In March 1979 a small scale but offbeat and ingenious little crime drama entitled The Silent Partner slipped into U.S. theaters without any advance word. A Canadian tax shelter write-off, the movie might have passed unnoticed if it hadn’t been for a handful of U.S. film critics who championed the release such as Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, who called it “a thriller that was not only intelligently and well acted and very scary, but also had the most audaciously clockwork plot I’ve seen in a long time…it’s worthy of Hitchcock.” And Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it “a dense, quirky, uncommonly interesting movie, this time with a high quotient of suspense.”
Over the years The Silent Partner has built up a considerable fan base and has become a welcome Yuletide viewing alternative (it is set during the Christmas season) to the umpteenth airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. What most American viewers don’t realize is that The Silent Partner is a remake of the 1969 Danish thriller Think of a Number (Taenk pa et tal), directed by Palle Kjaerulff-Schmidt.
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).
Yves Montand (center in raincoat) and Jane Fonda (lower right) star in Jean-Luc Godard’s Tout Va Bien (1972).
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 →
A scene from You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), filmed on location in New York City
Before he broke through as one of the most dynamic and successful directors of his generation in 1972 with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola had been working his way up from the lower rungs of the film industry since the early sixties in various capacities for producer/director Roger Corman (dialogue director on Tower of London , second unit director on Premature Burial  and others). Although his first full-fledged directorial effort was the sexploitation comedy Tonight for Sure (1962), which was barely distributed even on the grindhouse circuit, Dementia 13 , was really the first indication that Coppola had promise as a filmmaker. Made on a miniscule budget, this gothic murder mystery shot on location in Ireland was a surprisingly stylish and atmospheric genre film that was released on a double feature with Corman’s The Terror . Yet, it was Coppola’s next feature, You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), that proved to the movie industry and film critics alike that this twenty-seven year old director was already a prodigious talent. Continue reading →