Though little known in the U.S. today except by movie buffs, Thorold Dickinson is an important figure in the development of the British film industry. A screenwriter, editor, director and producer, Dickinson wore many hats and exerted considerable influence in his various positions over the years as Coordinator of the Army Kinematograph Service’s film unit, Professor of Film at the Slade School of Fine Art and Chief of Film Services at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). In addition to collaborating with other British filmmakers on their work and co-directing several features, he rose to prominence on the basis of a small but impressive filmography. Among them were the commercial hits, Gaslight (1940), remade in 1944 in Hollywood with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, and The Queen of Spades (1949), an adaptation of the Alexander Pushkin short story which is considered possibly the best of its many film versions. His skill as a documentarian was equally renowned and The Next of Kin, a military training film he made for the War Office in 1940, was so effective it was given a theatrical release. Men of Two Worlds (1946), a semi-documentary collaboration between the Ministry of Information and the Colonial Office, was co-scripted with novelist Joyce Cary (The Horse’s Mouth, 1958) and focused on the problem and treatment of sleeping sickness in African tribes. Yet, the most ambitious film of Dickinson’s career – and the one that almost ended it was Secret People (1952), which was an examination of the terrorist mindset and years ahead of its time.Continue reading
There have been some terrific Pre-Code dramas that were set in the Depression and were actually playing in movie theaters at the time but, for obvious reasons, were not box office hits because audiences wanted escapism, not a reminder of their problems. Still, several of these social problem dramas like William Wellman’s Heroes for Sale (1933) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933) were championed by film critics and today provide an invaluable window into that era. Faithless (1932), directed by Harry Beaumont (Dance, Fools, Dance) and based on the novel Tinfoil by Mildred Cram, also belongs in that category, even if it was poorly received at the time, and deserves a revival for its unusual mixture of soap opera, social issues and adult themes like prostitution.Continue reading
While most hardcore film buffs are well versed in the movies of Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, F.W. Murnau and their latter compatriots Werner Herzog, R.W. Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Volker Schlondorff, directors such as Kurt Maetzig, Joachim Kunert and Gerhard Klein are completely unknown or unfamiliar to Western audiences for an obvious reason. They worked for DEFA (Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft), the nationalized film industry of East Germany, and as a result, very few of their movies were distributed outside of socialist countries during the Cold War Era when DEFA was in its prime. A rare exception was Kurt Maetzig’s Der Schweigende Stern aka The Silent Star, a science fiction adventure which was released in the U.S. in an edited, English dubbed version as First Spaceship on Venus in 1962. Much more complex and thematically intriguing is Maetzig’s Das Kaninchen Bin (English title: The Rabbit is Me, 1965) along with Joachim Kunert’s Das Zweite Gleis (English title: The Second Track, 1962) and Gerhard Klein’s Die Fall Gleiwitz (English title: The Gleiwitz Case, 1961).
The gift of clairvoyance and the ability to predict the future is a plot device that has been well mined in the cinema from It Happened Tomorrow (1944) to Nightmare Alley (1947) to The Night My Number Came Up (1955). But one of the earliest and most intriguing presentations of this phenomenon can be found in the rarely seen 1934 release, The Clairvoyant (aka The Evil Mind). Made at an early stage in Claude Rains’ career when he was still accepting film work in both Hollywood and England and was not yet a contract player at Warner Bros., The Clairvoyant provides an excellent showcase for the actor as Maximus, the mind reader.Continue reading
In one of the more striking opening sequences in Alfred Hitchcock’s entire filmography, a man and woman argue violently in a cliff-top mansion above the sea as a storm is brewing. A quick fade to the following morning reveals the lifeless body of a woman in the surf and the murder weapon nearby – a raincoat belt. A man walking along the dunes is the first person to find the victim and runs to get help. Two women on the beach also discover the body and see the man fleeing the crime scene, assuming the worst. When he returns with the police, he is fingered as the murderer and taken into custody, followed by a montage of newspaper headlines. All of this is accomplished in a brilliantly edited sequence of less than five minutes that not only sets the narrative of Young and Innocent (1937, U.S. release title: The Girl Was Young) in motion but could also serve as a textbook example of Hitchcock’s storyboard approach to moviemaking.Continue reading
People who disappear without a trace always make the most compelling cold case mysteries, mainly because they baffle even the most intrepid investigators. The famous urban legend of “The Vanishing Lady” also known as “The Vanishing Hotel Room” may very well have been based on a real person but the true facts are lost to time. No matter. The strange tale, which first emerged in the early 1900s, has been appropriated by various writers and filmmakers in some form over the years such as the 1913 novel The End of Her Honeymoon by Marie Belloc-Lowndes (author of The Lodger), Sir Basil Thomson’s 1925 novel The Vanishing of Mrs. Fraser and the 1932 film The Midnight Warning. My favorite variation on this theme is the Victorian era mystery, So Long at the Fair (1950), produced by the British film studio, Gainsborough Pictures. The title comes from the English folk tune “Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be?,” which contains the line, “Johnny’s so long at the fair.”Continue reading
Classic movie lovers in the U.S. probably know Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in the perennial holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version. He is also memorable for his supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950) but, more importantly, British comedy fans adore Sim specifically for his eccentric comedic characters in such popular films as The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), Laughter in Paradise (1951) and Innocents in Paris (1953). Less familiar to American audiences but guaranteed to turn you into an Alastair Sim fanatic if you’re not one already is Green for Danger, a 1946 suspense thriller starring Sim as the sly-as-a-fox Inspector Cockrill.Continue reading
Among the French New Wave directors, Claude Chabrol was the most prolific filmmaker after Jean-Luc Godard but his work was always divided between personal projects and commercial vehicles which he felt obligated to make so he could finance the former. Unfortunately, most of his “for hire” projects like Code Name: Tiger (1964) and Who’s Got the Black Box? (1967) were not successful with the public and ended up adversely affecting his reputation among film critics after his acclaimed film debut, Le Beau Serge (1958). Although he enjoyed a major comeback in the late sixties-early seventies with such well-received efforts as Les Biches (1969), La Femme Infidele (1969) and Le Boucher (1970), the films he made between 1959 and 1967 were mostly regarded as minor or flawed works by French critics, which hurt their distribution chances outside of France. One title that fell through the cracks and is now being reassessed as one of his most important early works is The Third Lover (1962), which was released on Blu-Ray in late February of 2020. Continue reading
With more than 100 feature films, shorts, video and TV work to his credit, Jean-Luc Godard is surely the most audacious, groundbreaking and prolific filmmaker from his generation. Even longtime admirers and film historians have probably not seen all of his work and some of it like the political cinema he made with Jean-Pierre Gorin under the collaborative name Groupe Dziga Vertov is tough going for even the most ardent Godard completist. Weekend (1967) is generally acknowledged as the last film Godard made before heading in a more experimental, decidedly non-commercial direction which roughly stretched from 1969 until 1980 when he reemerged from the wilderness with the unexpected art house success, Sauve qui peut (Every Man for Himself). But most of the work he made during that eleven year period prior to 1980 championed social and political change through ideological scenarios and leftist diatribes that were overly cerebral and static compared to earlier career milestones like Breathless (1960), Contempt (1963) and Pierrot le Fou (1965).
Of the films he made during the Groupe Dziga Vertov period, only Tout Va Bien (1972), which starred Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, attracted mainstream critical attention but most of the reviews at the time were indifferent or hostile to this Marxist, Bertolt Brecht-inflluenced polemic about a workers’ strike at a sausage factory. Much more interesting to me was the film he attempted to make in 1969, tentatively titled 1 AM (or One American Movie). A collaboration with cinema-verite pioneers D. A. Pennabaker and Richard Leacock, the project was abandoned after Godard lost interest during the editing phase but Pennebaker ended up completing his own version of the existing footage which he titled 1 PM (or One Parallel Movie). This is a brief history of the film’s journey from concept to screen. Continue reading
*This is the second part of a revised and updated version of a Norman Lloyd interview which was first recorded in March 2010 just prior to the actor/director/producer’s appearance at the first Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.
Here is the link to Part 1: https://cinemasojourns.com/2017/04/09/norman-lloyd-hollywoods-long-distance-runner/ Continue reading