Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about a few them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

The Public Enemy
6 am Saturday on TCM
James Cagney, Jean Harlow

The Saint Strikes Back
noon Saturday on TCM
George Sanders, Wendy Barrie

Dinner at Eight 
8 pm Saturday on TCM
John Barrymore, Marie Dressler

The Thin Man
10 pm Saturday on TCM
William Powell, Myrna Loy

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
2 am Sunday on TCM
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

 San Francisco
8 am Sunday on TCM
Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald

A Day at the Races
10 am Sunday on TCM
The Marx Brothers

Witness for the Prosecution
noon Sunday on TCM
Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power

Feature: Movie Posters from France

I have done posts in the past comparing U.S. movie posters for American films to those advertisements that were produced internationally for the same flicks. Italy has proven to be a good source of interesting posters (see this post for examples), but France is no slacker when it comes to out doing the Americans on the artsy side. The following are some comparisons between the American posters and French. Which versions do you prefer? If you have your own favorite French posters, please share.

FRANCE VS. AMERICA

The American poster is not bad for Touch of Evil, but the French one is even more dramatic. While the U.S. made the poster suggestive via the embrace between Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston, the French more subtly suggested the bedroom action by framing the characters with a bed post. The foreign version might actually convey to audiences that Heston is responsible for the horrible bed-based action Leigh will suffer in two different settings, whereas the American version is a bit more romantic.

You can see the similarities between where the French and the Americans were going with the poster for Operation Petticoat. Both are provocative with the woman’s legs, but I must say the French had a bit more fun with the depiction of the men’s reaction. I’m laughing more at the French one than the American.

Another sexy movie with two different posters approaches is The Lady from Shanghai. All versions of the American poster featured that same pose by Rita Hayworth, but the French version certainly has a more interesting and artistic quality. This might be a matter of taste. What do you say?

Now for some comedy/war fun. Although the American version assures us there will be laughs to be had, the French poster draws a very serious picture. It is not bereft, however, of two men dancing together, so a close enough look sheds some light into the elements of Stalag 17. However misleading, I do appreciate the artistry of the French approach.

This difference might be my favorite. The Lost Weekend approaches both emphasize the seriousness of the film, but where the American take crowds in unnecessary elements, the French took a simplistic view. For those who have yet to see the picture, the bat surely will present some confusion, and it references only a minor, yet memorable, scene in the movie tracing an alcoholic’s helplessness under the influence of drink.

What it your analysis?

Laura

Wowza!

Laura (1944)

     For me, Laura is the quintessential film noir. In reality, however, it is quite different from the standard flick of that genre. Whereas most noirs dealt with seedy underworld types and a blonde vixen,Laura’s setting is high society and focuses on a pretty brunette out to destroy no one.

     The title character, played by Gene Tierney, is absent for the majority of the flick, shown primarily in flashbacks as the movie paints a picture of her rise to professional wealth and of those around her who are now suspects in her murder. Dana Andrews plays Detective McPherson who seeks to unravel who unloaded a barrel of buckshot in the woman’s face in her own doorway one night.

     He starts his sleuthing with snide newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who accepts McPherson’s visit while he is at his typewriter … in the bath. Waldo is an absolutely unkind man who defends against an accusation of callousness with the response: “I would be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.” He, who was responsible for launching Laura’s career and courted her platonically, glimpses no sign of guilt. Fascinated with the psyche of a murderer, however, he insists on joining the cool McPherson in his interviews.

     Next up are Laura’s aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) and Laura’s fiance Shelby, played by a young and handsome Vincent Price. Shelby has been distraught, unable to sleep (is that a sign of grief or guilt, Waldo inquires), but his alibi of attending the symphony is shoddy as he inaccurately reports the program, defending himself by saying he fell asleep. Ann, meanwhile, is looking shady because she has been withdrawing large sums of money that appear to be resurfacing in Shelby’s coffers, and we learn the two were having an affair.

     It is impossible to go further into the plot without giving away a fantastic twist that transpires about two-thirds in. The change throws all theories out the window as McPherson considers a different suspect and a different body. Director Otto Preminger gives us a masterpiece in Laura. It seems impossible to determine a true motive for the murder and we and McPherson have a difficult time knowing who to trust.

      The dialogue is intelligent, witty and sharp, especially that coming from the literary Waldo. Webb fantastically plays the acerbic writer whose insults flow so gracefully off his tongue. The story, however, is not just a mystery; it also has shades of romance. As McPherson learns all about Laura and we view her through flash backs, the man gradually falls in love with her ghost and her portrait that hangs above the woman’s mantle. Andrews gives a wonderfully controlled performance. He never raises his voice and his demeanor of near disinterest has the suspects overly willing to offer up information or point out where they have been dishonest and why. He lets Waldo rile up accusations and spark arguments while he bows his head to play with a handheld puzzle game.

     Tierney, meanwhile, paints Laura as a woman we cannot help but admire and ourselves fall in love with –reserved, gentle, elegant, forthright– while Andrews portrays his detective as a perfect mate. Anderson gives her typically perfect performance, and Price is fascinating to see in his charming youth before becoming a master of horror flicks.

     Laura won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, and the black and white picture really is a work of art, full of creative shadowing that instills the sexy, mysterious mood. This movie is yet another example of how Otto Preminger never disappoints.Laura is not as long as his other lengthy but worthwhile mysteries, but it packs the same wallop. I cannot recommend it enough.

Saint Joan

Ring a Ding Ding

Saint Joan (1957)

     Given Otto Preminger‘s history with fantastically thrilling mysteries and dramas, I was a bit surprised to find he made a picture based on Bernard Shaw’s play about the plight of Joan of Arc. Possibly of even greater surprise is that Preminger paid for the rights to the play –$100,000 plus 5% of the gross receipts to the Shaw estate. Ultimately, however, Preminger was unhappy with his screen interpretation. In his autobiography, he says during the film’s premiere in France,

(I) started to realize that my film Saint Joan was a failure. Many people blamed Jean Seberg and her inexperience. That is unfair. I alone am to blame because…I misunderstood something fundamental about Shaw’s play. It is not a dramatization of the legend of Joan of Arc which is filled with emotion and religious passion. It is a deep but cool intellectual examination of the role religion plays in the history of man.

      Despite his feelings on the movie, I found it fantastic. It was the screen debut for Jean Seberg, who would find herself permanently fixed in film history through her appearance in the French New Wave stand-by Breathless. She was selected through an open casting call process that included 18,000 rivals for the part. Audrey Hepburn was also supposedly considered for the role but turned it down. Jean does such a unbelievably good job, that one should find it hard to believe she was inexperienced. Her stand-by short haircut fit perfectly with the woman-warrior part as she was one of the few women who can get away with a man’s hairdo and dress and maintain a feminine beauty.

     The story follows Joan of Arc as she approaches the Dauphin of France (Richard Widmark), a man-child whom Joan would convince to pursue being formally named King Charles VII. She also persuades the man to give her an army to run the English out of the country. Once Charles has taken power, however, he casts Joan off having no further need of her. The 17-year-old girl’s action also have made her important enemies who slander her as a witch. Once released from the protection of the king, she is arrested for heresy with the Catholic church standing against her and the voices she hears. She is imprisoned, tortured and given every opportunity to recant her words, but each time she speaks, she further incriminates herself as a heretic. She at one point agrees to recant when burning at the stake is put before her, but when she learns that she will not be set free but instead imprisoned for the remainder of her life, Joan calls for the fire.

     The actual burning scene is intriguing. Special effects depict the flames shooting up in front of Seberg’s face as the girl wilts and passes out before the fire become too mighty to see what lies within. Filming of this instance resulted in the actual burning of the actress when the effects went wrong. Seberg only suffered minor burning on her stomach and hand.

Source: TCM.com

Stalag 17

Wowza!

Stalag 17 (1953)

     Who knew that being a prisoner of war could be so funny or that William Holden could be so shady. Billy Wilder did and he made on hell of a hit with Stalag 17. A somewhat true story of American soldiers stuck in a German POW camp –or stalag in German– uses one of Wilder’s greatest devices: placing a comedy against a grim backdrop (he also often employed the opposite by inserting humor into serious stories). Additionally, Wilder cast Holden (over Charlton Heston) as a suspected German spy planted in the prisoner barrack. This is the first time I can remember seeing the leading man in a role that is not a charming, all-American, likeable guy.

     Wilder got his hands on Stalag 17 after it became a hit on Broadway. It was written by two WWII prisoners of war who decided to use their experience as the subject of a play. Wilder would largely change the dialogue from the stage production and wrote as he filmed the story in sequence. The story centers on one barrack at stalag 17 where the residents begin to suspect one of their roommates is spilling secrets to their Nazi prison guard. Because Wilder had not decided until the end of filming who that traitor would be, Stalag 17 becomes a movie that if you go back and watch it for a second time knowing what you do by the end, you still cannot detect and clues as to who the perpetrator is. The actors also did not know who would be the villain.

     The story itself works to convince the audience and all members of the barrack that Holden’s J.J. Sefton is the guy. He’s a great trader of goods and has a footlocker full of loot. He also bets against two soldiers who at the film’s start attempt to escape but are shot down by waiting Nazis just outside the camp’s grounds. Those two soldiers are Manfredi and Johnson, and if you’re a “Penguins of Madagascar” kids TV show fan, as I am, you’ll note that those are the names of the former comrades Skipper frequently mentions as befalling a tragic fate.

     Stalag 17 is full of great humor to the point the characters make it seem as though their circumstances are not too bad. Members of the barrack of focus are great pals with their assigned Nazi guard (Sig Ruman) and jokingly tell him to “dropeh zie dead” and to bring them roommates from the Russian women’s camp next door with nice “glockenspiels”. Setlif sells glimpses through a telescope he built looking towards the women’s delousing house and brews moonshine using old potato peels. The most amusing side characters are two men who came from the stage production: Robert Strauss as Animal and Harvey Lembeck as Shapiro. In one scene, a drunken Animal mistakes a cross-dressing Shapiro for the real Betty Grable, love of his life, and romantically dances with the fellow.

     Otto Preminger also shows up in one of his six total acting roles in his career as the Nazi commanding the camp. He is comically evil. When phoning Berlin to tell them he has found the man who sabotaged a train, he has his assistant put on his knee high boots so he may click his heels at attention when reporting over the phone, and that servant immediately removes the boots thereafter. Preminger, who like Wilder was an Austrian who fled the Nazis, said Wilder made him a detestable character he could not live down in pictures.

      Holden was asked to view the play version before filming started and walked out after the second act. He also protested during filming that his character seemed to be a Nazi friendly and asked to be given a line to the effect of “I hate Nazis”, but Wilder would not budge. His character is very dark and brooding. He is not friends with anyone besides Cookie (Gil Stratton Jr.), our narrator, who later seems to reject that friendship when it seems certain Sefton is the snitch. Holden’s role also seems to stay in the background of the story, with really no part rising to the surface as a clear leading man. The story is more about the association of men rather than one soldier in particular. Holden won the Best Actor Oscar for this part and gave reportedly the shortest acceptance speech in Academy Award history: Thank You. He also supposedly threw the award against a wall backstage because he felt, as his wife said to him on the ride home from the awards show, that he received the statuette sybolically for his part in Sunset Boulevard, which he made three years earlier also under Wilder.

Source: “Stalag 17: From Reality to Screen” DVD feature, TCM.com

Daisy Kenyon

Gasser

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

     I have said (to myself) for a while now that Otto Preminger films never disappoint. I’m not implying that Daisy Kenyon is a let down, but it is not the sort of film for which I have come to know Preminger. It is a romance, quite unlike the mysteries, often murder mysteries, of his other work. This movie does, however,  have the darker feel and shadowy cinematography/mise-en-scene that one can identify with the director.

     Joan Crawford‘s Daisy is the girlfriend of Dana Andrew‘s Dan, who is a married attorney with two daughters. At the film’s start, Dan visits Daisy, smooches her a bit and is on his way, running into soldier Peter (Henry Fonda) on his way out, knowing full well the man is Daisy’s date. Neither male party seems off put with Daisy’s dating habits, and Peter nearly instantly falls in love with her. Dan’s wife is aware of her husband’s affair, but deals with it, to an extent taking her anger out on one of the daughters.

     Daisy eventually agrees to marry Peter, a widower, but after losing an important case, Dan forces himself on Daisy, angering her significantly. Later that night he tries to apologize via telephone, but when his wife snoops on the call a significant row begins and drives the wife to seek a divorce. If Dan will agree to relinquish custody of the girls, the wife will settle out of court. If not, a scandalous trial will ensue and Daisy will be drug into it. Dan gets both Daisy and Peter to agree to the trial route, but when Daisy is on the stand and the questioning gets too personal, Dan calls it quits.

     Divorced, Dan is interested in being with Daisy and assumes Peter will bow out, which he nearly does. When Dan approaches him with divorce papers, Peter says he wants Daisy to sign first. At this point Daisy is unsure what she wants, and it is anyone’s guess with whom she will end up.

     The trouble with Daisy Kenyon is that despite being a romance, the viewer does not get any warm, fuzzy feelings from watching it. Whereas Fonda plays Peter as a man who accepts his subordination to his wife’s other love interest, Andrews is quite cold in his affections for the title character. Although the viewer might spend the last half hour trying to predict with whom the protagonist will choose, one cannot actually find merit in either choice. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate approach, but it is one that left me caring little for the final outcome. Crawford, however, does give us the only emotion in the film, and one can understand her feelings when she seems to convey that she wants neither of them.

  • Daisy Kenyon is set for 8 p.m. ET April 22 on TCM.
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