For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the career of Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker who took pride in repeatedly remaking the same basic film endlessly. We’re finally done with Chabrol—which means it’s time to skip back in time to one of Chabrol’s idols, Fritz Lang.
If you want to play along at home, TCM will be screening The Big Heat on Friday December 20th. It’s as hard-hitting and bold as any American film noir—which is appropriate, for a film that found Lang updating his Dr. Mabuse franchise for American audiences.
For many, the term Nouvelle Vague is virtually synonymous with its twin axes, its most famous practitioners, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. But if Truffaut and Godard were destined to become the famous names of the lot, Claude Chabrol was there first.
It was his 1958 film Le Beau Serge that launched the movement, and it was he who financed much of the early New Wave productions. But it was not quite as perfect an inauguration to Chabrol’s own career, for reasons that were not immediately clear.
What was immediately clear was that the earth had moved. Le Beau Serge took home a prize at the 1958 Locarno film festival, but it was the picture’s popular and commercial success that truly spelled the start of something big.
A few years ago I made a poorly-thought-out attempt to pay tribute to Chabrol here in this blog, by (what was I thinking?) focusing on his worst film. OK, so that didn’t work. But I’m coming back to Chabrol, this week and for the next few as well, to try to give the man his due. Tomorrow night, TCM is screening Chabrol’s first two features—and while both are terrific, they’re as different as chalk and cheese.
As far as I’m concerned, Claude Chabrol launched the French New Wave with Le Beau Serge—and then he went and ran off in a different direction away from the very movement he helped found. For aficionados of the New Wave, here is a seminal work—for aficionados of Chabrol’s own unique brand of cinema, here is a frustratingly unfamiliar work.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on November 17, 2013
What was it about the script for Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) that caught Joan Crawford’s eye? And why does the finished product, a film that is a perfect fusion of film noir and melodrama, still resonate with us today? Go to any film school teaching a film noir or women and film course (or both), and you’ll probably find Mildred on the syllabus. The property was also recently brought back to life by director Todd Haynes in a critically acclaimed HBO miniseries released in 2011. The novel by James M. Cain (1892 – 1977), the author known for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and Double Indemnity (1943), ran afoul of so many restrictive provisions set forth by the Motion Picture Production Code that most of the sexual relations depicted in the novel had to be excised from the original film and replaced with something more acceptable: murder. [...MORE]
Posted by David Kalat on November 9, 2013
Once upon a time (1946), there was a movie (Two Smart People). It was a modest, unassuming thing. It was made on the cheap, and had no major stars (Lucille Ball and John Hodiak, supported by Elisha Cook Jr. and Lloyd Nolan). It was greeted by dismissive critical drubbing (The New York Times called it a “dreadfully boring hodgepodge about love and the confidence racket” that “suffers from lack of competent direction.” Ouch). It dutifully sank into the purgatory reserved for forgotten cinema. Subsequent surveys of film noir usually overlooked it, and even biographies of Lucy Ball felt no urge to linger over it.
And then, many decades later, the Warner Archive Collection hit upon a movie distribution business model that encouraged the commercial release of absolutely everything without regard to any expected sales figures. And so in 2013 it’s easy to sit down with a lovely DVD of Two Smart People and assess it with clear unjaundiced eyes—whereupon you will discover that OMG this thing rocks. Why, yes, yes it does.
Posted by David Kalat on November 2, 2013
Once upon a time I saw a movie. It was called Ruthless and was directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Edgar G. Ulmer. The experience was like watching a coin land on its side–it was thrilling, and also largely unrepeatable. I was watching the UCLA restored print of Ruthless, at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Theater, but knowing that the only available home video version was a crapola grunge-fest barely worth free.
For years I hunted this movie. Every time I logged into Amazon I ran a search, just in the off-chance the restored version had a commercial release. The years passed, and my hopes faded. I stopped checking. And then I discovered that Olive Films had released it on Blu-Ray. There was joy in Mudville.
Do you love this movie, too? Or have you suffered in the darkness, without even knowing what joys await? Click below the fold, and let’s explore Edgar G. Ulmer’s masterpiece together.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 15, 2013
For eleven years the Museum of Modern Art has been hosting “To Save and Project”, their international festival of film preservation, highlighting the major archival discoveries and restorations from the past year. An annual reminder of the vital work being done by preservationists the world over, it acts as a preview of the repertory year to come, presenting classic Hollywood titles hopefully headed for Blu-Ray (Nightmare Alley) to epics from international auteurs receiving belated stateside attention (Lav Diaz’s Batang West Side). With nearly all of the 75-plus titles being screened on film, it’s also a polemical statement that celluloid remains the most stable and reliable format for preservation.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 1, 2013
We associate film noir with cramped urban spaces, labyrinthine warrens of crime and vice. This slipperiest of genres, identified by French film critics years after its demise, also gained resonance by departing from the city and hitting the road. Often this takes the form of a last ditch attempt at salvation, as in the transition from city to country in On Dangerous Ground, when Robert Ryan’s cop finds humanity in the dead eyes of Ida Lupino. Olive Films recently released two curiously located 1950s noirs, the beachside diner of Shack Out on 101 (1955) and the highway heist film Plunder Road (1957). Both dispense their pleasures through their constrained locales, the first taken place almost entirely in a shabby eatery, the second inside a getaway truck. The first veers towards absurdist humor while the second is a straight-faced procedural, but both display how the noir ingredients could be combined in an endless variety of ways, and that there are always discoveries to be made in even this most picked over of genres.
Posted by David Kalat on July 27, 2013
Once upon a time, there was a pretty girl. As has happened to many other pretty girls, other people liked to take pictures of her—and one of these pictures ended up in a magazine read by one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. And this set in motion a chain of events that led to an enduring masterpiece of classical Hollywood—To Have and Have Not. (Tune in July 17)
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 30, 2013
As May approaches, the film world turns its eyes to the Cannes Film Festival, which will host world premiere screenings from the likes of Jia Zhangke and Alexander Payne at its Grand Théâtre Lumière. I, however, will be celebrating the Edward L. Cahn Film Festival, taking place on my mustard stained IKEA couch in Brooklyn. No accreditation was necessary aside from an active Netflix account, and travel time was limited to trips to the bathroom. Cahn, born in Brooklyn, was a promising director of incendiary corruption dramas at Universal (Afraid to Talk, Laughter in Hell) before spinning his wheels for MGM short subjects in the late ’30s. He re-emerged as a pathologically prolific director of B-Westerns and gangster films in the 1950s, at AIP and the various companies of Robert E. Kent. Seventeen of these grim 1950s features are available to stream on Netflix, but all are due to expire from the service tomorrow [UPDATE: only OKLAHOMA TERRITORY and IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE expired, the other 15 were renewed], along with almost 1,000 other titles (check here for the full list). So I attempted to watch Cahn’s films with as much speed and urgency as he made them.
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