One of my favorite bits from His Girl Friday is when Cary Grant’s character explains to a minion how to recognize Ralph Bellamy’s character: “He looks like that fella, you know, Ralph Bellamy.”
It was a somewhat controversial gag. Columbia boss Harry Cohn objected that it undermined the integrity of the film by violating the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
A similar joke appears in Ocean’s 12, when a plot point hinges on the fact that Julia Roberts’ character looks like Julia Roberts (because she’s played by Julia Roberts) but nobody remarks on how much her companions look like George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
Clearly the popular success of these films demonstrate that these metatextual gags didn’t compromise audiences’ abilities to enjoy them. Perhaps the suspension of disbelief is more robust than Cohn feared…
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on March 7, 2014
Some of us movie know-it-alls had a bit of fun this past week taking the piss out of a little internet item titled “5 Classic Film Noirs You’ve Never Seen,” whose premise has the gall to suggest that those already predisposed to appreciate film noir (who else would read this piece?) have not seen Joseph Losey’s THE PROWLER (1951), Edgar G. Ullmer’s DETOUR (1945), and Otto Preminger’s LAURA (1944). Go out into the street and start asking your fellow Americans about film noir and you’ll get a grip of puzzled looks. The film noir crowd is exceedingly small, it’s a niche market. Sure, revival houses like the Castro in San Francisco and the Egyptian in Hollywood sell out during noir fests but that’s still a triple digit fanbase in any major city. Film noir is a labor of love, its celebration and its preservation operate at a loss. Small communities have a tendency toward being tight-knit and the noir crowd is no different. To suggest to film noir fans that they have not seen LAURA or DETOUR is just such a bizarre tack – akin to walking into a Beatles convention and shouting “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. ‘She loves you yeah yeah yeah…” Anyway. Like all pyromaniacs, I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness so today I offer for your consideration a movie I consider to be a classic film noir title but which I’d bet more than a few of you have not yet sat down to watch. In fact, I only just saw it myself…
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 6, 2014
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) airs on TCM tonight, March 6th,
After the troubled release of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) director Sergio Leone wasn’t particularly interested in revisiting the western genre again. He had survived a bitter court battle after his film was accused of borrowing heavily from Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (a claim the director reportedly denied citing that both films were based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 crime novel Red Harvest) but afterward Leone was emotionally as well as financially spent. He had lost a great deal of money during the legal proceedings and his mind was on other projects. But the public loved his film and the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS meant there was money to be made with a sequel. When he was eventually offered a budget of $600,000 to make a follow-up (nearly 3x the cost of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), Leone agreed and reunited with his star Clint Eastwood along with composer Ennio Morricone to co-write and direct FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). The title was somewhat of a play on words to mock his past producers who he had parted ways with on less than amiable terms and indicated that Leone’s new film would have a much bigger budget than its predecessor. It was also a cheeky statement about why the director was returning to the genre. Like the protagonists in his film, Leone was hoping to make “a few dollars more” to help compensate for his previous losses and the title would prove prophetic. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE would go on to be one of Leone’s most profitable films grossing some $5 million dollars in Italy and $15 million dollars in America . It would also be an important turning point in the careers of Leone, maestro Morricone and the films two stars, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.
Posted by gregferrara on March 5, 2014
Dodsworth plays tonight on TCM and it remains a personal favorite, a movie I emotionally connect with and a lead performance, by Walter Huston, I find to be quite amazing. Walter Huston has always been a favorite of mine and when I think of him, three performances come to mind, and Dodsworth is one of them. In fact, what I try to do with a lot of favorite actors is pick out the three performances that I would show to a newcomer that would best illuminate that actor’s talent, range and versatility. Even if they never stray very far from a given characterization, there might be three performances of those that best exemplify who they are and what they do.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on March 4, 2014
George Raft started out on his toes, dubbed the “The Fastest Charleston Dancer” in a 1925 issue of Variety. That agility never quite carried over to the big screen, but the maniacal focus did. Note that he was the “fastest”, not the most graceful or technically sound. He was there to get a job done quickly. He became a star as a hired goon in Scarface (1932), obsessively flipping that coin of his. It was a bit of business director Howard Hawks requested Raft to master, so he did with machine-like efficiency, reflecting the soullessness of his killer. With this breakout role, and his real-life palling around with mobsters (he counted Bugsy Siegel as a friend), Raft was typecast as a gangster, whereupon he became one of the most popular actors of the 1930s. As the 40s progressed his star began to dim, and he took on projects that might shake up his persona, including two films noir that Warner Archive has just released on DVD: Nocturne (1946) and Red Light (1949). Both are flawed, fascinating works in which Raft’s deliberate style is adapted to ostensibly heroic ends. One expects one of Raft’s Lieutenants or vengeful brothers to go full sociopath, but they remain stubbornly on the straight and narrow.
Posted by Susan Doll on March 3, 2014
I had originally planned to write a light-hearted post about Las Vegas to go with TCM’s airing of Ocean’s 11 until I heard about the death of Alain Resnais, one of the original French New Wave filmmakers. And, though I know my post will get lost in the many obits and tributes to Resnais, and a nod to old Las Vegas would likely have appealed to more readers, I wanted to write about the director who expanded my understanding of what film could be. Most film instructors and cinephiles remember seeing their first New Wave movie, usually at an age when they begin to check off the titles on that list of masterworks they intend to see. For many, it is a playful turn by Truffaut or an exercise in cool by Godard, but for me it was the cinema’s most enigmatic puzzle, Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad.
I first saw Marienbad in a film class. I found it difficult to get my footing in the story, which seemed to circle around itself. It was like waking up from a dream to discover I was in another dream. At a large, luxurious hotel, a woman referred to as A is approached by a man called X, who claims that they had met last year at either Frederiksbad or Marienbad. At first, A, who is at the hotel with M, her current husband or lover, denies that she knows X. But, X continues to persuade, seduce, and influence A until she begins to believe that the two did have an affair last year at Marienbad. Is X lying to A for his own agenda, or has A suffered a trauma that has caused her memory to fail? Is M a cruel or supportive husband, and what is the meaning behind the game of sticks he constantly plays. Some of the scenes seem to be the thoughts and fears of the characters, but the real and the imaginary are not clearly distinguished. I was immediately pulled into the intrigue of the characters, haunted by the melancholy mood, impressed with the austere black-and-white cinematography, and challenged by the insanely ambiguous narrative. After class, my peers and I pondered the meaning of the movie; I knew that if I could only figure it out, I would understand the mysteries of a sophisticated adult world just out of reach to me. [...MORE]
Posted by gregferrara on March 2, 2014
TCM wraps up 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow night, one day after the Oscars themselves run tonight. Soon the newest Best Picture Oscar will be handed out and already there are plenty of critics and bloggers making lists ranking the best and worst Best Pictures in history. But this year’s crop of nominees got me to thinking about something else. With a science fiction movie among the front runners for Best Picture (Gravity), something that rarely happens, I began thinking of all the science fiction, action-adventure, fantasy, horror movies that I love that could have taken Best Picture except for the pesky little fact that almost none were ever nominated in the first place. I shall restrict myself, as I often do on these lists, to movies from the thirties (starting with 1931), the decade when, had the Academy nominated or awarded these movies, a quite different precedent would have been set allowing for richer competition in the years to come. But they didn’t. From the start, they made it clear that Best Picture pretty much meant “Genre Pictures Need Not Apply.”
Last week’s post on Jean Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal brought to light a pocket of fans of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps—and so in honor of that long-suffering cohort, this week I figured I’d properly pay tribute to one of Lang’s unsung classics.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on February 28, 2014
It’s raining in Los Angeles and we’re afraid. Rain does that to us, occurring as it does here so infrequently. Our terra firma is too sun-baked to properly absorb precipitation and there is too much concrete; our storm drains are clogged with leaves and fast food detritus and the rain water pools when it comes down, forming lakes at every intersection and making sluiceways (yes, sluiceways) of the gutters. The natural response of Angelenos to rain is to drive very, very fast, cutting yellow lights in the red and not using turn signals. We can only hope this helps. I am high and dry at the moment and thinking of some of my favorite rain scenes in movies because, as film lovers do, when real life intrudes I go to the movies… [...MORE]
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on February 27, 2014
On Sunday many of us will be glued to our television sets watching the annual Oscar ceremony unfold. At this time of year I tend to contemplate all the new releases I’ve seen in the past 12 months or more and linger over the films that have captured my imagination, awed me, inspired me or just made me think about old ideas and tired truths in new ways.
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