2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974’s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

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?

Touch of Evil

Wowza!

Touch of Evil (1958)

It had been probably seven years since I had seen Touch of Evil, so when the opportunity presented itself to see it on the big screen, I said, sure, why not? I probably should have been shouting from the rafters because in the interim I had completely forgotten just how much of a masterpiece the picture is.

The Orson Welles flick is most commonly celebrated for its 3 minute and 30 second opening sequence. This long take weaves the camera through the streets of the Mexico border area that is our setting after we witness a bomb placed in the trunk of a car. The camera eventually unites us with stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, the newlyweds who are crossing into America. They pass over just as the ill-fated car does and are within view of the fiery blaze that occupies the screen after the movie’s first cut.

Heston’s Mike Vargas is a Mexico native and detective in that country, but the crime is sort of out of his jurisdiction because it happened on American soil. The American authorities, headed up by the grotesque Hank Quinlan (Welles), agree to work with Vargas because the bomb was planted south of the border. In the midst of this, however, Vargas has to find a place to keep the new wife, who is an American. Susan is too tough to spend the duration of the story in a hotel room, however, and the story follows her increasingly dangerous circumstances while Vargas is busy investigating.

The challenge Vargas faces is that Quinlan is far from an honorable cop in the typical sense of the word. He is well revered for bringing so many men to justice, but as the Mexican will eventually learn, he often goes outside the law to ensure convictions. Quinlan drills into a young Mexican man as his prime suspect for the explosion that murdered a construction magnate and his girlfriend. The man is dating the victim’s daughter, who would inherit her father’s fortune. Upon interrogation at the couple’s apartment, however, Vargas discovers Quinlan has planted the damning evidence but none of the American cops are willing to doubt their leader.

As Vargas digs into Quinlan’s corrupt past, Susan has already been twice threatened by a group of young Mexican greasers. The woman is being targeted to get to Vargas, although their motivation is not totally clear. Susan refuses to be frightened until she finds herself alone in a hotel complex. She is in desperate need of sleep, but when a group of party animals move in next door, she has more than exhaustion to worry about. What will transpire over the following day is more horrible than she could ever have predicted.

Touch of Evil was filmed almost entirely at night. The picture is incredibly dark and Welles uses the black and white film to his advantage in exuding a dark mood on all who watch it. Low-angle shots heighten the drama as we watch the shadowy faces of the unfriendly Vargas and Quinlan. Welles also uses sound to convey the solitude of night as our characters’ footsteps echo though streets and shadows run along walls. We have a sense that danger lurks around every corner, and are constantly on edge. Enemies attack from multiple angles as the American authorities offer no refuge from the Mexican criminals.

Welles might give his best career performance in Touch of Evil. Quinlan is such a despicable and powerful character and Welles is capable of intimidating the audience right out of their seats. I normally do not care much for Heston, but he is great as Vargas. His tan look, with dark hair and mustache, creates a convincing Mexican although he refrains from any accent. I think this helps to level the playing field between Vargas and the American detectives; although, we are still fully aware he is an outcast among this group. Leigh, meanwhile, has plenty of sex appeal and the sass necessary to make her arrogant enough to believe she is safe from harm. She reportedly broke her arm before filming and the cast was hidden during filming. During the hotel scenes, the cast was sawn off and her arm reset after filming.

Marlene Dietrich plays a small part as a gypsy to whom Quinlan goes for his traditional binge drinking. She delivers lines in her usual German drawl through a cloud of smoke she emits via the stogie on which she sucks. High-angle shots flatter her angular face while dark hair and lipstick transform her nationality. Welles alumnus Joseph Cotton appears in a tiny role, as apparently Keenan Wynn does, however, I did not spot him (so if anyone can tell me where he is, I’ll revisit the flick and find him!).

Touch of Evil is textbook filmmaking. It is artistic to the extreme while offering a riveting, convoluted story and powerful acting that has one biting his nails for half the feature. Seeing it on the big screen was a real treat, but it is a must-see movie no matter the venue.

Source: TCM.com

Casino Royale (1967)

Dullsville

Casino Royale (1967)

     For a movie whose cast is made up of 10 big-name stars (0r more depending on your definition), the 1967 James Bond spoof movie Casino Royale, was one major let-down. The DVD of this flick has sat on my shelf unwatched for seven years despite my being convinced that the cast line-up promised endless laughs. But watching it this weekend with my grandmother, the convoluted plot and drawn-out nonsensical ending led her to comment, “This is kind of dumb.”

     I could not help but concur with her sentiment. Although the story borrows some of the elements of the Ian Flemming novel that contributed to the 2006 Casino Royale, it largely goes off in a strange direction in search of ways to mock the successful movie franchise.

     David Niven plays Sir James Bond who has been retired from spy work for a number of years while substitute James Bond 007 spies have been recruited to continue his work and uphold the legend. Sir James is a celibate, stuttering version of the spy who is lured back into the trade when his home is demolished and his superior “M” (John Huston) is killed by the evil organization SMERSH. His allies are played by William Holden as “Ransome”, Charles Boyer as “Le Grande”, and Kurt Kasznar as “Smernov”.

     First Sir James is seduced by M’s “widow” (Deborah Kerr) and 11 “daughters” who are actually SMERSH agents, but he easily escapes their clutches to return to his old office. He decides to continue to recruit a number of James Bonds to join his work against the evil organization to the point that we cannot keep track of all the different missions that are going on. The star also recruits his own daughter, Mati Bond (Joanna Pettet), who is his love child with Mata Hari.

     Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) is also renamed James Bond and is set on seducing and recruiting Peter Seller‘s baccarat pro Evelyn Tremble, who will become another 007. Tremble must play Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in the game and beat him to prevent the evil banker from securing more money for other unsavory organizations. Meanwhile, there is also Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), Sir James’ nephew, who gets himself in and out of trouble throughout the picture.

     It was next to impossible to keep track of all the moving parts Casino Royale employs in its story line. Most of the excess was unnecessary and no particular attention was given to the plot, which stood merely as a means to hurl jokes at the audience. One cannot really say any of the acting was poor, it was just utterly dumb. Casino Royale simply tries too hard to make it enjoyable to watch. Not only is it exhausting, but one could easily turn it off at any juncture and feel just as satisfied as sitting through the whole thing.

Mr. Arkadin

Ring a Ding Ding

Mr. Arkadin (1955/1962)

     Citizen Kane was the only film over which Orson Welles had absolute control. It was his first screen endeavor, but because it caused so much controversy and upset numerous parties, studios refused to give such outright power to the man again. Although Mr. Arkadin feels very much like a Welles production, the master complained the picture was a disaster because it was heavily edited without his input. The story has ties to another Welles movie, The Third Man. His character in that cult classic, Harry Lime, became the subject of several Welles radio plays and also inspired the plot of Mr. Arkadin

     The picture, filmed in several locations in Spain, was released overseas in 1955 and in the U.S. in 1962. It was filmed as a cooperation among French, Spanish and Swiss movie authorities and definitely has a foreign film feel to it. The flick is something that today would be called an art-house movie, but that is not to say the story is inaccessible.

     The story is told primarily by a man recounting his recent investigatory efforts to an old man, cold and ill whom for some reason the protagonist wants to remove from the building because someone is out to kill him. Our lead is Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) who tells a Mr. Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) his plight began with the witnessing of a murder. A man named Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) was stabbed by a peg-legged fellow who later shoots it out with the police and is killed himself. Before Bracco dies, he whispers to Guy’s girlfriend Mily (Patricia Medina) two names: Gregory Arkadin and Sophie. The information is supposedly worth a great sum of money, so both Guy and Mily begin to search the man out. Welles as Arkadin is a wealthy, powerful man and is difficult to approach, so Guy goes after him through is daughter Raina, played by new-to-film star Paola Mori.

     When Guy finally gets and audience with Arkadin he mentions what little information he knows, but instead of being outraged at the attempted blackmail, the man offers to pay him to dig into his past. He claims he woke up 30 years prior in Zürich with a large sum of money and no memory. Guy moves around the world from one knowledgeable party to the next, but part way through his investigation discovers Arkadin has been following and in some cases predicting his next move. When he finally locates Sophie (Katina Paxinou) and learns she has no intention of blackmailing Arkadin for the money he stole from her years ago, he thinks his work is nearly finished. He need only find Zouk to ensure he will not bother the mighty Arkadin. The trouble is, not long after leaving Sophie, both she and the man who led Guy to her have been killed.

     Visually Mr. Arkadin is very stark and unsettling. Welles employed low and canted angles and filled scenes with much clutter and often creepy images –Welles himself being one of them. The storytelling also works to rush the plot along. Guy seems to instantly jump from one location to another, which is consistent with the hurried manner in which he recounts the story to Zouk. Although the editing, which was outside Welles’ control, did not quite employ jump cuts, it did at times stitch two shots together in unnatural ways.

     Although the plot of Mr. Arkadin is at times difficult to follow (and the Criterion Collection re-editing of the picture even claims to make it the easiest version to watch), it is still an enthralling tale. None of the characters is particularly likeable besides maybe the women. The romantic plot between Guy and Raina is only a minor aspect, however. This is by no means a romantic movie. Nevertheless, the mystery and the conclusion are enough to keep one fixed on the action.

Source: TCM.com

Feature: Movie Posters from Italy

I have noticed through my searching for movie posters to accompany the 150+ movies I’ve blogged about so far that the Italians produced much more appealing posters than the American-created ones. I cannot be sure why this is. Are the Italians more artistic? More risqué?  Or is it just that the look of an Italian movie poster for a picture made in the U.S. is just different than to what we are accustomed? Below are a few examples I’ve stumbled across with the Italian images on the left. If you have spotted any other examples let me know, as I’m likely to come across others requiring a follow-up post down the road.

ITALY vs. AMERICA

Perhaps a semi-nude Rita Hayworth would have been too scandalous for American movie-goers, but this Italian poster for Salome is simply striking not only because of the actress’ gorgeous form, but the color scheme is simply beautiful.If you didn’t know what Dark Victory is about, you might just be confused by the foreign poster, but knowing that the woman faces blindness, that wispy shadow across her eyes is telling versus the expressionless Bette Davis in the American poster.I purchased this Italian version of Funny Face after I was frustrated to find no U.S. version featured the famous “funny face” photograph of Audrey Hepburn that inspires the title song. I was also always disappointed to find that no original poster for Citizen Kane featured the memorable image of Orson Welles standing in front of the picture of himself. Granted the Italian poster does not offer this either, and perhaps it is not your cup of tea, but it’s pretty cool.

Now, there is little difference between these two Chinatown posters but what strikes me the most –and what inspired me to recently purchase the Italian version– is that Faye Dunaway‘s eyes in the clouds are much more vibrant and obvious in the foreign poster.

Hamlet

Ring a Ding Ding

Hamlet (1948)

     In making Hamlet, Laurence Olivier was credited with, more than anyone else, introducing Shakespeare to the mass public at the time, and rightfully so. Not only does Olivier star in this film adaptation of a brooding young man attempting to prove his uncle murdered his father in pursuit of the throne of Denmark, but he directed, produced, and co-wrote the screenplay. I typically refer to this as “going Orson Welles” because of that actor’s similar control of multiple aspects of his Hollywood debut, Citizen Kane.

     This version of Hamlet, although two and a half hours long, drastically cuts down on the four-hour play by eliminating multiple soliloquies and characters. What we’re left with is a very compact two-hour drama that is both visually stunning and dramatically over the moon.

     The black and white picture grabbed me most with its traveling long takes that move seamlessly through the narrow halls and arched stone doorways of the castle. The picture both opens and closes with this cinematographic device. Equally compelling are the instances when the spectre of Hamlet’s father visits the various characters in foggy low-lit nights. Not only is the ghost eerie in appearance and voice, but the technique used to warn the viewer that something strange is occurring is also worthy of note. A simultaneous sound and camera-movement “heartbeat” blurs the viewers perception of the living characters just as they realize they are not alone.

     The Shakespearean language can be understandably off-putting to some, but the actors in this Hamlet, especially Olivier, speak it as though it were second nature. Whereas a mediocre actor could easily kill a Shakespearian story with poor delivery of the script, Olivier triumphs and overwhelms the audience with his superb portrayal of young Hamlet. Jean Simmons joins the cast as Ophelia, giving a commendable performance as a young woman consumed by mania. My complaint about this film is a poor establishment of any romantic connection between Hamlet and Ophelia. When Hamlet returns at the end of the film to stumble upon Ophelia’s funeral, he declares that he loved the woman, while I ponder “since when?”

     I am generally not a huge fan of Shakespeare and even refuse to have anything to do with Romeo and Juliet (it is way too depressing), so I’m not one to jump on the opportunity to sit through 2.5 hours of it. Hamlet, however, won Best Picture for 1948, so it was necessary to check off my list. Ultimately, I’m glad for the decision; however, I will refrain from giving Hamlet a Wowza!  review because it was a long sit and I found myself easily distracted.

Source: Robert Osborne

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