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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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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Yes He Can: Jean Gabin and the French Cancan (1955)

FRENCH CANCAN

To view French Cancan click here.

Jean Gabin, the great French actor and star, had worked with Jean Renoir three times before called upon to play the role of impresario Henri Danglard in Renoir’s salute to the Belle Epoque, the Moulin Rouge and the theater at large in French Cancan (1955), so he was ready for anything, and seasoned enough to deliver. It’s a movie I’ve seen multiple times and written articles about elsewhere, including for TCM. Yes, it’s a favorite, obviously. But more than that, it’s a fascination. A fascination with the way its simple story, one that could have easily been a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Let’s put on a show” movie, speaks to something much grander, and yet more intimate at the same time. Fascination with the way the film uses artifice and theatricality to tell a story, not so much about people or characters, but about art and history. And finally, a fascination with the way both Gabin and Renoir tell their own story in the process.

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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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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]

The Brilliance of Early David Lean: The Passionate Friends (1949)

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To view The Passionate Friends click here.

A few months ago, here on Streamline, I wrote about David Lean’s film adaptation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit in 1945 (you can read it here), and how it is among very few films I consider perfect. As I’ve been reintroduced to much of Lean’s early directorial efforts, I have come to realize that he rarely had missteps throughout his career, making at least eight truly “perfect” films. Needless to say, and without any hesitation, I consider David Lean to be one of the greatest directors of all time. And while I am well aware that I am not alone in this opinion, as Lean is highly regarded amongst both critics and film lovers, I believe that his earlier work has been seriously undervalued, especially when held up against the sweeping epics for which he is best known, such as 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia from 1962.

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Let’s Party with Peter and Blake

PARTY, THE (1968)

To view The Party click here.

One of the most surprising and gratifying movie screenings I experienced in recent years was The Pink Panther (1963) in full Technirama at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival. I had seen the film many times on television, and I thought I knew all of the funniest bits, but watching it on a big screen was a revelation.

Blake Edwards’s expert direction amplified those subtle comedy bits that were dependent on offscreen action, screen direction, exquisite timing and precise compositions in long shot. The impact of these techniques is not nearly as effective on television, or, heaven forbid, computers. The best example occurs near the end of the film after several characters in gorilla suits leave a costume party then jump in tiny cars to chase each other. A local resident watches dead pan as a gorilla drives a car across the street in front of him and exits screen right just as another gorilla in another tiny car follows. Filmed primarily in long shots with minimal editing, the sequence is funny because we have time to take in the absurdity of a gorilla driving a car, just like the local who has been carefully positioned in center frame.

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Art School Confidential (2006)

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To view Art School Confidential click here.

Director Terry Zwigoff got his start with a short documentary about an obscure country-blues musician that was titled Louie Blue (1985). In 1994 he hit the big time with Crumb, another documentary but this time one focused on the famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Crumb won countless awards and featured an amazing soundtrack full of “’78s of the late 1920s and early ’30s – jazz, blues, ragtime, and country music.” Continuing on in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Zwigoff adds: “This music seemed to fit the film somehow anyway. I’m glad, because by the time I was through with all the post-production, editing, sound-cutting, mixing, etc., I’d been forced to listen to these tunes hundreds of times each. Glad I started out with music I loved or it would have been sheer torture.” Seven years later Crumb was followed by Ghost World. Two years after that, improbably (and I say that because, really, who could have anticipated it): Bad Santa. Then, in 2006, Zwigoff made Art School Confidential, centered on a fictional art school based on Pratt Institute, and which somehow ties everything together insofar as all three of Zwigoff’s fiction films were written by Pratt Institute alumni.

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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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Keep on Buckin’… the System: Crumb (1994)

Crumb (1994)  Directed by Terry Zwigoff Shown: Robert Crumb

Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb enters FilmStruck at roughly 8:00pm ET today.

Near the end of the 1994 documentary Crumb, directed by Terry Zwigoff, we see Robert Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, in their home supervising movers as they get ready to head out. Out of the country, that is. They’re moving to France and Crumb wonders if the “football jocks” can handle moving his delicate records. This leads Aline to relate a story of some people in Eureka that she visited who had a big football helmet chair and a “fat teenager” sitting in it in front of the tv playing Nintendo. Crumb says, rather condescendingly, “You don’t see much of that in France.” Crumb never had much regard for people leading lives mapped out for them by corporate culture and mass media. He even rants at an earlier point about people walking around with logos on their hats and shirts, paying corporations to advertise for them.  In many ways, it’s the most fitting possible coda to an examination of Robert Crumb, an artist whose adult life could be adequately described as an endless fight against copyright infringement, artistic mediocrity, and anything that might make him acceptable to the public at large.

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