The Third Man

  • The Third Man
  • Director:  Carol Reed
  • Date:  1949
  • Studio:  London Films Productions (UK)
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Mystery, Drama
  • Cast:  Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1 (Criterion Collection)

“Is that what you say to people after death? ‘That’s awkward.’ ” – Holly

“Death’s at the bottom of everything, Martins.  Leave death to the professionals.” – Major Calloway

“Look down there, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000  [English Pounds Sterling] for every dot that you stopped – would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?” – Harry Lime

Holly Martins (Cotten) is a down on his luck American writer who jumps at the chance when his old childhood friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job in post-World War II Vienna. He arrives in a city that’s still literally digging out from the destruction and rubble of war, and a city that’s split into British, American, Russian, and French zones (so having your passport handy is of vital importance), only to find that his friend, Harry Lime, is dead. The police believe it to be an accident. Holly has trouble believing his old friend is dead. He starts to investigate – at first, merely to learn what happened. He talks to various people, the porter at Harry’s building who witnessed a few things about the time of the accident, Harry’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, other friends of Harry’s, and becomes suspicious that not only was Harry’s death not an accident – but that something odd is going on in Vienna.

Harry also has several encounters with Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) a member of the British police for the British section, and his aide, Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee). When he takes his suspicions to the police, he’s told, not unkindly, that even if Lime was murdered, the police won’t waste resources investigating – because the man was a racketeer, involved in the Black Market, and most importantly he was involved in a scheme to steal, cut, and re-sell penicillin to sick and injured men, women and children – that resulted in several deaths, and a number of children with meningitis. As first, Holly doesn’t believe his old friend would be involved in such a scheme. Later in the film, Major Calloway shows him proof of Harry Lime’s involvement, and Holly reluctantly believes it. Still later on – Calloway takes Holly to a hospital ward filled with children who were left mentally disabled because of the tainted medicine and the resulting meningitis. There is considerable restraint in the scene, the audience doesn’t see the sick children – only doctors and nurses tending to them, some shadows and medical charts, and the reactions of Holly, Major Calloway, and Sgt. Paine.

Holly also spends time with Anna, Harry’s girlfriend. He begins to develop feelings for her – and she seems to return those feelings, but it’s not to be.

About halfway through the film, when Holly’s considering leaving Vienna altogether, he actually meets Harry Lime, who isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

The second half of the film turns into more of a moral dilemma for Holly. Harry wants him to join him in another scheme to make money, that would probably harm as many people as his last one if not more. Holly tries to get Anna to go with him – but she’s still in love with Harry. Anna’s been having her own problems – she’s living with a false passport, perhaps even a false name – because, as a Czechoslovakian she would be sent to Russia. Anna’s reactions throughout the film are influenced by her blaming Holly somewhat for getting her in trouble with the police and her undying and unexplained love for Harry Lime.

Meanwhile, Major Calloway holds his duty to turn Anna over to the Russians, because she’s an illegal immigrant, and the carrot of arranging her freedom over Holly as well.

Holly agrees to set-up Harry after Major Calloway presents him with proof of Lime’s involvement in the drug stealing and selling scheme. They also discover that the person buried in Harry’s grave is the missing hospital porter Calloway’s been looking for.

However, an encounter with Anna again shakes Holly’s resolve, he meets with Harry Lime, who turns out to be a real sociopath. Harry does not take up Lime on his implied offer to go into illegal business together someplace outside of Vienna.

Holly goes back to Calloway – who this time shows him the children in the hospital. Holly resolves to set-up Lime to help the police, especially as Calloway lets him have Anna’s passport back.

Anna – gets off the train (Calloway had also supplied a ticket out of Vienna), she sees Holly and blows up at him because she knows he’s setting up Harry. She even rips up her forged passport.

The conclusion of the film is a chase in Vienna’s sewers, as Holly, then the Major and his troops, then police from the other districts of Vienna all chase down Harry Lime.

The brilliance of this film isn’t in the overall plot, though the dead man who isn’t dead was probably somewhat novel at the time – the brilliance is in the details. The cinematography of this film is just incredible. Director Carol Reed uses all sorts of unusual, tilted, and strange camera angles, which alongside the strange score, act to put the audience at unease. This odd setting emphasizes for example, Holly’s isolation and grasping need to trust somebody. It sets all the characters apart, especially Harry Lime who towers over the film, despite not really being in it all that much. Lime is the “Third Man” of the title – referring to a Third Man who witnessed Harry’s death as described by a witness, whom everyone else involved denies was even there. The discovery of a “Third Man” is an early clue that Holly discovers and uses to try to find out who “killed” Harry Lime.

The setting of this film is also unusual. Vienna is literally pulling itself out of rubble. Piles of concrete, and stone dust, and bombed out buildings are in nearly every shot. Nothing looks new and almost nothing is whole. There is evidence of war in nearly every scene. Oddly enough, the sewers are the only structures that seem solid, not crumbling or broken – and they are far underground. But it isn’t just the buildings that are destroyed – the faces of the people, all very old or very young (except the main leads who are all probably in their 30s) – are a visual hint that the able-bodied men are all gone – and good young women don’t appear on the streets. Anna, who works in a theater singing comedy opera in German, isn’t exactly what the times would have called a “good woman”. The faces of the bit players, and the few people in the streets, have character – but they have also seen pain and destruction.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching The Third Man at least once. Visually it’s a film not to be missed, despite the bleak setting. I’d say it really needs to be seen because of the bleak setting.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)


  • Title: Suspicion
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Date: 1941
  • Genre: Mystery, Film Noir, Drama
  • Cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Leo G. Carroll, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce
  • Format: B/W, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I’m honest because with you I think it’s the best way to get results.” — Johnnie

“Monkey-face, I’ve been broke all my life!” — Johnnie

Suspicion starts like any light romantic comedy. Johnnie (Cary Grant) meets Lina on a train and tries to pick her up, but she’s unimpressed. They run into each other again at a fox hunt. He talks her for a walk on a Sunday and makes a date for later that afternoon. Lina announces this to her parents, but he breaks their date for that afternoon, and for a week, Lina is miserable because she hasn’t seen him in so long. However, he returns just in time for the hunt ball. Very soon after, Lina sneaks out of her parents’ house and the two are married at the registry office. The two go on a whirlwind European honeymoon, then return to a new house – where Lina discovers that Johnnie has no money.

Suddenly, instead of a light romance, the film resembles Gaslight. Over and over, Lina picks up on her husband acting weirdly, or suspiciously. But she has no proof, no idea what’s really going on, and every time Johnnie’s money troubles seem to catch up with him, he suddenly comes up with the money he needs (such as a £2000 pound windfall that Johnnie claims he got from the track). Lina notices her husband is fascinated with detective and murder stories… but at first, thinks nothing of it. But when Johnnie’s dear friend, Beaky, dies under mysterious circumstances, Lina goes to their mutual friend Isobel, a mystery writer. Isobel talks about her recent mystery, where a man causes another man to walk over a weakened footbridge and fall to his death. Isobel says that morally it’s murder if the first man knew the bridge was weak. She then casually says “It’s the same with Johnnie’s friend, Beaky.” Beaky had died after drinking a large amount of brandy in a drinking contest – despite his allergy to brandy. Lina freaks at this because she knows that Johnnie knows about Beaky’s allergy and that Beaky would sometimes still drink brandy even though it caused him to have fits, and trouble breathing. Later, Isobel, her husband, Lina, Johnny, and a strange blond woman dressed as a man have a dinner party. Johnnie’s dinner conversation though not only focuses on murder but on untraceable poisons. Lina’s so freaked she won’t let him into her bedroom that night.

Things finally come to a head when Lina decides to go home to spend a few days with her mother. Johnnie insists on driving her. On a winding road, Lina thinks he’s trying to kill her, but he pulls her back into the car, then yells at her. When they talk, Lina comes to the conclusion that Johnnie was considering suicide as a way out of his money problems, and for her to get his insurance money to settle his debts for once and for all. Lina throws herself into his arms, and they drive back towards their house.

In Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman gradually comes to realize that her husband is a criminal who only married her to have access to the empty house next to hers, where he thinks there’s a treasure. The husband manipulates his wife, trying to make her think she’s going insane – and she’s only saved at the last minute by a kind policeman.

Suspicion is much more unsettling. Cary Grant is very menacing – and switches from his “happy go lucky”, “everything is fine” personality to someone who is truly scary like lightning. He clearly seems to not only not want to work, but to only have a talent for losing money – and he routinely borrows money to pay off his most insistent debtors. Yet, at the same time, Joan Fontaine’s Lina seems almost paranoid. We see her getting little pieces of evidence that her husband’s up to no good, such as when she goes to visit him at his office and learns from his employer and a family friend (played brilliantly by Leo G. Carroll) that Johnnie was fired weeks ago after £2000 went missing from the business. But each time she finds something out, he has an explanation and she forgives him and realizes that she loves him.

What makes the film brilliant is that because of Grant’s superb acting, and the way he flips back-and-forth between menace and light-hearted kindness, one is never sure of his motives. Does he want to kill his wife for her money? It doesn’t appear so, he never actually does anything to her. Yet, at the same time, he’s almost slimy in the way that he always has an answer for everything. At times, Lina seems very alone, but at others, she has no problem going out – she visits Isobel with no problems, and sees other friends who seem jealous of her relationship with Johnnie. Suspicion is a masterful, and short (only 99 minutes) film with no concrete endings. I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Swing Time

The Philadelphia Story

  • Title: The Philadelphia Story
  • Director: George Cukor
  • Date: 1940
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Romance, Comedy
  • Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart
  • Format: Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

The film opens with Katherine Hepburn throwing out Cary Grant. Two years later, newspaper headlines announce the upcoming wedding of Tracy Lord (Hepburn) to a man named “George”. Tracy is a spoiled, self-centered, upper crust, old money, Philadelphia socialite. She’s recently estranged from her father because he’s recently had an affair with a New York dancer.

Grant, an alcoholic playboy, returns to Philadelphia from two years abroad, because he wants to rekindle his relationship with her and stop her wedding. However, he’s not completely obvious about what he wants.

Stewart’s a newspaperman, a reporter, who dreams of being a real writer and has written one book of short stories. But he’s currently working at a gossip magazine and is paired with a female photographer. He’s bribed to cover Tracy’s wedding.

Grant and Stewart arrive at Tracy’s – however, the pacing of the film is slow, much slower than is needed for the type of “screwball” romantic comedy that Cukor is trying to build. I think the film may have been better off in the hands of Howard Hawks. Or, for a melancholy feel, Billy Wilder. But in Cukor’s hands, it clunks along.

There are some very funny, witty, clever lines of dialogue – but there are also scenes that make one wince, such as Grant insulting Hepburn until she cries – and he’s supposed to be in Philadelphia to woo her back?

Hepburn, meanwhile, starts off as a nearly liberated woman, wearing silky pantsuits, and telling her mother and younger sister, that she dis-invited her father from the wedding because of his affair.

Meanwhile, Hepburn ends up having an illuminating conversation, not to mention a few kisses with James Stewart, while she’s drunk. The next day, her wedding day, she can’t remember exactly what she did. At first, evidence suggests she slept with Stewart, which ticks off her fiance’, George. However, Stewart clears the air by explaining nothing happened. George forgives Hepburn – but, to her credit, she doesn’t forgive him for jumping to conclusions about her and she cancels the wedding. Then, as she’s announcing this to the guests – Grant, who’s feeding her lines to make the embarrassing situation more graceful, proposes. She accepts, and the wedding goes on – with Hepburn marrying Grant. It’s also suggested that Stewart’s female photographer should marry him, so at least Stewart isn’t left in the cold.

The problem with the film – well, it’s almost like an updated “Taming of the Shrew“. Yes, Tracy Lord is a spoiled, pampered woman who has difficulty expressing her emotions and thus seems to be an ice queen. She compared to a “goddess” several times in the film, and never favorably. However, her abilities at horseback riding, swimming, and sailing suggest she’s a true “outdoorsy” woman – and a woman who doesn’t need a man, she needs to be allowed to do her own thing, probably in a career. I also felt she had much better on-screen chemistry with Stewart’s character, a nearly penniless writer, than Grant’s – who’s also a spoiled playboy. Tracy and Dexter (Grant) had split before because they grew bored with each other, and her coldness drove Dexter to drink (his drying out is a sub-plot of the film), but there’s no reason to believe they won’t tire of each other again. Stewart, meanwhile, is an “everyman” sort, as always, but his honesty would keep Tracy on her toes, and she probably wouldn’t get bored of him. And, should she start to take advantage of him – he’d call her on it. I could also see Stewart prodding her into opening some type of writing or artsy-related business, such as a publishing house, art gallery, or artist’s colony. Not that Tracy’s an artist, but she does have a head for business, and she seems genuinely interested in Stewart’s book, not just flattering him.

There are a couple of misses in the film as well – Tracy’s ill-fated second husband-to-be really should have been played by Ralph Bellamy – we know she’s not going to marry him, the romantic triangle is between Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart, so why not cast the guy who never gets the girl? Howard Hawks would have been a better directing choice – and would have ramped-up the pacing of the film. The scenes with fast dialogue are some of the best, but at 112 minutes the film runs a little long and drags in places. Hawks could have speeded up the dialogue and the plot (such as in his wonderful His Girl Friday).  And, as much as I like Grant – I don’t think the film works with the plot of Tracy Lord going back to her first husband. On the one hand, it makes her look like an on-screen Elizabeth Taylor, and on the other, it seems terribly old-fashioned, almost as if to suggest a woman can’t really be divorced.

Recommendation:  Worth seeing, but at times slow.
Rating:  3 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  The Princess Bride


  • Title: Notorious
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date: 1946
  • Studio: RKO
  • Genre: Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
  • Format: Standard, Black and White
  • DVD format: R1, NTSC, (Criterion Collection, single disc)

“Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other, that’s your patriotism.” – Alicia

“I’ve always been scared of women, but I get over it.” – Devlin

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, whose father’s been tried for treason, found guilty and jailed. We later learned that he “died in his cell”, which is only marginally better than “shot while trying to escape”. Bergman is indifferent to her father’s death, knowing he was a traitor (or as he put it in a recorded conversation – loyal to Germany and his own pocket) – but seems apolitical. She is, however, a hopeless alcoholic, even driving drunk. She meets Devlin at one of her parties and quickly discovers he’s an American agent. He brings her to his bosses to use as an agent. Reluctantly, she agrees and the two fly off to Rio. It’s interesting to note that Alicia’s friends had also wanted her to take a vacation, but suggested Cuba!!! Anyway, once in Rio, Alicia, and Devlin discover what the job is that Devlin’s un-named agency wants her to do. She’s to become romantically involved with Claude Rains’ character, a man she knew as a young girl, and someone who seems to be supporting some shady scientists, though to what end is unknown – that is what Alicia is to find out. Devlin isn’t happy about Alicia’s assignment, because the two have fallen for each other. Alicia, however, agrees. She quickly forms an attachment to Rains — and even marries him. Devlin, meanwhile, becomes her handler – but gets more and more angry to see the woman he loves with another man.

Despite it’s fantastic cast – Notorious is a very, very slow moving film. Yes, the tension does build up, especially when Rains’ mother discovers Alicia is an agent and begins to poison her coffee, but the pacing is so slow as to be irritating instead of suspenseful. I actually found Rains to be the most fun – it’s nice to see him in a juicy “bad guy” role as opposed the to lighter characters he normally plays. Bergman is excellent as the newly minted tough-as-nail agent, but her easy submission into taking the poisoned coffee (and not realizing there might be a reason she feels so sick) undercuts her strong woman persona. Grant, of course, rescues her at the end, but the film still has a strange ending (they leave the house, but we don’t know, for sure, if Grant got to her in time for the poisoning to be reversed). All in all – I think Notorious is a good example of a film that would work better as a TV series. I’d have loved to see a pair of secret agents – one male, one female, who gradually fall for each other – and eventually marry. It could be especially interesting if the woman still must “honeytrap” other spies as part of her job. A TV series, however, could gradually work the relationship of  “Alicia” and “Devlin” – making it more realistic, as well as dealing with the difficulties of a couple in such a dangerous profession.

But, getting back to the film, Grant is fantastic in Notorious – giving a subtle performance, and projecting a core of steel and violence. I loved that.

Overall, though Notorious has it’s good points and an excellent cast, it’s like a novel by a great writer who needs an editor and without one writes books which are overly long. The film really needed to be tightened up, the pacing improved, and the ending needs to be more concrete and less confusing.

Still, I would recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Philadelphia Story

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

  • Title:  The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Director:  John Huston
  • Date:  1941
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama, Mystery, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr.
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“That’s good coming from you. What have you ever given me besides money? Ever given me any of your confidence, any of the truth? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?” — Sam Spade

“Our private conversations have not been such that I am anxious to continue them. Forgive my speaking blunting but it is the truth.”  — Joel Cairo

“I’ll tell you right out, I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”  — Kasper “The Fat Man” Gutman

The Maltese Falcon, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel almost defines the genre of Film Noir, though for Noir films, I prefer Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The Maltese Falcon is a tad long, and rather confusing, even after several viewings (and I have seen this film several times over the years). However, it still does have many Noir hallmarks:  the snappy, fast dialogue, the designing woman (or femme fatale), and introduces the Noir staple of the tough-as-nails, but honest, private detective.

Bogart, and the rest of the cast, which includes Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, as well as Elisha Cook, Jr. and Mary Astor are all good, and excellently cast in their roles. And this film is from the heyday of Warner Brothers, when the studio turned out dozens if not hundreds of Noir films (including their gangster films) a year. This is also a breakout film for Bogart, moving him from day player at Warner’s (oddly enough often playing “heavies” simliar to Cook’s role in this film) to leading roles.

The plot, involving the chase for the the Falcon (often called “The Black Bird”, and once, by Spade, “The dingus”), is more of a McGuffin — the real plot, and the driving force of the film is the murder of Spade’s partner, Archer, at the beginning of the film. This murder is nearly forgotten until the end, when the audience discovers that Sam hasn’t forgotten, at all, what happened to Archer. And, despite the fact that Sam may have had an affair with Archer’s wife (or she at least has a crush on him, she pretty much throws herself at Spade, while still in Widow’s Weeds), he still considers it his duty to do something about the murder of his partner, no matter what. Sam is an honorable man and will keep his honor, whatever the cost. Thus it is the conclusion of the film that is excellent and memorable.

The look of the film is great, and it’s set in atmospheric San Francisco, which helps, though I doubt it was filmed there.

Overall, The Maltese Falcon is one of those classic films one just really needs to see, and appreciate and occasionally re-watch. For such a dark film, enjoyable isn’t really the correct word, but it is a very good film, and an important contribution to Film Noir.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  The Maltese Falcon (1931)

The Lost Weekend

  • Title:  The Lost Weekend
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1945
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Ray Milland, Jane Wyman
  • Format:  Standard, Black & White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m trying, I’m trying…”  — Don
“I know you’re trying, Don, we’re both trying.  You’re trying not to drink and I’m trying not to love you.”  — Helen

“Ever lie in your bed looking out the window?  A little daylight’s coming through and you start to wonder — is it getting lighter or getting darker?  Is it dawn or dusk?”  — Don

The words “film noir” usually conjure up images of PIs in fedoras walking down dark misty streets; femme fatales, and intricate plots about the darker side of  life.  But film noir also had another side, that of  films like The Lost Weekend – which is a realistic portrayal of an alcoholic on a bender.  The only other film about alcoholism that I can possibly think of is Sandra Bollock’s 28 Days — and that focused on recovery.  The Lost Weekend focuses on Don, an alcoholic, and his slide from taking one drink to a hopeless bender on a weekend.

When the film opens, Don and his brother Wick are in Don’s apt, packing for a weekend in the country.  Helen, Don’s girl arrives, and they quietly discuss how much Don needs the time away from everything, “after everything he’s been through”.  What Don has been through isn’t specified — the characters know but the audience doesn’t.  Don jumps through some hoops to get Wick and Helen out of his apartment. He’s hidden a bottle of  booze, and wants to sneak a drink.  But Wick finds the bottle and dumps it in the sink.

His brother and his girl leave, and Don is left alone.  The land lady arrives, saying that Wick should have left the rent for her ($10.00 !!!!!).  Don tells her he didn’t, then takes the money and goes out and buys two bottles of rye.  He then goes to his neighborhood bar, and starts drinking with the change.  He asks the bartender to tell him when it’s a quarter to six, so he can meet his brother for the train to the country. Needless to say, he misses the train.

Don continues to drink his way through the weekend, alternating between his apartment, Nat’s Bar (his neighborhood bar) and other establishments.  We discover that Don has always wanted to be a writer, and he even published an article when he was still in college, before dropping out.  He met Helen at the opera when their coats were mixed up by the coat check clerk.  Don has an issue with his self-confidence, his fears prevent him from even trying to be a writer.

As his weekend gets more and more hazy, and he becomes more and more desperate, Don decides to pawn his typewriter to get more money for booze — but all the pawnshops are closed because it’s Yom Kipper, and the non-Jewish pawnshops are closed out of courtesy.  Don goes to see Gloria, a woman who frequents Nat’s Bar and asks her for money.  She tries to throw him out, but at the last minute takes pity on him and gives him some money.  But as he’s leaving, he trips over an eight-year old coming up the stairs and falls.  He’s taken to the hospital, unconscious, and wakes up in the alcoholic wing.  After a harrowing experience, he goes home, exhausted and spent. (but he also steals a quart of rye on his way home).

By this time, his girl, Helen has gotten quite worried about him — she’d left a note for him on his door, tried Nat’s bar, and he even finds her in front of his apartment door asleep.  She tries to discourage him, but won’t leave.  Eventually, he takes Helen’s leopard coat, the one she was wearing when they met.  She thinks he’s going to pawn it for money, and blows up at him.  But then she finds out he took the coat to swap it for a gun.

Helen rushes to his apartment.  She tries to talk to him. Don keeps trying to throw her out of  the apartment, telling her goodbye.  Then there’s a knock on the door, it’s Nat, returning Don’s typewriter, which was left at Gloria’s.  Don finally calms down.  Helen tells him he needs to finish his novel, “The Bottle”, and the movie ends on an artificially happy note.

Overall, The Lost Weekend is a dark and depressing film.  But  the ending feels very tacked on, and very artificial.  I somehow think the censorship boards forced the “happy” ending.  Anyway, Billy Wilder’s direction is marvelous, and the story moves along at a good clip.  The dialog feels more real than other films of the period as well.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Lord of  the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2 disc Theatrical ed.)
Note on Lord of  the Rings — I have the 2 disc and the 4 disc versions of  all three films.  I will watch the two discs first of all three films in order, then the four discs of all three films.

His Girl Friday

  • Title:  His Girl Friday
  • Director:  Howard Hawks
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  Columbia Pictures
  • Genre:  Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“There’s nobody else on The Paper who can write!”  — Walter Burns

“All they’ve been doing is lying, all they’ve been doing is writing lies, Why don’t they listen to me?”  — Molly

“There are 365 days in a year one can get married, How many times – you got a murderer locked up in a desk?”  — Walter

His Girl Friday” is based on the play, “The Front Page“, but whereas in the original play the reporter was a man – in this version, he’s a she, — and therein lies the fun.  Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) goes to her old stomping grounds, the Morning Post, to officially resign and tell her ex-husband, Walter, that she’s going to get married again, to an insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy).  Walter, still in love with Hildy, but even more, in need of her talent as a writer, does everything he can to stop this, including get poor Bruce thrown in jail three times.

Meanwhile, a convicted murderer is going to be hanged the next day.  Walter and his paper have maintained the man’s innocence, and tried to get a reprieve for him.  Walter manages to get Hildy to go and interview the condemned man.  Hildy does, and when she’s out of the room one of the other hardened “newspapermen” read her story and remark on the quality of the writing.  But Hildy, angered at yet another of Walter’s jokes on Bruce, rips up the story.  She swears, yet again, to quit.  Then Earl Williams, the convicted man, escapes.  Hildy, like all the other reporters, starts covering the story, and really gets caught up in it when first Williams, then his girlfriend, Molly, show up in the press room.  Hildy calls Walter over to the courthouse, and they are trying to decide what to do.  The sheriff, police, and mayor show up.  Williams is found in the roll-top desk, Hildy and Walter are arrested.  Then a process-server arrives from the governor — for the second time that night he tries to deliver the governor’s reprieve for the convicted man.  Hildy and Walter are freed.  Walter convinces Hildy to marry him.  Hildy also realizes that she is:  “a newspaperman”;  as the story has fired her blood, and the dream of marriage to a dull insurance salesman and a boring life in Albany is just that – a pipe dream, not her at all.

His Girl Friday” is a great film — it’s funny, and the main plot of a manhunt for a escaped felon is still relevant today.  The film is known for it’s incredibly fast, overlapping dialog, which it does have, and it definitely adds to the warp drive feel of the film.  Grant and Russell have great chemistry together, and the audience knows from their first scene together that Hildy belongs with Walter – not plain vanilla Bruce. But the film is also interesting in that it’s very much a woman’s liberation film.  Hildy, a woman, is successfully making her way in a career that is still, seventy years later, traditionally held by men, thus the use of the term “newspaperman” throughout the film rather than reporter or journalist, though those terms pop-up as well.  And though Hildy talks about giving up her career for marriage, family, children, etc — in the end she chooses something very novel for the 1940s – to have both, her career, and her marriage.  Because Walter would expect her to work right alongside him, just as she had done before, and Hildy’s realized that what she really wants is to have both.

It should be noted that the popular 1980s romantic detective series, Moonlighting and Remington Steele, were referencing “His Girl Friday” in particular, with their use of fast paced, over-lapping dialog, and both a strong man and a strong woman in a adversarial romantic comedy.  That is, Hildy, wasn’t exactly going to sit around and wait for “her prince” to come to her — or even to go out searching for a man, but she was capable of  being happy with both a man who loved her and a career.

Recommendation:  See it!  You simply must!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Raiders of  the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones)

Gaslight (1940)

  • Title:  Gaslight
  • Director:  Thorold Dickinson
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  British National Films, MGM
  • Genre:  Drama, Suspense
  • Cast:  Anton Walbrook, Diana Wyngood
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“You can’t possibly tell if you’re hurt until you’ve had time to think about it.” –Ex-cop to Bella

This film is on the reverse side of the 1944 version DVD I own.  The original film is based on an 1938 play.  This version of the film begins with a bang, showing an old woman getting strangled at Number 12, and the murderer tearing up the house looking for something.  We then see several people who live in the square talking about the horrible crime that happened there, and we’re made aware the house has stood empty for several years.  Next, Paul and Bella Mellon arrive (the characters known as Gregory and Paula Anton in the 1944 version).  We also see an ex-cop talking to a groom as they care for their horses about the strange happenings at Number 12.

There is considerably more exposition and more discussion by minor characters of the murder, and the new residents of Number 12, almost so much that the movie at first seems to be about the house rather than the people living there.  The 1944 version, is much more grounded in the characters living in the house, and told mostly from Paula’s point of view.  This older version switches points of view several times, showing us exactly what Paul is doing, showing the ex-cop’s investigation (without ever giving his name either), showing us various residents of the same square and their impressions, etc.

Paul’s flirting with Nancy, the parlourmaid, is much more pronounced.  In one scene he kisses her, in another he actually takes her on a date to a music hall (and we’re subjected to watching it, as awful as it is, though the Can-Can dancers are interesting).  Nancy, however, isn’t nearly as sinister as she is in the 1944 versions.  She’s almost a harmless flirt.  Paul’s playing around with the maid is contemptible but Bella seems to intentionally turn a blind eye to it.

The scene in the parlour with Paul torturing Bella about the missing picture, making her call in the servants, and questioning the servants is almost word-for-word the same in both films, as is the scene of Bella at the concert where he tortures her about taking his watch.  However, in this film we actually see Paul put the watch in Bella’s purse.

Besides having a lot more exposition up front; there’s also less suspense than the 1944 version because we see a lot of what Paul is doing straight out.  In the 1944 version, especially if you’ve never seen the film before, you don’t know what’s going on – is Paula actually going mad?  In this version, we know Paul is torturing Bella, and although the actress does, in some scenes, do a good job of portraying someone who thinks she’s going out of her mind — her belief that she’s for some reason taking things, becomes weak and wimpy when we see Bella begging Paul to keep her anyway.

Like the 1944 version, Paul has a roll top desk which hides some of his secrets – including a brooch he’s taken from Bella and told her she lost.  However, there’s no letter from an admirer to Paula’s aunt — because in this story, Bella isn’t related to the murdered woman, but rather her husband is.  However, Bella does find an envelope address to “Anton Boyer” which is Paul’s real name.  The search for rubies (£20,000 Pounds worth) is much more pronounced, but rather than being hidden in plain sight, sewn onto a theatrical costume among fakes; the rubies are actually hidden inside the brooch.  (One of the more unbelievable bits – Bella takes the rubies out of a vase, where she’d hidden them after finding them loose inside the brooch.  She asks the ex-cop helping her — Are they valuable?)

Less is made of Paul’s nocturnal visits out – and even Bella’s hearing footsteps and the gaslight going down then back-up don’t occur until over halfway through the film — making it considerably less spooky.  A minor character, Bella’s cousin, is more important – he tries to see Bella, but is refused by her husband.  He doesn’t exist in the 1944 version, and one of his visits is given to Joseph Cotten’s detective, as is some of his dialogue.  Another change is one of the cops who start investigating is in number 14 (the next door empty house) when Paul enters it.

There is a nice shot of  Bella’s reflection in a music box, as she hears footsteps and finally starts to scream for Elizabeth, the cook, who pooh-poohs her.  However, like Nancy, the cook seems harmless.  She’s also not deaf as she is in the 1944 version.

There is a scene with Paul telling Bella she’s mad and she will die in a lunatic asylum and he hates her, in which he is quite, quite sinister.  And, of course, we’ve seen all along exactly what he’s doing to drive his wife mad.  And since we’ve also seen the old woman’s murder and the ransacking of the house rather than hearing about it later, one can make the connection between that crime and Paul’s behavior towards Bella, even though we don’t see his face.

Overall, a competent film.  Competent direction, not overly flat, with some nice touches.  Competent acting, too.  Diana Wyngood isn’t bad as Bella — but she does seem wimpy at times, simply from the rearrangement of scenes, and the lack of focus on her.  There is the scene between Bella and Paul at the end, where Paul’s been caught, but it lack the raw power of Bergman’s performance, despite almost identical dialogue, simply because we’re not so caught up in Bella’s story.

Recommendation:  Wouldn’t hurt to see it, but the 1944 version is much better.
Rating:  3
Next film:  The Gay Divorcee

Gaslight (1944)

  • Title:  Gaslight
  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Date:  1944
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir, Suspense, Classic
  • Cast:  Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, (Double-sided)

“I was right about you — I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to me.” — Gregory
“I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to her.” — Mr. Brian Cameron, Scotland Yard

I’ve always thought that Gaslight is one of the scariest movies to watch. It’s spine-tingling and chilling, rather than gross, or shocking. The best way to get the full effect, is to watch it with all the lights off, at night, when you’re alone in the house, and of course a thunderstorm helps. There is nothing scarier than the idea of someone coldly trying to drive you insane. Films about those kinds of mind games are truly frightening.

The movie opens with Paula leaving her aunt’s house, she thinks for the last time. She had been raised by her aunt, after her mother died in childbirth. She’s been encouraged to go to Italy to study singing and forget the recent tragedy that’s befallen her. We learn later that her aunt was a famous opera singer and she was murdered. Still later we learn the murder is still unsolved, there was a jewel theft at the same time, but the jewels were never found, sold, or traded.

In Italy, Paula quickly discovers she has no talent for operatic singing, and she meets the man of her dreams, she thinks. After two weeks, he’s proposed. She tells him she needs time to think about it, and wants a week to herself at a lakeside vacation resort. When her train arrives there, he’s waiting for her. He talks her into settling down in London, and even though Paula doesn’t want to return to London, she agrees. The film is, by the way, set in Victorian London. They end up living in Paula’s Aunt’s house, which Paula has inherited.

The film then gets weird – Gregory Anton completely controls his wife’s life. He doesn’t allow her to go out of the house, not even on a short walk (even by Victorian standards, that’s excessive). He fires Paula’s maid, and hires an impertinent girl named Nancy (beautifully played by Angela Lansbury as alternately sinister and flirty). Again, normally the hiring and firing of servants would be a woman’s job.  And he slowly starts to drive Paula insane, giving her things, then taking them away but telling her she lost them. Taking a picture down off the wall, then pointing it out to be missing and saying she did it.  And going out at night, leaving her alone with a deaf cook and rude maid, who do everything he says and thus join in on his mind games of turning down the gaslight (and saying it hasn’t been) and ignoring the footsteps in the closed off attic that Paula hears.

But the genius of  the movie is that it isn’t obvious about any of this. We don’t actually see Gregory take a brooch from Paula’s purse, we only see him fiddle with it. We don’t see him tell the servants to lie to make Paula look nuts either – we only see him tell Nancy she’s to take all her orders from him and not her mistress.

Joseph Cotten is Mr. (Brian) Cameron, a Scotland Yard detective who happens to see Paula with Gregory one day when they are sight-seeing at the Tower of London. Gregory is immensely jealous when Paula smiles at Cameron after he tips his hat to her, but she was merely being polite. Gregory then goes back to the Yard and examines the cold case of Paula’s aunt’s murder, but is told to leave it alone.  Luckily for Paula, he doesn’t.

Paula, Gregory and Mr. Cameron again run into each other at a party thrown by one of Paula’s aunt’s friends. Again, Gregory pulls his slight of hand, telling Paula his watch is gone and pulling it out of her purse – the hysterical Paula is led from the party.

Gregory’s cold, calculating, insidious little plans get worse and worse, as he tells Paula a letter she found in her aunt’s music doesn’t exist and she was staring at nothing, and that her mother didn’t die in childbirth but rather a year later in an insane asylum.

Fortunately, by this time Cameron and a bobby named Williams have started investigating, and find out  Gregory only goes out to “work” at night, they even find that he disappears in an alley behind the house, and comes out looking dirty and dusty, his tie askew. One night, when Gregory has left, Cameron goes to the house and finds Paula, he starts talking to her when the gaslight dims. She’s excited that he also sees the gas lower. Then he hears the footsteps, and, knowing what he does from his own investigation, concludes her husband is poking around in the attic. They also find the letter that Gregory had claimed didn’t exist.

Then the light turns to normal, Paula encourages Cameron to leave, he does, and when Gregory returns he, and Elizabeth try to convince Paula no one was there that evening. Paula starts to break down and Gregory arrives. After a struggle, Cameron arrests Gregory finding the jewels on him.  Paula’s aunt had sewn them on her costume amongst all the paste jewels. Nothing like hiding in plain sight!

But this isn’t a case of the boy rescues the girl. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is masterful – she portrays a deliriously happy bride, and a frightened wife equally well. But her best scene is at the end of the movie, as she turns the tables on her husband, playing the same mind games on him that he had played on her, if only for a short while, before turning him over to Cameron and the police.

The directing, the use of light and shadow, and the acting, especially by the women in the piece is all masterful.  It’s also a flip-flop of the typical Film Noir motif — that usually involves a cunning, conniving, designing woman, known as the femme fatale, dragging a relatively innocent man down into a well of crime and evil, and thus destroying him. In Gaslight, it’s the man who’s cunning, conniving, cold, and chilling, and he’s attempting to drive his wife insane, after murdering her aunt, to get the jewels he didn’t have time to steal because she had interrupted him. (The police knew Paula had awoken, walked down the stairs, and found her aunt dead, but everything else on the case remained open.) Also, where the man often dies as a result of committing a crime for the femme fatale – here Paula not only survives, but in the end, she’s triumphant, discovering she’s not going insane, getting the chance to pay her husband back (who’s secretly married to someone else, and thus not legally her husband), and possibly even finding happiness with the detective who solved the case. How often can a Film Noir film have a truly happy ending? Not often.

Anyway, it’s an incredibly good film, everyone in it does an excellent and admirable job, and I love it. It can be good to watch something spooky occasionally.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  5 Stars
Next film:  Gaslight (1940)

Easter Parade

  • Title:  Easter Parade
  • Director:  Charles Walters
  • Date:  1948
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Music and Lyrics:  Irving Berlin
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I bet you know a lot about women.”  — Don
“I should, I’ve been single all my life.”  — Mike, the Bartender

“You spend your life behind a bar, you get to know what makes people tick. This place is like a clinic, people come in here because they’ve got troubles. Well, if you listen, you learn.”  — Mike

Easter Parade is a big, splashy, colorful MGM musical. The film is essentially song after song, all by Irving Berlin, with only the smallest amount of dialogue linking the songs and providing the plot. The plot is actually somewhat complicated, and not well realised. Nadine (Ann Miller) and Don (Fred Astaire) are a dancing team, but she’s fallen for their friend, Johnny (Peter Lawford). Meanwhile, Don has fallen for his dancing partner, Nadine. Nadine decides to stretch her wings and takes her own role – meanwhile Don, after an argument with Nadine, decides to “show her” by taking any dancing girl and turn her into his new partner. Don runs into Hannah (Judy Garland), and decides to coach her into becoming his new partner. Hannah falls in love with Don, and Johnny falls for Hannah. However, once Don and Hannah find their own style, rather than imitating the famous style of Don and Nadine, they are a rousing success. In the end, Hannah and Don end-up together.

Don and Hannah’s first on-stage number, with Garland in a light-blue feathered gown, is a complete disaster — Hannah does everything wrong, and shows herself to be very un-graceful. But the number also feels like a parody of Astaire and Rogers and a mean-spirited one (Garland’s gown in similar to Ginger’s from Swing Time).

The film also could have used more humor and cleverness.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • “Happy Easter”
  • “Drum Crazy”
  • “It Only Happens When I Dance With You”
  • “I Was Born in Michigan / I Want to Go Back to the Farm”
  • “I’m Just a Fella’,  a Fella’ with an Umbrella”
  • “I Love the Piano”
  • “Snookie Ookums”
  • “Fiddle on your Violin”
  • “When the Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’ “
  • “Shaking the Blues Away”
  • “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” (Reprise)
  • “Stepping Out With My Baby”
  • “A Couple of Swells / Walk Up the Avenue”
  • “The Girl I Love is a Magazine Cover”
  • “No Next Time for Me”
  • “Easter Parade”

The best number by far is Fred’s “Stepping Out With My Baby”, which includes a piece where he’s dancing in slow motion in the foreground and the background dancers are dancing at regular speed in the background. It’s a nice effect — and it’s cool to see all the detail of Fred’s dancing. But it’s also a great jazz dance number.

Easter Parade is meant to be set in 1912 (Nadine’s big chance is working in the Ziegfield Follies of 1912), yet the costuming screams 1950s, not two years after the end of the Edwardian Era.

Overall, though, it’s a light, romantic musical. Not as much comedy or cleverness as I’d like, which is why I prefer The Bandwagon, but Judy Garland does sing wonderfully, and I always enjoy Fred Astaire.

Recommendation:  See it, at least once.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  A Fish Called Wanda