Sunday, May 27, 2018

Movie for the Evening: "Tension" 1949

Movie for the Evening: “Tension”

1949

“Tension” begins with an instructive soliloquy by Lt. Collier Bonnabel, played by Barry Sullivan, on how homicide (a fancy word for murder, we are told) detectives game killers to bring them to justice. While playing with a rubber-band, Lt. Bonnabel shows how those persons who kill will, by the artful use of tension, snap.

Lt. Bonnabel is an artist of the game and Claire Guimby, played by Audrey Totter, falls for it in a dramatic finale.

Along the way the mousey pharmacist Warren Guimby, played by Richard Basehart, plans the murder of his wife’s lover. He ditching his glasses for contacts, renting an apartment under an assumed name, and prepares a prescription that will stop the heart of the man that cuckolded him.

The switch from glasses to contacts confounds the great detective minds, a device used successfully by Superman, but with the aid of a six foot poster of Warren Guimby’s alter ego the detectives are finally on his trail.

This preposterous film noir is really great fun with sincere performance by all the principle players and Cyd Charisse.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Movie for the Evening: "Dead End" 1937

Movie for the Evening: “Dead End” 1937

There are many paths to losing, as many as there are losers, and the classic film by William Wyler “Dead End” examines many of them in the confines of a single block (a neighborhood in lower Manhattan).

The theme of this movie can be traced back to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserable” and the raising awareness in the mind of the 19th century’s European of poverty as social injustice.

Though prohibition ended in 1933 it lingers here in the main character, Baby Face Martin, a racketeer type reminiscent of the era. Martin returns from exile in Colorado to reconnect with his idealized past. He is a materially successful hoodlum but has inescapable doubts about his life’s path which he tries to resolve with a return to the old neighborhood.

Bogart is exceptional, appearing in the filthy streets well groomed and sporting a fedora of fine felt. No other actor could match Bogie’s facial twitches and menacing tone used to convey a depraved, damaged soul (not even the admirable Cagney).

Nothing goes well for Martin. His mother rejects him for bring shame on the family and his girlfriend from the old days has turned to prostitution. In an important scene, Martin, taking a good look at what Francey (Claire Travor) has become, turns away in discussed unaware of the hypocrisy so well hidden by his fine clothes and diamond ring.

The neighborhood is being gentrified and a wealth set has moved in to watch the boats from their balconies float down the east river where the poor kids swim on this hot day. The socially fueled conflict is inevitable and several of the plot lines follow that course.

Dave, played by Joel McCrea, is making an honest effort to escape the crushing poverty by education and a decent outlook. He is the hope infused into the plot and by his noble actions he comes by a windfall that allows him to make a generous gesture to Drina, played by Sylvia Sidney. This Jean Valjean-esque atonement (Dave was a gang member in his youth) closes the circle of fear and doubt allowing a sense of forward movement and the final scene is a denouement, the only false note in an otherwise smart movie.

Night and the City

Movie for the Evening: Night and the City

1950

“Night and the City”, a film noir directed by then blacklisted director Jules Dassin, explores the world of marginalized Londoners by following the final days of Harry Fabian, played by Richard Widmark, a small time hustler with an overwhelming desire to hit it big.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Women, 1939

Movie for the Evening:”The Women”

1939

Certainly a comedy but, also, a study of the plight and plenty of societal women residing in their bourgeoisie apartments on Park Avenue. The director, George Cukor, with a gay driven perspective on the menagerie of female types (using this to present, at the beginning of the film, each of the major players as their “animal” counterpart) offering an examination of this social class’s dynamics that make women superficial, gossipy, and predatory man chasers.

Mrs. Steven Haines, played by Norma Shearer,is shocked to find out her husband is having an affair with a perfume counter girl, Crystal, played by Joan Crawford. Her reaction, dictated by pride, provides a life lesson that harkens back to a time when women’s lives revolved around family.

This period, before the pill and the revolution, is captured by an assumed to be assured hand by, what else, a movie studio who’s product is seen by, mostly, people who did not live this life style and know little to nothing in fact about it.

George Cukor, who was a closeted gay man in the fold of high society, knew the best and the brightest of the celebrity class. His observations which structured the performances of this cast of only women can be questioned on several levels, however the success of this film and the fact that it retains much of it’s punch 80 years later can be used to assert it’s accuracy.

The film provides a detant from the back-biting and assault dialogue with a fashion show, using the new technic of Technicolor, that is an eye-opener as to how these women saw themselves, and are see, in the world they occupied.

Great performances by Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Lucile Watson (who plays the knowing mother of Mary Haines), and Marjorie Main.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

100 year anniversary, WWI

Several experiences that had a great impact on me during my travels and while living in Europe involved the remembrance of the two world wars. November 11 will be the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI (July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918). Scholars are of the opinion that WWI and WWII are one conflict and we live in a world created by these two events. I have had a chance to talk with older French who lived during the Second World War and they embrace the reality which is Germany today; an economic partner and member of the European community. As a Jew and Polish on my mother's side, I endorse moving forward while still grappling with several major issues raised by this event in human history. As November 11 approaches I will share some of my experiences and the official events that mark a period of unprecedented importance.