Monday, November 19, 2018

Twelve movies

[All available from the soon-to-be defunct FilmStruck. One to four stars. Three sentences each. No spoilers.]

Jacques Tourneur

I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Much more stylish and thoughtful than its title might suggest. A tropical version of Jane Eyre, with a nurse-newcomer, a mysterious tower, a love triangle that becomes a rectangle, zombies, white and black, and beautiful cinematography (by J. Roy Hunt, otherwise unknown to me), . The history of colonialism and enslavement is frankly prominent in this unusual film. ★★★★

The Leopard Man (1943). Tourneur’s Cat People gave me high hopes for this film, which begins on a strong note. Why is that woman screaming, and what’s on the other side of that underpass? But the film doesn’t sustain the interest its opening scenes invite. ★★

Berlin Express (1948). Robert Ryan and Merle Oberon would be considered the stars here, but this film is full of fine performances. The premise: in post-WWII Berlin, an international amateur effort takes up the search for a missing diplomat. Suspense, surprises, and a heavy infusion of Hitchcock. ★★★★


Le Main du diable (dir. Maurice Tourneur, 1943). Jacques’s father directed this film, a playful (too playful?) cautionary tale of an unsuccessful painter and the talisman that brings him love and fame. He has to get rid of the talisman before dying — but how? And who is that little man wearing a derby? ★★★


Jean Vigo

À propos de Nice (1930). A short silent panorama of a city: streetsweepers, café-goers, boulevardiers, bocce and tennis players, poor kids at street games, a parade, a statue with water pooling in its crotch. I admit it: Vigo’s political motive (revolution!) is lost on me. The camera, wherever it is aimed, seems in love with humanity — and statuary. ★★★★

Taris (1931). A portrait of Jean Taris, master swimmer. A how-to film of sorts, with Taris demonstrating different strokes. But there’s also play: fast-motion, slow-motion, reverse-motion, and the swimmer lounging at the bottom of the pool. ★★★★

Zéro de conduite (1933). Recommended in a New York Times article about FilmStruck, this is the film that started our household on Vigo. The battle of order and anarchy at a school for boys. You can guess which side wins. ★★★

L’Atalante (1934). This one is Vigo’s masterpiece: a sweet, incongruous love story, with newlyweds beginning their life together on L’Atalante, the barge the husband helms. Along for the ride are the gruff, heavily tattooed first mate (with his own wunderkammer) and an accordion-playing cabin boy. Maurice Jaubert’s music is a beautiful addition to this luminous film. ★★★★


Deux hommes dans Manhattan (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1959). A journalist (Melville) and his dissolute photographer friend (Pierre Grasset) travel the city in search of a missing diplomat. Melville’s film seems as much about Manhattan as about storytelling: again and again, we get to see mid-century urban realities, in black and white, thank goodness. Neon, sidewalks, a diner, a subway: the camera lingers over them all. ★★★★


Tiger Bay (dir. J. Lee Thompson, 1959). In Cardiff, Wales, a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) commits a crime of passion and strikes up a friendship with the sole witness to the crime, a young girl (Hayley Mills) living in the same apartment building. A story of loyalty and betrayal, which leaves the viewer torn between siding with a killer and the law. Remarkable to see the pre-Disney Hayley Mills: she was a serious actor. ★★★★


Obsession (dir. Edward Dymytrk, 1949). The premise: a doctor (Robert Newton) who suspects his wife (Sally Gray) of serial infidelities takes slow-motion revenge on her latest partner (Phil Brown). The manner of revenge, though ghastly, is presented with a considerable element of comedy. The movie’s secret sauce: Naunton Wayne as a police superintendent who seems another precursor of Lieutenant Columbo, showing up in the most unexpected ways with another point to check, another question to ask. ★★★★


The Body Snatcher (dir. Robert Wise, 1945). From a Robert Louis Stevenson story, with Boris Karloff starring as a cab driver and “resurrection man,” furnishing bodies to a doctor (Henry Daniell) for dissection. Top-of-the-line horror, with a vaguely homoerotic subtext in the secret bond between driver and doctor: “You’ll never get rid of me, Toddy.” My favorite moment: the young street singer walking off into darkness, followed by a cab. ★★★★

FilmStruck shuts down on November 29. Goodbye, FilmStruck.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

[Our household’s FilmStruck subscription is ending on a Val Lewton note: Lewton produced I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, and The Body Snatcher.]

comments: 5

Robert said...

I like this post as a succinct guide to what to watch on Filmstruck, until it disappears.

I thought I would watch more this month but so mainly the somewhat bizarre films of Chantel Ackerman.

zzi said...

Tip of the hat to Greyfriars Bobby in "Body Snatchers". I agree with "Tiger Bay".

Michael Leddy said...

@Robert: It’s a pretty idiosyncratic list, but I don’t think you’d be disappointed. For me Vigo was the big find — I had never heard of him, though he’s celebrated among film people.

@zzi: Thanks for that — it was lost on me when I watched. Wikipedia has an article about the little guy.

Slywy said...

I wish they'd extend it until 12/31 at least — haven't had time for movies (or ability to sit).

Michael Leddy said...

So many people in the film world have asked that FilmStruck be saved, but it doesn’t seem that anything will change. Criterion has already announced a streaming service for next spring. (But will it work with Roku?)