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
No, I am not referring to the 1961 musical by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, which enjoyed successful stage productions in London and Broadway before being adapted for the screen in 1966. I’m talking about the 1970 satire, Fermate il Mondo…Voglio Scendere! (the title translates as Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! In English), which was the directorial debut of Italian actor Giancarlo Cobelli, based on a screenplay he wrote with fellow thespians Giancarlo Badessi and Laura Betti, a close friend and frequent collaborator with Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film is a frenzied attack on consumerism and the Italian media but its bursting-at-the-seams energy emanates not so much from outrage as it does from a madcap sense of anarchy.Continue reading
The road to international fame was a long and arduous journey for Jeanne Moreau but it all began in 1948 when she became a stage actress at age 18. She started appearing in films a year later though it wasn’t until 1958 that she emerged as an important French actress, thanks to two Louis Malle features, the noir thriller Elevator to the Gallows and the scandalous romantic drama, The Lovers. More famous career-defining roles followed such as Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961), Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962), Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels (1963) and Luis Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid (1964). Yet, in terms of global recognition, she probably reached her peak in the mid-sixties when she appeared in big-budget Hollywood productions like The Victors (1963), The Train (1964) and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964). It was during this period that she appeared in Mata Hari, Agent H21 aka Secret Agent FX18 (1964), one of her least known and rarely seen movies.Continue reading
When a movie is released under various titles it usually means there are problems. It could be confusion over how to market it or a simple case of a movie that doesn’t fit clearly into any designated genre or maybe it’s a star-driven, major studio release that’s too quirky for the average moviegoer but yields enough curiosity value to inspire various promotional approaches to finding the right audience. All of these could apply to Joy House (1964), an international production based on a pulp fiction paperback by American author Day Keene and filmed on the Riviera near Nice. It stars English-speaking (Lola Albright, Jane Fonda, Sorrell Booke, George Gaynes of Tootsie fame) and French-speaking actors (Alain Delon, Andre Oumansky, Annette Poivre, Marc Mazza) and is also known as The Love Cage and Les Felins (the original French title). Joy House was not a popular success at the time (most critics were unkind in their coverage) but it is a favorite film of mine, flaws and all. Continue reading
In the fifties, the Western genre experienced a revitalization that saw new approaches to the form – everything from a film noir interpretation like The Furies (1950) to a psychological thriller like High Noon (1952) to a promotional gimmick like the 3-D Western, Hondo (1953). However, it’s safe to say that Johnny Guitar (1954), Nicholas Ray’s bold experiment with color, role reversal, stylized sets, and operatic emotions is a one of a kind masterpiece that will never be repeated. Continue reading
Films that explore mental illness, especially Hollywood productions such as The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and A Brilliant Mind, usually tend to be heavy on the histrionics providing highly dramatic showcases and Oscar award opportunities for actors. But a descent into madness isn’t always signaled by wildly disruptive or overwrought behavior from the afflicted. Sometimes the illness can creep up slowly by degrees and pass for something more fleeting and subtle that avoids detection during the early stages. Life Upside Down (La vie à l’envers), directed by Alain Jessua, is a remarkable example of this, presenting a man who goes quietly mad while interpreting his erratic behavior as a profound new self-awareness. Continue reading
The success of the James Bond series, beginning in 1962 with Dr. No, had an amazing impact on the international film world. For almost a decade or more, hundreds of imitations from Asia, Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world flooded the market. The majority of these were formulaic, action-oriented B movies like Kiss Kiss – Bang Bang and Secret Agent Super Dragon (both 1966) but occasionally a few would depart from the heroic fantasy scenarios to present much more realistic depictions of the espionage underworld such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), based on John le Carré’s novel, and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) with a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
Jean Delannoy’s La Peau de Torpedo (1970) doesn’t fit comfortably into either camp even though it does traffic in the grim, Cold War paranoia associated with le Carré’s novels while spinning a wildly improbable tale that makes the Roger Moore 007 adventures seem almost plausible in comparison. What makes the film worth seeing besides the eclectic international cast that includes Stéphane Audran, Lilli Palmer, Michel Constantin, and Klaus Kinski is the unconventional story arc which begins like a routine espionage thriller and then unravels spectacularly about thirty minutes into the film with an act of violence that injects a welcome note of unpredictability into the rest of the proceedings.