Sunday, November 18, 2018

Underworld (1927), at the dawn of the modern gangster film



























I hadn’t seen Underworld before, but I knew enough about it to be intrigued. To begin with, it was directed by master filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, a man of remarkable cinematic ingenuity who is mostly remembered today for having discovered Marlene Dietrich and stage-managed her rise to stardom. Also of interest when considering the subject of outlaws on film, Underworld was, to quote its introductory title,  “…unusually bold both in subject matter and in treatment at the time it was made. It introduced a fashion for gangster pictures.” Specifically, the film, a runaway hit on release, is credited with establishing many conventions for what would emerge as the gangster genre a few years later, in the early sound era. Another attraction Underworld held for me was that genius costume designer Travis Banton, who would become Paramount’s Chief Designer and go on to mentor Edith Head, costumed the film. For leading lady Evelyn Brent, starring as “Feathers McCoy," he created an endless variety of trendsetting feather-swathed hats, wraps, jackets and dresses, enough to fill at least one sizable closet. And so, early last week I sat down to watch Underworld and begin my post for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall 2018 OUTLAWS Blogathon.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Vive La Moreau! Celebrating A French Icon

Femme Immortelle du Cinéma


Don Malcolm's MidCentury Productions will kick off its 5th festival of French film noir at San Francisco's venerable indie house, the Roxie Theater, on November 15. Each year the festival has grown, building on the excellence and success of the previous year, and so in 2018 the film schedule will, for the first time, span six days, all featuring eclectic, obscure and exciting French noir. Each festival has had a particular focus, and this year the spotlight will shine on twenty films made in France between 1949 and 1959, "The Frenetic Fifties." Click here for the full schedule, including program details, times and ticket information.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
Several great stars of the French cinema appear in the films included on this year's "French Noir 5" program: Jean Gabin (of course), Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, Arletty, Anouk Aimee...and Jeanne Moreau. Moreau, who passed away in July 2017 at age 89, will be honored at the festival on Friday night, November 16, with screenings of two of  her pre-New Wave pictures, Until the Last One/Jusqu'au Dernier and The She-Wolves/Les Louves. Both were released not long before she shot to prominence in young Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows (1958).

In an age long past, when art and revival movie houses flourished in urban centers and university towns across the country, I saw my first Jeanne Moreau films. The very first was Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), the story of a doomed romantic triangle revolving around a beguiling and impulsive woman named Catherine (Moreau). Next came Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968), his experiment-in-pure-cinema homage to Hitchcock, in which a bride whose groom is gunned down on their wedding day methodically tracks down and dispatches his killers. And then came the film that initially launched Moreau and helped launch the French New Wave, Louis Malle's downbeat noir thriller Elevator to the Gallows.  I found her moody intensity riveting. By now I'd been keeping an eye out for her films.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Guest in the House (1944) for Noir November


The Film Detective, a classic film streaming site that recently launched a 24/7 programmed channel on Sling TV, is about to kick off Noir November. I was invited to review one of several films being added to the Film Detective app in November. I picked Guest in the House (1944) starring young Anne Baxter as...well, read on...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GILDA (1946), Celebrating Rita


The legend of Rita Hayworth has it that her mother, formerly of the Ziegfeld Follies, wanted her daughter to be an actress, but her father, a professional dancer, wanted his little girl to be a dancer, too. Eduardo Cansino, the dad, won out and little Margarita Carmen Cansino would begin dancing at age three.

She was born on October 17, 1918 – one hundred years ago – in Brooklyn. At age four, as a member of the family act, the Four Cansinos, she was on stage dancing at the Winter Garden Theatre in a Broadway production of The Greenwich Village Follies. Eduardo Cansino would come to believe that the movies needed more professional dancers and so, in 1926, the Cansinos moved to Hollywood.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bullitt (1968) Turns 50: Reflections on a New Hollywood Trend-Setter


The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, famously known for decades as Grauman’s, is the most historic of movie palaces world-wide, and one of the most magnificent. Famed for its lavish “Oriental” décor, its klieg light-lit Old Hollywood movie premieres, and its hand- and footprint-studded forecourt, the theater has been a shrine to cinema since 1927, when it first opened its doors. An IMAX theater since 2013, it continues to be the foremost Hollywood venue for major movie premieres. The theater is also the scene of showcase screenings during TCM’s annual classic film festival in Hollywood.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Innocents (1961)


A woman’s suffering face appears above a pair of tortured hands. Birds twitter…her distraught voice whispers…

All I want to do is save the children not destroy them. More than anything I love children. More than anything they need affection, love, someone who will belong to them and to whom they will belong.

And then a man’s voice is heard, “Do you have an imagination?” he asks, and the scene shifts to a well-appointed office where an elegant gentleman is addressing the young woman whose face we have already seen. She is now sitting in a chair and speaks animatedly with him as he continues asking questions and explaining the situation he offers.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

ART HOUSE THEATER DAY


September 23 brings the 3rd annual Art House Theater Day, and when I first learned of it, I smiled. Memories of long-ago days and nights spent in the art houses of San Francisco and Berkeley came to mind. It was in these funky little theaters nestled in the Bay Area’s nooks and crannies that I was introduced to the films of Powell & Pressburger, Fellini, Chabrol, Lina Wertmuller and other filmmakers from outside the U.S. It was in these ragtag movie houses that I watched “revival” screenings of films like Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? and John Cassavetes’ Husbands for the first time. Back in the day, art houses that presented foreign, indie and classic American films flourished around the US, in all major cities and university towns.