My Week of Films – September 26 to October 5, 2019

Here are five films ranging from 1946 to 2018:

So Dark the Night (1946) was made just following the end of WWII.  I selected this film solely based on its ominous-sounding title.  The first thing I noted as the credits began to roll was that it was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, whose two most famous films would have been Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955).  What a nice surprise, I thought.  The cast was made up of actors I was not familiar with, although the lead, Steven Geray, looked somewhat familiar.  But maybe, I thought, it was because his voice reminded me of Peter Lorre. But more about Geray next week.

The opening scene is a far cry from the idea that forms in your mind by the title.  It has a cheerful melody and the main character, Detective Henri Cassin, appears to be a likable, mild-mannered, almost bland sort of person.  However, he is famous throughout France as a great detective, with a perfect record of solving murders.  It’s time for our famous detective to take a restful holiday, so off he goes to a small town on the French coast where he’s booked into a local inn run by a married couple with a mature looking 20-something-year-old daughter and their female bartender and all-’round servant.  The bartender, a widow, is interested in the detective, but the mother of Nanette has other thoughts of who should attend to the needs of their guest.  With her daughter’s agreement, she throws her into the path of Henri, who we come to decide, has little experience with women.  They go on long walks together, she confides and romances him, and just when he understands that she is interested in him, her fiance, farmer Leon, who she’s been betrothed to since they were children, appears on the scene.  Not a happy-seeming person to begin with, he is far from content to discover that Nanette has been spending time with the famous detective.  But not only that, he’s an intense and fairly creepy guy, especially when he mutters to Nanette just after an embrace, that he would rather see her dead than see her with another man.

Nanette promises to continue to be faithful to him and immediately takes up with Henri again once Leon leaves his farm for several days to make a delivery in another part of the county.  Henri finds it hard to believe but is thrilled that this younger woman loves and wants to marry him.  He constantly refers to the fact that there is a wide age difference although you don’t really notice it yourself.  He’s probably about 15 years older than her, but he’s a youngish looking man for his years, not particularly virile-looking, especially compared to Leon. But even if Nanette believes she loves him, she’s also attracted to his fame and the fact that he lives in Paris.

So when Leon returns on the night of the couple’s engagement party, he’s not a happy camper.  Weirdly, it takes just one word from him and Nanette obeys his command to leave the party with him.  And she never returns alive.

So instead of a pleasant, peaceful holiday, Detective Cassin is back at work with the help of the local police who have little experience with murder.

I think you are supposed to figure things out on your own before the revelation occurs, but it’s a twisted little crime story and the ending is rather dramatic.

A noticeable moment for me was when Nanette’s father, who is wrought with emotional pain, cries beneath a religious symbol.  It’s not often you see men in tears.

This is just a further example of what an interesting director Joseph Lewis was.  He certainly had an eye for stories that were less ordinary.

Next, I chose Candy (1968) directed by Christian Marquand.  I read the book when I probably shouldn’t have (in my teenage years) and found it both titillating and distasteful.  Obviously, this book wasn’t written for someone like me.  I imagine it was written exclusively for men back when it was published in 1958, especially since I know it was my dad who I snuck a copy from when I read it way back when.  But what I gleaned from watching the film is that if I were to read it now, I would understand that this novel was a satire.  It was written by Terry Southern who wrote, credited or uncredited, screenplays for Dr. StrangeloveThe CollectorThe Loved OneThe Cincinnati KidCasino RoyaleBarbarellaThe Magic Christian (which was also based on his novel), and the nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Easy Rider (1969).

 

How can you resist a film that features two John Astins, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, John Huston and Marlon Brando?  My son, who watched a bit of it with me and is majorly into boxing, recognized Sugar Ray Robinson.  Anita Pallenberg, who I’ve seen countless times in Performance, was there too.

 

What is most striking about the film is that it’s kind of dull.  The satire is so vague and the porn so light that the film just feels tedious.  Candy is just what her name implies.  A yummy looking teenager who appears so naive and surprisingly uneducated, considering her father, played by John Astin, is a mathematics teacher, but understands that by performing sex acts with any man who wants her (which is pretty well everybody), that she is fulfilling a much needed and important societal role.  It’s also obvious from the first moment that somehow this all American girl, played by Ewa Aulin, has a European accent.  Oh, “pish posh” as my son would say with the wave of his hand when you’re concerned about something of little significance.  I know Candy’s last name, Christian, has some relevant meaning, but whether it’s something deeper than that she’s good “Christian” candy or that one day a French actor named Christian would direct the film, I can’t be sure.

What must have been the big attraction for anyone to act in this movie is that it was a) filmed in Italy and France, so lo, an all-expense-paid-for vacation by the production company; and b) that there was abundantly more sex, drugs, rock and roll and psychedelia happening off the set than on.  Who could resist any of these perks?  Certainly actor/writer Buck Henry couldn’t when they asked him to join the team to write the screenplay on a day-to-day basis.  And like Easy Rider, the soundtrack was pretty cool featuring music by Steppenwolf and Traffic.

Separating each scene and actor, what stood out for me was how terrible Ringo Starr was as the Mexican Gardiner/wannabe Priest, what a great orator and possibly even greater drunk Richard Burton was, and how weird and kind of wonderful it was to see Marlon Brando in such a comedic role, even if it was a failed comic role.  Coburn and Huston were just there, Huston somewhat larger than life, but both just walking through their roles.  It was truly bizarre to see Walter Matthau in this film, spewing out his insane lines.  I like John Astin and it was good to see him thrown into this mix in the dual role of two distinct brothers, each one equally perverse in his own introverted and extroverted way.

While watching the film, I remembered reading there was also a hunchback, incidentally played by French actor Charles Aznavour, but I didn’t remember anything else about his character.  Just that he too is a beneficiary of Candy’s do-goodness.

The climax (yes, that is intended) to the story brought back how distasteful I thought the story was when I read it as a teen.  Watch if you have two hours of time you need to kill.  Or like me, you will watch a film for film’s sake, especially one that was made in the year of the demise of the Production Code.

Next, I continued on with my Shelley Winters film viewing.  It was also another film made in her svelte period, A Double Life (1947) where she plays a common waitress against Ronald Colman’s intellectual actor.  I saw the film many years ago and had it on my list to rewatch for several years.  I’m sure it’s me, but I found it a bit long and sometimes tedious.  The best parts were the few scenes with Shelley.  It was directed by George Cukor and the screenplay was written by the husband and wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.

Ronald Colman is a huge Broadway star and he’s seduced back into playing the role of Othello with his friend and ex-wife played by Signe Hasso.  But Anthony John (Colman) has a psychological problem: he becomes the character he plays.  Othello has a three-year run, so you can only imagine!  What was subtle was the length of time he and Pat’s (Winters) relationship went on for.  If it was three years, then she was a more patient woman than she seemed she could or ought to have been, and if it wasn’t, then I missed something.  I was also under the impression that she never figured out who he was throughout this three-year affair.  Okay, I realize she couldn’t Google him, and probably she was supposed to be discreet–although her character didn’t appear to think discreet was something she could live with for any length of time–but you’d think she would have eventually figured it out.

I like Edmond O’Brien, and he had the supporting role of the manager, with his character inappropriately named Bill Friend since he wants to be more than that to Brita (Hasso), who’s possibly/maybe still in love with her ex.

Still, this is a film of a definite period, with important actors, written by an impressive team.

I was adding notes to the Toronto Film Society website and when I came across the ones for The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), I thought it was time I see this Academy Award-winning film.  Directed by Cecille B. DeMille about the circus, it stars a number of famous actors: DeMille favourites Charlton Heston and Henry Wilcoxon, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, James Stewart and Lawrence Tierney, along with a huge cast of circus performers.

Stewart’s role seemed unusual for him but I bet he enjoyed playing an out-of-the-ordinary clown with a secret motivation.  Betty Hutton tried to tone it down but that’s sometimes hard for her to do.  She was a wee bit miscast as a trapeze artist.  Charlton Heston is handsome, caring but practical, and misunderstood as ever he was.  Gloria Grahame had a squeakier voice than I ever recalled her having although she was nice on the eyes while Dorothy Lamour fit in perfectly as a circus performer.  There’s a cute little cameo with her buddies Bob and Bing that you don’t want to blink through and miss.  Lawrence Tierney looks good in Technicolor, playing a small but typical bad man role.  My favourite was Cornel Wilde as a competing trapeze artist to Betty Hutton.  He played The Great Sebastian with an enchanting accent and perfect physique.  When an accident causes some physical damage, I almost laughed.

There is much earnestness amongst the cast of characters and with the entertaining climactic ending involving a trainwreck, everyone’s life is resolved one way or another.

DeMille’s longtime mistress Julia Faye has the role of Birdie whose noted dialogue with Lamour as Sebastian approaches is the one major DeMille quip reminiscent of his bygone pre-Code somewhat insane films. Lamour: “Why is it whenever he’s around I’m all wet?”  Faye: “In more ways than one.”  Surprised the censors let that one slip by.

DeMille was the narrator throughout the film with one exception.  The final “bark” is made by Edmond O’Brien, and although I was happy to see him, it surprised me.  How did that happen, I wonder?  Did he want to be included in the film, no matter how infinitesimal a role; did DeMille want him but being busy on other films, he only had a moment to do this five-second spot; DeMille could only afford to pay him a pittance; O’Brien asked for an amount outside DeMille’s budget (did DeMille have a budget he never exceeded?); they were chummy and both thought it would be a joke to have O’Brien in the final moment?  Who knows, but it kind of stuck out for me.

Did this film deserve to win the award for Best Picture?  It ran against High NoonIvanhoeMoulin Rouge, and The Quiet Man.  I guess it had as good a chance as any of those.

Last Saturday, a couple of us got together at Andrea’s again.  Andrea had suggested other films more up my alley whose titles don’t pop into my head at the moment, but in the end, those two, not me, chose the 2018 film Hearts Beat Loud.  The two things that it had going for it in my humble opinion was that it featured Toni Collette and Ted Danson.  I don’t like a lot of new film because, frankly, I find them boring.  This was a typical example.  Writers Marc Basch and Brett Haley (who was also the director) thought it would be interesting to film a story about a widowed father who ran a failing video/music store and wants to form a band with his daughter, which would resurrect what he did in his heyday.  His pretty daughter is 20-something, a med-student, can sing and write songs and acts more like the parent.  Oh, she’s also mixed since her mother was black, and, oh, also she’s a lesbian.  There’s also a mentally unstable grandmother (Blythe Danner, who I never particularly cared for) while Toni Collette is the store’s landlord and potential love interest (for the father). Eventually and fluke-ally, one of the daughter’s songs makes it onto Spotify.  Does being on Spotify bring you fame?  Wouldn’t YouTube be better?

Even if you think the above sounds like an interesting story, what I suspected before even watching it, and why this film didn’t work, was because the dialogue was so boring.  What really makes a great film is the screenplay.  Yes, you do need a good story, director and actors but what people have to say is the most important aspect.

Anyway, the best part about choosing this film was that I didn’t actually have to pay much attention, and could talk through it (which is a sin when watching any other film) and then didn’t care that I had no idea how it ended.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s