Rain Cities

I apologize for my absence during most of last week’s very interesting discussion of retrograde imagery and how best to confront it. A loss in the family kept me away from the keyboard but the debate seemed to flow along nicely without me — maybe I should stay away more often!

This week’s New York Times column is another hodgepodge that reflects the slowdown in library releases in the weeks right before Christmas — this is when you’re supposed to be out there scarfing down those pricey gift sets (how about this one, for a mere $$499.98 list?) instead of those underpriced oldies.

Nevertheless, there’s “Trouble in Mind,” one of my favorite indie films from the 80s; another obscure Paramount title, Ronald Neame’s “Escape from Zahrain,” from Olive Films (got to give those folks some support — they’ve got Preminger’s “Skidoo” and “Hurry Sundown” coming out in ‘scope for March), and a true oddity from VCI, Leopold Lindtberg’s sort-of neo-realist “Four in a Jeep,” a postwar drama shot in Vienna. The full text is here.

Our friend and faithful French correspondent Nicolas Saada’s first feature, “(E)spions,” has been selected for “My French Film Festival,” a VOD initiative that Unifrance is sponsoring in cooperation with the French film website Allocine. The site, here, opens January 14 and will include ten features from first and second-time filmmakers.

One of my favorite websites, Europa Film Treasures, has added eleven new titles to their on-line collection of streaming rarities from the European archives, including a stunning hand-colored print of Augusto Genina’s 1923 feature “Cyrano de Bergerac”. For those who were as haunted as I was by Rick Prelinger’s recently restored “A Trip Down Market Street” — a 13-minute ride through San Francisco, seen from the front of a cable car filmed only four days before the 1906 earthquake that was recently featured on “60 Minutes” — there is a similar tour of the French city of Dunkirk, shot from a moving tram in 1913: a tracking shot that Max Ophuls might have envied.

129 comments to Rain Cities

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Fox Movie Channel shows many (a large majority) of their 1950s and 60s scope films in the proper aspect ratio. They still have exceptions, but they are fewer and fewer all the time.

    In the next four days, they are showing 17 films made between 1953 and 1979. All but 3 are being shown properly; only Mardi Gras (scope), The Best Things in Life Are Free (scope) and Gimme an F (1.85) are being shown p/s.

    Among the full scope films they are showing are The Big Show, The 300 Spartans, Let’s Make Love, Bandolero and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    The relative numbers above are consistent with their normal practice. Yes, they still show 50s scope films p/s from time to time, but it is the exception, not the rule.

    It may be that this gets noticed since many of us have seen the films they do show correctly, and only seek out the ones we have yet to find, in which case the repeated showings of certain films p/s stands out (Mardi Gras is one for me, The Prince of Players another).

  • Alex Hicks

    Well, The Egyptian (1954),Violent Saturday (1955), Fate Is the Hunter (1964), and The Kremlin Letter (1970) are hardly the films of Stanley Kubrick, or Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One, or Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, but they are a diverting bunch of movies for bad times at the movie theater and for those who’ve seen much of what DVDs have to offer them. Maybe even April Love (1957) promises to be better than the alternatives at the Malls; and, if nothing else, one might leave it whistling a charmingly catchy old hit.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    More Netflix streaming discoveries (as I work my way backward through the alphabet by director):

    Phil Karlson’s first two thriller/mysteries at Monogram – Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady (both full length), and a whole bunch of Joseph Kane westerns not on Encore Western Channel, including some 80+ minute 1950s efforts (there are a couple that are the 53 edit, more nearly all are complete.)

    The Karlsons are the second and third of the three film Shadow/Lamont Cranston revival Monogram undertook (the first was directed by Phil Rosen). Early on in Behind the Mask one senses a veteran, visually adept director and a high quality than most Monograms of the time. Supposedly The Missing Lady is even better, and a legitimate film noir.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well yes, the majority of films on the Fox channel are shown at the right aspect ratio. And the majority of airplane flights aren’t delayed or cancelled. However, I really can’t take such a sanguine view towards that.

    When Turner can’t come up with a BANDIDO or DEEP END in the right ratio it is very disappointing. But they are pulling together films from a variety of sources and covering a rather wide section of film history. But the FOX channel is only showing only the FOX library. What kind of problems regarding print selection are involved here?

    When they show us THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE in pan and scan, are they telling us that no scope print of it exists in the Fox holdings? And what are they telling us about their selection process by showing that pan and scan title in heavy rotation? Is doesn’t matter what kind of print we choose to run here? We only have a small number of films at our disposal so you’ll have to look at this one over and over again?

    All in all, I must agree with Carlye. Or, as Count Floyd said after trying to justify somebody running Bergman’s “Whispers of the Wolf” on “Monster Chiller Horror Theater;” “All right, so it wasn’t scary! But it was depressing!”

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Mu disagreement with Carlyle was purely factual – he said that they rarely (never?) showed pre-1980 films in the right AR, when actually they do.

    Of course I share the disappointment/outrage.

    Even though they do own the rights, the TV masters for these of course were all originally made in P/S. Sure they out to transfer them correctly, and indeed they have added many to the rotation in the 10 years, so they have the capacity. Why they don’t do others, I don’t know, and of course I wish they would.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Tom, I don’t quite understand. Do you mean they transfer the TV P/S prints back to Scope AR rather than using an original Scope print?

    Unfortunately what Fox Movie Channel does is moot as far as I’m concerned since my cable company , for some obscure reason, dropped the channel a few months ago. So I’ll buy VIOLENT SATURDAY when it becomes available. Haven’t seen it since its original theatrical release.

  • Alex Hicks

    Tom Brueggemann, Your Netflix streaming discoveries are much appreciated.

    Loved MOONRISE (although, once again, a Borzage film turns maudlin or high flown –in this case Polyannish on the redemptive transcendance of fessing up to turning oneself in to a pack of louts– at the last minute).

    Enjoyed seeing MY SON JOHN, though I was surprised at just how crass it was in it affirmations as well as its attacks. Having the John shot up gangster-drive-by-style in downtown DC was GONZO enough. (The only assasination in the DC streets I recall was the 1976 assassination of Gen Letelier by Pinochet-related henchmen.) More shocking yet for me was the 50-ish Mick church-usher religiosity of the film’s patriotism: the whole thing might have been made on a Franco-era grant from Opus Dei. (Maybe I’m biased, though, as I look forward to re-seeing “Celui qui doit mourir,” Marxian Christ figure and all.)

    CRY DANGER has got to be the best film ever largely confined to a trailer park

    NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950) is plain terrific.

    Looking forward to Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady and a lot more.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Jean-Pierre

    I don’t know the details of the transfer. What I mean is that all their true Cinemascope films from the 50s and early 60s were converted to TV p/s masters decades ago, so those they have, and they’d have to make a (minor) effort to transfer them. It’s possible (sadly) that some of the negatives of these might not be in what they consider good enough condition to show on cable.

    Alex

    Thanks for the appreciation – I am selfishly only citing those films I haven’t seen (that’s the list I am checking against; among a group of obsessives here, I stand out by having a list of every film from all majora and most significant non-majors released from 1930-1974 I haven’t seen).

  • pat graham

    ALEX–re “50-ish Mick church-usher religiosity” of MY SON JOHN: well, it IS a “mick” RC religious film from the period, arguably a dark-side doppelganger to GOING MY WAY and BELLS OF ST. MARY’S in the 40s * i mean, what ELSE would we expect? … the real miracle is mccarey’s ever getting away with something like THE AWFUL TRUTH: ego te excommunicado!

  • Blake Edwards, who knew a few things about how to use CinemaScope, has just died.

  • Alex Hicks

    pat graham,

    In any case, three big cheers for Love Affair, The Awful Truth, Make Way for Tomorrow, Ruggles of Red Gap, and Duck Soup –and presumably some of the silents. And nothing but merry good cheer Re Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s!

  • Alex Hicks

    As best I can recall, the church usher crowd of which I spoke were most likely liberal and cosmopolitan in their views of adultery to a degree not paralleled by their slant on international affairs.

  • Barry Putterman

    Indeed, not nearly liberal or cosmopolitan enough in their views to use terms like “Mick church-usher religiosity.”

  • Blake Lucas

    “Loved MOONRISE (although, once again, a Borzage film turns maudlin or high flown –in this case Polyannish on the redemptive transcendance of fessing up to turning oneself in to a pack of louts– at the last minute).”

    Alex, I will acknowledge this whole post for me was not for me one of your very best. In a way, I’d like to stick up for MY SON JOHN, which I saw recently and is an interesting film, with some strong virtues in terms of McCarey’s style of direction as well as complex, contradictory ideas about what happens in that disturbed and disturbing family (McCarey does not reject them for this of course), but will at least point out I’m fairly certain that the Walker character being shot and killed drive-by style was not the original plan for the film but something created because McCarey had to come up with a workable alternate following Walker’s own unexpected death (the shot of him dying is from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN). [Any clarifications to this anyone has are welcome because I don't know the details of how it was originally supposed to be]

    But, instead, I must question the above statement you make about MOONRISE, which seems to treat the serious dramatic thrust of this movie rather glibly. It isn’t about him confessing to reach transcendence and give himself over to a bunch of louts (and I’m not sure that description is even fair to the character of Allyn Joslyn’s sheriff, who has been and remains sympathetic to him).

    Isn’t it more accurate to say that MOONRISE is about this troubled protagonist coming to terms with his life, his father, his desire to reach a deeper closeness with the woman he now loves? And in the way Borzage treats this in the film, doesn’t this actually tie in pretty deeply with the spiritual concerns that so deeply pervaded his whole body of work?

    OK, maybe those kind of concerns, and especially the spiritual ones Borzage cares so much about, are not important to you. But to me, he couldn’t find a better subject, nor one more worthy of his artistry. It’s true of so many of his films and certainly of this haunting and beautiful late work.

    And I just can’t resist saying–all this and Gail Russell too!

  • pat graham

    ALEX–liberal? cosmopolitan? RC? in the 50s?: those aren’t any church ushers i knew ..

  • Rats; I almost made the Violent Sasturday – Minnelli association myself but back off from it for fear of sounding crazy.

    Violent Saturday also falls into that run of ’50s films that to one degree or another confront father – son tensions, from lines of dialogue in The Wild One to James Dean’s films, to Shane and so on.

    A History of Violence is not as good as the source graphic novel, which is as “realistic” as it can be under the circumstances of its genre plot. Parts of History work, but there are weird inconsistencies within the characters, for example the wife’s over-reaction to learning that her husband had a previous identity (that puking reaction again!), and the son’s anger at the dad, plus the son’s previous unused and unknown ability to fight. Most of the deviations from the source book harm the logic of the narrative.

    I remain a huge fan of Days of Wine and Roses, but must note that Blake Edwards’s audio commentary for the film is hilarious, unintentionally so. He forgot that it was in black and white, and didn’t seem familiar with the whole audio commentary track format, but once he settles in he provides some good background to his thinking on the film. Was Edwards unusual in being able to go back and forth from comedy to drama to action, as he did?

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake,

    If the EXTANT end to MY SON JOHN is not what McCarey intended or even shot, the end does delute what seems to me the thematic goofiness and preechiness of the film, but not enough I think.

    On MOONRISE, I think you state thinks very well when you write that it is about a “troubled protagonist coming to terms with his life, his father, his desire to reach a deeper closeness with the woman he now loves,” and I think you are correct to regard “the character of Allyn Joslyn’s sheriff” as more than a lout and as, indeed, sympathetic. In the case of MOONRISE, I think, Borzage has his protagonist make light of the world he’s been placed in, which, AS I read IT, has first victimized him and not look likely to execute him, or abvandon him to the Southern penal system.) However, from the fantastic end to SEVENTH HEAVEN, though the airy sort of rhetoric that opens MORTAL STORM and closes FAREWELL TO ARMS, to the final serentiy of MOONRISE’s protagonist, I discern lapses of overstatement that undercut Borzage’s often entralling spiritual message.

    pat and Barry,

    My “liberal” and “cosmopolitan” refers, somewhat in jest, to McCarey’s ironic use of likely adultery (or adulturies) in the set up — and wonderful opening — of THE AWEFUL TRUTH. (I assume that Cary Grant had NOT, as the film starts, been hanging around Manhattan, but away from home, for tanning; and i don’t think its meant to be clear that Irene Dunn’s just been out dancing the nights away.)

    McCarey would not have been the first popular artist to have been light about philandering and grave about politics.

  • Alex Hicks

    BTW, I think MOONRISE is a masterpiece, or close to it. I think MY SON JOHN is a bad film, despite fine aspects (the moods of the neighborhood) and moments (Walker’s poised duplicity, and some of Hayes’ delusional rhapsodies)

  • Blake Lucas

    “Was Edwards unusual in being able to go back and forth from comedy to drama to action, as he did?”

    D.K., as you yourself mentioned the name “Minnelli” in your post, isn’t that at least one answer to your question?

  • Blake Lucas

    Definitely not the only one, but that was just off the top of my head given Minnelli’s mastery over such a wide range of genres and varied comic to dramatic moods.

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, please take the time to actually READ your own post of 2:55. The liberal and cosmopolitan comments are referring to “the church usher crowd.” Neither McCarey nor any of his films are anywhere mentioned.

    As I understood it, McCarey intended to end the film with Walker making the confessional recantation speech of which we hear a tape recorded part in the film that exists. The reason that the recording exists is that Walker was taping himself as his method of rehearsing the speech, which he knew would be his biggest moment in the film. Whether hearing the entire speech performed by Walker would have made the film any more or less goofy is unknowable. But to my mind, any film about politics which isn’t goofy on some fundamental level hasn’t been paying close enough attention.

  • McCarey! I won’t weigh in on MY SON JOHN because discussions of films being bad or good don’t interest me as much as they used to… however if I’m not mistaken it’s generally regarded as a major work in the “film maudit” vein. It wouldn’t be outrageous to draw parallels between it and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and not just for its, erm, editing issues.

    A while back, I read a fine blog post on GOOD SAM – an even less talked about McCarey than MY SON JOHN. Here it is:

    http://thispigsalley.blogspot.com/2009/12/people-dont-always-like-to-admit-this.html

  • Alex Hicks

    Barry, You say I didn’t repond to you in terms of your previous post. I’d say that if preceding our “previous post” you had read its precedent more discerningly, you’d optimally have seen that the adultery in “views of adultery to a degree not paralleled by their slant on international affairs” “adultery” referred to AWEFUL TRUTH and “international affairs” to MY SON JOHN. Still, I see that my cross references were pretty cryptic.

  • Alex Hicks

    Jaime,

    Comparing MY SON JOHN with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS as a “film maudit” seems a big stretch to me.

    AMBERSONS seem to me far too well regarded to warrant comparison SN JOHN as “a major work in the ‘film maudit’ vein” (unless you have a more precise analogy in mind than you specify). For example, AMBERSONS has figure among top 10 films in one or two BFI/Sight and Sond polls of critics and was selected as a top 10 film by Jim Emerson, Kent Jones, Gavin Lambert, Gavin Smith and Armond White in 2002. (For what it’s worth, it’s one of my all-time favorites.)

    SON JOHN’s placement by McCarey fan Andrew Sarris well down his directors ranking for 1952 in THE AMWERICAN CINEMA seems to me as good as SON JOHN gets in anyone’s published all-time assesssment. (JOHN certainly doesn’t make any of those BFI listings.)

  • Alex, you have mistaken me for someone who wishes to change your mind. I couldn’t, even if I was so inclined. But what I said (and you know I said this, because it’s right up there) was that a comparison wouldn’t be too far-fetched. Which is different from saying there’s an exact, point-by-point correlation.

    As I also stated, I don’t find good-bad discussions interesting. Anytime you want to talk about MY SON JOHN, or any other film, without the structure or even the atmosphere of judgment, I’m game.

  • Alex Hicks

    Jaime,

    I’ll suppose that AMBERSONS, like MY SON JOHN is a film maudit. and that this leads to problems of critical and commercial reception. I see two interrelated reasons why film maudit might have come to apply to AMBERSONS and SON JOHN. One is that each was a poor match to its times for likely critical and/or commercial success, AMBERSONS because it was too far from the concerns of WWII mobilization, SON JOHN because it was too illiberal for the critical culture and too SERIOUSLY illiberal for popular tastes. A second reason for maudit status is that the films were not completed according to film maker designs.

    That said, I’d still argue that SON JOHN is still a rather poor comparison to AMBERSONS. With regard to the first source of “maudit” labeling, I’d say that SON JOHN is a poor comparison because SON JOHN is politically coarse minded, insensitive and ignorant. For example, it conflates secularism/religiosity with communism/democracy, as if American conservative political culture were not full of agnostics and atheistic. (Indeed, it conflates secularism with treason and communism and danger as its only secular figure is a communist, its only communist is ann espionage agent–and this agent apparently a threat.) It also has no sense of John’s motives, beyond his mother’s sense that John shares her “good heart.” Its perspectives on John are those of an FBI investigator, and two parents who don’t have the learning they’d need to judge ANY SORT of political divergence from their social circle. (Compare ALL THE KING’S MEN, not much for direction, but by comparison a miracle of sophisticated conception.) Further, SON JOHN hasn’t the discretion of allegorical political criticism (say FORCE OF EVIL or ON THE WATERFRONT.)

    With regard to the second source of “maudit” labeling, I’d say that SON JOHN is a poor comparison because its coarse up front, long before anything we have reason to belief resulted from producer tampering (the truncated tape transcript, the drive by shooting). AMBERSONS, on the contrary, was strike me as difficult to fault until the film begins to depart in more than small details from the (long available) script. Indeed, the first half or so of AMBERSONS are enough to strike a balance among many viewers that the RKO’s final depredations never offset (Indeed, it is before the extent of RKO’s depredation became apparent from the availability of the film’s script, that the film is more broadly viewed as one of the very greatest: viewers weren’t that disappointed by the latter portions of the film until they had a better idea of what they were missing.)

    Sorry, if that’s stiil too judgmental. It’s not all about quality assessment and some of what it says about quality assessment is about others’ receptions as fact rather than truth.

  • Blake Lucas

    Alex, one thing wrong with your last post is that the situations re AMBERSONS and MY SON JOHN as productions are dissimilar. AMBERSONS was completed by its director in his preferred form, then tampered with afterwards by the studio. In the case of MY SON JOHN, it was McCarey himself who had to deal with the reality of Robert Walker’s death and make changes and I’ve never heard that the release version of the film is not entirely his.

    Is MY SON JOHN quite so politically unsophisticated as you and many others claim? I saw it within the past year, and although I find it an imperfect film and at times torturous (though in an interesting way–except for watching Walker, who appears to be an ill man throughout) in the way McCarey tries to reconcile its internal contradictions, he put those contradictions out there to deal with in his realization of the film and makes us deal with them too. The wayward, treasonous (aye, Communist!) son is clearly the production of this all-American home and his two parents, who are the way they are, and perceived with genuine wholeness, mostly disturbing though not without some hard-won sympathy, as having created exactly what he is in their religious devotion and unquestioning patrioism and the way they want to see him as a son. It seems helpful to see the film in terms of these relationships and if so, it becomes hard to dismiss. There are psychological aspects between the son and the parents that show McCarey to be the same discerning man who made those earlier classics we all love–the scene of Helen Hayes slapping his bed in order to get Walker to talk to her is unforgettable.

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake, Your point about dissimilarities in the production of AMBERSONS and MY SON JOHN are interesting, though I’m not knowledgable enoiugh about the changes require by Walker’s death (and that alone) yo know exactly what to make of the dissimilarity for the SON JOHN we see.

    On the psychological acuity and depth of some aspects of SON JOHN I think you make good points — a fine one on Hayes “slapping the bed” and a deep one on the psychodynamics among John and his parents. However, I think by that presenting an American Communist agent entirely through the eyes of these particular parents — plus the particular parish priest and FBI agent who come to ear on them– McCarey cuts himself, and us in turn, off from the minimal intellectual grasp of John needed for the film to work.

    I am inclined to believe that this because McCarey is too reactionary to care about his bete noir as anything more than Black Sheep in a heated parable for orthodox Catholic juveniles, quite likely beause McCarey is not politically discerning AT ALL. (I am not especially inclined to presume that talented artists are politically sophisticated and know of no reason why I should think that McCarey was, no so more than Griffith on reconstruction or Oliver Stone on Nixon’s Cuba policy.)

  • Alex Hicks

    Just crossed my mind that Leisen’s great but melodramatically over the top “No Man of her Own” would make a perfect companion piece to Rudolphe’s “Remember My Name,” a perfect target for Rudolphe’s spoofing of the weepie/noir or noirish women’s film.” This is a pretty rich set of films with Deception, Possessed (1947), Sudden Fear, Sorry, Wrong Number and Velvet Touch among its number, but “No Man of her Own” (available for streaming at Netflix is right now seems to me the best of the bunch, perhaps becvause Leisen is the most likely an auteur that i can think of among directors in this “genre” (or sub genre or hybrid).

    Reminds me for its genre-mixing excellence to Hathaway’s excellent comic noir, “The Dark Corner.”