#93 Kind Hearts and Coronets

Watched: March 26 2017

Director: Robert Hamer

Starring: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Dobson, Joan Greenwood

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 46min

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Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Price – looking very much like Gene Wilder), is awaiting his execution for murder. As he calmly enjoys some wine in his cell, he writes down his memoirs, and we are invited to watch how his life unfolded and what led him to his prison cell.

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Death Row sure has changed since the early 1900s!

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Louis’ mother was a wealthy aristocrat until she ran off to marry an Italian opera singer and her family disowned her. When her husband died minutes after the birth of their son, the new mother is left destitute and forced to (gasp!) do manual labour. The horror! She feels this life is beneath her, and never misses a chance to remind her impressionable young son that he deserves better.

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Ain’t no one pointing their cane at Louis Mazzini. Ain’t no one!

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After his mother’s death, Louis becomes obsessed with reclaiming his place in her estranged family and becoming the next Duke of Chalfont – the family estate. Partly because of their awful treatment of his mother, but also partly because of his own ambition and his desire for Sibella (Greenwood), a silly girl he grew up with. However, unfortunately for him, there are eight other family members ahead of him in line for the Duke title. Something has to be done. So he goes on a hilarious murder spree.

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With this kind of family resemblance, tracking them all down should be a piece of cake

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We cannot begin to describe how much we loved this one, and we’re surprised and appalled that we have never heard of it before (a curse on whoever is supposed to be our cultural educators!). Louis is equal parts hilariously sarcastic and genuinely creepy. His systematic approach to trim the family tree is a joy to watch unfold, though his juggling of his two love interests is increasingly sociopathic. Especially as one of them, Edith (Hobson), is the widow of one of his earliest victims.

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The other interest is a silly girl with a penchant for lace and overly complicated hats.

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The visual and verbal humour made us laugh throughout the film, and we’re definitely watching this one again! Price’s stoic and sardonic Louis reminded us of Gene Wilder (they look alike too), and Alec Guinness is wonderful as all eight (unfortunate) members of the D’Ascoyne clan. Joan Greenwood’s Sibella is certainly a silly girl, but she too has a dark side – the two are perfect for each other. If you like sarcasm, murder and fancy dresses (and honestly, who doesn’t?) this is the film for you.

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If you want to make parricide fun, make a game of it!

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What we learned: 8 different ways to kill Alec Guinness. Also, the Latin word for killing family members is parricide. You’re welcome.

Next time: The Third Man (1949)

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#92 Jour de Fête

Watched: March 21 2017

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati and other French people

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 10min

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This film is hilarious! Seriously.

It’s the day of the annual party in a small French village and everyone is getting ready, as explained to the viewer by an adorable old lady’s running commentary on their efforts. In the middle of the preparations is François (Tati himself), the local postman and part time village idiot.

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For reference, this is his most intelligent expression throughout the film

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The poor man is trying to complete his round, but is sidetracked by the other villagers who recruit him to set up a pole (not a euphemism), get drunk with them and watch a propaganda film about the high-tech American postal service. The latter inspires him to step up his own game, with hilarious consequences.

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He is constantly being taken for rides, both literally and figuratively

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Jour de Fête is a silly, silly film with loads of throwbacks to old silent movies in the physical humour and slapstick found throughout. There’s also verbal humour though, so it does not stay too much in the silent movie era. Among our favourite scenes were the meeting of the potential lovers with the Western soundtrack playing, the old lady narrator in the beginning, and of course François’ amazing chicken catch. If you have no idea what we’re talking about – watch the film.

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For those of you wanting something deeper than a silly, French comedy, there are also political undertones as the protagonist confuses the U.S. M.P.

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We recommend this one to everyone who likes a bit of silly in their lives, although we did feel sorry for François when the other villagers made fun of him all the time. Still, that’s the price you pay for being the village idiot (which is an important position, make no mistakes). We’re looking forward to more Tati in the future.

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Hopefully, the upcoming films will also include the old lady and her goat. Fingers crossed!

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What we learned: Allons-y!

Next time: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

#91 Criss Cross

Watched: March 20 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Steve Thompson (Lancaster) has returned to Los Angeles after a year’s absence, and he quickly reconnects with ex-wife Anna (De Carlo) – the main reason he left town a year earlier. While they seem to be ready to start their relationship again, Anna is also pursued by local gangster Slim Dundee (Duryea) and after a series of miscommunications with her ex-husband as well as pride on both their parts, she ends up marrying Dundee.

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Her new marriage leads to a lot of sneaking around dark parking lots with her ex. That’s what you get for marrying money instead of…whatever it is Steve is to her. Passion perhaps?

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When the lovers are caught in Steve’s house, he tries to cover up their affair by suggesting to Anna’s criminal husband that they join forces for a heist. As an armoured truck driver, Steve offers to be an inside man on a pay roll robbery as long as no one gets hurt in the process. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

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Alarm bells should have rung when everyone else showed up at the party in variations of this outfit

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Criss Cross explores a lot of the typical Noir tropes, such as the good guy whose fate is sealed through a mix of circumstances, bad decisions and, of course, the love for a Dame. In addition, there’s the usual: flashbacks, heists, double-crossings, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gorgeous dresses, the protagonist’s voice-over, and a gradually darker and darker story line.

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As pictured here, Criss Cross also features the typical Noir trope The Decorative Lampshade. Classic!

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The Dame here is fairly innocent and nice compared to a few others we’ve encountered so far, although looks can be as deceiving as a Dame. Anna almost seems another victim – of men in her case, who treat her fairly crappily and might be to blame for her Dameyness (totally a word!), though some of the responsibility might lie with her (her alternative may have been to end up like the barfly in the Round Up). Her descent into victimization may be just a side effect of her learning that her new husband is not as easy to manipulate and control as her ex, but it may also be that Steve (and the audience) are given a glimpse into why she is who she is.

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Bruises are an easy way to evoke sympathy in both exes and audiences (which does not mean the sympathy isn’t justified, by the way).

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Likewise, Steve is not as much of an anti-hero as many other Noir characters – apart from his obsession with Anna (and his tendency to fight with her), he seems to be a fairly ordinary man with a normal family and a steady, average job.

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Until he starts planning heists, that is. As far as we know, that’s not completely normal. Well, perhaps planning them is, but going through with them is another story!

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All in all, we thought this was another wonderful and suspenseful Noir from Robert Siodmak, a master of the genre. Great movie – great rhumba music, courtesy of Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band. Good times!

What we learned: When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser… It’s a Criss-Cross! Also, organizing a heist to cover up an affair may not be the best idea…

Next time: Jour de Fête (1949)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)

#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#88 The Red Shoes

Watched: March 6 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.

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While the others work, Lermontov does his very best impression of a creepy old man

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The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.

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We strongly suspect Julian didn’t like other men’s hands this close to his wife’s hoo-ha..

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Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.

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Ah – innocence ruined by the lure of passion. It’s like the fairy tale reflects the fate of the innocent ballerina…

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It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.

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It doesn’t help our impression that he shows up for her performance  wearing something very close to a Nazi outfit and goes straight for the boobs

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This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.

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We’re quite certain that the audience cannot be replaced by an ocean in a real live performance.

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It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).

What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).

Next time: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

#87 The Fallen Idol

Watched: February 16 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 35min

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A recent addition to the list, The Fallen Idol did not disappoint. French ambassador’s son Phillipe (Henrey) is left home alone with his good friend and idol butler Baines (Richardson) and his less pleasant wife (Dresdel) for a few days. Like his namesake (and also ambassador’s son?) in Venom (1981), Phillipe has a penchant for snakes which Mrs Baines is not particularly impressed with.

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For supper: fried snake!

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Mrs Baines quickly establishes herself as an antagonist by killing the boy’s snake, and it comes as no surprise then that her husband is having an affair (she may have killed his snake too, if you know what we mean). Phillipe comes across Baines and girlfriend Julie (Morgan) although he is too young to figure out what their relationship is and assumes that Julie is Baines’ niece.

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Phillipe crashes their secret rendez-vous in a scene very reminiscent of Brief Encounter

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After Mrs Baines denies her husband a divorce, the unhappy spouses each manipulate Phillipe to learn and/or hide secrets and the poor kid is caught in the middle of the sordid affairs of two grown people who should know better than to involve him. As their conflict escalates, so does the situation – Mrs Baines falls down the stairs and dies. Phillipe, having witnessed a fight immediately preceding the fall, runs away and right into the hands of a (very clever and kind) police officer.

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The boy also runs into the arms of a sweet prostitute, but again is too young to truly appreciate the experience.

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Police officers investigate the death of Mrs Baines, and Phillipe, trying to protect his friend, weaves a web of lies which does more damage than good, and the last half of the film is a tense investigative affair which we found almost unbearable. The relationship between Baines and Phillipe will most likely never be the same, and Phillipe’s innocence is also lost forever. And not because of the prostitute.

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Because of the dead-wife-who-Baines-kinda-hated thing

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The Fallen Idol is a great and tense drama, beautifully shot with a very dramatic score. Although we must admit, knowing that Mrs Baines would fall down the stairs (it says so right on the DVD cover), we spent the first half of the film betting on when it would happen. Every time she walked up or down the stairs, we were at the edge of our seats, waiting for her to die (you will not believe the amount of times that woman survives a trip up or down the stairs!). We loved it!

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That poor kid is traumatised for life, though

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What we learned: A great many things. Do not involve children in your sordid marital drama. Admitting to an affair is better than a murder charge. Also, WTF is “Nosegay”? And where can we get some?

Next time: The Red Shoes (1948)

#86 Rope

Watched: January 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Edith Evanson, Cedric Hardwicke,

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 20min

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We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.

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Who needs morals when you have unlimited access to alcohol and this penthouse view?

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They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.

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One of these men have less of a conscience than the others…

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As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.

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Guess which one is the dominant one! Hint: it’s not the one doing the actual killing…

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Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.

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Turns out, Rupert has some opinions about the difference between theory and practice.

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We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…

Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.

What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.

Next time: The Fallen Idol (1948)