Thursday, March 31, 2011

Men We Love: Errol Flynn

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Have you seen the episode of Quantum Leap where Sam leaps into a rancher? It's a pretty crucial part of our cultural history, what with Sam inspiring Buddy Holly and all.  But it's also what I kept thinking of while watching this movie for the first time tonight.  There's a scene where the sweet science of calf roping is explained that has stuck with me for whatever reason.  It's said that the most important thing is that you pick a calf and follow it; it's apparently a novice mistake to let yourself get distracted and keep going after whichever one happens to be the closest.  I can't help but think that Sam Raimi could have learned a little something if he'd also leapt into a rancher before making this film.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)

Although Fred Astaire would never again reach the same level of charm and appeal with another partner as he did with Ginger Rogers in the 1930's, he certainly gave it a good run all the same. After moving from RKO to MGM in 1939, Astaire partnered with some of the finest dancers in the business, although after Ginger he never worked with the same girl for more than two films. Astaire's list of leading ladies in the 40's and 50's reads like a role call of the most talented and glamorous actresses in Hollywood, and, naturally, the best dancers: Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, Jane Powell, Vera-Ellen, Leslie Caron, Audrey Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, and my personal favorite: Eleanor Powell, in Broadway Melody of 1940.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Comedies and Proverbs: Pauline at the Beach (1983)

Amanda Langlet as Pauline and Arielle Dombasie as Marion

Pauline at the Beach is, by a wide margin, the sexiest film in either of Éric Rohmer's two major series.  Although there is a sexual subtext to all twelve films, as his protagonists struggle in words and thoughts to manage their love lives, the intellectualism of his characters (and Rohmer's own approach to filmmaking) gives an almost asexual appearance to their romantic shenanigans.   Sure, there were momentary blasts of eroticism throughout the moral tales: the fetishistic appeal of Claire's Knee, the tremendous temptation in My Night at Maud's, and the earthy sexuality of Chloe in Love in the Afternoon.  But each of the men in those films saw his lust as the enemy of his happiness.  Here on the beach, however, the five leads all embrace their libido and are simply looking for the best way to keep their hearts safe while satisfying their desires.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Women We Love: Virginie Ledoyen

His Picture in the Papers (1916)

Douglas Fairbanks as Pete Prindle, looking for his name in the paper. It isn't there.

I generally find that I know more or less what to expect from a film before I see it. I may not know if I will like it or not, although I usually have a pretty good idea of that too, but seldom does a film surprise me as much as this one did. His Picture in the Papers is clever and original (what movie wasn't at least a little original in 1916?); it is quirky, unpredictable, and utterly charming, a tale of love, advertising, and vegetarian cooking. What more could you ask?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

Some writers, like Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward in their Film Noir encyclopedia, have claimed that film noir is a "wholly American film style."  For many, film noir can only refer to the set of black and white American crime films produced during, and in the first decade and a half following,  WWII -- the films to which French critics first applied the label.   With all due respect to Silver and Ward, whose book demands a place on the shelves of any serious film fan, we don't cotton to that around here.  It's all fine, well and good for film historians in love with typologies to narrowly define and sub-divide genres all they want; I'm sure it makes a great parlor trick to impress the ladies.  But I don't see much use for that way of thinking.  As my grandfather probably never said, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's probably a duck, or at least an advanced robotic simulation of a duck."  So film fans interested in following the hunted men and dangerous women through shadowy urban mazes are bound to eventually find themselves in spaces far removed from post-war America.  The noir thread continues, of course, in subsequent American films like Blade Runner and Brick, but it also crosses the oceans to be woven into the tapestries of other national cinemas.  In England, for example, the filmmakers at Hammer Studios developed the skills in gloomy atmospherics that would make the studio's name synonymous with horror while working on assembly line noirs.  In France, Jean-Pierre Melville would meld the genre with a chilly existentialism that elevated it to high art.  And in Japan, there was Nikkatsu.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

We were devastated today to learn of the passing of the great Elizabeth Taylor today at the age of 79.  She was a genuine icon, one of the greatest stars of her generation, and the world is poorer without her.  Our sincerest condolences to her family.

Doctor Jack (1922)

Harold Lloyd as Dr. Jack, with a monkey

A lot of people don't remember (or, considering that pretty much none of us were alive at the time, never knew) that there was a third slapstick comedian of the silent era who, if not of the same caliber artistically as Chaplin and Keaton, was far more successful financially. I'm talking, of course, of Harold Lloyd, the gangly, bespectacled man-boy who always seemed to be tripping over his own feet and yet, when push came to shove, could scale the side of an twelve floor department store with the best of them. Lloyd's movies were so successful that although he was virtually retired by 1935, he was still able to comfortably live out his remaining thirty-six years in quiet retirement at his Hollywood mansion, complete with 44 bedrooms, 26 bathrooms, and a nine-hole golf course. Not a bad life, eh?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comedies and Proverbs: A Good Marriage (1982)

Béatrice Romand as Sabine

It speaks volumes about the consistency of the Comedies and Proverbs series that I can think of solid arguments for why five of the six films might, in fact, be the best in the series (Full Moon in Paris is far from a bad film, but...well, more on that in a couple of weeks).  It seems that, to some extent, my favorite film in this rich era of Rohmer's career is whichever one I'm thinking about at the moment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Women We Love: Veronica Lake

Wild and Woolly (1917)

Douglas Fairbanks as Jeff Hillington in his New York City apartment.

In Wild and Woolly, Douglas Fairbanks plays Jeff Hillington, the son of a New York railroad magnate. He is obsessed with the Old West. Certifiably obsessed. His home and office have been turned into vast playgrounds for his hobby. He has tee-pees, six-shooters, model horses, and enough campy wild west paraphernalia to fill the Fort Worth stockyards twice over. Everyone around him simply accepts that he's a bit of a nut, and they humor his fantasies enough to get by (he is the boss's son, and those six-shooters are loaded, after all).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Men We Love: Rudolph Valentino

R.I.P. Michael Gough: 1916-2011

Michael Gough in Horror of Dracula 
Brilliant British character actor Michael Gough passed away today at the age of 94.  Although best remembered by American movie-goers as Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's Batman films, Gough's career spanned 62 years and he contributed enormously to countless films.  From numerous roles in Hammer Horror pictures, to recent voice-over work in the likes of The Corpse Bride, Gough's mannered British charm was always a delight.  He will be missed.

Both of us here at Spellbound Cinema send our best wishes and sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones, especially his wife Henrietta.

The Night of the Hunted (1980)

Brigitte Lahaie and Dominique Journet

Many of the films of Jean Rollin, especially the early vampire films and gothic masterpiece The Iron Rose, seem to take place in a present haunted by an inescapable past.  His protagonists may begin the films confident professionals, career criminals, or bored intellectuals, but once they set foot outside their comfort zones they're inevitably confronted by the same reality.  Rollin's is a world in which the countryside is dotted with decaying castles and villas, resplendent in their faded glamour.  A seductive world in which death is but a prolonged dusk and curses may haunt for generations.  And most importantly a world in which a beach of rugged beauty that promises the infinite, glimpsed in childhood, becomes a stage for transformation and rebirth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For Me and My Gal (1942)

Judy Garland as Jo Hayden

Magic. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch For Me and My Gal; from the first chord of the title song I’m hooked. Gene Kelly is a two-bit comic vaudeville dancer, who has decided that a double act with Judy Garland is his ticket to fame and fortune. The fact that she is already part of a team doesn’t bother him much. “You had me pegged,” he tells her, “I’m never gonna win any blue ribbons for being a nice guy.” He’s right, too. Kelly’s character proves time and again in this film that he is pretty much a worthless cad. Fortunately, Kelly himself is likable enough to pull it off, so we root for him anyway.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comedies and Proverbs: The Aviator's Wife (1981)

Two very amateur detectives

After the international success of his Six Moral Tales series,  French director Éric Rohmer took an unexpected left turn in the 1970's.  Whereas the moral tales had focused on the lives and loves of contemporary youth in France with a naturalistic veracity that bordered on neo-realism, the three features he released between 1973 and 1980 were each lushly appointed period pieces.  He would return to the style on which he made his name, however, in 1981 when he launched his second series, Comedies and Proberbs, with the film The Aviator's Wife.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Gaucho (1927)

Douglas Fairbanks as The Gaucho, perched on his horse.

The Gaucho is Fairbanks at his very finest. He was in the best shape of his life. His stunt sequences had been getting progressively more elaborate throughout his career, and by 1927 were just dazzling. Raw athleticism combined with his rugged good looks and boyish charm made Fairbanks a joy to watch. It is not that he is stronger or more agile than other performers. Impressive as his work is, it would not be hard to find a dozen performers who could duplicate any of his on-screen acrobatics. No, it is not the technical difficulty of his performance that makes him legendary but the grace and pizazz he brings to his feats of skill. It almost seems, at times, that extra tables surely are put into every film set just so Fairbanks will have more props to leap over effortlessly, a wide grin on his face the whole time.