Thursday, January 28, 2016

On purge bébé

1931, France, directed by Jean Renoir

A film that Renoir by all accounts made to show his ability to film with sound on a budget, in order to impress potential producers. Obviously, though, he was already an experienced filmmaker and despite the film's pretty straightforward nature he clearly spent at least some time working on direct sound, use of diegetic music, and, from time to time, on the framing of actors' faces, although some of the film is shot in a theatrical format that underlines the picture's stage origins. The most interesting points, for me, were on the casting level -- an exceptionally early, blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance from Fernandel, and, far more substantial, an amusing turn from Michel Simon, already cast in roles far beyond his years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


1935, France, directed by Jean Renoir

A very interesting on-location picture, clearly made under the influence of Pagnol in terms of the southern realism on display (Pagnol's company was involved with the film, but as distributor rather than producer). There's little optimism here in this deliberately circular tale -- the contrast between the larkish beginning and the pessimism of the conclusion is very stark, and in many ways the film has a modernity that Renoir may not have intended, at least with respect to the pointed commentary on immigration, something that's hard to push out of the mind in early 2016. If Pagnol himself had made this I'd expect it to be leavened with a little more comic relief, or even perhaps the more gentle acceptance of the vagaries of humanity that you find in much of Renoir's best work. I'm not all that familiar with Charles Blavette, who plays Toni, though he did appear in Pagnol's La Femme du boulanger among others; more recognizable to me was Andrex, whose apparently permanent cheeriness is used to good subversive effect in the conclusion.

Monday, January 25, 2016

La Nuit du carrefour

1932, France, directed by Jean Renoir

The very first Maigret adaptation -- there was another the same year, and just one more during the 1930s -- and one of the strangest, with an almost abstract air at times, as well as a curious tendency to linger carefully over objects as much as on people. Although Maigret is as physically imposing a presence as on the page I still had the sense that he's operating here in a kind of existential haze, although this also captures the detective's ability to peer deep into the soul rather well. The film was made largely on location, in the kind of grim suburban setting so beloved of Simenon (that suburban setting was virtually a character in the novel of Monsieur Hire, for instance), and for the most part things are mud- and rain-soaked (foreshadowing, perhaps, the even muddier Une si jolie petite plage). 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Dark Mirror

1946, US, directed by Robert Siodmak

Although Siodmak shows his usual sure hand with psychologically wacky material, this didn't draw me in nearly as much as his other work of the period. This may have as much to do with my being less than invested in the actors, Thomas Mitchell excepted, rather than any flaw in the filmmaking, which certainly made appropriate use of the twin metaphor as well as the inherent possibilities for contrasting dark/light. Perhaps a film I'll need to revisit in a different frame of mind (the print quality wasn't great, either, which may also have had an impact).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hateful Eight

2015, US, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Friday, January 08, 2016

L'Etrange Monsieur Victor

1938, France, directed by Jean Grémillon

A Grémillon film that apparently suffered due to its association with the German production company UFA -- the picture was made in Germany in 1937, although it tells an entirely French tale. Still, perhaps not the wisest move on the political front at the time. In any case, very much a rediscovered gem, with a quite wonderful sense of place despite being largely if not entirely a studio beast (von Sternberg would have loved the set design, I suspect). Raimu plays the affable, eponymous Toulon storekeeper who is not at all what he seems -- Grémillon does a fine job of detailing the carefully-maintained façade, which is punctuated in brutal fashion (and Raimu himself is terrific, switching back and forth between personas). The conclusion is quite neat in most respects, and you'd expect something altogether more cynical had the film been made a decade later. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Father Brown

1954, UK, directed by Robert Hamer

Alec Guinness stars as Chesterton's eponymous cleric, and he's generally quite endearing in the role (a little too eagerly so at times -- occasionally, his performance shades into mugging for the camera). The film doesn't showcase Robert Hamer at his peak, either, but there is some nice work from old English pros like Bernard Lee and Sid James, and I was amused to see French actor/director Gérard Oury turn up as a Gallic police inspector. A good deal of the film was shot on location in France, which lends a nice tang of overseas authenticity for the time period, especially in unusual locations like the Paris catacombs.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

13 rue Madeleine

1947, US, directed by Henry Hathaway

Another wartime film from Henry Hathaway, who had a very good run for a few years in the late 1940s. The film purports to tell a sort-of true tale of espionage/counter-espionage, though its liberal attitude to the truth kicks in early since many of the locations presented as French are in fact Canadian. Nonetheless, the combination of procedural detail (including spycraft and combat training) allied to the tension of the central mission makes for compelling viewing, while the utterly downbeat ending seems to me characteristic of the postwar turn in Hollywood. Jimmy Cagney plays the lead spy/trainer and while he seemed miscast in the early going -- that rat-a-tat delivery never quite seems to mesh with the academic character he's assigned -- once he's plunged into a mission, the actor is entirely convincing as a seat-of-the-pants guy. There's also an early, uncredited Karl Malden appearance, as well as a decent turn from Richard Conte, another man who had a good run in those years.


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States