Showing posts from June, 2007


As someone who has not seen any Douglas Sirk film made before 1950 (i.e. pre-Universal), I was grateful for an occasion to see Lured (UA/), which has the extra bonus of being a Lucille Ball vehicle.

Often classified as a noir, Lured is more properly a thriller of the anglophile variety, closest in approach to the Sherlock Holmes stories/films. Sandra (Ball) is a ballroom dancer whose friend gets murdered by a serial killer snaring women through personals columns. She agrees to work with the police to lure the killer. There are elements of the gothic tossed in (Sandra falls for an untrustworthy dandy played by George Sanders), though properly speaking the film lacks both the syntax and the semantics of the true women’s gothic. Still, I will say it contains the most fantastic use of Baudelaire in a film this side of Club de Femmes.

The film’s style shares many of the tendencies of Sirk’s later melodramas, particularly in the reliance on deep focus. Staging in depth had become relatively …

Monsieur Verdoux

Over the course of this project, I'm likely to include 1947 films I've already seen to give a rounder sense of the year's output. Sad to say that Monsieur Verdoux is not on the "already seen" list, and this is not the only Chaplin film on my list of shame. It's easy to see why the film's flippant treatment of serial murder was a flop - the black comedy frankly seems ahead of its time and in any case is not a tone sustained through the film. My own assessment is that it's a film with often brilliant moments that fail to cohere into a brilliant whole.

Part of what weighs Verdoux down - yet makes it fascinating - is the yoking together of Chaplin's silent style with elements from whatever prestige style was prevalent in the mid 1940s. Thus, scenes can be staged in shockingly frontal, distant framing in long take (see right), while others use a repeated slight track in, a flourish that comes across as tic more than style.

I'm discovering, too, as …

Good News

I’m not a connoisseur of musicals, but I’d say that Good News (MGM, Charles Walters) is a good example of a lesser-known (i.e. non-canonical) Freed unit musical. High-key, impeccable Technicolor production values, and complex mise-en-scene are matched to a frumpy-girl-gets-the-football-hero romance. (June Allyson as the frumpy girl, Peter Lawford as the football hero). I'm not sure much decoding is needed to figure out that Good News is about the chanelling of men's libido into socially acceptable women, but this strikes me as a subtext that plenty of contemporary viewers might only half get. (Changed courtship rituals undoubtedly undercut support for the musical as genre.)

I’d always known that the musical privileges long takes, following camerawork, and long shots to allow the virtuosity of the dancers’ bodies to show through. What’s striking about Good News is the maintenance of the longtake even when the actors are not dancing a virtuoso performance. Here's this one-min…

The Senator Was Indiscreet

The current penchant for 2 hour 50 minute running times makes me appreciate the taut construction of a 75 minute feature even more. It’s hard to imagine The Senator Was Indiscreet (Nunnally Johnson/Universal, George Kaufman) as a B film, since its star power (William Powell as the senator of the title), its Park Avenue milieu, and its “witty” comedy script suggest first run aspirations. My offhand guess (evidence-free) is that as a Universal film, Senator could fill either slot on a double bill depending on venue.

The film is a political satire. The senator is a na├»ve, absent-minded old man who in Fred Thompson fashion is entertaining a presidential run without actually announcing one. Things get complicated when he loses his personal diary. Ray Collins’ turn as a political boss worried about the diary’s content is particularly engaging. I continue to find remarkable the distinctive political culture of the 1940s, which does find some expression in the topical films. Whereas today the…

The Unconquered

Wow. Having made a specialty of sorts in Twentieth-Century Fox’s postwar films, I’ve gotten use to the promiscuous application of documentary across genres after 1945. But nothing quite prepares for the shock of a Cecil B. DeMille color epic from Paramount that begins with an aerial shot of postwar Pittsburgh and a voice-of-God narrator:
At the forks of the Ohio stands an American city, a colossus of steel, whose mills and furnaces bring forth bone and sinew for a nation.

The film soon discards the documentary, and the present day, and dissolves into a “period” shot of Fort Pitt, backdrop of the French-Indian War (at least that’s what the American textbooks call it).

Actually, The Unconquered is a Western in narrative but a historical film in iconography. Gary Cooper plays another the outsider hero, ruggedly individualist in his morality but committed to the Westward settlement of the English-speaking colonists. Watching so many studio-era films, I sometimes get inured to – accepting o…

The Late George Apley

The Late George Apley (Fox, Joseph Mankiewicz) is the kind of overlooked gem I was hoping to find when embarking on my 1947 viewing. Not that Mankiewicz is an unknown director or that the film was not one of Fox’s more prestige offerings. George Apley, though, has lingered in relative obscurity, without a DVD release. And the advertisement and opening of the film made me fear another sentimental historical drama.

Quickly, it’s apparent that this period tale of a Boston Brahmin family is actually a loving but biting satire of the bluebloods. Maybe it was my years in Boston, but I relished it from start to finish. In any event, the satire gives the film a chance to take the class-sexuality nexus that seems the stock and trade of classic Hollywood melodrama and give them geographic and historical specificity as a moment in the transition to modernity. George Apley (Ronald Colman) is a Brahmin whose children’s love interests threaten to spoil the social arrangement goal of marriage.

The au…