Friday, February 18, 2011

Remembering the Movies, Feb. 18 - 24

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

The shark has pretty teeth, dear - and with the above image the "bad guy" theme continues for yet another week. I've cheated this week too: as happens occasionally, I overlooked a movie a few weeks ago when it would have been eligible. Usually I'm able to include a given film on the date of another premiere/wider release if I accidentally miss it on its very first screening date. In this case, however, there was nothing I could do. So for hopefully the last time, the 1951 film is actually several weeks old but has been included because it deserved a spot on February 7. Apologies to all the anal Remembering-the-Movie-watchers out there. I promise to get it right next time.

10 years ago (February 20, 2001)
SNOOZING VIEWER"American pop culture ought to be fun, but it sinks further into the trash heap with 3,000 Miles to Graceland, an overstuffed, underfed numbskull movie starring Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner as Elvis Presley look-alikes who knock over a Las Vegas casino during an Elvis convention. With all its potential for camp and glitz -- and even some intelligence -- this movie should have been a romp. Instead, it's a tedious caper saga of ultraviolent macho gunk, apparently aimed at pea brains." - Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

20 years ago (February 22, 1991)
"I was personally underwhelmed, however, by the variances in their points of view, and since I was never sold on the plausibility of the characters, I should have been indifferent to the movie. Yet, oddly, I kept liking things in it. Individual lines of dialogue. Moments of freshness. A satiric edge to some of the scenes. I also liked the chemistry between Bacon and Perkins, who seemed alert to each other's nuances. Maybe the problem is that the filmmakers didn't give their audience credit for much intelligence. The whole screenplay needs an IQ transfusion. The quality of the TV commentaries could have been jacked up to meet broadcast standards. The Meet Cutes could have been toned down. The supporting characters could have been less caricatured. The movie makes a small effort in this direction by providing a Bad Girl (Sharon Stone) who is at least human and perceptive and not a complete caricature, but other elements seem phoned in from the cliche factory." - Roger Ebert

30 years ago (February 23, 1981)

"I've taken a couple of impulse road trips before. They usually involve pretzels, video stores, and British Invasion compilations, but never chainsaws, satanists, or spiders with four-foot leg spans. Time to move to Italy.

Buona sera! Let's join the late, longtime director Riccardo Freda (The Ghost) on the set of his second-to-last production, which was co-produced in Italy and France. Fear is a seedy clump of solemn insanity that hits more than it misses. Basically, a group of people end up at an old mansion and weird stuff starts to happen. There's a guy named 'The Maestro' too. He doesn't eat Rolled Gold Thins, but the ladies don't mind a bit. Maestro, can you lend me your wand." - Joseph A. Ziemba, Bleeding Skull

Murder Obsession (1981)

40 years ago (February 19, 1971)

"Cold Turkey, which opened yesterday at the Victoria on Broadway and other theaters around town, is Mr. Lear's first solo venture as writer-director-producer, with Mr. Yorkin as executive producer. And it is, within its limitations, a very engaging, very funny movie. The Saran is still there, but it is wrapped around a lot of typical, nasty humor and old-fashioned, clean-cut vulgarity. It's the sort of movie in which the President of the United States is shown running around the country trying to horn in on somebody else's national publicity stunt (and mostly failing); in which a fine, upstanding Protestant minister sleeps with curlers in his hair, and in which the vocabulary of a nice, fanatically anti-Communist, little old lady is pretty much restricted to Jennifer Cavilleri's favorite eight-letter word, which she uses incorrectly. Cold Turkey is, basically, a gimmick movie, but Mr. Lear is so skilled a formula practitioner that most of the variations he works on his gimmick amused me, instead of setting my teeth on edge." - Vincent Canby, New York Times

"Satire, we’ve all heard countless times, is what closes on Saturday night. In this instance, satire sat unreleased for two years and then closed on Saturday night in 1971. I don’t buy the theory that it was too cynical to market for 1969 audiences: after all, Putney Swope, Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider were all released successfully that year. Instead I think it was difficult to market due to the lack of box office names save for the then slumping Van Dyke, who was coming off a string of bombs both critically acclaimed (The Comic) and downright embarrassing (Some Kind of Nut)." - Hal, The Horn Section

 Cold Turkey (1971)

50 years ago (February 20, 1961)
 
"This fine film is carried by its ludicrously emphatic dialogue and universally putrid acting. The best is the janitor who does things like stick his arm in the electric eel tank to see what happens. There's this tail that got dug up you see, and it turns out to regenerate a super-skinny dragon. The janitor looks through a microscope as they play this hideous flute music. Just as this plot line begins to wear just a little bit thin, Sidney Pink veers radically into a 15 minute travel promo for Copenhagen, centering on Tivoli Gardens where a Germanic singer sings a song including the immortal lines, "all dressed up with a smile on your face/you look as gay as can be" as the military brass looks on appreciatively. Previously the American one had been pretty bored since he'd been a hero in the Battle of the Bulge. From there it quickly becomes a land and sea militaristic genre film replete with stock footage of jeeps, howitzers, sinking freighters, and a lot of guys running around wearing olive drab and carrying pointy things." - Clayton Trapp, Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films
Reptilicus (1961)

60 years ago (in theaters since February 7, 1951)
"Towards the end of the film, Bresson makes the war metaphor even more explicit by introducing the character of Olivier (Jean Danet), a soldier in the Foreign Legion and a cousin of Chantal. He arrives on a motorcycle, first heard but not seen, a buzz in the distance, until he picks up the priest one afternoon and gives him a ride. The scene where the priest rides on the motorcycle is remarkable, as the priest vacillates between moments of carefree joy and serious introspection. Bresson watches the priest's face in closeup, as he smiles, feeling the wind on his face, enjoying the sensual rush of this ride, and then the smile melts away and his expression again grows distant and blank, as his voiceover returns on the soundtrack, delivering a running interior monologue of his thoughts about God and death and faith. It's a wonderful portrait of a man who thinks too much, allowing his constant internal monitor to overshadow the immediacy of a present-tense experience. He feels the rush of the motorcycle ride only briefly, in flashes of an unworried, spontaneous smile, which is then erased by the return of his self-consciousness." - Ed Howard, Only the Cinema
"Rarely have form and content been married as harmoniously as in director Robert Bresson's 1951 breakthrough Diary Of A Country Priest, which honors the piety of a besieged young man of the cloth with the unsparing rigor of a traditional Catholic mass. On the helpful DVD commentary track, historian Peter Cowie contends that no other director has ever matched Bresson's 'simplicity of expression,' his sculptor's impulse to chisel away any extraneous elements." - Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
 
70 years ago (February 20, 1941)

"Tobacco Road emerges with a trite comedy theme about the dubious efforts, chiefly larcenous, by which old Jeeter hopes, through act of Providence or dishonest opportunity, to raise $100 for the annual rent of the old farm.For all of its dehydration Tobacco Road is told with a canny camera. Ford is more intent on story telling than in his recent productions." - Variety

Tobacco Road (1941)

80 years ago (February 25, 1931)

"The Nazis' objections to the film had a far more drastic effect. Rankled by its socialist message and attacks on governmental authority (even though The Threepenny Opera is set in Victorian England, its relevance to the political and social climate in Germany at the time was hard to miss), the German censors (Hitler's “Propaganda Office”) desroyed the original negative and  every print they could lay their hands on. The film's unavailability bolstered its legendary status: in 1948 a film critics' colloquium held in Brussels voted it one of the ten greatest films of all time. Finally, Thomas Brandon, a pioneer of art film distribution in the U.S., spent the better part of the Fifties scouring Europe for prints of the film in an effort to reconstruct it. With the aid of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this seemingly impossible task was accomplished, and the restored version was released in 1960." - Anneliese Varaldiev, Criterion Collection


90 years ago (February 21, 1921)


"Confused yet? It doesn't really matter, as all this is just an elaborate excuse for a series of sight gags, and these come thick and fast enough to stave off any slight regret that it ultimately consists mostly of a lot of men running around hitting each other. Also, the stairs gag is repeated once too often for comfort, though it would be churlish not to admit that its final appearance in the heaven-and-hell dream sequence is truly inspired. To be honest, the haunted house scenes are the film's weakest part, and pale by comparison with the opening and closing scenes, though there is one eerily surreal moment where two skeletons physically assemble a man out of various body parts, who then comes to life and thanks them (there's no rational explanation offered for this, which suggests that in this instance Keaton wasn't so much interested in narrative plausibility as creating effective sight gags - somewhat unusually, for him)." - Michael Brooke, DVD Times

100 years ago (February 13, 1911)

"While it is impossible to do justice to Dickens' sprawling novel in 20 minutes, Vitagraph makes a stab at it with this series of scenes in little more than tableaux format. Good costumes, good backgrounds and excellent actors do their best, but stick with the 1935 version directed by Jack Conway. While this would seem to be, from the cast list, an all-star version -- including a very young Mabel Normand -- you should realize Vitagraph worked its actors hard -- starring in one picture, helping to fill out a crowd scene in the next. Still, you might want to play 'spot the star' with this one." - boblipton, IMDb

1 comment:

Sam Juliano said...

Naming THE THREE PENNY OPERA as one of the 'ten greatest films of all-time" as they did in Brussels, is rather overstating it's artistic worth and significance, but it's nonetheless a very great film, and one that I will include among the 50 Greatest film musicals of all-time in a countdown that will commence sometime in June at WitD. This I am happy to see it included here in this particular 'Remembering the Movies' segment.

Likewise, I am always stoked to see Bresson's LE JOURNAL UN CURE DE CAMPAGNE, which is one of the great masterpieces of the cinema, and with several Bergman films in the ultimate study of the loss of faith in the movies. The film will be screened at Manhattan's Film forum for two weeks in a remastered print starting next week.

Hooray for Keaton's THE HAUNTED HOUSE!