Knife in the Water (1962) Roman Polanski

In 1963, Roman Polanski’s debut feature became the first Polish film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. It lost to Federico Fellini’s brilliant 8 1/2, certainly no disgrace.  The film’s American premiere was at the First New York Film Festival before beginning a regular theatrical run at the Beekman Theater in Manhattan. The film garnered plenty of publicity. In conjunction with an article on the NYFF, Polanski’s film made the cover of the September 20th 1963 issue of TIME Magazine. To say the least, It was an auspicious start for the young Polish filmmaker. The film itself is a three character psychological thriller containing more than enough tension, sexual and otherwise, to fill its 94 minute running time. The plot is incidental to the ironic atmosphere and dialogue between the characters that cuts deep, like the huge knife the young man carries on his person.

Andrezj (Leon Niemczyk) , a middle aged man and his young beautiful wife, Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) are driving in the countryside heading toward the lake for a Sunday boating trip. You can feel the tension between the couple right at the beginning with Andrezj noticeably irritated with Krsytyna’s driving. Upset herself, she eventually pulls over and lets him take over the driving. Half a mile down the road a young, good looking hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) forces the couple to stop their car by standing in the middle of the road.  “You’re lights are still on,” he monchalantly tells Andrezj.  Annoyed, Andrezj tells him, that if he had performed this stunt a half a mile back, he would have been dead, snidely getting a dig in at his wife’s driving. The tension between the couple remains evident, though the wife has not said a word. The husband continues pushing buttons, getting in another dig at his wife telling her,  “oh sure, you would pick the guy up.” Exasperated by her demeanor, Andrezj practically drags the young hitchhiker into the car. Continue reading

M*A*S*H (1970) Robert Altman

In January 1970, I was back from Vietnam only five months or so. A four month stint followed in the states at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and now I was on leave before heading off to Germany to complete my three years of service.  While home, I was catching up with family, friends and movies, lots of movies! While everyone else was working during the day, I spent many hours in Manhattan (I lived in Brooklyn at the time) in the dark of a movie theater or two or three.  One of the films I caught was M*A*S*H.

From the opening scene with choppers carrying the bloody wounded bodies of soldiers, while on the soundtrack came the soft mellow sound of a song with the odd title, “Suicide is Painless,” you quickly realized  you were in for something different.  Here was a satirical, unhinged bloody (for the times), offensive, anti-war comedy.  The film not only mocked military procedures and war but religion takes a bit of a beating too. Like “Dr. Strangelove,” some six years earlier the film laughs at the absurdities of war and the bureaucracy behind it. Egotism, incompetence and piousness all take a shellacking.

The films two anti-heroes are Hawkeye Piece and Trapper John McIntyre played respectively by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. They are superstar surgeons stationed in a M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit only a few miles from the frontline in Korea. A third surgeon, Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) is also part this tight renegade group. From the beginning the surgeons establish themselves as outside the rules of military behavior. Even when they are not in surgery, they operate on a separate playing field; rank and prodigal are ignored, they speak to everyone on a first name basis. During one surgical operation Duke tells the chaplain, Father Mulcahy, aka Dago Red (Rene Auberjonois), to stop praying over a dead soldier and assist him in saving the life of the patient he is working on saying, “I’m sorry, Dago, but this man is still alive and that other man is dead, and that’s a fact.” Continue reading

Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon: The Cat and the Canary

This is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Movies of 1939 Blogathon.

“The Cat and the Canary” has a long history dating back to a 1922 play written by John Willard. In 1927, Universal made a silent version adapting the play to the screen. Directed by German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni and starring Laura LaPlante the film was a moody, imaginative, expressionistic work. Unlike most filmed plays of the time, Leni made this a visual delight making it one of the most stylistic films of the silent era. In 1930, Universal made an early sound version retitling it “The Cat Creeps.” Unfortunately, this film which predates Universal’s classic horrors is presumed lost with only clips remaining, despite claims, and a number of votes on IMDB, to have seen the film. They most likely have it confused with a 1946 film with the same title.

Bob Hope made his film debut in the 1934 short called “Going Spanish” made for the Educational Films Corporation of America. This was followed by a series of other minor shorts for Vitaphone/Warner Pictures (Watch the Birdie, Paree, Paree, Double Exposure, Calling All Tars and Shop Talk) before he signed on with Paramount Pictures where he made his feature film debut in “The Big Broadcast of 1938,” in which he introduced what would turn out to be his future theme song, “Thanks for the Memory.” It would take Hope a few additional films to fully develop his screen persona that would make him one of the top stars of the 1940’s and a major influence on a young boy named Allen Stewart Konigsberg who in the 1960’s would materialize as Woody Allen. The film that would first emerge as the first classic Bob Hope comedy was “The Cat and the Canary.” Continue reading

Short Takes III: Groucho, Doris and Frank James

Horse Feathers (****1/2) The only thing wrong with this hilariously funny Marx Brothers film is the absene of Margaret Dumont from the cast. Other than that this film, the fourth of five for Universal the Brothers made is outstanding.  At this point in time the Marx Brothers were in the middle of a series of iconic films that still stand today as gems of absurdist comedy. The anarchistic arm of comedy rules right from the opening scene when Groucho, as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, performs, “Whatever It Is , I’m Against It,”   and that pretty much is the theme of this short 75 minute film.

There are so many great scenes it is difficult to highlight just a few. I love the row boat scene with Groucho romancing Thelma Todd while she is attempting to seduce the team’s plays out of him. The entire sequence has a risqué and somewhat surrealistic feel to it all. When Thelma fall overboard and screams to Groucho to throw her a life saver, heroically he does just that, a candy life saver. The final wedding scene ends in what could be termed a riotous orgy. The scene opens with Groucho, Harpo and Chico standing off to the side as newlywed Thelma and an unseen groom, presumably Zeppo, are receiving their wedding vows from  the preacher. As soon as he pronounces the couple man and wife and says to kiss the bride, Groucho, Harpo and Chico literally jump all over Thelma falling into one big pile to the ground.   Directed by Norman Z. McLeod.

My Dream Is Yours (***1/2) an odd little musical with a young Doris Day and second banana Jack Carson in the male lead role. Despite being a musical there are dark overtones of alcoholism and the death of a husband/father in the war. I am not much of a Doris Day fan (I’m diabetic and cannot take the sugar rush) generally avoiding her films like I would a hornets’ nest, but Martin Scorsese discusses this film in the new book, CONVERSATIONS WITH SCORSESE and liked it. Coincidently, it recently popped up on TCM and thought, with the Scorsese recommendation, I would give it a try. The film is a mixed bag, but  there is a wonderful dream sequence blending live action and animation featuring Bugs Bunny, along with Doris and Jack that is the highlight of the film. Location shots in Hollywood including Schwab’s Drugstore and The Brown Derby add a nice flavor. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

The Return of Frank James (**1/2) Fictional version of Frank James pursuit of the Ford Brothers for the killing of his brother Jesse. As portrayed by Henry Fonda, Frank James is a gosh darn, soft spoken, man of the land kind of guy just out for good ol’ American revenge. I find Fonda such a likable actor, he could play a serial killer and you gosh darn want to like him. Henry Hull is entertainingly blustery as the newspaper editor/lawyer who defends Frank in court. The recently deceased Jackie Cooper’s death scene in the film has more corn than tears, and the film is also hurt by some serious stereotyping dialogue forced to be read by the black members of the cast. Nicely photographed by George Barnes. Directed by Fritz Lang. Cast includes Gene Tierney, John Carradine and Donald Meek.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Charles Chaplin

Note:  A couple of years ago I did a series of reviews for Halo-17, an Australian music and arts website which from what I can tell is no longer out there in cyber space. In the past I have occasionally linked to some of these reviews here at Twenty Four Frames. Recently, it seems all the links lead to an internet void; subsequently I have been occasionally posting these reviews here in updated versions. The original postings with broken links have or will be deleted.

Dare I say that “Monsieur Verdoux: A Comedy of Murders” is Charlie Chaplin’s best film? If not, his best certainly one of the best, a brilliant black comedy unlike anything else in his portfolio. It was not his first feature film without The Little Tramp character, that would be “The Great Dictator,” though the Jewish barber may be a close relative. Verdoux is a completely different characterization with little trace of sentimentality.,  In its place, he had a mass murderer.

It must have been a strange film to the American public of 1947, only two years after the end of World War II; black comedies were rare back in those days. I can only think of “Arsenic and Old Lace” as an early example. Besides that, Chaplin was on the outs with the U.S. politically. Chaplin leaned toward the left and from the 1930’s on his films took on a definite political slant. “Modern Times” depicts poor workers and striking labor unions and in “The Great Dictator,” Chaplin practically stops the film cold with a dramatic political speech where he addresses the audience as comrades. During World War II, he did not support the Allied war effort, which led to a public outcry. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had been keeping a file on Chaplin for years. In addition, he was fighting off a scandal with a very young actress named Joan Barry who claimed she fathered his child. Blood test would prove the child was not his though damage to his career was done. By the time “Monsieur Verdoux” was released, two years after the end of WW II, with its attack on capitalism, many critics attacked back and the crowds stayed away. Some theaters even refused to play the film. While there were many critics who disliked the movie, and or Chaplin, the film did have its supporters. James Agee wrote an extended three part essay in “The Nation” calling it, “One of the best films ever made.” Continue reading

Short Takes II: Three Reviews

Theodora Goes Wild  – (1948) Small town girl living with her two Aunts leads a double life as a Sunday school teacher and organist while secretly writing bestselling “sexy” novels, one of which causes an uproar when the local town newspaper serializes it, much to the dismay of the self righteous local “literary society,” a group consisting of stuffy skirted elderly ladies, who want the so called “filthy” book banned. A entertaining if non-extraordinary romantic comedy thanks mainly to a sparkling and charming performance by Irene Dunne, with some fine assistance from Melvyn Douglas as  a book illustrator, who has a big secret of his own  that comes to the surface halfway through the film. Dunne’s character break out of her plain Jane small town mode once she hits New York and meets Douglas revealing herself to be a much freer spirit than anyone back home would have ever believed. The cast also includes Thomas Mitchell. Thurston Hall and Spring Byington. Directed by Richard Boleslawski. Based on a story by Mary McCarthy. (***)

Open City (1950) – A landmark Italian film made with black market film stock, few professional actors and extremely limited finances, in other words, Guerilla filmmaking, Italian Style. The film centers on a group of resistance fighters eventually betrayed by a former mistress of one who is seduced by the German lesbian assistant of the Gestapo officer in charge, a sadistic creep named Bergmann. The film still contains brutal scenes of torture that must have been truly shocking to filmgoers when the film was first released. My only problem with the film is the extreme broad strokes of good versus evil director Roberto Rossellini, and scriptwriter Federico Fellini, paint. The resistance fighters have God, Church and family on their side versus the evil  Nazis who are vile, sadistic, heartless, homosexual, lesbian, anti-religious zealots.  Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi star.  (****1/2)

Moonrise (1948)  – Frank Borzage’s moody expressionistic and lyrical criminal tale of guilt, anger, violence and ultimately redemption contains a nice performance from Dane Clark who as the son of a convicted murderer has been tormented his entire life by schoolmates and others for his father’s sins.  When Clark,  now a young man, accidently kills one of his tormenters he must confront the choices in his own troubled life. Be like his father, a man on the run, facing a similar fate, or surrender to the law freeing himself of his guilt and his past. Gail Russell is his understanding love interest. Some early performances from Lloyd Bridges and Harry Morgan, listed here as Henry Morgan. (***1/2)