Saturday, July 14, 2018

Celebrating Bastille Day with French Noir

Today is Bastille Day, the National Day of France – la fête nationale française. If you have a bit of French blood in your veins and are a Francophile, like me, that’s reason enough to celebrate. But how to celebrate? With a baguette and a glass of vin rouge? Listening to Edith Piaf (or Madeleine Peyroux) sing La vie en rose? Or are you, a die-hard film buff, more inclined to sit down with a classic film? Perhaps a French film, a Renoir, Duvivier, Melville or Truffaut. Or maybe a glittery Golden Age Hollywood movie set in France, like Midnight (1939), An American in Paris (1950) or Charade (1963).

I started my celebration early, yesterday, with a film, a fascinating French Noir directed by underappreciated Henri Ducoin and featuring Andree Clement, a dark and intense young actress described by programmer Don Malcolm of Midcentury Productions as “the first Goth girl.”

The film, Fille du diable/Devil’s Daughter (1946) is one of only 13 films Clement appeared in during her brief career and life. The story follows the convoluted fate of a celebrated criminal named Saget (Pierre Fresnay) who has managed to escape a shootout with the police after a notorious bank robbery. When chance presents the opportunity – not unlike that of Mad Men’s Don Draper – to assume a new identity (while keeping the stolen loot), he takes it and soon finds himself in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable role of model citizen in a village in the provinces. Clement portrays Isabelle, an embittered local outcast who heads up a gang of young hoodlums bent on harassing upright citizens and vandalizing the town.

Saget, now known as Mercier, falls under the influence of the congenial town doctor (Fernand Ledoux) who treated him following the fatal accident that provided the opening to begin his new life. The doctor knows who he really is and uses this power to induce Saget/Mercier to spend some of his stolen money on good works, charitable works, works that benefit the community. When Isabelle learns Mercier is actually the gangster Saget, a criminal she has idolized for years, she is incensed that he seems to be adapting to his role as a pillar of the community. Catastrophe follows. It's a dark, juicy film with added intrigue in the triangular dynamic that develops between Saget/Mercier, the doctor and Isabelle.  The cinematography of Armand Thirard - who worked often with Henri-Georges Clouzot, notably on The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diabolique (1955) – is superb. And Andree Clement. A unique presence. Severe, potent, alien. Goth.

Today, continuing my Bastille Day observance, I’ll be watching another Clement film, Macadam/The Back Streets of Paris (1946) from directors Jacques Feyder and Marcel Blistene, and co-starring a young Simone Signoret. In this one, Clement plays the innocent.


Fille du diable/Devil’s Daughter and Macadam/The Back Streets of Paris will screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre on Thursday night, July 26, as part of a one-day tribute to Andree Clement, Midsummer Nightmare, from Midcentury Productions. Click here for details.

Andree Clement in Fille du diable/Devil's Daughter

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A remembrance of things past: "MY AMADEUS STORY"

As the San Francisco Symphony prepares to screen the Oscar-winning film, I reminisce... 


Amadeus first entered my consciousness back in the early ‘80s, when I worked in the promotion dept. of Fantasy Records (Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Creedence Clearwater Revival) in Berkeley, which was owned by Saul Zaentz and his partners, along with several jazz and R&B record labels. A few years earlier, before my time with the company, in the 1970s, Saul had begun producing movies under Fantasy Films, the film division of the parent company. His second feature, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), had gone on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the first of Jack Nicholson’s three Oscars. Saul would continue to make films, and the film division would soon change its name to the Saul Zaentz Company.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beautiful Face, Beautiful Mind: "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"

As a 5-year-old she completely took apart and put back together her toy music box. She was a child who was very close to her father, a bank director with an interest in inventing. Regularly during their walks through Vienna, where she was born in 1914, he would explain to her the inner workings of mechanical devices they encountered on these outings. She was captivated. And she became interested in inventing things herself; it came easily to her, she said.

Hedy Kiesler grew up to be beautiful, consummately beautiful. Aware of this and ambitious, she became an actress as a teenager and starred in a scandalous film titled Ecstasy in 1933. It made her an international sensation, for she appeared nude in the sexually implicit feature.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Small Town Theaters: A Gem in the Wine Country, the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma, California

Opened in 1934, the Sebastiani Screens Current and Classic Films

On a recent trek into the wine country, we took some time to cruise Sonoma Plaza in the town's center, an area now lined with restaurants, specialty shops and food and wine sellers. Amazingly, in the midst of all this modern-era commerce, stands the Sebastiani Theatre, in operation since 1934, still showing movies, and not only current releases, but also classics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Exploring the Dark Side of the American Dream

Richard Barthelmess in William Wellman's Heroes for Sale (1933)

As the U.S. continues its steep and steady descent into another dark night of the soul, distressed Americans cope as best they can. Some rant and debate on social media, some organize or take to the streets, others seek solace in their diversion or hobby of choice. For the film buff, watching movies can provide relief but also, on occasion, a sobering history lesson.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another Noir Year Begins

San Francisco's Noir City is the first of several film noir festivals scheduled around the U.S. for 2018

The Film Noir Foundation's 16th annual Noir City festival in San Francisco ran from January 26 through February 4, kicking off a series of nationwide noir festivals, as it traditionally does, for the year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

With a Nod to TCM, a Glance at 6 Favorite Holiday Classics

In my pre-TCM life, before 2005, I ritually watched a small handful of classics during the holiday season every year, films like A Christmas Carol (1951), The Bishop's Wife (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Scrooge (1970) that had been airing on network TV and local channels for years. Then I discovered Turner Classic Movies and the titles on my list of annual favorites multiplied.  These are some of the holiday must-sees I watch in December as the 25th draws near, each of them introduced to me by TCM.