The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear

The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

5 Comments

    1. The Letter (Jean de Limur)
    2. The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström)
    3. Exodus (Otto Preminger)
    4. Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (Kaneto Shindo)
    5. Employee’s Entrance (Roy Del Ruth)
    6. Paisan (Roberto Rossellini)
    7. Heroes For Sale (William Wellman)
    8. Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli)
    9. Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock)
    10. The Chosen (Joshua Kagan)

 

1. In All About Eve, at one point Addison DeWitt says:

           “I have lived in the theater as a Trappist monk lives in his faith. I have no other world; no other life – and once in a great while, I experience that moment of revelation for which all true believers wait and pray. You were one. Jeanne Eagels another…there are others, three or four. Eve Harrington will be among them. ”  

So just who is Jeanne Eagels? I knew the name from a weird Robert Aldrich pseudo-biography starring Kim Novak. Once again, TCM to the rescue! They recently showed one of the handful of films this legendary stage actress made before her death by drug addiction at the age of 39.  Interestingly, it is the first film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s story The Letter, which would later be remade as a star vehicle for Bette Davis.  This 1929 version is much rougher than the Davis version, the story grittier. As with much of early talking pictures starring stage stars it is, well, stagy. But what a treat to see and hear this theatrical ghost in one of her signature roles.  Apparently there is film out there of Eleanora Duse and of course that wacky Queen Elizabeth film with Sarah Bernhardt.  This though, was a historical treat.

2. Do we all now agree that, despite his mostly self-created image as a great film director, Otto Preminger really stank? Exodus was torture to sit through.  Between the dead camera work and the Actors’ Studio Method crap of Paul Newman I barely got out of it alive.

3. How nice to know that Under Capricorn is not the great failure that Hitchcock lovers paint it to be.  It is not a suspense or horror story.  It is a romantic historical drama in style of Daphne Du Maurier.  It is quite lovely, but I will grant you the experimentation with long takes doesn’t quite work.

4. How did Some Came Running get pitched as a project? I guess it was from a best selling novel by the guy who wrote From Here To Eternity but it is ultimately about nothing, except a lot of really interesting characters in conflict. I guess that should be enough!

5- Please see my post on Heroes For Sale, then please watch this little masterpiece.

6- What a trip down Memory Lane to see The Chosen! I read the book when it came out in 1970 and don’t believe I ever saw the film.  A pleasure revisiting this lovely characters as well as the nostalgic look at Brooklyn during WWII and just after.

5 thoughts on “The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. I think citation is a really under-praised skill in writing fictional dialogue: there’s a certain authority that’s earned — both for the character who’s speaking and for the fiction as a whole — through the citation of EXACTLY the right example that just can’t be accomplished another way. It creates a kind of exciting feedback loop with “the real world” — and what the audience knows about that world, and what the fictions knows the audience knows — that raises the stakes across the board.

    And what’s crazy is that the effect is diminished but not really UNDERMINED when the audience forgets just what the hell the character is citing: I’m guessing that while you’ve been a little baffled by DeWitt’s citation of Eagels, your bafflement didn’t hamper your assessment of the character; it just left you with the sense that the world of the film is larger than what made it onto the screen, and that it connects somewhere with the world we live in. So that’s pretty cool.

    Preminger! I think K and I have only seen Bonjour Tristesse and Bunny Lake Is Missing, and we neither loved nor hated either. The silliness quotient was fairly high in both instances, I recall.

  2. I had always heard of Jeanne Eagels, but of course had never seen her since she died about 80 years ago and I had no idea the films existed. But you bring up a topic that I am particularly interested in: characters saying something that alludes to a much wider universe that what the playwright or screenwriter is showing us. For example, in Merchant of Venice when Shylock hears how his bitch daughter Jessica has exchanged a ring she stole from him for a monkey he says: “Out upon her, thou torturest me Tubal, it was
    my turquoise, I had it of Leah when I was a Bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of Monkeys.”

    With this one mention of ‘Leah’ and his anguish at the squandering of the ring, suddenly Shylock accrues a huge backstory that we never suspected and Shakespeare does not need to fill in. Subconsciously, we now know there is much more to Shylock that we are seeing during the action of the play. That, of course, is what is called genius.

    I want to write more about that, but can’t figure out in what venue to present it. Perhaps I should try my hand at fiction and see if I can pull it off myself.

    And Preminger – bleh.

  3. I was trying recently to catch up on less-well-known Hitchcock movies but couldn’t find Under Capricorn. I did, however, see Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I Confess, Torn Curtain, and Topaz. You haven’t seen how far Hitchcock can fall below his own standard until you’ve seen the last-mentioned. Not coincidentally, it is also based on a novel by Leon Uris. It is like a piece of apprentice work to which the master imprudently signed his name.

    • No question that the Master’s last great work was The Birds. Even though folks extol Frenzy and Family Plot, the shindig in Bodega Bay is truly the last masterpiece. And what a masterpiece it is! But it is hard to complain about a body of work that has such towering achievements as Shadow Of A Doubt, Vertigo, Rear Window, Notorious, Psycho and the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

      It is interesting that the career of Akira Kurosawa ends the same way. After the amazing twin achievements of Kagemusha and Ran, the remainder of his oeuvre is mostly drivel. John Ford knew when to stop.

  4. Mitchell my buddy. Great to see a new blog entry. Always great to see someone who loves Vertigo a lot. I know I do:) As far as your last ten films you saw goes, I love The Phantom Carriage, Some Came Running, Paisan and Under Capricorn. Surprised about that last aren’t you:)

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