César (1936)

CesárCesar Poster
Directed by Marcel Pagnol
Written by Marcel Pagnol
Les Films Marcel Pagnol

First viewing


“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” ― Marcel Pagnol

I could have sworn I had seen the entire Fanny Trilogy before but it turns out I had only seen the first two installments.  This third installment cements the trilogy in my estimation as the best film cycle ever.  All three films go on my own personal “see before you die” recommendation list.

Twenty years have passed since the events that took place in Fanny (1932).  Fanny’s much-older husband Honoré Panisse is on his deathbed making his last confession (a wonderfully amusing scene).  The priest tells him that he should tell the boy, Cesariot, whom he has raised as his son, that he is not the biological father.  Panisse cannot bring himself to do this but leaves it for Fanny to do after he dies.  Fanny obeys and tells the boy that César’s son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) is his father and about her passion for Marius.

Cesariot is initially appalled at the revelation and further disturbed when his grandfather César (Raimu) tells him about the rift which has caused father and son not to speak for 15 years.  Cesariot makes an incognito visit to Toulon where Marius owns a garage but more trash talk about his father sends him away.  All this paves the way to one of the most glorious endings in film history – all the more moving because it was so hard-won.

Cesar 1

This is the only film in the trilogy that was directed by Pagnol himself.  Oddly, Pagnol, who wrote the stage plays, is the only director of the bunch to open up the action to exteriors. The dialogue, as always, is very literate yet unforced.  We really feel that we know these people well.  There are a number of classic comedy set pieces – Honorés confession, the discourse on aperetifs and the stone in the hat gag.  But it is the “confession” scene of Fanny and Marius’ confrontation with César that stand out as master classes in acting.

What prevents these films from being well-written melodramas is the fierce family love that pervades them.  The preservation of the extended family is the motivating force of all the characters and even when this requires sacrifice and tears the family will go on.

Rose-Marie (1936)

Rose-MarieRose-Marie Poster
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Alice D.G. Miller
from a musical  by Otto A. Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II with music by Rudolf Friml

First viewing

Marie de Flor: That’s the worst orchestra and the worst conductor I’ve ever sung with! [To the tenor] Marie de Flor: And what was the idea of holding every high A longer than I did?!?

This sentimental musical was the second starring the Jeannette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy pairing and became their best-known film.

MacDonald plays Marie de Flor, a temperamental operatic soprano.  When she discovers her brother (James Stewart) is in trouble with the law and needs money, she heads incognito off to the Canadian backwoods with an Indian guide.  There she meets Mountie Sgt. Bruce (Nelson Eddie), who is on the track of her brother.  He guesses her identity almost immediately but pretends not to know so that she will inadvertently guide him to his quarry.  Meanwhile, they fall in love.  With Allan Jones as the opera tenor and Una O’Connor as Marie’s maid.

rose-marie 1

This is not as sappy as it might appear from seeing the “Indian Love Call” clip out of context as it is often anthologized.  Nelson Eddy can’t help being wooden but Jeanette MacDonald is a natural comedienne and in splendid voice here.  The scenery (Lake Tahoe IRL) is magnificent and James Stewart makes quite a handsome and rakish outlaw in a small part.  Even the “Indian Love Call” is touching when seen in context and in its various reprises.

I wonder if a popular entertainment could be made today where the first five minutes or so was a unsubtitled excerpt from Guonod’s Romeo and Juliet and the conclusion featured a long extract from the ending of Tosca.  Somehow I doubt it.  Nelson Eddy was so jealous of Allan Jones’s performance that he persuaded the studio to cut Jones’s big aria. Jones did put Eddy to shame in the singing department.

Clip – “Indian Love Call”


Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

Charlie Chan at the OperaCharlie-Chan-at-the-Opera-1936 poster
Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone
Written by Scott Darling and Charles Belden, based on a story by Bess Meredyth, based on a character created by Earl Derr Biggers
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing


Mr. Arnold: I’m stage manager here and this opera’s going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks in.

This Charlie Chan movie is taken out of the routine by the performance of Boris Karloff.

Karloff plays a patient at an insane asylum who has amnesia.  Distant memories are awakened when he sees a picture of an opera diva.  He throttles the attendant and escapes.  The police ask Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) to assist in the manhunt.  Karloff heads straight for the opera where he goes on for the baritone in a scene in which his character stabs the diva.  When the diva and her lover turn up dead Karloff’s character is naturally the prime suspect.  What can Charlie Chan add to the case?  With William Demerest as a blundering detective.

Charlie Chan at the Opera 1

This is probably my favorite in the Charlie Chan series so far.  It follows the formula but Karloff is so good that it kept my interest.

The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

The Prisoner of Shark Island Prisoner of Shark Island Poster
Directed by John Ford
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson
Darryl F. Zanuck Productions/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing


Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd: Once before I was a doctor. I’m still a doctor.

This historical drama contains some masterful direction by John Ford and a solid perfomance by Warner Baxter.

According to the DVD commentary, historical accuracy is not this film’s strong suit.  Any way, Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner Baxter) is minding his own business when a couple of strangers come to the door.  One of them has a badly broken leg and the doctor and his wife (Gloria Stuart) tend to it.  Turns out the injured man is John Wilkes Booth, on the run from his assassination of Lincoln.  Poor Sam is rapidly arrested and tried by kangaroo court-martial.  He luckily escapes hanging but is sentenced to life in prison on an island in the Dry Tortugas.

After an exciting failed escape attempt across the shark-infested waters surrounding the island, Sam is apprehended and thrown into a kind of dungeon with loyal ex-slave Buck. But when a yellow fever epidemic strikes guards and prisoners alike and fells the only doctor, it’s Dr. Sam to the rescue and he manfully takes control of the prison personnel to fight the plague.  With Harry Carey as the prison commandant and John Carradine as a sadistic guard.


Prisoner of Shark Island 1

I had never heard of this film before gathering my list for 1936.  Now, I wonder why.  It is one of the better John Ford films I have seen with beautiful framing, shooting, and lighting and good solid story telling.  This is also, bar none, the best performance I have seen from Warner Baxter.  Usually, he chews the scenery but here he is admirably restrained.

The film could be faulted for its treatment of the many African-American characters, though it is certainly no worse than other movies of its time and better than many.  Despite this, I thought it was well worth seeing.

Masters of Cinema trailer



The Only Son (1936)

The Only Son (“Hitori musuko”)only son DVD
Directed by Yasujirô Ozu
Adapted by Tadao Ikeda and Masao Arata from a short story by Yasujirô Ozu
Shôchiku Eiga

First viewing


“Life’s tragedy begins with the bond between parent and child” – beginning text

This story about a mother’s sacrifice was Ozu’s first sound film.  It’s another simple but deep and beautiful offering from a master.

Tsune (Chôko Iida) is a silk factory laborer and widowed mother.  Her young son’s teacher thinks he is very bright and should go away to middle school.  Tsune at first says she cannot afford this but then decides to do whatever is necessary.  She tells the boy not to worry about her but to study hard and become a great man.

Thirteen years later, her son (Shinichi Himori) is 27 and working as a civil servant in Tokyo. Tsune thinks it is time he was married and decides to visit him.  She discovers on arrival that he is working as a night school teacher, already has a wife and baby son and is living hand to mouth.  The rest of the story deals with the regrets of both mother and son, mother love of many kinds, and a new definition of success.  With Ozu regular Chishû Ryû as the boy’s teacher.

Only-Son 1

I find almost all of Ozu’s films extremely moving and this one was no exception.  The relationship between the mother and son is so real it almost hurts.  As always, Ozu surrounds his dialogue with long silences that let the viewer reflect on the emotion of the situation.  Although there are no fireworks, we learn that a mother’s love never wanes and that pride is not necessarily based on material things.




The Petrified Forest (1936)

The Petrified ForestPetrified Forest Poster
Directed by Archie Mayo
Written by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood
Warner Bros.

First viewing


Jackie Cooper: Now, just behave yourself and nobody’ll get hurt. This is Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer, and he’s hungry!

This stage-bound hostage movie is notable for Humphrey Bogart’s break-out performance.

Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a world-weary failed writer, hitchhikes his way to the Black Mesa Cafe.  There he is captivated by the youth and enthusiasm of Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), daughter of the proprietor.  Into the isolated café comes fugitive murderer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his henchmen.  The patrons and the criminals begin to form a little community under fire.

Petrified Forest 2

The dialogue was too flowery and the camera work was too static for my taste.  Bette Davis and Leslie Howard did quite well with the material, however.  You can tell why Humphrey Bogart, with his intense eyes and immense energy, would have a great success in this part.  The studio had wanted Edward G. Robertson for the role and we can thank Leslie Howard for demanding that Bogart reprise his stage role.  Bogart never forgot the gesture and named his daughter Leslie in Howard’s honor.



After the Thin Man (1936)

After the Thin Manafter the thin man poster
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based on a story by Dashiell Hammett

Repeat viewing


[Last line, as Nick gapes at Nora knitting baby boots] Nora Charles: And you call yourself a detective.

All of the main personnel from The Thin Man are back for the sequel plus some good supporting players.  The sequel doesn’t capture the sparkle of the original but it’s an entertaining watch.

Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) return home to San Francisco from their adventures in New York in the original film.  They are greeted by an invitation to dinner by Nora’s stuffy Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph).  Nora’s cousin Selma’s husband Robert has disappeared and Nick is asked to investigate.  Selma is being comforted by ex-boyfriend David (James Stewart).

Nick and Nora track Robert down to a nightclub owned by thug Dancer (Joseph Calleia). Robert is getting ready to run off with singer Polly and is extorting $25,000 out of David to leave Selma.  Naturally, Robert is promptly murdered.  At first all fingers are pointing at Selma but as the murders pile up, Nick is not so sure.

After the Thin Man 2

Once again, it is the loving banter between Powell and Loy and their amazing chemistry that makes this film.  Here, there are a few too many songs that take away from the time we could be spending with our heroes.  The mystery plot is also really difficult to follow. Still, we get to see Jessie Ralph play against type as a crotchety old society lady and James Stewart is really interesting in one of his first roles.


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mr. Deeds Goes to TownMr_Deeds_Goes_to_Town Poster
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin based on a short story by Clarence Budington Kelland
Columbia Pictures Corporation

Repeat viewing
#98 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


Louise “Babe” Bennett: That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in the world, or else he’s the grandest thing alive. I can’t make him out.

I found that I liked this film much better when I viewed it as a fairy tale.

The story begins in the small town of Mandrake Falls where Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) owns the tallow works, writes verses for greeting cards, and plays tuba in the town band.  Lawyers suddenly descend on the town to tell Deeds he has inherited $20 million from an uncle.  They scoot Deeds off to New York where a throng of would-be hangers-on have their hands out for a piece of the action.  Although he is taken for a rube, Deeds has uncommon sense and resists all efforts to part him from his money.

Ace reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) is assigned to get a story on Deeds, who is well protected by a press agent (Lionel Stander).  She pretends to collapse from hunger in front of his mansion and Deeds, who has been waiting for a damsel in distress to come along, is rapidly smitten with her.  This enables her to print stories labelling Deeds “The Cinderella Man” and paint him as a sap.  Deeds falls in love with Babe.  The only thing that rescues him from a deep depression when he discovers her identity is a plan to use his money to help down and out farmers.  This is the only cue the vultures need to try to wrest control of the fortune by having Deeds found incompetent.  Anyone familiar with Capra will have a fair idea how this all plays out.

Mr Deeds Goes to Town 1

This has always seemed to me one of the corniest of the Capra oeuvre.  But if you look at it as a fable or fairy tale about a truly good and honest man prevailing over the forces of evil, it comes off much better.  The film certainly has some very funny bits and a charming goofy sweetness about it.  I think Cooper was fine here.  He must be the sexiest man in a three-piece suit ever.

One thing I thought about was the number of times Deeds socked someone who made him mad in the jaw.  This is taken as completely normal and even humorous by the film. There are absolutely no consequences.  I wonder whether this was a sign of the times or is part of the fairy tale.

Frank Capra won his second Academy Award for Directing for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, while Cooper received the first of his five nominations for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Sound Recording.



The Lower Depths (1936)

The Lower Depths (“Les bas-fonds”)Lower Depths Poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Jacques Companéez,Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak based on a play by Maxim Gorky
Films Albatros
Repeat viewing


“If it is true that only misfortune can awaken a man’s soul, it is a bitter truth, one that is hard to hear and accept, and it is only natural that many people deny it and say it is better for a man to live on in a trance than to wake up to torture.” ― Maxim Gorky

In this film, Jean Renoir displays all the skill that would make Grand Illusion a masterpiece the following year.  It also contains one of my favorite performances by Jean Gabin.

The paths of many different people intersect at a Russian flophouse run by a hypocritical old scoundrel and his young wife, Vassilissa (Suzi Prim).  Pepel, a thief, (Jean Gabin) had been dallying with the wife but now is in love with her virtuous younger sister, Natasha. Pepel meets a dissolute baron (Louis Jouvet) during a robbery attempt on the last night the baron is to own his house.  The baron goes to live at the flophouse and he and the thief become fast friends.  Other denizens of “the lower depths” include a talented actor in the final stages of alcholism, a woman in despair over lost love, a cobbler, a wise old man, etc.  All these people have their dreams and delusions.

Pepel believes that only if Natasha goes away with him can he escape the moral and physical squalor of his existence.  But the jealous and vindictive Vassilissa, who has treated her sister as a household slave, will have something to say about that …

Lower Depths 2

While this is not the equal of Grand Illusion or Rules of the Game, it approaches those great films in tone and structure.  Renoir has made a humanistic and somewhat optimistic place from Gorky’s miserable slum.  The interplay between the relaxed proletarian Gabin and the mannered Jouvet is a marvel to behold and the rest of the cast, while having less to do, is accomplished.  The deep-focus cinematography, moving camera, and careful blocking featured in Grand Illusion are present here in full force as is an underlying interest in class and how class relationships change as circumstances do.  Highly recommended. Gabin fans should not be sure not miss his performance here.

Akira Kurosawa remade the Gorky play as The Lower Depths (“Donzoko”) in 1957 with Toshiro Mifune in the Gabin role.  It is a much darker and grittier story in Kurosawa’s hands and, I read, is closer to the original play.


Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot (“The Boat”)Das-Boot-1981 Poster
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Screenplay by Wolfgang Petersen from a novel by Lothar B. Buchheim
1981/West Germany
Repeat viewing
#670 of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.4/10; I say 9/10

Captain: [looking at one of the LI’s pictures] Funny. I haven’t seen snow in years.

This movie had my heart pumping vigorously for 149 minutes and me wishing that I was watching the 209-minute director’s cut.

It is autumn 1941 and the war for control of the Atlantic is turning against the Germans. This is the story of the voyage of u-boat U-96 which set out from La-Rochelle, France.  It is seen through the eyes of a young military journalist who is along for the ride.  The crew of the U-96 endures boredom, celebrates strikes against the enemy, and struggles to survive hits on its boat.

Das Boot 2

I have seen this film at least twice before – once in the theater in what I assume was the theatrical cut and once on DVD in the director’s cut.  The version I rented this time was the theatrical cut.  The theatrical cut is gripping and well-acted and edited, with amazing special effects.  However, I really had the sense that the story suffered from the cuts.  There were several awkward gaps and the ending was extremely abrupt.  One minute they were surfacing after the Gibraltar episode and the next minute they were in La Rochelle.  I also think this is the kind of thing that is best seen fresh the first time.  I kept asking questions about little details when I should have been caught up in the action.

Don’t get me wrong.  I highly recommend this film to anyone looking for a well-made action adventure.  It is one of my very favorite war films.


German trailer (no subtitles but really not needed)