Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

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

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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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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]

Hollywood Babylon: The Big Knife (1955)

BIG KNIFE, THE (1955)

To view The Big Knife click here.

In The Big Knife (1955) Jack Palance is a blunt instrument, barreling his way around a Bel Air living room set like a finely chiseled bull in a china shop. He plays Charlie Castle, a self-loathing movie star being blackmailed by the head of his own studio. So he signs whatever contracts are put in front of him, and his Bel Air home becomes a gilded prison, a well-appointed depository of his rage. The film never strays far from his living room, giving it a claustrophobically theatrical feel. It is an adaptation of the Clifford Odets play, done faithfully by director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter James Poe. The first independent feature Aldrich directed, for his newly formed The Associates and Aldrich Company, it is a relentless, and at times exhausting, jeremiad against the dehumanizing manipulations of Hollywood executives. Shot quickly and simply, it is a showcase for the performers, and Palance is matched against Rod Steiger as studio president Stanley Hoff, a Mephistophelean string-puller with a flair for the dramatic pause. Even more unsettling is Hoff’s reptilian assistant Smiley Coy, who Wendell Corey portrays with a smooth monotone, unfurling both compliments and death threats in the same uninflected hiss. The only human in the house is Castle’s long-suffering wife Marion, who Ida Lupino instills with a stubborn, sandpapery grace. The Big Knife is now streaming on FilmStruck with five other features under the The Lives of Actors theme.

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I Know I Am: Breaking the Waves (1996)

BREAKING THE WAVES (1996)

To view Breaking the Waves click here.

There are two moments near the beginning of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996) that capture a little bit of what I love so much about his style of filmmaking, moments that make the film seem unrehearsed, almost as if it weren’t a narrative piece at all. The first is after Bess (Emily Watson) walks outside after meeting with the council of her church elders seeking permission to get married. She breathes in the air and then looks directly at the camera, smiling. The second occurs during the wedding of Bess and Jan (Stellan Skarsgård) as we see Bess coming down the aisle. She smiles shyly at everyone then looks right into the camera and sticks her tongue out. Both are fourth wall breaks but are done without irony or sarcasm, done not to wink at the audience but to leave the impression that you’re there, with Bess, in the moment, sharing her story. Lars von Trier makes movies that infuriate people and I admit, it took me some time to appreciate his nuances, but once I did, I found myself rewatching his works and rediscovering an emotional intimacy few other filmmakers accomplish.

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