January 6th-Barefoot Contessa from 1954 (Director/Writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien, Cinematography: Jack Cardiff, Runtime: 130 mins)
After a rather rough first week I kick off the 6th day of January with a famous Humohrey Bogart and Ava Gardner picture. Amazing to think I have not watched* a Gardner pic at all last year. This film, told in flashbacks, is about Maria Vargas. She was a Spanish dancer who was persuaded to be in the film by washed up Harry Dawes and financed by a cold millionaire. It tracks her meeting with Dawes, millionaire Kirk, and his associate Oscar. Then we see bits and pieces of her as told from Dawes, Oscar and then a little from her eventual husband.
The film is sort of a mixed bag. I think it opens incredibly strong and then becomes less and less interesting as it goes. However the performances and style keep the film up as an entertaining drama. The first part of the film where Daws and the others arrive to meet Maria is incredibly strong. In fact, almost everything with Bogart and Edmond O’Brien (who plays Oscar) is some of the best on screen. O’Brien would win an Oscar for this performance. Gardner is very good to, as I did not even question her as a native Spaniard. Everyone else is good, just those three stood out.
I think one of the problems, and its something only occured really after seeing a Letterboxd review, there is not a lot of definition to Maria. I am sure I would have worked it out but the quick scan during the final moments of the film made me start thinking of it at that moment. Gardner is very good, very beautiful and graceful, but Maria’s personality is seen through the eyes of everyone else. The courtroom scene washes away her voice in a moment that by the stories definition is incredibly important to the character. It is a little saddening. Still, the hard part is that the final act feels a bit like a drag. Despite all that is a pretty beautiful film to look at. Definitely one of the better movies so far in 2020.
*A clip of Ava Gardner appears in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. I don’t know which film Steve Martin interacted with.
BONUS: Family from 2018 (Director/Writer: Laura Steinel, Stars: Taylor Schilling, Brian Tyree Henry, Bryn Vale, Allison Tolman, Fabrizio Guido, Kate McKinnon and Peter Horton, Cinematography: Michael Simmonds, Runtime: 88 mins)
I listened to Insane Clown Posse in high school. While I was never a full blown juggalo, I do sometimes have the urge to listen to some ICP from time to time. I never understood the hate they recieved, thought the FBI was full of shit when they classified juggalos as a gang, and why I always find their portrayal in media fascinating. Laura Steinel took a popular film trope of workaholic woman disconnected to family and the one episode of Workaholic, tossed it together in a blender and delivered a film I am so happy to have seen.
Kate is a hard working woman pressured to take care of her niece while her brother and sister in law deal with the move of a family member in hospice. ,addie is an outsider. She skips ballet to hang at karate, has no friends in high school and is picked on, just a rough go of it. She meets a teenager who is into Insane Clown Posse while Kate is trying to take care of her. Kate is trying hard to connect with Maddie but also worried about her job. By the way, Kate is a total asshole to people at work. Eventually Maddie runs off to the Gathering of the Juggalos. A infamous festival.
Taylor Schilling is fantastic as Kate. I only seen her on Orange is the New Black (only 4 seasons) and there are times whe she was great on that show but a lot when she was rather frustrating as a character. Her she is such a glorious dick. Bryn Vale is fantastic as Maddie. So full of anger, anxiety and loneliness. Props to Brian Tyree Henry as the karate instructor who crushes every scene. Fantastic cast with Kate McKinnon and a great Natasha Lyonne cameo. This film had me smiling and at times really laughing. Especially any juggalo stuff. Everything surrounding ICP and its fans was well done including the rap groups brief scene.
Story wise its been there done that with a twist. But I don’t care. I loved it. Ate it up. Really enjoyed Kate and Maddies friendship. The film has a very simple aesthetic visually but with tight editing, some great comedic shots and staging looks really good. I had been meaning to watch this since I first saw the trailer in 2018, took me too damn long.
January 7th-Experiment In Terror from 1962 (Director: Blake Edwards, Writers: The Gordons, Stars: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers, and Ross Martin, Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop, Runtime: 123 mins)
Not feeling like doing subtitles tonight I switched around the films and put this one in. A noir thriller from a director best known for comedy. There is nothing funny about this film about a bankteller threatened my a mystery man to rob her job. Kelly Sherwood returns home to be grabbed and threatened by a man who threatens her and her sister. She tries reaching the FBI but is caught and knocked down, threatened. Luckily FBI man Ripley and his team are able to surreptitiously work with Kelly to find this man who seems to know everything about her. They surveil Kelly and sister Toby, bug the phone, have an informant, chase down leads which eventually leads them a killer they can’t find. They interview the killers ex but she is reluctant to help because he has helped with her sons surgery.
This film has the classic noir look in those first few moment between Lee Remick and Ross Martin. wonderfully obscuring his fave as he holds threatens Lee. Lee is fantastic through as she goes along with the caper but also helping the police. The scene where she lets loose on the baddie during a mix up for their meeting was great. Stefanie Powers plays the sister which for a chunk is a part with no meat but when the baddie tricks her into meeting him she delivers in an uncomfortable and dark scene. Then props to Anita Loo. Fucking sucks that Hollywood racism probably prevented this woman much opportunities. She is wonderful, and has a very tricky part. It is a stand out. All through we got Glenn Ford playing the hard nosed investigator with a lot of… Idealism? He never wavers and is dedicated to getting the bad guy. There is no arc for him but doesn’t need to be. Ross Martin is a son of a bitch as the bad guy Red Lynch.
This is a wonderful looking film. A noir on a bigger budget then some noirs get. The last act takes place at a Giants game and we get some beautiful shots throughout that sequence. There are a number of beautiful shots everywhere. It is a very pretty picture. Its a tense film for most of it, though I think it does drag a little in the middle leading into the third act but then it gets right back on board be a thrilling picture. Definitely one of the best films I have seen thus far in 2020.
January 8th-Face Of Another from 1966 (Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara, Writers: Kōbō Abe and based on his novel, Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai, Machiko Kyō and Kyōko Kishida, Cinematography: Hiroshi Segawa, Runtime: 121 mins)
Face of Another is part of the Japanese new wave film movement. A doctor who has his face scarred waxes philosophically while another doctor works to make a special like life mask. The story has a lot going in, actors doing big grand poetic dialogue, and it moves pretty slow. The thing I most appreciated was the visuals. Yes the performances are all good but visually this is a pretty stunning film. From the photography, to the editing and transitions, to just things like the doctors lab. Or how scenes at a bar are lit and staged. Its an industrial nightmare visually. I don’t like this film as much as it is valued but I greatly appreciated every aspect of it.
January 9th-Harper from 1966 (Director: Jack Smight, Writers: William Goldman and Based on and The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald, Stars: Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill and Janet Leigh, Cinematography: Johnny Mandel, Runtime: 121 mins)
Needed more Lauren Bacall.
Perfectly fine film but I was mentally checked out for some reason. Burn out coming early?
DOUBLE FEATURE: January 10th-Death Laid An Egg from 1968 (Director: Giulio Questi, Writers: Guilio Questi and Franco Arcalli, Stars: Ewa Aulin, Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Cinematography: Dario Di Palma, Runtime: 90 mins)
The Case of the Bloody Iris from 1972 (Director: Giuliano Carnimeo, Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Stars: Edwige Fenech and George Hilton, Cinematography: Stelvio Massi, Runtime: 94 mins)
Death Laid an Egg is hard to really describe. Especially as the cut I watched was probably the American edit. The film deals with an exec at a poultry company named Marco. Him and his wife Anna run a new poultry lab. They live with their assistant Gabrielle. So… there is a new feed machine. Marco hires hookers and kills them. Gabrielle and an ad man are playing a game to rid of Marco and Anna because Gabrielle will get their house and money.
This strange giallo leans more into the psychological thriller style with a bizarre set of images, editing and one hell of a score. The high tech poultry lab/farm, shots to the country side and… Well someone online called it a kaleidoscope of images and I guess thats right. One reason I like giallos is the style and this one has style. There are some fantastic imagery coupled with the industrial look of the farm and the style of Anna and Gabrielle. Also, back to that score-what? Very harsh sounds in parts and when it goes softer it still like a dream on the verge of turning into a nightmare.
The story does little for me and I find Jean-Louis Trintignant rather dull as the lead. However the twist that he was not killing the sex workers but rather playing a game was neat. I thought both female leads were fantastic. I also do believe that maybe the full cut which is about 20 minutes longer probably would be a better film. It felt like I was missing something in several scenes. Still, I enjoyed it.
The Case of the Bloody Iris is a famous 70s giallo about models being killed by a gloved killer. A popular theme that runs through. This whodunnit centers around Edwige Fenech as Jennifer. The films originalmtitle, translated from Italian, is Why Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body? which I actually prefer. Police are on the case of the murders and how they are connected to an apartment complex. There is Edwiges ex husband who is the obvious red hering. Some twists and here and there until it all makes sense. Sort of.
I think this ones popularity is entirely due to Fenech. The beautiful actress was a icon of the giallo subgenre but this pales in comparison to the films I watched with her in Ocotber. She’s good, the cast is fine, the set up is okay. It just does not do anything special. It plays rather straight forward and if it was not for the reveal I think it would totally fail. Visually a very generic looking thriller. Lacks the gothic touches of Sergo Martino, or the haunting atmosphere of Mario Bava’s best, and not the vibrance of Dario Argento. It is rather just okay.
January 11th-Underwater from 2020 (Director: William Eubank, Writers: Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, Stars: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, and T.J. Miller, Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli, Runtime: 95 mins)
A bunch of people who were foolish to work on an underwater rig, drilling into the earth, find themselves in a bad situation. How bad? They need to get 7 miles to other part of the rig to get to the escape pods. The path that way means going deeper under water, and walking on the floor. Fuck that.
This film fires off quick. No time wasted. The rig gets busted up as Kristen Stewart and company have to get from point A to B. Its a disaster flick and a horror flick. Stewart is a mechanic, I guess. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the thrill ride and throughout I said ‘nah.’ From crawling through tight spaces. Those underwater suits dealing with all the pressure. The walking on the water and seeing those monsters. Its obstacle after obstacle and it all sucks for the characters. Great for the viewer though.
I really enjoyed this flick. I liked it started hard and kept going. I think Stewart and Jessica Henwick are very good. There were some bits I did get annoyed by. Confused by who was who when we saw the characters in those outfits. The usual horror shenanigans where the characters do somethingnatupid. Still, I was having fun and then mother fucking Cthulu shows up. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the legend itself but it was awesome. I loved how it looked. The nihilistic ending was perfect with Stewarts defiant look at the end. This is going to grow in reputation.
1950s NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE:January 12th-Shadow on the Wall from 1950 (Director: Pat Jackson, Writers: William Ludwig and Based on the story “Death in the Doll’s House” by Lawrence P. Bachmann And Hannah Lees, Stars: Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott, Gigi Perreau and Nancy Davis, Cinematography: Ray June, Runtime: 84 mins)
Mystery Street from 1950 (Director: John Sturges, Writers: Sydney Boehm and Richard Brooks with Story by Leonard Spigelgass, Stars: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett, Elsa Lanchester, and Marshall Thompson, Cinematography: John Alton, Runtime: 93 mins)-crime/comedy
First up the story of a young child who may have witnessed the murder of her stepmom. Her father has been sent away to jail, thinking he accidentally shot his cheating wife after she struck him with a hand mirror. He was unconcious when the police came. A doctor played by future villain Nancy Regean is determined to help the girl but the real killer watches with concern. Mystery Street opens with a bar girl named Vivian looking to contact a mystery man who wants nothing to do with her. She picks up a guy with a car, then eventually ditches him to see the man but is murder. Fast forward to when a detective played by Ricardo Montleban gets assigned to work the case with Boston PD. Teaming with a Harvard doctor who assists the police in forensics. As the police follow the clues through the case the murderer is trying to keep their head down and Vivians landlady looking to do some blackmail.
Shadow on the Wall is a good flick. Noir and psychological thriller. Though not quite hitting the highs I think it could’ve. Zachary Scott and Gigi Perreau as father and daughter are very good. I guess future first lady Nancy Davis is good too. Though some of her methods at trying to help Gigi is questionable. Force the traumatized daughter to recount what she saw. I guess executions did happen quicker in the past. I have mixed feelings on Ann Southern, partially thinking this is a Gloria Grahame role. I think she is okay.
I like the first act the best, the build to murder. Then it sort of gets just okay with its pacing but performances for the most part keep it entertaining. There are some very nice visuals every once in a while, like Anns character imagining the electric chair before she gets her hair done in one of those machines. The big visual cue the films name comes from. I wish there was more. Still, pretty good film with some great ideas.
Mystery Street is classified as a film noir but slightly closer to a police procedural. Its interesting to watch a detective do most everything right and still be frustrated that his most obvious suspect could be innocent and now must keep pushing. We know Montelban did the work, are mad when we know he has the wrong guy, and want him to try harder. He does. Obviously the original suspect is cagey when first approached, then Elsa Lanchester is trying to screw things up so she can blackmail the real killer. Elsa is so hateable in this film. Montelban is pretty likeable though he can be frustrating at times. Sally Forrest who plays the wife of the accused nails her small part so well.
This is an MGM made crime film, and they were not well known for noirs and crime movies. This is supposedly a low budget affair but feels higher budget because of the investigation detail. Even the way the first act, or prologue I guess, leading to Vivians death looks. Visually it has the hallmarks of a noir. I love the scene where the detective and doctor are comparing the skull of the victim with the pictures of missing women, trying to determine who was killed. Its a good looking film. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
BONUS FILM: The Gold Rush from 1925 (Director/Writer/Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Cinematography: Roland Totheroh, Runtime: 95 mins)
I don’t know shit about silent films. I rarely watch them and when I am finished I don’t know if I should have liked it more or less than I did. So I have been dreading getting to Chaplain. Never got around to City Lights when Unspooled cover it and now this one has come for Thursdays episode. So here we are.
Gold Rush has Chaplains Tramp going up to brutal Alaska. He stays at a cabin during a storm with a convict (Tramp is unaware) and a large prospector. Then after he tries to woe a pretty woman, stuff stuff and stuff. Then him and the big prospector go looking for that cabin which is near a mountain of gold. That’s about it I think.
The first act is my favorite with great visual cues and amazing effects work. From a bear following Chaplain, to the wind gags, and the mountain breaking apart it is filled with fantastic moments. Then it keeps going. Tramp shows up in town, dance segment with a woman named Georgia, and some other stuff. There is the scene where he images a party he was expecting to throw. He does that dance using forks and rolls. Its an iconic film moment and its fine. The return to the cabin provides another moment of fascinating effects.
Look, I am not this films audience but its fine. Its probably, rightfully a classic. I just have a hard time with silents.
Thoughts On The Week: Better than last week with some real gems. Though I might have went too high on Family but it was such a breath of fresh air in the midst of everything I was watching. Sometimes formula films work.