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Month: August 2013

Different Story, A (1978)

Different Story, A (1978)

“Yes I have, several, and not particularly.”

Different Story Poster

Synopsis:
A lesbian real estate agent (Meg Foster) allows a homeless gay illegal immigrant (Perry King) to live with her, and they eventually become friends, then spouses, then lovers, then parents.

Genres:

Review:
It’s unclear why Peary included this controversial indie film in the back of his GFTFF: is it because of Meg Foster’s strong performance in a leading role originally slated for Susan Sarandon, or because he found the subject matter itself intriguing? While I rented this title with an open mind, prepared to engage with what did indeed sound like a “different [romantic] story” (apparently based on a real couple), I was disappointed to find that, despite a promising start, it quickly devolves into a scenario that’s not only implausible and offensive but dull. Screenwriter Henry Olek seems to think that Kelly’s “feminine” interest in clothing design is enough to remind us that he’s still (supposedly) gay even after marrying Foster; meanwhile, once Foster gives up her lesbian “lifestyle”, the only representation of lesbianism we’re left with is her pathologically clingy and neurotic ex-girlfriend (Valerie Curtin).

The Gay [and Lesbian] Activists Alliance wrote a letter of concern upon the film’s release, and it’s easy to see why: a movie which posits that a gay man and woman can suddenly find not only love but sexual satisfaction with one another feeds directly into the toxic fantasy that homosexuality can be “cured”, especially once a kid arrives on the scene. Clearly, this kind of scenario does occasionally happen — see IMDb user posts for at least one example; but it’s handled here with such lack of insight and nuance that this story really would have been better off not being told at all.

Note: Kelly’s status as a Belgian illegal immigrant (purely a plot device — it’s the reason Foster marries him to begin with) is clumsily handled as well: when Foster asks him why he doesn’t have an accent, he declares it’s because he “doesn’t want one” (!!!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Meg Foster as Stella
    Different Story Foster

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one, unless you’re curious.

Links:

Grapes of Wrath, The (1940)

Grapes of Wrath, The (1940)

“Seems like the government’s got more interest in a dead man than a live one.”

Grapes of Wrath Poster

Synopsis:
When Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is released from prison, he finds his family — including Ma (Jane Darwell), Pa (Russell Simpson), Uncle John (Frank Darien), Grandpa (Charley Grapewin), Grandma (Zeffie Tilbury), brother Al (O.Z. Whitehead), pregnant sister Rosasharn (Dorris Bowdon), and brother-in-law Connie (Eddie Quillan) — ousted from their property and headed to California; but jobs picking produce are both scarce and poorly paid, and the family struggles to survive.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately refers to this John Ford-directed classic as a “superb, stirring adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel” — a film which isn’t quite “radical”, yet (despite Ford’s conservative personal politics) manages to be “one of the most progressive [movies] that Hollywood has ever produced”. In Alternate Oscars, Peary names The Grapes of Wrath Best Picture of the Year (in place of Hitchcock’s Rebecca), and asserts that “Ford directs the film with respect for Steinbeck’s story and affection for his downtrodden but resilient characters”. He notes that while Ford is “usually one of the most blatantly sentimental of directors”, he “refrained this time from manipulating us into crying, even during the funereal scenes, because the Joads don’t cry then, either, and instead get strength from adversity”. However, Ford certainly is capable of stirring our emotions — as during the opening scenes, when the Joads and their neighbors are being driven off their land; or “when he shows Ma throwing out mementos, keeping only those… for which she has a special fondness”; or — one of my all-time favorite lump-inducing scenes — “when a kindly waitress sells Pa a five-cent candy for his two youngest kids, assuring the proud man that they sell two for a penny”.

Peary points out that “Ford worked closely with cinematographer Gregg Toland, whose images are beautiful”: there are “magnificent shots of Tom moving across the landscape, of beautifully lit faces, of characters in close-up speaking powerful words”; film critic Andrew Sarris referred to Ford as “America’s cinematic poet laureate”, and the imagery in this film (see stills below) provides ample evidence of this assertion. Peary ends his Alternate Oscars review by noting simply that “the film succeeds on all levels” — including the “fine, simple score” by Alfred Newman; Nunnally Johnson’s “terrific script” (which Steinbeck himself approved of); and excellent performances by the “impeccably cast” supporting players — including the “unforgettable” “John Carradine as Casy, John Qualen as Muley, and Charley Grapewin as Grandpa”, as well as “heavy-set Jane Darwell, an Irish actress [who] made the part [of Ma] her own”.

But it’s Fonda’s performance as Tom Joad which truly grounds the film. In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Henry Fonda Best Actor of the Year for his work here, and I agree with this assessment. Following his impressive turn as the title character in Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Fonda gives an impassioned, nuanced performance as an ex-con who, during the beginning of the movie, “is neither emotional nor sentimental” and who “minds his own business”, yet by the end of the film has “come alive”, “become more expressive”, and turned politically “subversive”. Tom’s evolving understanding of labor conditions in America — inspired by his friend, former-preacher Casy (John Carradine), and informed by what he’s seen in dismal labor camps across the country — eventually radicalizes him, giving him a cause truly worth fighting for. His closing speech — as he explains to his Ma why he must leave his family for a while — is a fitting ending to this powerful tale of humanity at both its worst and its best:

Maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Henry Fonda as Tom Joad
    Grapes of Wrath Fonda2
  • Jane Darwell as Ma Joad
    Grapes of Wrath Darwell3
  • John Carradine as “Preacher” Casy
    Grapes of Wrath Carradine2
  • Fine supporting performances by a cast of mostly “unknowns”
    Grapes of Wrath Qualen
    Grapes of Wrath Grandpa2
  • A hard-hitting portrayal of Depression-Era America
    Grapes of Wrath Joads Drivin
    Grapes of Wrath Camp
  • Gregg Toland’s incomparably beautiful cinematography
    Grapes of Wrath Cinematography
    Grapes of Wrath Cinematography6
  • Poetic direction by Ford
    Grapes of Wrath Opening
  • Nunnally Johnson’s script
    Grapes of Wrath Earrings
    Grapes of Wrath Change

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine classic worthy of multiple viewings.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Abraham Lincoln (1930)

Abraham Lincoln (1930)

“Do you suppose there’s a human being who wants peace more than I do?”

Abraham Lincoln Poster

Synopsis:
After mourning the loss of his first love, Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel), Abraham Lincoln (Walter Huston) marries Mary Todd (Kay Hammond), becomes president of the United States, oversees the bloodiest war in American history, and eventually dies at the hands of assassin John Wilkes Boothe (Ian Keith).

Genres:

Review:
Famed silent director D.W. Griffith’s foray into sound films was less than successful, resulting in just two unexceptional “talkies”: 1931’s The Struggle (about a marriage threatened by alcoholism), and this episodic biopic about one of America’s most legendary presidents. Abraham Lincoln has been somewhat unfairly maligned over the years — most notoriously by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss in their book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (1978), where the authors call out (among other things) the melodramatic acting style of Merkel (who they refer to as “very simply beneath contempt”), the occasionally clunky dialogue (“Oh, Ann! I love you so!”), and the screenplay’s revisionist tendencies (i.e., Lincoln spouting part of his inaugural address before settling down to watch his final play at Ford’s Theater). However, Medved and Dreyfuss’s attack simply comes across as mean-spirited — as is their entire book, come to think of it. While Abraham Lincoln hasn’t dated all that well, and is far from accurate as a nuanced history lesson, it’s not nearly the clunker these authors claim it to be. Abraham Lincoln is primarily a victim of its own era — the transition between silent films and talkies, a time when few directors were getting things completely “right”. In addition, the episodic nature of the screenplay doesn’t do the subject any favors, with far too much material covered in too short a time. Huston does a fine job as Lincoln, though I ultimately prefer Henry Fonda’s more introspective interpretation in John Ford’s superior Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some evidence of fine composition (by Griffith) and cinematography (by Karl Struss)
    Abraham Lincoln Still
    Abraham Lincoln Still2

Must See?
No. Listed as a film with Historical significance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Bicycle Thief, The / Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thief, The / Bicycle Thieves (1948)

“I have to find that bicycle.”

Bicycle Thief Poster

Synopsis:
An unemployed father (Lamberto Maggiorani) in post-WWII Rome secures a job hanging movie posters, on the contingency that he possess a bicycle — but his happiness quickly turns to sorrow when his bicycle is stolen on his first day of work, and he and his son (Enzo Staiola) search the city in vain for it.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that the “simple storyline” of “Vittorio De Sica’s classic of post-WWII Italian neo-realism” — “loved by moviegoers, revered by critics” — has “some special moments”, but he argues that “perhaps De Sica is too cruel, not just to his hero but to his audience as well”. However, his specific criticisms about De Sica’s “cruelty” don’t quite hold true: he questions why Maggiorani “always run[s] at half-speed”, yet De Sica simply depicts him attempting in vain to catch up with a quickly-moving, darting bicycle, or maneuvering through thick crowds; and while Peary writes that “De Sica has the gall to include a scene in which the unhappy man takes out pencil and paper to figure out how much money he would have made per month if the bike hadn’t been stolen”, I view this scene as a critical element of Maggiorani’s explanation to his son about why they must remain diligent in their seemingly elusive search for the bike. Later in his review, Peary writes that what he finds “more impressive today than the story of a man retrieving his bike are the shots of postwar Rome” — most noticeably “the crowds” who appear in numerous settings across the city; he notes that “from watching these crowds… we learn the character of the city” and “come to realize that a lone man with a small boy doesn’t stand a chance”.

Like so many other budding young film fanatics, I first saw The Bicycle Thief (a.k.a. The Bicycle Thieves, which many argue is the more accurate title) in a film appreciation class many years ago, and its devastation was so thorough that I put off re-watching it for over two decades. Yet now that I’ve finally viewed it for a second time, it’s clear to me that De Sica deserves accolades for presenting his country’s post-war devastation in such brutal, unflinching terms: we may not enjoy witnessing the suffering of Italy’s citizens, but a neo-realist perspective was ultimately the best choice for depicting the challenges of their existence. As many critics have pointed out, neo-realism isn’t a form of documentary film-making — rather, it’s a highly strategic cinematic perspective that employs the documentary-like use of realistic settings, non-actors, and meaningful, true-to-life scenarios, to powerful effect. Ultimately, The Bicycle Thief isn’t an easy film to sit through, but it remains an essential part of our cinematic history — one which all film fanatics should experience at least once; its images and scenes will likely linger in your memory for years.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lamberto Maggiorani as Ricci
    Bicycle Thief Maggiorani
  • Enzo Staiola as Bruno
    Bicycle Thief Proud
  • A remarkably authentic portrait of post-WWII Rome
    Bicycle Thief Rome Tunnel
    Bicycle Thief Rome

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of early Italian cinema.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

“By jing, that’s all there is to it: right and wrong.”

Young Mr. Lincoln Poster

Synopsis:
Young lawyer Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) defends a pair of brothers (Richard Cromwell and Eddie Quillan) accused of murdering a bully (Fred Kohler, Jr.).

Genres:

Review:
Henry Fonda apparently had to be cajoled by director John Ford into starring in this fictionalized but true-in-spirit biopic of Abraham Lincoln’s pre-Presidency days. Focusing primarily on one of Lincoln’s most famous cases as a young lawyer, Ford and screenwriter Lamar Trotti use this scenario as a platform to showcase Lincoln’s emergent skills as a gifted speaker, humorist, politician, and amateur sleuth. Meanwhile, we see snippets from other known aspects of Lincoln’s young life — including his facility with log-splitting (he was surprisingly strong and agile), his tragic first love with Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore), his crush on Mary Todd (Marjorie Weaver), and his general preference for thinking and reading while lying prone. What’s perhaps most delightful about the film is the way in which it humanizes a mythic figure: Lincoln is portrayed not only as brilliant and highly ethical (he’s consistently attempting to make sense of the world through his evolving moral perspective), but as a flesh-and-blood man with a quick tongue, pugilistic tendencies, and lack of self-confidence. Key to this characterization, of course, is Fonda’s uncanny embodiment of Lincoln — thanks in part to a prosthetic nose and make-up, but mostly to Fonda’s talents; other than his lead role the following year as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), this is likely his finest performance onscreen. Also of note is Ford’s assured directorial hand: as usual, he frames each scene strategically, with such an eye for harmonious balance and carefully crafted juxtapositions that one is reminded why he’s considered one of America’s all-time greatest directors.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Henry Fonda as young Abe Lincoln (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Young Mr Lincoln Fonda6
  • Alice Brady as Abigail Clay
    Young Mr Lincoln Brady
  • Expert direction by Ford
    Young Mr Lincoln Direction
    Young Mr Lincoln Direction3
    Young Mr Lincoln Direction2
  • Fine cinematography
    Young Mr Lincoln Cinematography
    Young Mr Lincoln Jews Harp

Must See?
Yes, for Fonda’s performance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

Links:

So Dark the Night (1946)

So Dark the Night (1946)

“Every pretty girl would like to go to Paris.”

So Dark the Night Poster

Synopsis:
A renowned Parisian detective (Steven Geray) vacationing in a small town falls in love with a beautiful local girl (Micheline Cheirel) — but when her jealous fiance (Paul Marion) threatens to harm her if she leaves him, Detective Cassin (Geray) finds himself unexpectedly embroiled in a serial murder case.

Genres:

Review:
Director Joseph H. Lewis is best known for transforming mundane B-level scripts into stylishly atmospheric cinematic treats — as with his “breakthrough” film My Name is Julia Ross (1945), and his later cult hit Gun Crazy (1949). This follow-up to MNIJR isn’t nearly as compelling, suffering primarily from a less-than-charismatic performance by Hungarian character actor Geray — but it remains of interest simply as further evidence of Lewis’s directorial genius. Every scene is filmed strategically, with plenty of atmosphere (thanks in part to DP Burnett Guffey) and excellent use of low-budget locales; check out TCM’s article for back story on how Lewis managed to transform studio sets into a small French town, despite never having been to one himself. The narrative itself generates some tension, and goes in unexpected directions, but eventually devolves into a silly, unsatisfying denouement; with that said, one remains glued to the screen simply out of curiosity and admiration for how Lewis and Guffey will frame and light each shot. It’s worth a look for that reason alone.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressive direction by Lewis
    So Dark the Night Direction1
    So Dark the Night Direction2
  • Atmospheric cinematography (by Burnett Guffey)
    So Dark the Night Cinematography
    So Dark the Night Cinematography2

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

Links:

I Love You Again (1940)

I Love You Again (1940)

“A thing like a divorce can break up a marriage!”

I Love You Again Poster

Synopsis:
While rescuing a shipmate (Frank McHugh) who’s fallen overboard, a boring businessman named Larry Wilson (William Powell) gets knocked on the head and suddenly remembers his past as a con-man named George Carey. Upon meeting his beautiful wife (Myrna Loy), Powell is immediately smitten — but she’s determined to divorce him, and he must work hard to convince her he’s a changed man worth staying married to.

Genres:

Review:
After their success playing married socialite detectives Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934) and two of its sequels (including Another Thin Man [1939]), William Powell and Myrna Loy were reunited with director William S. Van Dyke for this frothy romantic comedy based on the hoary premise of amnesia-induced character “transformation”. Much of the beginning of the script is quite clever, and it’s fun (at first) to see how smoothly Powell manages to find out information about his own life, simply by assuming others will fill in gaps when prompted — but this narrative convention eventually becomes somewhat tiresome, and a pivotal subplot involving Powell and McHugh’s plans to swindle their community out of a bundle of funds feels overly complicated. Meanwhile, Loy takes far too long to come around to Powell’s newfound charms, and we don’t really buy her argument for why she married him in the first place. While Powell and Loy fans will be curious to check this one out, it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William Powell as Larry/George
    I Love You Again Powell

Must See?
No, though of course it’s worth a look for fans of Powell and Loy. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

“To 1966 — the year One!”

Rosemary's Baby Poster

Synopsis:
A pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) fears for her baby’s safety as her husband (John Cassavetes) becomes increasingly chummy with their strange new neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary seems less-than-enamored with this “big hit” by director Roman Polanski, based on a bestselling horror novel by Ira Levin about “satanists and the devil’s child”. While conceding that “on some levels” the film is “quite enjoyable”, he refers to it as “glossy schlock”, and argues that it’s “not as scary as it is uncomfortable to watch”. He asserts that “it becomes upsetting seeing Farrow not only look pale due to her unusual pregnancy but feel confused and constantly tormented”; and despite noting that Polanski “makes spooky use of the setting and injects some morbid humor”, he argues that “it’s really an ugly film”. While I can’t help agreeing with Peary’s assertion that Rosemary’s Baby is a difficult film to watch — perhaps especially for women of child-bearing age — Peary’s review otherwise seems unfairly harsh, failing to acknowledge the true genius of Polanski’s vision (which, at least narratively speaking, is remarkably faithful to Levin’s novel).

What arguably makes Rosemary’s Baby so powerful (and, counter to Peary’s claim, so scary) is the authenticity of its setting and situation. At a (pre-Lib) time when women had not yet come into their own — a time when a housewife’s most cherished dream was [supposed to be] having a baby — Farrow’s yearning for a healthy pregnancy would naturally be all-consuming; indeed, nearly every scene of the film revolves around either Farrow’s desire for a baby, or some aspect of how her pregnancy is proceeding, to an extent I can’t recall in any other movie. Meanwhile, to have one’s husband wavering in his devotion (or at least his attention and loyalty) is perhaps the ultimate fear for a vulnerable mother-to-be, at a time when her “nesting instinct” and desire for safety and security is stronger than ever — which makes Cassavetes’ gradual transformation from loving and playful husband to an increasingly distracted and self-absorbed heel come across as especially harsh.

Each element of this masterfully constructed psychological horror film “works” — from William Fraker’s cinematography, to Polanski’s unusual camera placements (he often films scenes through doorways), to fine use of sound and music, to judicious set designs and strategic use of outdoor New York locales, to the perfect casting of each character. Farrow, of course, gives the film’s stand-out performance: her eventual paranoia is palpable (could anyone else have inhabited this role in quite the same way?). But I’m actually almost as fond of Cassavetes (with his devilish arched eyebrows) in the critical part of her self-absorbed husband, a man whose every statement and sentiment is eventually suspect. Meanwhile, kooky Gordon (in hideously over-the-top makeup and outfits) and Blackmer (deceptively genteel) are scarily believable as elderly neighbors who hide their diabolical beliefs behind an air of nosy normalcy. Other supporting roles are equally well-handled — including Victoria Vetri as a grateful former-druggie whose new friendship with Rosemary is cut tragically short, to Ralph Bellamy as the “esteemed” doctor who tries to reassure Rosemary that her painful pregnancy is “normal”.

Another key to the power of Rosemary’s Baby is how Polanski takes his time building tension throughout the suspense-filled narrative; we’re allowed ample opportunity to witness Farrow and Cassavetes’ happiness in their new apartment before hints are revealed about the terror that’s to come. Equally effective is the fact that we’re never sure exactly how much each character (Cassavetes in particular) knows, and from what point; rewatching the film allows one to appreciate the layers of nuance and ambiguity Polanski strategically inserts throughout just about every scene. For instance, is the look Cassavetes gives to the African-American elevator operator near the beginning of the movie significant or merely incidental? Is Elisha Cook (the real estate agent who shows the couple their new apartment) “in” on the proceedings, or an innocent bystander? Are the accidents that befall Cassavetes’ acting rival (Tony Curtis, heard in voice only) and Farrow’s best friend (Maurice Evans) coincidental, or nefariously instigated? And, despite the apparent lack of ambiguity in the disturbing final scene, we still can’t help wondering: is what we’re seeing really “real”, or simply a figment of Farrow’s by now psychotically disturbed imagination?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mia Farrow as Rosemary
    Rosemary's Baby Farrow2
  • John Cassavetes as Guy
    Rosemary's Baby Cassavetes
  • Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castavet
    Rosemary's Baby Gordon
  • Sidney Blackmer as Roman Castavet
    Rosemary's Baby Blackmer
  • William Fraker’s cinematography
    Rosemary's Baby Direction
  • Good use of locale shooting in New York
    Rosemary's Baby NYC
  • Effective direction by Polanski
    Rosemary's Baby Doorways
  • Plenty of deserved chills and horrors
    Rosemary's Baby Ending
  • Chrisopher Komeda’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult horror classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

“Sin never dies.”

Carrie Poster

Synopsis:
A painfully shy teenager (Sissy Spacek) with an abusive, religiously fanatic mother (Piper Laurie) is invited to the prom by a boy (William Katt) whose girlfriend (Amy Irving) feels sorry for Carrie (Spacek); but an evil bully (Nancy Allen), with the help of her boyfriend (John Travolta), is determined to ensure that Carrie’s special night is ruined.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of this “enjoyably impressive horror film” — directed by Brian De Palma, and based on Stephen King’s debut novel — by noting that “no one is better at playing shy, lonely, troubled girls than Sissy Spacek”; to that end, in Alternate Oscars, he names Spacek Best Actress of the Year for Carrie, arguing that she “gave what remains the best performance in either teen pictures or teen horror films” (though he concedes that “she had no hope of winning an Oscar because she was a virtual unknown appearing in a film that was a combination of two genres always ignored by the Academy”). In GFTFF, he writes that while King’s “Carrie isn’t that sympathetic”, “Spacek puts us firmly on her side — we identify with her depression, her happiness when invited to the prom, and her need for revenge when the one happy night of life is ruined by her mother and schoolmates”. Indeed, we feel so sorry for Spacek — and so proud of her strength in finally standing up to her crazy mother by going to the prom — that the film’s ultimate outcomes are especially distressing. Carrie isn’t a horror-movie monster we can’t wait to see die; she’s a troubled, flesh-and-blood protagonist we genuinely care about from beginning to end, despite her penchant for wreaking terror through her newly discovered “talent” of telekinesis.

Spacek’s performance is undeniably the critical element that grounds the film, elevating it from a finely crafted horror outing to a true (albeit warped) coming-of-age classic. Spacek is so iconically “Carrie” that it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else in the role (though we’ll soon get to see how Chloe Grace Moretz does in director Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 re-visioning of the story). But equally key are the fine supporting performances across the board — from Allen’s slimily prissy uber-bitch, to Irving’s conscience-stricken peer, to Buckley’s fiercely protective and maternal gym teacher, to Laurie’s genuinely terrifying religious fanatic. Speaking of Laurie, I think a case could be made that a film set entirely inside Carrie’s house would be an effective horror flick in its own right; the image of Laurie standing silently behind a semi-closed door as Carrie returns home after the bloody prom night is one of the most bone-chilling in cinematic history — not least because of what it implies about the film’s real basis for [domestic] horror. (Special kudos belong to set designer Jack Fisk, Spacek’s real-life husband, for turning their house into a candle-lit den of horrors.)

De Palma’s film is perhaps most unusual for the range of tones he employs, as he shifts repeatedly between teen comedy (viz. the wacky appearance of P.J. Soles and Edie McClurg as two of Carrie’s classmates, or the scene in which three boys try on tuxes for the prom); satire (i.e., Allen and Travolta’s over-the-top nastiness and villainy, especially during Allen’s passive-aggressive seduction of Travolta in the car); romantic fantasy (as during the idyllic first part of Carrie’s prom experience, when she and Katt begin to fall for one another); Gothic perversion (all scenes between Carrie and her insane mother); and “pure” horror (i.e., the entire last portion of the movie — which Peary argues is “overly violent”, but I disagree; De Palma employs enough restraint from violence throughout most of the story that the final bloody outcome feels “deserved”). Also noteworthy is how artfully De Palma (with help from DP Mario Tosi) directs and crafts each scene, strategically utilizing deep-focus placements, split-screen cinematography, low lighting, suspenseful editing, and unusual use of sound (or lack thereof) to heighten mood. The film is never uninteresting to look at; even as we occasionally wish for deeper character development (Irving and Katt’s characters are especially under-explored), we can’t help staying glued to the screen.

Note: Catching snippets from Carrie on television as an impressionable child was single-handedly responsible for my dread of horror films for many years — until I was old enough to approach them from an appropriately aesthetic film-fanatic perspective; nowadays, I appreciate this fact as further evidence of De Palma’s genius with the genre.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sissy Spacek as Carrie White
    Carrie Spacek2
  • Piper Laurie as Margaret White
    Carrie Laurie
  • Nancy Allen as Chris
    Carrie Allen
  • Innovative, effective direction by De Palma
    Carrie Direction
    Carrie Direction2
    Carrie Split Screen
  • Hauntingly atmospheric cinematography by Mario Tosi
    Carrie Cinematography
    Carrie Cinematography3
  • The justifiably lauded prom finale scene
    Carrie Climax

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine horror classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Detective, The / Father Brown (1954)

Detective, The / Father Brown (1954)

“I want to help him — to cure him of a sickness in his soul.”

Detective Father Brown Poster

Synopsis:
A priest (Alec Guinness) with a penchant for sleuthing is determined to save the soul of a notorious, disguise-happy thief named Flambeau (Peter Finch).

Genres:

Review:
British writer G.K. Chesterton is perhaps best-known for creating the character of Father Brown, a humble priest who uses his empathic understanding of human nature to intuitively solve crimes — with the unique aim of helping to save the souls of criminals, rather than imprison them. Chesterton’s “Father Brown stories” have been interpreted through various media over the years (radio, T.V., film), but this Robert Hamer-directed version is one of the most highly regarded, thanks largely to the casting of Alec Guinness in the title role. Guinness’s Father Brown is a clever, measured chap — unafraid to stand up to his superiors in pursuit of what he feels is best for his parishioners (and humanity at large), and doggedly persistent in his goals. The film’s storyline is taken up exclusively with Brown’s pursuit of a notorious French criminal known as Flambeau (Finch), a master of disguise who is entirely capable of fooling Brown more than once. Their cat-and-mouse interactions — made all the more unusual given Brown’s desire to convert Flambeau, not just capture him — are set in a series of inspired locales, most notably the Parisian catacombs. Unfortunately, the proceedings in general are just a tad too genteel, and a couple of excellent character actors — Joan Greenwood and the inimitable Ernest Thesiger — are sadly underutilized; yet as Time Out’s reviewer puts it, this remains a “stylishly civilized” affair, one which will surely appeal to fans of comedic thrillers from this era.

Note: Robert Hamer is best known for directing Alec Guinness in the classic black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and for helming one segment (“The Haunted Mirror”) of the horror anthology Dead of Night (1945).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Alec Guinness as Father Brown
    Detective Guinness
  • Peter Finch as Flambeau
    Detective Finch
  • Nice use of authentic locales and settings
    Detective Settings1
    Detective Settings2
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Detective Cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look, and is probably must-see for Guinness fans.

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