Saturday, 29 March 2014

Black Narcissus (1946)

Den Sorte Lilje
Only few minutes into ”Black Narcissus” one thing was very clear: I was in for a cinematic treat. “Black Narcissus” won some of the most well deserved Oscars for it’s cinematography and art direction and all through the movie we are treated to the most extravagant display of cinematographic superiority. I am flat down on my stomach, this is by far the most beautiful film I have seen so far on the list.

To start with it is in Technicolor. Powell and Pressburger had already shown us what they can do with colors in “Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and again in “A Matter of life and Death” and thanks to the excellent combination of head of photography Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge they reach a peak with “Black Narcissus”. The colors are not just beautiful, they are also used to dramatic effect. There are color filters to reflect moods, cold colors, warm colors, haze or clarity and at a critical point, pang!, a very red dress, lipstick, pale skin, drama and violence.

Secondly they manage to create this mountain recluse of a convent in the Himalayas. A solitary structure impossibly clinging to the rocks with a sheer drop of hundreds of meters to the valley below. Vistas all-around of the most dramatic mountainscape imaginable. It is gorgeous, dramatic and not without a hint of Shangri-La. The place is populated with native Indians and the recluse itself is painted dramatically with erotic dancing scenes reflecting its former use as housing for the ruler’s harem. Shockingly all this is just an illusion created in the Pinewood studios in England, but it is so real that they got letters from people in India who recognized the place! Just amazing.

Any review of this movie must first of all relate to this astonishing feat of cinematography, and frankly I would be happy if this was all I got from the film, but there is a lot more to it.

It is the story of a group of nuns led by sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) who has been sent out by the sisterhood to create a convent at this remote location. The local leader, the General (Esmond Knight), has graciously lend them the use of this old palace/fortress/recluse after a group of monks gave up their mission. The General’s agent is an Englishman called Mr. Dean (David Farrar) and he is the contact point for the sisters.

This is a clash from the beginning. The nuns are almost the definition of repression and control with their white, tight and elaborate outfits and a total submission to their vocation. Even for nuns this group of sisters seems particularly bent on ignoring all outside distraction to focus on their dedication to work and prayer. Mr. Dean is the exact opposite. His cloth is in disarray, his hat would look shabby on a hobo and his easy manner speaks of a man who takes it easy. 20 years later he would have been the local hippie. He is also a representative of this place. Everything here is about loosening up and be honest to yourself. The locals are artless and honest, the nature is brutal and beautiful and there is something very intoxicating about this place. The erotic paintings on the wall seem quite natural here.

Much of the enjoyment of this film is watching this clash unfold. The poor sisters start to unravel, not in the sense that they become unhappy, but their determination for denial is challenged in a big way, almost as if this place is ruled by a different god , one with different rules than the one they are used to. Sister Clodagh is desperately trying to keep the sisterhood under control, but she is also haunted by dreams and thoughts from a time before she joined the sisterhood. I enjoy all this, not because of some mean streak in me against nuns, but because it is such an interesting personal conflict which here is lifted up from being just personal to a general conflict. It asks the nuns if this is really what they want, it moves them to see a greater world of beauty and passion and a divinity, which is not covered by their interpretation. At some point Sister Clodagh asks Mr.Dean in exasperation what to do about these locals besieging their world and he replies “Do what Christ would have done” implying that their true calling might be something else than what the sisterhood calls for.

The sisters are also a colonial intrusion into a world that has done fine without them for thousands of years and we sometimes get this feeling that the locals are looking at the nuns bemused, wondering what to make of them. There are two most interesting representatives of the local culture. One is an Indian girl called Kanchi. She is the embodiment of sensual eroticism. She does not say anything, but dance invitingly, look at men with unhidden desire and seems to belong far more than the nuns in this palace. It took me a long time to realize that this is actually Jean Simmons. Really, I could not recognize her. For a long time I was convinced that this really was an Indian girl.

The other representative of the local culture is the son of the General (Sabu). He is a young man very intent on learning all he can from the nuns. He embraces their culture with fervor, but in the end turns away from them in favor of Kanchi. Just to put a big fat line on how alien and misplaced the sisterhood is in this environment.

The story reaches a dramatic height when one of the sisters break down completely. All the sisters are losing it collectively, but Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) becomes utterly mad. She was already chaffing under the constraint of the sisterhood when they left for this place, but it comes to a blow as she breaks the bondage. The scene where she steps out wearing a bright, deep red dress instead of the white and serene outfit of the nuns is so dramatic and erotic. There are sweat drops on her forehead and her lips are curled in a snarl as breaks free. She is a fury, a mad force of sexual energy who like a chain lightning storms around wreaking havoc. My favorite scene of the entire movie (and there are many to pick from) is Sister Ruth emerging from the door with wet hair, a pale face and eyes bent on murder. There is so much energy in this picture that you cannot help gasping. Wow.

I have in the past enjoyed the Archer movies, but always had that little “but”. Here there are no “buts”. This film is a master piece and I can only recommend to anybody who cares to listen. “Black Narcissus” is an interesting story about fundamental questions wrapped in a production that is just mindboggling.         

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Notorious (1946)

It was with some anticipation that I went into ”Notorious”. Hitchcock is, well, Hitchcock and as far as I can tell “Notorious” has a bit of a reputation. Besides the acclaim, a movie that features Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains cannot help being subject to hype.

High expectations are disadvantageous. This is not a bad movie, not at all, but I am not entirely thrilled by it either.

T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) is an agent of sorts for the US government sent out to recruit the estranged daughter, Alicia Hüberman (Ingrid Bergman), of a Nazi traitor for a delicate job. Apparently the Hübermans is a German immigrant family in the States who belonged to a subversive circle of German who in exile had decided to follow Die Vaterland. I suppose most countries at war, cold or hot, are obsessing about a fifth column enemy working from within. For a brief time during and after the war those ghosts were Nazis. Later they were Commies.

In any case Miss Hüberman loves her new country and has no sympathy for her father, but she is intimately familiar with this circle of Nazis so Devlin’s agency can use her as a mole.

Ingrid Bergman is excellent as the careless, even nihilistic, party girl and it actually took me a little while to recognize her. I never saw Bergman this rowdy and flamboyant before and that was a revelation. Unfortunately she deflates as she is recruited and the entire film seems a deroute for her. As she and Devlin goes to Rio for the job she tries to replace her passion for party with passion for Devlin, but Grant is strangely wooden. While I certainly had no problem recognizing him, his profile is unmistakable, he seemed only a shadow of himself. He is supposed to be a gentleman agent, a proto James Bond, but he is sparse and dry in his charm, possibly to act up to the professional agent, but it looks more like restraint than toughness. Almost as if he has been ordered to tone Cary Grant way down. Hüberman seems to have agreed to the job out of love for Devlin, but Devlin grows more and more distant and her passion dims as well.

Along on this mission is Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) a jolly optimist who is in charge of the mission but looks more like he is on vacation in Brazil and certainly seems ignorant to what is going on between Hüberman and Devlin. His instructions are that Hüberman has to ingratiate herself on a certain Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) who is a local nazi-in-exile notoriety. These Nazis are up to something and if Hüberman can get a foot inside maybe they can find out what it is.

It works. Sebastian is flattered by Hüberman’s interest in him and immediately lets her in. He even proposes to her despite advice from his evil mother and Hüberman accepts.

Here is the strange thing and the heart of my troubles with this film. Devlin is just about the most unprofessional secret agent I ever knew. He gets emotionally involved with Hüberman. Well, you can say that it helps recruiting her, but once in Brazil his emotions keep interfering. Although he himself brought her in and in a very literal sense pushed her into the arms of Sebastian he gets jealous. Come on! It’s a job and YOU set it up! Instead of protecting her and supporting her most dangerous position he wanders off to sulk and seems genuinely more interested in whether Hüberman loves Sebastian. He is jealous on the mark, for Heaven’s sake!

For Hüberman it is a disaster. She is very literally in the lion’s den and not by her own design. The Nazi’s are almost faceless, menacing entities dressed up in suits and good manners and in their company you feel that violence and sudden death can break out without warning. Her lifeline is Devlin and he abandons her because she is doing her job.

This sort of unprofessional behavior annoys me, but I realize it is a general weakness in Hitchcock’s films. He may be using it as a device to create tension or simply thought that the romantic angle is a must. In “Shadow of a Doubt” it was kept at a level where it had minimum impact on the central plot and tension building, but because Hüberman’s precarious situation to some extent is a result of this childish behavior it bothers me a great deal.

Of course Devlin overcomes this spell of idiocy and shows up at the right times to do his job, he is after all the hero of the film, but it is Claude Rain’s Sebastian who ends up stealing the picture. Sebastian is a grandfatherly character who seems almost the unwilling bad guy. He is caught between his position in his social circle, his dominating mother and the terror of the Nazi group. How much he is really involved in their cause is always unclear. The group meets at his place and stores their secret doomsday weapon in his basement, but he seems like a guy who would rather just be married to a young and pretty girl. When he finally turns on Hüberman it seems to be motivated by the emotional betrayal more than cruelty as such and in the end self-preservation seems to win over the cause. Claude Rains is a far more human villain than we are used to and in light of Devilin’s inexplicable childishness Sebastian almost looks like the better catch.

Despite this Rains never gets out of character. Sebastian may be complex, but he is the enemy and when he and his mother set out to destroy Hüberman they are scary. Claude Rains is definitely an actor I have come to respect.

“Notorious” of course has plenty of classic Hitchcock suspense. The champagne running out as a countdown to disaster, the claustrophobic Sebastian mansion, the hidden enemy. All this is what we love from Hitchcock. He also likes to scare the shit out of pretty blondes and Hüberman is getting her dose. As she gets more and more frantic I recognize Bergman from her other roles. This is something she does well and often, maybe too often. Somehow I liked her rowdy badass attitude in the beginning of the film better, but hey, if you are looking for a girl who can look troubled Ingrid Bergman is the girl you want.

“Notorious” is entertaining and full of suspense, but it is not Hitchcock’s finest. So far that title belongs to the outstanding “Shadow of a doubt”. This is also not Cary Grant’s finest hour. But then again, both of them made so many excellent films that I can forgive them this one. “Notorious” belongs to Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The TSorensen Movie Award Part 3

The TSorensen Movie Award Part 3

Welcome back to the third installment of this ongoing award show that celebrate the first 200 movies on the List.

As mentioned previously I do not have the skill and insight to rank movies and performances along the classic lines for an award show so my categories are instead personal. Awards are given because I believe they deserve them.

The third award is for:


When you see a movie that you know should be good that is all very fine, but when you force yourself to watch a movie you do not really want to see or expect anything from and it then turn out to be great then that feels like the most wonderful thing in the world. You get that nice delicious surprise.

Going through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die chronologically forces me to see movies I have never heard of or from the little I know of them would never have chosen to see. Sometimes it is for a good reason, but just often enough those are the very films I end up loving and make me appreciate the List.

You can with some justification say that there are better films on the list, but if I already know they are good or have topics I am predisposed of, then it is hardly a surprise. For this reason you will not find acclaimed movies like “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane” nominated, nor film noir classics like “The Big Sleep” or  “The Maltese Falcon”. Nope, to win this award a movie must be to me A NICE SURPRISE.

Without further ado, here are the nominees.

  1. Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari
    I was totally unprepared for the surreal set, complex story, elegant twist and total goth feel of this film. And it is from freakin’ 1919!
  2. Brief Encounter
    Here I was expecting another silly romantic tearjerker and I had prepared myself for a long heartfelt groan. Instead this was an intelligent and gripping film about normal people going out of their depth. It is insightful and exactly right.
  3. Footlight Parade
    This was the movie that took me from at best tolerating musicals to genuinely liking them. The story is strong, the cast includes James Cagney and the three final installments (to just call them songs is not really fair) are just mindblowing.
  4.  L'Femme du Boulanger
    Comedy translates poorly and a French comedy, hmm, no offense but that is not really me. Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be hilariously funny and charming. Although I only caught half the jokes they we plenty for me.
  5. Olympia Part 1 and 2
    When I started the list I was seriously contemplating skipping the Leni Riefenstahl stuff. Nazi propaganda has no place on my shelves. But Olympia is so much more. Riefenstahl took their money, inserted some footage of Hitler and went ahead and invented modern sports event coverage. It is beautiful, exciting and surprisingly oblivious to its propaganda purpose.
  6. Dodsworth
    From out of nowhere I discovered this rarity. An intelligent film about the relationships of mature (or immature) adults with the melodrama on an absolute minimum.  I never would have thought that I would like it but I love it. What Hollywood movie dare say that a divorce can be the right thing? It take guts and I love, love, love that ending.


And the winner is…..


Brief Encounter

Thank you editors of the List for serving me this gem.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Great Expectations (1946)

Store Forventninger
I have in the past made a point of avoiding Dickens. Not because I have anything particular against him, but I associate Dickens with that image of Oliver Twist begging food and if there is something I cannot tolerate it is abuse of children. It is deeply unfair, I know, but it explains my utter ignorance on anything Dickens.

Of “Great Expectations” I knew practically nothing, but qua above I felt some apprehension when this film showed up on the list. My concerns were of course baseless as I soon found out and a very clear hint should have been that this is a David Lean movie. His “Brief Encounter” was an astonishingly deft and sensitive film and while “Great Expectations” never reaches those heights it does bear the mark of a master.

It did start on the wrong foot for me given my above concerns though. Young Pip (Anthony Wager as the boy, John Mills as the adult), only a child, is an orphan visiting his parents grave on a foggy and desolate cemetery when he is caught by a convict on the run (Finlay Currie). The convict wants food and threatens Pip with horrible things if he does not provide. Pips lives with his sister (Freda Jackson) and her husband Joe (Bernard Miles ) and while Joe is a truly nice guy, the sister is not. Pip is therefore in a bad place sandwiched as he is between the terrifying convict and the brutal sister. Of course this is excellent for creating tension and sympathy for Pip, but I just get confirmed that this is another film about child abuse. Poor Pip.

The crisis passes and without getting too entangled in the narrative Pip’s life takes a turn when he is invited into the mausoleum of a house belonging to the rich and eccentric Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt). I never really figured out why she wants him there and I suppose it is important in a sense. What I do know is that Miss Havisham also holds a young girl of Pip’s age, Estella (Jean Simmons as the girl, Valerie Hobson as the adult) and that Pip takes a liking to this strangely aloof girl.

This house and these people add no small amount of surrealism to the film. They are really weird. Miss Havisham whose fiancé never showed up at the wedding still wears her wedding dress many years later and the hall of the feast has never been cleared. The wedding cake in particular looks disgusting.  

Pip wows to become a gentleman and miraculously that actually happens when an unnamed benefactor sponsors his training and livelihood. Pip is off to London and is transformed from blacksmith apprentice to (useless) gentleman. A gentleman apparently does not have to work but has to learn certain stills such as dancing, eating and fencing and of course talk with that telltale British combination of reserve and politeness.

As Pip’s roomie and gentleman colleague, Herbert Pocket, we meet a very young Alec Guinness, yes, Obi Wan Kenobi! Thinking of that old Jedi in Regency period London really makes me smile.

The climax comes when Pip’s benefactor is revealed and Pip’s life again is turned upside down, but the juicy details shall not be revealed here.  

The movie has an interesting storyline with some very odd and curious twists that keep turning Pip’s life around, events that Pip largely have no influence on. He is adrift on this sea of fate. Although the threads ties up in the end I am not entirely sure that they do so satisfactorily. There is something missing there, but that could very well be the book itself. Will they head off to Australia were wealth awaits? And what exactly brings them together in the end besides both being alone? I am not sure it matters because this is a story where the journey is more important and the target.

Whereas Pip as a character is a bit bland he is surrounded by funky characters. The Lawyer Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan) and his crew of oddball assistants is almost a parody and all through his life Pip meets characters more interesting or at least weirder than himself.

I have been thinking long and deep thoughts on the message of “Great Expectations” and I am still not sure I have arrived at any conclusion. Where “Oliver Twist” is supposed to be a social critique “Great Expectation” feels more like a parody on society and fate. Something about that class is not a skill but a fortune and that true value may come from unexpected corners. Certainly the story makes mockery of the entire gentleman business. I am not entirely happy with that analysis, but it will have to do for now.

So, what is David Leans contribution to all this? Well, I believe he has made a story which without its colorful characters easily could have become dull and heavy, to a very entertaining one to watch. The sets are detailed, interesting and seem very representative of the age (something that landed it two Academy Awards), but Leans real achievement is the performance he gets out of his cast. Without them shining the film would not be half as good.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A Matter of Life and Death
“A Matter of Life and Death” is the story of an English pilot, Peter Carter (David Niven with his trademark pencil moustache), who miraculously escapes death when his plane crashes in the final days of WWII. In the final minutes before jumping the plane he has a, what he thinks is a last, conversation with an American radio operator, June (Kim Hunter). Emotions run rampant and they fall in love over the radio and when Peter, having survived a jump without parachute, looks her up they quickly become a solid couple.

Problem is that Peter should have been dead. Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), a fompish French dandy of an angel, lost his way in the fog and failed to conduct Peter up to Heaven. Now he is missing and that will not do. Conductor 71 is sent back to finish the job only to find that Peter’s life situation has dramatically changed. Peter asks for an appeal and a such is granted at the heavenly court.

In the real world Peter and June are deeply concerned with the strange appearance of angels and talk of death so they look up Junes friend Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) who happens to be a famous neurologist. He is in turn convinced that the talk of death and angels is indicative of a brain disease (tumor?) and the appeal court is a surrogate for his body fighting the illness. He encourages Peter insist on winning the appeal while he sends him on to a brain surgery.

Frank, who as a brain specialist should know better, rides a motorbike without a helmet and on the fateful night he crashes into the ambulance come to pick up Peter and so Frank enters the gates of Heaven ahead of Peter. This however solves Peters immediate problem of finding a defense lawyer. Dr. Reeves is the obvious choice and so he leads the case against the charges of a sinister Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey) of the prosecution.

I am very torn on this film. The first hour is excellent, if pumped into overdrive on the romance.  Niven, Hunter and Livesey are all excellent and the story has that dual thread of reality with a possibly fatal brain disease and the supernatural heavenly element that might, might not be imagined. I was amazed how smooth it was and how the story just rushes ahead. I am not so used to that and that is largely a tribute to the actors and set design.

Then about an hour in the movie changes gear and become a court drama, but of the most ridiculous sort. No fault of Raymond Massey. He is again excellent and the pompous role fits him. But there are so many things going wrong here. First of all the whole concept of the court. Considering that Heaven is supposed to exist outside of time and space it is surprisingly anglocentric. Everything is English and American and people or references outside the Anglo-Saxon world is only included as they relate to it. For instance there are no modern Germans in Heaven and the court in Heaven look and works like the Old Bailey. Now that could be explained by this being imagined by Peter as an Englishman. We all create our mythology in our own image.

Secondly Peter wants to extend life because he has fallen in love. That is nice. I am sure there are millions around the world who would like an extension of life on that behalf, but here it is all about proving the love. It seems to me that the romantic engine of the film here has run completely amok. It is of course sweet, but almost perversely so. It is the “love conquers anything” concept taken so far out that it just gets rather annoying. As a pretext the “if you are truly in love you do not have to die”, to me it is just a bit lame. I am too cynical for this film clearly.

All this however would certainly work on the pink pages of a women’s magazine and certainly there are plenty other films toying with those ideas. The killing point here is that the court is presented as some sort of contest between British and Americans. The prosecution and the defense are throwing all the national clichés at each other and Farlan’s main point is that the British suck and because Peter is British he has already lost, especially when it comes to getting an American girl.

I do not get this pissing contest. It is stupid and irrelevant for the story and smells of national inferiority complexes. There is a level of humor to it that I do get and which makes it possible to get through the procedure, but it so annoys me that a film that started out so nice ends up so stupid. Even if we assume that the entire heavenly court is a surrogate of Peters medical struggle I really do not see where the national pissing contest comes in. Oh, yes, we all love our national stereotypes, but it is just so stupid here.

Ah, getting that off my breast I can return to what I really like about this film: the set design and Roger Livesey.

I think the choice of making the earthly world in color and Heaven in black and white was genius. It is the opposite of “The Wizard of Oz” and it allows Heaven to be truly other-worldly. The color photography in our world was at the same time outstanding and with a slight rewriting of Conductor 71’s words, you do get starved for Technicolor. On top of that the film uses some interesting freeze frames that are nothing short of spectacular. Characters walking around the frozen images of other figures, that is just magic.

And Roger Livesey just gets better and better. His voice is so pleasantly British that I just wish he would keep talking. Thankfully he does not have to pretend he is Scottish so he can run his part full throttle. In a film with excellent performances his is the standout.

Conclusively I do not know where I land with this film. Part of me loves it, the other part is truly annoyed by it. Maybe I am of the wrong gender or age. Maybe ít is a British-American thing. I do not know. This film made it halfway there for me.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The TSorensen 1001 movie award part 2

The TSorensen 1001 movie award part 2

Welcome back to this ongoing award ceremony covering the first 200 film on the List.

This time I give the award for:


With budgets in their millions we are used to absolutely insane sets in modern movies, but early cinema was surprisingly good at giving us over the top sets. While a magnificent set does not make a good movie it does give us something to marvel at.

 The nominees are:

  1. Intolerance. Here I am of course referring to the totally over the top reconstruction of ancient Babylon. An insane feat that almost ruined Griffith. And consider how early this film is!
  2. Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari. The set of this film takes expressionism to its most extreme. Everything is off-kilter and adds to the gothic feel of the film
  3. Metropolis. The mother of all science fictions, this film gave us an entire world where the set was an active part of the story.
  4. The General. When Buster Keaton crashed that train it was the most expensive scene in movie history to that date and it took quite a few years before it was topped.
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front. This was a realistic portrait of life in the trenches. Here we are talking authentic outdoor mud and barbed wire at a time where sound film was restricted to specialized studio sets. How did they do it?
  6. Footlight Parade. The trio of acts at the end has to my mind never been topped in a musical.
  7. Gone With the Wind. The fire in Atlanta in Technicolor. I do not really need to say any more.
  8. The Wizard of Oz. From the twister to the colorful land of Oz there is so much to look at in this film and it is so seamless.

Worthy mentions: Frankenstein, Triumph des Willens, The Adventures of Robin Hood, A Throw of Dice.

This is a very close race and my final choice must be very subjective but the winner is:

Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari

This is a movie I never tire of looking at. There is so much to see and it works exactly right for the mood and the story. Haunting starts right here.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Killers (1946)

Den Der Hævner
It is time for another film noir, and, no no, I am not at all getting fed up with this theme. Certainly not when it comes in this quality. Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” is an excellent example of what a film noir can be. I have come to think that the classic film noir tropes are not really that classic. There are no certain elements that must be present in a noir, it is just that some key noir employed them so that has come to typify film noir. By now I believe it is simply a matter of mood. A noir vibe of darkness and this is something “The Killers” have in spades plus a lot of interesting twists on the tropes.

Just take the opening. Two gunmen arrive in a small town. In the diner they do not even pretend to hide who they are. Their menacing ways soon have waiter, chef and patron cowed before the gunmen move on to seek out the Swede (Burt Lancaster), a gas station mechanic, and fill him up with lead. The special noir’ish element here is that the Swede simply accepts this. From being a gangster flick this immediately has turned into a fatalistic and dark film about loss, deceit and violence.

Enter Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) a claims investigator from an insurance company who has to find out what happened so the insurance on the Swede can be paid out to the beneficiary. Reardon is, as the Book also points out, our representative in the film. He is the observer from the outside who is as baffled by this story as we are and soon finds out that this story is a lot deeper than just paying out 2500$ to some woman in Atlantic City. Reardon is drawn into the story and finding out how it all adds up becomes an obsession and so the observer becomes an agent in a very dangerous game.

I am certain that Robert Siodmak and his script writers saw and were very influences by Orson Welles “Citizen Kane”. There is a very clear parallel in the format of the films. Also here our observer is piecing together a puzzle by interviewing witnesses and players and through him we learn what has happened. This is a sort of flashback, sort of narration that could be called noir, but a Welles take on it. I think it is extremely elegant. We just learn enough with each step to sink a notch deeper into the story, but not anywhere clearer on what actually happened. When we finally get the reveal in the end I was surprised. It makes perfect sense but I did not see it coming.

It is almost a shame to explain the story because learning of the plot in the movie is an essential part of the fun. I will be circumspect and try not to ruin that fun.

The Swede was a guy of Swedish origin (duh) called Pete Lund. I would have loved a Fargo dialect on him, that was the only fault I could find with Burt Lancaster. In his past however the Swede went by the name Ole Anderson and was hopeful boxer. One fateful evening however he broke his hand and that changed everything. His boxing career over he turned from his friends and sank into the underworld. The magnet was a beautiful woman named Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner).  Eventually the Swede gets involved in a big and apparently successful heist and that event is at the crux of a drama of greed, deceit and double crossing.

It is complicated, but all the ends ties up in the end, which is satisfying but also a bit sad. Even sadder is that the successful resolution of the story results in a minor reduction is the insurance premium for the coming year, almost as if it was hardly worth it to uncover the story.

Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins is worth some comments on her own. The first time we see her she is exceptionally beautiful and alluring and it is not difficult to see why the Swede literally ditches his girlfriend to court this goddess.  In this sense Collins is the femme fatale that ruins people, morally if not financially. She is also unscrupulous and manipulative and thus fits the bill of the classic noir woman. But in a sense I think it is a bit unfair. She is no worse than the rest of the gang she hangs out with. They are all mean gangsters who use whatever tool works for them. Collins has her good looks and a low morale, but Colfax (Albert Dekker) is the real bastard here. However because of her gender Collins is considered particularly poisonous. Still she is just a tool.

Another interesting twist on the noir tropes is that it is not our lead who is heading for destruction. It is the subject who is. This might make it easier to watch since we do not have to sympathize to the same extend with the Swede, but it makes it no less interesting to follow and no less dark.

Solving a mystery is interesting, but rarely has it been this engrossing. I really enjoyed this one and hope there will be more Robert Siodmak coming my way.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

200 Movies Anniversary

200 Movies Anniversary
Another milestone: First 200 movies under the belt. Of course it depends on how you calculate it, but in my book I have now seen and commented on the first 200 movies on the List.

Whether that is an achievement worthy of celebration, I do not know. I am not in a race and have no deadline, but there is a sense of accomplishment in turning this corner.

I must say that going through the List has never been as fun as it is right now. I am cruising through one great movie after another and discover new ground as I go. Even the less good films of this era has something going for them and those few films where I felt I was wasting my time actually belonged to different eras. There is great stuff ahead of me too and I feel I have to put a leash on me not fly through these films.

So, it is custom for me to look back at the highlights and make some sort of top 10, but that is starting to get a bit old on me. Then I though, it is Oscar night tonight! Why not make my own award ceremony? Only, I found out that I am just not skilled enough to discern the excellent performances from the good performances. Making such a list would just expose my own ineptitude.

Instead I have invented my own, personal categories for this little award ceremony:



Over the next weeks I will present a number of homemade categories and nominate entirely according to my own feeble opinion.

Covering the first 200 movies on the List the nominees for the award as the



  1. Cary Grant
    Countless appearances, always good, the man every guy want to be and every girl want to marry. Standout achievements: The Awful Truth, Only Angels have Wings, Bringing up Baby.
  2. Humphrey Bogart
    The epitome of the hardboiled hero with a soft heart and an icon all on his own. Standout achievements: The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Big Sleep
  3. Jean Gabin
    The Leonardo DiCaprio of French cinema in the thirties. The man who by sheer presence could lift even mediocre films and scripts to excellence. Standout achievements: La Grande Illusion, Le Jour se Leve.
  4. Charles Chaplin
    The comedian and filmmaker who survived the talkie but not McCarthy and made the little tramp an icon to rival all sorts of deities. Standout achievements: The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times.   
  5. Henry Fonda
    Whether he be a cowboy or a farmer Fonda is integrity embodied. His name alone would make me want to see a film. Standout achievements: The Grapes of Wrath, The Oxbow Incident.

Worthy mentions: Emil Jannings, Edward D. Robinson, Orson Welles, Spencer Tracy, Buster Keaton, Dana Andrews, James Cagney.

And the winner is:

Cary Grant

In a very strong field he is actor I am looking out for. With him in it I know it is good.

The scandal here is that he never won an Oscar as best or supporting actor. Only in 1970, I guess out of sheer embarrassment, the Academy finally gave him a Lifetime Award.