Before I get totally immersed in studying for my Second Language Acquisition class final (next Saturday, check your local listings for exact time and channel) I'm going to make a few quick comments about some of the films I've watched recently. I offer these in no particular order and without further ado.
Female (1933). Ruth Chatteron is the wealthy CEO of a car company who uses men, sometimes as sexual playthings. At the risk of being obvious this is a pre code film and is in fact a classic example of the genre. Such a film would not only have been impossible to make in the first 30 years the code was enforced, its hard to imagine it today. Its so wonderful to see a woman in charge, even if she finally does meet her match in George Brent.
Baby Face (1933). Another pre code film, this is to me the epitome of those daring movies made before the Hays office started its heinous censoring. Moreover its one of the better films of all time. Barbara Stanwyck couldn't be better as a woman who ruthlessly sleeps her way to the top, casting men aside like used banana skins. Like Chatterton in Female, she too gets more than she bargained for upon meeting George Brent. What was it with that guy?
Lacombe, Lucien(1974). It's a good enough film but one would certainly expect more from director Louis Malle. He set himself a heck of a task making the protagonist such an unlikeable fellow. While an interesting and never boring, LL does not show the craftsmanship of most other Malle films. This was my second viewing and I like it less, maybe because I first saw at the Pacific Film Archives on the big screen. It's the story of a somewhat dim witted young Frenchmen who stumbles upon and joins forces with the collaborationist French police force during Nazi occupation. Full of good performances.
King & Country (1964). Speaking of the PFA, I saw King and Country there last Thursday. I now have another film to add to my list of outstanding World War I movies. It's got elements of Paths of Glory (1958) though the man on trial here is actually guilty of the charges. Whether he deserves the death by firing squad is another matter. Tom Courteny is excellent as the naive war weary young British soldier charged with desertion and Dirk Bogarde gives a superb performance as the officer who defends him (any Bogarde fans out there?). One of a legion of films that examines the lunacy of war. Done in 18 days on the cheap, it feels like a stage play but with all that rain and mud looks and is a really good film.
Shutter Island (2010) One of those rare films that I absolutely have to see again to decide upon. I wrote about it the other day so won't go on too long here other than to re-iterate that it has had a lingering effect on my thinking and even though I'm not sure how much I like it. Must see it again on the big screen.
Flame and Citron (2008). In terms of movies, World War II is the gift that just keeps on giving. Released last Summer in the States and now available on DVD was this film about two heroes of the Danish resistance. No, I knew nothing about the Danish resistance and in fact as much as I've studied the war I'd never given it much thought. Flame and Citron were the code names of two Danes whose primary jobs were as hit men. Their targets were generally Danes who'd gone bad, that is collaborated with the Nazis. It's a true story and a powerful one well told. Two relatively ordinary sorts become heroes due to the extremely unusual circumstances of the time and place. Appropriately bloody, sad, nerve wrecking and fascinating.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943). You're a fine actor Robert Downey Jr. but when it comes to playing Sherlock Holmes, give me Basil Rathbone anytime. As for Dr. Watson, I'll take the lovable Nigel Bruce over Jude Law or anyone else any time. That said this particular edition of the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes films is merely adequate. Likes others made during WWII it tries too hard to be anti Nazi and takes us away from what Holmes does best, match wits. Still a diverting and delightful film with a good bit of sleuthing.
Taxi Driver (1976). Wow. It's one of those cinematic experiences that makes you wonder what you should single out and praise. How about the performance of its star, Robert De Niro? You could also go with the screenplay by Paul Schrader. Maybe Martin Scorsese's direction? The supporting cast? A particular scene? The mood of the film? It's influence? Great films are like that. You find different things to admire with each viewing. This time I was struck by lead character Travis Bickle and his utter and complete separation from society. Bickle made attempts to engage with his fellow humans but really didn't have it in him. The one person he got along with was a teenage prostitute and she ended up having to watch him shoot holes through three people. It's a great story of an alienated man.
Germany Year Zero (1948). I've already promised to devote a whole post to director Roberto Rossellini's extraordinary war trilogy, of which this is the third part. I'd never see this one before and suffice it to say was suitably impressed. To say it belongs right up there with its predecessors, Open City and Paisan, is high praise indeed and praise I give without hesitation. See all three and meanwhile I'll try to find time in the coming weeks to go on and on and on about them. This latter is, as the title implies, set in Germany. The war has ended and we see that Germans are paying a heavy price for their defeat. We follow in particular one young lad trying against all odds to make the best of a sad situation.
Captain Blood (1935). I didn't so much watch it as have it on while I tended to other matters. It's a familiar enough film with Errol Flynn swashbuckling and Olivia de Havilland looking gorgeous, which of course came naturally for her. You also get Guy Kibbee, the great Mr. Rathbone, Harry Stephenson and Donald Meek. Michael Curtiz directed and he knew how to make a rollicking good adventure story. You can have your Pirates of the Caribbean, give me the pirate adventures of Hollywood's Golden Age.
Europa Europa (1990). This is one of those films that isn't terribly well told but you don't mind because its such an amazing story. A Jewish-German teenager living in Poland at the outbreak of World War II escapes the Nazis and is taken in by the Soviets. When Germany and Soviets go to war he's on the run again until being captured by the Nazis. He pretends to be...well I could go on about this incredible tale. The kid ends up in of all places the Hitler Youth where he squires a young Jew-hating Aryan bird played by Julie Delpy. Wait a second, didn't I say earlier that he himself was a Jew? Yup. What makes it all the more remarkable is that this is a true story. Not a cinematic work of art but when the story is this compelling, who cares? Very well worth seeing.