Monday, 17 October 2016

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Ingen er fuldkommen
Comedies do not age well. Sadly, really, because I love good comedies. It is something about the cultural references that change over time, I suppose. It is one reason the List is so thin on comedies. Most comedies that do survive are those that rely on physical comedy, such as the silent masters or Tati.

This is why I am super delighted that “Some Like It Hot” comes a long and proves the exception to the rule. It is not a physical comedy (not at heart at least), but more of a situational comedy, thick with wonderful dialogue. It is a comedy that is funnier than most comedies made today and immensely more charming. “Nobody is perfect” but “Some Like It Hot” is damn close.

Okay, I think I made it clear that I love this movie. It is an absolute bliss to watch and it totally makes me crack. Not just the happy, fuzzy smile, but the Oh-God-I-Cannot-Watch-He Did-Not-Do-That roaring laughter. Man, I needed that. Those last few weeks have been terribly busy and this movie is the second best medicine (getting less busy is after all the best). In fact I would prescribe this movie to anybody with any sort of trouble.

If you do not know this movie I will personally spank you. Even I knew it and not just of it. “Some Like It Hot” defines a classic movie on par with “Gone with the Wind” and the Indiana Jones movies and a synopsis would be a waste of time.

Here is instead all the wonderful things this movie provides.

Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe is career defining roles. As a trio they are just perfect. Tony as Joe/Josephine is the guy with all the harebrained scams and Jack Lemmon as Jerry/Daphne has that perfectly timed wackiness that makes him wonderfully funny without going over the (Jerry Lewis) top. In fact, they accomplish successfully what Martin and Lewis tried and failed to be. And Marilyn Monroe is of course the star. If you ever wondered about her reputation and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” did not convince you then “Some Like It Hot” will. She is perfect as the silly, but sweet blonde bombshell. If anything she is almost too good for the band she is supposed to sing in. I would have liked to say that her comedic timing was perfect, but I read that she was so high on pills that she could not remember her lines and her scenes had to be taken dozens of times to get them right. Sad, really. Wikipedia writes that when Billy Wilder was asked about another movie with Monroe he answered:  "I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I'm too old and too rich to go through this again."

Billy Wilder of course has a large share in this movie. He is one of my favorite directors and certainly one of the most versatile. He excels at every genre and his trademark is that his movies always have bite. Even “Some Like It Hot”. It went far beyond the production code in what you could show, say and do. Cross dressing, hints at homosexuality and a Monroe so hot that she could wake a dead, which is incidentally what she is supposed to do (Tony Curtis in his third incarnation as the emotionally crippled Shell heir). Wilder always challenged his viewers and never followed the standard recipes. That makes him a star in my eyes.

Then there is the music, oh boy. As the music is supposed to take place in the late twenties we get a jazzy score that is warm and fuzzy throughout, but when Monroe gives her songs we go a notch up and hit the roof. All her songs in this movie are classics, none more than “I Wanna Be Loved by You” but it is “I’m Thru with Love” that swipes my feet away. It is no wonder Joe/Josephine gives up her pretense and goes up to kiss her right there and then. I would want to do that.

I was trying to think of the funniest part in the movie, but gave up. There are just too many candidates. There are chase scenes, pretense scene, witty comments scenes, outrageous scam scenes, awkwardness galore… just too many to mention, and the crazy thing is they all work, even today. “Tootsie” owes a lot to this movie and any comedian on the run from the mob plot derive from “Some Like It Hot”. This may well be one of the most influential comedies ever made, if not the funniest.

1959 is a great year so far, I love it already.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Et mords analyse
I am not a big fan of courtroom movies.

It is not for lack of drama or poor performances, but the dirty feeling I get when I see right and wrong, truth or falsehood being settled by a fencing match between smart-talking lawyers. To my mind the idea of a court is as a place where the truth is revealed and judgement is sentenced. Okay, maybe I am naïve, but when I see how relative truth and justice is I always get depressed.

“Anatomy of a Murder” is both a well-made and engaging drama and an exposé of that very relativism. On the one hand we have what a appears to be the good guys fighting an uphill battle against a fancy lawyer and a very serious charge of murder and on the other a nagging feeling that we are rooting for the wrong people and that Preminger, in his usual subverting style, want us to see the weakness of the system.

James Stewart as Paul Biegler is a small town lawyer in his usual calm, common sense style. He is the one we have to root for. Paul lost his position as district attorney to a smart-ass lawyer and is scraping along with an underpaid secretary and an alcoholic friend. Then comes the case that might bring Biegler back in business. He is approached by Laura Manion (Lee Remick) whose husband Lt. Frederick Manion is charged with murder and although this seems like an almost impossible case Paul Biegler manages to get it turned around.

Here is the problem: Lt. Manion is guilty as hell. He did kill the barkeeper Barney Quill. Several witnesses saw it and he even turned himself in. However the defense manages to emphasize the reason for the murder, that Laura was raped by Barney and that that made Manion so upset that he went to kill him. Somehow by proving that Laura was raped by Barney the murder is okay and Lt. Manion is cleared… uh, what???

I do not seem to recall any legal system where it is permissible to grab a gun and shoot somebody because you are royally pissed. That is what police is for and that kind of vigilance is usually looked upon as more serious than the crime itself.

Also as we learn more and more about Laura and Frederick Manion the more unlikable and suspect they become. Laura had something very unpleasant coming, calling her a slut is not far off and I actually like adventurous and daring women, but Laura is cheap and stupid and run for easy and fast gratification. Lt. Manion is an aggressive brute and extremely jealous. The way he looks at people is friggin’ scary. I feel almost sorry for Barney Quill. Had it not been him it would have been somebody else, he just happen to be the one getting clinched.

If anybody ever deserved their punishment it would be these two, yet because they got such a likable and shrewd lawyer as Paul Biegler they end up walking away from outright murder. And we as audience is on their side, especially since the prosecutor is an arrogant asshole by the name Claude Dancer (George C. Scott).

This may be the story of David vs. Goliath and hoorah for the underdog, but I see it as a story about manipulation of the legal system leading the court to make the wrong decision and we are supposed to condone it.

If I just take a minute to calm down from this frenzy I have worked myself into I will easily admit that it is a very nicely composed movie with excellent acting all round. The rather long running time actually fly by, a typical Preminger trait. Yet the winner here and the reason I cannot dislike this movie is an absolutely brilliant soundtrack by Duke Ellington. Man, this may be my favorite soundtrack from the birth of sound movies until 1959. The music fits and carry the movie, lending it a groove and the mood. It is exactly the kind of music I like and at times I would just dip into the music and not care so much about what was going on in the movie.

“Anatomy of a Murder” is a good movie, maybe even an excellent movie, but it is also a movie that makes me angry and reinforce my antagonism for courtrooms and smart lawyers, even likable ones played by James Stewart.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

North by Northwest (1959)

Now here is a movie I have been looking forward to see for a long time. I did see it once many many years ago and my memory of it was so faint that I felt I could enjoy it as a first viewing this time round. But this is not a movie you can be ignorant about. “North by Northwest” is one of the most referenced movies around and you cannot blog about movies for long before encountering the “yeah, it is good, but compared to North by Northwest…”. So, there is that little anxiety that this movie is over-sold.

Well, I need not have worried. “North by Northwest” is exactly as good as its fame and probably better. It is one of those movies I enjoy from start to finish and all the little bits in between. It is one of those movies where all the components work to make it thoroughly enjoyable, even if it is, when you start thinking about it, a bit silly.

If you are reading this blog I would bet a fiver you already know this movie and so there is hardly any need for a summary. You will also know that this is Alfred Hitchcock, and knowing that the frequent reader will know that I am predisposed to the movie.

Alas, this is the classic Hitchcock theme of the wrong man in the wrong place, the mistaken identity theme where the protagonist is way out of his depth. Hitchcock really loved this theme. However where “The Wrong Man” was a dark and serious rendition of that theme and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” placed Mr. Ordinary in the world of spies, “North by Northwest” is a much more fun story. Yeah, there is death and destruction but the tone is much lighter and you can see how much fun Hitch had with this story. It is not a comedy, far too much tension and suspense for that, but Cary Grant as the unfortunate Roger Thornhill cannot help being charming and funny and he is helped by a script that allows him to be witty and amusing. I learned in the extra material that James Stewart were considered for the role, but that would have been an entirely different movie and he would not have hit the notes that makes this movie special. Yet, Grant also needs to be restrained. He is constantly balancing on that edge where he becomes a reprisal of those comedies that made his fame back in the thirties and forties. But a slick and charming yet superficial advertising agent is exactly the role Grant can do.

As in “39 Steps” and “Notorious” the actual crime is not really that interesting. Something about smuggling microfilm out of the country. We do not even know who the villains are working for, but it does not matter. This is all about the chase and the mixed up identities. Vandamm (James Mason) is hunting Thornhill because he thinks he is a government agent onto him, though that agent only exists is a decoy to protect the real agent. Thornhill hunts Vandamm because he is getting deeper and deeper into a mess of drunk driving, car theft and murder and Vandamm is the only one who can provide the answer. Trouble is Vandamm is a professional, Thornhill is an advertising agent. That sounds terribly uneven, especially when Thornhill is also chased by the police. Add to that a knock-out blonde who may not be what she seems to be (Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall) and you have the ingredient for a very exciting, witty and inventive double chase.

This is 1959 and the action may seem a bit lame and slow by today’s standard, but for me it works beautifully. I love when a movie takes its time at the right places, then accelerate when it matters and that is exactly what Hitchcock does. We have eight minutes in a cornfield with absolutely nothing happening and then suddenly a plane explodes out of the sky and knocks Thornhill over, tries to shoot him and finally flies straight into a gasoline truck. Woohaa. That is a master at work.

I revel in the intricacies of the story, of the plots within plots as in the old noirs and the beautiful shots, but the winning stroke is the sheer charm. You cannot watch this and not get happy. It is everywhere, even in the heavies and has a lot to do with brilliant casting. James Mason was always villain numero uno, Eva Marie Saint is cool and not dowdy at all, Martin Landau of course got a great career ahead of him and then of course Cary Grant.

Finally the inevitable question: Is this the best Hitchcock ever? I could say that I do need to watch them all first, but that is just stalling. The truth is that I could not make that decision. There are at least a handful contenders to that title already and it would depend on my mood of the day. Suffice to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with North by Northwest. It could be accused of being a remake of “39 Steps”, but it is so much better so that does not even count as a detraction.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The 400 Blows (Le Quatre Cent Coups) (1959)

Ung flugt
A quick skimming of the Book would make you realize that the sixties were if not dominated then at least heavily influenced by French film. I understand that this is the new French wave or Nouvelle Vague. Frankly I am not certain what the concept covers, I was never much into French movies of the sixties, but as today’s movie, “Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows)” is touted as the opening of the genre I must assume that it will be something like this.

I cannot say that I am super excited.

It is not that “Les Quatre Cent Coups” is a bad movie, it is not, not at all actually, but Mon Dieu this is a depressing movie! Ten-fifteen more of these movies and I will be ready to kill myself.

Apparently Francois Truffaut had a tough childhood. Certainly he felt enough bitterness about it that he decided to make a movie about it. As I understand it he has not made it a secret that the movie is to a large extent auto-biographical, although combined with the story of a few other people he knew. During this childhood of Truffaut’s, in the movie acted out by young Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, everybody were against him, his parents, his teachers, the social institutions and so he had to rebel and run away. If you think about it it is actually rather peevish.

Fortunately for the movie it is played out in a realistic tone. We believe that Antoine’s mother would rather be without him and considers him an annoying block on her feet and that his father has very little patience with him. Looking at the school and the teachers we also understand and believe that this is a very hostile environment bent on making the lives miserable for the students. That does make the movie feel less self-indulgent and makes us ready to sympathize with Antoine.

Antoine is a good child, and mind you, that is what he is, only a child. He is trying to fit in, at home, at school and with his friends, but both home and school are hostile environments who cares little about how he feels and what he thinks. Only his friends is his refuge. Children should not be raised by other children and when school and home are abandoned there is only so much friends can provide. Antoine lives on the street, steals and sleep like a homeless whereever he can get shelter.

Of course this is unacceptable, but instead of looking into the reasons why this is so everybody seem bent on blaming Antoine and forcing him to conform.

Through all this Antoine is almost sleepwalking. He is a witness to all that happens around him and to him but there are only few things he actually does and that is mainly to avoid and escape, which he does repeatedly.

I have a hard time watching people wallow in misery, especially when they are children. A movie that is all about that is very hard to get through. There are very few good things that happen to him and those that do happen are double edged and come back to bite him. Even the resolution is bittersweet: Escape, but what then? What is he going to do?

If this is how the next decade in movies will form I need a deep breath. This will be challenging.

On the positive side I would have to commend the movie on the realism of all this decay. I do not think I have ever seen such a depressing side to Paris. This is very very far away from “An American in Paris”. I bet there are and were a lot of teenagers who got their dream of romantic Paris shattered here.

My favorite actor/actress here must be Claire Maurier as Gilberte Doinel, Antoine’s mother. She is the devil. Her expression of pure malice when she tells Antoine that they do not want him home is brilliant. She easily qualifies to my top ten of most horrific villains in movie history.

I am so happy I can return to some American escapism with my next movies.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

...With a Chainsaw

...With a Chainsaw
I recently saw a post on Facebook asking you to mention the last ten book you have read and then add “with a Chainsaw” to the title. Silly, but the thought kept me awake for a large chunk of the night. What if I did that to the last ten movies I have watched?

Let’s see:

1.       Some Came Running with a Chainsaw

Uh, I want to see that one!

2.       My Uncle with a Chainsaw

Suddenly he is not such a cozy uncle anymore

3.       Dracula with a Chainsaw

Now, there is an idea for a Hollywood flat out of original ideas. Merging themes has become come il faut lately and this beats the crap out of Superman vs Batman

4.       Ashes and Diamonds with a Chainsaw

Strange, but not that funny

5.       Vertigo with a Chainsaw

This could get really confusing. Sort of a random massacre

6.       The Music Room with a Chainsaw

Very bizarre music! Or maybe the room is used for other things as well.

7.       The Defiant Ones with a Chainsaw

Not only are they on the run, but they are armed!

8.       Cairo Station with a Chainsaw

Everybody get out of there! The paperboy has gone completely bonkers!

9.       Gig with a Chainsaw

Now, there is a musical with an edge!

10.   Touch of Evil with a Chainsaw

Hmmm… not really working

And I will just add an eleventh for good measure

11.   Man of the West with a Chainsaw

That could work. A reinvention of the western

When you think about it there are plenty of good titles in movie history that would work and completely change the movie. Spartacus with a Chainsaw. The Dark Knight with a Chainsaw. The Fabulous Amelie from Montmartre with a Chainsaw. The Emperor Strike Back with a Chainsaw. Julia and Juliet with a Chainsaw. The Devil Wears Prada with a Chainsaw. Or go a bit back in history with Swing Time with a Chainsaw or Singing in the Rain with a Chainsaw. How about Citizen Kane with a Chainsaw?

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Some Came Running (1958)

Some Came Running
Life is a mess. This is not the usual Hollywood message where there is a deeper meaning to life and everything gets straightened out in the end, but as most of us will know reality is a messy soup and nothing ever goes exactly as we planned or hoped (and that is in fact not all bad). Then comes along a movie like “Some Came Running” and presents us with something closer to reality. A terrible mess.

First off let me say that I knew nothing of this movie going in. This movie is not included in the book I am following so I did not read a synopsis and the DVD cover is in French… All I knew was the main cast of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine and that it was directed by Vincente Minnelli. Ah, a sappy comedy, I thought. Boy, was I wrong.

Dave Hirsh (Sinatra) is a soldier arriving in the small town of Parkman. He wakes up upon arrival rather bewildered. Apparently he was put on the bus while drunk having mumbled something about this town and somebody had taken that literally. He is also in the company of a woman he does not know, Ginny (MacLaine), who seems taken by him.

Turns out Dave and Parkman has a history so Dave ditches the girl and checks into the local hotel. The movie is only slowly giving up its secrets so only gradually are we finding out how things stands and that is actually one of the interesting details of the movie. All through the movie we learn more and more about Dave. He is a writer who has not written in years, he has a brother in town, Frank (Arthur Kennedy), who is now one of the wealthiest men in town, but who ditched Dave when he was only a child, and Dave has a serious drinking issue.

The plot is essentially what happens when Dave lands in his old and very provincial town. For Frank his arrival is like the detonation of a bomb. He wife hates David’s guts, and soon gossip about Dave shakes the respectability the Hirsh family crave so much and starts a slide that threatens to explode the family. But Dave is just a catalyst. The Hirsh’es has enough tensions built up that an explosion was inevitable.

For Dave it is also an encounter with Gwen, a literature fan at the local school or college. Gwen is in love with his writing while Dave is immediately smitten by Gwen. Dave’s direct ways however is a complete turn-down for Gwen who image herself completely incompatible with the life in the gutter Dave is leading.

Rejected by Gwen Dave finds some comfort with Ginny, who is dumb as a door, but completely devoted to Dave and not without charm, and Bama (Martin), a professional gambler with an even greater drinking issue.

Dave vacillates between striving upwards to become a better man and court Gwen and sink to the gutter with Ginny and Bama. Clearly he does not belong in either place and that is the trouble. In Parkman Dave is trouble and no matter what he does he is fighting a loosing battle. It is so much easier to just flow with it.

This is not a story that brings resolution. There is no cozy landing here and in that sense it resembles life. At best there is shake up and that is refreshing until people get hurt and that they do plenty.  What is Dave to do? Or Gwen? Or Ginny? The only ones I do not feel sorry for in this story is Frank and Agnes. With their hypocrisy they deserve their downfall. The rest are just caught in this mess called life.

Although there are a few scenes potentially included for comedic effect this is not a comedy or a funny movie, unless you have a very dark sense of humor. To see comedic actors like Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in such a movie is interesting and it works surprisingly well. It also worked very well that I was totally unprepared for the movie. It unfolds as it was intended, very gradually, and we just do not know where it is leading. Much like life.

Although I am not prone to like this type of movie I was positively surprised. There is a poetic justice in the ending that seem fitting for this movie and I love the chaotic route to that place. Sinatra proves his value once again and Minnelli redeems himself. I can recommend it.


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

My Uncle (Mon Oncle) (1958)

Min onkel
Comedies are the exception rather than the rule on the List. Many of those that have been included are not that funny anymore as the years have not been kind to them. Those that do survive the passing of the decades are usually focused on visual humor and, more importantly, are intelligent. One such survivor is Jacques Tati’s “Mon Oncle”. I do not hesitate calling this the funniest movie on the list so far, even compared to Keaton and Chaplin. I do not remember laughing this much from any of their movies.

“Mon Oncle” is the second installment featuring Tati’s Monsieur Hulot. First time was in “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot” and back then I erroneously thought that that would be the only Hulot movie and desperately wished for some more. Luckily I was mistaken and I now got my wish fulfilled plenty. It is obvious that several years have passed, the Hulot character is more developed and the film itself, while still situational, is more focused and, yes, funnier.

Monsieur and Madame Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie) are of the nouveau riche. They live a very modern life in a stylized modernistic house full of electrical appliances. Everything wirrs and buzzes and are of the latest design. But it is also a very cold home. The garden is immaculate with straight lines and absurd curves, impractical in the extreme and the rooms of the house are largely empty. There are only a few items in each room and these are intended to be looked at rather than being used. In fact the Arpel home looks like a modernistic home design catalogue, not a place suited for living. However for the Arpel’s it fits their ideal of modern and efficient lives perfectly. They even have a child that serves the same purpose as the home. Needless to say Gerard (Alain Bécourt), the nine year old son is bored stiff in this home.

This could be a terrible story, but it is played out for fun. All those electrical appliances are hilarious. Some of them work less elegantly than others and combined they make the Arpels look ridiculous.  The extravagant and completely tasteless fish fountain is the garden is a good representation of this home. Made to impress it is actually completely laughable.

The antithesis of this home is Monsieur Hulot (Tati). He is anarchistic, childish, distracted and very inefficient. But he is also a warm and friendly character and greatly loved by Gerard. Hulot is brother to Madame Arpel and as he is unemployed he spends a lot of time with the boy. The scenes switch between the cozy old neighborhood where Hulot lives and the modernistic nightmare where the Arpels live. It is when these two worlds meet things get funny.

Hulot in the Arpel house, Hulot trying out a job in Arpel’s factory making plastic (very modern!) items, the Arpel’s trying to train Hulot. It is all a riot. I love the job interview scene and the garden party is fantastic. The neighbor is worth a movie all on her own and Hulot making plastic sausages instead of tubes is just amazing. Yet the winner is all those small details you hardly notice at first, but all contribute to make this culture clash truly epic.

Of course the story does not really lead anywhere. There is not a crime to solve or any big solution, only the chaos inflicted by Hulot. It becomes a prime concern for the Arpels to rid themselves of Hulot if they cannot reform him, but in doing so Hulot also becomes the key for Monsieur Arpel to meet his son at his eye level and reconnect.

I love that the movie is viewed from the eyelevel of Gerard. A nine year old would find all that modernity useless and laughable, though he might not consciously realize just how narcissistic it also is, and the old and inefficient, but warm and hearty world of Hulot’s is what dreams are made of.  It makes me forgive the naivety of the movie and fills me with a warm and cozy feeling.

It is funny to think of that all that modernity is now largely reality for many if not most of us. Automatic doors and vacuum cleaners are pretty standard now and we are surrounded by electric gimmicks of all sorts. The interesting thing is that this does not detract from the movie at all. The character types are universal and they totally work, also today.