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Garp's Franchise Film reviews

Garp

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1998]

Dario Argento helms this version, taking a certain amount of liberties along the way. First off, our anti-hero (played by Julian Sands) starts his skulking career as an unwanted baby, raised by, er, rats. (Do you like rats? It would definitely be a plus if you do, as they play quite a big role in this film.) Anyway, the rats manage to teach him English, how to wear clothes, etc, like any well-to-do family of rats, and no doubt turn a blind rodent eye whenever he viciously slaughters anyone who stumbles into his underground lair.

This is a strange film. It has a non-filmic look, making it seem like a Mexican telenovella, and yet the production values are high. The costumes are great and the sets are sumptuous. Sands is appropriately creepy as the Phantom, and Asia Argento (yes, Dario's daughter) is passable as Christine. There are flashes of, well not greatness, but certainly quite goodness hiding here, but the whole thing comes across as slapdash. None of the scenes seem to fit each other somehow.

It's one of the more bloodier Phantoms out there, if that's what you're looking for, with nudity that manages to be unerotic. When the ratcatcher and his midget sidekick invent a vehicle that vacuums and slices rats, I began to question why I watch these films. Who benefits here? I'm still struggling with that one.

And then Sands gets up and close and personal with his rats and I just throw my hands in the air. Why does it have to make sense? Life is too short. Enjoy the ride.

I can't think of a good reason why I would ever watch this again. Honestly, I can't think of a good one why I watched it this time either.
 

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BONUS; 'Phantom of the Megaplex' [2000]

This Disney Channel Original Movie takes a dash of 'Phantom' and mixes it with 'Clerks' and 'Scooby-Doo' to concoct a film about cinema.

Despite starting with Lon Chaney's shocking reveal from 1925 (plus some movie posters scattered around), this film isn't really interested in adapting Leroux's novel. The long narrated introduction mentions the legend of a phantom, the unwitting victim when the old theater was torn down to be replaced by the glossy megaplex. But the concept doesn't really go anywhere. When things start going awry for the grand premiere of a new movie, we're like Fred, Daphne and Velma, trying to figure out which character is the culprit.

We're introduced to a quirky teenage band of employees and their idiosyncrasies - some more entertaining than others - and how they keep the cinema from collapsing into complete disarray. Mickey Rooney is on hand to scatter movie magic into the audience - his monologue is a love letter to film, and it's a good one - as well as sing 'Hooray for Hollywood!'.

As a family film, it's enjoyable, but nothing special. You may get more out of it if you've ever worked at a cinema, I suppose, or you just want to remember a simpler time when we could easily go to one.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [2004]

I don't have much experience when it comes to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, to be honest. I remember that my school put on a production of 'Joseph and his technicolour dreamcoat', but I wasn't in it and I'm not even sure I watched it. But I suppose LLoyd Webber tunes have a tendency to enter you via osmosis or something, as I found I knew a lot of the songs from this film adaptation of his Broadway hit anyway.

This version follows pretty much every other version out there with little deviation. The Phantom (I don't believe he's ever called Erik) has a backstory akin to 'The Elephant Man', and there's a framing device set many decades after the events portrayed which wasn't needed, but otherwise it's the same old same old.

In terms of spectacle, this version shines. It looks great from start to finish. Costumes are lavish, the sets incredible and the effects well done. (The crashing of the chandelier is probably the best on screen.) Yet this version just wasn't for me.

It's perhaps churlish to say this of a musical, but, damn, there are a lot of songs here. It's much more 'Phantom of the Operetta', as more things are sung than said. The songs, on the whole, are good, of course, which is useful as they get repeated in varying degrees throughout the film. But towards the end, they were beginning to drag on me.

The acting is good, overall. Emmy Rossum is beautiful as Christine (I have no idea if that's her real voice, but it is wonderful) and Patrick Wilson is earnest and heroic as Raoul. Gerard Butler (pretty sure that's his voice) is hit or miss, and the reveal of his face is disappointing. He looks like a burns victim with a bad skin graft, not the hideous monster we're led to believe. Minnie Driver is the comic relief with her appropriately over-the-top campness as Carlotta, and then disappears for most of the second half.

If you're looking for splendor, you'll find it here. If you loved the stage show and want to relive it, this will scratch that itch too. Or if you've always wanted to but never had the chance, well, here you go. But as someone who mostly tolerates musicals and has been indifferent to Andrew Lloyd Webber for years, this didn't do much for me.
 

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'A Phantom of the Opera' [2014]

Is it 'A' phantom, or just 'Phantom'? Either way, this is a low-budget retelling, mixing in several bits from other adaptations and coming up with something that is just about watchable.

An old theater in a seemingly small town is haunted. A group of young filmmakers with their own TV show (or possibly YouTube channel) hang out, interview the manager and generally get weird vibes from the place as the story of the Phantom is retold in a series of flashbacks.

This is one of those films in which the idea is better than the execution. The low-budget aspect works in its favour, as the shaky cam and out-of-focus shots add to an almost found-footage type of film. The real story about who the Phantom really is and his connection to the theater are teased out over time, and it is a unique interpretation, if not a particularly interesting one. The effects (minus the Phantom's makeup) are good, as are costumes and locations for the flashbacks.

Unfortunately, the film is undermined by appalling acting. Everyone is either stilted or over the top. The filmmakers do their best to draw you in with some creepy atmospherics, but then everything is blown up as soon as someone opens their mouth. It's frustrating as with competent actors, this could have been quite good.

'A' for effort. But it missed the mark for me.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera: Angel of Music' [1925/9]

I conclude my viewing of various iterations of 'Phantom of the Opera' by coming full circle. 'The Angel of Music' edition is a fan-edit-like project, taking bits from each version of the Lon Chaney film, removing the intertitles and adding dialogue and sound effects. For good measure, the team also convert it to red-and-blue old-school 3D.

Diehard fans of the original have already tuned out, but I was intrigued by the concept. To give them credit, the editing is well done and, as it's been so long since I watched the originals, I had forgotten which scene came from which version. The fact that it told a cohesive story is in its favour.

The foley effects are probably the most impressive thing about this film. A lot of effort went into this and it did add something to the atmosphere. However, the same cannot be said for the dialogue. The script is fine, and on occasions the words synch with the actors perfectly. Unfortunately, the voice actors aren't the greatest. They lurch from overly comic to boringly flat. Considering this is the main selling point of the film, its a shame more effort wasn't extended here.

The 3D is a gimmick which didn't work (thankfully a 2D version is also included in the DVD) - it muddied an already less than pristine print, and only occasionally added any depth. On the plus side, the extras on the two DVDs are worth checking out, especially an overview of the novel and the various versions available on film.

Kudos to the team for trying something different. Yes, it's a bit of a misfire, but it's not a total dud. It's never going to replace my Kino Lorber blu-ray, but it might get a play as background to a campy Halloween party sometime.
 

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For my next franchises, I'm going to be concentrating on the films 'Outside the Law' and 'The Maltese Falcon'.

'Outside the Law' was a silent film from 1920, which was remade in 1930, and then again as 'Inside Job' in 1946.

'The Maltese Falcon' was made in 1931, remade as 'Satan met a Lady' in 1936, remade most famously in 1941 with Humphrey Bogart, then finally a comedy sequel was filmed as 'The Black Bird' in 1975.

Apart from Bogart's version, all of these films are new to me.
 

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Love reading your reviews and experiences with these films. Like you, I'm only familiar with the Bogart film so these will be some interesting reviews to read. The fact that a sequel even exists, starring George Segal of all people now intrigues me and I'll have to seek it out now and check it out.

Enjoy.
 

Garp

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Love reading your reviews and experiences with these films. Like you, I'm only familiar with the Bogart film so these will be some interesting reviews to read. The fact that a sequel even exists, starring George Segal of all people now intrigues me and I'll have to seek it out now and check it out.

Enjoy.

Thanks! I watch a lot of films, and enjoy reviewing them here, so it's nice to know someone appreciates them. Thank you.

If you want to check out 'The Black Bird', it's currently available on YouTube.
 

Garp

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'Outside the Law' [1920]

Produced, co-written and directed by Tod Browning, this early gangster flick features Lon Chaney in a dual role, but the star is undoubtedly the strong female lead, Priscilla Dean.

I was hoping to like this more. Lon Chaney playing a villain and a Chinaman? That's gotta be worth a look. Well, in actuality, Chaney is very much a supporting player here. When his slimy 'Blackie' character is on screen, he's naturally very good, but the less said about his stereotypically slanted-eyes-buck-toothed Chinaman the better. Still, the film has to be applauded in that at least the Chinese characters are the good guys here.

Perhaps I was overthinking it, but the plot seemed more complicated on screen than reading its synopsis elsewhere. Molly (Dean) and her gangster father are attempting to mend their wicked ways by help of E. A. Warren's Chang Lo character and his Confucius teachings. However, when Blackie frames the father for murder, Molly succumbs to her previous life of crime to double-cross him.

The sets and depiction of San Francisco's Chinatown are excellent, as is the use of shadows and symbols, making this a contender for an early Film Noir. Dean is also great to watch, more so as the scheming gangster moll in the second act than the first and third. However, the film gets bogged down once the sting is played and the main characters hide out for the majority of the film. Dean is great here, kicking puppies and making the toddler next door with the extreme haircut cry. Still, the film loses steam here awhile and doesn't pick up until a rousing and very bloody fight at the climax.

The last third of the film has a great deal of celluloid damage, which is offputting but doesn't render it completely unwatchable. In fact, for a film that's over 100 years old, it looks incredible for much of the runtime. I'm glad to have it in my collection, but I can't help but feel a little disappointed. I'm interested to see what Browning did with this story in 1930 with Edward G Robinson in Chaney's role.
 

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'Outside the Law' [1930]

Tod Browning revisits his gangster film, this time with sound and (by the looks of it) a reduced budget, with Edward G Robinson playing the heavy. Despite the original having its own issues, this remake is inferior in all regards.

The story is very similar, although certain aspects have been dropped. Connie isn't looking to mend her ways, nor stitch up the rival villain, Cobra (Robinson). She just wants to crack a bank safe with her lover Fingers, and make sure Cobra doesn't get a slice of the loot. The same dull middle section exists here, with Connie eschewing the toddler next door and his puppies, then finding redemption in his bawling and a shadow of a cross from his broken kite. Mary Nolan doesn't have as a great a screen presence or acting chops as Priscilla Dean in the same role 10 years earlier, and these scenes drag even more.

Like Lon Chaney in the original, Edward G Robinson lights up the screen whenever he's around, with his perfect mobster sneer and trademark drawl, see, but he's absent for most of the second act, alas. As a Pre-Code film, it teases the audience but ultimately plays it safe - there are early scenes of models provocatively draped in poses depicting supposedly famous artworks, and a great bait-and-switch scene suggesting nudity. (Fingers is talking to Connie in the bathroom, sounds of splashing water echoing. When the camera takes us inside, we find she's washing the neighbor's dog.)

The suspenseful scene in the 1920 version where each character is hiding a gun is wasted here, and the shoot-out is dispensed with in favor of a more intimate climax. Both are poor decisions and add nothing to the film. This film is interesting as a comparison, but a snooze (yes, I nodded off) otherwise.
 

Garp

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'Inside Job' [1946]

Tod Browning's story gets a saccharine polish and a new title. The film follows the 1930 version more closely than the original 1920, but removes any bite the former had.

'Inside Job' begins in the same fashion as 'Outside the Law', with our (anti)hero Eddie Norton (Alan Curtis) being spotted by a fellow villain as he's playing a robotic mannequin in a shop window (was this really a thing in the 30s and 40s?). Our fellow villain here is Preston Foster as Bart Madden, who just cannot compete with Lon Chaney or Edward G Robinson in similar roles. Madden is less of a gangster and more of a crooked businessman - a sleazy playboy who wouldn't get his hands dirty, thus making him less convincing as a would-be killer. Anyway, he blackmails Norton into using his 'in' at the store to pull an 'inside job', else he'll tell his employers he's an ex-con and lose him his job.

This is the major difference with this version - his wife Claire (Ann Rutherford) is ignorant of his murky past. Still, when he incredulously decides to rob the store, double-cross Madden and abscond rather than risk losing his job, Claire is all for it. And so when the pair inevitably hole up with the dough, it is he who is belligerent to the bawling brat next door. A woman couldn't possibly be shown being so unladylike in 1946, I suppose.

The film plays out much like before. The dog-washing scene is still here, and the Christmas angle is played up a bit more (we even have Samuel S Hinds, George Bailey's father from 'It's a Wonderful Life' showing up towards the end!) although the Christian imagery is downplayed (is that a silhouette of a cross in the end titles? I'm not sure).

At 65 minutes, the middle section drags much less, and the film feels more open and less stagey than before. The acting is a step above too, despite the lack of a true villain. Overall, though, it's pretty anemic. It's interesting that such a simple story could boast three adaptations, but if I had to pick one, I'd go for the silent original. If you're curious about 'Inside Job', though, it's currently free to view on YouTube.
 

Garp

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'The Maltese Falcon' [1931]

Ricardo Cortez plays Sam Spade in this first iteration of Dashiell Hammett's novel. Cortez's Spade is a bit of a playboy, seemingly more at ease with a quip and a leer than a gun. This is more light-hearted than hard-boiled, with some pre-Code titillation to boot. Dudley Digges comes off best as Casper Gutman, like a slightly slimmer Charles Laughton.

I don't know what to say about this film. It's talky and stagey and didn't really grab me, but it's not a bad film. The elements are there to make it special, but I suppose it took another ten years and Humphrey Bogart to achieve that.
 

Garp

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'Satan met a Lady' [1936]

'The Maltese Falcon' gets updated, this time as brisk comedy. However, that eponymous bird isn't anywhere to be seen in this version, not even in the credits that admit it's from Hammett's seemingly untitled novel.

Warren William leads as Ted Shane rather than Sam Spade in one of the less egregious changes. Shane is another quip-heavy detective with an eye for the ladies, coming up against Bette Davis. The film tries to cover up the lack of humour in the script with quickfire banter, making it seem like a screwball comedy but minus the laughs. 'Satan met a Lady' is a farce, with ridiculous scenarios filmed at a rapid pace. Taken at face value as such, some of it works - the scene of the 'Englishman' returning to Shane's house after ransacking it to apologise is well done, for example - and most of the actors seem to be having a good time to bolster some enthusiasm.

Not so Davis. Her contempt for this film is palpable, which is fascinating to watch. Even playing the femme fatale, she bites off her dialogue, as though looking for an exit. It isn't that surprising, as even early in her career, this piece of fluff was beneath her.

The banter between Warren and Marie Wilson as Murgatroyd the secretary keeps it interesting when the film begins to sag; honestly, I could watch more films with them together, preferably with a better script. The plot dissolves into chaos when the horn (the Falcon's replacement here) is found, with a huge exposition dump to help the audience figure out who did what to whom and why. Not that many would care by this stage anyway.

This is a mildly interesting detour on the way to John Huston's 1941 version, and not much more.
 

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'The Maltese Falcon' [1941]

Third time's the charm. 'The Maltese Falcon' is adapted again, and the stars align. Humphrey Bogart plays Sam Spade, of course, with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet playing the perfect foils.

Right off the bat, we're introduced to the legend of the Maltese Falcon via on-screen text. With that out the way, it's Bogart's picture from here on in. Gone are the overly jokey portrayals from previous iterations; this is a hard-boiled detective attempting to make some cash, stay one step ahead of the law and maybe, who knows, get the girl too. This could easily have been a one-dimensional character - Spade seems lost most of the time as to what's going on and who to believe - but Bogart brings the role to life. See his grin in the hallway after his faux outrage scene with Greenstreet, or the smile and almost wink at Mary Astor's O'Shaughnessy as he's on the phone to the police in the final scene, knowing now what he must do. The disgust on his face as he tries to comfort a widow (a former lover at that) appears eerily genuine.

This is an eminently quotable film, and Bogart delivers his lines as though he's just thought them up on the spot. His back-and-forth with his supporting cast - whether it's Greenstreet, Lorre or the hapless police - is sublime. The direction is intriguing too. There are lots of low angles and shots where main characters are filmed from behind - notably Bogart's first interrogation by the police. Watch out too for Bogart getting a phone call about a character's demise, all off camera with the caller's voice muted. Wonderful stuff.

It's probably impossible to make a perfect film, and there are a couple of low points here too. Elisha Cook Jr is overly wooden and unconvincing as a heavy at this stage of his career, and I didn't buy that Bogart had fallen in love with the femme fatale so easily; the scene plays a tad too melodramatic for my liking. Still, these are not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this version. It's a classic.
 

TM2YC

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'The Maltese Falcon' [1941]

This is an eminently quotable film, and Bogart delivers his lines as though he's just thought them up on the spot

Yes!
 

Garp

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'The Black Bird' [1975]

'The Maltese Falcon' gets a comedy sequel, with George Segal playing Sam Spade Jr. Set in contemporary San Francisco, Spade Jr has inherited his father's detective agency. When people start calling, looking for the fake statue from the 1940s, Jr begins to suspect the lead bird might not be worthless after all...

'The Black Bird' takes what could have looked like a good idea on paper and ruins it. There is a mix of styles here, not least in the fact that Segal and the cops dress like their 1940s compatriots in contrast to 1970s San Francisco. The writers obviously felt they were making a madcap spoof, with plenty of quirky characters. But this is a mean spirited comedy. There is much made of our detective's last name in a predominantly black neighborhood, and precisely zero laughs to be had here. One running sight gag is worthy of Blake Edwards, but that's it.

It's particularly galling that two actors from the 1941 classic reprise their roles - Lee Patrick as the secretary Effie and Elisha Cook Jr as Wilmer - as this film is so far removed from the original as to be embarrassing. Segal is no Bogart, of course, and to his credit he doesn't try to be. He breezes through it, almost rushing, no doubt aware that the script is poor and hoping that we won't notice if it's delivered quickfire. Lionel Stander (Max from 'Hart to Hart', of course) comes off best in a supporting cast that is otherwise forgettable.

Robert Altman proved that you can take a 1940s film noir and update it successfully, but this film is a disaster. If you must check it out, it's currently free to view on YouTube.
 

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Just a quick check-in for those that may be interested: I've taken a quick break from this project as we've bought a house and all my films are packed away, ready for the move this Friday. I hope to be up and running again sometime next week. I've ordered Truffaut's 'Adventures of Antoine Doinel', which will probably be my next franchise. Cheers.
 

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'The 400 Blows' [1959]

Francois Truffaut writes, directs and stars (I missed his cameo in the funfair scene) in the first in a series of 5 films about Antoine Doinel. And perhaps 'stars' is correct anyway as it is semi-autobiographical, depicting a troubled youth who, according to his mother, is only interested in films.

I didn't realise until afterwards that this was Truffaut's directorial debut. This is an incredibly masterful film. The film does not have a plot as such, instead concentrating on Doinel and his escalating misadventures. He goes from naughty teen to juvenile delinquent in the space of a few days, largely as a result of the poor adult role models around him. His mother is having an affair, his father - a lovable idiot to begin with - is out of his depth as a father and loses interest in the position he never wanted, and his teacher is a jaded uninspiring would-be tyrant. Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is not a bad kid, just has been given a bad hand and no positive outlet to change it.

Leaud is incredible here. The scene towards the end in which he discusses his past is so natural it could have been a documentary. In fact, the film reminded me of the British series 'Seven Up' which I watched recently, specifically the first episode. The classroom scenes are a joy to watch, with the boy who can't help getting his paper messy and the fights in the playground. Truffaut manages to make late 50s Paris look both chic and exotic while also grubby and seedy at times. He magically captures a throng of young children engrossed in a puppet show, highlighting the joy and wonder of childhood that contrasts so starkly with Doinel's experiences.

The film ends ambiguously, leaning (I hope) towards the optimistic. Although this is not a film I would rewatch on a regular basis, I am looking forward to spending more time with Doinel and seeing how his life progresses.
 

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'Antoine and Colette' [1962]

We catch up with Antoine as a 17 year old, now living alone in Paris. Narration informs us that he was captured after his escape from juvenile detention, sent to a more secure unit, but was released on probation and now has a job with Philips, the record makers. He is independent and happy.

This short film (30 minutes) was part of an anthology about first love, and gave Truffaut another opportunity to trawl his own past. The Antoine here is a different character than the one we were introduced to in 'The 400 blows'. Whereas younger Antoine was brash and even slightly cocky, the older Antoine (still played by Jean-Pierre Leaud) is less sure of himself, at least when it comes to love. He becomes besotted with the beautiful Colette (Marie-France Pisier) and goes to any length to woo her. He even moves into an apartment across from her (something Truffaut did himself, apparently, with one of his own infatuations) - a move that would scream 'red flag' today. Nonetheless, his advances are on the whole sweet, despite being friend-zoned almost immediately.

This is an endearing film, especially for anyone who has ever been in love at such a tender and confusing age. The cinematography is still wonderful, particularly an early scene when Antoine first notices Colette. They are at a concert, separated by an aisle, both at the periphery of the screen. My eyes flitted back and forth like I was watching a tennis match to catch their movements. I admit I had trouble reconciling the former Antoine to the current Antoine, but perhaps that was the point - love, especially first love, makes us do uncharacteristic things. Next up: 'Stolen Kisses' from 1968.
 

Garp

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'Stolen Kisses' [1968]

The continuing misadventures of Antoine Doinel, now six years older, but looking remarkably like he did in 'Antoine and Colette'. We meet Antoine as he is being discharged from the army. Not unlike how he was as a teenager, it seems he could not fit into military life, going AWOL several times. Without an honorable discharge, he is left to fend for himself again and try to rekindle his on-off relationship with the beautiful Christine (Claude Jade).

This is the first of the Doinel films that plays with humour. Antoine bumbles around, getting mixed up with awkwardly funny characters such as shoeshop owner Georges Tabard, played by a stoic Michael Lonsdale. Despite this being Paris in 1968, there is little in the way of revolution here. Antoine has a lackadaisical approach to work, enjoying a friendly chat with the man who gets him fired as a night porter at a hotel, though throws himself - a bit too much - into his next job as a private detective. He's not quite Closeau bad, but his abysmal attempts at trailing people are hilarious.

Antoine is still as clumsy in love as he was in the previous film. He pounces, then retreats, berates then makes up. Ah, those French. Not content with having one object of his affection, Antoine falls for another seemingly unobtainable woman. In true Antoine fashion, this conundrum is swiftly resolved and the film ends on a poignant scene that both mocks and pities our hero.

Jean-Pierre Leaud grows into his character here, showing both sides previously seen in the first two films. He is appropriately cocky and awkward, and a good drinking game could be had by taking a shot every time he flips his hair away from his face. Paris is much more charming here - the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur are glimpsed frequently from windows or used as backdrops. After watching 'The 400 blows', 'Stolen Kisses' wasn't the direction I thought these films would take, but it works and I am happy to continue to follow Truffaut on whatever journey he takes us next.
 
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