Film Diary

Farewell to FilmStruck, Jouvet, Kurosawa


I watched this on youtube, where someone had divided it into 14 parts. Unfortunately, two of the parts wouldn’t play due to copyright protection so I missed about half an hour. Still, that left more than three hours of Scorsese talking about American cinema, from silent films and directors like King Vidor up to the ‘50s and ‘60s. He talks about westerns, gangster films, and musicals, all uniquely American genres, and divides eras into overarching ideas, like the director as smuggler in the ‘50s who had to smuggle political and social subtext into their movies. I took away a list of films to watch. Honestly, I could listen to Scorsese talk about movies for 20 hours. I wish he’d do more. Next, I’ll track down his MY VOYAGE TO ITALY about how Italian film influenced him.




I stumbled upon this one night searching FilmStruck for something else. Loved it. Love how the townspeople take in Jorge (Edmund Gwenn) without a second thought and how they rally when he might be threatened by outside forces. I am eager to watch a lot more Luis García Berlanga.



A relatively short film from Jean Vigo, like a short story rather than a novel. Boys at a boarding school rebel against the ridiculous adults and rules governing them. Did anyone else find creepy subtext with the one teacher who the boy tells him he is full of shit? Makes the rebellion seem less a joyous outburst, and more a necessary and brave act.



The third and final movie in the Roberto Rossellini WWII trilogy that starts with ROME OPEN CITY and PAISAN. Edmund (Edmund Moeschke), a young German boy, tries to survive and support his family in post-war Berlin. It could not be more harrowing and real. Not one sentimental second. Each movie in the trilogy is a masterpiece.



A strange movie from Orson Welles. I don’t want to judge it because Welles never finished it. There are three versions of it and probably none are exactly what he had in mind. Still, the acting is odd, especially by Robert Arden, who is the lead, which wouldn’t have changed much no matter what the final cut. And Welles make up is atrocious. Why? I love THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI so I am all for weird, convoluted Wellesian plots, but this was too odd for me.




A great prison escape movie directed by Jacques Becker. Four men sharing a single cell plot to escape and allow a fifth man in on their plan when he’s in thrown their cell with them. They slowly and methodically dig a tunnel underneath the prison, all shown in detail, much of it in real time. And just when you think, OK, enough closeups of digging dirt, the movie delivers a gut punch that shows you just how deep you’ve been drawn in. Wonderful.



I loved every minute of this Akira Kurosawa film. The movie starts with the wedding of Kôichi Nishi (Toshirô Mifune) and Yoshiko (Kyôko Kagawa), the daughter of a bigwig in a major Japanese corporation. Outside the room is a gaggle of reporters because at the same time executives from the company are being indicted for some corporate crime. The whole scene is tense and uncomfortable and then a strange wedding cake with a sinister meaning is delivered and you know everything is not as it seems. And that’s just the start. I won’t give any more details away. It is fantastic.


A great film noir by John Huston. All about a jewelry heist, the preparation, the robbery, and the aftermath. A great cast of characters played to perfection by Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, and Marilyn Monroe. Loved it. 



A film directed by Julien Duvivier. A rich widow played by Marie Bell goes off in search of her youth by tracking down all the boys, now men, on the dance card from her first ball. Each is unique, some charming, some funny, one scary, and one dead. The whole premise is a bit fantastical, which is fine, but I still would have liked it more if the men weren’t so entranced by her. At least one should have completely forgotten who she was. And she seems little affected by it all, really.


Film Diary

Jouvet, Kurosawa, Renoir

I am way behind on tracking my film viewing so all of these will be quick hits. Here are seven, another eight will follow in another next post.


A bit Hollywood for Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune plays a young thug with tuberculosis who becomes a charity case for a doctor who is an outsider in his own way. Takashi Shimura plays the gruff, affable doctor to perfection and Mifune, who was young and gorgeous, is fierce but a bit over the top at times.


hotel-du-nord-movie-poster-1938-1010698872Strange tale, tiny bit melodramatic, but nicely done. I just love Louis Jouvet, who plays a sort of sly villain, always on the periphery of the action. And I loved Arletty as his long-suffering but brash and self-reliant partner.


A good, but not great noir starring Alain Delon as a hitman on the run. We see a lot of Delon walking. Very little dialogue. I found the plot predictable and the movie lacking suspense. An unpopular opinion, I know.


A silly bit of fluff starring Roger Livesey and Richard Burton as brandy smugglers and Honor Blackman as a reporter. Livesey kind of phones it in and there is something so innately cynical about Burton that makes him ill-suited for light comedy. Still, it’s fun.


imageA brutal but incredible film directed by Jean Renoir. The great Michel Simon plays Maurice Legrand, a quiet, antisocial business clerk who paints in his spare time when not being berated by his miserable wife. Into his life wanders Lulu (Janie Marèse) and her pimp Dede (Georges Flamant). He falls for Lulu, and she and Dede milk poor working-class Legrand for everything he’s worth, and then some. I love the way Renoir tells it, episodically with short scenes reminiscent of a silent film. Much of the major action happens off camera. And the ending is something. So uncompromising. I see why Renoir and Simon were a perfect match.


Another Jean Renoir film, as bleak as LA CHIENNE, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. Charles Blavette plays Toni, an Italian immigrant who travels to Provence for work. He becomes embroiled in local life by shacking up with his landlady Marie (Jenny Hélia) and then falling in love with Josefa (Celia Montalván), who is forced to marry someone else after the brute rapes her. I didn’t find my way into any of the characters, except maybe Marie who is the only one who understands herself. The rest seemed a bit like caricatures. 


51KkWhEPxkLA 1955 film directed by Juan Antonio Bardem. Marie (Lucia Bosé), a woman married to a wealthy man, and Juan (Alberto Closas), a college professor, are lovers who hit a cyclist and run from the scene even though he is still alive. That’s the start of the film, and the rest is a cat and mouse game skillfully shot, directed and played. It is like a long, excellent Twilight Zone episode and that is 100 percent a compliment. It’s the first film by Bardem (who is Javier Bardem’s uncle, according to imdb) that I’ve seen and I will definitely search out more.


Blogathon, Ozu

I’ve long been curious about Yasujirô Ozu’s TOKYO STORY. It routinely lands near the top of best film lists, usually surrounded by other films I have already seen. Right now, on Sight & Sounds’s 50 Best Films, TOKYO STORY is ranked third, behind VERTIGO and CITIZEN KANE and above THE RULES OF THE GAME and SUNRISE, all movies I’ve seen, all several times. (Sight & Sound’s poll of directors puts TOKYO STORY in first place.)

tokyo-storyBut, I’ve been reluctant to watch Ozu’s film for the same reason I was afraid to view Robert Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (number 16 on the best film list above): the subject matter might be unbearably depressing. So, with the excuse of The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon, hosted by Moon in Gemini’s Debbie Vega, as well as FilmStruck’s impending demise, it was time to watch TOKYO STORY.

The film tells the story of Shukishi Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) and his wife Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama), an elderly couple who leave the comfort of their home in Onomichi to travel hours by train to visit their grown children in Tokyo.

The couple start at the home of their eldest son, Kōichi (So Yamamura), a physician whothe-greatest-film-ive-never-seen-blogathon is too busy seeing patients to spend time with his visiting parents and whose two young sons resent their grandparents for disrupting the house.

A visit with eldest daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) is no better. She owns a hair salon and like her brother is too busy to entertain her parents. She’s also bitter, starts the visit insulting her mother and, eventually, fights with her father when he arrives back at her house after a night out drinking. So the brother and sister decide to send their parents off to a spa, ostensibly as a treat but in reality just to be rid of them for a few days.

Only their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), finds time for them and treats them both with love and respect. And at home in Onomichi their youngest daughter, Kyōko (Kyōko Kagawa), who lives with them and works as a teacher, is kind and loving, too.

The elderly couple take all this calmly and placidly, showing infinite patience with their children while being disappointed by them, and genuine concern for their lonely daughter-in-law, all the while sensing their days are numbered.

toptokyostoryThe story unfolds slowly. The film is quiet, meditative, subtle, and unsentimental. Nothing spectacular happens, and I can imagine some viewers finding it plodding. I was absorbed instead, and terribly moved by the last half hour of the film. When it was over, I felt as if I had observed someone’s life.

I have no idea how Ozu, like Bresson, tells a universal story in such a simple way to such great effect. 

Film Diary

Farewell to FilmStruck, Review


0a79ecba227b91b81b6fe3c4d3f1ef97A wonderful, 1934 film about young newlyweds finding their way in marriage while living on a barge. Jean Vigo’s last film, starring the lovely Dita Parlo as the wife, Jean Dasté as the husband and skipper of the boat, and Michel Simon, in a sort of Boudu-like performance as Père Jules, the crew along with a teenage boy played by Louis Lefebvre. The story is simple, but the telling of it is so evocative that you feel in love, too, by the end. 



3_memories_copy_-_h_2018A 1968 film about Sergio, a man who stays in Cuba in the wake of the Bay of Pigs invasion while his parents and wife leave for Miami. When a friend asks why he’s staying, he says he already knows America but he doesn’t know what Cuba may become. He spends his days aimlessly, living off rental income and drifting between women, seducing them but otherwise indifferent to each one. The story’s backdrop is told with some documentary footage of the invasion and scenes of Havana. I have little historical perspective for the film, but even without it the movie is thoroughly absorbing.



142684021082Set in 1917, stars Conrad Veidt as a German submarine officer dropped off on the Orkney Islands to take part in a plot to destroy British war ships. Lots of romance, double-dealing, and sneaking around in the fog. Veidt is so charismatic, interesting to see what Hollywood did with him, the balancing act between making a German spy sympathetic and not. It’s fun, satisfying, and unpredictable.

Film Diary

Billy Wilder, Review


street-scene-world-flesh-and-devilA 1959 film starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer as three survivors of a nuclear accident. The first half hour is just Belafonte, who survives the accident because he’s in a mine below ground. He makes his way to New York City where, eventually, he finds Stevens, and much later Ferrer. Belafonte is good, Stevens is strange, and Ferrer is menacing. Some of the B&W cinematography is fantastic, the empty streets of NYC are impressive. And the story that touches on the possibility of a black man and a white woman falling in love and populating a new world was probably daring for its time. But the delivery is stilted and odd, like a bad absurdist play.



MV5BYjY5MjBkZmEtODhhNS00MTA5LTgyMWUtZjcxZWEwMTczZmQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzI4Nzk0NjY@._V1_A Billy Wilder film starring Jack Lemmon as an American businessman who discovers his father’s 10-year extramarital love affair when he goes to Italy to pick up the corpse after dad dies in a car accident. There he meets Juliet Mills, the daughter of the English woman Lemmon’s father met every year for a monthlong idyll. The plan is to get the body and quickly return to Baltimore for a funeral, but Lemmon, aided by the obsequious hotel manager perfectly played by Clive Revill, runs into a series of complications. Parts are funny and sweet, but at 2 hours 24 minutes, the movie is an hour longer than needed. And Lemmon’s character is unlikable, rude and brusque, and does not evolve much by the end.

Film Diary

Gabin, Jouvet, Murnau, Renoir, Silent


lowerdepthsAnother Jean Renoir film starring the great Jean Gabin as Pepel. Also stars another wonderful French actor, Louis Jouvet, who I enjoyed a lot in BETWEEN ELEVEN AND MIDNIGHT. He’s even better in this and, dare I say, steals every scene he’s in. The scenes between Jouvet and Gabin are worth the price of admission. Based on a play by Maxim Gorky, the story revolves around a flop house and the down and out people who live there, particularly Gabin, a thief, and Natacha, played by Junie Astor (who is savaged in reviews. Even Renoir said she was awful, that he hired her as a favor. I thought she was affecting if not perfect.) Into this world comes the Baron, played by Jouvet, who befriends Gabin after he catches him stealing in his house. The Baron gambles away his fortune and somewhat happily enters into Pepel’s world just as Pepel tries to escape it. 



Boudu_largeMichel Simon is incredible as Bodou, a street person who jumps in the Siene River and is saved by a bourgeois bookseller, played by Charles Granval. He moves into the bookseller’s house, where the bookseller lives with his unhappy wife and his maid/mistress. Bodou is not pleased he was saved nor grateful for any hospitality. He is a nightmare as a house guest, rude, crude, a demanding, utter mess. But, he holds certain charms for the women. Simon is fully committed, he never for a second makes Bodou sentimental. I felt my own middle-class angst watching it, I guess initial French audiences did, too. I loved the ending. I won’t give it away, but it was the perfect denouement.



faust-murnau-4Visually stunning silent film directed by F.W. Murnau. Tells the story of Faust’s bargain with Satan, through Mephisto, played by Emil Jannings. Faust (Gösta Ekman) agrees to the deal to regain his youth and the heart of Gretchen, played by Camilla Horn. The story is tragic and dramatic, and amazingly it never gets lost in the powerful visuals, which could easily overwhelm lesser actors or a lesser script. It is a must-see film, even if you’re not a huge fan of silents. It is pure artistry. 



GoldDiggersOf193324-650x493First in a series of three films by Busby Berkeley. This one stars Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Warren William, Guy Kibbee, and Ned Sparks. The woman are showgirls, and Powell is a composer and love interest for Keeler who finances a new show produced by Sparks. Turns out he’s a Boston blueblood and his brother, played by William, is determined to put an end to his bohemian lifestyle. The story is quick-paced and predictable, the performance numbers are a wonder, and it’s fun throughout. But, try as I might, pre-code is my least favorite era of film.

Film Diary

Buster Keaton, Gabin, Laughton


entre onze heures et minuitA French noir from 1949. A gangster gets killed and a detective who looks exactly like him assumes his identity to catch the killer. He convinces everyone except the criminal’s girlfriend who decides to help him find the killer. More believable than it sounds, trim and fast-paced script, and clever ending. Louis Jouvet is great as the detective and so is Madeleine Robinson as the gangster’s girlfriend.



8f86d62a43759db49401852080370e55Buster Keaton’s send up of D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE. He plays a hapless suitor in three different eras — as a caveman, a Roman soldier, and a modern man. It’s not typical Keaton somehow, more fanciful and fewer gags, although there is an amazing stunt when he leaps between city rooftops, misses, and falls down the building grabbing onto successive awnings. Wallace Beery plays his nemesis in each era and their names, in at least the modern segment, are Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery. Tee hee. 



v1A history of the Ballets Russe of Monte Carlo, founded after the demise of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, as told by a dozen or so dancers, interviewed in their 70s and 80s. I was disappointed it wasn’t about Diaghilev’s company, but I got over it quickly listening to the amazing interviews. It is well done, but I doubt it’s interesting if you’re not already interested in ballet, and it’s a must-see if you do love ballet.



MV5BZGNhMmJlZjAtZjBmZi00ZGQ4LWIxOTMtNGM5MDdlYjQ5ODI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQ1NDUyNzI@._V1_Charles Laughton as Georges Simeon’s Inspector Maigret. Franchot Tone plays his criminal nemesis, and Burgess Meredith is in it, too, and directed it. It is the same story as LA TETE D’UN HOMME. The 1950 film was shot in a strange process called Ansco Color, which is interesting at first but wears thin. Tone is cooly calculating and Laughton mugs for the camera most of the time. It’s a slog until the ending on the Eiffel Tower, which is exciting.



MyManGodfrey1936.5794_102520131245William Powell is a man living on the streets who is discovered by Carole Lombard, a wacky rich girl playing a crass game to find the “forgotten man.” She brings him home to be the family butler and falls in love with him. Everyone in it is amazing: a subdued Powell playing a moral man with a mission, Lombard as the strangest, quirkiest rich girl ever put on film, Eugene Pallette as the gruff father, and especially Jean Dixon as Molly, the maid, who is smarter than the rest of them put together. The script is super smart, too. I loved that the social commentary was front and center and unforgiving, but I have to confess I found the romance between Powell, who seems genuinely uninterested in Irene, and Lombard, who is fantastic but unrelentingly odd, unfulfilling. It’s a minor quibble, and the romance isn’t the point of the film anyway. 



pepe-le-moko-1936-10-gJean Gabin as a charismatic French gangster stuck in the Casbah, hiding from police. If he ventures anywhere, he’ll be caught. One night he meets a beautiful French woman slumming while on holiday, falls in love, and longs for what she represents — Paris and freedom. I loved everyone in it, from Gabin to Mireille Balin as his love interest to the cast of hanger ons. The cinematography is fantastic, fit the storytelling. I am curious about some of the lenses used, in some scenes only whatever was dead center of the shot was in focus.



THIS-SPORTING-LIFE-image_1Richard Harris is fantastic as Frank Machin, a loutish Yorkshire rugby player who gets angrier and more brutal the more he gets what he wants. He’s both abused, on the playing field and by the team owners, and abuser, who forces himself on his landlady, played by Rachel Roberts, whom he is desperate to have love him. The film is one of the well-regarded kitchen sink dramas of the ‘60s, filmed in gritty and beautiful B&W. Harris’ performance is so immense and so subtle, it really is incredible. But I think Roberts doesn’t get enough credit. She is every bit his match, both as the character and as an actor, and their scenes together are something to behold. Roberts is the one I keep thinking about long after I watched the film.

Film diary



KES_UNDERTEXT2050-960x0-c-defaultKen Loach’s film about 15 year-old Billy Casper, a downtrodden boy in working class northern England. Billy lives a solitary life while surrounded by people. He lives with his mother and older brother, Jud, who treats him with contempt. At school, he daydreams, drawing the wrath of his teachers and principal, who still uses a cane for discipline. Billy is not exactly an outcast among his classmates but he is bullied, as they all are by the adults in their lives.

Billy takes an interest in kestrels he sees flying in an open area nearby and finds a bookstore, nicks a book, and starts to read about them. He takes one from a nest and keeps it in his shed as he trains it. One day, after the only compassionate teacher at school urges him, Billy tells his rapt classmates about the falcon. The teacher takes an interest, too, after breaking up a fight between Billy and another boy.

From there, the film just broke my heart. The teacher’s genuine interest in Billy lets the boy open up. Up until then, he’s been taciturn, stoic, and funny, but he tells the teacher what he’s been thinking and feeling. And it lets Billy share Kes, his falcon, which he loves and respects and admires. I watched the last half hour of the film with tears in my eyes.

largeI have no idea how Loach got such incredible performances out of everyone, especially David Bradley as Billy. He is in nearly every scene and is authentic in every moment. The scenes with multiple boys, too, are real, which couldn’t have been easy to capture. A lengthly soccer scene and the locker room scene after are documentary-like in their realism. It’s a beautiful film, too, with stunning cinematography. 

KES is one of the best portrayals of youth I’ve ever seen on film, on par with Satyajit Ray’s PATHER PANCHALI.



I See a Dark Stranger (1)Odd film starring Deborah Kerr as a young Irish woman determined to join the IRA and fight the British. When she’s told that’s not going to happen she instead gets mixed up in a German spy ring during the height of WWII. The movie is a mixture of suspense and light comedy with lengthy scenes between eccentric characters, like other British films of the time. Think Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and THE LADY VANISHES. Her British foil and love interest is played by Trevor Howard, but the movie belongs to Kerr. Fun, watchable, quirky.



A spoof of ‘60s spy films. Rod Taylor plays Boysie Oakes, a bumbling nobody who gets recruited by British Intelligence’s Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard) to murder spies. All Rod Taylor and Jill St. John - The LIquidatorOakes wants is the sports car and bachelor pad, and when he can’t bring himself to actually kill anyone, he outsources the hit jobs to hold onto the perks. Jill St. John plays Mostyn’s secretary, Iris MacIntosh, who becomes Oakes lust interest. It’s all silly, sexy, and somewhat stupid. I don’t know if it skewers sexy spy genre tropes any better than other parodies, but everyone is so likable, especially Taylor, who is wonderfully self deprecating. The director is the great cinematographer, Jack Cardiff.

Film diary

Bresson, Review, Silent


A silent film written and directed by Frances Marion and starring Mary Pickford as DW-1sFiUQAAFNCFAngela, a woman whose two brothers go off to war. She lives in a small village on the coast of Italy and operates the lighthouse after her beau leaves to fight, too. One day she finds a man washed up on the rocks who tells her he’s an American.  She takes him in, eventually marries him in a secret ceremony, and later finds out he’s German and has duped her, through her work at the lighthouse, into playing a part in the death of one of her brothers. I loved it. Beautiful cinematography, wonderful acting, compelling story, fantastic score. I highly recommend it, especially if you like silent film. Marion was a prolific screenwriter, and she and Pickford were frequent collaborators and good friends. 



Mouchette’s leads a brutal life. Her family is dirt poor, five of them living, sleeping, eating in a one-room house on a busy road. Her father is a brute, demands the money she makes from a small job, destroys the one moment of joy she has in the film when she meets a boy at the fair. She looks after her dying mother and baby brother who are Mouchette1otherwise forgotten. She attends school, but hates her classmates, throwing dirt at them during recess. I don’t know how Robert Bresson made such a compelling film out of a simple story told so simply. The cinematography is not spectacular, and I don’t mean it’s not good, I mean it’s straightforward, unobtrusive. He trusts his films to non-actors who are somewhat wooden. I’ve read that’s the effect he wanted, that he would do many takes until their performances were drained of emotion.There is little to no music, but there is strong sound. The film is anything but sentimental. Mouchette is surly and sullen, understandably. And, my God, no one cares for her, not her family, not the people in town who treat her with indifference. The scenes at home, when she’s caring for her mother and brother, where there is a modicum of love, are heartbreaking, as is her determination at the end to take her fate into her own hands.

Film Diary

Review, Silent, Welles

Some capsule reviews of films I watched recently, mostly so I can remember I watched them:


v1Stars Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry and directed by Rex Ingram. About two cousins, Valentino and Terry, who fall in love. Valentino loses his fortune and his crazy uncle, Terry’s father, becomes obsessed with money. In the end, Terry inherits it and she and Valentino reunite. Good acting, good cinematography, but story drags from lack of action. Also Valentino inexplicably disappears for half the film.



the-last-of-sheila-cast-herbert-ross-1973James Coburn invites a group of struggling Hollywood players on a yacht cruise to play a sadistic game of cat of mouse. One of them killed his wife in a hit and run accident a year earlier. Entertaining, but a little long and the mystery is not impossible to figure out. A clue in the middle gives it away. The last five minutes, though, are perfection. Also starring James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Richard Benjamin, Joan Hackett, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch. Script by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim!   



The Stranger (1946)
Director:Orson Welles
Shown: Orson WellesDirected by and starring Orson Welles, with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young. Welles is a notorious Nazi who has fled to Connecticut and married unsuspecting Young. Robinson is the Nazi hunter on his trail. Cinematography by Russell Metty is fantastic, the acting is good if not occasionally overwrought, but the plot is preposterous in parts. Young’s character is so willfully in denial she’s impossible to believe, but it’s the writing, not her acting, which is fine. The ending is justifiably famous.