Monthly Archives: November 2001

Spies

Perhaps Fritz Lang’s most neglected major work, this stunning silent German thriller (1928) both summarizes and refines his first Dr. Mabuse film while introducing some of the principles of editing continuity found in M. Scripted by Thea von Harbou (Lang’s second wife), it pits a government agent (Willy Fritsch) against a wheelchair-bound international banker (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) whose spy ring is stealing classified documents, and its fanciful and imaginative approach to the thriller form clearly inspired both Alfred Hitchcock and Thomas Pynchon. This restoration of the 175-minute German release is almost twice as long as the much more common version released for export, yet Lang edited both of them, and each has glories of its own. Erotic, mysterious, abstract, full of uncanny images and ideas, and rich with multiple identities and intrigue, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the great director’s work. With Gerda Maurus. (JR)… Read more »

First Steps: Early Efforts By Renowned Hollywood Directors

A slight misnomer, because not all the artists are Hollywood directors or renowned, and one who’s both (Gregg Toland) isn’t renowned as a director. But this sounds like an interesting program all the same: Frank Capra’s Fulta Fisher’s Boarding House (1921), Charles Vidor’s The Bridge (1929), Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich’s The Life and Death of 9413A Hollywood Extra (on which Toland worked, 1927), Orson Welles’s Hearts of Age (1934, five minutes of juvinelia codirected by William Vance), Lewis Jacobs’s Tree Trunk to Head (1936), and Warren Newcombe’s The Enchanted City (1922). (JR)… Read more »

Come Undone

I like the French title better, which is more descriptive and accuratePresque rien, meaning almost nothing. This first feature by Sebastien Lifshitz is a gay coming-of-age story that resembles so many others I’ve seen that for weeks I’ve been trying and failing to come up with something that might distinguish it apart from the clumsy flashback structure. Teenage boy meets teenage boy during a summer vacation near the beach (lots of rolling around in the surf), falls in love, comes out, and decides to move in with his lover rather than go to college. Neither of the boys is especially interesting, and the few other characters in the story are even more forgettable. If you’ve seen it all before, here’s your chance to see it once again. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Crime Wave

Andre de Toth’s 1954 noir is gritty, powerful, and economically told. Sterling Hayden plays a sour, toothpick-chewing LA cop on the trail of an ex-con (a rare dramatic role by dancer Gene Nelson) who’s forced to participate in a bank robbery. Among the secondary cast are Crane Wilbur, Brian Foy, Phyllis Kirk, and Charles Buchinsky (later known as Charles Bronson). 74 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Man Who Wasn’t There

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 2001). — J.R.

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Joel and Ethan Coen stay true to their bent for dense heroes and neonoir, and to their unshakable conviction that life usually turns out to be splendidly horrific. Here they’ve cast Billy Bob Thornton as a self-effacing small-town barber in the late 40s who’s slowly enmeshed in a doomed crime plot. Apart from a couple of screwy Coen-style flashbacks, several fancy plot twists, and a few other postmodern indulgences, this is straight out of James M. Cain, though the high contrasts of Roger Deakins’s glorious black-and-white cinematography suggest at times Fellini’s 8 1/2 more than noir classics. Thornton seems born to play the sort of slow-witted poet of the mundane that the Coens find worthy of their condescending affection. It’s a story that’s easier to rent than buy, but it does look good on the big screen. Others in the cast, all pretty effective, include Frances McDormand (in the Barbara Stanwyck part), Michael Badalucco, Richard Jenkins, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Polito, Tony Shalhoub, and James Gandolfini. 116 min. (JR)

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