Campagne” is something quite unusual on the List. It is an unfinished film
elevated to stardom by the ranks of critics. As far as I know this is the only
such film on the list. To attain such an acclaimed status an unfinished film
must be something truly special.
I have seen
it twice now and read a few reviews on it and frankly I am not entirely sure
about this film. Yes, I see there is a bittersweet taste to it which is quite
delicate but is it enough for critics to go totally into self-escalation over this
film? I just do not know. So far I am still undecided.
I guess is that the film seem a bit schizophrenic to me. On the one hand we
have a group of people straight out of a cartoon. They are basically
caricatures. The Parisian ironmonger of course in his big brutish ways and even
more his idiotic son in law Anatole, who belongs in an asylum, but also the
four core characters Madame Dufour (Jane Marken), the mother, Henriette (Sylvia
Bataille), the daughter, Henri (Georges D'Arnoux), boatman no. 1 and Rodolphe (Jacques
B. Brunius), boatman no. 2 are false in flavor to me. I find it hard to really
sympathize with them and they seem more like symbolic characters than actual
On the other
hand the story of a break from reality where Henri and Henriette can discover
love in a little bubble of their own world is quite exquisite, especially when
the spell is broken and reality with its harsh and boring face returns. It is
neat and it is poignant, but is it enough?
obvious that Henri and Henriette are the ones we are supposed to sympathize with
and if I put on my friendly glasses they are deeper and more sympathetic than
the rest. Henri at first is not interested in hitting on the guests and appears
to be the more responsible and less of a jackass than Rodolphe. He seems play
along merely out of boredom as the alternative is just to languish in the sun.
He even tries to talk Rodolphe out of the scheme. However when contact is made he
quickly zooms in on Henriette and edges Rodolphe out. I do not know if it is
because of genuine interest in her of just to protect her from Rodolphe. In any
case he quickly turns from being second pilot to actively court the Parisian
is portrayed as innocence incarnate. Her playing on the swing is a reference to
childlike innocence for sure and her reactions in general in the first half do
not point toward a deeper character. Only when in the boat with Henri do we see
a sadness and a longing to escape a life apparently cut out for her. She wants
to embrace this dream but is afraid to. This leads up to the “oh-no-oh-no-take-your-hands-off-me-but-yes-yes-I-changed-my-mind”
scene on the bank of the river. I know this is the highlight, where she is
giving in to the dream, but yes, I am laughing.
That is as
much as we know about them and it is probably enough, but I still feel a bit
cheated. I would like to know some more and maybe I would if Renoir had
finished his film. As it is we just get a glimpse of them.
Dufour and Rodolphe embrace their little break with abandon, Rodolphe with his
ridiculous moustache and unhidden intentions and Madame who openly plays along
now that her husband does not care for such adventures anymore. In a sense they
are far more frank about this than Henri and Henriette. This is not about love
and life, but simple unabashed fun. We even see Rodolphe give it as satyr,
complete with a ballet-like gait and a double whistle. It is obvious that what
happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas and when this is over both can return to their
lives without worrying about what happened.
Not so with
Henri and Henriette. They are marked for life and unless they get each other
(which they do not, sorry) they will live unhappily ever after. Just to top it
off, in Henriette’s case with the idiot Anatole.
sounds very sweet and I guess it is but it also leads me back to the beginning.
Had I only cared for any of these people. They seem stupid and generally
unlikeable and try as I may I just cannot mobilize enough interest for Henri and
Henriette and actually end up rooting more for the scoundrel Rodolphe and silly
Madame Dufour as they are at least honest with themselves.
I think I
see why people tend to like this film and I really really tried this time, but
this will probably never be my favorite Renoir film. I will take “La Regle du
Jeu” and “La Grande Illusion” any day.
of this blog will know that I am following the original edition of The Book.
However my copy is a Danish edition with a few alternative entries. So far the
lists of the two editions have been identical, but now it is time for the first
divergence. As film number 159 “The Man in Gray” is in the Danish version replaced
by “Vredens Dag” (Day of Wrath).
Dag” is made by the by now familiar director, Carl Th. Dreyer. He was the man
behind the entries “Vampyr” and “La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc”. Only this time,
probably due to his confinement to Denmark because of the war, he is making an
entirely Danish film.
film is not on the original list I will supply a short synopsis of the story.
Dag” takes place in the seventeenth century at a time of witch hunt and harsh
puritan convictions. We follow a little family consisting of a middle aged priest
Absalon Pedressøn (Thorkild Roose), his very young wife Anna (Lisbeth Movin),
his mother Merete (Sigrid Neiiendam) and his newly returned son Martin (Preben
Lerdorff Rye) of his first wife. In the opening sequences we follow the hunt
and prosecution of an alleged witch (though her only crime is to know of
healing herbs) and that sets the tone for the film.
drama however is within the little family. Merete, the old hag hates Anna.
Absalon cares for Anna as a father and only late realize that maybe she is too
young for him. Anna however quickly falls in love with Martin and while he
returns her love he is also worrying about what would come out of their tryst.
Anna on the other hand loves Martin with abandon without a care for the future.
This is one
of those films where you can see 20 minutes in that everybody are heading for
disaster. It is not a question of if it will happen, only of the magnitude of
the disaster. Such movies are always difficult for me to see. It is like
staring down the barrel of a gun and I actually had to fight my way through
age this crisis could have been easily defused. The priest caring for both son
and wife could let them have each other and be a father to both and all would
be happy. But this is where the period becomes important. In this most puritan
of ages the laws of life are most rigid and any deviation from the righteous path
is fraught with danger. In this environment an affair between Anna and Martin
is to blame for the disaster, no one are innocent.
not a bad person but he is so much a subject of his laws and religion that he
forgets to think. Instead he is on autopilot as when he condemns Herlofs Marte
for witchcraft. He took Anna as a wife without asking her. It was his duty and
he did not question what Anna wanted and when he finally realized the error he
was impotent to do anything about it. Only death could release her.
herself of course ignited the bomb by starting a relationship with Martin. In
another age we would say that she was following her heart and did the only
right thing, but in this environment it was the very thing that could (and
would) destroy the entire family. I cannot blame her for feeling as she does,
but the total abandon with which she embraces it ignoring all warnings and
common sense is irresponsible. She did not bewitch anybody, but in the puritan
world love and lust is witchcraft and failing to realize and acknowledge that
is her crime.
could have stopped the entire thing before it developed. He knew what they were
doing, but was too weak to take the consequences either way. In this there are
no half solutions. His betrayal in the end does not speak to his benefit
is Merete, easily identified as the only actual witch in the entire film. Her
words are poison and she nourishes a dangerous atmosphere in their home. But
even though she is a hateful being she did not cause the disaster. If anything
she warned against it. She did however propel the disaster up into an entirely different
and more deadly realm with her final accusation.
they all are they are in fact not the real villains. That honor belongs to their
puritan community with its laws and rigidity and zealous punishment of anything
outside the narrow path.
This is a
lot about guilt and sin and fear of God. The beautiful Anna with her unbridled
love and willingness to break the rules is the personification of the “evil”
these people try to stamp out. Evil in this respect being synonymous with
I am not
sure if I really like this film. Dramatic though the story is I feel the
inevitability of the conclusion to be a weight that makes the film very difficult
to watch. I just know this will end badly. The acting and filming is as slow as
a silent movie and the dialogue is so slow and articulated, theater-like, that it
looks as if the characters are sleepwalking. There may be a point to this,
because it supports the feeling of being trapped, but it also casts a dullness
to the film. If you like the pace of “La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc” you will be
quite at home here with “Vredens Dag”. The themes are not too far off either.
Women crucified for their beliefs by intolerant representatives of a zealous
If you are
different, be very very careful.
”Frankenstein” was a pioneer in gothic horror, ”Bride of Frankenstein” must be
the pioneer of the horror comedy. The darkness has to a large extent been
replaced with a giggle and I for one find it both appropriate and amusing.
original “Frankenstein” was a huge success for Universal, but the inevitable
follow-up took some time. This was primarily because the director, James Whale
was reluctant to return to the story (according to various sources). When he
finally did the sequel he chose a radically different approach, which
essentially dispensed with its self-importance and instead added an element of
humor. You can say that it created a distance to the story. The smart thing
about doing that was that it in that way it would be difficult to compare it to
the original, and that despite that the story follows right in the tail of
realized that this is almost exactly what the Book says about the film, but I
guess this just comes through very clearly in the film, so I am sorry for
repeating the obvious.
elements are many, some subtle and some less subtle. The two most obvious
examples are the obnoxious Minnie (Una O’Connor) and Dr. Pretorious (Ernest
Thesiger). Right from the beginning
Minnie’s shrill voice (and soon after her piercing cry) sets the tone. She is
just wonderfully awful. Any pretense of being a serious or realistic movie is gone
at this moment and it is just a question whether the film can lift the task of
being a comedy. Seeing her running around as a half-crazed idiotic crone is
just hilariously funny.
Pretorious is the new character and while being essential in bringing about a
new round of fiddling with the dead he is also an agent of comedy. Partly by
his shear presence. Has anybody ever seen a more over the top representation of
the mad and sinister Dr. Dead? He is funny, but the comedy element gets that
little push too far when he drags out his collection of creations. Those little
people are just ridiculous, and if we had any doubts before we can certainly now
apply the big stamp of comedy on this menagerie. I for one could have been
without them. They are just not funny enough.
All is not
hilarity in this film. The monster is loose, killing people (although with an
abandon that is, well, comedic) and Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is trying to
recover from his close encounter with death (in multiple forms). His struggle
between sanity and his perverse fascination with animating the dead is
interesting and a highlight of the film. It is still fun, but with a layer
underneath that is quite serious. This is a very ill man with burning eyes and
a dangerous passion and he his fully up to his mad scientist part from the
first “Frankenstein” film, but now with doubts.
himself (Boris Karloff) has a far more prominent role in this film than in the
previous film. He is also changed and not in a comedic sense. Instead he has
been made a lot more human. He now has regular feelings and cravings and his
actions are all very human. He misses and seeks human company; he feels compassion
and wants basic things like food, music and simple indulgence (cigars!) like
any other person. His humanization reaches a peak when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi
(or his clone) in the shape of O.P. Heggie in a hut in the forest. He is blind
and therefore does not judge him on his appearance. Instead he befriends him
and we see how the townspeople in their witch hunt rage have failed to see the
sensitive child inside the brutal monster. Instead he is now presented as innocence
itself and the Christ analogy is topped off by his crucifixion when they bring
him into town to kill him for their sins. If Dr. Frankenstein is playing God,
then the Monster is the son of God and the townspeople the people of Palestine
who in their ignorance wants to kill him.
may seem farfetched and I am not sure what that makes Dr. Pretorius, but it illustrates
how the film seems to point in many directions at once.
of “re-animate the dead part 2” is to create a female monster to match the male
monster. I am not really sure why. Only relative late in the process the
monster appears and demands a friend and not necessarily a female one. My
suspicion is that the reason is simply to do something else and a female
monster would be cool. If you watch this movie for the sake of a female
Frankenstein’s monster you may however be disappointed. She only appears for
the last 5 minutes or so and her chief achievement in her short (re)life is to
look at the monster and shriek in horror. Even she, foul as she is to behold,
cannot see past the monstrous appearance of the monster.
all this very human torment the monster decides to terminate the experiment and
let dead be dead including the nefarious Dr. Pretorius. Boom, big explosions.
humorous elements I am afraid “Bride of Frankenstein” could have become very
pretentious. The religious analogies are even more pronounced than in the first
movie and really, a long way this is all just an excuse to throw some more
sparks and electro-magnetic energy into corpses. But by making it a horror
comedy it becomes fun and worthwhile to go through the procedure again. I
1 Year Anniversary
It is now
one year since I started this blog and what a year it has been. This blog
started almost as an impulse that took on a life of its own. I was just playing
around with Blogspot, wondering if I could do it. I had never thought it would
be this fun to write about movies and I have been very well received by the
community. Thank you guys!
past year I have covered 46 entries on the list, starting with 114. The
Adventures of Robin Hood up to and including 159. The Man in Grey last Tuesday.
This is less than my stated target and previous average of 50 films per year,
but in the past year I have also had to cover the gap of the first 113 entries.
This is going very well and I am only 11 entries from closing the gap. Also I
have covered 4 movies far ahead of schedule mostly due to the blog club, so the
total reviews amount to 152, which is really okay.
As I am
slowly closing the gap I am also slowing down in my pace. There is more to life
than watching movies, especially with small children around, and the
requirement I have imposed on myself that I want to actually buy the films on
DVD if possible means that there is an economic concern as well. Yet a movie
per week or so fits me very well.
been many highlights over the year, both in the form of excellent films, but
also in wonderful responses to my pitiful writings. “Casablanca” was all I
remember it to be, but also “The Maltese Falcon”, “The Grapes og Wrath” and
“Only Angels have Wings” hit the mark spot on just to mention a few. But the
biggest surprise may have been “L’Femme du Boulanger”. Out of nowhere it struck
home exactly in the heart with a warm and witty story perform with so much love
and skill. See, this is why I do this.
Of course there
have been less fantastic experiences as well. I managed to completely miss the
point of “Citizen Kane” when I missed the Rosebud hint and must forever live in
shame. Also films like “Babes in Arms” or lately “The Man in Grey” have been
difficult to get through. But those are the risks I take and that is not really
starting on my second year I wonder where on the list I will find myself next
year at this time. What I do know is that there are a lot of titles coming up
that look very promising, especially a lot of film noir, but also a lot of
blanks that really could be anything, good or bad and THAT is really exciting!.
folks in the next season.
The Man in Grey
series of excellent or at least interesting films on the list it is now back to
one of the inevitable disappointments. I hate to say it, but “The Man in Grey”
was not a good experience.
I went into
this one knowing absolutely nothing. It is not on the Danish edition of the
list as it features a Danish entry in the slot occupied by “The Man in Grey” in
the original edition. So far I have seen only few of the 1943 entries, but
unless some utter cinematic disaster awaits me further down the list “The Man
in Grey” seems like an excellent choice for replacement.
with this film are many. I suppose it qualifies as a “chick-lite” film in the
respect that it caters to women by feeding them a romantic melodrama so stuffed
up with clichés that it makes telenovellas high art. Already at this point I
have begun rolling my eyes. The setting is pre-Victorian upper class in a sort
of Austin tradition, except that it entirely lacks the developed characters of
an Austinian drama. I am not crazy about that setting either.
real culprit is the extremely cliché and predictable storyline. This is about
women who a subordinate the strictures of society and end up in unloving
marriages. Then of course true love drops by and lo, observe the rigors of
breaking free of the bondage to realize your true calling. Add to that the
intrigue of a snake of a woman that does her best to make things complicated
for everybody. Jane Austin meets Dynasty. This is a very well-known recipe, certain
to bring a lot of women to the cinema and just as certain to bring a number of
boyfriends in tow.
cliché film is only cliché because it was so big a success that it has been
imitated a hundred times since then (Little Cesar, It happened one night etc.),
but “The Man in Grey” cannot use that excuse. It is just one more film
following this endlessly repeated plot.
typical of chick-lite films the characters are cliché as well. In this case
almost cartoonish. The heroine, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) is blond and pretty
and so goody good that she is borderline saintly. She is Snowwhite, perfectly
innocent and lovable and without a hint of guile. She even hands out sweets to
her friends in the beginning! And even at the end she is totally unsuspecting
of the betrayal by her best friend.
Lockwood) on the other hand is the witch. She is black haired and of a surly
nature. When she smiles it is calculated and self-satisfied and she is
constantly scheming. Again and again we are told what a foul character she is,
there is even a gypsy fortuneteller spelling it out to us. She is the Alexis of
Dynasty that we must despise and cry out to Clarissa that she must beware of
the snake she is nurturing at her bossom.
The men are
uniformly one-dimensional. Lord Rohan (James Mason) is the cold and calculated
nobleman set up to be the “evil guy”. We only learn that his honor is precious
to him and that he has a violent nature. Oh, and that he is ruthless in getting
what he wants. Other than that we just get a lot of James Mason scowling. He is
the Man in Grey.
The hero is
young and handsome and perfectly romantic inclined. He is also honorable, but a
scoundrel character, well at least nominally. Considering he is supposed to be
a jack of all trades, including actor and mock highwayman he is actually disappointingly
bland and one dimensional. He is the result of a girl in pink tasked to
describe her dream prince. In a different age this would be Matthew McConaughey.
In this case it is the dashing Stewart Granger.
even a child (Toby, Harry Scott) acting as the funny sidekick, except that he
is not funny and mostly annoying in his blackface.
“The Man in
Grey” does have some redeeming factors. The production standard is pretty good
considering it was made in war time Britain and it is up to par with Hollywood.
Also it always a bliss to get real British accents instead of fake ones and the
ending is at least interesting with general disaster striking everybody.
However that is quickly cancelled out by the oh-so-romantic notion that a few
generations later their descendants can get what their ancestors were denied,
No, I did
not care much for this film. I think the main quality of this movie was that it
was the movie that introduced James Mason. And of course that it was something
of a blockbuster, but that does not necessarily mean quality.
Mytteri på Bounty
the Bounty” is big. Like really big. In many ways this was the “Titanic” of the
was monstrously expense for its time (2 million $) yet it became a big
sets were exotic with a beautiful tall ship as the centerpiece, but also a
South Sea island and although most of it is a studio creation there are still
wonderful outdoor shots.
cast stars Clark Gable (without moustache), the DeCaprio of his age plus an
excellent supporting cast.
it was nominated for six Academy Awards and although it only won one, it was
the big one.
Hollywood flexes its muscles and rolls out its big production machinery it is
difficult not to be impressed and swept away. Usually when you then dip into the
substance I often find it wanting and it makes me a bit suspicious, but on the
other hand when Hollywood gets a good story I appreciate that the funding and
care is spent on making it a grand experience. I would say this is one of those
cases. There are a few places where I sigh and think that they are only getting
away with it because it is such a grand film, but mostly I am surprised at how
captivating it is and how well it maintains its illusion of reality.
the Bounty” is essentially a road movie on the high sea. We get a brief
introduction to the essential characters, including some hints that Captain
Bligh might not be an easygoing type, and then it is off to sea. From the point
when they leave port they are basically left to themselves. It is indicated that
they visit some ports on the way, but we never see it. These men are isolated
from the rest of the world, a micro-cosmos of a social experiment, which
eventually will get out of control.
may be top billed but it is Charles Laughton as Captain Blight who steals the
picture. That little man with a hat way too big for him looks every bit as
sinister as a Darth Vader. Every time he appears you can feel the temperature
drop a notch, even in the sweltering heat of the South Seas. It is soon clear
that he is at heart a sadist who enjoys punishment for his own personal
gratification, almost as if he has declared war on the world to compensate for
his low stature. His luck as the story goes is that a captain is an undisputed
king on his ship and vested with these powers it becomes his personal objective
to break his men into groveling animals. I have rarely seen as brilliant a
performance as a sadistic villain and the only actor I can think of as being
able to get close would be Peter Lorre. Charles Laughton was nominated Best Supporting
Actor along with Clark Gable, but lost out to Victor McLaglen of “The Informer”, a movie not even
on the List.
hellhole devised by Blight we find Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) as the representative
of decency. He is first mate and thus second in command, but so opposite
Captain Blight that they soon fall out with each other. I am the first to admit
that Christian’s position is difficult and his dilemma is at the core of the
film, which I will return to shortly, but I am not as happy with Clark Gable as
with Charles Laughton. He is altogether too much the hero. Smiling his hero
smile, dashing around, working himself up into righteous anger. These are the
antics of a movie star, not a first mate of the Royal Navy. Therefore he may be
super sympathetic, but not really believable. Franchot Tone as Midshipman Byam
suffers the same problem, but since he is only supporting cast (and is supposed
to be young and naïve) it is easier to eat.
part of course is the mutiny and this is a very interesting and worthy story.
So good in fact that it has been used numerous times in various disguises. The dilemma
is which imperative is the more important: The sea laws by which the navy
operates and really cannot function without or the humanistic imperative that
you must do what you can to protect your fellow men from injustice and harm.
When is enough enough? Is there any excuse to dispense with the laws and rebel
against them? The movie wisely presents both positions. Though the balance may
be tipped in Christians favor the film also makes us aware of the problematic
in conceding to Christian. It is obvious to us that Blight is a monster and it
is obvious that many will die unnecessary if he is not stopped. But there is
good reason why the captain is king on his ship. Unless you have iron discipline
on such a ship with too many people sharing too little space in an environment
of hardship and deprivation the entire ship will just dissolve. This is so much
truer of a warship such as Bounty. Combine that with the fact that much of the
crew was pressed into service and found among convicts and you get an
understanding for why the navy was so obsessed with discipline.
So is it
okay or not okay to commit mutiny? I am undecided and the principle of that
dilemma is such a good story that a movie needs little else.
But we do
get more than that story and I am not altogether happy with that. I already
mentioned that Christian is setup as a real old-school movie hero, while less
would have suited him and the story. Laughton ends up dirty and grimy in his
longboat, but Gable hardly even sweats. Also we get all these side-stories and
characters that a big Hollywood production always must include: The obligatory
love story, the (totally unnecessary) “funny” sidekick (the captain’s steward),
the heartbreaking story of the lowest crewmember who was forced to leave wife
and infant son at home etc. Really, we do not need this. The story is strong
enough as it is and all these detours just unfocus the story or even detracts
from the realism.
this is a true interpretation of the real events to begin with, the film admits
to be based on a novel, not the factual event, but it strives so hard to give
us a realistic story and takes us so far that I can almost taste the saltwater
and feel the whiplashes that I wish it had left us with that.
This is the
third of the nautic films of the thirties and by far the smelliest, dirtiest
and most brutal of them. As such it is a pinnacle of nautical films only rarely
surpassed. It is worth noticing that two later remakes never met with the same
acclaim as this original and while I never saw the Marlon Brando version, I did
not care much for the Mel Gibson version. But then again I do not care much for
a tall ship in the old days was not altogether fun after all. Maybe it is better
to stay on land.
I do not
remember if I have mentioned it before, but I am something of a sucker for
documentaries. It is part of what I like about old movies or actually films in
general. Even the most fictional piece is still a document of its time and
place. Even heavily edited pictures still tell a story of the people who made
them, their agenda and their perspective. No matter your political inclination
Eisenstein did show a reality, even if it only existed in ideologists of the
Soviet Union and a period piece often tells more about the time in which it is
made than the time it portraits.
historical element becomes far more condensed when we talk actual
documentaries. I have mentioned before how early documentaries hardly deserve
that label by today’s standard, but there are many sorts of documentaries. They
are always made with an agenda and there is no such thing as pure objectivity
except for math. Reconstructed documentaries are also a necessary shortcut used
today, so I do not reject that either. “I Was a Fireman” is both, but it still
feels very real and that realism as far above anything I have seen from the
period. In fact in many ways it mimics or more correctly anticipates the style
of documentaries of a much later age.
Let me say
right away that I sucked in every bit of it.
“I Was a
Fireman” was released in 1943 at the height of WWII and at a time when England
in general and London in particular had been bombed indiscriminately for two
years. It tells the story of the real heroes of the time. Not perpetrators of
war, but those who have to clean up the mess. Those people who at the risk of
their own life have to save others when the bombs are falling and fires spread:
The way it
does that is by telling the story of regular blokes who does what has to be
done. These are not your iron men, those are probably out at the front
somewhere, but people who raise themselves above themselves to perform and
notably not by taking insane risks in some one-man army heroic stunt, but
simply by doing their job. We see them wash their fire engines, eat their
meals, regular camaraderie and the usual complaints. It is all very relaxed and
you can even forget there is a war on. Until hell breaks loose in another night
of German raiding and the entire team shifts into gear and becomes very
sound familiar? I think that is the recipe for a modern documentary indeed, but
hardly what I would expect from 1943.
strikes me is the machinery efficiency of the entire thing. It is all so well
organized. The chaos of the infernal blazes is met by an organized effort that
knows exactly what it is doing and orchestrates the firefighting units as chess
pieces, except that no pawn is to be sacrificed, but it is the organization
itself which is going to see to it that all hazards are met as well prepared
and backed up as possible.
everybody is so cool. Phone operators taking messages precisely, but politely.
The officers are sending units this and that way. The firefighters themselves
are setting up equipment and station at the hit structures and although
improvising do that with a coolness that shows that they know what they are
doing and are up to the task. You may call it propaganda (and it probably was)
or the fabled British stoicism, but the understatement and coolness with which
this is all played out is very impressive. At some point it takes ridiculous
proportions as when a bomb explodes close to one of the watch rooms and the
phone operator simply sits up with a wound on her head and continues the
messaging with no comment or even a hint to her predicament. Or the fireman who
secures a wounded colleague to a lift at the cost of his own life. I choose to
disregard these instances as artificial, though effective, but it does not
detract from the general impression of realism supported by the fact that the
cast were not actors but real life professionals.
professionalism takes its toll when the job is done. You hear no hurrahs or
smiles at jobs well done. Just exhaustion. Deflated ruin from smoldering
buildings to lost lives or limbs. These people are not victorious heroes. They are
just men and women doing their jobs night after night and there is no glory in
that, just hard, dangerous work.
This is the
impressions I get from this film and I am pretty sure this was also Humphrey
Jennings objective. The DVD I got includes a number of his war time
documentaries like “Listen to Britain” and “Diary for Timothy” and they all
convey the same message. They are portrays of a nation and a people at war. Not
their soldiers, but the people at home, those who do not win medals at the
front but still live with the reality of war. Not as a chance at glory, but as
a hardship that takes its toll but also brings out unknown strengths in regular
people who set up a normality in the midst of this very not normal reality.
As such I
believe a war time audience would be able to recognize themselves in these
films in a way they would not in blatantly nationalistic and feisty propaganda.
These people are heroes not out of want but out of need and I think that is how
most people like to think of themselves. I am sure a lot of contemporaries
would be able to relate to the firefighters and the entire organization and be
impressed with them and thankful for their effort, especially because their
heroism is as downplayed as it is. I know I would go over to the local fire station
and say thank you for what they are doing and buy them a beer.
story itself this film also shows amazing footage of war time England. From
vehicles to fashion, jargon and food, this is a window into a world long gone,
but even so not so far away. I drink in all of this and enjoy every moment.
I would not
hesitate to call this one of the best war time documentaries I have seen. A
must see for anyone interested in the subject.
Do you know
the musical ”Top Hat”?
Do you know
the song “Cheek to cheek”? You know, the one that goes like “I’m in Heaven, I’m
Yes, that one! Of course you know it. It is
from “Top Hat” along with a line of other excellent tunes.
That is how
it is when songs outlive their original context. I would not say “Top Hat” has
been entirely forgotten, but this is one of those tunes that stays around and
pops up now and then to sneak up on yet another new audience. A few years ago
it was revamped and included on an issue of the Hotel Costes compilation and
certainly not as the poorest contribution. That one is an ear hanger as there
ever was any. Irving Berlin had an excellent day when he made this one and
almost make me forget that this is not the only great tune to come out of “Top
from the music “Top Hat” is a delightful musical and it does get top marks from
me. The center of any musical would be the music, but with their excellent
dance routines Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers adds another element that makes
this a very watchable musical. I am not a big fan of dancing and generally fail
to grasp what is so wonderful of watching people dance, but I sort of forget
that watching Astaire and Rogers sweep across the floor as if they are floating
music and dancing I could even forgive the producers for wrapping this show in
a silly or dull story to serve as a vehicle, but I actually love the story as
well. It is not deep, but it is a fun comedy of mistaken identity with a host
of actors who delivers.
Travers (Fred Astaire) has arrived in London to appear in a show, but it a big
secret and his impresario Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton) will go to
great lengths to keep his presence a secret. Meanwhile Jerry has an encounter with
a displeased neighbor Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers). He falls in love with her
and she believes Jerry is actually Horace. Dale is friends with Horace wife
Madge Hardwick (Helen Broderick) and when she finds out Jerry is Madge husband
she gets somewhat upset.
to Italy to meet Madge and brings her suitor Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a
pompous cliché peacock of an Italian who refers to himself in third person.
Jerry with Horace in tow is in close pursuit and catch up on Dale and Madge in
Venice. Madge wants to introduce Dale to Jerry and match them up to Dale’s
horror since she thinks Jerry is married to Madge. Meanwhile Horace is
suspecting Dale is some sort of spy to reveal the presence of Jerry and has put
his man servant on her tail. He has a little secret of his own about a girl he
has met in the zoo. Fairly innocent, but his wife must not find out.
leads to a lot of confusion and hilarity and it plays out very well. I simply
love the scene where Madge is nudging Dale and Jerry together, winking at them
to make out while Dale looks horrorstruck that Madge would throw her into her
husband’s arms. The look on her face is priceless and I had a very good laugh.
I know this
story does not sound like much and I suppose it is not, but it is actually
plenty when it is as well executed as in “Top Hat”. Edward Everett Horton as
Horace has all these terrific expressions and reminds me of W.C. Fields on a
good day as he has his good natured clashes with his man servant Bates (Eric
Blore). Where actually does this cliché come from about the British butler with
this particular look? Compare this with “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Trading
Places” and you will see what I mean. I would not be surprised to learn it
started with “Top Hat”. Well, actually Blore played the same part in “Sullivan’s
Travels”, so there is part of the explanation right there.
If I should
have something negative to say about “Top Hat” it would be two particular
singularly dislike films where the characters spontaneously break out in song.
It is just so unreal. And where does the music come from? It is really more
like a dream image than anything else and a convention with musicals that this
can be done. Though in this case I will let it rest. I like this musical too
much to let it bother me.
somebody should pay for the crimes committed by the set designers for their
version of Venice. This is just ludicrous. Here I am, trying to cope with the fact
that the characters may break out singing with music coming out of nowhere any
moment and they add this sugarcoated Disneyland of a Venice to the mix. They
are really pushing it! It was possible for Hollywood to make a good Venice set.
Ernst Lubitch did it with “Trouble in Paradise”. This one just looks too much like a stage
from a Barbie commercial.
will try to ignore that and just focus on all I loved about this film. This is 100
minutes of good times, good music, good laughs and splendid dancing. Pour some
champagne, darling and let’s burn some tap-shoes.