To Have and To Hold: Losing Ground (1982)

LOSING GROUND, Seret Scott (R), 1982. ©Milestone Films/courtesy Everett Collection

To view Losing Ground click here.

Losing Ground (1982) is a shape-shifting drama of an imploding marriage, insinuating itself into the diverging head-spaces of a pair of quarreling intellectuals. Shot on a shoestring budget in 1982 by City College of New York professor Kathleen Collins, it was one of the first features directed by a black woman since the 1920s. Distributors didn’t know what to do with a black art film, so after a few festival screenings and an airing on public television, it disappeared from view. Thanks to the efforts of Kathleen Collins’ daughter Nina and Milestone Films, this remarkable feature was finally released into theaters in 2015, and now it’s available on a lovely DVD and Blu-ray, and is streaming on FilmStruck.

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Free at Last: The Captive Heart (1946)

THE CAPTIVE HEART, Michael Redgrave (center), 1946

To view The Captive Heart click here.

In the past, several of us here have been tipping our hats to the rich variety of films here at FilmStruck representing the underrated British filmmaker Basil Dearden, from his earliest days at Ealing Studios to his very last feature film (The Man Who Haunted Himself [1970]). Now it’s time to take a look at one of his most enduringly popular Ealing titles, a heart-tugging World War II film that’s held in tremendous esteem in its native country: The Captive Heart (1946).

One of the most high-profile films this summer was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, so it’s been interesting to go back and see films that tie in to those real-life events from different angles than what we saw in that IMAX spectacle. In this case we have a fictional story set after the Dunkirk evacuation, with (future Sir) Michael Redgrave cast in one of his strongest roles of the decade as Karel Hasek, a Czech captain who’s been sent to a concentration camp. A chance opportunity allows him to pose as one of the thousands of British officers sent to POW camps in the aftermath of Dunkirk, but to pull off the ruse, he has to keep writing to the wife of the dead British captain he’s now impersonating. (Think of it as a much harsher version of what Don Draper had to go through to assume his identity in Mad Men  [2007-2015].) [...MORE]

Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Directed by Otto Preminger Shown: Joan Crawford

To view Daisy Kenyon click here.

Daisy Kenyon (1947) is a rarity. It’s a romantic Hollywood movie made for adults that refuses to sentimentalize its subject and treats all its characters respectfully despite their failings and their flaws. Joan Crawford stars as Daisy, an ambitious commercial artist who becomes involved in a complicated love triangle with two very different men. Her longtime paramour is a cocksure married lawyer (Dana Andrews) who has a moral compass that seems to ebb and flow with the changing tides. Her new lover (Henry Fonda) is a shell-shocked war veteran, bereaved widow and onetime naval architect trying to find his footing in postwar New York. Daisy must choose which man she wants to spend the rest of her life with but the decision is not an easy one and director Otto Preminger ratchets up the tension by shooting this somber melodrama as if it were a film noir. In Daisy Kenyon love is a mystery that the resilient heroine must solve but a clear-cut solution remains frustratingly out of reach.

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Frieda (1947): One of the Best Films You Probably Haven’t Seen

FRIEDA, holding hands from left: Mai Zetterling, David Farrar, 1947

To view Frieda click here.

It’s funny how little things can make us happy, and I’m pretty giddy that we have a wealth of cinematic riches available on FilmStruck right now highlighting the very underappreciated work of director Basil Dearden. We’ve got eleven of his films, running the entire spectrum of his career, and you may recall we’ve featured several of this titles on Streamline over the past few months including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), and All Night Long (1963).

However, Dearden got his start as a secret weapon of sorts for the beloved Ealing Studios, whose remarkable run of British classics spans multiple genres with an incredible arsenal of actors and directors at its disposal. Though he’d proven his dexterity with silly wartime comedy thanks to the well-crated The Goose Steps Out (1942) for Ealing, Dearden really proved his value with a pair of back-to-back anthology films: the evocative fantasy The Halfway House (1944) and the most influential horror omnibus ever made, Dead of Night (1945). In the latter case, Dearden was just one of four directors brought on board, but his helming of the flawless framing device (with a group of strangers in a country house swapping stories of the uncanny) couldn’t have been more perfect. Dearden also directed the shortest of the tales about a creepy premonition involving an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse, but it’s the connective tissue that really shows off Dearden’s early talents as he slowly winds the audience up to a nightmarish finale no viewer has ever forgotten, a virtuoso concerto of disturbing visuals that must have left postwar attendees gasping for air. [...MORE]

An Uneasy Friendship: David and Lisa (1962)

DavidandLisa_1962_0809_07

To view David and Lisa click here.

David and Lisa (1962) introduces viewers to two young, attractive and deeply troubled patients living at a private mental health clinic. David (Keir Dullea) suffers from extreme anxiety and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which causes him to become severely agitated when another person touches him. The childlike Lisa (Janet Margolin) has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and insists on speaking only in rhymes. The two also exhibit symptoms of autism. Over the course of the film, this unlikely pair form an uneasy friendship that allows them to confront their psychoses.

This sympathetic portrait of mental illness was directed by Frank Perry and based on a book by Dr. Theodore Issac Rubin, a former president of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis. Perry’s wife and creative partner Eleanor, who earned a master’s degree in psychiatric social work from Case Western Reserve University, wrote the screenplay. The film was made with just $185,000 and became one of the most prestigious American independent pictures of the 1960s, netting its creator’s several awards including Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Although David and Lisa was a popular and critical success at the time of its release, it tends to be overshadowed by its 1963 Oscar contenders including  Lawrence of Arabia (1962), To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962), Lolita (1962) and The Miracle Worker (1962).

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Revisiting Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

HAMLET (1996)

To view Hamlet click here.

Late last year I had the great pleasure of seeing Derek Jacobi perform MEASURE + DIDO (directed by Jacobi’s partner of 38-years, Richard Clifford), a modern update of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure that includes excerpts from Henry Purcell’s chamber opera Dido and Aeneas. Jacobi was marvelous as Angelo, the lusty, scheming and very funny deputy to the Duke of Vienna. With apologies to the other players, Jacobi owned the stage and effortlessly commanded Shakespeare’s ornate language. I was in awe of his powerful performance and in the process, I gained a new appreciation for Shakespeare’s comedy. But if truth be told, I prefer the Bard’s tragedies to his comedies so with the experience of seeing MEASURE + DIDO still somewhat fresh in my mind, I decided to revisit Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) now streaming on FilmStruck.

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The Past Is Always With Us: The Naked Kiss (1964)

NAKED KISS, THE (1964)

To view The Naked Kiss click here.

Samuel Fuller developed a reputation over time of being the tough guy director of movies like Pickup on South Street (1953), The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Big Red One (1980). This is all well and good but his films have a sense of style, and insight at their core, that belies the notion that Fuller can be pigeonholed as the cigar-chomping model of masculinity behind the camera. He may well have been, but the man put together more movies about regret and despair than most directors and occasionally dipped deeply into the well of sentimentality. In 1964, he put together a movie whose story and plot could have easily been mistaken for the kind of movie directed by Douglas Sirk, although with completely different results. In fact, The Naked Kiss (1964) may be described as the best movie Douglas Sirk never made.

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Under the Volcano (1984) with Albert Finney

MSDUNTH EC007

To view Under the Volcano click here.

One of my favorite actors is presently getting the red-carpet treatment at FilmStruck; “Starring Albert Finney” is a new theme that presents a batch of Finney’s films for your enjoyment including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Tom Jones (1963) and A Man of No Importance (1994). If you’re new to Finney, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with one of Britain’s finest exports and if you’re a longtime fan like myself, it’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with some of his best work.

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The Confession (1970) Takes No Prisoners

THE CONFESSION (1970)

To view The Confession click here.

One of the great things about the explosion of movie titles in the last few years, both streaming and on physical media, is how you can learn so much more about and totally reassess how you see a filmmaker. A favorite example I like to cite is Ingmar Bergman, whom I grew up watching in film classes via murky 16mm prints and borderline unwatchable VHS transfers. Now that we’ve had the chance to go back and see the majority of his work in pristine quality, it’s like pulling off a dirty pair of glasses to reveal a far more vibrant, multi-faceted filmmaker than before. [...MORE]

Fox and His Friends (1975): Remembering Two German Giants

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1975)

To view Fox and His Friends click here.

The recent death of legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus is one that stings just as much as any movie titan in recent memory. Fans of American cinema know him as the gifted eye behind such films as The Departed (2006), The Age of Innocence (1993), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Broadcast News (1987), to name just a few of the titles that earn him a place in the upper Hollywood ranks. However, the Berlin-born maestro really cemented his reputation on the world stage with his decade-long collaborations with the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a collaboration that spanned from Whity (1971) through Lili Marleen (1981). [...MORE]

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