Daily Archives: January 21, 2005

Hellzapoppin’

From the Chicago Reader (January 21, 2005). — J.R.

Rarely shown in the U.S. these days, this 1941 film of the wildly deconstructive stage farce with  Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson is still regarded as a classic in Europe, and it lives up to its reputation. The credit sequence establishes the wartime mood with its vision of hell as a munitions factory (where demons preside over the packaging of Canned Guy and Canned Gal), which is shortly revealed as a movie soundstage, the first of many metafictional gags. Very belatedly the movie  gets around to telling a spare musical-comedy story (with swell numbers by Martha Raye and the jazz duo of Slim Gaillard and “Slam” Stewart, and some very acrobatic jitterbugging), but the main bill of fare is manic nonsense that almost makes the Marx Brothers look sober. H.C. Potter directed; with Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, and Elisha Cook Jr. 84 min. Sun 1/23, 7 PM, Univ. of Chicago Doc Films.

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A Lady Without Passport

Though it didn’t turn a profit, Joseph H. Lewis’s low-budget masterpiece Gun Crazy (1949) won him an MGM contract, and his first assignment there was a documentary about illegal immigration that quickly turned into this routine actioner (1950) once someone decided that Hedy Lamarr should star in it. Lewis called the movie a stinker when he was interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich; it’s less than inspired, but it’s better than Lewis implied. His flair for foggy atmospherics and location shooting (in Havana and the Florida Everglades) is intermittently evident, and there’s a very convincing overhead view of a plane crash. John Hodiak plays an immigration inspector who goes underground to catch smugglers like George Macready but falls for the title lady (Lamarr), a Hungarian refugee trying to sneak into the U.S. 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Raven

Suffocatingly corrosive and misanthropic, this 1943 thriller was shot in occupied France by Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear), and its story of a small town terrorized by anonymous poison-pen letters so effectively captures the national paranoia that after the war Clouzot was unjustly persecuted as anti-French. The outstanding cast includes Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. Otto Preminger remade this effectively in 1951 as The Thirteenth Letter, though his Quebec locations lack the earlier film’s period interest. In French with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Merchant Of Venice

From the Chicago Reader (January 21, 2005). Alas, I’ve never been any sort of Shakespearean scholar, and if I’d read the devastating take-down of this film by Ron Rosenbaum (no relation) in The Shakespeare Wars, published the following year, I’m sure I would have been far less tolerant….It’s worth adding, however, that Ron Rosenbaum isn’t any sort of Orson Welles scholar when he accepts the 1997 version of his Othello as a “restored” version — or when countless other commentators call the 2014 perpetuation of that version, with Welles’ own choices of music and sound effects replaced by uninformed simulations, any sort of “restoration”. (As things stand today, Welles’ own version of Othello – that is to say, with his own soundtrackhas been thoroughly suppressed.)   — J.R.

themerchantofvenice

Director Michael Radford (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Il postino) begins his adaptation of the Shakespeare play with a precise date and a brief documentary about anti-Semitism in 16th-century Venice; this doesn’t have much to do with the playwright or his audience, but it provides a social context for what follows. Al Pacino avoids his usual bombast, giving his Shylock some shading, and Jeremy Irons is fine as Shylock’s legal opponent, Antonio.… Read more »