The Discreet Bourgeois

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

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Host (Bong Joon Ho)
  2. Nosferatu (Werner Herzog)
  3. La Promesse (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  4. The Mirror (Jafar Panahi)
  5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
  6. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
  7. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  8. Foreign Letters (Ela Thier)
  9. Un Carnet du Bal (Julien Duvivier)
  10. Hotel du Nord (Marcel Carné)

1- Ever since I saw Parasite, I have been thinking about going back to rewatch the only other film of his I had seen, The Host.  I wondered if the naming of the later film was a sly reference to his other huge international hit.  Not sure.  I must say that The Host was as good as I remembered it. It isn’t as rich as Parasite.  There is the same raucous action, but the political edge is not as keen. I think that Parasite was conceived more politically than The Host. The only discernible political thread in the latter is the not-so-subtle suggestion of how America is destroying Korean culture and environment.  I guess that is pretty political after all!

2- I loved the films of Werner Herzog and saw them all when they premiered in the US.  I remember particularly loving Nosferatu. It really holds up well.  It is a very respectful and knowledgeable remake of the famous Murnau silent from the 20s.  Everything works in this updating.  The tone of silent films, from the mise-en-scene to the acting is a beautiful homage to the earlier style.  I had feared that I would now find Klaus Kinski’s acting of the title role too over-the-top.  It isn’t. It is just gorgeous.  Kudos to Isabelle Adjani at the beginning of her film career for channeling every heroine of every Expressionist horror film. 

3- La Promesse  is my third film by the Dardenne brothers.  Another stunning experience.  Much is made of Bresson’s moral constructs in his films.  They are also wonderful but the morality of these Dardenne films is at a much more visceral level.  I found La Promesse  powerful in the way that it makes the viewer complicit in the ethical dilemma, a teenage boy who is helping his unscrupulous father in his shady operation to exploit illegal immigrants in their Belgian town.  Just like the end of Young Ahmed, the resolution of La Promesse comes out of nowhere, but is inevitable and powerful.

4- My excitement of discovering Iranian films is comparable to the excitement I felt when I first discovered the range and depth of Japanese film. So far I have only watched films by Kiarostami and Panahi. I am sure other wonders await me.  The Mirror is another tour-de-force of meta-cinema. I will not divulge the plot nor the meta-ness of the film.  Suffice it to say that I watched the entire movie shaking my head saying to myself ‘It can’t be this brilliant”. I was wrong. It was that brilliant. 

5- The Criterion Channel curates films by theme and one of the themes this month was Women Directors. They suggested many films that I had never heard of. One of them was Bluebeard by Catherine Breillat. I suppose you could label it as a feminist retelling of the Perrault fairy tale, but I would hope that Breillat wouldn’t want her work pigeon-holed like that. It is a very odd film and the fairy-taleness of it is also quite odd and upsetting. I must say I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I am up for her version of Sleeping Beauty just yet.

6- Coincidentally, that other source of my cinema addiction, Turner Classic Movies, is showing a series called Women Make Film, shown in conjunction with Mark Cousin’s 14-part documentary of the same name. The documentary borders on annoying but TCM they are showing many of the films that are discussed in the documentary, and that is where the gold is. The films are from all over the world and from all eras. Some are great. Then there is Foreign Letters. Yes, it was made by a woman, an Israeli émigré to the US. The problem with it is that is seems like a student project and is not very interesting. It is very YA and I never liked YA stuff, even when I was YA. Who knows? It might be great. Just not my cup of falafel.

7- I had always thought of Julien Duvivier as typical of the classic French directors that the Cahier du Cinema brats were rebelling against. Well, of course we can have both the French New Wave and what came before it. We realize that now (at least I realize that now). But, I can honestly say that Un Carnet du Bal ages better than just about any of the nouvelle vague creations I can think of. But why choose? Un Carnet du Bal is the French equivalent of an MGM ‘tradition of quality’ production. A sprawling story, beautifully appointed and featuring many of the great French stars of the day. Think a Gallic Grand Hotel. Not only do you have the legendary Harry Baur, but you get Fernandel as well as my holy Raimu.

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is as lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise

8- How fortuitous to watch Hotel du Nord right after seeing Un Carnet Du Bal. Both date from about the same time, and both feature the same richness of plot and character. Hotel du Nord is by Marcel Carné, famous for the epic Children of Paradise. This film is on a smaller scale, but is lush with a wide variety of characters and subplots. It is linked to Un Carnet Du Bal by the presence of the the enigmatic Louis Jouvet. Carné’s style is often called ‘poetic realism’. I am not sure what that means, but there is a combination of the gritty quotidian daytime world and the dreamlike night world. Arletty is on hand to lend the proceedings earthy humor a few years before her legendary appearance as Garance in Children of Paradise. Her pronouncing the word ‘Atmosphere’ in her rebuke of Louis Jouvet is worth the price of admission.

On a personal note, when I was in Paris in 2018, my dear friend Lil took me to the Canal St. Martin and sure enough, the Hotel du Nord is there on the banks of this impressive canal!



The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Original Cast Album: “Company” (D.A. Pennebaker)
  2. The Getting of Wisdom (Bruce Beresford)
  3. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  5. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  6. Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
  7. The Mummy (Karl Freund)
  8. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
  9. Carnival of Souls (Herk Hervey)
  10. Horror Hotel (John Moxey)


1- Company was a seminal show for me growing up.  I played my LP within an inch of its life.  I remembered seeing the Pennebaker documentary and was amazed to see these (in my mind) legendary performances actually happening in the recording studio. Watching it now the nostalgia is intense but the whole enterprise seems so much in the past.  To see the singers and musicians all smoking during the recording makes it as remote as Victorian England.

2-The Getting of Wisdom was another film in Criterion’s Australian New Wave. It really suffers from having a very unappealing heroine as its center.  Compared to its contemporary The Devil’s Playground, another story of young people in a repressive school situation, The Getting of Wisdom is so flat.

3- I am glad to have finally seen a Dardenne brothers film. Young Ahmed tells what could have been a sensational story: the radicalization of a young Belgian-Moslem boy.  Because of the objective stance it takes, you are more involved than if had been filmed as a polemic.  The end is unexpected and thrillingly satisfying.

4-  I pride myself on my memory for details of movies, so imagine my surprise when absolutely nothing of The Curse of Frankenstein was familiar to me at all.  It certain isn’t deathless cinema, but it has all the hallmarks that make Hammer horror films so delicious especially around Halloween: intelligent and involving stories, beautiful production values, reliably controlled hamminess of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the obligatory gore.   Hammer always satisfies

5- A separate post on Sleepy Hollow is coming

6- I had heard a lot about The Witch.  It quite bowled me over. First of all, it is stunning looking and the atmospherics of the wilderness in early Colonial America.  Isolation is always a successful trope in horror films, but this combines the isolation with a smug and crippling religiosity and this makes for fantastic horror.  The end is one of the most discussion-worthy conclusions to a film I have seen in years.   I think it is brilliant, many commentators say it is a cop-out.  They’re wrong.  Let’s discuss.

7- It wouldn’t be Halloween without watching Carnival of Souls and Horror Hotel. I look forward to them each year the way other less fortunate people look forward to It’s A Wonderful Life.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. A Separation (Asghar Farhad)
  2. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  4. Varieté (Ewald André Dupont)
  5. The Living Skeleton (Hiroshi Matsuno)
  6. Walpurgis Night (Gustaf Edgren)
  7. Swing Shift (Jonathan Demme)
  8. Meantime (Mike Leigh)
  9. Flunky, Work Hard (Mikio Naruse)
  10. A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk)


1- One of the great benefits of having the Criterion Channel is that it has opened up various national cinemas that I never really knew. The cinema of Iran is a case in point. I had only seen The Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami.  I found it quite austere and was deterred from seeing other Iranian films for an unforgivably long time.   I have watched many more Kiarostami films and I revere him.  Panahi also is amazing.  I had heard about A Separation when it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. What a splendidly rich, nuances film that observes relationship dynamics, class distinctions and religious differences. Superbly moving, with an end that kind of took my breath away.

2- Hitchcock is regarded as the auteur par excellence. But not for Rebecca.  Here I would have to say the auteurs are David O. Selznick as well as the MGM tradition of quality.  Hitchcock was loaned out to MGM for his first American picture and it has Selznick all over it. The novel was an enormous success, just as Gone With The Wind was.  Selznick gives this production  the same lavish and slavish treatment he gave to GWTW. It doesn’t make for a bad movie, but it doesn’t make for a great Hitchcock movie. We would have to wait for  Shadow of A Doubt for that.

In the discussion after watching the film, Martin Seay contrasted the difference between the acting styles of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.   What you were seeing, he said, was a consummate stage actor (Olivier) and a consummate film actor (Fontaine).   What Olivier was doing might have been superb on the stage, but here on film it was too big.  Made me realize that all the Olivier performances seem to be very theatrical.

3- With The Criterion Collection, I have been able to watch or rewatch the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.  While I loved Stalker and The SacrificeI must admit that I was totally baffled by Nostalghia.  It was beautiful to look at.  I duly appreciated the eight-minute long take at the end of the film, but it mostly went over my head.  I would appreciate any insights you might have.

4- Watching Swing Shift again was a triste experience. I loved it so, when it came out in the 80s and had not seen it since.  It is a mess.  Heartbreaking for me, because I remember it with a warm, nostalgic glow.

5- Meantime is the most downbeat of the Mike Leigh films I have watched.   Perhaps too downbeat.  I have begun to realize that  Mike Leigh films have much in common with the films of Yasujiro Ozu.  Lower middle-class lives of quiet desperation, but always depicted in such a way as to leave you with an overwhelming sense of life.  While watching Meantime I thought it would almost turn into a  parody of itself, but at the end Mike Leigh delivered and there is a gorgeous epiphany of love and forgiveness and hope. Quite overwhelming even if you do have to go through a bit of hell to get to it.

6- You have my permission to skip the The Living Skeleton.  Japanese horror can be cheesy. This was absolute Limburger .

7- Varieté  is a good example of what we lost when silents became sound films.  The camera work here is so thrilling and baffling.  It has Emil Jannings and all the Weimar Republic depravity you could hope for.   It wouldn’t be until that we see such thrilling German film.

8- Just because it is by Douglas Sirk doesn’t guarantee that a film won’t be a turkey. Thanksgiving came early for me with A Scandal in Paris







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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Black Girl (Sembene Ousmane)
  2. Far From The Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Till The Clouds Roll By (Richard Whorf)
  5. The Mummy’s Ghost (Reginald Le Borg)
  6. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
  8. Rasputin, The Mad Monk (Don Sharp)
  9. The Mysterious Doctor  (Benjamin Stoloff)
  10. Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (Eric Rohmer)


1- I had seen clips from Black Girl on TCM when they did that terrific series on World Cinema.  They were so haunting. I was glad to get the chance to see the whole film.  Powerful, poetic, tragic and very beautiful.  That mask, wow!

2- In my last post, I decried turning great novels into film. Well I was a little wrong. Far From The Madding Crowd is a very commendable attempt to turn Thomas Hardy’s novel into a film.  The book, of course, is way better, but the movie hits on all of the book’s main points and really gets to the emotion behind it all.  Pretty arty camera work by Nicholas Roeg considering that this was a typical big-budget prestige project. I want to read more Hardy.

3- I am currently teaching a course on the Great American Songbook and this weekend I will be speaking about Jerome Kern.  I figured that it would be a good time to watch Till The Clouds Roll By, even though I knew that its ties with reality were very tenuous.  It turns out that they were ridiculously tenuous.  This had hardly anything to do with Kern’s life, the way that Night and Day has nothing to do with Cole Porter’s life and Rhapsody in Blue has nothing to do with George Gershwin’s life.  What this film really is, is an excuse to have MGM’s musical stars do star turns singing or dancing to Kern songs, which is fun enough.  But what a stinker of a movie.

4- The Mummy’s Ghost – it is Hallowe’en season and I must watch as many classic horror movies as I can, many of them bad.  Like this one.  How can a 61 minute movie feel like it is three hours long? At least it had that classic Universal horror-romance atmosphere.

5- Thanks to Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay, true friends who helped be to wrestle with just what the hell Persona is. I have seen and loved this movie many times but could never articulate what I felt it was. Thanks to K & M I’m a little closer to that goal.  All three of us are pretty convinced that it is a masterpiece sui generis.

6- Mike Leigh is a giant who walks among us. I may through the word ‘masterpiece’ around too much, but his films really deserve the name.  Peterloo is an epic yet intimate depiction of one of the first labor rebellions in English history, and its terrifying suppression. I hope it gets wide release.  I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival and I hope it doesn’t disappear.

7- I get such perverse pleasure from All That Heaven Allows. I love showing it to new people, because by the end it is not what they expected.

8- Please see Le Rayon Vert and read my post about it.









The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk)
  2. Danton (Andrzej Wajda)
  3. I Fidanzati  (Ermanno Olmi)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. A Woman’s Face (Gustav Molander)
  6. The Steamroller and the Violin (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  7. That Forsyte Woman (Compton Bennett)
  8. The Catcher Was a Spy (Ben Lewin)
  9. Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears)
  10. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir)


1- The Steamroller and the Violin – A tender film from Andrei Tarkovsky? Well, it was a student project, but it is really lovely.   No indication at all of the strenuous films to come

2- I was obsessed with the BBC version of The Forsyte Saga when it played here in the 70s. Because of that, I turned my nose up at the MGM version That Forsyte Woman.  First of all, what a silly title. Second, Errol Flynn as the homely Soames Forsyte?  But watching it now it is a solid MGM adaptation, a good example of their ‘Tradition of Quality’.  I wonder why there weren’t more films of these books.  The story and characters are so rich

3- I think we take for granted how talented and multi-faceted Meryl Streep is.  Her output is an embarrassment of riches.  What can’t she play.  Each character is uniquely conceived and not like any other.  Bette Davis was as brilliant, but she was always playing a Bette Davis character.  Streep as the infamous Florence Foster Jenkins is poignant, hilarious and infuriating.  Another work of genius.

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Another Part Of The Forest (Michael Gordon)
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
  3. Angst Essen Seele Aus (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  4. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  5. Love is Colder Than Death (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  6. Fort Apache (John Ford)
  7. Conflagration (Enjo) (Kon Ichikawa)
  8. The Prowler (Joseph Losey)
  9. The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann)
  10. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)


1) Another Part Of The Forest was a prequel that Lillian Hellman wrote to her more famous and much, much better play The Little Foxes. The play tries to be ‘How the Hubbards got that way’, but after a while you feel that Hellman is revisiting these characters with no real intent.  The film version is minor indeed compared to the towering Bette Davis film version of The Little Foxes.

Question: The title seems to come from stage directions in either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It.  Beats me why. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

2) What fun to see Stormy Weather.  It’s not much more an excuse to showcase a ton of great black musical performers. The numbers are strung together with the flimsiest of plots, but you get to see Fats Waller doing his stride-piano thing, you get to see a mind-blowing routine by the Nicholas Brothers, you get to see the gorgeous Lena Horne sing the title song, among other treasures.  You get to see the star, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, without Shirley Temple.  There is a very curious vaudeville comedy routine where Robinson and his costar put on blackface.  Black artists in blackface flips the whole controversy of the performing style on its head.  Or does it?

3) It is very illuminating to watch a first work by a great director, and then a later work from the period where that artist hits his stride.  Love Is Colder Than Death is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first feature and for me it was longer than death.  It seemed completely derivative of the worst posturing of the French New Wave with its disaffected heros and treacherous amoral heroines. However, Angst Essen Seele Aus is a masterpiece.  Derivative also from the works of Douglas Sirk, the film uses its sources merely as a starting point.  It is beautifully moving and very much a Fassbinder film. I give the title in German since it is hard to give an accurate rendition in English. It conveys the broken German of the hero in his most poignant moment of the film: he tells his love how fear is consuming his soul.  It is a heartbreaking scene and transcendent in the way the best of Sirk is.

4) Will you just watch Night Nurse already?!? It is the best example I know of the loose moral universe that Pre-Code Hollywood showed so well. It is scary and funny and sexy.  Clark Gable (without the moustache) is truly a monster.  Barbara Stanwyck is glorious as always.  Joan Blondell is on hand to provide the olive in this perfect gin-heavy martini.

5) Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I cogitate over the conflicting world views of the Western (including Fort ApacheThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Naked Spur) and Film Noir.




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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen)
  2. It’s Love I’m After (Archie Mayo)
  3. Black Moon (Roy William Neill)
  4. The Life Of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  5. Hitler’s Children (Edward Dmytryk)
  6. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones)
  7. The Whales of August (Lindsay Anderson)
  8. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
  9. Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  10. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock)


1- I guess there are only so many things you can do with the classic ‘white woman drawn to the wicked world of Caribbean Voodoo’, but I must say that I was really struck by how much Black Moon looked and felt like my beloved I Walked With A Zombie.  A side-by-side viewing of the two would really show what makes a film of genius as opposed to a solid Hollywood B-film.  Of course, I Walked With A Zombie does have that Jane Eyre thing going for it, but it also has pacing, a great script, terrific acting and atmosphere you could cut with a knife.  Black Moon has more the feel of the second part of a Saturday afternoon double-bill from the Thirties. Fun, creepy, a little depressing, but not much more.

2- Can a man be a feminist director? I don’t know what else to call Kenji Mizoguchi.  Every one of his films that I have seen depict the plight of women, especially at the hands of self-interested men.  The Life Of Ohara is an especially bleak example of this. It is gorgeous, and the performance of Kinuyo Tanaka is amazing, but man, is it depressing.

3- Thank you Criterion for having another 50% off sale and allowing me to own the endlessly insane Written On The Wind. I would love to know what the reaction was when it first appeared in theaters.  Nymphomania, sexual performance anxiety and Lauren Bacall all wrapped up in an absolutely over the top Dallas-like story.  The image of Dorothy Malone dancing in sexual frenzy in her bedroom in her underwear, while right outside her door her father dies of a heart attack, is something I don’t think I will soon forget – nor would I want to.  This film is nowhere near the level of genius of All The Heaven Allows, but it is almost as formally dazzling. Color, costuming, mise-en-scene are all plotted out within an inch of their lives. Sirk seems to invert the famous Chekhov dictum by saying, ‘If a gun goes off in the first five minutes of a movie, you better see that gun for the rest of the film’. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress award for this frenzied portrayal, beating out another iconic performance of late 50s nuttiness: Patty McCormack as the terrifying Rhoda in The Bad Seed.  I guess the Academy didn’t dare give it to any one else for fear that Malone would come and shimmy them all to death.  And do I even need to mention her fondling of her father’s ‘oil well’ at the end of the film?

dorothy malone


4- Thank you, Betsy Rubin, for your gift of a collection of more obscure Hitchcock films.  Because of this I was finally able to watch his silent gem The Lodger.  I feared that it would be more ‘homework’ than ‘pleasure’ but I was wrong.  It was a wonderful watch. You certainly can tell that Hitchcock spent time in Germany and watching German films – this looks like it could have been directed by UFA-period Fritz Lang.  The expressionist shadow and paranoia have obvious roots in Babelsberg, but so much of it is full of stuff we will see over and over again in later Hitchcock: the ‘wrong man’ plot, the underwear fetish, Catholic iconography (there is a really blatant re-enactment of the deposition from the cross). The interesting thing about this ‘wrong man’ plot is that Hitchcock doesn’t fill the audience in on the details until almost the end, so we don’t have the sympathy for Ivor Norvello that we do for Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

On to The Parradine Case!


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Once Upon A Time (Alexander Hall)
  2. Le Plaisir (Max Ophüls)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Sergeant Rutledge (John Ford)
  5. A Doll’s House (Patrick Garland)
  6. Julius Caesar (Joseph Mankiewicz)
  7. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)
  8. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)
  9. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese)
  10. Bad Day At Black Rock (John Sturges)


1- If you are looking for a film that features Cary Grant as well as a dancing caterpillar, then Once Upon A Time is the film for you!

2- Can someone please explain the genius of Max Ophüls to me?  I find his legendary moving camera distracting. I find his films dull. I’ll keep trying but I would certainly appreciate a little help here. Le Plaisir flowed better than most of his films I have seen, but for me they are deadly – mostly because they seem to be wearing ‘high art’ on their sleeves and that is never a good thing.

3- This time around I caught up with some films that I have been trying to get to for years.  I always dodged Sergeant Rutledge because, for some reason, I figured late John Ford would be stodgy John Ford. I should have known better. It is a stirring film. Its dealing with race issues is surprisingly frank and at the same time matter-of-fact.  Quite unusual for a film from 1960 where race was either ignored or served with a sledge-hammer. Ford turns Woody Strode into an icon of virtue to rival what he does with John Wayne. Plus you get to see Billie Burke!

sergeant rutledge


How did I miss Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? What a rich script, with dense, surprising characters. It doesn’t have the taint that so many landmark films of the 70s have.  By way of contrast, The Conversation reeks with that taint.  The paranoia, the smarminess, the ugly mise-en-scene, the nihilistic characters – it has them all.  It is indeed brilliant, but I think once was enough for me.

4- All That Heaven Allows  – pure genius

5- Bad Day At Black Rock was recently shown on TCM as part of a Westerns festival.  That was pretty brilliant programming since it is truly a western disguised as a contemporary drama. Good guy rides into town and frees it from the corrupt and sadistic thrall of the bad guy. Plus it features a one-armed Spencer Tracy which makes it required viewing


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  2. Rabindranath Tagore (Satyajit Ray)
  3. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz)
  4. Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols)
  5. The Catered Affair (Richard Brooks)
  6. Kongo (William J. Cowen)
  7. Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)
  8. A Time To Love and A Time To Die (Douglas Sirk)
  9. A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  10. Bergman Island (Marie Nyreröd )


1- Flamingo Road is a perfect Hollywood entertainment.  I wonder why it isn’t considered more of a classic.  Terrific story, over-the-top performances by Joan Crawford and Sydney Greenstreet, directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame.   It is easily as enjoyable and solid as other Curtiz films, like Mildred Pierce or The Adventures of Robin Hood. But for some reason, those two have been elevated to ‘classic’ status and Flamingo Road has pretty much been forgotten. It would be interesting to figure out what things like this happen.

2- What a solid, depressing movie Carnal Knowledge is.  Totally unlikeable characters, dyspeptic script, jaundiced view of everything from marriage to friendship to morality.  I loved it.

3- The French critics lionized Douglas Sirk with very good reason.  He was a true master at what he did.  Godard said A Time To Love and A Time To Die was his best.  I am not sure about ‘best’ but it is really good. REALLY good. A sympathetic view of a German soldier during the end days of WWII.  It is from an Erich Maria Remarque novel.  Remarque even has a small but pivotal role in the film. What Remarque did for the WWI soldier in All Quiet On The Western Front he does for the WWII soldier. I haven’t read either novel, but this film is more of a chamber piece – a love story played out against the last days of WWII when Germany was undeniably beaten. The Sirk touches you have come to expect are all there: the saturated color, the high-flown romance, the extraordinarily handsome leading man, in this case John Gavin.

john gavin

4- Watching The Catered Affair made me realize what an effective tool black and white photography was in the 1950s.  This was the time when a lot was being shot in color in an attempt to compete with television.  However, this film, with its gritty working-class characters leading lives of quiet desperation would not have been served by Technicolor. There seems to have been an imperative to use black and white when a film is supposed to look ‘real’.  I have always found that ironic, since real life is in color and if color were suddenly drained from our daily life, it would look anything but real.  Nowadays, just about everything is in color, no matter what the subject matter, unless it is a pretentious indie project or a pretentious Woody Allen movie.  The last new black and white film I recall seeing in a theater is Nebraska.  I wonder why it was chosen for that film.  Perhaps because it was depicting ‘ordinary people’?

5- I had never heard of Kongo.  What a lovely mix of depravity, immorality, incest and Love Triumphant! It would make an amazing double-bill with The Island of Lost Souls. Walter Huston was a towering actor who is all but forgotten today.

6- What a treat to watch Prizzi’s Honor right after watching Kongo, seeing Walter’s granddaughter Anjelica command the movie in the way her grandfather did. This time around I was struck by how few minutes of screen time Maerose Prizzi has.  But, it is her movie.  Hell, it is her world. ‘Why don’t you take yourself on one of those cruises, honey?’

7- A Page of Madness is exactly that.  A film so experimental that it makes the Soviets of the 20s look like tired, old sentimentalists. It was presumed lost for decades, so it didn’t exert the kind of influence it might have. You can tell that the director was mightily influenced by The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Over-the-top editing, experimentation with shifting narrative, the lack of intertitles (it’s a silent film) make this quite a difficult but exhilarating experience. It’s 60 minutes can feel like 4 hours, but if you are game, it’s worth seeing at least once. It’s funny, but the director went on to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar some 30 years later with the very traditional Gate of Hell

a page of madness

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle)
  2. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi)
  3. The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Make Mine Mink (Robert Asher)
  5. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)
  6. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  7. Lightning (Mikio Naruse)
  8. The Verdict (Don Siegel)
  9. Lifeboat  (Alfred Hitchcock)
  10. Fort Apache  (John Ford)


1- I have been trying to see as much Douglas Sirk as I can lay my eyes on. Some of it is astounding, some of it is excruciating. All That Heaven Allows falls into the astounding group, and The Tarnished Angels, along with the supremely insane Written On The Wind,  for me, alas, fall into the excruciating group.  It might just be me, though. When I first saw Imitation of Life, I wanted to throw things at the TV. Now I think it is a masterpiece. Not on the level of All That Heaven Allows, but a masterpiece.  Stay tuned for an article on Sirk appreciation, soon I hope.

2- Both  Lacombe, Lucien and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith are powerful works on the destructive power of racism and hatred. Both are films that I have heard of for years but never got a chance to see.  Thank you, TCM

3- After the magnificent but depressing experience of the two films above, the exact tonic I needed was Make Mine Mink. For some reason I always thought it was a Doris Day vehicle. Much to my delight it turned out to be one of those confections of absolute insanity that only the British of the 1950/60s could have created. All hail, Terry-Thomas.

4- Over the years I have viewed and re-viewed Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau.  I had seen Orpheus years ago and remembered it as beautiful but difficult.  Seeing it again, it was still very beautiful, but seemed less substantive than the perfection that is Beauty and the Beast. And was there ever a more beautiful man than Jean Marais?

Jean Marais

5- The ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ of John Ford occupies a position in his oeuvre comparable to that of the Henriad in Shakespeare’s canon.  A recent viewing of Fort Apache convinced me of this.  If I ever get over my natural indolence, I will write a piece telling you why.

6- It’s time for a Have You Tried…. piece on Mikio Naruse.  He is criminally unknown and amazingly wonderful.

7- Having seen it over 30 years ago, I remembered Lifeboat as one of those ambitious but failed Hitchcock experiments, like Rope. Man, was I wrong. The constraints he puts on himself seem to unleash his genius even more. Take that, Lars Van Trier and your Five damned Obstructions!