Roger Moore Shows His Dark Side: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, Hildegarde Neil, Roger Moore, 1970

To view The Man Who Haunted Himself click here.

A couple of weeks back I took a look at a neglected but stunning early entry in the career of Basil Dearden, Frieda(1947), and now it’s time to go all the way to the other end of his career with his very last feature film: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). Made hot on the heels of Dearden’s rapid-fire cult favorite The Assassination Bureau (1969), this is a stylish and deadly serious little semi-supernatural thriller whose reputation has continued to improve over the years.

Of course it’s also tough to watch this film without looking back at the career of star Roger Moore, who just left us a few months ago. Still three years away from becoming the big screen’s third James Bond with Live and Let Die (1973), he’s often given short shrift as an actor and had quite a bit more range than most people realized. This film is a prime example of Moore playing in a different key than usual – times two, actually, since the entire premise revolves around him believing he has a double. Harold Pelham (Moore), a prominent businessman, is briefly declared dead after a sudden afternoon car crash (the same way Dearden would die a year later, eerily enough). The appearance of two heartbeats when he revives is just the start of an uncanny string of events in which someone who looks just like him is disrupting the lives of his friends and relatives. [...MORE]

Another Day in the Country: Picnic on the Grass (1959)

PICNIC ON THE GRASS, (aka) DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE,LE, (seated)Paul Meurisse, 1959

To view Picnic on the Grass, click here.

For Jean Renoir Picnic on the Grass was both a return and a departure. It was filmed in and around the country estate of Les Collettes, his late father’s land, where he had grown up as a child. It is the perfect setting for this back-to-nature comedy in which a scientist (and hopeful presidential candidate), is lured away from the world of the mind for that of the flesh. But instead of using this return to indulge in nostalgia or reiterate the naturalistic style of his still-famous triumphs – Renoir pushes further into farce and caricature. Picnic on the Grass is a broad and joyful comedy that was inevitably compared with Rules of the Game(1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), which had been restored and re-released around the same time, and so Renoir was compared to his previous self, and found wanting. Jonas Mekas, writing in The Village Voice in 1960, had a profound experience watching Picnic on the Grass and was baffled by its failure – he wrote: “I hear the critics did not like it. Who are the critics? Critics like to talk big – poor nearsighted things! They do not see beauty even when it is there.” FilmStruck presents us with another opportunity to see this beauty, so I attempted to find it there.

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Wrapped Around Her Finger: Elena and Her Men (1956)

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To view Elena and Her Men click here.

In its time Elena and Her Men (1956) was something of a disaster for Jean Renoir, a succession of problems (contested rights, fevers, bad accents) for which he struggled to find solutions. It was a box office and critical dud, and ended any hope of Renoir returning to Hollywood. To read its production history in Pascal Merigeau’s Jean Renoir: A Biography is akin to attending a wake. And yet the film itself is an effervescent thing, an improbable farce about a coup d’etat that positively shimmers with invention. For years Renoir had tried to find a project for Ingrid Bergman, and attracted her with a chance to do light comedy, not something she’d had many opportunities to perform. But due to the stresses of filming both French and English versions of the film (in the U.S. it was titled Paris Does Strange Things), Renoir was miserable during its production and considered its box office failure the final word, dismissing it in interviews. But I would tend to agree with Jean-Luc Godard, one of the film’s only contemporaneous defenders (along with André Bazin), who wrote that Elena and Her Men is the “French film par excellence.”

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A Lonely Climb to Happiness in The Apartment (1960)

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To view The Apartment click here.

Sometimes the saddest stories are the most beautiful. Life is never easy or clear cut, and we all know that there’s often sorrow found on the road to happiness. In The Apartment (1960), director Billy Wilder takes two decent, lonely, broken people looking for real love, and cultivates their developing romance out of an impossibly cynical, ruthless and despicably sexist world of corporate politics. C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon in one of his finest performances, is eager to please his bosses, and for him, it’s easy because he loves his job. He believes in what he does at Consolidated Life. He not only understands the complicated world of actuarial statistics, he lives for them. Numbers and figures and random factoids are fascinating to him. But Baxter also dreams of that corner wood paneled office with a private key to the executive washroom, where he can serve as an advisor and assistant to the head of the company, and delegate responsibilities to the next set of ambitious young employees. Although Baxter certainly has what it takes to be in upper management, there are hundreds just like him—on staggered schedules for efficiency, robotically processing insurance data. In an endless sea of identical desks with the repetitive, almost-rhythmic sounds of their adding machines, all of the employees working on the nineteenth floor dream of the day they can pick up their rolodex and answer the call to serve in the promised land that is the twenty-seventh floor.

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Crime & Punishment: Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

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FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion.

To wrap up my month-long appreciation of Alain Delon I want to focus some attention on the films he made with director Jean-Pierre Melville (aka Jean-Pierre Grumbach). Melville, more than any filmmaker, was responsible for molding Delon’s onscreen persona as the “ice-cold angel” of French cinema. During a five-year period beginning in 1967 and ending in 1972, they made a series of exceptional neo-noirs together; Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970) and Un Flic (1972). All three titles are currently available on FilmStruck and they come with my highest recommendation, but today I’d like to focus my attention on Le Cercle Rouge (aka The Red Circle, 1970). Like Farewell, Friend (1968) which I spotlighted last week, Le Cercle Rouge is another caper in the tradition of Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) and Rififi (1955) but it is a more rewarding, somber and stylistic film thanks to Melville’s brilliant direction. It also contains one of the most accomplished performances in Delon’s impressive oeuvre.

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You’re Never Too Old to Discover Danny Kaye

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, Danny Kaye, Joey Walsh, 1952.

To view Hans Christian Andersen click here.

I have a confession to make, and this is just between us, ok? Up until a few months ago, I had never seen a Danny Kaye film. Not a single one. And before you think I’m accidentally forgetting White Christmas (1954) –nope. Never seen that one, either. For whatever reason, all these years I had rather stubbornly made up my mind that I didn’t like Danny Kaye. I had no explanation and entirely no basis for this formed opinion of mine. I even playfully argued with a good friend, and when he pressed me for a reason why, my response was simply, “Meh. Not my cup of tea.” How ridiculous is that? It’s a completely unfair, unreasonable and irrational stance. And after watching my very first Danny Kaye film, I felt embarrassment and regret for casually reducing the enormous contributions of such an immensely talented entertainer, one who left an indelible mark on Hollywood and pop culture, to an arrogant “meh.” The more I think about it, perhaps I owe my unfounded dislike to Clark Griswold and his hysterically colorful Christmas Eve tirade. I’m sure at some point I thought, “Ha! That’s a funny joke. Well, that’s all I need to know about Danny Kaye. I think that’ll do.”

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Honor Among Thieves: Farewell, Friend (1968)

FAREWELL FRIEND (aka ADIEU L'AMI), from left: Alain Delon, Charles Bronson, 1968

To view Farewell, Friend click here.

FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion

In the tradition of classic French heist films such as Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Rififi (1955) and Bob le flambeur (1956), Farewell, Friend (aka Honor Among Thieves, 1968) takes viewers on a treacherous adventure where femme fatales lurk around every shadowy corner and crime rarely pays. But that doesn’t stop some fortune hunters from risking everything to make a quick buck or in this case, repay a debt to a dead man.

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Dueling Delons: Spirits of the Dead (1968)

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To view Spirits of the Deadclick here.

FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion

In the 1960s anthology (also known as omnibus or portmanteau) films became extremely popular and were attractive to producers who wanted to appeal to a broad range of viewers. The segmented format also encouraged audiences to make multiple trips to the concession stand, which pleased theater owners. Sex comedies were particularly trendy but the most successful anthologies appealed to horror fans.

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This Land is Your Land: The Southerner (1945)

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To view The Southerner click here.

Jean Renoir considered The Southerner (1945) to be his “only work of a personal nature carried out in Hollywood.” Adapted from the National Book Award winning novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand, by George Sessions Perry, it follows a year in the life of a struggling Texas tenant farmer and his family. A lyrical portrait of do-it-yourself Americanism, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Best Director (Billy Wilder would win for The Lost Weekend). Sam Tucker (Zachary Scott) is passionately, almost irrationally obsessed with farming a plot of land, even if he’s working it for another owner. So he quits his cotton-picking job and enters into a tenant-farming agreement with his boss, tilling a plot left unworked for years. For him it’s a kind of freedom, though he is gambling that he can harvest enough crop to feed his family and begin to save for a better life. He’s a more responsible version of Boudu from Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), both seek a way off the grid and find it in rural sections of the country. But Sam has family responsibilities, while Boudu only answers to himself.

(Full Disclosure: I work for Kino Lorber, who released The Southerner on DVD and Blu-ray)

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A Far From Perfect Understanding (1933)

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To view Perfect Understanding click here.

In 1929, after a successful career in silent film and at the height of her popularity, Gloria Swanson was preparing for her transition to “talkies,” the earliest, raw experiments in bringing sound to motion pictures. Her sound debut was in the 1929 drama written and directed by Edmund Goulding, The Trespasser. Swanson earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance, the second of her career. Her first nomination was for Sadie Thompson (1928), one of her most popular films, and her third and final nod was for Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), losing out to Judy Holliday for her performance in Born Yesterday (1950). (Swanson’s loss was a shock to many in Hollywood, and especially the actress herself, creating quite the controversy, and is still a hotly debated topic among fans of classic film almost seventy years later.) Despite her popularity during the 1920s, and like so many of her silent film contemporaries, Swanson’s career didn’t weather the transition to sound. After a handful of films in the early 1930s, including What a Widow! (1930); 1931’s Indiscreet (not to be confused with Stanley Donen’s 1958 film Indiscreet starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman); and Tonight or Never (1931) with Melvyn Douglas, Swanson’s career was floundering. In 1933, Swanson turned to Britain’s Ealing Studios, serving as producer on the romantic dramedy, Perfect Understanding.

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Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.