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Month: October 2021

Umberto D. (1952)

Umberto D. (1952)

“She’s hoping I’ll die — but I’m not going to.”

Synopsis:
A poverty-stricken pensioner (Carlo Battisti) living with his beloved dog Flike (Napoleone) seeks helps from a pregnant young maid (Maria Pia Casilio) in preventing eviction by his unfeeling landlady (Lina Gennari) — but Maria has problems of her own, and none of Umberto D. (Battisti’s) longtime friends seem willing or able to help him out financially.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Elderly People
  • Italian Films
  • Pets
  • Survival
  • Vittorio De Sica Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in this “sad but beautiful postwar social drama” — focusing “on an individual member of the dispossessed aged” — director Vittorio De Sica wisely doesn’t “make his hero into a sweet grandfather type whom you automatically love and feel sorry for,” instead showing “his gruff exterior and stubbornness” — though we also see “his loving gestures towards his dog and his concern for the lovely unmarried young maid (Maria Pia Casilio), who is pregnant and will soon be cast into the street by the landlady.”

Peary points out that this “realistic film has many deeply moving sequences — you won’t forget Umberto sitting in his room, which has been virtually destroyed because the landlady is having it converted into a parlor”:

… “or Umberto searching for his dog at the pound”:

… “or the maid silently going through her morning routine while obviously thinking of her unhappy future.”

An ongoing theme of the film is that Umberto is “too proud to ask his well-off acquaintances for a needed loan (and they never offer it)”:

… “or join the growing number of beggars in the city” — though he does attempt to sell as many of his items as possible to collect money for his back rent.

However, “Umberto feels increasingly lost and tired, and would commit suicide if he didn’t worry about the welfare of [his] dog.”

Umberto D. is an emotionally challenging film to watch, especially given how strongly its central issues continue to resonate today — we’re not a whole lot closer to providing any kind of security to those living on the margins of survival. As usual, it’s non-governmental organizations that step up to provide a safety net, as when Umberto goes to a private Catholic hospital to recover from tonsillitis and receives a week of care, shelter, and steady food:

Meanwhile, the unfeeling nature of the ever-present bourgeoise is epitomized by Umberto’s self-absorbed landlady, who bears a passing resemblance to Lana Turner:

This neo-realistic classic (often considered the final film of the “movement”) remains well worth a look by all film fanatics — who should nonetheless be prepared to shed some well-deserved tears, especially during the moments leading up to the “glorious final shot, which allows Umberto D., Flike, and us at least a moment of relief.”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Carlo Battisti as Umberto D.
  • Maria Pia Casilio as Maria
  • Fine use of location shooting in Rome
  • G.R. Aldo’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a foreign classic.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic

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

Links:

Parents Terribles, Les (1948)

Parents Terribles, Les (1948)

“No mother is a friend to her son.”

Synopsis:
An overly possessive mother (Yvonne de Bray) reacts with alarm when she learns that her grown son (Jean Marais) has spent the night with his new girlfriend (Josette Day) — but matters get even more complicated when it turns out de Bray’s husband (Marcel Andre) has been having a sugar-daddy affair with Day, and de Bray’s sister (Gabrielle Dorziat) decides to intervene on behalf of everyone.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Family Problems
  • Father and Child
  • French Films
  • Jean Cocteau Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Play Adaptation

Review:
Jean Cocteau’s fourth film as a director — after The Blood of a Poet (1930), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and the non-GFTFF-listed The Eagle With Two Heads (1948) — was this adaptation of his own 1938 play, featuring much of the same cast that performed in its 1946 Paris revival. While Cocteau chose not to “open up” his play (it takes place in just two indoor locations), he did strategically employ close-ups and other cinematic techniques to provide a more intimate look at his characters’ interactions and emotions:

As always with Cocteau’s work, there are numerous disturbing themes and topics at play — from de Bray’s unhealthy distress at learning her son won’t be coming home to her (she has to be reminded, “Michel is no longer a child, he’s a man.”), to the revelation that Marais has fallen in love with his father’s mistress (who is herself unaware of this relationship until a key moment in the storyline).

Meanwhile, the meddling of “Aunt Leo” (Dorziat) hints at yet more weird dynamics in this self-proclaimed “caravan” of a household, especially given she was once romantically interested in Andre herself.

Most impressive among the cast is Marais (Cocteau’s real-life lover and partner), whose performance as “The Beast” is likely his best-known portrayal on-screen. It’s interesting to see him teaming up once again with Day (“Beauty”) in a more realistic pairing:

However, while Cocteau fans will certainly want to check this one out, it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jean Marais as Michel
  • Michael Kelber’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a film with Historical Relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Enfants Terribles, Les (1950)

Enfants Terribles, Les (1950)

“We never play the game anymore.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Nicole Stephane) living with her sickly brother Paul (Edouard Dermithe) finds their enmeshed relationship threatened when their friend Gerard (Jacques Bernard) and her new coworker Agathe (Renee Closima) — who looks much like a student named Dargelos who once threw a stone-filled snowball at Paul — move in with them.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Jean Cocteau Films
  • Jean-Pierre Melville Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Siblings

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that the “powerhouse duo of scenarist Jean Cocteau (who adapted his own novel) and director Jean-Pierre Melville combined to make this fascinating, though flawed, precursor of la nouvelle vague.” He points out that the “story centers on [the] bizarre, always combative relationship of a young Parisian woman, Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane gives a dynamic performance)”:

… “and her slightly younger brother, Paul (Edouard Dermithe), with whom she has always shared a room and for whom she has incestuous feelings.”

After outlining the film’s odd narrative, Peary describes how each of the four main characters eventually “becomes emotionally distressed,” noting that “the ‘stolen kisses’ theme, the pretentious young characters, the males who allow women to push them around, the narration that reveals characters’ foolish, innermost thoughts and motives, and the characters who are driven by their hearts were certainly an influence on Francois Truffaut.” He also points out that “the unpredictable and fascinating Elisabeth anticipates Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine in Jules and Jim, particularly in how she relates to Paul and Gerard in their scenes together”:

… and he notes that the “opening snowball sequence is taken from Cocteau’s 1930 debut film, The Blood of a Poet.”

This surreal-ish film will likely most appeal to those who enjoy Cocteau’s sensibilities — and to that end, there is plenty to reflect on and analyze, including but not limited to themes of homoeroticism:

… gender fluidity:

… incest:

… and the similar appearances of not only (male) “Dargelos” and (female) “Agathe” (played by the same actress):

… but also “weak and passive” Paul and “fire and ice” Elisabeth. The eventual machinations Elisabeth resorts to in the final third of the film reveal her to be a monstrously possessive female on a par with horror film villainesses or sociopathic femmes fatales; it’s just too bad we don’t quite understand the “why” behind what she does or anything else that goes on in this twisted universe.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Henri Decaë’s cinematography


Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look for its historical interest.

Links:

Bete Humaine, La (1938)

Bete Humaine, La (1938)

“If my husband were out of the way, we could put our troubles behind us.”

Synopsis:
When a stationmaster (Fernand Ledoux) kills the former lover (Jacques Berlioz) of his wife (Simone Simon) in a jealous rage, a train conductor (Jean Gabin) accidentally becomes involved in their cover-up and soon falls in love with Simon.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Femmes Fatales
  • French Films
  • Homicidal Spouses
  • Infidelity
  • Jean Gabin Films
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Plot to Murder
  • Simone Simon Films
  • Spousal Abuse
  • Trains and Subways

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Jean Gabin, France’s top romantic idol prior to WWII, had one of his best roles in Jean Renoir’s updating of Emile Zola’s novel,” playing a “world-weary… train engineer who is tormented by debilitating headaches that drive him toward violence.”

Peary notes that this “fatalistic, moodily photographed murder drama undoubtedly influenced American film noir, thematically and visually” — though interestingly, Simon’s character is presented from the beginning as the sympathetic victim of not only an abusive husband but a traumatic past, and her willingness to manipulate Gabin only gradually emerges. With that said, Peary argues that “the way femme fatale Simon uses sex to take control of Gabin — to make him act stupidly so he’ll fall into a trap — reminds [him] of how Kathleen Turner handles William Hurt in Body Heat,” and that’s one possible way to interpret things here.

Regardless, we’re kept genuinely in suspense throughout, wondering what moves each individual will make next given that none of them — Gabin, Simon, or Ledoux — is predictable. Renoir makes excellent use of real-life railroad locales, and the investment he made in encouraging Gabin to learn how to actually conduct a train shows up in the film’s overall air of authenticity:

Watch for Renoir himself in a cameo role as the unfortunate passenger who ends up wrongfully taking the blame for Berlioz’s death:

Remade by Fritz Lang in 1954 as Human Desire, which is equally worthy viewing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jean Gabin as Jacques
  • Simone Simon as Severine
  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as one of Renoir’s best films.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

Links:

Earrings of Madame De…, The / Madame De… / Diamond Earrings (1953)

Earrings of Madame De…, The / Madame De… / Diamond Earrings (1953)

“I’ve gotten a bit lost in all your stories.”

Synopsis:
When the pampered wife (Danielle Darrieux) of a general (Charles Boyer) secretly sells a pair of earrings to cover some debts, she unleashes a series of lies and duplicities which are compounded when she falls in love with an Italian baron (Vittorio De Sica) and is given the earrings back as a gift from him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Boyer Films
  • Danielle Darrieux Films
  • French Films
  • Infidelity
  • Love Triangle
  • Max Ophuls Films
  • Vittorio De Sica Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “breathlessly beautiful Max Ophüls film about ‘un grand amour,’ a love of the heart” — “adapted from a novel by Louise de Vilmorin”, who claimed the filmmakers “didn’t get one thing right” — has “elements of a standard melodrama or even a silly farce (in which a husband keeps buying the same earrings):

… but Ophüls’s presentation is so elegant… and the actors are so classy that we’re soon caught up in the romance and are vicariously experiencing the lovers’ simultaneous feelings of pleasure and anguish.”

He points out that “Danielle Darrieux gives an exquisite performance as the frivolous, fickle wife of a humorless general,” who secretly buys back the earrings “and gives them to his mistress, who eventually sells them.”

Equally impressive (though less central) are the performances by both Boyer and De Sica, who artfully embody their upper-crust characters in ways that consistently feel plausible.

However, the true “star” of the show (as always) is Ophüls’s vision and camerawork. Working in collaboration with his incredible team (including DP Christian Matras), Ophüls knew exactly what he was going for at each moment of the storyline, and brought that to fruition. This tragic classic remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Danielle Darrieux as Louise
  • Charles Boyer as Andre
  • Vittorio De Sica as the Baron
  • Stunning cinematography and direction


  • George Van Parys’s “splendid score”

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine classic.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

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

Links:

Ronde, La (1950)

Ronde, La (1950)

“The only joy is to meet someone to love.”

Synopsis:
A narrator (Anton Walbrook) tells a tale of romantic liaisons across 1900 Vienna: a prostitute (Simone Signoret) picks up a young soldier (Serge Reggiani) who then hooks up with a maid (Simone Simon), who in turn has a fling with the bookish son (Daniel Gélin) of the wealthy family she works for — but we soon learn that Gélin has been having an affair with a married woman (Danielle Darrieux) whose husband (Fernand Gravey) is about to engage in his own affair with a 19-year-old model (Odette Joyeux). Meanwhile, Joyeux is quickly seduced by a poet (Jean-Louis Barrault) who has also been romancing an actress (Isa Miranda) in one of his productions, and Miranda has a fling with a count (Gerard Philipe) who goes out later that evening and meets up with Signoret — thus bringing the chain of sexual encounters full circle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anton Walbrook Films
  • Danielle Darrieux Films
  • French Films
  • Infidelity
  • Love Triangle
  • Max Ophüls Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Sexuality
  • Simone Signoret Films
  • Simone Simon Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Max Ophüls’s charming adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play” utilizes “the constantly moving, seeing, penetrating camera that was Ophüls’s trademark,” which “serves thematically both to establish the dizzying, intoxicating nature of l’amour and to convey its transitory nature.”

He describes the film as “broken into several vignettes featuring a romantic sexual interlude between a man and a woman,” with “each vignette contain[ing] one character from the previous segment.” So, “when a husband and wife lie in bed speaking of fidelity:

… we have the advantage of having earlier seen her in an affair:

… and knowing that we’ll see him with his mistress in the following sequence.”

Peary writes that “Ophüls’s women glow; their actions are determined by their hearts — and they never hold back from a sexual liaison or feel guilt afterward. They are the personifications of love; they know its glories.”

On the other hand, “Ophüls’s men, while no buffoons, can’t appreciate love except on a physical level — they are always setting up rules, demanding loyalty, asking questions, thinking too much.” He ends his review by noting that “Simone Signoret is especially appealing — and beautiful — as a prostitute who is willing to give herself to soldiers for free”:

(though she arguably has too little screentime, despite appearing in both bookend liaison stories). This soufflé of a “bedroom farce” — provocative enough to U.S. censors for its release to be held up until 1954 — remains worth a look as the first of Ophüls’s four later European outings.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine camerawork by Ophüls and DP Christian Matras



Must See?
Yes, as another interesting and well-crafted outing by a master director.

Categories

  • Important Director

Links:

Plaisir, Le / House of Pleasure (1952)

Plaisir, Le / House of Pleasure (1952)

“Happiness is not a joyful thing.”

Synopsis:
Guy de Maupassant (Jean Servais) narrates three of his loosely related stories: in “Le Masque”, a dandy (Paul Azais) in a full-face mask collapses on the floor during a ball and is taken home to his wife (Gaby Morlay); in “La Maison Tellier”, a madam (Madeleine Renaud) whose brother (Jean Gabin) and niece (Jocelyn Jany) live in the countryside takes her employees (Ginette Leclerc, Mila Parely, Danielle Darrieux, Amedee, Mathilde Casadesus, and Paulette Dubost) on a trip to see Jany’s First Communion; and in “Le Modele”, an artist (Daniel Gelin) falls madly, tragically in love with a model (Simone Simon).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Danielle Darrieux Films
  • Episodic Films
  • French Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Gabin Films
  • Max Ophuls Films
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, the three episodes in this adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s stories “all deal with the pursuit of pleasure (not necessarily happiness) and show how women of the heart (be they wives, dancing partners, lovers, or prostitutes) are essential to the stability of men.” He notes that the middle episode “is charming, full of the festivity, exuberance, and emotion that characterize Ophuls’s best work.”

However, he argues that “the other two segments are disappointing, flimsy, and — except for the wondrous interplay between Ophuls’s moving camera and the high-kicking, spinning dancers in the ball sequence of ‘The Mask’ — flatly directed.”

It’s hard to see how Peary could possibly make this claim, given that every single scene and sequence of this film is innovative in its direction. What’s less captivating overall (for me) are the stories themselves, which eventually build to a sense of coherence — pleasure always comes at a cost — but are not necessarily narratively compelling. With that said, it’s impossible to keep one’s eyes off of Ophuls’s prowess throughout this film: his camera is (almost) never not on the move, and it boggles the mind how many seamless tracking shots he manages to include, from the whirling opening sequences of the ball:

… to the extended sequence showing Renaud closing up her “house” for the night (significantly, we’re never allowed inside, instead simply watching everything from a distance, often through constructed barriers):

… to the devastating next-to-last sequence, shown from a woman’s point of view:

While this isn’t Ophuls’s best film, it’s well worth a look by all film fanatics simply to see his brilliance at work.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ophuls’ incomparable camerawork



Must See?
Yes, once, for its masterful camerawork.

Categories

  • Important Director

Links:

Angels Hard As They Come (1971)

Angels Hard As They Come (1971)

“What works is what’s right.”

Synopsis:
Three members of the Angels motorcycle gang — Long John (Scott Glenn), Juicer (Don Carrara), and Monk (James Iglehart) — are invited by the head of the Dragons (Charles Dierkop) to meet up at a ghost town where some hippies — including beautiful Astrid (Gilda Texter) and well-meaning Henry (Gary Busey) — live; but when tragedy ensues that night, the Angels and Dragons become caught in an increasingly violent feud.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Counterculture
  • Gangs
  • Gary Busey Films
  • Jonathan Demme Films
  • Motorcyclists

Review:
Before beginning his directing career, Jonathan Demme co-wrote and produced this biker exploitation flick for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Demme apparently thought he and director/co-writer Joe Viola were making something akin to Rashomon (1950), which it’s difficult to see. Rather, this simply resembles a brutal western, with most of the film taking place in a ghost town and motorcycles replacing horses:

A scene in which the Dragons torture the Angels by tying them to ropes behind their motorcycles and dragging them along in the dirt:

… even brings to mind a scene from a specific western, Anthony Mann’s The Man From Laramie (1955). With that said, there’s not much to recommend about this flick; it was made to bring in audiences, and it shows. I’m fairly certain Peary lists it in his GFTFF simply given Demme’s involvement. However, film fanatics may be mildly curious to see a couple of big-name stars in early roles, including Glenn as “Long John”:

… and Busey as the hippie Henry.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A semi-decent script for an exploitation flick

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Rebel Rousers, The (1970)

Rebel Rousers, The (1970)

“We don’t need your type of people in this town.”

Synopsis:
A man (Cameron Mitchell) visiting his pregnant girlfriend (Diane Ladd) in a seaside town runs into a former high school friend (Bruce Dern) who leads a rebel biker gang, and the couple soon find their lives in danger.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bruce Dern Films
  • Cameron Mitchell Films
  • Diane Ladd Films
  • Gangsters
  • Harry Dean Stanton Films
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • Motorcyclists

Review:
Following directly on the heels of The Wild Angels (1967) — also co-starring Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern — this biker exploitation flick was made in 1967 but not released until 1970, when the success of Easy Rider (1969) brought the biker sub-genre to mainstream consciousness. Writer-director Martin B. Cohen — collaborating with screenwriters Michael Kars and Abe Polsky (best known for scripting The Baby [1973]) — manages to present a truly terrible movie, one which rambles in both tone and focus and is a slog to sit through. The drama between Ladd and Mitchell, in terms of whether Ladd will keep her baby (she wants to) and allow Mitchell to marry her:

… is merely a convenient subplot to put likable characters in harm’s way. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s former friendship with Dern is loose at best, serving no purpose other than to humanize Dern (slightly) by the end. The bulk of the film focuses on showing the bikers wreaking havoc, first in a bar:

… and later down on a beach, where they are going to race each other for the “privilege” of raping Ladd (do they not notice her advanced pregnancy, or not care?):

After being badly beaten, Mitchell goes into town to try to get help, only to find that local law enforcement is “laughably” ineffective:

At least he finds one individual (Robert Dix) willing to step up when his beautiful daughter accidentally wanders into the bikers’ trap.

I guess viewers enjoyed seeing motorcycles roaring along pristine natural landscapes:

… but this entire mess mostly comes across like an improvised quickie meant to pass screentime, nothing more. Watch (if you’d like) for Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role as well.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Laszlo Kovacs’s (co)-cinematography

Must See?
Nope; skip this one unless you absolutely must see every early film Nicholson ever appeared in.

Links:

Satan’s Sadists (1969)

Satan’s Sadists (1969)

“I guess I can thank the Marines for teaching me how to survive — how to stay alive.”

Synopsis:
A group of outlaw bikers — Firewater (John ‘Bud’ Cardos), Acid (Greydon Clark), Muscle (William Bonner), Willie (Robert Dix), Romeo (Bobby Clark), Gina (Regina Carrol), and their leader, Anchor (Russ Tamblyn) — terrorize and kill a young couple, then move on to a diner where they take its owner (Kent Taylor) and waitress (Jacqulin Cole), as well as three customers — an ex-cop (Scott Brady) and his wife (Evelyn Frank) and a Vietnam vet (Gary Kent) — hostage in the desert, eventually running into a trio of geology students (Yvonne Stewart, Cheryl Anne, and Bambi Alen) as well. Who will survive in the arid wilderness?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deserts
  • Motorcyclists
  • Russ Tamblyn Films
  • Veterans

Review:
Peary lists two films by notorious schlockmeister Al Adamson in his GFTFF: Nurse Sherri (1978) and this earlier biker outlaw flick, which followed fast on the heels of Easy Rider (1969) and clearly took some visual inspiration from it:

That’s Russ Tamblyn there behind the shades, and it’s appropriate to feel sorry for his terrible choice in starring in this flick. (Perhaps his embarrassment is why he spends so much time in a floppy hat covering much of his face.)

Cole earns my personal vote for giving the most vacuous female throwaway performance I can recall in recent years:

“I want to go to a big city and meet somebody important and get married.”

Meanwhile, Anchor’s “mama” (Carrol) is so obsessively in love with him — and so willing to denigrate herself for him in any way possible — that we can’t help at least feeling at least a little thrilled by the creative way she finally takes matters into her own hands:

Note: This film has the “distinction” of being (perhaps) the first movie to show someone dying by having their head held down a toilet; nice.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Effective use of desert locations

Must See?
Nope. Listed as Trash in the back of Peary’s book.

Links: