#104 A Place in the Sun

Watched: May 13 2017

Director: George Stevens

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Year: 1951

Runtime: 2h 02min

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George Eastman (Clift) is hitchhiking to see his rich uncle who has promised him a job in his bathing suit factory. He is given an entry level job and is expressly forbidden to mix with the girls working there. So the first thing he does is flirt with colleague Alice Tripp (Winters) and they soon start a secret relationship.

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So inconspicuous

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Not long after, George’s ambition and family ties get him promoted. He moves through the ranks both professionally and socially with an invitation to one of his rich and powerful family’s parties. There, he meets wealthy socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor) and he falls in love with her, but not before impregnating his working class girlfriend. Apparently his religious mother never taught him about protection…

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Who can resist a girl with cake, though?

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With his new girl happily unaware of his relationship status (it’s complicated), and his old girl demanding marriage, George is torn between his guilt and desire to do the right thing, and his ambition and attraction to Angela.

1951: Film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) star in the Paramount melodrama 'A Place In The Sun'.
When faced with the choice between a girl who packs bathing suits and one who wears them…

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A Place in the Sun has illegitimate pregnancies, ambition, love triangles, lots of foreshadowing, loose morals (and we’re not talking about Alice here), and a suspenseful scene in a boat which reminded us a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Even our dog was transfixed by this one, although that could have been due to the soundtrack dogs barking throughout some of the more tense scenes.

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It’s also possible the dog was outraged by Elizabeth Taylor wearing his friend as a cape

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What we learned: Don’t get a girl pregnant when you are secretly in love with another girl. That’ll get you into all sorts of trouble.

Next time: Ace in the Hole (1951)

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#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#100 Los Olvidados

Watched: April 28 2017

Director: Luis Buñuel

Starring: Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Alma Delia Fuentes, Estela Inda, Mário Ramírez

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Pop the champagne! We’ve reached number 100! And what an uplifting and optimistic film with which to celebrate. Perfect for a night of champagne and revelry, Buñuel’s Los Olvidados follows the depressing lives of a group of children (of various levels of dental hygiene) in the streets of Mexico through minor and major crimes.

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Look! They’re celebrating with us! Happy, happy happy times. Nothing bad will ever happen. La di da di da.

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El Jaibo (Cobo), recently escaped from prison, comes back to his old neighbourhood to take up his rightful place as leader of the local children, who he rallies into helping his criminal path by attempting to rob a blind street musician. Brave. Meanwhile, Ojitos (Ramírez) has been left in the streets by his father who seemingly has no plans of returning to pick up his son. The abandoned child is taken care of by Pedro (Mejía) – a good boy who’s abused at home but wants a different life for himself.

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The entire film is a laugh riot and not at all depressing as f**k…

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Another one of the kids who wants something more from life is Julian, but when Jaibo finds out he has a job and is no longer interested in petty crime he goes into a rage and kills him. Pedro, who witnesses the murder, tries to turn his life around by getting a job, but Jaibo not only screws that up for him, he also literally screws Pedro’s bitch of a mum.

Olvidados, Los (1950)aka The Young and the Damned Directed by Luis BuÒuel
“How dare he aspire to the glamourous life of a blacksmith! I must ruin this for him.”

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As a general rule, if one of the kids finds something worthwhile in their lives, Jaibo is there to tear it down. As many other criminals who recruit children, he has no prospects or ambition of his own and therefore wants to drag everyone down to his level to feel like less of a loser.

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Doesn’t get cooler than robbing a cripple

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Los Olvidados is a sad and depressing insight into lives of poverty with a very Un Chien Andalou-dream sequence (which we loved) and frustratingly little hope in the end. If we thought Ladri di biciclette was depressing, it has nothing on this. At least in De Sica’s film there was a loving family and some semblance of hope in the depression – Buñuel’s depiction is pretty much devoid of hope.

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We can’t even get into all the shit this little girl goes through

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Happy one hundred, people. We need to go look at pictures of puppies.

What we learned: This film shows the real life. It is not optimistic. Also, deprived of affection, children will look for love and approval anywhere.

Next time: Rashômon (1950)

#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)