Nicholas Ray’s Gender Bender Western

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

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Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

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

Spies “R” Us

La Peau de TorpedoThe 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.

Catherine Jacobsen & Frederic de Pasquale in La peau de torpedo (1970) aka Only the Cool

Catherine Jacobsen & Frederic de Pasquale in La peau de torpedo (1970) aka Only the Cool

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.

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