Imagine a life during wartime where your country is invaded by foreign forces and your friends and neighbors have either joined the resistance or sided with the enemy in order to save their own skins. The lines were more clearly drawn during the American Civil War where geography, uniforms and flags were the distinguishing physical differences but in Europe, wars and revolutions were much more complicated and confusing for the opposing sides. Consider, for example, The Red and the White (Hungarian title: Csillagosok, Katonak, 1967), directed by Miklos Jancso, in which Hungary collapses into chaos in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. As depicted by Jansco, the landscape becomes a no man’s land where the roles of the oppressors and the oppressed are constantly switching and non-partisan peasants are caught in the middle with no control over their fates. The result is a visually mesmerizing, almost absurdist view of power changing hands almost as rapidly as gamers in an interactive duel.Continue reading
What is the worst thing that could happen to a celebrated world class pianist? It would have to be something that destroyed his famous hands, wouldn’t it? The Hands of Orlac, based on a novel by Maurice Renard, has been adapted for the screen numerous times but the 1924 version by German director Robert Wiene remains a masterpiece of silent horror cinema.Continue reading
A master of 20th century cinema, the Swedish director and actor Victor Sjöström is best remembered for his moving performance as the elderly physician reflecting on his life in Wild Strawberries (1957). As a director, his highly acclaimed 1921 adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel The Phantom Carriage convinced MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer to bring him to America where Sjöström directed the prestigious projects He Who Gets Slapped (1924), with Lon Chaney, and two starring Lillian Gish, The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928), arguably the pinnacle of his Hollywood tenure. While The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) is not as well known, it is considered by many film historians to be Sjöström’s silent-era masterpiece and, nearly a century after its release, is enjoying a revival that should elevate its stature in the director’s pantheon.
Do you like knowing what to expect when you go to a movie? Some moviegoers like everything laid out neatly and wrapped up at the end with no ambiguity. But when the director’s intentions and directorial choices are never made obvious or explicit, it can result in a baffling but memorable viewing experience. Welcome to Serge Bozon’s La France (2007), which had been widely praised at various film festivals (it was nominated for two awards at the Cannes Film Festival), but never made much of an impact on U.S. film critics and moviegoers.Continue reading
That unlikely combination in the header is just part of the quirky appeal of Lured, a 1947 mystery released by United Artists which is also equal parts comedy and romance. It was a remake of the French film Pieges  by Robert Siodmak and starred Erich von Stroheim, Marie Déa and Maurice Chevalier. Most biographers of Lucille Ball and director Douglas Sirk have routinely dismissed it as an insignificant film in their careers but I think part of the problem was that critics and audiences expected a genuine thriller and got something else entirely. It is an eccentric original and highly recommended for anyone who wants to see Lucille Ball in one of her most underrated and accomplished performances; she plays dance hall hostess hired by the police as an undercover female detective and “bait” for a London serial killer. Continue reading
In the disaster film genre, Krakatoa, East of Java (1969) holds the distinction of being the only one presented in the Cinerama widescreen format but is also the most erroneously titled movie of all time. As many historians and movie critics have pointed out, Krakatoa is west of Java but veracity is not one of Hollywood’s strengths in producing historical epics. And Krakatoa, East of Java is not a factual recreation of the famous 1883 volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean but a lavish B-movie adventure that uses the cataclysmic event only as the background and climactic resolution to its cavalcade of international stars and multiple subplots that play out as pure soap opera. Continue reading