An insufferable movie snob wanders off the beaten track, comes back and talks about what he has seen.
My Week of Movie Watching
April 5, 2015
The Big Knife – Robert Aldrichs’ scalding 1955 satire of Hollywood. Jack Palance stars as Charlie Castle, a popular movie idol who is sick of getting lousy roles, and is getting pressure from his wife (Ida Lupino) to get out of the business. Standing in his way are Hollywoods power brokers, led by studio head Rod Steiger, in one of the greatest scenery-munching roles ever. Wendel Corey stars as Steigers right-hand man, and he is cool and cruel in contrast to his boss’s bombast. Simmering in the background is a black secret that would destroy Charlie if it got out. Based on a Clifford Odets play, Knife is smart, literate, and sour as Hell. Also stars Shelley Winters, Jean Hagen, and Everett Sloane. A highly recommended noir.
Battleship Potemkin – Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece is pretty quaint to look at with modern eyes, at least in its subject matter. This tale of a mutiny that ignites a revolution was always intended to be Communist propaganda, so it isn`t fair to expect it to be anything else. It is, however, still a rush to see Eisenstein`s technical genius in full flower. His cutting is exquisite here, especially in the Odessa steps sequence, and in a sequence where the Potemkin encounters the Russian fleet, and the viewer doesn`t know if they are going to have to fight or not. In the latter scene, the director ramps the tension to an almost unbearable level and holds it there. Potemkin is a landmark of the cinema, and everyone should see it, but just recognize that it is an advertisement first and foremost.
The Bridge on the River Kwai – I can`t believe it took me this long to see this. Alec Guinness plays a career British soldier who is assigned to build a bridge for the Japanese in a Burmese prison camp. Guinness` character is a nod to the good old British sense of duty, as he throws himself into the work, even though he is doing it for the enemy. It`s important to him to show the Japanese what British willpower and ingenuity can accomplish. William Holden plays an American POW who breaks out, but is coaxed into going back into the jungle to destroy the bridge. Bridge is over 2 1/2 hours long, and in truth, I could have done without most of Holden’s portion of the film. What I really liked and admired was the relationship between Guinness’ Nicholson and Saito, the commander of the camp, played by Sessue Hayakawa. Brilliantly presented in location, cinematography, and production design, it could have benefitted from a tiny bit of pruning.
Stranger on the Prowl – When he made this low-budget drama in Italy, Joseph Losey was blacklisted from Hollywood. Paul Muni stars as a drifter who is trying to scrape together enough money to get on a ship. Along the way, he accidently kills a shopkeeper, and has to go on the run with a small boy who was present at the scene. The real thrust of the film is it’s representation of the crushing poverty in post-war Italy. In this regard, it is somewhat of a companion to films like The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D. Not a great film, but worth a look.
Lolita – Second viewing of Stanley Kubricks rendering of this Vladimir Nabokov masterpiece. I’ve been on a James Mason kick recently, and I think that’s why I picked this up again. This time around, I was struck by how selfish and manipulative Mason’s Humbert Humbert really is. His relationship with Shelley Winters is a sham, and is made even more hurtful because she really loves him. I had forgotten about how he delays in telling Lolita about her mother’s death, and his self-serving coldness in that is striking, as well. I loved Mason’s portrayal of a really undesirable character, but I felt the film lagged a bit when Peter Sellers was onscreen, because I was distracted by Sellers’ insistence on exaggerated accents and verbal tics. A recommendation, but with a couple of minor quibbles.