Monthly Archives: November 2008

My Son John

Okay, this 1952 Leo McCarey melodrama is flawed, even deranged in its second half, when the combined difficulties of Robert Walker’s sudden death during the film’s production and McCarey’s crazed view of the Communist Menace yield a creepy form of paranoid hysteria and delirium. But this is also one of the most moving and complexly felt movies McCarey ever made — also one of the best acted, especially for Walker, Helen Hayes, and Dean Jagger. Writing about Robert Warshow many years ago, Donald Phelps wrongly accused him of overrating Monsieur Verdoux but rightly accused him of underrating this film. Its continuing unavailability on DVD is a disservice both to McCarey’s memory and to his audience. [11/16/08]… Read more »

SKIPALONG ROSENBLOOM: A Few Scholarly Footnotes

australian_db_skipalong_rosenbloom_HP03892_L

I devoted almost an entire page in my first book, a memoir, to this unsung obscurity, a low-budget comedy western that I saw in Florence, Alabama with my brother Alvin on November 14 or 15, 1951, when I was eight and he was six, on a double bill with Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Man from Planet X. I can very nearly classify this viewing as my first cinematic encounter with the avant-garde, by which I mean something akin to what J. Hoberman calls Vulgar Modernism — eight months after what might have been my first non-cinematic encounter with the avant-garde when I attended a Spike Jones concert one Sunday afternoon at the Sheffield Community Center. Bear in mind that I saw Skipalong Rosenbloom a full year before the first issue of Mad (the comic book) appeared and almost two years before I bought my first issue (no. 6, August-September 1953); this was also a full year before I saw Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface. It’s quite possible, of course, that I’d already seen one of Tex Avery’s cartoons by then, but if I had, this fact couldn’t be traced by the same methods of research that I employed in my memoir, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, which mainly involved combing back issues of the local Florence newspaper on microfilm for movie ads.… Read more »

My Dozen Favorite Non-Region-1 Single-Disk DVDs

From DVD Beaver, posted in November 2008. A few of the links may be out of date by now.  — J.R.

The following selection is not only personal but very eclectic. It’s not exactly a list of my favorite films: I prefer Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922) and Greed (1924) to his Blind Husbands (1919), for instance, and if I had to take one Anthony Mann film along with me to a desert island, this would undoubtedly be The Naked Spur (1953) rather than his Man of the West (1958). Similarly, my favorite films by Nicholas Ray are probably Johnny Guitar (1954) and Bitter Victory (1957), even though Party Girl (1958), for all its flaws, is still a Ray film that I’d describe as sublime. But I’ve opted in these cases for the DVDs devoted to Stroheim, Mann, and Ray that I cherish the most, and the reasons why I cherish them are stated below.

A few other caveats:

(a) There are at least two other editions of Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964) —- the U.S. one from Criterion and the English one from the British Film Institute—- that are top-notch, and they’re probably easier to come by in the Western hemisphere than the Australian edition on the Madman label that I cite.… Read more »

Euphoria

We’ve finally elected a grownup.

John McCain’s concession speech was his finest moment.

The major triumph, at least potentially, isn’t left over right but unity over disunity. Which means that President Obama is bound to do some things that will distress his more progressive supporters as well as other things that will upset his detractors. His Lincolnesque brief—to end another Civil War, or at least to call a cease-fire—virtually guarantees this. But assuming that it’s still possible to think and act and feel together, it’s a hopeful start. [11/5/08]… Read more »

Changeling

Far be it for me to invent wimpy liberal alibis for police corruption in 1928 Los Angeles, punitive electroshock, a pederast serial killer, and cosmic injustice in general, but the main thing wrong with Clint Eastwood’s view of evil in this movie is how childish it seems. I don’t care if he’s 78 and apparently has some fixation about innocent boys abducted by sex maniacs; even if the plot periodically suggests a remake of Mystic River, the cackling villains belong in a Hopalong Cassidy western, not to mention Dirty Harry. The opening intertitle calls this “a true story,” but whether it’s verifiable that Christine Collins was really saved from electroshock just in the nick of time by Hopalong (John Malkovich, in the film’s only interesting performance) coming to her rescue is a matter worthy of some skepticism. And even if that really happened, would it justify Angelina Jolie’s terrible Oscar-mongering performance and all the attendant grandstanding, gigantic close-ups, and directorial pretensions that this movie’s “dark” view of human existence is some form of maturity? All I could think about was the usual compulsive kid stuff–McCain and Palin fulminating about the “good guys” and “bad guys”. [11/2/08]… Read more »

Two Early Long-Take Climaxes (The Magnificent Ambersons & A Star is Born)

Only about nine minutes into The Magnificent Ambersons, we enter the front door of the Amberson mansion along with a few guests to attend their grand ball, and the film not only moves into high gear; it leaps to a summit so high that in a way all that the remaining 70-add minutes of the film can do after this sequence is refer back to it, recall it, cross-reference it in numerous ways.

It’s almost 22 minutes into the 1954 A Star is Born when, along with Norman Maine, we enter the front door of a sleepy after-hours cabaret where swing musicians and a vocalist, Esther Blodgett, are performing exclusively for themselves. Esther casually slides into a chorus of “The Man Who Got Away”, and slowly she builds from there. Once again, a film suddenly leaps to such a high level of intensity , in this case for about four minutes, that all the remainder of the film—in this case, 150 minutes—can do is fitfully and wistfully remember that pinnacle, refer back to it musically and emotionally in a variety of ways.

Both films, of course, surivive today in the form of ruins, so we can’t speak about them as integral works with any confidence; even the “restored” A Star is Born is an incomplete similacrum.… Read more »