#201 The Virgin Spring/Jungfrukällan

Watched: September 19 2018

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom, Birgitta Pettersson, Allan Edwall, Axel Düberg, Tor Isedal

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Ingeri (Lindblom) is an unwed pregnant servant for a prosperous Swedish family. Angry at her circumstance and jealous of spoiled rich girl Karin (Pettersson), she prays to Odin for justice while the rest of the household are Christian.

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She’s a freaking delight at parties

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The two young women are sent to church to deliver candles for mass, but Ingeri is spooked by the forest (and an appearance by Odin himself, probably) and Karin goes off on her own. She runs into a trio of goat herds who she invites to share her meal but being pampered and naïve, she does not sense the danger they pose until it’s too late.

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Clearly, she’s never met anyone not interested in her well-being before. They’re not even trying to be non-creepy!

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With Ingeri watching from the trees, two of the three men rape and then kill Karin, steal her clothes and valuables, and then leave her half naked body in the woods to rot. Later that night, the brothers seek shelter with Karin’s parents Märeta (Valberg) and Töre (von Sydow). The now worried parents only discover the brutal truth when their guests try to sell Märeta Karin’s distinctive and expensive dress, spotted with blood. They start preparing their revenge…

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Daddy forgets all about his Christian values when faced with his daughter’s brutal murder. Luckily for him, he keeps a pagan/satanic knife handy for just these kinds of situations.

 

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The Virgin Spring is like a dark and brutal fairytale – Karin is the innocent princess and Ingeri the dark witch (although she does seek redemption in the end). The three headed troll popular in Scandinavian folklore is also present, and there’s friction between the old faiths and beliefs and the relatively new Christian faith (which technically raped its way through Scandinavia, so the roles are slightly reversed) which we also often see in traditional fairytales.

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It’s almost as if thy’re going for some sort of contrast or something. We’re not sure.

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The rape scene is extremely uncomfortable to watch, even by today’s standards (as, indeed, all rape scenes should be) and the tension throughout the movie is palpable. For us Norwegians though, the appearance of Allan Edwall as a beggar residing with the prosperous farmers is a welcome distraction from the horror. Anyone who grew up in the Nordic countries in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s are familiar with him from his roles in several films based on Astrid Lindgren.

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The man never fails to remind us of happier, more innocent times. Although, of course, there was no way Bergman would have foreseen that. (Sorry for picture quality. There’s a distinct lack of Edwall-stills from this movie online.)

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This is a fantastic, tense and uncomfortable movie about jealousy, hatred, revenge and redemption, and we truly recommend it. Even if you have no relationship with Allan Edwall.

What we learned: Hell hath no fury like a parent bereft. Also, try not to summon the old gods if you’re not 100% sure you can handle it. Just a little tip for you.

Next time: The Village of the Damned (1960)

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#188 Black Sunday

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 27min

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In 17th century Moldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) is sentenced as a witch by her brother and executed after having the “mask of Satan” nailed to her face. But before she dies, she curses her brother and all his descendants.

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To be fair, if someone tried to nail this thing to our faces, we’d probably curse them too

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Fast forward 200 years and two travelling doctors stumble upon her grave. One of them, Kruvajan (Checchi), is attacked by a bat which he kills over Asa’s tomb smashing the cross guarding it in the process. He then proceeds to remove her mask and spill blood on her.

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“Let’s open this tomb with the strangely preserved corpse and drip some blood on it” – a man who has never seen a horror film

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Kruvajan and his young companion Andre Gorobec (Richardson) then run into a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead witch, Katia (Steele again) and Andre is smitten.

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It’s hard to resist a woman with two massive dogs

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After the meddling with the dead witch’s grave, the surviving members of the Vajda family start to experience strange phenomena, and it becomes clear that Asa and her companion Javuto (Dominici) are back for revenge.

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“Grrr rawr, I’m coming to get you, Barbara!”

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We’re back in our favourite genre with this horror film, and we have a bit of a thing for Mario Bava (especially Sister the Oldest), so naturally we loved Black Sunday. It’s an unsettling and atmospheric Gothic horror with gorgeous lighting and some very good effects. We loved Asa’s resurrection and Katia’s transformation, Barbara Steele’s eyes (emphasized by intense make-up) and the creepy castle.

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Not what most people associate with a “come hither look,” but strangely effective nonetheless

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Sure, there are some issues with this movie, such as the slightly iffy dialogue and the fact that everyone keeps treating Katia like an idiot child (even with everything going on and several corpses piled up, the men don’t really believe her when she claims to have seen someone in her room), but we still love it.

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In the men’s defence, Katia does tend to act a bit like an idiot child, so they may be justified

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Absolutely a must-see if you’re into Italian cult horrors. Which of course is everyone’s favourite genre, so why wouldn’t you watch it?

What we learned: Don’t remove all protective elements and then spill blood on cursed graves. Just don’t.

Next time: Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

#176 Ben-Hur

Watched: April 13 2018

Director: William Wyler

Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie

Year: 1959

Runtime: 3h 32min (at least)

More numbering problems you say? See info here.

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In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

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“Uh, yeah, I’m here to register..? Yeah, with my wife. She’s about to give birth. No, no, I’m totally the father. Joseph. J-O-S-E-P-H. Know any good hotels hereabouts..?”

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We all know that story. However, this is not that story, but set in the same time. In 26 A.D. (probably not called that at the time, to be fair) Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) was a Judean prince and childhood friend of newly returned Roman tribune Messala (Boyd). Despite the intense homoeroticism of their interactions, the two have a falling out over political issues (one wants the other to sell out his people. That sort of thing).

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“God, I wish we were Greek instead of Roman…”

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After an accident involving a Roman procession and rooftop tiles, Messala finally has an excuse to arrest the Ben-Hur family and send Judah away to the galleys. His mother Miriam (Scott) and sister Tirzah (O’Donnell) are thrown in a dungeon, the family home is raided, and Judah is sent off.

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“I just thought I’d take a gap year. You know, to travel, sunbathe, grow my beard and learn about new cultures.”

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Strange destiny eventually brings the eponymous hero back to his hometown, now as an adopted Roman with a new fortune, new status in the Roman Empire, and excellent horse racing skills. His hatred for Messala has not diminished though, despite an encounter with Jesus, and he is also out for revenge and for the salvation of his family…

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We all know the best way to really humiliate someone is to beat them at their own game. And also kill them.

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Sometimes it’s hard to get in the right mood to watch an almost 4 hour epic from the ’50s, and we must admit we didn’t rush to pick this one up despite all we’ve heard of it. However, we’re glad we did as it lives up to its reputation (despite Heston’s occasional overacting). We loved the Roman perspective on Jesus, the (possibly unintended) homoeroticism between Judah and Messala, the sheikh, the general epicness of the feature, and the fact that we never actually see or hear Jesus.

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All we learn is that he has fabulous hair and can hypnotise Roman soldiers.

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We also loved the Roman uniforms, but mainly because they reminded us so much of Asterix that we spent the entire film quoting Asterix chez les Bretons (1986) and had to pull some strings to get our hands on the Norwegian dubbed version (AKA the only version worth watching) of our childhood favourite. So thank you, Kristian!

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“Er’re XVI her óg? Da har vi gått feil igjen, da.” – Classic!

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It’s easy to think Ben-Hur is a movie about horse racing (it’s by far the most famous scene), but it is really an epic saga of revenge and redemption with Jesus hanging out in the background. And a badass chariot racing scene.

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“Det skjærer meg i hjertet. Hører du, dekurion? Det skjærer meg i hjertet!” One for all Norwegian Asterix-fans. You’re welcome, people who don’t speak Norwegian and/or have no point of reference for this.

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What we learned: Romans, like most empires/powerful nations, were Biggus Dickuses.

Next time: Imitation of Life (1959)

#166 Touch of Evil

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 35min

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Mr & Mrs Vargas (Heston and Leigh, respectively) pass the border from Mexico to the USA only to have a car blow up in front of them. Mike Vargas, a Mexican agent, decides to look into it, while American-born Susan Vargas stupidly decides to follow a random dude back across the border.

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She might make stupid decisions, but she’s got spunk and is intimidated by no man!

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Vargas is joined by US police officers Hank Quinlan (Welles) and his partner Pete Menzies (Calleia) and gets to tag along on their investigation. However, when Vargas witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in the apartment of their main suspect, he accuses the veteran police captain and starts to suspect that he, perhaps with his partner, has been operating this way for years.

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“No, no, you silly Mexican police person! This dynamite was always on the premises. It’s just racist dynamite and will only show up if handled by an American.” “Then how did the Mexican suspect handle it?” “Uh, um, he must be half American or something…”

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Quinlan denies any wrongdoing and starts to work to discredit Vargas, or get rid of him altogether. Meanwhile “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Tamiroff) is also putting pressure on Quinlan since Vargas has been investigating Grandi’s brother. To keep her safe, Susan in moved to a remote motel where she finds herself the sole guest only joined by a very strange manager.

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Turns out the motel is anything but safe…

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Touch of Evil is really very tense, especially Susan’s storyline. We were genuinely worried about her, no matter how spunky and independent she was, and she had some really horrible scenes. We loved the film though – we loved Susan, the Mexican being the good-guy protagonist (even if it was Charlton Heston in brownface), the total corruptedness of Quinlan and the naïve hero worshiping of Menzies.

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Also, there’s a brothel run by the fabulous Marlene Dietrich, which in itself is reason enough to watch this movie.

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Welles’ version was reedited and released as a very different movie than the one he envisioned. Since its 1958 debut, two other cuts have been released. We’re pretty sure the one we watched was the 1998 version cut together based on Orson Welles’ notes (we base this on nothing other than runtime, as we didn’t check the DVD-case). Just so you know, in case some of you think this is very important to this informal review.

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Put down the gun, Orson! We’ll watch your (probably) preferred version! We swear!

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No matter which cut you go for, this is a great Noir with a fantastic opening shot (really – check it out!), a great ending, and some kind of a man. Great stuff!

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No caption here. We just liked this picture.

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What we learned: Border towns bring out the worst people.

Next time: Vertigo (1958)

#117 The Big Heat

Watched: June 24 2017

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jocelyn Brando

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion (Ford) has it all – a good job, a happy marriage and a lovely young daughter. That is, until officer Tom Duncan commits suicide and Bannion starts to investigate, uncovering layers and layers of corruption and deceit.

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He’s also invited to uncover other kinds of layers, if you catch our drift

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Those who cooperate with Bannion tend to die shortly thereafter, which makes him suspicious that the suicide may not have been as straightforward as initially thought. Even his superiors tell him to back down, which drives his determination to get to the bottom of the circumstances of his colleague’s death, as well as the extent of the mob’s influence on the police force.

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Methods include, but are not limited to, threatening widows. (PS: check out the decorative lamp in the background. Classic!)

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When Bannion’s wife is killed by a bomb intended for him, and his boss suspends him for not complying with orders and accusing him of being on the mob’s payroll, our hero quits his job and goes on a one man mission to bring down the local gangster Lagana (Scourby) and everyone connected to him.

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Cornering people in pubs is a tried and tested investigatory method in many a film. It usually ends in violence.

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One of Laguna’s thugs, Vince Stone (Marvin), has a girl he does not treat right – Debby Marsh (Grahame). After a confrontation between Bannion and Stone in a bar, Marsh, the obligatory scorned female, joins forces with her lover’s enemy.

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She pays the price though, poor girl…

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We absolutely loved this film! Bannion is an early incarnation of the disillusioned-cop-with-nothing-left-to-lose-who-goes-after-the-bad-guys-on-his-own, and he is perfect. We watched it with our parents (family time!) and all four of us were at the edge of our seats for the entirety. It’s thrilling, exciting and intriguing – everything we look for in a Noir.

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There’s also real tragedy and innocent victims

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On top of it all, it is directed by freakin’ Fritz Lang, the man behind two of our favourite entries on the list – M and MetropolisWhat’s not to love?

What we learned: If one side of your face is scarred, you can always go through life backwards. Also, good friends will come through in the end.

Next time: The Naked Spur (1953)