Friday, January 5, 2018

Casting out demons in Québec

I Confess 1953 U.S. Warner Brothers/First National (94 minutes) directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by George Tabori and William Archibald from a play by Paul Anthelme; director of photography, Robert Burks; music composed and directed by Dmitri Tiomkin.
AlfredHitchcock’s ‘I Confess’ is set amid Québec’s grand medieval-looking architecture and long shadows that can make it feel eerie as Prague at night, a natural fit with the Jacques Becker-Jean-Pierre Melville-Jules Dassin French crime dramas of the postwar era.
After the opening credits, we see Hitchcock stroll right to left across the screen, along the top of a staircase. A series of four ‘DIRECTION’ signs then point in a direction opposite to Hitchcock’s. They take us through town to a crime scene. A bead curtain swings. A man in a cassock exits into a night street. A man confesses a murder to a priest. The police arrive at the crime scene.
The circumstantial evidence points to Abbe Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift). The watchful Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) spots Father Logan in the morning crowd at the crime scene. 
Clift was the first major ‘method’ actor. His Logan is convincing as a priest and returning combat veteran, and he photographs beautifully in black & white. But Clift’s personal life was beset with demons—perhaps not unlike Logan’s.
Father Logan has hired German refugees Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) and his wife Alma (Dolly Haas) as church custodial staff. Keller also tends the garden of a Monsieur Villette (Ovila Légaré) in town. But he murders Villette and soon afterward confesses his crime to Father Logan in the confessional. Thereafter, the paranoid murderer and his wife, fearful that Logan will turn Keller in, stalk the priest around the rectory like creepy shadows.
Villette is presented as a sleazy lawyer. Keller apparently murdered him when the latter surprised him rifling a cashbox in Villette’s home. Keller tells his wife that the death was accidental. But he had disguised himself as a priest at least to rob Villette. Witnesses saw a priest leave the crime scene, and police later find Villette’s blood type on a cassock that Keller plants in Logan’s trunk. Nothing appears to have been stolen, and no trace evidence such as fingerprints is found at the crime scene; the ‘blunt instrument’ was wiped clean. 
The backstory is related in a statement given to police by Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter). Ruth grew up with Mike Logan in the same Québec neighborhood before World War II. They were in love. Mike was among the first to enlist when the war started. He told Ruth he did not want to marry ‘because the war already has made too many widows’, nor should she wait for him. After a time overseas, he stopped writing to her. Ruth eventually married Pierre Grandfort (Roger Dann), a Canadian member of parliament. But she met Logan the day his unit returned to Québec after the war.     
Baxter was not Hitchcock’s first casting pick for Ruth, but she is ideal in this role and photographs beautifully in black & white. A natural blonde, Baxter said that Hitchcock wanted her hair even lighter. Light to platinum blonde hair is ideal for black & white film under studio lighting, exactly the kind of detail that would have interested Hitchcock.

Viewers may notice that Ruth’s testimony is shot in a slow, soft romantic glow. Logan says little about himself throughout the film. According to the narrative, the war ‘changed’ him to the extent that he decided to become a Roman Catholic priest. But the detail that a québécois joined a unit based far to the west in Saskatchewan could signal an even earlier desire to change his life.

Ruth tells police that the day after Logan got back from overseas, they spent an afternoon in the country. They took shelter in a gazebo when a storm blew up—a naturalistic scene shot al fresco. They missed the last ferry and spent the night clothed and damp in the gazebo. In the morning, the gazebo owner—Villette—discovered them there. Villette recognized Mme. Grandfort and made insinuating comments. Logan knocked Villette to the ground and he and Ruth returned to town. She disclosed to the police that later, after Logan was ordained, Villette tried to blackmail her over the purported ‘affair’. 

Ruth wanted to give her friend an alibi for the evening of the murder. However, rather than saving him, the blackmail detail gives Logan a motive in the eyes of the police. The crescendo of circumstantial evidence and Logan’s obstinate refusal to speak leave Larrue and his investigators, Crown Prosecutor Willy Robertson (Brian Aherne) and Pierre Grandfort little doubt as to what happened. 
Later at trial, Keller puts his thumb on the circumstantial scale by dilating on Father Logan’s ‘distress’ in the church the evening of the murder. ‘After the event he wept. He promised a new start. I made no comment. What should I resent?’

This produces a classic Hitchcock dilemma: Father Logan is the prime suspect and the actual murderer has confessed the crime to him; yet the priest’s dedication to his calling will not let him violate the sanctity of the confessional, regardless of how despicable the culprit, even to save himself. 
Also Hitchcockian is a sense that many people’s individual guilt seek a public scapegoat for a deliverance from evil if not absolution. The question Hitchcock appears to resolve is, if vengeance truly is the Lord’s, will He repay?

This masterpiece concludes with a grand dénouement in the Québec’s landmark Chateau Frontenac. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Ring

The Ring 1927 U.K. (89 minutes) written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; cinematography by John J. Cox.

This visually inventive black & white silent film, Alfred Hitchcock’s fourth feature and his only original screenplay, is a terrific boxing picture with more life than a great many technicolor talkies.
In The Ring, one of film’s great visual storytellers sets a love story amid the kinetic activity of an amusement park and the drama of the boxing ring. What we see through Hitchcock’s camera eye looks similar to the dynamic camera work that was coming out of 1920s Weimar Germany and the Kuleshov Workshop of the State Film School in Moscow. He assembles his shots in an efficient narrative which guides a viewer’s thoughts and emotions, even makes the viewer a vicarious participant in that one can feel the movement and hear the sounds.

We know that Hitchcock worked at the famous UFA film studios in Berlin briefly in the mid-1920s and joined F.W. Murnau on the set while Murnau was shooting Der Letzte Mann (1924-The Last Laugh). We also know that he and his lifelong collaborator Alma Reville saw many German and Soviet films in London. But rather than simply having ‘absorbed’ influence, Hitchcock’s work suggests that this experience inspired and encouraged him to develop thinking already advanced on these lines, ideas that continued to develop throughout his long career into the visual poetry of such films as North by Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963).

His main difficulty at first must have been selling this vision to producers who expected to see adaptations of traditional stage drama. But this challenge likely spurred Hitchcock to invent even more ingenious ways to tell stories without words. The Ring is the first film that shows the range of his genius for telling a story in pictures. The facts that he just had left Gaumont and that this also was the first movie for his new employer, British International Pictures, may have helped.

The opening sequence brings the viewer through a busy weekend or holiday amusement park in a manner similar to Dziga Vertov’s later Man with a Movie Camera (1929-Человек с кино-аппаратом) or Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer’s People on Sunday (1930-Menschen am Sonntag). The viewer arrives at the front of a booth in which a crowd is amusing itself by dunking a carny. The carny is a black man, and the scene is sure to offend mainstream sensibilities in the 21st century US. A small boy hits the man in the face with an egg, to great gales of laughter from the crowd, including a policeman. But this breaks the rules of the game. The white booth manager sets the policeman after the boy and his friend.

Two skeptical dunking spectators then move to a nearby booth which features ‘One Round’ Jack Sander (Carl Brisson), who welcomes all comers to last a round with him in the boxing ring. People pay admission to see this carny pugilist make fools of young bucks, blowhards, drunks and others, including middle-aged men put up by their wives. Again, the humor is heavy-handed and physical in a way that would not be acceptable as entertainment in the US and the UK today, the crowd amused by others’ discomfort and distress—and not just because they have black skin.
It is noteworthy that one of Jack’s team is a black man who, like the others, looks as though he actually could be a boxer, and appears throughout the rest of the film as one of ‘the boys’. Hitchcock knew boxing as a fan and frequent fight attendee. Brisson himself had been a prizefighter before the First World War, and uncredited cast members include legendary British boxer Eugene Corri (as MC) and ‘Bombardier Billy Wells’, British and British Empire champion from 1911 until 1919.
The two spectators in our story turn out to be Bob Corby, ‘Heavyweight Champion of Australia’ (Ian Hunter), and his manager, James Ware (Forrester Harvey). They are scouting local talent for a sparring partner for Corby. Corby also is drawn to Mabel (Lillian Hall Davis), the ticket-taker outside the boxing tent, who is engaged to be Jack’s wife.
In a dynamic sequence of shots, Corby, removing his jacket and hat and stepping into the ring in a bow tie, packs the house when he goes an unprecedented four rounds with Jack. Jack has natural ability but needs seasoning to become a professional boxer; he and Mabel also have emotional growing up to do. Mabel marries Jack, but falls for the celebrity champ Corby.

At Mabel and Jack’s wedding ceremony, another ring—Mabel’s wedding band—is misplaced, confused with a button and then recovered by Jack’s bemused best man and trainer (Gordon Harker) in beautifully mimed sequence. Jack places this ring on Mabel’s hand, where it remains.
Thus the story shows Jack grow in two arenas, as a boxer and a husband, culminating in his heavyweight fight with Corby for the title and to win back Mabel’s affection.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

film review index by country

Photomontage by Sally Geier

Carancho 2010 Argentina

Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) 2000 Argentina

Animal Kingdom 2010 Australia

The Interview 1998 Australia

The Proposition 2005 U.K./Australia

Revanche (Getting Back) 2008 Austria

À deriva (Adrift) 2008 Brasíl

Tropa de Elite 2-O Inimigo Ahora É Outro (Elite Squad 2-The Enemy Within) 2010 Brasíl

Дзифт (Zift) 2008 Bulgaria

Slings & Arrows 2003-6 Canada (three six-episode seasons)

Protégé (門徒 Moon tow—Cantonese; Mén Tú—pinyin) 2007 Hong Kong

Czech Republic
A Páty Jezdec je Strach (The Fifth Horseman Is Fear) 1964 Czechoslovakia

Protektor 2009 Czech Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Viva Riva! 2010 Democratic Republic of the Congo

ID:A 2011 Denmark

Cronicas (Chronicles) 2004 Ecuador

À bout portant (Point Blank) 2010 France

Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon) 1956 France

Blame It on Fidel (La faute à Fidel !) 2006 France

Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1 et 2) 2013 France

Bob le Flambeur 1956 France

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) 2010 France/Italy

Le Corbeau (The Raven) 1943 France

La faute à Fidel ! (Blame It on Fidel) 2006 France

Gainsbourg: vie héroïque (Gainsbourg—A Heroic Life) 2010 France

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) 2008 France

Joueuse (Queen to Play) 2009 France

Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) 1964 France

Pépé le Moko 1937 France

Point Blank (À bout portant) 2010 France

Un prophète (A prophet) 2009 France

Quai des Orfèvres 1947 France

The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge) 1956 France

Ricky 2010 France

Sarah’s Key 2012 France

Summer Hours (L'Heure d'été) 2008 France

Tzameti (13) 2005 France

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) 1964 France


Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) 1930 Germany

Die mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are among Us) 1946 German Democratic Republic

Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case) 1961 German Democratic Republic

Karbid und sauerampfer (Carbide and Sorrel) 1963 German Democratic Republic

Nackt unter Wölfen (Naked among Wolves) 1963 German Democratic Republic

West Germany
Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life) 1968 West Germany/Greece

Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead) 1975 West Germany

Germany Post-Reunification
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul 2005 Germany

Gun-shy (Schussangst) 2003 Germany

Im Juli (In July) 2004 Germany

Die Innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) Germany 2000

Jerichow 2008 Germany

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior) 2000 Germany

Schussangst (Gun-shy) 2003 Germany

Soul Kitchen 2009 Germany

Vision—Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (Vision—From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen) 2009 Germany

Κυνοδοντας [Kinodontas] Dogtooth) 2010 Greece

Kisses 2008 Ireland/Sweden

Footnote (הערת שוליים[He'arat Shulayim]) 2011 Israel

Bellissima 1951 Italy

La doppia ora (The Double Hour) 2009 Italy

Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth) 1965 Italy

Pane e tulipani (Bread and tulips) 2000 Italy

Il posto (The Position) 1961 Italy

Brudermord (Fratricide) 2005 Luxembourg/Germany/France

Aventurera (The Adventuress) 1950 Mexico

El Topo (The Mole) 1970 Mexico

The Holy Mountain 1973 Mexico

El imperio de la fortuna (The Realm of Fortune) 1986 Mexico

Demony wojny w/g Goi (Demons of War [according to Goya]) 1998 Poland

Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране Большевиков (Neobychainye priklyucheniya mistera Vesta v strane Bol’shevikov—The Extraordinary Adventures of Mister West in the Land of the Bolsheviks) 1924 U.S.S.R.

The Cranes Are Flying (Летят журавли [Letyát zhurávli]) 1957 U.S.S.R.

Девятая рота [Devyátaya róta] (Ninth Company) 2005 Russia/Ukraine

Happy-Go-Lucky (Печки-лавочки [Pyéchki-lávochki]) 1972 U.S.S.R.

Летят журавли [Letyát zhurávli] (The Cranes Are Flying) 1957 U.S.S.R.

Мое счастье [Moyó schást’ye] (My Joy) 2010 Russia

Мы едем в Америку [My yédem v Amériku]/We Are Going to America/ אין פארן מיר אמצריקצ [Mir forn in Amerike] 1992 Russia

Ninth Company (Девятая рота [Devyátaya róta]) 2005 Russia/Ukraine

Печки-лавочки [Pyéchki-lávochki] (Happy-Go-Lucky) 1972 U.S.S.R.

Солнце [Sóln’tse] (The Sun) 2005 Russia

Biutiful 2011 Spain

Celda 211 (Cell 211) 2009 Spain

Intacto (Untouched) 2001 Spain

Los Lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun) 2002 Spain

Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) 1955 Spain

El orfanato (The Orphanage) 2007 Spain

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) 2011 Spain

Viridiana 1961 Spain

South Korea
The Chaser (추격자  [Chu-gyeok-ja]) 2008 South Korea

Mother (마더 [Madeo]) 2009 South Korea

Poetry ( [Shi]) 2011 South Korea

Secret Sunshine (밀양 [Miryang]) 2007 South Korea

Untold Scandal (스캔들 - 조선 남녀 상열지사 [Seukaendeul - Choseon nam nyeo sang yeol jisa]) 2003 South Korea

추격자  [Chu-gyeok-ja] (The Chaser) 2008 South Korea

마더 [Madeo] (Mother) 2009 South Korea

밀양 [Miryang] (Secret Sunshine) 2007 South Korea

스캔들 - 조선 남녀 상열지사 [Seukaendeul - Choseon nam nyeo sang yeol jisa] (Untold Scandal) 2003 South Korea

[Shi] (Poetry) 2011 South Korea

Searching for Sugar Man 2010 Sweden/U.K.

Das Fraülein 2006 Switzerland

Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) 2011 Turkey

United Kingdom
A Cottage on Dartmoor 1929 England

The Day of the Jackal 1973 U.K./France

Endeavour 2012 U.K.

Fish Tank 2009 England

Free Cinema 1952-1963 U.K.

Good Times, Wonderful Times 1966 England/U.S.

The Lady Vanishes 1938 U.K.

Man on Wire 2008 U.K.

Night Train to Munich 1940 U.K.

Page Eight 2011 U.K.

Red Road 2006 Scotland

The Ring 1927 U.K.

Skyfall 2012 U.K.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 2011 U.K.

Wasp 2003 Scotland

Zen 2011 U.K. (one three-episode season)

United States (by period)
The Silent Era
Traffic in Souls, or While New York Sleeps: a Photodrama of Today 1913 U.S.

Hypocrites 1915 U.S.

Lady Windermere’s Fan 1925 U.S.

The Patsy 1928 U.S.

Hollywood before the Hayes Code
The Divorcée 1930 U.S.

The Maltese Falcon (aka Dangerous Female) 1931 U.S.

Heroes for Sale 1933 U.S.

International House 1933 U.S.

Midnight Mary 1933 U.S.

Golden Age
Satan Met a Lady 1936 U.S.

Make Way for Tomorrow 1937 U.S.

Moon over Harlem 1939 U.S.

New Orleans 1947 U.S.

Film Noir
Born to Kill 1947 U.S.

Daisy Kenyon 1947 U.S.

The Big Steal 1949 U.S.

Border Incident 1949 U.S.

Gun Crazy 1949 U.S.

The Set-Up 1949 U.S.

Mystery Street 1950 U.S.

Clash by Night 1952 U.S.

The Narrow Margin 1952 U.S.

The Big Combo 1955 U.S.

Illegal 1955 U.S.

Blast of Silence 1961 U.S.

Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin
Little Fugitive 1953 U.S.

Lovers and Lollipops 1955 U.S.

Weddings and Babies 1958 U.S.

Fabulous Fifties & Sixties
Pat and Mike 1952 U.S.

I Confess 1953 U.S.

A Face in the Crowd 1957 U.S.

Damn Yankees! 1958 U.S.

Anatomy of a Murder 1959 U.S.

The Misfits 1961 U.S.

Topkapi 1964 U.S.

On the Bowery 1956 U.S.

In the Year of the Pig 1968 U.S.

La ciudad (The City) 1998 U.S.

The Mark of Cain 2000 U.S./Russia

Tabloid 2010 U.S.

Raging Bulls
Who’s That Knocking at My Door 1968 U.S.

Fat City 1972 U.S.

The Man 1972 U.S.

King of Comedy 1982 U.S.

Spanish America
Quinceañera 2006 U.S.

Ladrón que roba a ladrón (It Takes a Thief to Rob a Thief) 2007 U.S.

Cruzando (Crossing) 2008 U.S.

Sin nombre 2009 U.S./Mexico

And after
Reversal of Fortune 1990 U.S.

Happiness 2006 U.S.

Beginners 2011 U.S.

The Ides of March 2011 U.S.

Martha Marcy May Marlene 2011 U.S.

The Tree of Life 2011 U.S.

Win Win 2011 U.S.

Hitchcock 2012 U.S.

The Counselor 2013 U.S.

Whisky 2004 Uruguay