Mondo Cane (1962)

Mondo Cane
Directed by Paolo Cavera, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi
Written by Paolo Cavera and Gualtiero Jacopetti
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

Time and experience have made this shockumentary much less shocking.

This film contrasts “bizarre” behavior of primitive tribes with equally “bizarre” behavior of Western Europeans.  The ultimate message seems to be that humans are pretty disgusting.

Much of the primitive footage comes from Papua New Guinea, where I lived for three years.  The customs are indeed very different from our own but familiarity has made the people seem like just folks doing things the way they have always been done.  One of the problems that I have with the film is that the narrative provides a lot of the shocks.  The footage allows for a number of interpretations of which the film makers select the most “disgusting”.

I definitely could have died without seeing this once, let alone twice.

Mondo Cane was nominated for Best Music, Original Song for the song “More.”


Frank Sinatra sings “More”- audio only

Jules and Jim (1962)

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,


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceDirected by John Ford
Written by James Warner Beliah and Willis Goldbeck from a story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Paramount Pictures/John Ford Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jason Tully: Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.

John Ford delivers another classic Western late in his illustrious career.

The story is framed by the visit of Senator Rance Stoddard (James Stewart) and wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to Shinbone for the funeral of their old friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).  The Senator is big news wherever he goes and the local newspaper editor demands to know why he is in town.  So begins the story in flashback starting when Rance arrived in town, a law book in his hand, many years ago.

Before Rance even arrived, he was robbed, humiliated and left for dead by the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  He is nursed back to health by Hallie and her family.  He vows to see Liberty jailed.  Tom informs him that a gun is the only effective way of dealing with this very bad man.

The rest of the movie follows the love triangle between Rance, Tom and Hallie and the conflict between Rance and Liberty.  With Andy Devine as a cowardly marshall, Edmund O’Brien as the former newspaper editor, Lee Van Cleef as Liberty’s sidekick, and a host of Ford regulars.

When two giants like Wayne and Stewart occupy the same screen, you’re bound to get something at least interesting.  Ford makes the movie also meaningful and beautiful.

This one is more intimate than Ford’s other Westerns and I missed the director’s classic desert vistas.  It explores the fact v. legend motif first introduced in Fort Apache (1948).  The acting is all first-rate.  I’d be interested in knowing why the song and its music were not used in the film.  Recommended.

Edith Head was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

The missing theme song, sung by Gene Pitney and set to stills from the film

My Life to Live (1962)

My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard and Marcel Sacotte from the book by Sacotte
Les Films de la Pleiade/Pathe Consortium Cinema
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Nana: The more one talks, the less the words mean.

Despite a luminous performance by Anna Karina, I have not overcome my aversion to Godard.

The story consists of twelve tableaux or vignettes outlining the descent of Nana (Karina) from shop girl and wanna-be actress to prostitute.  As the film begins, Nana is discussing their breakup with her ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.  Evidentally, there was a child involved, who is no longer in Nana’s life. Next we observe Nana’s attempts to cadge loans and her boring work-a-day existence.

She is ripe for a new trade and seems to have a knack for it.  Unfortunately, she soon turns to a pimp in hopes of higher rewards.

There’s nothing wrong with the story or the acting.  The initial conversation is shot with the actors’ backs to the camera and already I was pretty irritated with this movie.  The middle part is OK but the penultimate tableaux consists of an interminable pretentious conversation about philosophy and I was annoyed again.  Godard is just not for me.


Lolita (1962)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Vladimir Nabokov from his novel (Stanley Kubrick and James B. Harris uncredited)
A.A. Productions Ltd./Anya/Harris-Kubrick Productions/Transworld Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Lolita Haze: ‘Fraid someone’s gonna steal your ideas and sell ’em to Hollywood, huh?

The novel is indeed unfilmable but Kubrick makes an excellent first foray into black comedy.

Suave erudite European Humbert Humbert (James Mason) has a thing about young girls for reasons unexplained in this movie.  He has come to America to teach at a college and plans to spend the preceding summer at a resort in Maine.  He is looking to rent a room when he meets up with vulgar pathetic landlady Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters).  He is ready to bow out when he catches a glimpse of her blonde 16-year-old daughter Lolita (Sue Lyons) in the garden.

Charlotte is smitten with Humbert and views Lolita as an impediment to alone time.  When she gets Lolita out of the way by sending her to camp, she declares her love.  Humbert, eager for a convenient step-daughter, marries her.

The rest of the film follows Humbert’s trials and tribulations with his “little girl”.  With Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.

“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Lolita is one of my very favorite novels and I have read it more times than I have seen the movie.  There is no way any film could capture it.  Not because of the subject matter, but because of the ineffable blend of black comedy with tragedy and because at heart it is a love letter to the English language.  For some reason, Nabokov’s screenplay was also gutted  The film weakens the pathos by making Lolita a teenager, rather than the 12-year-old of the novel.

That said, Kubrick made a superb comedy on his first attempt.  There are some really stunning shots here as well.  The performances are all wonderful.  I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles, though Jeremy Irons did well in the 1997 remake.

Nabokov was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  I see that Nabokov’s actual screenplay is available on Amazon.  I look forward to reading it!


An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu
Shochiku Eiga
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Shuhei Hirayama: [to himself, last lines] Alone, eh?

Sensei, why did you have to leave us so soon?

Ozu again explores his classic reluctant bride plot.  Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) is a widower with a 24-year-old daughter who keeps house for him and a somewhat younger son.  He is perfectly content with this arrangement but his friends think it is time for his daughter to marry.  One of them has a prospect for her.

Daughter Michiko believes her father cannot get along without her and dad thinks she may be right.  The example of his drunken former teacher and his long-suffering spinster daughter changes Shuhei’s mind.

This is often-cited as a remake of Late Spring but the tone is entirely different.  The main difference is in the amount of humor.  Shohei and his various cronies can be pretty hilarious.

As usual, the “plot” is not the thing with Ozu.  Among the themes explored are loss, loneliness, the inevitability of change, the generation gap and transition in post-War Japan. The color cinematography and composition is exquisite.  The film is a slow burn that left me in tears after all the chuckles.  Highly recommended.

This was Ozu’s final film.  He was only 60 when he died of a heart attack in 1963.  He left us with 55 films, most of them excellent and many of them masterpieces.  I will really miss my annual visit with the director as I continue my journey through the years.



The Given Word (1962)

The Given Word (O pagador de promessas)
Directed by Anselmo Duarte
Written Anselmo Duarte based on a play by Dias Gomes
First viewing/YouTube
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. — Robert Frost

This social commentary is sort of a  Brazilian version of Ace in the Hole.

Ze do Burro (“Donkey”Jack) is a simple farmer.  His beloved donkey is injured and will not stop bleeding.  Ze goes to a candombe ritual and promises their version of Saint Barbara that he will donate part of his land to the poor and carry a heavy cross seven leagues to her church if she will restore his animal to health.  The donkey survives and Ze tries to comply with his promises.  The first part is easy.

When Ze and his wife Rosa arrive in the city, it is nighttime and the church is closed.  Ze believes that he will have fulfilled his promise only if he carries the cross into the church. But when the church opens its priest, believing that candombe is Satanic and so is Ze, bars the doors to him.  Ze refuses to budge.  In the ensuing hours, Ze becomes the victim of a number of charletans and hack journalists, who eventually whip the crowd into a frenzy.  Rosa succumbs to the temptations of a city slicker.  Can Ze ever keep his promise?

“Christ” is thoroughly misunderstood by every facet of society from the Church to the revolutionaries this one.  It is a good movie but I felt it lacked focus somehow.  I really don’t have any more to say.

This is the only Brazilian film ever to have won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language film.


Dog Star Man (1962)

Dog Star Man
Directed by Stan Brakhage
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


There are a lot of movies made for nobody. – Stan Brakhage

I had hoped that Heaven and Earth Magic would be the nadir of 1962 films selected to be seen before I died.  My hopes were dashed by this mess.

There is no need for a plot summary.  The film contains neither plot, dialogue nor sound. There are brief shots of a man – possibly on drugs – and his dog staggering through a snowy mountain landscape.

I had been warned – correctly – in advance that this was missable but decided it was worth checking out for at least five minutes.  The Prologue appeared to be made from a reel of film that had been pulled from a fire at the last possible second.  It looked like clips from the salvaged film were edited together at random.  After ascertaining that there would be no sound, I continued with some work looking up every few minutes to verify that nothing interesting was happening.  For completists or those on LSD only.

Clip from the Prelude – the first minute is dedicated to a black screen

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Heaven and Earth Magic
Directed by Harry Smith
First viewing/YouTube
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


If you have only 1001 slots on a list, why waste one on this thing?

This is “art” and there is no discernible story and no dialogue.  It looks like Smith cut images out of very old publications and animated them with a stop motion technique.  The film is fairly repetitive.  Themes are fluids dripping, eggs cracking and giving birth to new images, and mallets destroying the images.

Well, I gave myself permission to fall asleep and actually stayed awake for the whole thing so that’s something.  There is no way I would have watched at all if it had not been for the List.  Admittedly, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before.  There is a way to make a beautiful film out of paper cut-outs.  It is called The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).

Trailer for “expanded” version with live accompaniment

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Conden
M.C. Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

I consider this the best conspiracy movie ever made.  Pity about Janet Leigh’s character, though.

As the movie begins a unit headed by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in North Korea.  Marco credits Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) with saving the lives of the survivors of the action and Shaw receives the Medal of Honor for his heroism.  After returning to the U.S., Marco suffers from weird recurring nightmares in which Shaw commits unspeakable acts during a gardening club meeting.  These are so distressing that his commanding officer orders him to take it easy.  Marco believes he is losing his mind until he is approached by one of his comrades who is having similar nightmares.  He becomes determined to ferret out the truth.

In the meantime, Raymond’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and step-father Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are basking in Raymond’s glory.  The Iselins are rabid Red-baiters and have ambitions to take the White House.  Raymond hates his mother for breaking up the great romance of his life and despises Johnny and his politics.  Anyone who has not had the story spoiled previously will be glad that I stop here.

One aspect of the movie that cannot be spoiled is Marco’s bizarre encounter with Rosie (Janet Leigh) on a train.  It is love at first sight on her part featuring dialogue that can only be described as surreal.  The Rosie-Marco romance is the one weak spot in an otherwise excellent and chilling movie.

All of the principal players are at the top of their game and Lansbury’s performance is unforgettable.  It’s unfortunate that she was competing for the Oscar that year with Patty Duke, who could not have been denied.  Every technical aspect is practically perfect as well.  Highly recommended.

The Manchurian Candidate was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing.