Crime & Passion: Pool of London (1951)

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To view Pool of London click here.

I, along with some of my fellow StreamLine colleagues, have been modestly building a case for the reassessment of Basil Dearden’s career during the past year by spotlighting many of his films including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), All Night Long (1963), Frieda (1947), The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) and The Captive Heart (1946). Despite the fact that the British director has been the subject of a Criterion DVD box set, Dearden is still relatively unknown in America outside of academic circles where he is typically regarded as a message filmmaker or competent craftsman. I think his body of work merits more consideration so I decided to dive into another Dearden film recently and came away even more impressed by his ability to combine challenging social commentary with dynamic filmmaking.

In Pool of London (1951), Dearden explores the shadowy environs of the London docklands where sailors from around the world mix, mingle and struggle to make a decent living. We get to know two of these sailors intimately; an American merchant seaman named Dan (Bonar Colleano) and his Jamaican pal Johnny (Earl Cameron). This noir-infused drama unfolds during a shore leave excursion where the mischievous Dan gets entangled with some unsavory smugglers and sensitive Johnny becomes smitten with a sweet-natured blond (Susan Shaw). Dan’s dilemma becomes increasingly difficult as the film spirals towards its nail-biting conclusion but Johnny’s interracial romance comes with its own set of problems.

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Random Thoughts on The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

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To view The Testament of Dr. Mabuse click here.

Watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) again recently, I was struck by many things. So many, in fact, that coming up with just one angle from which to approach the subject seemed like a cheat as there were numerous angles available. Sometimes you watch a movie and a rush of thoughts, memories and ideas keep crashing into you from the screen, never letting you focus in on just one element of the film at any given time. That’s not a bad thing either and I think it’s one of the primary reasons that the best movies reward multiple viewings. A great and complex movie makes you think of different things while it’s going on, so you can’t possibly take it all in with only a single viewing. You must watch it again, and again, and again. And even then, you might not know exactly how to put it all together. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is one such movie and I have no single theme to tackle here. Rather, I’d like to take a kind of epistolary approach, a cataloging of mental diary entries and newspaper clippings that swirled around my head as I watched.

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Murderous Morality Play: 21 Days (1940)

21 DAYS, (aka 21 DAYS TOGETHER), from left: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, 1940, 21days-fsct02, Pho

To view 21 Days click here.

What would you do if you killed a man, quite by accident, and then had the great fortune of someone else being arrested for it? On top of that, the person arrested for it actually doesn’t object to the arrest and is so guilt ridden about the rest of his life he wants to die. That’s the basic premise of the Basil Dean directed thriller from 1940, 21 Days (aka 21 Days Together), with a terrific script by Dean and Graham Greene. Laurence Olivier is the accidental murderer, playing the role with surprising restraint, considering this was the Olivier of the 1930s and he still hadn’t been schooled by William Wyler on screen acting in Wuthering Heights (1939). If you’re confused by the timeline, that’s because 21 Days was made in 1937 with Vivien Leigh as the love interest. Shortly after filming, the film was shelved for a year while producer Alexander Korda developed other projects. Then Leigh won the lead role in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Korda, sensing that little Civil War movie was going to hit it big (like everyone else at the time), shelved the movie until after Gone with the Wind was released, at which point 21 Days was released with Vivien Leigh getting top billing. Hey, Korda was no fool and even if Leigh was given nothing else to do for the film’s rapid fire 75 minute running time than stare at Olivier all googly-eyed (and, yes, that’s pretty much all she does), her billing was enough to get people into the theaters. Once there, I suspect they felt it was well worth the price of admission. 21 Days takes the basic trope of the wrong man and turns it into a rather satisfying study of conscience and ego, and just how far someone will go to protect their name and reputation.

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Guess Who Killed The Woman in Question (1950)

THE WOMAN IN QUESTION, from left: Jean Kent, Dirk Bogarde, 1950

To view The Woman in Question click here.

My mother loved mysteries. Loved them. It was her favorite genre (science fiction and adventure were a close second and third) and whenever I discover a new one, it makes me think of her. One of the pleasures of watching a good mystery is trying to figure out who did it – I’m sorry, I meant whodunit – before the detective, amateur or pro, reveals everything at the end. In many cases, there simply isn’t enough information because the writer is holding out so that the reader/viewer can’t figure out the ending. I’m sure there are many mystery fans that like that but I prefer being able to figure it out, if I can, and when I get it right, there’s a sense of satisfaction, not disappointment. I discovered a new mystery recently (new to me I mean, it was made in 1950), The Woman in Question (aka, Five Angles on Murder), directed by Anthony Asquith, and starring Jean Kent as the titular character, Agnes/Astra, a palm reader at the amusement park and, unfortunately for her, a murder victim. We get to know her and the situation surrounding her murder from five people who knew the victim. And, yes, I figured out whodunit. And, no, that didn’t ruin the movie for me.

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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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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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Behind Closed Doors: 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

To view 12 Angry Men click here.

Reginald Rose wrote for television, film and the theater, coming into his own in 1954 with a work that would be his masterpiece, 12 Angry Men. On television, it starred Franchot Tone as the angry and bitter juror #3 and Robert Cummings as the thoughtful, patient and argumentative juror #8, two men battling each other for the life of a young man standing trial for murder. If that duo doesn’t set you on fire, it may have more to do with who followed them than the actors themselves. Tone and Cummings were terrific, of course, but once you see the 1957 Sidney Lumet directed film adaptation, you’ll never think of anyone else but Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda in those roles again.  And I say that having seen the 1997 television remake with the formidable George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon taking on the roles. They were great, too, but Cobb and Fonda take the prize, as does the film itself.

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Bigotry & Bloodshed: Sapphire (1959)

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To view Sapphire click here.

A beautiful young woman named Sapphire (Yvonne Buckingham) has been murdered. Her bloodied corpse was found in London’s Hampstead Heath park. A seasoned detective (Nigel Patrick) and his young partner (Michael Craig) are called on to investigate the case but as they try to piece together the puzzle of this post-war whodunit the mystery only deepens. Behind her tweed skirts and pale complexion, Sapphire was keeping many secrets including the fact that she was the biracial child of a black mother and white father. Did race play a part in her murder? Is a family member involved? Or was she killed by one of her male suitors? Before the killer is unmasked, this curious mystery takes some surprising twists and turns. In the process viewers get a firsthand look at London’s vibrant city streets undergoing a tectonic shift as denizens of white working-class pubs and black jazz clubs mix, mingle and occasionally fall in love. We also get a taste of the revolting racism quietly simmering underneath this modern cultural melting-pot.

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An Unusual Friendship: Tiger Bay (1959)

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To view Tiger Bay click here.

Tiger Bay is one of my all-time favorite films that I made. I still can’t get over the thrill I got when I first saw Hayley on the screen, with those wonderful big eyes … She was an ideal little person to work with because you knew … when you just looked through the lens at her that the camera loved her … You just knew that she had such a rapport with the camera and that’s what filmmaking is about – the rapport between the camera and the artist. It’s that magic that you can not explain. You either have it or you don’t. The very best actor or actress in the world, if the camera doesn’t love her, half the performance has gone.” – J. Lee Thompson

Twelve-year-old Hayley Mills made her screen debut in Tiger Bay (1959) playing Gillie, a rambunctious doe-eyed orphan living with her aunt in the British working-class neighborhood of Tiger Bay. When Gillie unwittingly witnesses a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) shoot his girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell), she steals the gun to impress her young playmates and protect the charismatic killer. Over the course of the film Gillie and the murderer develop an unusual bond while trying to evade a determined police superintendent (John Mills) and escape prosecution.

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Birdshead Revisited: Judex (1963)

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To view Judex click here.

The first time we see the magician, he is standing alone, legs spread slightly apart, a lifelike bird mask covering his head. Next to him, on a stone block, lies a lifeless white dove. He picks it up in one hand and holds it gently as he walks through the hallways of the mansion on his way to the ballroom where the gala is being held. Once there, among the other masked revelers, the dove comes to life and flies away. He has brought it back from the dead, or so it seems, and produces one after another to the delight of the guests. The  man in the mask, we suspect, is Judex, an avenger who has set out to get a rich banker, Favraux (Michel Vitold), to pay back his victims or else. The actual magician portraying Judex is Channing Pollock and he didn’t speak a word of French. That didn’t matter to director Georges Franju, he just wanted a look. Besides, Judex wasn’t the lead anyway. [...MORE]

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