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7/10
Stilted inspiration
28 January 2020
The Young Mr. Pitt is a well mounted rather civil wartime propaganda minus the bellicose dehumanization of the enemy, substituting revolutionary France (Vichy ruled during the making) and the Little Corproral (Herbert Lom) as the latest megalomaniac in search of world domination.

The son of a former prime minister, Pitt (Robert Donat) is given the position by the flaky King George lll (Raymond Lovell) but faces heavy opposition in Parliament from the likes of James Fox (Robert Morely). His greatest enemy though is on The Continent and he is tasked with trying to get the British people up to speed on this threat while facing strong opposition at home.

Donat is spot on noble as Pitt whether passionately speaking on the house floor or in private conversation, his oratory avoiding bombast, exuding sincerity. There's a nice foppish turn from Morely and a discombobulated one from Lovell while Lom and Albert Lieven as Talleyrand fill the iniquity bill.

Directed a decade before his halcyon period of superb suspense films, Carol Reed's direction is hamstrung by a contrived romance (Pitt was a lifelong bachelor) as the film remains respectful and at times cloying but remains steadfastly patriotic from end to end, hence, mission accomplished.
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6/10
"Sleep" is a bit of a yawn.
26 January 2020
Alison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) wakes up in terror on a sleeping car headed for Boston from her home in NYC. She has no idea why she is on the train or how she got there and her hysteria points to breakdown with perhaps violent repercussions. Her concerned husband (Don Ameche) suggests therapy but it is all a ruse on his part to be with another woman (Hazel Brooks).

Director Douglas Sirk's present day "Gaslight" is filled with some intense atmospherics but it is more melodrama than noir with Colbert a combination of silly and strident going up against an obviously insincere Don Ameche who a charming and resourceful Bob Cummings is trying to save her from. George Coulouris as an unctuous partner in crime is the films most interesting character while fatale Brooks as Daphne has a couple of strong scenes degrading a subservient Ameche.

With two far better films of similar scenarios in the Gaslights featuring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman(1944) and Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynward (1940) little reason other than comparison and a few deft Sirk touches to watch.
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9/10
Navigating casual bigotry
23 January 2020
Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon) has a dangerous habit of questioning authority and the status quo, especially for a black man living in the South. Earning a decent wage as a railroad hand he meets school teacher Josie (Abbe Lincoln) marries her against the wishes of her minister father and attempts to settle down. When he suggests organizing to fellow workers on his new job he's fired. He's then fired from a filling station job for rubbing some locals the wrong way. The marriage becomes rocky while a child back in Birmingham that he is not sure is his needs attention. He has a tenuous meeting with his old man (Julius Harris) and realizes he is turning into him.

Nothing but a Man is a powerfully sober telling of what it is to be a black man in Jim Crow South unwilling to commit philosophical suicide. A hard worker and easy to get along with Duff refuses to Tom and he ends up isolated between white supervisors and black co-workers. Fighting his own personal demons around parenthood he is a man battling on several fronts with several issues.

Suffering the indignities of second class citizenship, ignorance and out right racism as Duff, Ivan Dixon gives an outstandingly stoic portrayal of a man facing a world that seems entirely against him. As his patient suffering wife Abbe Lincoln pairs off well with Dixon, her sensitivity heartbreaking to witness. As Duff's dissipated father Julius Harris lends a supporting gem of a performance.

Eric Roemer's subdued direction adds to the impact of the storyline by foregoing the burning crosses and out of control mobs to instead concentrate on the everyday banality of bigotry, the cruelly cutting nature of forever being referred to as boy and other indignities.

Well edited and visually (Robert M Young) impressive it is a claustrophobic piece that works as both metaphor and at capturing the dead end squalor of Birmingham. Throughout Roemer maintains a realistic melancholy mood as well as a deceptive energy such as the track laying opening or listening to a Motown catalogue in a juke joint. It is a restrained work without a hint of the sensationalized conventionalism from around that era and more than likely the reason that it holds up better than a modest estimate of 90% of the films from back then, its witness to the era ideal viewing for those divorced from it.
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Angel (1937)
7/10
Marlene's choice.
22 January 2020
Lady Barker (Marlene Dietrich) benignly ignored by her British diplomat (Herbert Marshall) sneaks off to Paris to visit an old friend running a fashionable salon where discretion is highly valued. There she meets a brash American Anthony Halton (Melvyn Douglas) and has a whirlwind affair with him before disappearing. Circumstance brings the two men together however and once revealed as rivals Barker is left with no option other than to decide who she will walk with.

One of Lubitsch's minor efforts from his Paramount period Angel is a well mannered romantic comedy that never raises its voice as adults behave like adults. Marshall and Douglas display charming civility with each other while the usually ice like beauty Dietrich supplies the right amount of hopeless romantic, strong woman to balance the trio. The usual stalwart Paramount supporting cast is in evidence with Edward Everett Horton, Edward Cossart, Herbert Mundin and Laura Hope Crews adding wit and humor to the proceedings while Lubitsch applies his famous touch of deft incidentals and open doors. The arrested passions and lack of high comedy however allows Angel to fly no higher than a mildly pleasant entertainment ably assisted by the grace and charm of its stars.
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6/10
Strangers on the flight.
21 January 2020
Dogged by his wife's infidelity lawyer David Trask (Gary Merrill) decides to leave it all behind and head for the west coast rather than work it out. During the flight he gets to know three other passengers (Shelley Winters, Michael Rennie, Keenan Wynn) traveling with their own baggage. When the plane crashes Trask is the only survivor among the quartet. He decides to contact next of kin of each which reveals similar relationship turmoil that put him on the aircraft. With each visit he learns not only more about his fellow travelers but himself as well and he re-thinks his hasty decision.

Merrill's hang dog visage of deep consternation makes for an ideal messenger as he darkens doorsteps with tragic news, including stretching facts to correct an injustice. Winters and Rennie are effective, Wynn's character annoyingly obnoxious but ultimately redeemable. Bette Davis, in a key minor role, does not appear for well over an hour into the film with Nunnally Johnson's busy script equally divided among his troubled leads in this better than average at times inconsistent low key melodrama.
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American Masters: By Sidney Lumet (2017)
Season 31, Episode 1
8/10
Sidney the prolific.
19 January 2020
Some years back I recall Sidney Lumet commenting on his rapid style versus the pains taking drawn out deliberations of Stanley Kubrick. It was a case of preparation versus making and while Lumet had nothing but praise for Stanley's work that produced 3 films in the last quarter century of his career Lumet (44 films in a 50 year career) stood in stark contrast with a steady output that ran from classic (12 Angy Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon) to dismal (The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, Lovin' Molly, Garbo Talks, The Appointment) to absolute disaster (The Wiz).

In this American Masters bio, Lumet intriguingly opens with a story that lingers throughout as a thread that ties loosely together his filmography and the stand alone, conflicted protagonists in these films facing fierce blowback for their actions. Mostly comfortable within the 5 boroughs of New York he perfectly captured the chaos and corruption of a city backpedaling in the 70s. Without the vivd bloodletting of the new kid on the block Scorsese (Taxi Driver) but with a more internalized struggle realized in the myriad of outstanding performances that stretched from Henry Fonda and Kate Hepburn through Rod Steiger, Al Pacino and Peter Finch to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lumet did not present a world of black and white but vague gray.

Outside of his father, an actor in Yiddish theatre he has little to say about family but by the end of the doc it has revealed vast amounts of information about Lumet through his films and his forthright honesty in facing the challenge in life to do right.
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1917 (2019)
9/10
No Man's Land Nightmare
15 January 2020
A British regiment is walking into a trap and the only way to reach them is by messenger. It's a long shot and the troopers know it so the commander has wisely chosen Corporal Blake, the brother of a member of the regiment to provide them with incentive to move with haste. His war weary mate's feelings remain mixed.

Fix your bayonet and join Corporals Blake and Scofield in a race with death across No Man's Land, April 1917. Without an ounce of let-up 1917 is a film experience like no other with director Sam Mendes seemingly only having to yell action once. Relentlessly paced it gives the audience like our protagonists little time to pause or relax as Mendes infuses every moment with tension, every movement one of unpredictable suspenseful outcome.

Dean Charles Chapman and George Mckay as the corporals give powerful performances as they make their way through this macabre obstacle course of death, decay and destrutction. Chafing with resentment at times, they nevertheless have each others backs and commit to the mission.

Pantheon cinematographer Roger Deakins simply delivers one rousing image and bravura camera move after the next that plainly states why he is. He along with Mendes and company (editor Lee Smith, production designer Dennis Gassner) have not only made the best film of the year but the best since its ground breaking predecessor Birdman (2014). Falling out of its high velocity synch only once ( a scene with a refugee and child) 1917 is masterful film making that will awe on many levels.
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6/10
Domestic Blisters
5 January 2020
Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson looks like they have reached the end of the line in the marriage department. More a question of growing apart than exerting cruelty upon one another she moves to LA to do a series while Charlie a theatre director remains in NY. What remains important is access to their son and the semi-amicable break-up gets ugly when it gets litigious.

Marriage Story is a high gloss soap opera in the tradition of Kramer versus Kramer featuring fine performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansen as the marital combatants. The split is not due to unbridled hatred for each other but lack of communication in which there is more frustration than rage. Writer director Noah Bombach's real villains in the piece are the down and dirty lawyers (played with relish by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta) and the divorce laws that can bankrupt both financially and morally a family.

Driver and Johansen display an excellent discordant chemistry with each other amid sterile settings that Baumbach applies some subtle incidentals to but the argumentation eventually grows repetitive with some moments contrived, others rushed and sloppy such as the one in which Charlie is being served. Piling on the suds Randy Newman contributes a score of heart tugging strings and woodwinds that give the impression you are watching a Hallmark Channel film with four letter words. Outside of the lead performances an overlong, banal coast to coast melodrama that goes in circles.
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The Flirt (1917)
4/10
Surly Harold Lloyd more offensive than funny.
4 January 2020
Smug, downright mean skirt chaser Lloyd insults and offends all within his line of fire with a character that annoys more than amuses in this mean spirited comedy. We first encounter the leering lout scoping out women through a newspaper before stalking one to her place of business getting the waiter fired, taking his job, offending the help and the customers and coming on the the bosses' wife in under 9 minutes. Outside of some acrobatics and a couple of benign comic moments an unpleasant Harold outing.
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5/10
First Alice not so wonderful
4 January 2020
The first of the Alice trips demands attention for its historical significance and little else. Unimaginative live action it looks like it was shot in a backyard and city park and depends heavily on title cards. Alice is a little long in the tooth as she stomps through an uninspired dreamworld in sore need of Melies. Even the Cheshire Cat fails to smile. But you know cats.

Tempo and action does increase at the tale end when Alice insults the queen who summons the high executioner and a deck of cards played by an army of kids to pursue her back to consciousness but overall it is an uninspired telling with a single bragging right.
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7/10
Crook's best friend.
4 January 2020
Rod Steiger gives one of his finest performances in this riches to rags scheme about an embezzler unable to keep his emotions in check. Transitioning from an arrogant sartorial elitist to a border town bum he manages to evoke both detestation and pity from the audience as his corrupt plan begins to disintegrate.

Financier Karl Schaefer has some stolen funds transferred to a Mexican bank and he leaves town to collect. However authorities are soon on to him and he's forced to harshly switch identities with someone on a train. He ends up with the man's dog, attempts to abandon it but it saves his life. The cash is frozen, Schaefer penniless is now trapped with his dog at the border with a Detective Seargent in wait on the other side looking for a way to lure him back.

Basically a one man show by Stieger (w/ dog) his deconstruction is both deserved and pitiable as he's literally brought to his knees.

Spain subbing for a Mexican border town has an authentic look, while the forbidding bridge is given a life of its own.
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Club Havana (1945)
7/10
Club Havana is well worth the cover charge.
4 January 2020
There's plenty of bang for the buck in Club Havana. This low rent Grand Hotel featuring a variety of Latin musical interludes with a plot unfolding at nearly every table offers a lot of entertainment in its brief running time by hardly taking a breath. Comic, romantic, suspenseful, it juggles storylines with a fair share of sardonically written observations involving characters at crucial crossroad in their lives. Featuring a variety of moods an emotions, the buoyant rhumba infused film is a disturbing entertainment culminating in a jarring finale.

Directed by Edgar Ulmer who does amazing things with little money and little time as he manages the plot, does some interesting silhouette and other camera work to deal with budget issues while getting serviceable performances from his entire cast. Rene Riano as multi-millionairess Mrs. Cavendish, with children in tow, simply steals the film as she cynically lays out her proposition to a man in need of a loan.

Club Havana is a fine floor show.
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5/10
Rolling Blunder
4 January 2020
Bob Dylan's white face tour of 1975, ignorantly titled The Rolling Thunder Tour was a disaster waiting to happen as the rather large cast and crew barnstormed across the States in a winnebago playing small venues with matching gate receipts. Featuring some major headliners the tour was soon bleeding cash to a point where they had to switch "The Oracle of Delphi" (Allan Ginsburg) to roadie duties.

Unlike his well filmed Last Waltz documentary Martin Scorsese has added mockumentary to "Thunder" with some fictional characters and observations that for the most part fall flat. Dylan is in fine form and voice but the incidentals and pretense surrounding the tour is cringe worthy in spots (Joan Baez dancing on stage, Patti Smith opening her mouth ) while performers off stage say little of note. There are precious moments such as watching Joanie Mitchell jamming with the boys doing Coyote and the alluring enigmatic presence of violinist Scarlett Rivera but overall as doc or mock "Rolling' fails to rock.
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Caught (1949)
6/10
Caught never catches fire.
4 January 2020
Max Ophuls settles matters with Howard Hughes in this unpleasant story about being careful what you wish for. In Caught money does not buy happiness.

Department store model Leonora Eames (Mercedes McCambridge) fantasizes about marrying rich. The dream comes true when she meets Smith Olrig (Robert Ryan) but it quickly turns into a nightmare when she becomes a prisoner to his petty whims. She leaves him and finds work in a doctor''s office where she meets Dr. Quinada (James Mason). In a weak moment she returns to Olrig gets pregnant and leaves again. She falls for Quinada but her family way options give Olrig a degree of control that once again has her imprisoned in his castle.

Ryan is outstanding as the venal titan, closely resembling as time has revealed the real life Howard Hughes neurotic, controlling ways. Ophuls had a poor working relationship with Hughes and it is clearly reflected here. Mason is miscast however and McCambridge is dull as dishwater and not as sympathetic perhaps as she should be. Frank Ferguson as Quinada's associate and Curt Bois as Olrig's provide both passive and aggressive philosophical insight as observant side kicks.

With Ryan's rage and menace at fever pitch and the Mason, McCambridge romance listless Caught lacks both balance and passion.
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7/10
Charlie hunts Big Apple, bad apple.
4 January 2020
Charlie Chan on Broadway is one of the more solid efforts in the series. Fast paced with a decent amount of plausible suspects Detective Chan must not only suffer the bumbling of number one son (Keye Luke) but also the overwrought presence of the police inspector played by the endlessly frantic Harold Huber.

Charlie is unintentionally drawn into a scandal when mob moll Billie Bronson hides incriminating evidence in his state room. When she turns up dead, Chan is naturally the man to solve things; Luke and Huber to provide stumbling blocks along the way.

Brash from the outset with its ocean liner arrivals and bright lights big city feel it also offers a comically perverse "Candid Camera " evening at a nightclub with shutterbug customers chasing dancing girls about the floor.

Oland in his next to last Chan is perfectly composed as usual.
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The Bridge (1929)
8/10
Brief Bierce packs punch.
4 January 2020
Ambrose Bierce's Civil War short story "Incident on Owl Creek Bridge" get's a compact telling in this Charles Vidor short that resembles in moments the more famous 1961 Twilight Zone cinema clinic by Robert Enrico. Other than the updating of the uniforms the story unfolds with the same intense sense of desperation, the editing ratcheting the suspense with the emphasis on life and nature.

It's a game effort by Vidor telling his story in half of the "Zone's, " perfectly employing a drummer boy to introduce flashback while his staccato editing works its way towards a brutal climax.

Not the perfect Enrico short but probably an influence of it.

Note: Incident at Owl Creek bridge was the only episode of Twilight Zone that Rod Serling did not write.
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A Double Life (1947)
8/10
Life in the Theatre
16 December 2019
Ronald Colman gives an Oscar winning performance while director George Cukor and writers Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin give a primer on Broadway theatre depicting the controlled chaos of the back stage in A Double Life. An intense character study, Cukor and company still manage to keep all things theatre from the stage to the bar across the street on opening night front and center while keeping it germane to Tony John's plight.

John is the toast of Broadway but tragically flawed with identifying too close to his character. Light drawing room comedy, he's fun to be around. Serious or villain, it leads to divorce. He decides to do Othello with the ex (Signe Hasso) and predictably falls back into old habits, this time with tragic results.

Colman is more Lear than Othello his Shakespeare a bit pedestrian but his Jekyl Hyde scenes are sublime, his aging ego and vanity intact with his seductive abilities still evident as he descends into madness. Signe Hasso as his ex basks and suffers with him while Shelly Winters in her breakthrough role does so with a poignant seductiveness.

Cukor's exposition is wonderfully aided by the deep focus work of DP extraordinaire, Lee Garmes as he fills even the most mundane scenes (a conversation between wig makers) with attention getting incidentals while deftly injecting much needed comic relief in this dark story with screwball comedy moment at a murder scene led by a wonderfully cynical Millard Mitchell.

Well crafted in every respect A Double Life has plenty of it in it.
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Hell's Angels (1930)
6/10
Hughes breaks sound barrier with mixed results.
16 December 2019
Notorious tinkerer Howard Hughes went from the silent to the sound era as he fussed over clouds and Jean Harlow's negligee in this big budget WW l epic that just doesn't get to the altitude that it aspires to. Re-tooling for sound and recasting Harlow as the seductress it looks like it may been dated even at its opening with some glaringly poor voice over and sound effects work.

Monte Rutledge (Ben Lyon) is bit of a scalawag, his brother Roy (John Hall) a stand-up guy in every respect. He's crazy about Helen (Harlow), a flirtatious flapper, floozy that Monte has no problem seducing. Both end up in the RAF while a fellow Oxford pal (John Darrow) is drafted into the German Military. In spite of the Helen issue straining their relationship, noble Roy, who has already taken his cowardly brother place in a duel does everything he can to keep his bro together during aerial combat.

Once airborne, Hell's Angels soars with exciting dogfights and the stunning emergence of a dirigible in a night battle. Harlow's vamp tramp is convincing in looks and action while at the same time making a cogent declaration about being an independent women. Lyon and Hall both annoy after awhile with one brother to smug, the other to gullible. Hughes meanwhile paints with a broad brush the German military and its robotic response to duty with a mass suicide while the former Oxford student, presumably with and English education under his belt averts a civilian massacre against orders.

Begun a year after the release of Wings, Hell's Angels sound or silent remains slightly inferior in nearly every respect except for the hype given to its release and the attempt to give it epic status by among other things injecting an intermission into a two hour film. Given its runaway budget, the film grossed well but did not make a profit. It did however announce and turn Hughes into a major Hollywood player with a splash.
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7/10
FBI, Media cabal mimics today in miniature.
14 December 2019
"Rent a cop," Richard Jewell, did his job well, perhaps too well for his own good. The hero of the 1996 Olympic park bombing, Jewell was at first lionized then slandered and vilified by what in this day and age has become the usual suspects, The FBI and media. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it is a somber but chilling telling of when respected goes rogue that is having the same disturbing effect today as the same apparatus sets its sights on someone higher than a security guard.

Eastwood's sometime lethargic direction remains controlled and unsensationalized throughout as his protagonist lummox (movingly played by Paul Walter Hauser) is picked at by easily corrupted FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) and a sleazy reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) willing to go the extra mile for a scoop. Impeding the runaway justice Jewell's lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) corrects the sloppy ambitions without grandstanding, tempering his rage at institutions in railroading mode while maintaining a balancing act dynamic of Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men with Jewell.

Outside of the moments from the bombing attack, Richard Jewell is mostly a drawing room drama filmed in banal, lugubrious settings with the occasional flock of abrasive reporters. The story commands attention however, especially in these "interesting times" where media has completely ignored its bedrock pledge to objectivity, shamelessly taking sides while rogue agents at the FBI are getting pink slips. Microcosm of today? Or just maybe the way it always has been and will be. Average film but a timely thought provoker.
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Knives Out (2019)
5/10
Knives Out doesn't cut it.
3 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
When 85 year old mystery writer multi millionaire Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer) is found with his throat slit, foul play is naturally suspected. Previous to his demise he decides to cut his parasite family out of the will and give it to his nurse Marta, (Ana De Armas) much to the angry chagrin of the rest of the family. Meanwhile famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is brought on the case by a mysterious employer to untangle things.

Clue anyone? Performances by all the suspects are arch and played for laughs but not many materialize. They are simply en masse a greedy, unctuous family offering broad performances and cringing personalities while Craigs corn porn accent grills suspects with marbles in his mouth.

Rian Johnson's direction is anemic as he relies on guilty expressions in wide angle to advance his predictable plot that attempts to have two mysteries (one to clear our heroine, one to find the real culprit ) hanging in the balance and both are torpidly pursued.

The real star is ultimately the mansion and its incredible interior of furniture, secret passages and fantastic wall paper that gives the film a Gothic mystery feel. It at least gives you something to look at while Craig mumbles and surly family members crumble.
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8/10
Hopeless Romantic
3 December 2019
One time pianist phenom Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) now on the downside of his career arrives home to blow town rather than face an irate husband with an excellent aim in a duel. His butler hands him a letter delivered earlier that day from an unknown women that he reads and is visually replayed over the course of the film. By morning it makes him re-think his decision.

Under the direction of one of the most polished speakers of film language in history, Max Ophuls, Letter From an Unknown Women moves along at a graceful but morose pace as we follow the bittersweet yearnings of Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine) and the unrequited love she feels for Stefan. Every bit the innocent she is in The Constant Nymph as a teen she retains here into adulthood, her optimism built upon self deception. Jourdan as the suave heel is excellent as well, their scenes together tender and tragic to the omnipotent audience as Ophuls surrounds them in a sumptuous belle époque setting for maximum romantic effect, the star struck Lisa misinterpreting nearly everything except the love she feels for Stefan. Ophuls best film from his disastrous Hollywood days before returning to Europe where he once again would excel.
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7/10
Bangor Fatale
3 December 2019
Hedy Lamar blitzkriegs her way through backwater Bangor, Maine with admirable confidence and underhanded intent in this 19th century drama directed by Edgar Ulmer. Lamarr's accent may be more Austrian than that of a townie daughter of a Scotsman but there is no debating her scorched earth policy of marrying rich and going after what she wants including other men.

Daughter of the town drunk, duplicitous little Jenny Hager knows exactly what she wants out of life at a very early age. She is not about to settle for scraps and upon reaching fruition begins to cash in by marrying the town's wealthiest man, seducing his son, then the foreman of his timber company.

Director Ulmer has a field day of saddling Jenny with quirks and Freudian tropes that more than hint at incest, S&M and a righteous vindictiveness which stirs her to action. He brings further complexity to her character and greater plausibility to the tale by making her more than a single minded seductress by imbuing the character with a charitable intent that exposes the hypocrisy of a town suffering growing pains.

Drop dead beauty, limited actress Lamarr is convincing as she carries the picture from end to end with conniving intensity. As victims of her feminine wiles Gene Lockhart, Louis Hayward and an uncad like George Sanders offer up decent deconstructions of themselves.

More than just a generic period piece The Strange Woman under Ulmer's smooth direction and Lamarr complex character gives it a substantial edge over similar costume dramas from that era.
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7/10
Heavy handed propaganda with stunning visuals.
3 December 2019
There are some incredibly powerful visuals to be found throughout this Soviet paen to the doomed Communard uprising of 1871 in Paris. From its wildly expressionistic opening to the hardened and doomed faces right off of Soviet worker poster art it powerfully conveys its admiration for the heroic underclass while eviscerating the craven bourgeois. With a music score supplied by Shostakovich its an excellent example of the decade old Soviet Union trying to spread its influence by comrading up with the French of yesteryear.

Devine decadence rules in Paris with its attention to materialism and coarse joie de vivre. The haves are enjoying a grand time while the have nots struggle to survive. When the Prussians march on the city the uppercrusts bolt for Versailles, leaving the beleaguered city's defense to the workers to defend. With the threat dissipated the workers demand more rights, the bourgeois see it otherwise by turning the military on them. A stand-off ensues and a civil war erupts.

Babylon's revolutionary fervor was certainly right for the period with it being released a month after the Stock Market Crash in 1929. Emboldened with Eisenstein montage it shouts out its message with a ham fisted juxtaposition and simplicity that may have stirred the proles in 1917 but comes across dated here with the upper class caricatures no different than Griffith's Union troops in black face in his Civil War whitewash. Both remain triumphs of form over content (racism, totalitarianism) that should be be relegated to the dustbin of history,
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7/10
Super Producer
30 November 2019
The life of music producer Clive Davis is the history of pop music just before and after Mitch Miller. Working intimately with the biggest names in the business few if any had his expertise or experience and this doc covers most of the creme de la creme of the music scene that Davis either discovered or gravitated toward him. Joplin, Springsteen, Aretha, Dion Warwick, Santana, Whitney, Barry Manilow among many others discovered and promoted by Davis having nothing but kind words for this impresario who had an incredibly keen sense of recognizing talent and selecting songs to promote the artist.

Interesting not so much for Davis's personal life it is the interviews of rock and pop stars over the generations informing us of his incredible acumen while at Columbia and Arista Records that provided us with the "soundtrack of our lives" which gives this doc legs. By the time they get around to the career and tragic life of Whitney Houston Clive's background recedes into it and her dilemma takes center stage, his accomplishment a back seat to her tragedy but not before we get a semi-comprehensive history of pop music over the last 60 years under the stewardship of one of its greatest explorers.
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Lolita (1962)
9/10
Lolita's staying power still in evidence
30 November 2019
Well in excess of being half a century old Stanley Kubrick's Lolita is nearly as fresh now as when it was first released in 1962. Featuring three outstanding performances and a biting acerbic script it remains a superb parody of American society without a hint of aging.

Professor Humbert Humbert comes to a small New England town to teach French literature at a local college. He boards at a widow's (Shelly Winters) house with a nubile daughter, Lolita (Sue Lyon) and becomes infatuated with her, so much that he marries the mother to be close to her. Mom finds out but then ends up dead and Humbert blows town with his obsession. Shadowing them, Claire Quilty (Peter Sellers) who has passing interest in Lolita makes life miserable for Humbert.

With a cast of unlikable and pathetic creatures Kubrick does an excellent job of maintaining our interest as he creates sympathy for a pedophile and let's you take delight in Quilty's sarcastic but hilarious torturing of Humbert. His mise en scene is both crisp and informing (the school play scene being a perfect example) and filled with minor characters who feed into the ambiguity and amorality of the story.

Probably the most challenging role of his great career James Mason's Humbert is little more than a sophisticated degenerate in his pursuit of Lolita. Yet in spite of pursuing his illicit passion he manages to evoke sympathy as he deconstructs under the diabolical machinations of Quilty. It is a role Mason carries off with aplomb and arguably his best. Kubrick is said to have turned Sellers loose on the Quilty character allowing him to improvise free style and he makes a perfect foil for the flustered Mason. Doing a variety of characters he steals moments from Mason having a career day while at the same time giving emphasis to it and his plight. Shelly Winters is tragicomic sharp while Lyon's title character acquits just fine.

Kubrick's most restrained and underrated film, its subtle satiric jabs just as sharp as the ones to be found in his next picture, Strangelove.
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