Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past
Several interesting films make an appearance this week, as the release schedule picks up a bit. The early Lucas picture - arguably his most impressive formal achievement - is one, but it stands alongside a couple French films from the past few decades, a live-action Disney classic, an ambitious John Huston production, and a very early adaptation of Dante. Additionally, we shine a spotlight on a Latin Dracula and the Aesop-influenced antics of Bugs Bunny.
10 years ago (March 13, 2001)
"DMX is a movie star. This won't surprise anyone who's seen him perform -- on stage, in music videos ('Get at Me Dog,' 'Slippin'), or in films (Belly, Romeo Must Die) -- but for those who think that he's just another superstar rapper trying to cross over, Exit Wounds might be news. Certainly, he's renowned as a hiphop artist with his dead dog's name tattooed across his back and a cinematic sensibility: His lyrics are vividly confessional and angst-filled, his post-performance backstage near-collapses (from sheer exertion and asthma) are legendary. And in 1998, he became the first hiphop artist to have two number one albums in one year (It's Dark and Hell is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood). His fans are devoted and they appear to be growing in number. Now DMX has made an unusual transition, from a rapper with street cred to a mainstream movie star. The question will be, how long does he hold on to both positions -- Will Smith's status as the perennial Fresh Prince is one thing, but it's hard to be Ice T, as he knows better than anyone else. So here comes 30-year-old DMX (born Earl Simmons), on a track to something resembling crossover celebrity, though that's not to say that he's going to be drawing Klumps numbers just yet. Appearing on Leno recently to promote the new flick, X was charming, completely at ease on that big fat couch. And in his role in Andrzej Bartkowiak's new high-octane, ultraviolent action flick, DMX is the most riveting thing on the screen." - Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters
Exit Wounds (2001)
20 years ago (March 13, 1991)
"Looked at once, Merci, La Vie is the film that is to Blier what Metal Machine Music was to Lou Reed - a difficult and uncompromising work that was as far removed from its predecessor, Trop Belle Pour Toi, as Blier was likely to go. That it hides a conservative message is only one surprise amongst many that Merci, La Vie has to offer. Another is surely that there is so much to enjoy from a film that, on the surface, offers so little." - Eammon McCusker, Home Cinema
Merci la vie (1991)
30 years ago (March 11, 1981)
"Most thrillers have a chase scene, and mostly they're predictable and boring. DIVA's chase scene deserves ranking with the all-time classics, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and BULLITT. The kid rides his motorcycle down into the Paris Metro system, and the chase leads on and off trains and up and down escalators. It's pure exhilaration, and Beineix almost seems to be doing it just to show he knows how." - Roger Ebert
"THX 1138 is derived from a prize-winning short that George Lucas made a few years ago while a graduate student at the University of Southern California. Under the auspices of the young San Francisco film company American Zoetrope, Mr. Lucas, now 25 years old, expanded his project into the feature length science-fiction movie that opened yesterday at the Loew's Cine and Loew's State 2. I have a good many reservations about the film's ideas, but they are greatly outweighed by my admiration for a technical virtuosity that by fair means and foul achieves exceptional emotional intensity at the same time. ... Despite a sustained solemnity in approach and a musical background as ominously ponderous as that of Last Year at Marienbad, THX 1138 works with much potentially comic material (I think that Mr. Lucas is aware of this) and in the design of its—consistently beautiful—photography, observing white-garbed figures against an often undifferentiated white background, it sometimes resembles the kind of minimal-information cartoon that was indicative of good taste in animation a few years back." - New York Times
THX 1138 (1971)
"Walt Disney, who ran $1,500,000 in the red last year, seems all set to laugh off his losses. For the past month he has been packing them in with 101 Dalmatians, the funniest feature-length cartoon he has ever made. And in this live-action picture he presents the season's kookiest science-fiction farce. The basketball game is a hilarious parody of the sort of giraffe polo the sport has recently become, and the episode of the bouncing villain is more than merely funny. Higher and higher he goes with every bounce. Will they be able to stop him? If not, the spectator suddenly understands, Keenan Wynn will be the first man in space. It is a thought to give the universe pause.
*Recipe [for Flubber] (as prepared by Disney's special effects department): To 1 lb. saltwater taffy add 1 heaping tbs. polyurethane foam, 1 cake crumbled yeast. Mix till smooth, allow to rise. Then pour into saucepan over 1 cup cracked rice mixed with 1 cup water. Add topping of molasses. Boil till it lifts lid and says 'Qurlp.'" - Time
The Absent Minded Professor (1961)
"For the role of the Youth, Huston said, he wanted twenty-six-year-old Audie Murphy, the most-decorate hero of the Second World War, whose film career had been limited to minor roles. Huston said he was having some difficulty persuading both Schary and Reinhardt to let Murphy have the part. ‘They’d rather have a star,’ he said indignantly. ‘They just don’t see Audie the way I do. This little, gentle-eyed creature. Why, in the war he’d literally go out of his way to find Germans to kill. He’s a gentle little killer.’ ‘Another Martini?’ Fellows asked. ‘I hate stars,’ Huston said, exchanging his empty glass for a full one. ‘They’re not actors. I’ve been around actors all my life, and I like them, and yet I never had an actor as a friend. Except Dad. And Dad never thought of himself as an actor. But the best actor I ever worked with was Dad. All I had to tell Dad about his part of the old man in Treasure was to talk fast. Just talk fast.’ Huston talked rapidly, in a startling and accurate imitation of his father. ‘A man who talks fast never listens to himself. Dad talked like this. Man talking fast is an honest man. Dad was a man who never tried to sell anybody anything.’" - Picture, by Lillian Ross
"Aside from its intrinsic value, The Red Badge of Courage played an important role in the history of MGM. The film was a catalyst for the removal of studio boss Louis B. Mayer from his position of power at the studio. Impending signs of a reduced role for Mayer were already apparent, as Dore Schary had recently been installed as vice president in charge of production. Director John Huston, then halfway through a two-picture contract with MGM, proposed a film based on the Crane book and Schary liked the idea. Mayer, on the other hand, hated it. The final decision was left in the hands of Nicholas Schenck who worked in New York as the president of Loew's Inc., the parent company of MGM. He sided with Schary, with the result that shortly after The Red Badge of Courage went into production, Mayer left the studio for good. Ironic, then, that the film did not appeal to audiences of the time, as Mayer had predicted. It lost money despite the studio's efforts to recut the film so as to overcome aspects of it that had caused preview audiences to reject Huston's original version." - DVD Verdict
The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
"As much of a kick as it is to see Bugs in a somewhat different role than usual, this is still a middle-of-the-road Warner short, with surprisingly standard animation considering what Avery could do when he really cut loose. During the race, the animation is fairly static, conveying motion and speed primarily by layering blurring effects over Bugs' body and moving the scenery behind him. His body and pose is fairly static from frame to frame, hovering in mid-air with his arms chugging a bit, the backgrounds and speed lines doing most of the work. The result is that, in motion, the race doesn't have the manic intensity that Avery's best cartoons convey." - Ed Howard, Only the Cinema
Tortoise Beats Hare (1941)
"Yes, Melford’s rendition of the tale closes loose ends which Browning’s film hastily omits, such as the death of Lucia (Carmen Guerrero in her counterpart role to Lucy) but it seems that Melford missed the point at times. For example, in Browning’s film Martin states that everyone at Seward’s sanitarium is crazy with the exception of himself and the maid, though he sometimes has doubts about the latter. The maid then agrees before declaring the opposite. At first, the moment seems comical in the maid’s tabla rosa negation until we realize that Dracula may or may not have bitten her earlier in the film. However, in the Spanish version, the same declaration is made by Martin (Manuel Arbó) but the maid, Marta (Amelia Senisterra),waves Martin off in disgust, thus depleting the Count’s omnipresent influence (obviously the Count hadn’t infected the Spanish maid). This also inserts advertent comedy whereas Browning, when he did pause for humor, allowed it to be insinuative and very black in order to maintain the overall tone of the narrative. Nonetheless, Melford’s production, clocking in at nearly thirty additional minutes than Browning’s final running time, does permit the tale to patiently unfold as Melford refuses to have his actors narrative every other scene. Instead, especially during the latter half of the production, Melford visually depicts most of what Browning’s characters allude to in the American edition." - Egregious Gurnow, The Horror Review
"This film bears a weird relationship to Mark Twain's novel (which was plagiarised from an earlier novel titled The Fortunate Island). Myers does not play Hank Morgan, the artisan hero of Twain's novel. Instead, Myers is cast as Martin Cavendish, a jazz-age bachelor of 1921 who happens to read Twain's novel just before he gets hit over the head by a burglar. Naturally, he wakes up in Arthurian England. Because Cavendish has read Twain's book, he knows what he's 'supposed' to do ... and, sure enough, he soon sets about remaking sixth-century England to resemble jazz-age California. The knights wear suits of armour equipped with Prohibition-style hip flasks, and - instead of riding horses - they ride motorcycles. (In Twain's book, the knights rode bicycles.)" - F Gwynplaine MacIntyre, IMDb
"The first feature-length Italian film, this extraordinary adaptation subordinates the Inferno's discursive imperative to its visionary delivery, as if to both evoke Dante's continual inability to believe his eyes, and identify it with that of the incredulous film spectator. To this end, the directors delineate a series of astonishing tableaux, heavily inspired by Gustave Dore's illustrations, themselves already gesturing towards the limits of visuality. These are replete with spectacular on-location shooting; a plethora of naked, writhing bodies; an impressive use of superimposition and freeze-frames; and, above all, a general, hypnotic slowness, imbuing everything with the meandering, aimless motion of the smoke, steam and fog that pervade virtually every scene, and render the relatively grainy print less conspciuous." - Billy Stevenson, A Film Canon