Monday 22 September 2014

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

John Huston has a ton of entries on the List. Maybe not as many as Hitchcock, but it is close. Many of those are certainly deserving of praise and in some cases we are talking true masterpieces. Even on a poor day Huston was able to cook up a decent film. “The Asphalt Jungle” is in my opinion not one of the highlights in Huston’s filmography, but less will do and it is quite decent at what it sets out to do.

The movie is centered on a heist (or a caper, as it is called in the film though I am not familiar with that term) and we follow the involved characters in minute details, before, during and after the heist. In that sense it is an ensemble film where each character has a story arc and we are even hard pressed to tell who the actual lead is.

"Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is the mastermind. He is German with all the stereotype traits: elegant, correct, precise and determined. Just out of prison he has just arrived in town with the perfect plan for a heist. He seeks out Cobby (Marc Lawrence), a bookie who dabbles is all sort of shady affairs and is the man who know people. Cobby sets him up with Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a lawyer who can set up the arrangements with fences and supply the down payment on operating costs. Together they also hire the three remaining team members: Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), the hooligan, and Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), the box man who can open safes and doors, and Gus Minissi (Anthony Caruso), the driver.

Then we have the execution of the coup, which of course is almost pitch perfect. Everything is figured out by a criminal genius, so what can go wrong? Only Louis get shot in the stomach, but that was just an accident.

Finally we have the events after the otherwise successful heist where everything falls apart. Emmerich is a pathetic jackass who intends to double cross his partners, but is just ridiculously poor at it. Louis dies of his wounds. Cobby squeals when the corrupt cop Ditrich (Barry Kelley) figures he gets more out of bringing him in than taking his money and eventually also Gus, Dix and Doc are caught or meet their ends.

The problem with this movie is that we have seen this plot before. At least once a year there is a big heist movie that follows this very recipe. You might say that they are all clones and “The Asphalt Jungle” is the original, but I do not buy it. I have already seen a number of heist movies older than this one and that is just the tip of the iceberg. I think heist movies are quite entertaining and there is something fascinating with a perfectly planned and executed operation, but it is also terribly formulaic.

Now, this would not be a John Huston film if there was not that extra spice, that element that could elevate a trivial movie above the masses. In this case it is character development.

Huston seems more interested in the characters than the heist itself and spends a lot of time creating real, multidimensional people. They may be labelled mastermind, driver, hooligan, boxman and fence, but we get to know them as much more than that. Louis is a family man. We meet his wife and little child and they are a lot more to him than a front. He is gambling not just with his life but the well-being of people he genuinely care for. Dix is a lot more than a hooligan. In fact he is portrayed as a quite sympathetic guy with a bad temper and terrible history. His story with the girl Doll (Jean Hagen) is not just a subplot, but makes us understand this guy and certainly we do not recognize him from the police description of him.

But the most surprising portrait must be that of Emmerich. He has the appearance of a big shot. Money, style and respectability, clearly a man in control. Reality however is very different. He is dissolving right before our eyes. Emmerich is essentially broke. All his style is just a façade. He is cheating on his wife with a young blonde (Marilyn Monroe!) who calls him Uncle Lon (yicks!) and his plan take the merchandize and disappear is a desperate plan borne out of despair and not really thought through.

So what we have is a group of criminals consisting of real people with real and quite ordinary concerns, dreams and fears. They are not innocent, not by a long shot, but they are where they are because these were the hands they were dealt. We may not like them or even root for them, but we get to know them as people to an extent that their lives are not meaningless numbers any more.

The police on the other hand is quite anonymous and one-dimensional. They are a system and an institution. Their members are just numbers, ants in an operation. It is difficult for us to feel much for them and we have to object to the way they describe the thieves that we have come to know. We know they are right of course. The police Commissioner (John McIntire) says all the right things, but still it grates as if we are thinking: Why cannot they just give them a break? It is a mind trick and Huston pulls it off quite well.

This twist is what makes “The Asphalt Jungle” special rather than template. If you are looking for action this is probably the wrong movie, go see “The Italian Job” instead. This is all about characters.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Finishing the Forties

Finishing the Forties
Around this time two years ago I finished off the thirties and now it is time to end another decade. It is time to Finish the Forties.

This was a terrible decade in the world with war and atrocities like the world had never known and not surprisingly this had a strong effect on the movies from this decade. The most striking effect is the almost entire absence of continental European cinema as well as Asian cinema. It makes perfect sense, there were more pressing matters than making entertainment for the masses. When cinema returned to Europe after the war it was transformed. French cinema was a tighter affair, but more dreamy than ever as if to escape the bitter experience of the war while in Italy the neorealist movement rose like a phoenix from the ruins and gave the world something entirely new and refreshing by facing the harsh life instead of turning away from it.

But the majority of cinema in the decade happened in America with Britain as the sole exception. The U.S. was of course involved in the war, but it was a war at a distance, on foreign soil, and a war that left room at home to entertainment. The industry was leaner, yes, but not less creative. While the time was past for big budget escapades like “Gone With the Wind” filmmakers proved that masterpieces can be made at a fraction of the cost, a lesson we might do well to remember today. I will return with some examples shortly.

In terms of style a darkness crept into the movies and the style we know today as film noir was developed in those years. Odd to use a French term for a style that is so essential American, but there you have it. Film Noir brought an intensity to film that was invigorating and my list of favorite from this decade has quite a few representatives from this group of pictures or derivates. To me and many others film noir has become the defining style of the forties.

But there was more. This was also the decade of the cartoons. Feature length and shorts, practically all the classic cartoons are from the forties. The List only holds a few of the, but look up some cartoons and I bet you will find that most of your favorites will be from the forties.

Britain was the exception to American dominance and practically the only country beside the U.S. that kept up an effective movie industry during and after the war. It also seems that much of the Technicolor equipment got stranded there. The result was some beautiful and exciting pictures and a buildup of talent that would grace the screen in years to come.

Without much further ado I will present my top ten films of the decade. The order is absolutely random.

1.       The Maltese Falcon

Early noir, but more importantly a truly fascinating story about shady types who are never what they seem to be. A movie I never get tired of watching.

2.       Casablanca

The same can be said about “Casablanca”. This is a classic that will never die. The entire script is quotable and it works every single time.

3.       Citizen Kane

Even if it is not the best movie ever made, it is close. This movie was a redefinition of cinema and a hell of a debut for Orson Welles.

4.       Brief Encounter

A personal favorite. Totally unexpectedly this movie touched me deeply. A gem.

5.       The Big Sleep

Bogart and Bacall, Marlowe – the private dick and a sublime script. Do I need to say more?

6.       The Third Man

English noir in Vienna. Listen to the music, see the pictures, feel the tension. Just brilliant.

7.       The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

John Huston went on location in Mexico and found gold, literally. This is an actor’s film with the location as the fourth actor.

8.       Black Narcissus

You watch this and will refuse to believe this is from 46. It is stunningly beautiful, excellent acting and a truly interesting story.

9.       Out of the Past

The defining film noir. I could have mentioned quite a few candidates, but no one epitomize the film noir as Out of the Past. With Robert Mitchum at his best.

10.   Ladri di Biciclette

The movie that will break your heart – over a bicycle! It is total manipulation, but damn effective. This feels so real that you want to step into the film to help these guys.

I know, it is unfair to pick just ten movies for such a list when there is so many to pick from. I will give an honorary mention to a few more:

Rope – My favorite Hitchcock from the decade

The Grapes of Wrath – the closest thing American cinema got to neorealism in the 40’ies and then it predates even “Ossessione”.

Dumbo – My son’s favorite cartoon. Even Toy Story must yield

Mildred Pierce – A strong contender to the film noir top position

Whiskey Galore! – Not a big film, but the biggest laugh for me in the forties.

Orpheus (Orphee) (1949)

Kærlighedens Mysterium
There is a recurrent commercial on Danish television that shows some obscure scenes with a French speaking clown, a black cat, people being serious and strange and everything being absolutely absurd. It is done in black and white and ends with a woman asking: “You think this is dark? Then you should try Café Noir”

Now I know where it comes from.

My guess is that the common idea that French movies are arty, obscure and dark originates from the work of Jean Cocteau. It was brought to its elaborate and obscure height in the sixties, but Cocteau’s “Orphée” is all that already in 1949 (or 1950 according to IMDB).

I am not a fan. I find it overly pretentious and stylized to an extent that makes it difficult to relate to the characters and not least the story. It also tries very hard to drive home some points that the film at large suffers and still I generally fail to understand those points. Okay, I may be stupid, but this is also a personal experience and so my return from this movie may well be limited by my stupidity.

It is well known that “Orphée” is (largely) based on the story of Orpheus. Orpheus was an ancient Greek mythological character He was supposed to be a sublime poet and quite an adventurer (he went with Jason and the Argonauts on their quest). His wife Eurydice dies and Orpheus follows her to Hades (helped by the nymphs who were swayed by his music). In Hades Orpheus music also swayed Persephone to let him bring Eurydice with him back. Only he cannot look back at her until both are fully restored, but Orpheus do exactly that and so Eurydice is lost.

Cocteau sets his Orpheus story in contemporary France. Orpheus (Jean Marais) is a popular poet and Eurydice (Marie Déa) is his wife, home alone, isolated and practically forgotten by Orpheus.  Orpheus witnesses what looks like an accident as two motorcyclists run down a young man (another poet) and Orpheus is asked by the woman accompanying the young man to help her drive the man away. Then things start getting odd. The woman (María Casares) is actually Death, Persephone I take it, and the two motorcyclists are death angels in her service who kills those she points out.

Persephone has a crush on Orpheus. She visits him when he sleeps and she sends him mysterious radio messages that sound like coded wartime instructions and apparently they work. Orpheus is in rapture over these messages, entranced by this woman and completely ignores his pregnant wife. In my interpretation of what is going on Persephone picks up Eurydice and brings her to Hades while she instructs her assistant Heurtebise (François Périer) to assist Orpheus in following her into the underworld.

Hades looks like a wartime ruin. That is probably no coincidence as this was what hell looked like in the forties. Still it is not exactly how you would normally imagine that place. Hades is all about judgment. Everybody is on trial, but for what and to which sentence is unclear. Heurtebise is like the ferryman on the river Styx helping people in and out, but here he is also in love with Eurydice. Orpheus gets Eurydice with her home and of course see her in a mirror, but not before having had some serious fights with her. Orpheus still has his head full of Persephone.

Orpheus dies and returns to Hades. He and Persephone are now ready to consummate their love so Persephone sends, at the cost of her own… existence…, Orpheus and Eurydice home, madly in love and with no memory of their travels in the underworld.

If we focus a bit on the story, or at least my interpretation of the story (it is rather unclear what is really going on), then it follows the Orpheus myth to some extent. Parts of it is even rather literal. But it also takes some odd turns. The strange double dating of Persephone and Orpheus and also Eurydice and Heurtebise is quite distracting. I do not know what to make of it. Orpheus is like a manic obsessed with death and it makes him truly unlikeable. Is it a spell Persephone has thrown on him? Also the ending leaves me baffled. What just happened? The only thing I can think of is that Persephone is so in love with his art (which we never experience and we never see her enjoy) that out of love she gives him back his life and wife so that he can make great art.

The surreal use of symbols and the rather confusing storyline makes it very difficult to follow the film and since I have not found any deeper meaning I do not think it is particularly rewarding to try to understand it. Obviously many of the seemingly meaningless scenes and characters are supposed to mean something, but much of it is too obscure for me. What is worse, this use of symbolism or striving to drive home some obscure points ruins the immediate value of the scenes. People act strange, dialogue is stylized and impersonal and we are no longer dealing with persons but with caricatures. You can root for a person if you can recognize something in the person, but a caricature is an empty shell and I loose interest. When I no longer care for the characters I no longer care for the story and the movie becomes hollow.

At first I thought the problem was just the subtitles, but although my French is rather limited, I did realize when I listened carefully that the weird utterances really was what they were saying.

Compared to the other Cocteau film I have seen, “La Belle et la Bete”, Orphée is a step down. The story is less recognizable and although “La Belle et la Bete” was also obscure Cocteau adds an order of magnitude to that parameter. Gone is also much of the magic. Orphée is praised for its special effects, but compared to “La Belle et la Bete” it is rather tame.

I did not “get” “Orphée” and that may be my problem, but I also did not feel encouraged to try to work it out. It left me baffled and mostly uninterested. Definitely one of the poorer entries on the list, though I am sure many will disagree.

Sunday 14 September 2014

On the Town (1949)

Sømænd på Vulkaner
I have mentioned before that I am not a big fan of musicals. That would probably have been before the swath of excellent musicals in the thirties like “Footlight Parade”, “Love Me Tonight” and “Top Hat”, movies that challenged my perception of musicals. You might think that such films would have converted me, but “On the Town” reminds me why I generally dislike musicals (time for a big *sigh*).

Musicals are all about the singing and the dancing and if the pictures are beautiful that is no harm. “On the Town” has all that in spades and so the standard musical lover would have plenty to be satisfied about. In fact I can already hear fans of the genre cry out in indignation over my negative tone. No problem with me, if you love musicals, you will love this one and I will not even disagree with you.

My problem is that singing, dancing and pretty pictures just does not cut it for me. There needs to be something more. A plot, storyline, drama, something to move the story ahead. Here the story is paper thin, the drama is… where? And anything outside the musical pieces is just filler. It also lacks a James Cagney or a Fred Astaire who through personal magnetism can throw enough charm on the film to make it tasty. Sure Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra are legends in their own right and I was looking forward to the first movie on the list with either of them, but I think here they took one for the team and it actually took me a while before I could tell one from the other. It did not help that the songs did not exactly click with me. They are not bad, not at all, but you will not find me humming the tunes afterward.

That essentially means that it is all down to singing, dancing and pretty pictures. That just gets a bit bland.

“On the Town” is about three sailors, Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) in the Navy on a 24 hour leave in New York. Their quest is, almost cliché, to get laid. As it happens the lads are in luck. Over the course of only a few hours they meet a randy taxi driver, Hildy (Betty Garrett), an equally randy anthropologist, Claire (Ann Miller) and the wannabe posh (but just as randy) Ivy (Vera-Ellen) and so the game is on. The excuse for a plot is that Ivy, the famous (or not so) Miss Turnstiles is elusive and takes a bit of hunting down. But no worries they find her and make some sweet lovin’.

There can be no doubt that as dancers and singers the six of them are outstanding. Who can fault Sinatra for his singing or Kelly for his dancing? And the three girls, different as they are in appearance are gifted dancers and quite pleasing to the eye. Originally this was a Broadway musical and the stage show quality of it has been brought on to the screen. So much in fact that some of the musical elements do take place on a stage. Others use New York locations as stage but stages they are none the less. In fact I believe you could walk into a theater and get much the same experience live and that may be where the shoe is pinching. As good as the musical qualities are this is just not a movie, but a transplanted stage show, and therefore of less interest to me.

All these musical acts are very pretty. The Technicolor makes glory or the primary colors used for the girl’s dresses and that does peel years off a film. The location shots presents New York from its most handsome side and even the subway looks appealing. I suppose it is no coincidence that the use of color in the 40’ies were mainly for musicals and stage related films. If you want to show people and places as pretty there is no second to Technicolor, while gritty and dirty begs for black and white (or some serious filters, which were not really in vogue yet…).

There are comedic elements that has to be granted. The exuberance of the characters is clearly designed to make people happy, though these exaggerated smiles and the giddiness look so overdone that to me they have almost the opposite effect. However near the end we get a silly car chase followed by a mouse and cat game on Coney Island. That is actually funny. It is too little and too late, but it earns it a point in the end.

What does not is the introduction of the Lucy Schmeeler (Alice Pearce) character. She is a comedic sidekick, a geeky girl with poor timing, squeaky voice and a mousy face who is supposed to be “the date from hell”. I fully understand that Gabey is sad that Ivy disappeared and is in no mood to take on another girl, but the way he tries to hide Lucy so the other sailors from the boat will not see her with him is truly horrible. Lucy is actually a lot of fun and not someone to be ashamed off and if we for a second believe this story is real then this sailor got an excellent chance to make a girl happy who needs it badly. I did not like that scene at all.

I know, I know, this musical is a fantasy. It is what boys and girls dream of doing if they could take 24 hours out of their real life and have a great time with no consequences. What are the odd that these six will end up together? Never mind that, it is just a dream. If you want the antithesis to this film then watch “The Docks of New York”. Sailors, women and frolics on a 24 hour leave, but not quite as much happiness.

One thing I wondered about while researching the film is why the editors chose this one rather than “Easter Parade” from 1948. To my mind that is a more memorable musical, but maybe it is just me preferring Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly.

Sunday 7 September 2014

The Third Man (1949)

Den Tredje Man
”The Third Man” is one of the most famous movies on the List so far, up there in category with ”Gone With the Wind”, “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz”. It may in fact be the single most famous Film Noir ever made (although missing a number of the usual noir tropes) so it may be only fitting that I got my greasy hands on one of the most outstanding DVD’s I have seen so far with this one. The quality is just staggering. The picture is knife sharp, the sound clear and crisp and the extra material so stupendous they included an extra disk for it. I feel truly spoiled.

Since we are now talking one of the truly famous film I feel a bit stupid for recounting the storyline. I will try to avoid that and instead focus on all the things that is great about this movie, because, yes, I am duly impressed. Shockingly this is another classic I never saw before, I still shake my head at my own ignorance, but the theme music is so famous that even my wife, who flatly refuses to watch these old movies with me, showed up asking me what this is. I have always known this music, it is that famous. So why did I never see the movie? I cannot answer that.

“The Third Man” is one of film history’s first true international film. Officially it is a British film directed by Carol Reed, but with American David O. Selznick as co-producer since at least two (possibly three) of the leading actors were under contract with him and Selznick was not a guy who held back and gave the director free reins… The movie takes place in Vienna and was filmed on location using Austrian actors and countless local extras, crew and studio and just to add to the mix, leading lady Alida Valli was Italian. Calling this a British film I think is a bit of a stretch. You might think that this mix would add a lot of confusion and I cannot rule out that there might have been some during production, but in the movie it all comes together beautifully. That is probably largely due to the location.

Vienna in 1948, when the movie was filmed, was a divided city between the four powers of America, Soviet, France and Britain, much like Berlin actually. I had no idea, so I learned something new as well. As any city in central Europe in the postwar period the city was a rather chaotic place. You have the grandeur and elegance of bygone eras combined with ruins and rubble and a lack of practically any commodities. It was a city still groggy from the war where lives were lived on a day to day basis with an informal barter economy. If you could eat art and rubble Vienna in 48 would be a rich place, but you cannot. Instead this is the perfect setting for a film noir. One of the best things Reed and Graham Greene did was to go to Vienna, develop the story there and film it on location. The city is a character all on its own and they would never have gotten remotely as good a result in a studio. In that sense I am sure they saw a few of the Italian neorealist movies or maybe Fritz Lang’s “M”.

So we have this city speaking German with four powers controlling it who can hardly speak with each other (this is contemporary with the Berlin crisis) and into this mix an American adventurer Harry Lime (Orson Welles) and his friend trying to find him, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton). While Lime thrives in this informal and anarchistic city, exploiting the opportunities in the seedy underbelly (literally) of Vienna, Martins is a fish out of water. He writes cheap western fiction and is clearly totally unprepared for the reality in Vienna. His naivety makes him vulnerable and clumsy, but also charming and so there is no doubt which of the two we are rooting for. In Vienna everybody speaks German and only a few a spattering of English. Reed had the courage to let them speak German and even avoid subtitles. That would give the viewer an equally disorienting feeling as Martins is having and it works very well indeed. I know enough German to follow the German dialogue and it is real dialogue, not garbage sentences, but they are meant to be difficult to understand for the viewer. Again a sense of realism that I can only admire.

Who is friend and who is foe in this strange land Martins finds himself in? The girlfriend (Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt) Lime left behind? Martins befriends her, even falls in love with her, but is she good or bad? The porter of the building where Lime lived (Paul Hörbiger, a famous Austrian actor), what does he really know and why is he suddenly killed, and most intriguing, what is the story with Major Calloway (Trevor Howard)?

Calloway is of the British military police in Vienna and starts out being rather antagonistic towards Martins. He intimidates that Lime was a criminal and bluntly tells Martins to go home where he belongs. That clearly rubs Martins the wrong way and so he sets out to prove that Lime, his friend, was an innocent victim who got murdered. Trevor Howard, who we previously saw in the excellent “Brief Encounter”, is completely the arrogant, but competent British officer. He has the cool, stiff British upper lip (under his pencil moustache) and it is easy to dislike him for a cynical bastard, but as the movie progresses things starts moving and one of them is Calloway, who shows some sides of himself that you might not have expected. He may in fact be the only person in the entire town who truly cares and he ends up being perhaps the most likeable character of them all.

Orson Welles gets a lot of credit for this film. Admittedly this is his best acting performance since “Citizen Kane”, the role fits his greasy pig face perfectly (though Peter Lorre would also have worked well here), but he actually only shows up more than an hour into the movie. Okay, that is quite an entrance and he does make the most of it including his very cynical speech about the value (or lack of) of human lives, but up to that point the movie belongs to Joseph Cotten. He is absolutely marvelous. He exudes the combination of American confidence and confusion to perfection. You see how he as the movie progresses becomes increasingly deflated admitting to himself how little he really knows and his character is forced to make some difficult choices between right and wrong in a world where those two concepts are not clearly defined.

So, is this film noir? Certainly there is plenty of noir elements here. The setting and the filming not least, but also the confusion and the dark underbelly of life. There are these odd unexplained characters popping up and characters who are not who they seem to be, but there are also elements which are not really noir. Anna Schmidt is hardly a femme fatale and Martins hardly have a dark past threatening to ruin him. In fact the plot itself is more of a mystery story and there are unexpected comedic elements like the book club that invites Martins expecting him to be a highbrow literate but find themselves sadly disappointed. Apparently Greene’s nod to some similar event he was himself exposed to.

I liked this movie a lot. In fact I find very little to criticize. Maybe the ending was a bit anticlimactic? We do get a high adrenaline manhunt through the sewers, but it almost seems too easy after the massive buildup. Yet I am not unhappy at all. In fact I am wondering if I should just pop it in the player and watch it again for the fun of it. Why not?     

Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Reckless Moment (1949)

Angstens Timer
This has got to be one of the strangest films I have seen in a long time. Not in the sense of arty weird or pointless but because an otherwise straight forward plot takes a very odd turn and makes the whole thing rather strange if not incomprehensible.

I am of course a bit ahead of myself, but I need to make clear from the outset that I did not “get” this movie and therefore may be prone to misjudging it.

Joan Bennett is Lucia Harper, a middle class house wife (in an age where this means a maid, but no loose cash) running a house with a teenage daughter, a younger son and a chatterbox of a father in law. Her husband is away on business and we never see him throughout the movie so she is in charge of affairs at home. The pressing matter is that her daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks) is seeing a no-good entity called Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick), far too old and far too seedy for Lucia’s taste. He looks him up in L.A. and asks him to stay away from her daughter. When he asks how much it would be worth for her it is pretty clear what he is up to.

Later that evening Bea meets Ted in their boathouse and comes, though reluctant, to the same conclusion and in her effort to get away from Ted she knock him over and he falls down killing himself. It is an accident, but in film noir there are no accidents. Instead Lucia must get rid of the body so Bea will not be charged with murder.

Just as they seem to be in the clear a man shows up by the name of Martin Donnelly (James Mason). He is in possession of a stack of lovely letters Bea wrote Ted Darby, which would incriminate her if handed over to the police. Apparently Darby owed 5000$ to Donnelly and his partner and he is now trying to get them from Lucia instead in return for the letters.

So far so good. A nice and tidy blackmail story about normal, regular people getting accidentally involved with the seedier parts of society. The standard formula would have the blackmailer and the victim standing off in a cat and mouse game until eventually, usually with the help of a detective or the police, the victim gets the upper hand. But this is not a standard story. Something really weird happens. Although Donnelly scares the wits out of Lucia Harper and although he is such a tough guy he falls in love with her. For some odd reason he sympathizes with her and turns from antagonizing her to in the end helping her out.

I do not understand it. Lucia is doing absolutely nothing to lead him on, she in not dressing up and luring him or anything. In fact she does all in her power to get rid of him. She is brave in the sense that she stands as protection for her family against this intruder, but she is also deeply scared of him and clearly out of her depth. Her frantic scrambling to raise 5000$ says it all. So why on earth is he falling for her? Is it some Lima or Stockholm syndrome? I have no idea. The Book warned me of this and still I did not see it coming. The book also suggests that Lucia is manipulating Donnelly, but I do not see that either.

My guess is that Max Ophüls, the director, wanted to see what happened if the bad guy turned into a good guy, vanquished by love. The problem is that, to me at least, it seems to happen forced and out of the blue. Yes, yes, I know, love is a mysterious, uncontrollable force bla bla bla, but really? What exactly happened there?

The interesting thing of course is that this change of events throws the entire story into a different direction. Lucia is as confused as I am and do not know what to make of this guy. We also get Donnelly’s partner on the stage to become the new bad guy. And Donnelly seems to be most confused of all trapped between the two of them.

I am not entirely sure I liked this film. For that I am probably still too confused. Maybe later when the fog clears I will appreciate it more, but at this point it is just clouding my judgment. The best thing about the film (except from the fact that it does not follow template storylines) is the filming itself. It is the kind of movie, like most noir, that could only work in black and white. The house and family is always filmed in bright light, but whenever Ted Darby, Donnelly or the threat from either appears the light tones down and we gets shadows and gloom. James Mason is always wearing dark cloth and Lucie wears bright until she decides to raise the money, then her cloths turn dark as well. It is with the gloom threatening the innocent life that the movie is most successful.

Joan Bennett was better in “Secret Beyond the Door” (and excellent back in 32 in “Me and My Gal”). In 1949 she was 39 years old, but acted as if she was supposed to be 10 years older. It does not look that convincing. You know like when people turn their voices in the way they think their parents sound.

James Mason is better, but then again he is good in even horrible films. This is the first American film I see him in and he does seem to have some trouble shedding his British background, but they just say he is Irish and then that is okay (though I rarely heard a person as ENGLISH English as James Mason…). His problem is to convince us that he has fallen in love with Lucie and unfortunately that is just an insurmountably tall task.

Definitely an odd movie and interesting too. Good?… We will have to see about that.