really the plot is secondary to the imagery. I confess that I don’t quite “get” this movie, but I do appreciate what Mambéty is doing.

Rating: ****

 

Classic Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story(1940) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Q

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

There is not a single movie I want to watch that starts with the letter “Q” so I’m just doing another “P” movie.  Of course, Philadelphia is “the Quaker City,” so there is your Q content if you need it.

Title: The Philadelphia Story
Release Date: December 26, 1940
Director: George Cukor
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn + James Stewart + lots of alcohol + witty repartee seems a perfect recipe for comedy gold.  The story is that mainline Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) has divorced C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and now plans to marry the new money George Kittredge (John Howard).  On the eve of the wedding Dexter returns with a reporter, Mike Connor (James Stewart) and a photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) who – somewhat reluctantly – are there to cover the high society wedding.

All of this is mainly an excuse to get some of the best actors of all-time together for the aforementioned drinking and repartee.  But the plot doesn’t quite go where you think it might go either.  Well, the ending is totally predictable, but the winding path it takes to get their is not.  As an added bonus there are many scenes stolen by Virginia Weidler as Tracy’s little sister Dinah.

This is another movie that was a favorite of mine in my younger years that I failed to revisit for the past couple of decades.  I’m going to say that it’s a little bit less good than I remember.  There are a few too many domestic abuse jokes for my taste.  And there are some dead spots, especially early on in the film.  But put that aside, because even if this film was perfect in memory it is still an all-time classic in its less-than-perfect state.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter L

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Release Date:
10 June 1943
Director:
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Production Company:
The Archers
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’d never even heard of before I started working on lists of classic movies.  The title amuses me, partly because “blimp” is an inherently funny word, but also because in America the word refers to an airship, although I don’t that word is in use in Great Britain.  From some lazy internet research, I’ve learned that “Colonel Blimp” was a British comic strip satirizing the military elite.  There is actually no character in this movie named Blimp, although the main character, Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesy), matches the image of the rotund, walrus-moustached comic strip caricature.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp joins in the trend of Allied Powers in World War II producing epic historical dramas at the same time their countries are being bombed and/or invaded by Nazi Germany (France’s Children of Paradise and Russia’s Ivan the Terrible are previously reviewed films of this genre). This film alone actually deals with the present-day issues of World War II, beginning with a prologue about British soldiers beginning a mock war as part of training exercises.  Despite being informed that “War starts at midnight!,” the leader of the troop decides that the Nazis would never follow the rules of a start time, and decides to “invade” London and captures Major-General Candy in a Turkish bath.

The outrage of Candy’s embarrassment leads to a series of flashbacks that detail his history and ideology in the British military.  The first is set in 1902 when Candy has just returned from the Boer War and rashly travels to Berlin to counter anti-British propaganda by the Germans.  The next segment is set in the final days of The Great War and its aftermath.  The final flashback is set during the early days of World War II, where Candy is retired from the regular army based on his outdated views, but then appointed to lead the Home Guard.  Which leads back to the “present day” scenes of the prologue.

The movie has several plotlines tying everything together.  One is Candy’s long-time friendship with the German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), whom he initially meets in a duel.  Another plot deals with Candy’s relationship with three women, all played by Deborah Kerr (later to appear in An Affair to Remember): Edith Hunter, who Candy realizes he loves after she marries Theo; Barbara Wynne, a WWI nurse that Candy marries; and Johnny Cannon, Candy’s driver when he’s leading the Home Guard.  The movie also deals with the erosion of the ideas of honor and rules among the European military elite, and idea also explored in The Bridge on River Kwai’s Colonel Nicholson. There’s propaganda in this movie too, as characters flat out lie and say the British did not commit atrocities in the Boer War or World War I.

The movie starts out very strange as a series of really awkward attempts at satirical madcap comedy.  But it’s worth sticking it out as the movie deliberately uncovers the human Candy underneath the “Colonel Blimp” caricature.  The movie never loses its sense of humor, but definitely becomes less silly over time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter H

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Hiroshima, Mon Amour
Release Date: 10 June 1959
Director: Alain Resnais
Production Company: Argos Films | Como Films |
Daiei Studios | Pathé Entertainment | Pathé Overseas
Summary/Review:

Along with The 400 Blows and Breathless, this movie kickstarted the French New Wave.  Director Alain Resnais previously made the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog, and this movie similarly pulls no punches in using archival footage depicting the horrors of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima.  The better part of the movie though focuses on a non-linear conversation between French Actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) and Japanese architect Lui (Eiji Okada) as the have a brief and passionate affair.  Note that their names are French for “Her” and “Him.”

They talk about Hiroshima and the bomb, and they talk about their own experiences during the war (which includes many flashbacks to Elle’s family home in Nevers, France).  The focus of the film is on memories and trying to remember while needing to forget.  It is a bit on the talky side and a bit pretentious as well.  I’m afraid it didn’t hold my attention all that well, but the lead actors are great and I liked the location work and the then innovative “flashes” of memory.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter E

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Les Enfants du Paradis
Release Date: March 9, 1945
Director: Marcel Carné
Production Company: Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma
Summary/Review:

If you’re country is occupied by a draconian regime and in the midst of some of the most destructive battles in human history,  making an epic costume drama film would probably not be a high priority. Director Marcel Carné, screenwriter Jacques Prévert, and the cast and crew of Les Enfants du Paradis (a.k.a. Children of Paradise – “merci” to the French language for letting me get an “E” post out of this) did not see German occupation or the Allied invasion of France as deterrents to making this movie. And I must impress that this isn’t a guerrilla production with a couple of cameras and a small cast.  No, this is full-on spectacle with a blocks-long city street set with 1000s of extras in costume!

The film itself is set in Paris in 1830s, focusing on the theater world and characters based on historical figures.  The “paradis” in the title refers to the highest balcony where the cheapest seats are and where the most enthusiastic and demanding audience members sat.  The central character is Garlance (Arletty), a bewitching woman who becomes the object of affection of four different men: Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) – a skilled mime, Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur) – an ambitious dramatic actor, Pierre-François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) – a “gentleman” criminal, and Comte Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) – a calculating aristocrat.

The first part of the film is a comedy of manners with each of the men meeting and becoming entranced by Garlance, while she shows favor to none of them.  The second part of the film is several years later when Baptiste and Lemaître are now established stars of the stage and Garlance has reluctantly become Montray’s mistress.  The movie is very melodramatic, deliberately so as the film seeks to replicate the style of 19th century theatre while undermining in it in scenes that actually depict stage performances.  A good example of this is when Lemaître humiliates a group of stuffy playwrights by improvising dialogue during the premiere.

Even if you don’t consider the circumstances under which this film as made, its technical brilliance cannot be denied.  Shots like the finale where a crowd of carnival celebrants dance in the street are awe-inspiring.  But apart from the wonder of the film itself and its remarkable background story, I didn’t feel very moved or engaged by the plot.  This movie is not going to make my personal list of best films of all time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: My Night at Maud’s (1969)


Title: My Night at Maud’s
Release Date: May 15, 1969
Director: Éric Rohmer
Production Company: Compagnie Française de Distribution Cinématographique (CFDC)
Summary/Review:

For years I’ve known of My Night at Maud’s as one of the all-time great films primarily based on its prominent display in the foreign movie section of the video store I frequented in the 1990s, but I’d never watched it before. I’d imagined it was a comedic romp (and perhaps a bit raunchy) based on the title and poster. It is nothing of the sort and is in fact a movie where people have in-depth philosophical conversations about morality and religion. That’s fine by me, and like there to be more movies like this, but as Roger Ebert points out, you want to prepare yourself for it.

The protagonist is Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a man in his 30s who has recently begun to work in the small French city of Clermont. A devout Catholic, he’s developed a crush on a woman he sees at church named Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), but has not had the confidence to approach her. On a chance meeting, Jean-Louis is reacquainted with an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who in turn introduces Jean-Louis to his friend with benefits, Maud (Françoise Fabian).

When it starts to snow, Vidal excuses himself but since Jean-Louis lives outside the city, he stays the night at Maud’s. The next day he encounters Françoise and finally introduces himself. That night he gives her a ride home but when his car gets stuck on ice ends up spending another chaste night out at her apartment complex.

All of this plot is merely the structure to hang the deep conversations among the four primary characters, with Maud and Vidal offering atheist perspectives to the religious Jean-Louis and Françoise. Their conversations are both direct and exceptionally corteous and should be an example to us all. A coda to the film reveals a surprise twist so subtle I missed it entirely until I read a summary of the film.

My Night at Maud does not feel like a movie made over 50 years ago and it could be remade today with few changes (not that it should).

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Johnny Guitar (1954)


Title: Johnny Guitar
Release Date: August 23, 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Production Company: Republic Pictures
Summary/Review:

One thing I enjoy about watching movies off the Cahiers du Cinéma list is that along with the expected French films, there are completely bonkers Hollywood movies that don’t seem to get the same recognition in the Anglophone world.  Sterling Hayden (who would later go on to steal scenes in Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather) plays the titular guitar-slinging cowboy who travels to the outskirts of a remote cattle town in Arizona, presumably to provide entertainment at a saloon/casino. The railroad hasn’t arrived in town yet so there are no customers in the large and elaborate establishment that looks like it would be a really awesome 20th-century Western theme park hotel.

While Johnny Guitar has his name in the title, he’s more of a supporting character to the real star of this film, Sienna (Joan Crawford).  She’s a pants-wearing, gun-totin’ saloon-keeper who is fully intent on making sure she has a profitable future by supporting the railroad against the objections of the rest of the town folk.  She also raises their ire by allowing a gang of miners who are believed to be robbers lead by The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) to frequent her saloon.  But really they are against Sienna because Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) has a personal animus against Sienna and will use any pretext to drive her out of town.

I won’t say that this movie is a striking blow for feminism, but it is refreshing to see a movie where the main protagonist and antagonist are both women who act well outside the confines of female stereotypes of the time.  The dialogue in this film is full of witty banter as if someone like Aaron Sorkin were behind writing it.  And there are a lot of quirky twists and full-on DRAMATICS that make it entertaining.  I found myself enjoying this movie a lot although I do feel it fizzles out with a more conventional Western conclusion.

If you don’t like Westerns, try this one, because it is not quite what you’d expect from the genre.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Madame de… (1953)


Title: Madame de…
Release Date: September 16, 1953
Director: Max Ophüls
Production Company: Franco London Films | Indusfilms | Rizzoli Film
Summary/Review:

French aristocrat Louise (Danielle Darrieux) has a debt and sells a pair of earrings that were a wedding gift from her husband André (Charles Boyer) to pay it.  The earrings become a device around which the narrative revolves as they are sold and resold and take on new meanings to the characters with each transfer.

The main plot involves an Italian baron, Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica), and Louise falling in love (a big no-no in the aristocratic code where mistresses are acceptable, but love is forbidden).  There’s a brilliant scene showing their relationship blossoming over a series of nights dancing, their clothing changing as they move behind pillars, but the dance moving smoothly on.  Louise initially seems to be a careless and spoiled, and the matters of aristocrats mean little to me, but Ophüls tells their story in a way that can’t fail to elicit empathy.

I’m not sure exactly when the movie is set, but it appears to be the early 20th century. André and Fabrizio are both in the military of their respective nations and a recurring theme of the film is the formation of alliances among European nations.  I may be stretching my interpretation a bit, but I think this movie is not just a story of the dissolution of a marriage that leads to tragedy, but also a metaphor for Europe and all the petty slights that lead to the carnage of World War I.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)


Title: A Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Release Date: September 18, 2019
Director: Céline Sciamma
Production Company: Lilies Films | Arte | Hold Up Films
Summary/Review:

In 18th-century France, a young artist named Marriane (Noémie Merlant) travels to a remote island in Brittany.  Her commission is to paint a portrait of the aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), to be sent as a betrothal gift to a nobleman in Milan. The problem is that Héloïse does not want to pose for the portrait so Marriane must pretend to be her companion and observe her features when she can.

Héloïse mourns the death of her sister and resents having to take her place marrying the nobleman and losing her relative autonomy in a convent.  Marriane has a great amount of independence and outspokenness for a woman of her time and the two begin to bond.  They also spend time with a third major character, the unflappable house maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), and the film as a great number of scenes of women just enjoying one another’s company, something we don’t see too much of in film.

Not to get to spoilery, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Marriane and Héloïse’s relationship grows into a romantic one.  They make the best of the time they have and there is also much yearning for more. The acting performances of the three leads are magnificent and the film is gorgeous.

One stand out scene occurs on a beach by a bonfire (the scene that gives the film it’s title) where a group of Breton women we’ve never seen before (and never see again) begin singing and performing as if they were in The Revels.  It’s such a stunning moment in a movie that is largely very quiet with very few characters on screen.

Rating:  ****