Monsieur Verdoux (1940) Charles Chaplin

MR%20VERDOUX10444

       In my review I wrote for Halo-17,  linked below, I said, “Monsieur Verdoux: A Comedy of Errors  may be Chaplin’s greatest film.” To elaborate, if I had to put them in order it would be a close race however, Monsieur Verdoux, is a brilliant dark, thought provoking comedy, as powerful now as it was over sixty years ago. It  is Chaplin’s greatest film. In my Chaplin hierarchy City Lights would be second with The Gold Rush right behind. They are three brilliant films at three different stages in the artist’s life.  In Verdoux, Chaplin’s message is that war is nothing but a business done for profit. If an individual takes the same approach, as Verdoux does, he is a murderer. Kill millions it’s business, kill one or two it’s murder. “Numbers sanctify” as Verdoux says in his own defense.

Attached here is my original review.

Monsieur_verdoux57

Attached here is a review by David Denby .

Advertisements

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) John Ford

144059_1020_A

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was John Ford’s final great work, though he continued to work and made a few more films; none had the intensity nor reached the level of art his previous films achieved. The film is based on a short story by western author Dorothy M. Johnson, who also wrote “A Man Called Horse” and “The Hanging Tree”, both of which were adapted to the screen.

The story begins with the return of Ransom “Rance” Stoddard (James Stewart) a well-known and respected senator, of an unnamed western state who along with his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles) comes back to the town of Shinbone for the funeral of small time ranch owner Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). The town’s newspaper editor is curious to know why the famed senator renown for being “The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance” (Lee Marvin) would make the long trip from Washington to pay his respects to this local unknown. Stoddard tells him the story ….

Liberty LC   Rance is a young attorney who believes in law and order though he refuses to carry a gun. On his way to the town of Shinbone, he is attacked and beaten during a stagecoach robbery by the outlaw Liberty Valance and his gang.  Rance is found by rancher Tom Doniphon and taken to the home of some friends who take care of the tenderfoot and nurse him back to health. Doniphon believes that in these parts “a man needs a gun.” Despite their philosophical differences, the two men become friends and rivals for the young and beautiful Hallie (Vera Miles). Valance continues to terrorize the town and Rance until one day the tenderfoot lawyer is forced into a showdown with the gunfighter. Though wounded during the gunfight, Rance shoots and kills Valance. Hallie’s true feelings come out for Rance driving Doniphon off in a drunken rage. Rance finds himself a hero as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He is selected to be a delegate as the territory applies for statehood. Feeling unworthy and guilty for becoming a hero based on killing a man, Doniphon reveals to him what really happened. Rance, relieved to know he is not riding on the coattails of a dead man, becomes the delegate, goes on to marry Hallie, and become the State’s first Governor and a three time Senator. While the death of Liberty Valance triggered a brilliant career for Rance Stoddard, for Tom Doniphon it led to a life of drinking, loneliness, and alienation.

liberty    After the Senator finishes telling his story to the paper’s editor and the truth about how Valance was killed, the editor tears up his notes and throws them into the stove to burn. Stoddard asks him why isn’t he going to use the story.  The editor replies, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!”

When I recently compiled my list of the best films of the 1960’s for the Wonders in the Dark blog, I inexplicitly did not include this John Ford masterpiece. This is one reason I hate making lists and I should be horsewhipped the same way Liberty Valance horsewhips James Stewart in the film for this omission. “Liberty Valance” is a classic western that stands up against the best of John Ford’s work. It is a work of an elder statement taking a darker, morose look at a period in America he had glorified in earlier times.  It is a turning point in the history of the American west, Statehood was on the horizon; the law and civilization were coming. Tom Doniphon knew his days were over and that Stoddard and his breed represented the future.

libertyvalance-c   John Wayne is an actor that I have always had mixed feelings about. When used correctly, mostly by Ford, his persona and the role merge into a “perfect storm” as they do in “The Searchers”, “Rio Bravo” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. Wayne was never much of a real actor though he played ‘John Wayne’ better than anyone could. Moreover, rarely has a Wayne character displayed the vulnerability that he does here.  I always enjoyed James Stewart as an actor more than Wayne, however here I find his character, Rance Stoddard, a bit annoying, somewhat stubborn and naïve. While Wayne and Stewart are the stars of the film, it is Lee Marvin’s menacing performance that ‘stirs the drink.’ Marvin has portrayed many violent and evil characters in his wonderful career but Liberty Valance has to be at or near the top. He is brutal, intimidating and just plain evil. Reese (Lee Van Cleef), one of his gang members, twice has to stop him from whipping his victims to death. Vera Miles is the woman in the middle, in love with Doniphon, and as the film goes on, she develops a growing fondness for Stoddard and marries him. At the end of the film as they ride the railroad back to Washington, Ford subtly tells us, though she has been married to Stoddard for many decades her true love is left behind in a wooden box. “Liberty Valance” is not just Wayne, Stewart and Marvin, the film is rich in terrific performances with character actors like Edmond O’Brien as the newspaper editor, Andy Devine as the cowardly sheriff, Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin as Valance’s two thugs in crime. The wonderful Woody Strode as Pompey. Also in the cast are John Carradine and Denver Pyle. All these colorful characters make the film interesting, giving it depth and making up for the less than expected gunplay you would assume to see in a western. The film is also filled with rich black and white photography courtesy of cinematographer William Clothier who had photographed many western, “The Horse Soldiers”, “The Comancheros” and “McLintock.” Other works include “Merrill’s Marauders” and “Donavan’s Reef.”

Finally, this is the film where John Wayne imitators latched on to the phrase “pilgrim.” Doniphon constantly refers to Stoddard by that name.

Let It Be (1970) Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Let it be posterS

    “Let It Be” is a glorious mess, with little continuity, poor editing, a lack of direction and at times poor sound quality. You also get to see the most influential group in Rock and Roll history argue, mock each other, play poorly at times, look bored (Ringo) and watch a curious shadowy Yoko Ono cling to John Lennon throughout.  Despite all this, there are ample things to enjoy, primarily the opportunity to watch this celebrated band rehearse and create their work in the studio and a now legendary rooftop concert.

 Let I Be - PAUL   Even with all the in fighting and hard feelings that were rising to the surface, they could still have fun and play well, as they do, from the top of the Apple Building, which turned out to be the final time John, Paul, George and Ringo ever performed together. The film is not for the casual fan who will probably find it somewhat boring at times and skip over directly to the concert. On the other hand, serious Beatles and Rock and Roll fans will find the film a fascinating look at the most celebrated band ever in the final stages of their career. As previously pointed out, the film is technically bad, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg should never be allowed behind a camera again. There were hours and hours of film shot and it seems no one knew how to put all this footage together. Except for an occasionally nice cut here and there, the film looks like it was chopped with a cleaver by a character from the Sopranos. While the sound of the music is crisp and loud, much of the dialogue between the fab four is hard to hear and at times unclear, forcing you to raise the volume on your TV. This is especially noticeable during the now well known “tutoring” Paul gave to George on how to play the guitar in which George, fed up finally said, and I am paraphrasing here a bit,   “I’ll play anyway you want me too or I don’t have to play at all.” George apparently walked out and quite the group at this point (this is not noted in the film) and there was talk of replacing him with Eric Clapton. George did return and Billy Preston was brought into the sessions to help ease the tension. Poor George also became the brunt of some mocking by John, when during a rehearsal of George’s song “I Me Mine”, John began to dance a waltz with Yoko. John, off camera, sarcastically had told George as he listened to the slower portion of the song “We’re a Rock and Roll band!”   

 Let it beVHS 41HERBG3GQL._SL500_AA266_   It’s not all bad; there is plenty in the film to savor. Ringo and George rehearsing “Octopus’ Garden” with Ringo on piano and eventually John joining in on drums. We see the group singing tidbits of songs never completed like “Suzy Parker.” While warming up the band would jump into bits and pieces of oldies like “Rip it Up”, “Shake Rattle and Roll”, “Kansas City” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” segueing from one to the other. You get a look at their creative process as you watch Paul and John work out specific cords Paul wanted for his song, “I Got a Feeling.”  There is as he Paul reminisces to someone off camera about the early days, how he and John would write songs in his family’s living room, mostly pretty bad stuff, but some that were eventually used liked “Love Me Do.” He talked how they both hated the words to “One After 909” and in one of the more inspired edited moments, we quickly cut to the band in the studio doing a blazing version of the song, one much better than the official released version on the “Let It Be” album.

    The original concept was to do a TV special with a concert performance at the end. The TV idea was scraped and a feature film was now planned, which would fulfill their three-picture deal with United Artists. Still, they discussed doing a live performance somewhere, Paul and John were for it, George, never wanted to perform live again. Paul liked the idea of performing in a small venue; John suggested somewhere more exotic, Africa. They were unable to come up with an idea all could agree on. According to the book “The Beatles: An Oral History” by David Prichard and Alan Lysasht,  engineer/producer Glyn Johns came up with the idea of doing a concert on the roof of the Apple Building. A competing version of the story comes from Tony Branwell in his book “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with The Beatles” where he states it was Paul who came up with the idea for the concert on the roof. Whatever the truth may be, all four members of the group liked the off beat idea of playing to all of the West End of London.

Let It Be - GEORGE    However disjointed the rest of the film may be the final twenty minutes is pure magic. The concert actually lasted about forty five minutes before the police pulled the proverbial plug. They played only seven songs, short versions of “God Save the Queen” and “She’s So Heavy” were edited out along with multiple versions of “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back.”  They also performed “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.” Intercut with the performances, the filmmakers showed the bewildered crowds down below as the music began to play.

It was a chilly and windy day in London, hair is blowing and jackets are worn. The group begins to play.  

 

#1 – Get Back – The group kicks off with a rocking version of “Get Back.” Down on the street we see passerby’s looking up bewildered, wondering what is going on? Can it be The Beatles are performing live up on the roof?

 1

#2 – Don’t Let Me Down – As John wails out this tune, young men are now climbing up to the rooftops of adjacent buildings to get a better view. The crowd on the street is beginning to grow.

 #3 – I’ve Got a Feeling – By the end of this song the crowds have increased. The police make their first appearance trying to control the crowds and keep auto traffic moving. Not everyone on the street is happy with this free concert. One middle-aged woman complained that, “it made no sense.” A businessman, stated, “the music was alright in its place….it’s a bit of an imposition to interrupt the business area in this way.” On the other side of the generation gap, one young lady thought it was “fantastic” and another simply said, “it was great.” 

 letitbemovie

#4 – One After 909 – With this song one has to wonder how prophetic the boys were being here playing one of the earliest songs they ever wrote and now it was one of the last they would ever perform together.

 #5 – Dig A Pony – The police presence was gathering, stern faces looking very concerned moving among the crowd. They were getting ready to make their move. Two police officers are seen knocking on the front door of Apple and are let in. They soon make their way upstairs.

 rooftop2

#6 – Get Back – The police are on the rooftop talking to a Beatles associate. John and George turn and notice the two officers however continue playing. As the song comes toward it close, Paul changes the words, singing, “Get Back Loretta, you’ve been playing on the roof again, and that’s no good. Momma doesn’t like it and she’s gonna get you arrested.”

 As the band puts their instruments down, John who always had the witty last word said, “On behalf of the group and ourselves, I hope we passed the audition.” 

 With that, The Beatles as a group never performed again.

      “Let It Be” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture.  Watching the concert part of the movie puts to rest any thoughts anyone may have that The Beatles could no longer perform well as a live four piece Rock and Roll band. The film remains criminally unreleased on DVD. Legally, only VHS and laser disc copies of the film are available and both are scarce. Bootleg copies abound, some claiming to be official releases, and the internet is filled with clips from the film. Still why isn’t this film and the multitude of outtakes available? What a great 2-disc package this would be. In 2007, the film was being remastered with plans for an eventual release on DVD, however for reasons unknown the process was stopped and the film remains a rare treasure.

 

Attached here is a interview with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg from 2003 on releasing a DVD of “Let It Be.”

Dangerous Crossing (1953) Joseph M. Newman

dangerous_crossing

    “Dangerous Crossing” is the kind of film you watch once and will have no desire to watch again. It is a decent uncluttered minor thriller with a plot that been done many times before. Think Preminger’s “Bunny Lake is Missing” and Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.” While the story keeps you interested enough there is nothing special here to hold on too. The film stars Jeanne Crain as a newlywed who is spending her honeymoon with her new husband, a man she just met a few weeks earlier, on a passenger cruise ship. No sooner are they on board, the husband (Carl Betz), disappears and surprisingly no one remembers seeing him. Does he really exist or is our heroine’s mind a little seasick?  Michael Rennie is the ship’s doctor who tries to help the poor woman deal with her illusions.  It all goes down as expected with the missing husband trying to drive his unstable wife crazy, eventually kill her and of course get hold of her fortune.  

     Like the most of the movie itself, the acting is adequate. Crain is passable and Rennie is rather bland, as is Carl Betz as the scheming husband. Some may recognize Betz from his days as Donna Reed’s husband in the “The Donna Reed Show” from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, which I remember finding most notable for a young Shelley Fabrares. Mystery fans take note the film is based on a story by mystery writer John Dickson Carr.

     The real highlight of the film are some nice touches by cinematographer Joseph La Shelles who creates some interesting and eerie fog bound scenes that lend a nice feel of mystery and suspense to the proceedings despite uninspired direction, by Joseph M. Newman that almost shipwrecks the entire story.  It would have been nice to see what Hitchcock could have done with this material, then again, he already did it and better.

     Fox has release this film on DVD as part of their Fox Film Noir series however many will find this to be a dubious selection to be included in this category. 

Film Forum – Con Film Festival May 8th – 21st

Starting May 8th, and for two weeks Crime does pay at the Film Forum in NYC. Cons, ex cons, chain gangs, prison riots, life behind bars, and more will be on display. It’s a festival of cinematic corruption brought to you by Hollywood’s best crime makers! 

Films in the festival included White Heat, Cool Hand Luke, Riot in Cell Block 11, Ladies They Talk About, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Escape From Alcatraz, Birdman of Alcatraz and many more.   

conhead1

Here’s a link to the website.

Here are some links on films in the festival  I have previously reveiwed.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang 

Sullivan’s Travels

Angels With Dirty Faces  

Here are some links to reviews by other bloggers on films in this festival.  

Cool Hand Luke

Brute Force

 

defiant-ones_1

caged2

ladies-they-talk-about001

angels_dirty_faces_1938_3

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Garnett

turner-shorts

The first time John Garfield, and we the audience, see Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” she is exquisite looking, dressed all in white wearing a turban, a tight blouse with her bare mid-drift exposed, and a tight fitting pair of shorts containing the shapeliest pair of legs ever to stand in high heels. Garfield, kneeing down to pick up her lipstick case that rolled across the floor, is hooked from the moment he sees her. His eyes working their way up from her incredible legs to her full breasts to her superlative face. It remains today, more than fifty years later, one of the greatest screen entrances in film. For half the film, director Tay Garnett had Turner wear white, her turban, those fantastic short shorts, her jacket, her waitress outfit, even her hair is platinum blonde. Only after plans are set in motion to kill her husband do the outfits all turn to black, visually symbolizing the good and evil of her character. This visual imagery would be used almost fifteen years later by Alfred Hitchcock with Janet Leigh’s white and black bras and half-slips in “Psycho.”

postman-3 In James M. Cain’s novel, Cora is not blonde nor is she beautiful. Frank Chambers narrates, “She had a sulky look to her and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”

A few pages later, when they have their first chance to make love , Frank says, “I took her in my arms and mashed her mouth up against hers”

“….Bite me! Bite me!”

“I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”

postman_always_title  In Cain’s prose, passion and pain merge into an uncontrolled obsessive wild fire. In Garnett’s 1946 film the sadomasochistic passion runs at a lower flame, understandably since the production code would not allow such unbridled fervor. Still, Cain’s rough love comes through, the illicit lovers fight and love, trust and mistrust passionately, with Cora always the dominant partner and Frank the submissive male. The kind of traits so typical in film noir. Lana Turner, an actress of limited talent, does give us one of her finest performances, though she looks to have arrived from another world. The problem is she is too glamorous, too much the movie star, for a roadside diner wife making you wonder what is a gorgeous ruthless woman, with not one hair out of place, doing married to an old man in the middle of nowhere. She never convinces you that she ever waited on a table anywhere, not even at Schwab’s Drugstore. You never forget she is Lana Turner, movie star, subsequently this reduces the impact her character makes on the story, though visually she is stunning and knocks you out. Her movie star glamour becomes a distraction to the plot, a beautiful distraction but one nonetheless.

postman-insestb Garfield on the other hand is Frank Chambers, a drifter, a wanderer, going nowhere, seduced by a beautiful ambitious woman hell bent on going somewhere. From the beginning, you know Frank is doomed, signals are given as soon as you see the “Man Wanted” sign he tosses into the fire when he takes the job at the diner. He is hooked and together they plan their pathetic scheme to get rid of Nick, Cora’s husband (Cecil Kellaway), leads to their doomed destination. Unlike Turner, you believe Garfield as Frank, a role in some ways similar to so many he has played in the past. Additionally, Garfield came from a working class background, a troubled youth from the Lower East Side of New York. He had the credentials.

Despite the sexuality and violence, the film is a fairly faithful rendition of Cain’s steamy lust driven work. This was Cain’s first novel, published in 1934, after being rejected over ten times by various publishers. Originally titled “Bar-B-Q” publishers Alfred Knopf purchased the rights and changed the name to “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” The book was a hit and various movie studios were interested in acquiring the property for the screen. However, this was 1934 and the newly enforced Production Code turned thumbs down on Cain’s lurid work. In spite of a promise made by censor Joe Breen that the novel would never make it to the screen, MGM purchased the screen rights sitting on the property for twelve years.

By 1946, the novel had been filmed twice in Europe. In 1939, a French version “Le Demier Tournant” directed by Pierre Chenal and as “Ossessione” in 1942 by Italy’s Luchino Visconti, an unauthorized adaptation. The victory of World War II was still fresh in everyone’s minds still, there seemed to be a dark void in the American psyche and post war films began to reflect this in works like “The Maltese Falcon and “Stranger on the Third Floor.”

post   Two more Cain novels, “Double Indemnity” and “Mildred Pierce”, reached the screen in 1944 and 1945, respectively. Billy Wilder, along with Raymond Chandler figured out how to translate Cain’s sadistic sex and murder into sly allusions and insinuations to get passed the censors.  In 1946, MGM felt they could now dust off Cain’s first big hit and put it on the screen. Of course, much of the novel’s, sado-sex and violence would still have to be toned down; censorship had relaxed somewhat but not too much. L.B. Mayer wanted Lana Turner for the role who at first did not want to do it fearing it would be bad for her image. Mayer convinced her that this would be a stretch to show off her talent. Warner Brothers loaned John Garfield to MGM in what would turn out to a good move for all concerned.  Garfield gave one of his most subtle and moving performances, which soon led to a more mature style in films like “Body and Soul” and “Force of Evil.”

One of the major criticisms of the film is the ending with it’s, strangely enough, religious overtones including Frank asking the Priest about him and Cora being reunited in the afterlife. It is an odd ending, considering one of film noir’s traits is its anti-heroes existential viewpoint, which the film’s ending is at odds with, unlike say, Siodmak’s “The Killers”, made the same year where Ole “The Swede” Anderson takes responsibility for his situation by accepting the consequences of his past actions remaining in his room and refusing to run anymore. It is like the filmmakers, after all that came before, the murder, the duplicity still wanted a happy ending and Frank while not ecstatic seems to accept his doom with a contented look on his face. This is partially why the film has met with widely diversified responses, some considering it a classic film noir, others saying Cain’s classic pulp fiction was ruined by Hollywood. The truth may rest somewhere in the middle.

postmana     Directed by Tay Garnett with a screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, the film opened in May 1946 to critical applause and large audiences. Cain however, was not happy with the changes made though he was impressed with Lana Turner’s performance, so impressed that he gave her a signed leather bound copy of the book. Off screen, Garfield was also “impressed” with Turner, as was she with him, enough so they had a short lived romantic liaison. Apparently, the sparks that flew on screen did not translate off-screen and the affair was over quickly though they remained friends long after the filming ended. That said, Jane Ellen Wayne in her gossip filled thin biography of Lana Turner states that Tay Garnett said while Garfield and Turner were attracted to each other they did not have an affair. So what is the truth? We may never know, though it is well known that both Garfield and Turner had large sexual appetites and they were attracted to each other.

postman_always_r1_10157    In addition to Garfield and Turner, there are some nice performances by Hume Cronyn as the deceitful slimy lawyer, Leon Ames as the D.A. and Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s husband Nick Smith. The changing of Cora and Nick’s last name to Smith from Papadikis was certainly another attempt to sanitize the novel. In the book Nick was sometime even called “The Greek.” Audrey Totter, as Madge, who Frank has an affair with is wasted in an early role.

The final verdict? Well, the film is not the extraordinary classic some folks say it is. It is not up there with the two previously made films based on Cain novels, “Mildred Pierce” and Billy Wilder’s masterpiece “Double Indemnity.”  Of course, few films are on the same playing field as Wilder’s film.  That said, if you put aside the fact Lana Turner is just too stunning, and too well lit, to be believable as a waitress at a pit stop diner, and ignore the unsatisfying un-noir like ending, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” remains a flawed yet significant portrayal of ill-fated passion, and a ground breaking work in adult film entertainment.

Sources:  The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain

TCM Website Articles

Lana: The Life and Loves of Lana Turner – Jane Ellen Wayne

Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir – Eddie Muller