Reach for Glory
Directed by Philip Leacock
Written by Jun Kin, John Kohn and John Rae from Rae’s novel
War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. THOMAS MANN, attributed, This I Believe
British schoolboys behave eerily like Hitler Youth as they dream of glory in WWII.
In a small English coastal town, home boys and evacuees from London and farther afield can hardly wait to be old enough to go off to war. In the meantime, they are drilled three times a week in use of firearms, etc. Unfortunately, the basic anti-Semitism of their parents hasn’t escaped them and bullies will be bullies even in wartime. The teens’ war games go tragically amiss.
This was an uncomfortable watch with few likable characters. Doesn’t make it a bad movie though.
Directed by Steve Previn
Written by Vernon Harris; original story by Robert A. Stemmle
Walt Disney Productions
My voice? Yeah, well, I used to drink a lot of beer when I was a kid and I sounded like a drunk in a choir. I don’t drink anymore. Eric Burdon
This is a fun family movie about the Vienna Boys Choir – more so if the family loves beautiful music.
The plot focuses on two boys. One is a working-class lad with great talent who is just starting out. The other is a star singer whose voice is beginning to change and must deal with the new guy getting all his best solos.
My mother took us to see this in the theater and I remember it to this day. The story is cute but it is the music that sells it now. I hope mom is hearing the angels sing it in heaven.
Jules and Jim
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut and Jean Gruault from a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche
Les Films du Carrosse/Sedif Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Catherine: You said, “I love you,” I said, “Wait.” I was going to say, “Take me,” you said, “Go away.”
This classic so perfectly captures the exhilaration of love and youth that I am always surprised when things turn sour.
The film is set in the teens of the last century. Austrian Jules (Oskar Werner) and Parisian Jim (Henri Serre) are introduced and immediately become fast friends. Jim is more of the ladies man of the two but eventually Jules finds himself a lady friend. All bets are off when Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) comes along on a blind date. Now all three of them are besties but it is Jules that becomes her lover.
Catherine is the ultimate free spirit and is not easily tied down. There is a definite attraction between her and Jim as well. WWI intervenes with the two men fighting on opposite sides. Their principal worry is not killing each other. After the war, the friends are reunited. Jules wants to marry and Catherine makes an approach to Jim. Signals are crossed and the wedding goes forward, producing a daughter.
Catherine continues to be restless, leading to tragic complications.
I first saw this one at exactly the age when I thought Catherine was the epitome of everything a young woman should be. Now she strikes me as selfish. At any rate, the spirit of the thing is completely infectious. The camera work is audacious and fun. This is my favorite of Truffaut’s films. Highly recommended.
The Criterion contains two excellent commentaries – one by various crewmembers and the other a conversation between Jeanne Moreau and a film scholar. Someone remarked that it would be impossible to make the same story now without a hint of ambiguity in the relationship between the two men,
Sundays and Cybele (Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray)
Directed by Serge Bourgignon
Written by Serge Bourgignon and Antoine Tudal from a novel by Bernard Eschasseriaux
Fides/Les Films Trocadero/Orsay Films/Terra Film Produktion
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
“If we can forgive what has been done to us . . /. If we can forgive what we’ve done to others . . ./ If we can leave all of our stories behind. Our being villians or victims./ Only then can we maybe rescue the world. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted
This is a beautifully shot movie but doesn’t really ring my bells.
Pierre (Hardy Krüger) has blocked out the memory of a bombing raid in Indochina that left a young girl dead. His amnesia for the event hasn’t made him any happier. One day, he sees a young girl (maybe 12?) being left off by her father at a convent school. The father promises to visit on Sundays but Pierre witnesses something that lets him know Dad won’t be coming back. So Pierre convinces the nuns he is the father and starts spending each Sunday with Francoise. Their afternoons together are idyllic.
But something about the relationship strikes other adults as creepy. Reality slowly intrudes its ugly head.
I’ve seen this twice now and it didn’t wow me either time. Something about it just drags for me. Your mileage may definitely vary.
Sundays and Cybele won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was nominated in the categories of Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.
The Grim Reaper (La comare seca)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Sergio Citti
First viewing/Netflix rental
What you want from a movie when you begin it is 150,000 miles from what you reach at the end. Moviemaking is a process. You end with something different; that’s what gives it life. I cannot plan a film as a script or as a storyboard. I need the camera; I need the actors. I can’t do it on a desk. I need the reality to whisper to me. If you leave the door open to reality, the smell of reality is so strong, it adds so much. It attacks and enters and infiltrates, that’s what I enjoy. — Bernardo Bertolucci
Bertolucci didn’t make his name for murder mysteries. This is an OK one with an interesting premise.
The police (never shown on camera) are investigating the murder of a prostitute found dead in a Roman park. They question many people who were in the park at the time of the murder. We get the version of events given by the witness accompanied by shots of what the witness was actually doing. Most of what anyone tells the police is a lie.
The film covers the same time period several times with a sudden rainstorm and the prostitute’s preparations for work tying the pieces together.
This didn’t rock my world or anything. It’s an ingenious way of storytelling and there are some beautiful shots. Bertolucci was only 20 years old when he shot this film so we can cut him some slack.
Ben Mankiewicz intro
Light in the Piazza
Directed by Guy Green
Written by Julius J. Epstein, story by Elizabeth Spencer
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Meg Johnson: Nobody with a dream should come to Italy. No matter how dead and buried you think it is, in Italy, it will rise and walk again.
The scenery of Florence and the appeal of Olivia De Havilland rescue a most improbable tale.
Meg Johnson (De Havilland) and her 26-year-old daughter Clara (Yvette Mimeux) are on an extended holiday in Florence. Husband and father Noel (Barry Sullivan) remains in America making millions. Meg is very protective of Clara who has suffered brain damage. It is the kind of movie disease that preserves the sufferer’s beauty, speech and motor function. We are told Clara’s mentality is that of a 10 year old, though she also becomes fluent in Italian in nothing flat. Any way, the handsome and cultivated Fabrizio (George Hamilton) soon falls for Clara in a big way.
Clara is soon head-over-heels for Fabrizio and his wealthy family approves of her whole-heartedly. Meg is left with a dilemma. She tries to solve her problem by leaving Florence and calling her husband on an emergency basis to Rome. But Noel’s solution to the whole situation is to put Clara in an institution and there is no way Meg will agree to that. What to do? With Rosanno Brazzi as Fabrizio’s father.
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini
First viewing/Netflix rental
The mark which has dominated all my work is the longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn’t lessen, but augments this love of life. – Pier Paolo Pasolini
I loved my introduction to director Pier Paolo Pasolini. I’m looking forward to the rest of his work.
Mamma Roma (Anna Magnanni) is a successful streetwalker and force of nature. She finally ditches her pimp who has gotten married. Mamma now has saved enough to buy a nice flat and market stall and to bring her son back from the countryside where he has been raised by a respectable family.
Unfortunately, Mamma’s pimp is not cut out for married life and will not leave her alone. The story follows the journey of her son from innocent to criminal and Mamma’s heartbreak.
I didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous knowing that Pasolini also directed Salo. I needn’t have worried. This is a beautiful combination of sublime classical music and cinematography with unflinchingly gritty real life. It is one of the few movies where the largely non-professional cast is totally convincing. I thought this was one of Magnanni’s best performances in a career full of great ones. Recommended.
Clip – no subtitles but not really needed
Siberian Lady Macbeth
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Sveta Lukic, story by Nikolai Leskov from a play by William Shakespeare
First viewing/Netflix rental
“All causes shall give way: I am in blood/ Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” ― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
This is more like The Postman Always Rings Twice than Macbeth but doesn’t work all that well as either.
Beautiful Katerina lives on a pig farm with her cranky father-in-law who berates her constantly for having no children. Her husband is away on business. The farm is always looking for strong workers and hires serf Sergei when he shows up looking for work. He is a likely lad and soon is having an affair with Katerina. At her instigation, the couple systematically does away with anybody who gets in the way of their love or money.
I’ve loved everything I’ve seen so far by director Wajda but this left me cold. The characters aren’t well developed and it drags. He seems to have been meant for his native land and contemporary themes.
Clip (no subtitles)
Directed by Pierre Etaix
Written by Pierre Etaix and Jean-Claude Carriere
“You don’t need scores of suitors. You need only one… if he’s the right one.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
If you like Tati, you really ought to give Etaix a try.
Pierre (Etaix) is a truly strange and obsessive young man. As the movie begins, he seems to spend of of his time in his lavishly decorated bedroom studying astronomy and/or astrology. His parents decide it is time for him to marry. The amiable young man is only too happy to switch one obsession for another. He starts off by asking the Swedish au pair who lives with the family but she doesn’t understand English.
So Pierre must hit the streets. First, he happens upon a bossy drunk who is as obsessed with marriage as himself. But she is not for him and he falls for a singer he sees on TV.
This contains lots of dialogue-free visual comedy a la Tati with the same kind of funny sound effects. Pierre creates just as much mayhem as Monsieur Hulot but is decidedly odder. I laughed out loud several times. That earns a recommendation from me.
How the West Was Won
Directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall
Written by James R. Webb
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Cinerama Productions Co.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Zebulon ‘Zeb’ Rawlings: I said, ‘Now, why’d you get in such a fix? Do you like fightin’ grizzlies?’ He said, ‘Well, not ‘specially. I just wanted to go somewhere and the bear was there first.’ I guess I just wanna go somewhere, too.
The big Cinerama moments are the parts I remember from my childhood. They are still the best thing about this movie, even on flat screen.
The film covers the conquest of the West starting from the first settlers moving to the Mid-West along the Erie Canal. This part of the film focuses on the Prescott family and their daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds). Eve eventually woos and wins mountain man Zeb Rawlings (James Stewart). Lilith is eager for the finer things in life and, after a disaster that kills her father and mother, becomes a music hall singer. She ends up marrying gambler Cleve Van Allen (Gregory Peck).
We then move on to the Civil War. By this time Zeb Jr. (George Peppard) is a young man. He goes off to fight for the Union. After the war is over, he works for the railroad under construction. He finds the work distasteful and eventually becomes a lawman. With too many stars to count in smaller roles including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter, etc. etc. etc. The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy. Henry Hathaway directed the bulk of the film with John Ford taking over for the Civil War Segment and George Marshall for “The Railroad”.
I believe I saw this at the Cinerama Dome in LA on its original release (thanks Mom!). The only part that sticks vividly in my memory is the sequence in the river rapids. I had forgotten that the film also contains a boffo gunfight and derailment as the climax. There’s some really stunning scenery throughout. I found the story a bit too contrived for my liking. There’s certainly nothing to complain about in the acting department. Recommended to those curious about the outer limits of widescreen cinematography.
Clip – closing sequence