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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?

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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.

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

Born Yesterday

Ring a Ding Ding

Born Yesterday (1950)

     When I learned Judy Holliday took home the Best Actress Oscar in 1951 over Bette Davis in All About Eve, I was naturally intrigued. For those who know Eve –and you should if you don’t– it was a veritable whirlwind of overwhelmingly grand performances, and given that Davis was a master of her craft, it is a bit stunning to find that the ditzy-seeming actress Holliday could out do her. I’ve never loved Holliday, and frankly it is difficult to with the grating, high-pitched voice of hers, but in Born Yesterday she is truly admirable.

     The story is a unique and fun one. Holliday as Billie is a former showgirl who has been the girlfriend of successful “junk” salesman Harry Brock, played by Broderick Crawford, for a number of years. The plot surrounds their extended stay in Washington D.C. where Brock is attempting to lobby/bribe congressmen to pass legislation in favor of his shady business dealings. Fearing his girl is too dumb, Brock hires freelance writer Paul Verrall (William Holden) to wise her up to a few things. In the process of educating Billie, however, Paul makes her all too aware of the unjust ways her boyfriend is gaming the system.

     Holliday seems born to play this role. Her naturally high-toned voice dumbs down the speaking of each word. The hotel floor the couple has occupied involves several suites over such a large space that the two can literally shout out their windows at each other. This proves particularly amusing as the strong-lunged Crawford bellows calls of “Billie” while Holliday responds with a “Whaaat!” that sounds more like a bird squawking than a human speaking. Holliday’s portrayal of naivety makes her unrelentingly sweet so that the audience has no choice but to love her.

     Born Yesterday takes a different approach to the romance in the plot. One would expect to be entreated to a drawn-out, rising tide of sexual tension between Billie and Paul, but the two put their feelings out the open early on. Upon their first meeting, Billie declares she got a yen for her tutor right off. When Paul returns later that night with a stack of books for his student, Billie speaks of her relative blindness. When the man suggests glasses, Billie laughs and makes fun then, realizing she’s speaking to a spectacle-wearing guy, places her hand on his chest to apologize. The contact seems sufficient to spark their attraction and the two mutually lean in for a kiss. Paul is not scared of Brock even though he probably should be. Nevertheless, he refuses to smooch on Billie any further for fear of complicating an already tricky relationship. No worries, the romance comes full circle in the end.

     I saw the stage performance of this show last fall at a college in central Ohio. The woman playing Billie did the same ditzy, raised voice, and I could tell all characters took some cues from the movie actors. In all honesty, the play was a bit subdued but the subject matter and drama really grabbed me. I would say the movie is much funnier and exciting.

     Holliday played Billie in the stage version, but Rita Hayworth was originally selected for the movie. When she dropped out for a marriage-induced respite from acting, Director George Cukor advocated for Holliday to take the spot. Good thing she did. I cannot imagine Hayworth being anywhere near as great in this role.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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