Akira Kurosawa’s Record of a Living Being

The Japanese film poster for I Live in Fear (1955), directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune.

One of the first Japanese commercial features to directly address the fear of nuclear holocaust and the implications of the atom bomb, Record of a Living Being, which is better known as I Live in Fear (1955, aka Ikimono no Kiroku) was an unusual and unexpected movie for director Akira Kurosawa. He had recently completed Seven Samurai (1954), a huge box office and critical success in both Japan and around the world, but his new work was much smaller in scale compared to that sprawling period epic.   Continue reading

Joshua Logan’s Fanny in Cinemascope and Stereophonic Sound

Joshua Logan, director of the Broadway stage musical and the 1961 film version of Fanny, based on the famous Marcel Pagnol trilogy.

The Way It Was Meant To Be Seen! This was allegedly Logan’s proposed marketing tag line for his 1961 film adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s famous trilogy which included Marius, Fanny and César. More grounded in urban myth than reality, this silly anecdote does call into question how audiences responded to movie marquees displaying the title Fanny. The expensive Warner Bros. production turned out to be a boxoffice hit but it might have sold even more tickets if Logan had called it Leslie Caron’s Fanny. At least in France there was nothing funny about the name. It was in their cultural DNA and was a name with a beloved literary pedigree that went all the way back to 1929 when Pagnol first premiered his play Marius which introduced his colorful cast of characters from the Marseilles waterfront.  Continue reading

A Time for Demonic Visitations

“According to the ancient Romans, the Hour of the Wolf means the time between night and dawn, just before the light comes, and people believed it to be the time when demons had a heightened power and vitality, the hour when most people died and most children were born, and when nightmares came to one.”

Setting the stage for what will follow with this ominous introduction, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 feature Hour of the Wolf (Swedish title: Vargtimmen) is probably the closest the director has ever come to making a horror film, one that crosses over into the realm of the supernatural. Continue reading

Dietrich and von Sternberg’s Last Tango

When The Scarlet Empress (1934), Josef von Sternberg’s lavish historical epic starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great, proved to be a critical and commercial disaster for Paramount, the director realized his days were numbered at the studio. So why not go for broke in one last picture? The result was The Devil is a Woman (1935). Continue reading

The Age of Assassins (1967)

A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be.   Continue reading