The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)

The_Farmer's_Daughter_(1947_film).jpgWhatever our criticisms of the previous generations, there’s still something within me that sees something uniquely compelling about films of old. Hollywood in the 30s and 40s could sugar coat, they could oversell the drama, but there was also a general decency that pervaded many of those films.

The cynical edge of dirty politics and corruption was given credence but more often than not, all that was good would win out in the end. Is it realism? Certainly not. Is is dated? Probably so. But there’s something overwhelmingly pleasant about a film like The Farmer’s Daughter for the very reasons mentioned above.

Our heroine is intelligent, plucky, and sincere. She’s from good Scandinavian stock which not only explains her vitality but informs a bit of her work ethic and her constant handle on what is right and true. That’s something we could always use more of today. A bit more of those core values sprinkled into our upbringings. It’s not informed by pride, or entitlement, selfishness or greed. It cares about what is good for all people and looks to be honest in all circumstances. To her credit, Loretta Young embodies all those qualities with a profound earnestness.

Katrin (Young) makes her way into the spotlight after acquiring a position as a maid for a local political dynasty after losing her hard-won funds for nursing school to a local swindler.  Still, in the home of Agatha Morley (Ethel Barrymore) and her son the promising young senator Glenn Morley (Joseph Cotten), Katrin soon makes a strong first impression.

She proves to be a gifted woman not only in doing housework but also in ice skating, with Swedish massages, making glogg, and much more. She’s also politically astute and though she lacks education her practical upbringing allows her to see every individual in practical terms. She bases none of her opinions on hearsay, ad campaigns, or newspaper spreads. Her thoughts come from what she’s heard first hand and what officials have done in the past. She’s also an impeccable judge of character.

The most obvious tension running through the film is the fact that Glenn is slowly growing attached to Katrin for the very reasons mentioned previously. Although he already has a bit of a fling with a local reporter who is smitten with him. But the real problems come into being when a seat opens up in the house and the incumbent’s choose to back an unscrupulous career politician.

Katrin sees right through him and openly grills him at a town hall meeting. Now the opposition is calling on this young woman to be their candidate and she agrees to run against her employers. She’s crossing political lines because she constantly exercises her freedom to do as she sees fit. That is her prerogative after all. Glenn in one sense is incensed by her decision but he’s also madly in love with her and he has to make a choice.

A raucous screwball finale turns out to be surprisingly gratifying given the sentimentality and political drama that provide most of the film’s makeup. The comedy is also bolstered by the generally open-minded and wryly amused Ethel Barrymore who looks at all the unfoldings in front of her with a bit of a glint in her eye. Meanwhile, Charles Bickford’s gruff charm as the valet Mr. Clancy serves as the perfect foil for Katrin’s affability. Because he’s really a good man as well.

The Farmer’s Daughter might turn some modern viewers off for a purported simplistic view–a film of overt goodness where the woman ends up with the man who in turn allows her to succeed. But what is wrong with a good Joseph Cotten and an effervescent Loretta Young? A dose now and then can hardly be considered harmful.

What struck me was a timeless statement that Mrs. Morley teases out of the crooked Mr. Finley. He’s opposed to things that don’t meet his definition of “100% Americanism” and it’s a very narrow view. Namely whites, no foreign-born, and the right kind of religion. Ironically, 70 years later we are still guarding against such poisoned intentions. Because if anything, Katrin represents in a small way a great deal of what makes America great. Let us not forget that.

3.5/5 Stars

 

The Third Man (1949): Out of the Rubble

the third man 1Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. 

Great films ring anew each time you see them. Or in this case, they twang with the oddly disconcerting strains of zither strings. The Third Man is such a film that continually asserts itself as one of the golden classics of the 1940s. But we must set the scene.

There’s an image of a great city–a formerly great city–blown up, diced up, and quartered. The first syllable of dialogue glibly carrying a twinge of irony lays the groundwork for the entire plot really. This is Post-war Vienna. It’s where the blown out buildings strewn with rubble can exist with the elegant remnants of royal dynasties. A land of black marketeering and shifty-eyed collaboration between wartime allies. It’s deception and ambiguity to the nth degree not only evident in the people but the very social structure they find themselves in. Everyone’s got an angle, a secret to hide, and a reason to hide it. There’s a consistently fine line between right and wrong and the storyline is ripe with incongruities and dissonance that, if nothing else, are disconcerting.

It struck me that this is the original Chinatown except it doesn’t simply act as a mere metaphor. We actually get enveloped in the atmospheric Vienesse world that feels invariably gaunt and hollow. It’s a world that’s flipped upside down and with the hapless American western pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) as our guide, we become just as mixed up as he does.

He’s come to the town for the prospects of a job offered by an old school chum Harry Lime. But Harry’s not there to meet him. In fact, Harry’s not anywhere. He’s dead. But everything is clouded with that same ambiguity. The military police led by Inspector Calloway (Trevor Howard) and his right hand man (Bernard Lee) are still investigating Lime’s prior dealings on the black market in tainted penicillin. Meanwhile, Martins obviously goes blundering around trying to learn anything he can because these men are obviously incompetent. He scouts around for eyewitnesses and several of Lime’s acquaintances. Most of all he’s taken with Harry’s gal Anna (Valli) who is also torn apart by the death of her Harry. They bond over that although Holly soon becomes infatuated with her as she remains in love with a man who is gone forever.

This is the disorienting world that we are thrown into by Graham Green and director Carol Reed. Where heaven is down and hell is up. Ferris Wheels ever turning, rotating through their cycles. Dutch angles giving every figure a contorted view. We never see anyone for their face value and we can never assume anything. Because there’s always something lurking in the shadows.

the third man 2Joseph Cotten is surprisingly compelling as the poor, unfortunate stiff and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him in his ignorance because we can relate with him. Alida Valli is striking as the aloof beauty who nevertheless has an unswerving affection for her former love that remains the only joyous thing in her current existence. Then, of course, there’s Orson Welles as the charismatic myth of a man–arguably the most intriguing supporting character there ever was even if it’s mostly thanks to the legend created by those who knew him.

Meanwhile, Carol Reed’s film is stylish and simultaneously dingy around the edges another gritty entry in the annals of film noir with some of the most beautifully pronounced shadows in the history of film. The final setpiece through the dank cavernous underworld of the Viennese sewers is a fitting place for the Third Man’s climatic moments to play out. It epitomizes all that has been going on above ground so far.

Then in a strikingly Deja Vu moment, the story ends much as it began in the exact same place with the exact same people but now there is so much more tension underlying each character. Feelings now buried in the dirt.

And in his final shot, Reed is fearless. He plays a game with the audience, giving them their final shot but instead of bringing it to a rapid conclusion he lets the gravity of the situation sink in before it’s gone in a fit of wistful melancholy. It ends as all films noir should with one man dead, another man smoking a cigarette, and the girl walking off with neither of them. It’s about as bleak as you can get but then again we’ve already spent the entire film getting accustomed to this lifestyle. This is only a day in the life of a city like Vienna. This is what life is in a post-war zone.

5/5 Stars

Note: I will say that I rewatched the film on Netflix and I would vehemently dissuade others from doing the same (at least if they’ve never seen The Third Man before). Because one major change they made that you would hardly even think about is adding subtitles in some crucial moments. When I saw the film multiple times before the lack of subtitles only added to my general sense of confusion in the face of ambiguities, much like Holly Martins faces himself. Subtitles take some of that away from us as an audience. In this case, the subtitles are tantamount to colorizing black & white movies or resorting to pan and scan. They can easily ruin the experience.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

portrait-of-jennie-3The strands of our lives are woven together and neither time nor the world can break them.

From the outset, you get a sense from the grand philosophical dialogue and imagery that we are being treated to a classical Hollywood precursor to Terence Malick’s Tree of Life. Quotes from Euripides and Keats flash over the screen. Profound questions are brought to the fore. What is time? What is space? What is life? What is death?

And it is somehow a spiritual film and not because of convents or biblical references. It’s a different type of spirituality — more elusive than a simple description. It’s summarized by the early supposition that each person must find their own faith. You must learn how to care deeply about something. And these initial suggestions give a hint to the film’s intention although the rest rolls out in more typical Hollywood fashion courtesy of David O. Selznick.

Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is one of those starving artists types who gets very little monetary value out of his creative vocation as a painter. Although initially brusque, he does receive some encouragement from a pair of veteran art dealers (Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway) and for the majority of the film, they remain buttresses to his career.

They see a spark of talent in this man — though not fully realized — there’s something there that can develop into something beautiful. Perhaps they see the landscapes like he does, where the images of the world are literally on canvass (Director William Dieterle denotes this phenomenon well).

portrait-of-jennie-2But it’s a chance encounter with a young girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones) that gives Eben the type of inspiration that every artist dreams of because it’s precisely this spontaneous spark of joyous energy he needs to add something vibrant to his own life. In her constantly evolving role, Jennifer Jones exudes an effervescence, a certain radiance in body and spirit that lights up the screen in embodying this apparition of a girl.

She meets Adams first near a park bench, then doing whirly-birds on the ice rink. They continue to have these little moments together made up of chance encounters and pieces of fate. Although the film hardly gets to explore the idea, Portrait of Jennie plays with time for the sake of love. And it conveniently allows its two characters to meet each other at very different reference points in life. For him, it’s only a few days. For her she’s no longer a young girl, now blossoming into a mature young woman. And that is part of the tantalizing charm. Their chemistry flourishes. It becomes evident that much of romance is made up out of memories, these little fleeting moments of joy in being together.

It’s fantasy aspects make it a fine companion piece to the Ghost and Mrs. Muir as well. Light, passionate, moving, all those things. Yes, its conclusions on love are more than soppy, but a little soppiness does wonders in this cynical world we find ourselves in presently.

Out of context, it sounds ludicrous that Adams pilots a boat out into a New England gale for no reason except that it is the last place Jennie was seen. But interestingly enough, this conclusion hardly feels out of the ordinary since we intuitively know that Eben is going where he needs to, or at least where the film suggests he needs to go. And it’s not terrifying in all its technicolor glory because those apprehensive feelings easily give way to the raw majesty of it all — the pure awesomeness of the crashing waves — the churning forces of natures.

In these moments the film reaches its crescendo of love while also coming full circle to its opening prologue. But there’s something inside of me that feels unfulfilled with this ending. There’s a hollowness. Eben and Jennie had something together but what is it exactly, is difficult to comprehend completely. Eternal, no. Immortal, no. It’s only a moment. That is all.

portrait-of-jennie-1I find that despite his pedigree Joseph Cotten still comes off as an underrated actor and with each film I see him, I enjoy him immensely. Maybe for those very qualities. He’s not altogether handsome but he has a pleasant face. His voice isn’t the most formidable or debonair but it does have character. The supporting players lend some Irish flair to the cast and it’s striking that everyone from Ethel Barrymore to Lilian Gish glows with a certain hope. There is no obvious antagonistic force in this film. Eben Adams found his inspiration — the muse of a lifetime — and that passion is enough to lay the foundations of a film.

In some ways, I am discontent with the actual portrait of Jennie. The film acts as a better portrait of who she was as we continually get small swatches of her personality and glimpses into her character. In comparison, that painting seems little more than an austere shell. It lacks the same joyous vibrancy of the woman it was hoping to capture. That is to Jones’ own credit but to the detriment of the story. The painting lacks the same aura of the film.

3.5/5 Stars

Niagara (1953)

800px-Marilyn_Monroe_NiagaraRainbows, the soft misting of waterfalls, and honeymooning couples going through the tunnel of love. It hardly feels threatening at all, but that’s what makes film-noir so delicious. As the film style most reflective of the human condition, it proves that the dark proclivities and jealousies of the human heart can crop of anywhere–even a gorgeous tourist trap like Niagara Falls.

Niagara’s frames are composed of grandiose and lush imagery, and the film is greatly aided by on location shooting which develops an even more engaging world for this technicolor noir to take place.

Joseph Cotten takes on a menacing role as the tortured husband, his most notable ominous turn since Shadow of a Doubt, however, a tad more sympathetic. Meanwhile, Marilyn Monroe takes a turn as a seductive siren, the other half of this troubled couple spending a weekend at a Niagara Falls Cabin B.

She’s given plenty of screen time to strut her stuff and though early in her career, she would soon enough be catapulted to stardom forevermore with the likes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. As they often say, the rest was history and more so than that, she indeed made history.

If you look at her performance as Rose, while not her most enduring, it still catches the eye, due to the way she carries herself–even how she walks down a cobblestone road. You cannot help but be at least moderately mesmerized by her whole image.There was no one before or after, quite like her. She was a singular figure with no true equal.

Jean_Peters_mends_Joseph_Cotten's_hand_in_Niagara_trailer_1Without a question, Jean Peters becomes our favorite character as Polly, and it was an eye-opening for me personally to see her in a role so vastly different than Pickup on South Street. I had pigeon-holed her, rather erroneously as such a character, but Niagara shows a more tempered side to her persona that felt more representative of her as an actress. Max Showalter plays her husband, the genial and oblivious Ray Cutler, who takes his lovely wife on a long overdue honeymoon, only to have it totally ravaged thanks to the Loomises.

Henry Hathaway as per usual is a capable filmmaker, who utilizes his stars and location quite well. Charles Brackett builds this conflict between a vacationing husband and wife with his script, but it really is the visuals that elevate it to the heights of a surprisingly compelling noir. The scenes within the catacombs of the falls and at the very edge of the drop off are of particular note–both beautiful and raging in the same instance. The climactic moments between a lurking husband and his fleeing wife in the clock tower are also remarkably stylish, reflecting how a color film can still style drip with noir sentiment.

It’s a film checkered in shadows and bathed in darkness as much as it is rainbows. In some ways, that makes it all the more harrowing. Colors don’t necessarily make everything bright and cheery, they distract from what is really going on, and in this case, the falls prove to be more than an opportune locale for a honeymoon…and murder. 

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Teresa_Wright_and_Joseph_Cotten_in_Shadow_of_a_Doubt_trailerIt is well documented that Shadow of a Doubt was Hitchcock’s personal favorite of his own films. That’s quite a telling statement when you do a quick scroll through some of the titles up for contention. Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Notorious, even The Birds. And yet the famed “Master of Suspense” chose the often glossed over Shadow of a Doubt.  If we take a slightly closer look it makes a great deal of sense as the film follows through with one of Hitch’s most prominent credos, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

That’s, in fact, a great deal of what Shadow of a Doubt is. It’s the cringe-inducing anticipation for what is bound to happen. The inevitable that is plain as day, except not everyone sees it so clearly. But that’s enough ambiguity.

The story opens in a depressed urban city with Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten) laid out pensively on his bed. Dollar bills are scattered haphazardly across his floor. Soon he learns two men want to talk with him, and he’s not about to get acquainted so he gives them the slip and heads to the one decent place he can think of. Santa Rosa, California, the peaceful abode of his older sister Emma and her family.

What we learn over time is that Charlie is known at large as the “Merry Widow Murderer,” because he has strangled three such women and taken their valuables. Hitchcock playfully alludes to the fact by opening his film with the “Merry Widow Waltz” and it will pop up throughout the entire story if you’re paying attention.

shadow-of-a-doubt-trainHis train comes barreling towards town with smoke spewing ominously. For now, his oblivious family is just happy to see his face, especially his oldest niece and namesake Charlie (Teresa Wright) who is ecstatic to have something to shake the family out of their funk of normalcy. At this point, there is little to be uneasy about, because Uncle Charlie is not about to do anything rash, but there are a few moments where he gets uneasy. Covering up a paper headline and doing his best to avoid two men taking photos for a national survey. Charlie doesn’t think much of it at first, and it feels just like old times with uncle giving gifts and receiving the royal treatment.

Except the ring he presents to Charlie is plundered jewelry with a mysterious pair of initials engraved on it. Of course, the men interviewing the Newton household are actually trailing Uncle Charlie, and Detective Graham fills Charlie in while also becoming fond of her. But it’s not the kind of news she’s willing to accept. How can she? It’s a late night visit to the local library that finally confirms all her deepest fears. Soon, the telltale signs become more apparent to the audacious girl, and Charlie simultaneously notices the changes in her as well.

This is where the film becomes fidget-inducing because it’s out in the open. Uncle Charlie knows that she knows, and still he remains in their home, in quiet little Santa Rosa, as if nothing has changed. For most of the family, nothing has, but Charlie’s demeanor is completely different. She just wants her uncle gone, away from her family, and then there’s the impending threat that her own life might be in danger. In truth, Uncle Charlie doesn’t want her around, even though it looks like he might get off scotch free.  His mind is already so twisted — so far gone — that he coolly attempts to get rid of Charlie, right under the very noses of their family.

It turns into a psychological mind game between uncle and niece, Charlie vs. Charlie. There’s no detective to save her now because he’s already left town and there’s no other direction to turn. She finally does succeed in getting dear uncle to leave town, and it looks like the living suburban nightmare is coming to a close. Then, in a final instant on the outbound train, Hitchcock’s lets off a BANG! The film’s culmination arrives and is just as quickly passed over. It’s done just like that, but it’s not really what was important. All that nerve-wracking build-up — the meat and potatoes of the drama was what was paramount.

Thus, Hitchcock delivers us a shocking nightmare of a film. It’s not anything like Psycho, existing in a far more mundane world. But Shadow of the Doubt brazenly suggests that murder can reach us even in our homes, even in the places that feel the safest. Hitch exhibits his wicked sense of humor with two characters who love to talk murder in Mr. Newton (Henry Travers) and the next door neighbor Herb (Hume Cronyn). They obsess over crime fiction and discussing ways to get away with murder. Little do they know that the man in their midst is trying to do just that.

Teresa Wright is certainly one of my favorite actresses and her role as Charlie is one of her bests highlighting her cordial charm, while also revealing her adeptness in the role of a tortured heroine. We want her to succeed more than anything, and as an audience, we worry for her well-being the entire film. Meanwhile, Joseph Cotten generally plays laconic types, but still, they usually have more goodness than baseness in their souls. Uncle Charlie is a fine role for him because he’s so sweetly cunning and at the same time sadistically twisted.

Shadow of a Doubt pic 3Unfortunately, the role of Detective Saunders feels rather shallow, but that’s hardly something to get stuck on. If that were the case, we could easily point to Charlie’s parents who seem way too old. But they are perfectly average, ordinary folks, as played by Henry Travers and Patricia Collinge. The script work of the preeminent Thorton Wilder (Our Town) and the on-location shooting in the Everytown of  Santa Rosa lend a universality to this thriller’s impending dread.

Dimitri Tiomkin heightens the film with his usually stirring, pulse-pounding approach to scoring. Hitchcock’s camera, while in black and white, is nevertheless noticeably dynamic. He always emphasizes the necessary focal points, and extreme close-ups and high angles only accentuate the drama. His use of the stairwells in the house is absolutely marvelous, implying both distance and foreboding in numerous shots. For every shot that Cotten looks menacing, there is an equal number highlighting the pure innocence of Wright. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of character, in a film that is really only your typical see-sawing struggle of good versus evil. Except it takes place in our own backyards.

5/5 Stars

Review: Citizen Kane (1941)

citizenk3“That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love. That’s the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn’t have any to give.” – Jedediah Leyland

It might seem rather trite to attempt to write anything on Citizen Kane, but as someone who can admittedly be trite sometimes, there seems to be a need to give it a go. Here it goes. Citizen Kane is forever an enigma, in the sense that it was fully under the control of the independent-minded and ultimate auteur Orson Welles during the studio age. It didn’t come out of some movie making assembly line, but instead, it’s a debut that exhibits so many elements that have befuddled and fascinated audiences for generations. There’s certainly the technical and production aspect which became the watermark and inspiration for countless millions. Then you have the human aspect which also deserves some attention.

Swirling around a film with this much mythology there is always bound to be hearsay and rumors, but supposedly in later years, Welles considered Citizen Kane a comedy, in the sense that everything is over the top camp, much in the same way that the Welles the man was a larger than life caricature. He played the part of an alienating artistic mastermind to a tee and it fit the way he made this film. Grandiose in scope,  infused with inspired vision, and really an all-out war for acknowledgment.

Because of the many stories about Kane which have now become the stuff of legend, the parallels between Charles Foster Kane and news magnate William Randolph Hearst stand out. Whatever his opinions of the actual film ended up being, Hearst did his best to besmirch the film and keep it out of theaters. And so it goes Welles’ debut did not get much of an opening, ironically because of a man rather like his main character. It would be interesting to know what Welles would have thought of such a situation. Would he have been greatly incensed or taken it rather like a compliment that he had created something so volatile? Because it’s true, Citizen Kane is still smoldering today, and it retains a constant place in cinematic discussions even 70 years after its release.

There’s so much to talk about and so much that most everyone has probably already talked about. It has such an intriguing narrative structure and it models time in such fascinating ways. Because a lot of this film is about the passage of time as it pertains to one man’s life and the memories of his life. He is dead after uttering that immortal word “Rosebud,” but his memories live on through the recollections of those around him.

We get access to the story through a newsreel, but like such a reporting device we leave it knowing very little about the man except for his material possessions and maybe a little about his career. What we really want to know is the man, and the nameless reporter becomes our stand-in.

He pieces together Kane’s childhood by sitting in a musty vault and reading over the thoughts of the boy’s caretaker and financial adviser Mr. Thatcher. With one particularly memorable match cut, we jump a number of decades in a matter of seconds as the banker speaks to a young Kane only to turn around speaking to a young man. But he’s not much help except that Kane put Thatcher under fire with his brand of yellow journalism.

citizenk2Mr. Bernstein is a kindly fellow and an old man by now who used to work with Kane at the Inquirer when it all began. He knew the man who had a song named after him, who bought out the staff of the rival paper the Chronicle, started his own war and married the niece of the president.

From the now elderly and slightly infirm Jedediah Leyland (Joseph Cotten) we learn of the rise and slow decline of the man along with his friendship with Leyland. There is a sequence here with Kane’s first wife that wonderfully shows the degradation of a marriage over the years as he is more devoted to the paper than his spouse. It’s tragically sad, and there’s more heartbreak in that one scene than most films can muster in their entire runtime. Because Kane could love and he wanted love, but he also seems to love himself more than any other person. He’s married to his work and the personal independence that comes with it. Ultimately, Kane’s political career suffers from scandal and his own bullheadedness. Leyland switches branches to get away and becomes a drama critic prepared to lambaste the operatic debut of Kane’s second wife. It really is bad, but Kane will never hear of it, but he also is always in need of proving himself to those around him.

Our investigative journalist returns to the nightclub of Susan Kane to get the rest of the story from her, and it only becomes more depressing. After being forced into an opera career she has no ambition for, Kane finally relents and Susan spends her days in Xanadau, the fortress he built for her sake. But she wants more than the stuff that he can give her. She wants to get out, have fun and have companionship. Kane doesn’t know how to do that, and soon after she left him.

What was left was a deeply troubled, isolated old man with nothing but material possessions to weigh him down in a river of loneliness. His life was a jigsaw puzzle and yet when we get the piece pertaining to his final word it fails to help us make any headway. Because the reality is that no one word can explain a man’s life. It is interesting how Kane desperately wanted love so you would think that his last words would refer to a person. It just shows how messed up his relationships were. He thought he could get joy from possessions so it’s only fitting that his final words were another thing. It’s sad really, so if Orson Welles wants to call Citizen Kane comedy, there seems to be a need to qualify that and christen it a “tragi-comedy.”

Herman Mankiewicz script with Welles is the quintessential tale of the rise and fall of one man and with the ever-changing times that archetypal narrative has remained prescient because America is still built on those sorts of individuals. It can be the nation of visionaries as well as tragedy. Wealth and loneliness.

As for the great Bernard Hermann, his score personifies the changes in Kane over the years and this was the first time I noticed the wonderful reprises of his theme song. It can be heard throughout although it seems to lose all the gaiety and luster it had years before.

citizenk1Gregg Toland’s cinematography is strikingly beautiful utilizing the distinctly clear, deep focus to frame shots wonderfully. Background and foreground remain equally important becoming a wonderful way to convey distance. Also, the camera always seems to be making the viewer crane our necks, getting a slight view of the ceiling or it has us looking down at the figure below us. We very rarely see them head-on as they appear. Furthermore, Kane is steeped in trick shots, mirror images, and all sorts of things that I cannot even begin to do justice to. It could be a nurse walking into a room or Kane solemnly plodding through the vast corridors of his domain. It’s a veritable paradise for the eyes because we are always being met with visual marvels. Citizen Kane has grown on me every time I see it since it’s not simply narrative, or backstory, or history, but also at the most basic level, it’s one of the most prominent expressions of this highly visual medium called film.

5/5 Stars

Gaslight (1944)

eb609-gaslight-1944Directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Josesph Cotten, with Angela Lansbury, this film begins rather abruptly with a young girl in England who witnessed the aftermath of her aunt’s murder. Then in a whirl wind she has become married to a nice young pianist and they move back to her old home in England to settle down to together. From that point on everything begins to change gradually. Gregory has a violent outburst over a letter, Paula loses her brooch mysteriously, a picture is misplaced, there are seemingly footsteps from above, and the gaslights change for no apparent reason. Gregory continues to manipulate and isolate his wife telling her it is for her own girl. A traumatic night at the opera and the new maid only worsen Paula’s mental state. She soon believes she is sinking deeper and deeper into hysteria thanks to Gregory. However, a former admirer of her aunt becomes curious of Paula and tries in earnest to meet her as he reopens her aunt’s case. Finally, they meet and together they piece together what is really going on. In the final climatic moments the inspector comes to Paula’s aid and she turns the tables on her husband. All the main players do a wonderful job, especially Bergman, and this film was built up nicely. My only qualms would have to be Joseph Cotten playing an Englishman and I found it hard to follow in the very beginning.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: The Third Man (1949)

5873f-thirdmanusposterI am continually drawn to The Third Man for a number of reasons, which I would love to highlight right now. To begin with, the opening credits come up and yet behind them is the rather odd image of a row of strings. As an audience, this is our first introduction to the zither, the twangy instrument that will create the strangely haunting score over the course of the film.

Then, we are fed a casual bit of narration that quickly throws us into the story of western writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), as he heads to Vienna to meet his old school chum Harry Lime (to be revealed later!). It seems safe to say that World War II was not good to the city, which is a mixture of ruins, cobblestone streets and ornate architecture that lend itself to an uneasy feeling. In other words, what happens in Vienna, stays in Vienna. Everything is zoned off nicely, and the authorities try and stay out of each other’s way.

Martins learns soon enough that Lime is dead and yet it doesn’t add up. His best friend was hit by a car driven by a colleague, carried off the road by two friends, and diagnosed by his personal doctor who all happened to be present. Martins is urged by a Major Calloway to not get involved. Heading home would be a much better solution.

But of course, Martins does not heed this advice. He meets Harry Lime’s girl, the beautiful but somber Anna (Valli), who has her own troubles with the authorities. Further investigation points to a mysterious third man who a local porter saw from his window. The old man winds up dead and soon Martins himself is threatened. Calloway encourages him to leave again before reluctantly disclosing that Lime was dealing diluted penicillin on the black market. That batch ultimately killed and harmed many a patient.

It’s a whole different ballgame now. But wait, after dropping in on Anna, Martins sees a shadowy figure out her window and in a dramatic entrance Lime shows his face. A magnificent magic trick and fully alive. The next day on a Ferris wheel Lime’s true character comes out. All I will say is that he would have been at home in the Borgia family.

Now Holly is conflicted about helping the police snag his old friend or heading home, wiping his hands of the whole ordeal. He finally reluctantly swings a deal because of his love for Anna. Plans are set and soon a trap is sprung for Lime. He is tipped off by a still faithful Anna, but the police force him to make his getaway into the sewers. That is where it all goes down for good. The next day Holly Martins waits at the side of the road for Anna. She slowly makes her way in his direction and without any acknowledgment, she keeps on walking on. She is now out of the picture and all he can do is light yet another cigarette. That is the cold and painful ending to The Third Man, a perfectly suited story for Post-War Vienna and a great Film-Noir.

We become constantly aware of this film’s almost painful camera angles, at times, which slightly distort scenes and close in on faces. It is an unnerving feeling for the viewer which is only compounded by the bleak and shadowy cinematography, along with the haunting music. It all adds up to a perfectly chilling composition. The story feels starkly real too thanks to the on-location shooting and the mixing in of the German with the English. As a non-German speaker, this extra language only furthered my confusion and, at times, my paranoia. Along with Martins, I often could not understand what was going on, causing me to be more and more befuddled.

All in all, although Orson Welles stole the show, both Joseph Cotten and Valli were superb. The two of them had the most screen time and it certainly was not wasted. Whether they were walking or talking they always made for an interesting contrast. Their accents, their demeanor, even their opinions of Lime were often in juxtaposition. I was not a fan of Trevor Howard, but he was not meant to be a likable character. Bernard Lee, on the other hand, had to be my favorite supporting role.

The Third Man is already on my watch list again and for good reason! Well done Carol Reed, Grahame Green, and Anton Karas!

5/5 Stars

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – Alfred Hitchcock

08054-original_movie_poster_for_the_film_shadow_of_a_doubtIn one of Hitchcock’s earlier American films starring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, Uncle Charlie comes to visit his niece namesake “Charlie” and the rest of the family. Initially the whole family seems to be in a funk until they find Charlie (Cotten) is coming to visit them in Santa Rosa. However, what they do not know is that he is a wanted murderer. Over time “Charlie” (Wright) becomes suspicious of her uncle and finally comes across the truth. Her uncle figures out what she knows and decides he must get rid of her. Living in constant peril, “Charlie” finally is forced to face him. In the ensuing struggle she fights madly for her life. With the constant discomfort and suspense, Hitchcock proves how powerful thrillers can be even in the home. Cotten and Wright both do a very good job in this film. Supposedly this was Hitchcock’s favorite among his own films. I think it certainly one of the best of his lesser known movies.

5/5 Stars

Citizen Kane (1941), original review

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Disclaimer: I have since changed my opinions on this film but this capsule review stands as a reminder of how greatly things can change. 

As far as all the hype is concerned, Citizen Kane was a major disappointment. It is a film which has been lauded as one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time. However, in my mind, overall it is nothing that amazing. This movie has an important context that has to be taken into consideration first of all. One of these points is that the film is supposedly a semi-autobiographical account of the famous journalist William Randolph Hearst. In this way, it is a satire of his life because he acquired great riches but no happiness. Other pioneering aspects of this film are the storytelling devices and the camera work. In the realm of storytelling, Citizen Kane relies on both flashback and various narrators in order to try and explain Kane’s past. Furthermore, the cinematographic process of sharp focus is also used, allowing the screen to be in complete focus.  For being so highly praised Citizen Kane left me disappointed and also dumbfounded about how it gained such status.

4/5 Stars