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. For starters, it was directed by virtuoso 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 become 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-bedecked hats, wraps, jackets and dresses, enough to fill at least one extra-large closet. And so, early last week I sat down to watch Underworld for the first time 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.