America America (1963)

America America
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Elia Kazan
Athena Enterprises/Warner Bros.
First viewing/FilmStruck


Elia Kazan: [Voice-over] My name is Elia Kazan. I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey.

Could this be Elia Kazan’s masterpiece?

In voice-over at the beginning Kazan tells us that this is the story of his uncle’s journey to America.  Kazan came from a family of Anatolian Greeks.  They, as well as the large minority Armenian population, came under considerable oppression in their native Turkey.

It seems that young Stavros Topouzoglou has dreamed of going to America ever since he was aware there was such a place.  A violent crack-down on Armenians and the murder of his friend only strengthen his resolve.  The rest of his family don’t think much of the America plan.  When things get even worse, though, the father decides to entrust Stavros with everything of value the family possesses and to send him to Constantinople to work with his uncle in a rug business.  The idea is that Stavros will work hard and then gradually move the rest of the family to the capital.

Stavros is tricked and robbed of the family fortune on his way to the city.  He turns up at his uncle’s door with nothing and realizes that the rug business is not and never will be a going concern.  He begs the uncle not to reveal the loss and begins to work unceasingly, almost beyond human endurance, to earn his passage to America.  But nothing will come easily to Stavros.

As the story proceeds we learn that Stavros is willing to do almost anything to achieve his dream.  He hits rock bottom at about the time he finally gets on the ship to the Promised Land.

This film goes immediately on to my Best New-to-Me Movies of 2017 list.  I was skeptical when I learned it is almost three hours long but it kept my interest throughout.  The movie was shot on location in Greece and Turkey and looks stunning.  It is full of heart-felt performances.  Kazan sure doesn’t sugar-coat his family’s history.  This makes the story even more moving.  Highly recommended.

America America won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

Clip – opening

Paranoiac (1963)

Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental


Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then. — Philip K. Dick

A well-shot and fairly scary modern thriller from Hammer Pictures.

The setting is a dysfunctional household in contemporary England.  The original owners, John and Mary Ashby, died thirteen years previous.  Their teenage son Tony fell into the sea three years later.  Still living are the remaining two children — Simon (Oliver Reed), a nasty drunkard, and delicate Eleanor (Janette Scott), who has pined for her brother Tony since his death and may or not be insane.  Eleanor is cared for by buxom French nurse Francoise.  Completing the picture is Simon and Eleanor’s stern Aunt Harriet.

After the family’s annual memorial service for the departed, Eleanor starts seeing visions of her brother Tony.  There are lots of twists and turns in the plot and I think I will leave this right there.

I have been watching a fair number of horror duds lately and this movie was a very welcome relief.  Hammer is famous for its Gothic horror but really made all sorts of films. Cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis keeps this interesting to look at throughout.  The movie ends up in a place I didn’t quite expect it to take me – always a good thing.