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69 years ago...

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The Snake Pit (1948)
Director: Anatole Litvak
Country: United States
Length: 108 minutes
Type: Drama

'The Snake Pit' is both a serious examination of the state of the mental healthcare system of the US in the 1940s and a disturbing portrait of the disorientation of actually being a schizophrenic inmate. Olivia de Havilland gives a superb, nuanced and unglamorous performance as the patient at the center of the story. Leo Genn plays the infinitely caring and understanding 'Dr. Kik', a lone voice of compassion in a seemingly unfeeling, underfunded and chaotic system, almost as disturbed as the people it's setup to cure. A real masterpiece that it is claimed to have brought about change in mental-health policy in several states.



Another Orson Welles film next.
70 years ago...

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The Lady from Shanghai (1948)
Director: Orson Welles
Country: United States
Length: 87 minutes
Type: Film-Noir, Mystery

Orson Welles' 'The Lady from Shanghai' has a lot of memorable scenes and inventive elements but it's too flawed to be considered a classic in my opinion. The usual sad story of the studio meddling with his vision is true again. Also Orson's Irish accent isn't 100% authentic and I don't much care for his constant exposition voice-over (I'm unsure if this was his idea, or not). The awful and ill-judged score (more on that below) is always trying desperately to present the film as a Romance, when it's anything but. However, the influential closing house of mirrors scene is rightly famous, incorporating a dizzyingly complex series of reflections and FX shots. I've read famous filmmakers saying they couldn't work out how he did some of it. Rita Hayworth (Orson's wife at the time) is perfect as the peroxide blonde femme-fatale and Mercury regular Everett Sloane is unforgettably creepy as her controlling husband.

The 4K restoration from the original nitrate is one of the best looking B&W blu-rays out there. While it could hardly look better, it's just a shame the film doesn't sound the way it should. The Indicator blu-ray includes a print of a 1947 nine-page memo from Orson in which he details all the things wrong with the soundmix and score (some visual cuts are mentioned too); Key soundFX missing, dialogue sync issues, dead/empty soundscapes, music where there should be no music and vice versa. He's generally contemptuous of Heinz Roemheld's repetitive and dated score, which attempts to force a romantic feel to things that the content of the story does not suit. Welles makes frequent reference to a superior temp score he had prepared but unfortunately he doesn't detail exactly which pieces he used beyond naming avant-garde composer George Antheil. Even so I'd have thought it would be fairly straight forward to reconstruct something approximating Welles' intentions with the notes he left (if you had access to the original sound elements). With alternate footage missing or destroyed it's impossible to fully restore the film but the sound could be fixed. I'm quite surprised that nobody has done it yet?



A Bob Hope comedy next.
69 years ago...

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The Paleface (1948)
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Country: United States
Length: 91 minutes
Type: Comedy Western

This was my first Jane Russell film, she can't act but she's got buckets of attitude and that counts for a lot. Russell is well cast as a sexy version of gunfighter 'Calamity Jane' on a secret mission for the US Government. Bob Hope plays 'Painless Potter', a hapless Dentist who Jane cons into being her husband and her cover story. Most of the humour derives from the cowardly Painless believing he is the action hero, when it's actually Jane shooting the bad guys. Bob Hope is basically doing The Marx Brothers' routine but with all the edges taken off. I couldn't help imagining Groucho's Doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush delivering all the same lines with better timing. The fun wagon chase finale had touches of the same from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and the 4th-wall-breaking closing line was fun but overall I was disappointed.



The last Powell and Pressburger film in the list next... nooooooo!
70 years ago...

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The Red Shoes (1948)
Director: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Country: United Kingdom
Length: 133 minutes
Type: Drama

'The Red Shoes' is about the feverish backstage world of a touring ballet company and the artistic ambition and obsession it takes to create great art. Anton Walbrook's piercing eyes are unforgettable in his role as the ballet's tempestuous impresario. The extended ballet performance sequence has some impressive FX shots that I couldn't figure out, even when replaying them. Every aspect of this film is high-class from the Cinematography, to the writing, to the acting but it's not my favourite Archers project, you probably need to give the tiniest toss about ballet dancing to fully appreciate it Wink . Once again the Criterion/Film-Foundation restoration makes the Technicolor shots immaculately sharp and rich.



A John Huston classic next.

By the way, I noticed that Brian Easdale's music from the funeral scene (from 12.30 in the clip below) is almost identical to John William's theme for the Grail in 'The Last Crusade'. Even the bells on the orchestration are reproduced. It's fitting to notice, when one of the subjects of 'The Red Shoes' is plagiarism. Listen and tell me that I'm wrong? Big Grin



That's very true, I guess.  Well done for recognizing that.  Especially the beginning of the cue by John Williams heavily "references" the theme from "The Red Shoes".

Back on topic: I'm really enjoying your "journal"-like reviews!  Keep it going!
(10-17-2018, 04:06 PM)Canon Editor Wrote: [ -> ]I'm really enjoying your "journal"-like reviews!  Keep it going!

Glad to hear.


70 years ago...

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Director: John Huston
Country: United States
Length: 126 minutes
Type: Drama

John Huston Writes, Directs and has a cameo in this searingly dramatic film about three gold prospectors. Filming partly on location in Mexico gives everything a realism far ahead of other Hollywood films of this period. The costumes, dusty terrain, Mexican setting and dark tone make this feel like an early forerunner of the Spaghetti Western Genre. On the surface it's about the corrupting power of Gold but as the paranoia sets in, gold is just the mirror that reveals the three men's true natures to us the viewer.

Walter Huston (the Director's father), Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt start as three penniless drifters, setting out on an adventure, forming the three generations of a sort of dysfunctional family. For 1948, the depictions of violence and murder are surprisingly unflinching, especially an early scene when two of our "heroes" viciously beat a third man for the money he owes them. I wasn't surprised to read that this was in Stanley Kubrick's top-5 because the unsettling wailing theme music composer Max Steiner created to represent the malevolent power of the gold has a similar feel to the theme Kubrick selected for the monoliths in '2001: A Space Odyssey'.



Another film by Robert J. Flaherty next.
70 years ago...

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Louisiana Story (1948)
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Country: United States
Length: 78 minutes
Type: Docufiction

I found this last film from Robert J. Flaherty to be unrelentingly tedious and a questionable choice for the 1001 list in my opinion. With funding from an Oil company, Flaherty makes an unfocused film about a Cajun boy and a benign drilling operation on his Bayou. It feels so out-of-date in 1948, like an unpolished film from the early Silent days. There is some minimal dialogue though and sporadic sound but it's poorly recorded and very badly mixed but the awarding winning score is lovely. The cast of non-professional local people are clearly so, although the central boy has a charming naiveté. It doesn't help the cast that Flaherty leaves in what are clearly out-takes where they are speaking at the wrong time and glancing towards, laughing at and even talking to the camera. I had to amuse myself by imagining that the boy's cute pet Raccoon was actually Rocket-Raccoon and this was his origin story Big Grin .



Another Olivia de Havilland film next.
69 years ago...

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The Heiress (1949)
Director: William Wyler
Country: United States
Length: 115 minutes
Type: Drama

Set in the upper echelons of 19th Century New York society, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is the girl of the title, shy, ordinary, trusting and kind. Her father is an outwardly civil and wealthy Doctor but he secretly despises his daughter (something she doesn't suspect at the start of the film) because she doesn't match up to his beloved late wife (you are left to infer Catherine was the cause of her death in child birth). Ralph Richardson plays the father with such subtlety, always calm and smiling but with little comments like daggers.  Montgomery Clift plays a young foppish gentleman who is courting Catherine, she thinks for love, her father thinks for her money. The battle of wills between the three is where the drama happens.

Aaron Copland's score wisely soundtracks what Catherine feels and believes, therefore not influencing our opinion on whether she is being deceived. We are so conditioned to feel a character genuinely loves another character, if the romantic music tells us they are, so when the score gives no hint of duplicity, it's very hard to distrust their motives. The whole film virtually takes place in a few rooms but the sets are so lavishly decorated and beautifully shot that the film never feels small.



Another Alec Guinness film next.
69 years ago...

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Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Director: Robert Hamer
Country: United Kingdom
Length: 106 minutes
Type: Black-Comedy

'Kind Hearts and Coronets' has got to be in the running for the greatest Comedy-Film of all-time, if you find murder and mortality funny that is. You know you are in for "Gallows humour" literally and figuratively when the first humourless lines are spoken by a Pierrepoint-a-like hangman. This execution is the framing device for a flashback-narration about the life-story of a once distant branch of the family tree of an inherited peerage, who has murdered himself into title of 10th Duke of Chalfont. Like Shakespeare's Richard III before him and 'House of Cards's Francis Urquhart after, the killer Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) confides with us the audience, letting us enjoy a delicious complicity in his Machiavellian schemes. Alec Guinness famously plays nine parts, the whole of the rotten aristocratic D'Ascoyne family. The script is full of Wildean macabre witticisms like "It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms". The veneer of total comedy perfection is sadly scratched in the last minutes when two characters begin to quote from a nursery rhyme with the N-word in it. Even so, you need to see 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' again and again.



A script by the famous Dalton Trumbo next.

I decided to watch the films from the 2013 edition in randomized order.
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