An insufferable movie snob wanders off the beaten track, comes back and talks about what he has seen.
My Week of Movie Watching
March 30, 2015
Torn Curtain and To Catch a Thief – First timing viewings for these 2 Hitchcocks. Curtain stars Paul Newman as a noted scientist working as a double agent inside East Germany in order to gain important information. Julie Andrews plays his fiancé. This one is merely OK, as I found Newman a little stiff and I though the film was a bit long at over 2 hours. The final pursuit of the heroes by German officials is drawn out a bit past the time where I could stay engaged. One large plus in this film is a scene involving the killing of a German agent who discovers Newman’s secret. The scene is sloppy and violent, and it is a terrific illustration of the magnitude of what it means to kill someone. I just wished that the rest of the film lived up to this sequence. Thief stars Cary Grant as a retired jewel thief who finds himself under fire when a number of thefts occur that sure look a lot like his work. Grace Kelly stars as a rich American heiress who falls in love with him. I loved what Hitch did with Kelly in this. Rather that presenting her in her usual ice queen persona, here she is somewhat of a romantic wild child, going after Grant, and the interplay between the two superstars is refreshing. Despite the romance, and some stunning location photography in southern France, this one is probably just second-tier Hitchcock.
Suddenly – Interesting drama stars Frank Sinatra as a would-be Presidential assassin who holds a family hostage while he sets up his hit. Sterling Hayden plays the small-town cop who tries to stop him. A couple of things that are interesting in this; the assassination set-up bears a spooky resemblance to the Kennedy killing that would occur a few years later. The assassins actually discuss the various Presidential killings at one point. It’s also interesting to consider this film along with another Sinatra film about political assassination, that being The Manchurian Candidate. A good performance by Sinatra and well worth a look.
Cool Hand Luke – Paul Newman as Christ? I hadn’t seen this in many years, and I was struck this time by the obvious Christian themes attached to Newman’s character. Luke is a ne’er do well who seems destined to always let people down. In his time in prison, he constantly does stuff that ensure he will be punished. This endears him to the fellow prisoners, but ultimately leads to his doom. At one point, he admonishes the others to think for themselves instead of putting it all on him. He also has a late scene in a church which is really a riff on Christ’s “Why hast thou forsaken me?” speech from the cross. Still a powerful film, and still recommended.
The Earrings of Madame De… and La Ronde – First time views for each of these Max Ophuls gems. Earrings tells the story of a tragic love triangle in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and employs the ingenious plot device of telling the story through a pair of earrings that keep getting passed between the three main characters. The story-telling technique is brilliant here, as the earrings continually betray secrets the three principals have from one another, and yet they all take part in a charade where they act like they don’t know. A brilliant film. La Ronde is a charming little examination of love and memory, and is most notable for its construction – It is built like a circle of dominoes. We meet a character, follow them into a brief relationship, then follow the new character into another one, and so on, until the film comes full circle (hence, La Ronde). Anton Walbrook stars as a kind of Master of Ceremonies, guiding us from one story to the next. A terrific and highly original movie, and recommended enthusiastically.
The Mirror – This 1975 entry from Andrei Tarkovsky is dense and pretty impenetrable, even by the standards of Tarkovsky. It’s a free-form string of remembrances of his youth, as narrated by a dying man. It touches on things like time spent at his grandmothers’ cottage as a small child, his military training, and personal memories with his wife. Tarkovsky being Tarkovsky, he has the parts of his wife and mother played by the same actress, which adds to the confusion considerably. I have seen this three times now, and I have decided that it is best not to try to make literal sense of it. It’s probably best viewed as a dream, or as the deathbed flashbacks of a dying man. I have made this sound like a real slog, and while it is difficult to follow, it is redeemed by his marvelous use of images, and by his fearlessness in attacking his narrative. A recommendation, with warnings.