1001 Flicks

Regularly updated blog charting the most important films of the last 104 years.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

106. Grand Illusion (La Grande Illusion) (1937)

Directed by Jean Renoir


Two Frenchmen get shot down over Germany during WWI, and they are sent to a prison camp for officers. They are transfered from that camp and end up after several escape attempts at a maximum security camp.


This is a truly great film, it starts out very much like The Great Escape, and this film was certainly an inspiration for the WWII prisioners of war which inspired the making of that film. The similarities are too great in the digging of the tunnel, hiding the earth during exercise etc. for it to be mere coincidence. It goes on to explore issues of society, nationhood, race and the uselessness of war like never before.

The only film that can be compared to this before it is 1930's All Quiet On The Western Front. The messages are similar, however there is not a single battle in La Grande Illusion. The whole film is carried on the shoulders of the four main characters, a French and a German aristocrat, a mechanic and a nouveau riche Jew from Paris. The dicothomy is not a racial or national one here, the dicothomy is a social one, between the aristocrats and the rest. This is quite a tremendous statement for 1937 when Hitler was the big cheese and so was Mussolini, Franco and Salazar in Portugal. The next-to-last dialogue in the film when the two commoner characters can't tell where Switzerland is because there is nothing marking the borders because nature doesn't give a shit about nations encapsulates the whole meaning of the film in a short dialogue.

The two gems of the film are not the commoner characters, however, but the two aristocrats. The great director Erich Von Stroheim is particularly amazing as the German Von Rauffenstein and it's great to see him working as an actor in a non-silent film, bringing all his amazing presence to screen again. Actually Stroheim's cinema during the silent era with it natural performances is a great paralell to the natural performances of the whole cast here, and this is a particularly French trait in cinema, characters look fully rounded because they talk and act like real people, as if they had just walked into your living room. Stroheim left the US becuase he could not get funding for any new films, but in France he got the recognition and work he deserved, at least as an actor.

It took me a long time to understand why French cinema was and is so highly regarded, with the mass marketing of Hollywood we lose sight of a tremendous school of acting and screenwriting which is fresh, exciting and real. I am in love with French cinema, I think there has not been a bad or mediocre French film in the list up until now, and I hope this trend continues. Get this great film at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

* Jean Renoir was an aviator for the French Army during World War I, actor Jean Gabin (as Maréchal) wears Renoir's uniform in the film.

* According to Renoir's memoirs, Erich von Stroheim, despite being born in Vienna, Austria (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire) did not speak much German, and struggled learning the language along with his lines in between filming scenes.

* Orson Welles once said, "If I had to save only one film in the world, it would be Grand Illusion."

* As the first movie depicting an escape from a prisoner of war camp, scenes in Grand Illusion have influenced other films in the genre, especially influencing the scenes of the digging of an escape tunnel in The Great Escape (1963). Because the tunnel scenes depicted in "The Great Escape" were based upon the actual events that took place in a German prisoner of war camp for captured Allied airmen (and based upon the book by British flier Paul Brickhill), it is possible that the tunnel scenes from "Grand Illusion" inspired the prisoners to plan and dig a tunnel using many of the same methods depicted in "Grand Illusion."

* Likewise, the scene of the French prisoners singing La Marseillaise—the French National Anthem—to enrage their German prison guards, inspired a similar show of patriotic resistance in the film Casablanca (1942).

* An early script version had Rosenthal and Maréchal agreeing to meet in a restaurant at the end of the war. In the movie's final scene everyone there would be celebrating the armistice...but instead of these men there would be two empty chairs at a table.

* The title of the film (in French La Grande illusion) comes from an essay called "The Great Illusion" by British economist Norman Angell, who argued that war is futile because of the common economic interests of different nations. The title of Renoir's film is really more accurately translated to "The Great Illusion".

* The Wintersborn part of the movie was shot at Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in Alsace.

One of the best scenes in the film, yes they start out speaking in English, the aristocrats keep changing from English to French to German depending on their mood, sorry for the lack of subtitles:

Thursday, March 29, 2007

105. Song At Midnight (Ye Ban Ge Sheng) (1937)

Directed By Ma-Xu Wei Bang


A theatre group comes upon a theatre in pretty bad shape, one of the singers befriends Song Danping, a Phantom Of The Opera-like character who teaches him how to sing and tells him his horrible story of disfigurement and lost love. In the end, Song asks the young actor to take is place in his ex-lover's affections attempting to relive his love vicariously in what is one of the sickest love stories in 30's cinema.


Firstly it is probably worth learning Chinese if you want to watch this film with any level of understanding. The review I am making here is based on my poor attempts at deducting what is meant from the terrible Engrish of the subtitles. Still, it was enough to get a general grasp of the film, but it is damn distracting. Actor becomes dramaor and rope cordage in this Joycean oddyssey (yes the double d is intentional, see it's a literary pun).

Other than that it is quite sad to see the state of conservation in which the film has survived, both the sound and image are poor indeed as is the subtitling so it is a merit of the film that it managed to interest me for 2 hours. If you want to imagine this film, mash up Eisenstein, Chinese theatre, German expressionist horror, Chinese revolutionary ideology and Universal horror films and you'll have an idea. No? You'll have to watch it then. One thing I can say for sure, it is infinitely better than the Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera, the relationships between the characters are much more complex to the point of weird, the Phantom is a much more sympathetic character and the hero of the whole thing in the end and the insights of the backstory of Song are also pretty amazing, the Phantom ends up haunted by his former love who lives as a ghost herself. The actor ends up haunted by a haunted spirit, in the end it is resolved and the actor ends up with Song's former lover...as Song would have wanted it weirdly enough.

A film which really deserved better treatment, it seems like there's gonna be a version on DVD from the States, now you can get them from Hong-Kong on eBay with it's innovative torture/subtitling.

Final Grade



As a truly obscure film there is practically no info on it, I can however give you the names of the main actors: Menghe Gu, Ping Hu, Shan Jin, Chao Shi, Wenzhu Zhou


M. Ward, Chinese Translation:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Hi people, I'm in Portugal right now trying to solve marriage burocracies, yes ladies I am engaged... weep!

I'll be back in Manchester updating on the 30th. So, see you then!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

104. Captains Courageous (1937)

Directed By Victor Fleming


Extremely annoying brat falls off cruise liner in the Atlantic. He is taken up by Portuguese Sailor Manuel who teaches him how to be a man, as pansy Americans know nothing about manliness!


Yay! This is probably the only memorable film coming out of the United States that has a Portuguese as the main character in the film. I like that, I am Portuguese myself and you wouldn't know how big it is for us to get any kind of international recognition, even if it was in 1937. I know I have to spend hours explaning to my friends that Portugal is not Spain, that Portuguese is the language they speak in Brazil and is very different from Spanish, that yes we were the first Westerners in Japan, Tibet, most of Africa, India, that we once shared half the world fifty-fifty with the Spanish, they having the western hemisphere from Brazil West until the Pacific and we getting everything else... it's the syndrome of a country which was once comparable to the States today in terms of Power and is now not much more that a country at the bottom at the league tables in EU statistics.

That out of the way, this is a great, great film. Spencer Tracy does a not too bad job playing the Portuguese Manuel Fidello (I don't know where they got that second name, but hey), with a terrible accent of barely understandable Portuguese. Still his character is probably one of the most lovable sailors in the history of cinema and is very well accompanied by child-actor Freddie Bartholomew, who manages to be both annoying at the beginning of the film and have a believable evolution as a child growing into a good man through the film.

It all ends in tragedy of course, and I can tell you my eyes weren't dry by the end of it, still there is a certain sense of hope, when you think of Manuel's slightly simplistic, but wholly appropriate, conceptions of the after-life you really wish he's right...even if you know he is just engaging in wishful thinking. So, do watch the curly-haired, browned up Spencer Tracy playing a Madeiran Portuguese in this very emotional film. Get it at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The movie was produced by Louis D. Lighton and directed by Victor Fleming. Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this film.

The movie was also nominated for three other Academy Awards:

* Best Picture - Louis D. Lighton, producer
* Best Film Editing - Elmo Veron
* Best Writing, Screenplay - Marc Connelly, John Lee Mahin and Dale Van Every

Nothing on the film in Youtube so you get a video on the cluster of islands of Madeira where Manuel in the film is from, bumfuck Atlantic Ocean, why someone intercut it with pictures of half dressed children in a pool might have something to do with the fact that it's a popular destination for pedophiles:

103. Le Roman D'Un Tricheur (The Story Of A Cheat) (1936)

Directed By Sacha Guitry


The life story of a cheat who actually always benefits from dishonesty and only goes wrong when he decides to be honest.


I am sorry dear reders to be one day late with this review, but the truth is that your beloved reviewer is a pillock. I watched the wrong film yesterday, I watched La Femme Du Boulanger, film number 117 instead of Le Roman D'un Tricheur, it is now rectified and you can expect my review of La Femme Du Boulanger in some time.

This is a pretty amazing film and while in the States there was a rigid production code and film-makers were laying the stones for what would become mainstream cinema, in France there was no code and experimentation was still cool. This film is quite different from anything else you might have seen; firstly it is almost all told through the means of voiceover, the Tricheur tells the tale of his life while writing his memories and we follow him through his amazingly fun life.

Another thing which marks this film apart from most stuff coming out of the US was its creative use of camera editing, there is a scene where the Cheat tells us how amusing it would be if the Monegasc army would go forwards and backwards and we see his thoughts by a clever use of rewind and forward accompanied by some fun music. The most important thing that marks it apart from the products of the US is its morals, or actually its lack of morals, the teaching of the film is actually that crime pays. One of the characters would have been particularly shocking to American audiences, there is an elderly countess who stalks the land for young boys to have sex with, and offer them watches, gold, silver or bronze according to their performance - we come to learn that she has been ruined by her "watch" addiction, having given 217 away during here life. The code would never allow this.

As is typical of French comedies there is a very gentle kind of humour here, which keeps you constantly elated while watching the film, be it through the sexual innuendos or the simple mischeviousness of the "hero". Excellent original piece of film, unfortunately you can't get it at any Amazon I would suggest you get it from eBay if you are lucky enough to find it. If not there is always eMule where you can find it with no subtitles, or if you understand Spanish you can download subtitles in Spanish off the internet, look for Roman D'Un Tricheur .srt files on Google and put them in the same folder as the film, then match the file names to each other et voila!

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was the son of Lucien Germain Guitry (1860–1925), a major Parisian stage actor who spent nine years at the Michel Theater, in St. Petersburg, before returning to France. It was during this time in Russia that Alexandre-Pierre Georges Guitry was born and nicknamed Sacha. As a five year old, he appeared on stage with his father. An intellect and a prolific writer with a sharp wit, by the age of 17 Guitry had already written the first of his 120 plays. In 1918 his theatrical production premiered in Paris to critical acclaim. Guitry's dramas include Nono (1905), Petite Hollande (1908, with a foreword by Octave Mirbeau), Les deux couverts (Comédie-Française, 1913), La Pèlerine écossaise (1914), Deburau (1918), Jean de la Fontaine (1922), Un sujet de roman (1923). Also famous are Quadrille, Tôa, N'écoutez pas, Mesdames, Désiré, Faisons un rêve, Le Nouveau Testament, Beaumarchais and 100 others.

A prominent member of Parisian society, in 1919 Guitry married singing star Yvonne Printemps. Together they performed in a number of his plays, bringing the extremely popular 1925 production of Mozart to cities in North America, including New York City, Montreal, Quebec and Boston, Massachusetts. He wrote seven revues with Albert Willemetz, his best friend.

In addition to his famous plays, Sacha Guitry wrote and acted in many early films and in 1935 directed for the first time. He went on to be recognized as one of the truly innovative directors, sometimes compared to Orson Welles because of his techniques and numerous innovations. Of the 30 films he directed, some of his most recognized are The Story of a Cheat (1937), Pearls of the Crown (1938) and Royal Affair in Versailles in 1953.

Sacha Guitry is interred with his father, brother and his fifth wife in the Cimetière de Montmartre, in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre.

In 1931, the government of France awarded him the Legion of Honor. He was also a member of the Académie Goncourt. Following World War II he spent sixty days in prison for suspected collaboration with the Germans, but a post-War court cleared him completely of all the charges, and historians make clear now he had nothing to do with collaboration and even helped many people.

He died in Paris in 1957. After his passing, a street was named in his honor in Paris and the city of Nice, France and Radio France named a studio for him.

Some useful skills for the Casinos of Montecarlo:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

102. Things To come (1936)

Directed By William Cameron Menzies


World War II starts in 1940! By 1970 parts of the world are still in a post-apocalyptic state, except for a little village led by a resolute group of Gauls... well no actually, there are some guys who have planes and stupid helmets, who civilise the rest of the world. In 2036 the world is grand and monorails abound, there's TVs and acrylic is the hot thing! Luddites show up but Science prevails!


There is a big, big difference between American and UK science fiction, in the US the hero usually faces overwhelming odds and wins by virtue of being smarter or whatever, think Star Trek. In the UK they seem to like the storylines where the hero gets screwed, or dies or is just bleak, think Ian M. Banks or J.G. Ballard. Here you have a mix of both, while being a hopeful story of the future it is also bittersweet. Science evolves but humanity not so much, it ends allright but with a sense of sacrifice and that's a good thing.

In the end it is worth watching for its special effects and its predictions of the future. It is actually not that innacurate if you ignore the cosmetic bits, the buildings look like Frank Lloyd Wrigh'ts Guggenheim, which was to be inaugurated in 1937, the acrylic actually makes stuff look pretty modern. The second World War is also predicted, but what I found strangest of all is predicting widescreen, flatscreen television, with what seems to be a tape or DVD player. Oh and YouTube, some luddite decides to broadcast his message to the world and he just has to go into a place where his message is broadcast to all the world... YouTube.

Of course there are some interesting ideas to the plot, although the system which is advocated is a bit totalitarian it replaces militaristic authoritarianism, which I suppose is a good thing. Don't be fooled, this is still a very B-Movie, the acting is not that great for example, but it has enough to love about it to be reccomended... watch it. Get it from Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Wells is assumed to have had a degree of control over the project that was unprecedented for a screenwriter, and personally supervised nearly every aspect of the film. Posters and the main title bill the film as "H. G. Wells' THINGS TO COME", with "an Alexander Korda production" appearing in smaller type. In fact, Wells ultimately had no control over the finished product, with the result that many scenes, although shot, were either truncated or not included in the finished film. The rough-cut reputedly ran to 130 minutes; the version submitted to the British Board of Film Censors was 117m 13s; it was released as 108m 40s (later cut to 98m 06s) in the UK, and 96m 24s in the United States. The standard version available today is just 92m 42s, although some prints are in circulation in the United States - where the film is in the Public Domain - that retain the additional scenes that constitute the original American release.

Wells originally wanted the music to be recorded in advance, and have the film constructed around the music, but this was considered too radical and so the score, by Arthur Bliss, was fitted to the film afterwards in a more conventional way. A concert suite drawn from the film has remained popular; as of 2003, there are about half-a-dozen recordings of it in print.

After filming had already begun, the Hungarian abstract artist László Moholy-Nagy was commissioned to produce some of the effects sequences for re-building of Everytown. Moholy-Nagy's approach was partly to treat it as an abstract light show but only some 90 seconds of material was used (e.g. a protective-suited figure behind corrugated glass), although in the autumn of 1975 a researcher found a further four discarded sequences

Here, today you get the whole film!:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

101. Dodsworth (1936)

Directed By William Wyler


A rich business man sells his car factory and decides to travel with his wife to Europe to learn how to enjoy life. Wife has a severe case of chronic wandering genitalia. He gets tired of forgiving her and finds a much better woman in Naples. "Frankly my Dear I Don't Give A Damn" ending!


This was a film that felt very adult and modern, in an almost Merchant-Ivory way. All this modernity is in its particularly intelligent script based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis, which captures the American abroad perfectly. While Dodsworth remains true to his roots, acting like a normal person would abroad, his wife is ashamed of her roots and has a degree of snobbery which only comes out in those who feel inadequate.

In the end, although you think Mrs. Dodsworth is a spoiled brat with a husband which is too good for her you can still understand where she is coming from. She is a person who is like a fish out of water, and the only way she can attempt to fit in is by rejecting herself and assuming a personality to which she is completely alien. Samuel Dodsworth has the opposite reaction, he remains himself and is actually able to fit this new world (or should I say old world) better than her simply by not selling his soul to glitz.

In the end it is a deep and admirable film, with stellar performances throughout, particularly from Mary Astor who is just fantastic here. You end up really feeling for Dodsworth while still understanding the thoughts and motivations of his emotionally immature wife. The problematic of the woman who married too early to a much older man desperately seeking her lost youth in the wrong way is actually deeply affecting. In the end Samuel gets the wife he deserves, one who has lived and is ready to be with him, to follow him with one suitcase to Siberia. Watch it. Get it from Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nominations for Walter Huston and Maria Ouspenskaya. Richard Day won the award for Best Art Direction. For his role, Huston won the year's Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. In 1990, Dodsworth was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Fifteen years later, Time.com named it one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years.

Dodsworth, how annoying is this woman?:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

100. Sabotage (1936)

Directed By Alfred Hitchcock


A saboteaur starts being investigated by the Scotland Yard. He has a wife... all goes wrong but in the end is solved! Yay!


It is hard to write a synopsis of this film without completely enjoying your enjoyment of it. Half of the enjoyment here is the suspense that Hitchcock projects on you. When the boy travels to deliver a bomb for example was one of the most tense moments on this list until now.

The film is called Sabotage, but really it ends up being a film about terrorism as we know it today. Actually there are images here that are strangely familiar, the blown up bus seems straight out 07/07 in London, there's also the bomb guy who hides the explosive chemicals in bottles of ketchup and other harmless stuff that when mixed are extremely dangerous.

It really does feel at times that surely terrorism in Britain is an homage to Hitchcocks Sabotage, although I really don't think terrorists are that referential. Still, it ends up being a very powerful and very devious film. Hitchcock shows his talent for little character portraits again, with the wife of the bird shop owner for example, or the owner himself, strangely obssessed with explosives.

Of course the film also comes across as a Daily Mail reader's wet dream, where foreigners are out to get us and no one is safe, but the film works very well. So get it from Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia (potential spoiler):

The film was produced in the years immediately preceding World War II, and the unnamed hostile power behind the bombings is assumed to be Nazi Germany. At the time of its release, Europe was already preparing for war, and espionage was rampant between the European powers. The film can therefore be interpreted as a warning to civilians to be aware of foreigners, who threatened the safety of the country. (On a side note, Sabotage would have been called Secret Agent except Hitchcock had recently made another film with that title.)

Hitchcock took considerable liberties with the novel, transforming the highly political anarchists and socialists into foreign agents without any obvious political leanings. Verloc's shop is transformed into a movie theater (with the films being shown echoing the story), and the policeman investigating the case is cast as an undercover officer posing as a greengrocer. Verloc's first name has also been changed, presumably as Adolf had too many connotations by the time the film was made. To critics, however, the most troubling change was in the character of Stevie, Mrs Verloc's young brother, who is portrayed as a simpleton, with few of the visionary attributes of his literary counterpart. Stevie's death is a climactic moment in the plot, providing insight into Hitchcock's views about how the innocent suffer through random acts of violence. When a critic condemned Stevie's death as brutal and unnecessary, however, Hitchcock refused to defend his position and said that he regretted including it in the film—although with this he remained faithful to the novel.

The fact that the film was set in a movie theater allowed Hitchcock to reference the plot with contemporary films and storylines. Perhaps the most famous of these is the final film sequence, an animated short produced by Walt Disney.

Despite being regarded by many as her best performance, this was Sylvia Sidney’s only role for Hitchcock. They did not warm to each other and she refused to work for him again.

The only excerpt of the film I could find on youtube...:

Thursday, March 08, 2007

99. Camille (1936)

Directed By George Cukor


A French 19th century courtesan falls in love with someone she shouldn't. She's also suffering from TB, guess what happens.


The magnificent Garbo graces us again with her splendour. Watching any Garbo film is always a pleasure and this is no exception. Yes, she hams it up a bit, but she always was larger than life and we wouldn't want her any other way.

The story of the film is based on one of the most popular novels and plays of the 19th century, La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas fils. Of course the plot is a bit dramatic and even melodramatic but there would never be a better casting for the part of Camille than Garbo. She has just the right balance between coldness and fragility to be able to pull this off.

Of course there are great costumes here, in the good tradition of an early Hollywood costume drama and they are part of the attraction of this film. I am actually quite sorry there are no great screen divas like Garbo or Dietrich anymore, they had a kind of solemn presence that filled the whole screen, and they didn't even need to be doing anything to make any film they were in spectacular. Watch it for Garb oand the sets, watch it because it is quite a good story, even if completely predictable from the moment she first coughs into her handkerchief 10 minutes into it. Get it from Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

One of numerous films based on the play, Camille was made by MGM. It was directed by George Cukor and produced by Irving Thalberg and Bernard H. Hyman, from a screenplay by James Hilton, Zoe Akins and Frances Marion, based on the Dumas novel. The music score was by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward, the cinematography by William H. Daniels and Karl Freund, the art direction by Cedric Gibbons and the costume design by Adrian.

The film stars Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore with Elizabeth Allan, Jessie Ralph, Henry Daniell and Laura Hope Crews.

Camille was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress (Greta Garbo).

The film inspired Milton Benjamin to write and publish a song called "I'll Love Like Robert Taylor, Be My Greta Garbo".

Camille was included in Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies in 2005. It was also included at #33 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

98. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936)

Directed By Frank Capra


Man from a small town inherits a 20 million dollar fortune. Goes to New York and is shocked by self-interest, gives all his money to the unemployed in a surprisingly communist move.


Frank Capra graces us with his idealistic vision of rural america again in this film, like in Judge Priest there is a view of an ideal world of good natured people who want nothing more than live in harmony with their neighbours. This is however a vastly superior film. Unusually this is billed as a screwball comedy, and it is that, but it is much more importantly a piece of great social and political import.

More than a comedy Mr. Deeds is a film about the evils of materialism and self-serving interest and the society that not only allows but expects and foments that. Deeds is seen as insane by the world because he is willing to part with his money to help the needy. Deeds decides to give his 20 million dollars away by giving each unemployed post-depression farmer 10 acres of land, a horse and a cow and if the land is worked for 3 years to give them the land. This is really a surprising attitude for a 1930's American millionare to do. Deeds shows that socialism is the only sane alternative... I wonder what the film censors thought of that.

Deeds is untainted by greed and all of those that he meets are not untouched by his simple and good demeanour. The film is an utopia, but it is a good one, it is funny, smart, thoughful and has a great message. It is a sad state of affairs when people remade the film with Adam Sandler and the money goes to buy Corvettes for friends... Buy it at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

In casting the role of Longfellow Deeds, Cooper was director Capra's first, last and only choice. The film popularized the word "pixilated", which was used (in this case) to imply craziness, or the seeming illogical nature of Longfellow Deeds' actions in the film.

The film was written by Clarence Budington Kelland and Robert Riskin, and directed by Frank Capra. The film earned star Gary Cooper his first nomination for Best Actor, and was voted Best Picture of the year (1936) by the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review.

The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Capra won an Academy Award for Directing.

A sequel called Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington was written. However Gary Cooper was unavailable. James Stewart was hired for the lead role and the title was changed to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Minor changes were also made to the script.

There are no clips of Mr. Deeds on the Internet SO here you go, what is probably the worst remake in the history of cinema:

Saturday, March 03, 2007

97. My Man Godfrey (1936)

Directed By Gregory La Cava


Socialites try to pick up "forgotten man" to win a prize at a scavenger hunt. One of them, Irene, a dizzy dame, makes him the butler of her house. Screwbally stuff happens, "forgotten man" is actually rich, marries Irene!


Heh, that was fun. It really was. My Man Godfrey is perhaps one of the strangest and funniest films to be featured on the list up until now. Firstly the acting is really superb, William Powell had already dazzled as The Thin Man and here he is just as good as Godfrey.

The whole family, the Bullocks that he becomes entagled with is completely insane, there is not one sane character in the bunch. Yet the film is so well written that it doesn't come off as just "look at the crazy people", you can understand why they are all crazy. In the end the film points a figure at the stupidity of the high-classes and to the misery that surrounds them while they are blissfully unaware. Still it does this through laughter.

I have to mention the writing again, there is not a superfluous line in the film, and believe me there are a lot of them. From Irene's emo/goth fit to Godfrey's retorts everything is perfectly screenplayed here. Powell is amazing and Carole Lombard is not far behind. It is actually one of the best films I've seen, ever, not just on this list. If you haven't seen it get it now, and as the copyright has expired it is public domain and no one will blame you for downloading it! YAY! Or if you are a sucker for DVD boxes like me get it at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards:

* Best Actor in a Leading Role (William Powell)
* Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mischa Auer)
* Best Actress in a Leading Role (Carole Lombard)
* Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Alice Brady)
* Best Director
* Best Writing, Screenplay

It was the first movie to be nominated in all acting categories.

In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

My Man Godfrey has fallen into the public domain, and as a result, was re-released by various distributors in several low-quality, but legal DVD and VHS editions. In 2002, a restored print was made available on DVD by The Criterion Collection. In 2005, 20th Century Fox Home Video released a colorized version.

Scene from the film, you can also get the whole thing on Youtube in nine parts, just search for My Man Godfrey:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

96. Swing Time (1936)

Directed By George Stevens


Dancer and gambler is trying to marry rich broad. Goes to New York to make money, falls in love with other dancer. All ends well!


If you look three reviews down from this one you'll see the review for Top Hat and the problems I had with it. All those problems are absolutely gone in Swing Time. Swing Time is a delightful film, there are not stupid sets, they don't try and fail to do a "Busby Berkley".

Of course there are other problems here, and this is the reason this film, although being much better than Top Hat is not nearly as famous. The dreaded blackface raises its ugly head in the Bojangles Of Harlem dance, which is the best dance in the film. Of course we have again to go back to 1936 where there was no intentional racism here, in fact the whole act was a tribute to a black dancer and the film was a vehicle for Astaire and he had to black up... still it grates on our modern sensibilities.

The plot is strangely familiar, actually very much the same plot as Top Hat... but don't let that stop you, it is better done all around, as if they learned from the mistakes of the other film. The dances are amazing, Ginger Rogers shows an amazing ability to dance backwards in high heels and Astaire just flies. And then you have the music. All tracks are great here and it is delightful to see great classic songs in the context they were first intended for. Really Good. Buy it at Amazon UK or US.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Astaire introduces two new elements into his approach to filmed song and dance, both of which represent the abandonment of theatrical staging conventions. First is the use of space, horizontally in "A Fine Romance" and vertically in "Never Gonna Dance", and second is the introduction of trick photography in "Bojangles of Harlem". Partnered hopping steps/spins and the satire of self-conscious elegance feature prominently in the choreography, in which Astaire was assisted by Hermes Pan.

* "Pick Yourself Up": The first of Kern's standards is a charming polka first sung and then danced to by Astaire and Rogers. One of their most joyous and exuberant numbers is also a technical tour-de-force with the basic polka embellished by syncopated rhythms and overlayed with tap decoration. In particular, Rogers recaptures the spontaneity and commitment that she first displayed in the "I'll Be Hard To Handle" number from Roberta (1935).

* "The Way You Look Tonight": Kern's classic Oscar-winning foxtrot is sung by Astaire, seated at a piano, while Ginger is busy washing her hair in a side room. Here, Astaire conveys a sunny yet nostalgic romanticism but later, when the music is danced to as part of "Never Gonna Dance", the pair will create a mood of sombre poignancy. As evidence of its enduring appeal, this song is regularly featured in modern cinema and television: as in Chinatown (1974) for example, and it played a prominent role as the key linking element in the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Astaire and Rogers in the "Waltz in Swing Time"

* "Waltz In Swing Time": Described by one critic as "the finest piece of pure dance music ever written for Astaire", this is the most virtuosic partnered romantic duet Astaire ever committed to film. Kern - always reluctant to compose in the Swing style - provided some themes to Robert Russell Bennett who, with the assistance of Astaire's rehearsal pianist Hal Borne, produced the final score. The dance is a nostalgic celebration of love, in the form of a syncopated waltz with tap overlays - a concept Astaire later reworked in the similarly impressive "Belle of New York" segment of the "Currier and Ives" routine from The Belle of New York (1952). In the midst of this most complex of routines, Astaire and Rogers find time to gently poke fun at notions of elegance, in a delicate reminder of a similar episode in "Pick Yourself Up".

* "A Fine Romance": Kern's third standard, a quickstep to Field's bittersweet lyrics, is sung alternately by Rogers and Astaire, with Rogers providing an object lesson in acting while a bowler-hatted Astaire appears at times to be impersonating Stan Laurel. Never a man to discard a favourite piece of fine clothing, Astaire wears the same coat in the opening scene of Holiday Inn (film) (1941).

* "Bojangles Of Harlem": Once again, Kern, Bennett and Borne combined their talents to produce a jaunty instrumental piece ideally suited to Astaire, who here - while overtly paying tribute to Bill Robinson - actually broadens his tribute to African-American tap dancers by dancing in the style of Astaire's one-time teacher John W. Bubbles, and dressing in the style of the character Sportin' Life, who Bubbles played the year before in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Dorothy Fields recounts how Astaire managed to inspire the reluctant Kern by visiting his home and singing while dancing on and around his furniture. It is the only number in which Astaire - again bowler-hatted - appears with partial blackface make-up. The idea of using trick photography to show Astaire dancing with three of his shadows was invented by Hermes Pan, who also choreographed the opening chorus, after which Astaire dances a short opening solo which features poses mimicking, perhaps satirising, Al Jolson - all of which was captured by Stevens in one take. There follows a two-minute solo of Astaire dancing with his shadows which took three days to shoot. Astaire's choreography exercises every limb and makes extensive use of hand-clappers. This routine earned Hermes Pan an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction.

* "Never Gonna Dance": After Astaire sings Field's memorable closing line: "la belle, la perfectly swell romance" of Kern's haunting ballad, they begin the acknowledgement phase of the dance - possibly their greatest - replete with a poignant nostalgia for their now-doomed affair, where music changes to "The Way You Look Tonight" and they dance slowly in a manner reminiscent of the opening part of "Let's Face The Music And Dance" from Follow the Fleet. At the end of this episode, Astaire adopts a crestfallen, helpless pose. They now begin the denial phase, and again the music changes and speeds up, this time to the "Waltz In Swing Time" while the dancers separate to twirl their way up their respective staircases, escaping to the platform at the top of the Silver Sandal Set - one of the most beautiful Art Deco-influenced Hollywood Moderne creations of Carroll Clark and John Harkrider. Here the music switches again to a frantic, fast-paced, recapitulation of "Never Gonna Dance" as the pair dance a last, desperate, and virtuosic routine before Ginger flees and Astaire repeats his pose of dejection, in a final acceptance of the affair's end. This final routine was shot forty-seven times in one day before Astaire was satisfied, with Rogers' feet left bruised and bleeding by the time they finished.