tongue-tied lightning

10 Great Films I Saw in March and April

Yeah, I’ve been neglecting the viewing logs.  I’ll get back to that in May.  In the meantime, here’s the best of what you missed.

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979) – This was far darker, and far better, than I was anticipating it being.  The performance of a career from Roy Scheider and the final musical sequence might be my favorite in the history of musicals.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956) – I suppose it would be an insult to Nicholas Ray to term this one a Sirkian melodrama.  There’s so much subtext going on here, the threat to the nuclear family comes from within.  Every bit as strong as Rebel Without a Cause.  If not stronger.

Born to Kill (Robert Wise, 1947) – Despite Wise’s directorial style being more Val Lewton than Fritz Lang this is one of the noirest noirs I’ve seen.  Lawrence Tierney completely owns this film.  Though he gets plenty of help from the supporting cast.

Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson, 1962) – I struggle with this film in that its message is one I couldn’t disagree more with.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a great piece of filmmaking,  chilling and suspenseful, and contains what is probably the performance of Mitchum’s career.  Strangely, I saw Fritz Lang’s Fury this month which seems to carry the opposite message, one I agree with, but is a much less effective film.

Clash by Night (Fritz Lang, 1952) – A great blend of noir and melodramatic sensibilities.  I reviewed this here.

Cold Water (Olivier Assayas, 1994) – A great coming of age film.  The party scene that is its centerpiece is one of the more stunning pieces of cinema I’ve seen.

Late August, Early September (Olivier Assayas, 1998) – More Assayas, this time with Mathieu Amalric in the lead role.  It’s very much about death but also very clearly a celebration of life.  Assayas is consistently great and this film is no exception.

Man with the Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – There is no narrative to the film but it’s never less than engaging.  Just a stream of captivating images with the loose theme of filmmaking connecting them.  Many techniques we take for granted today were pioneered by Vertov and shown off to great effect in this film.

Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) – An underrated noir.  Considered here.

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004) – A powerful film.  It completely devastated me.  Enough has been said about Imelda Staunton’s performance, but it bears repeating, Hilary Swank’s Oscar belongs to her.


Clash By Night
March 19, 2010, 5:11 PM
Filed under: film | Tags: , , , , ,

The two previous American Lang films I had seen, Human Desire and The Big Heat, didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  However, I would like to revisit both.  Clash By Night on the other hand, had me at hello.  Opening with stormy seas, it is as much melodrama as it is noir.  The screenplay by Clifford Odets captures the best of both worlds, full of snappy dialogue and sexual intrigue.  It concerns a woman who has had some tough breaks in life coming back home to live with her brother, “Home is where you come when you run out of places” she says.  She meets a nice man and ends up marrying him, only to be tempted by his troubled friend.

The cast is fantastic, coming in I was excited to see Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe in the same film.  Imagine my surprise that Paul Douglas, who I had only seen in Angels in the Outfield, ended up really impressing me.  He has a very unique character, and it’s a shame he wasn’t used more.  Stanwyck is her usual fantastic self and Marilyn Monroe is really good.  I think she is undervalued as an actress these days and viewed as nothing more than a sex symbol.  Even later in her career she seemed to get a lot of roles that demanded little more from her than being cute or sexy.  Robert Ryan is very convincing in his role, he’s despicable, and the combination of him and Stanwyck, who it would seem sees much of what she doesn’t like about herself in him, is explosive.

Lang’s direction is as strong as ever.   I was particularly taken by how much he says with his shot compositions and cinematography.  He uses very suggestive lighting and blocking to get his points across.  There is one shot late in the film with Barbara Stanwyck in the center of the shot in the background with the imposing figures of Robert Ryan and Paul Douglas in the foreground on either side of her.  Imagery like this seems to be a forgotten art, obviously Lang does it better than most, but during Hollywood’s golden age it seemed to be more or less a given.  It’s rare these days to see images composed with such thoughtfulness.  As long as we can see the actors it’s all good.

The ending isn’t as dark as I was anticipating.  When in the projection booth Robert Ryan was talking about how he’d like to cut up the faces of pretty women I assumed it was foreshadowing a violent ending.  Though I’m grateful that wasn’t the case.  As dark as the film is, it is nice that the ending has a modicum of hope, if it isn’t an outright happy ending.  Paul Douglas’s character is so kindhearted it would’ve been painful to see anything less.  It can be a cruel world, but it helps when there is still room to hope.