Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
  • Author
  • Message
Online
User avatar

boblipton

  • Posts: 5273
  • Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 8:01 pm
  • Location: Clement Clarke Moore's Farm

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Oct 02, 2017 2:20 pm

I always think of Republic as one of the major minors, with almost a thousand movies produced over thirty years and more than a thousand over a twenty. Despite its Poverty Row origins (like Columbia!), Herbert Yates built up quite a prosperous little studio where they invented modern fight choreography, had a great miniatures department and won a Best Picture Oscar.

Bob
The matter is complicated, and I shall proceed to complicate it still more.

-- Avram Davidson
Online
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5680
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Oct 20, 2017 11:14 pm

Image

THE SEA WOLF (1941) 100m **** (Blu-ray released October 10, 2017)

How often do you see a movie from the classic Hollywood era that strikes you as a genuine classic, to be put up there in the company of The Adventures of Robin Hood or Casablanca or Yankee Doodle Dandy? If you're like me, you've seen nearly everything important from the sound era by now, the only surprises come from around the edges, the silent era (the 1924 Lord Jim), other countries (Poil de Carotte), early talkie indies (The Mad Parade) and so on.

But I had never seen The Sea Wolf— from that period when Michael Curtiz and the Warner Bros. studio could do no wrong. His films before it were Robin Hood, Four Daughters, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Sea Hawk, Santa Fe Trail. His films after it were—well, Captain of the Clouds isn't great, but Casablanca and Yankee Doodle followed.

But Jack London's novel is about... Nietzsche. A man who rules in the absence of morality and God on the sea. Something like that, anyway. Not the kind of thing they could pull off convincingly at Warner Bros. that early. At some point someone's got to come give a pious speech while the choir sings. (Is Otto Kruger in the cast? That'd be right up his alley.) Reassuring the audience that nobody could really believe that stuff. (No Kruger, but Barry Fitzgerald's in it. That must be his job.)

In fact, though, it's a powerful and extremely well-written film (credit to Robert Rossen, much later to direct The Hustler) that plays like a decade or more later, like the hardbitten tales made after the war, after all that we'd seen and been through that scoured away the old sentimentality. Three main characters find themselves by fate on a damned ship— John Garfield, a rebellious seaman; Alexander Knox, the London stand-in, a writer; and Ida Lupino as— well, enough references to Shanghai that her name might as well be Lil and her profession can be guessed. They all fall under the control of Wolf Larsen, the brutal captain of the ship. As someone said of Dinsdale Piranha, "'E used irony, and sarcasm," and that's what's unbearable about Larsen, a Captain Bligh is a mere martinet, but Larsen knows how to psychologically twist and destroy his crew as needed, to maintain his perch atop the pyramid.

Robinson knows this is about the best shot out of playing gangsters or G-Men who go after gangsters he's going to get at this time, and even if his physical domination is not entirely convincing, his intelligence is, and he gives a powerfully sour and sadistic performance. I'd have happily had more Garfield and less Knox, but Garfield, as the natural man who won't bow down, seems a worthy philosophical opponent to the tyrant, while Lupino is convincing as a woman at the end of her rope, convinced of her damnation, who never gets a scene where she shows that she's just a swell gal next door.

Sol Polito, whose credits are a history of the Warners studio in themselves, gives it a shadowy look— not noir, not overly artistic, but bleak and grimy. Korngold did the score, but doesn't have any place to write a big memorable theme, keeping it to moody atmospheric notes. The cast is full of memorable supporting roles— Gene Lockhart as a drunken doctor, Barry Fitzgerald as an informing weasel, Francis McDonald, Stanley Ridges, and so on.

For a late 40s reissue with The Sea Hawk, the negative was trimmed from 100 to 87 minutes, and the only surviving complete print was a 16mm belonging to John Garfield. However, Warners searched and searched and found the full 100 minutes on 35mm, and the result is nearly flawless, black and white cinematography of unusual richness, faces modeled in shadow... everything you could ask. I see prices around $17.99 online; it seems a modest price to have a brand new classic from the golden age of Hollywood's best studio. The only extras are a trailer (which is especially dorky) and a Screen Director's Playhouse radio adaptation from 1950.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
Online
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5680
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 22, 2017 10:54 pm

Image

LE SAMOURAÏ (1967) 105m **** (Blu-ray released November 14, 2017)

What's the coolest movie of the 1960s? Goldfinger and A Hard Day's Night remain quintessential experiences, but don't they want to be loved too much to really be cool? Matt Helm is complete uncool now, Blow Up is a dated piece of 1966, baby, Zazie dans le Metro is like having a psychedelic root canal, take Losey's Modesty Blaise, please.

And then there is Alain Delon's Jef Costello in Le Samouraï. Well, there's also Ryan O'Neal in The Driver, Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer, and Ryan Gosling in Drive, among others, none of whom would exist without Le Samouraï. Of course, he would not exist without Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire and Humphrey Bogart in practically everything, among others—director Jean-Pierre Melville, who named himself for an American writer of sea yarns, would have been the first to admit that the Melville Creative Universe was old Hollywood myths shaken and stirred in his head.

Jef is a hired killer, he gets seen by a witness after a killer, the deal goes bad, he goes on the hunt for the guys who hired him. The whole genre of the sensitive, thoughtful hit man, a constant indie trope in the 90s (which would have baffled Cassavetes, who made crime movies to make money to make indie films about anything but thoughtful hit men and other Tinseltown inventions), traces back to this movie.

The film is shot in two-tone color—a drab monotone world of dark blue-gray, in which the only color most of the time is a face of pink flesh protruding out the top of a dark suit and a white shirt. Lumpish men, cheap Parisian apartments in which the walls look like the rinds of aging cheeses. The exception to this world comes only when we enter the world of women—there is one woman, white, Jef's alibi, her copper hair matching perfectly her copper walls; then there is a black woman, the jazz pianist who witnesses his crime, and she lives in gleaming modernist white with aquamarine paintings along one corridor. It is a heaven to which only wealthy men can aspire.

Image

But Jef is no mortal man. No, Jef is an angel in a trench coat. An angel of death, but nevertheless a divine being; the police lineup into which he's picked up is like a parody of an audition, all these misshapen mortal Jef-wannabes and only the one true Jef, standing out in his trench coat against the sea of navy blue, a natural star. His iconic outfit (trench coat and fedora) is redistributed to other lesser Jefs, and a witness picks out the pieces and reassembles Jef, because he sees the pieces of perfection wanting to be put back together again. (Jef's outfit raises a question, given that entire reels are given to eluding the police on the Metro—why doesn't he change into a disguise? Because he's Jef, and you don't profane Jef-ness with a lesser look.)

I suspect Melville never had that much money for his movies, but it didn't matter because he knew Paris so well that he could walk out on the streets with a camera and Alain Delon, and compose an instant poem of that place in Paris. Criterion's disc renders it as beautifully as the austere film could wish, which is to say razor sharp but not too pretty, not oversaturating the color to make this gray film too lively. It seems to have the musty smell of the stairwell in a French apartment building throughout— at least, in the streets where men do their business.

Extras include a documentary about Melville and Delon's collaborations, and some interview clips with Melville and others; the booklet contains an essay by David Thomson, a piece with John Woo (The Killer) talking about the film on 1970s Hong Kong culture, and an excellent interview with Melville in which he explains his conception of the character and why he acts the way he does. There's also an original French trailer, with which you can only empathize as it shows the utter hopelessness of condensing this film's deadpan cool into the action beats of a trailer.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
Online
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5680
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Nov 25, 2017 10:28 am

Speaking of unknown near-classics starring John Garfield, directed by Michael Curtiz, and based on books about sailors...

Image

THE BREAKING POINT (1950) 97m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released August 8, 2017)

It's well known that Howard Hawks had a rivalry with one film— Rio Bravo was created as an alternate telling of the same basic setup as High Noon, in which Gary Cooper has only a woman, a drunk, an old man and a kid to help him defend his town against the bad guys; in Rio Bravo, asked if that's all he got, John Wayne replies "That's what I've got," as in, I'm a sheriff and I do my job with the tools at hand and don't complain about it.

But I've always thought that Hawks felt a certain rivalry with Michael Curtiz's Casablanca as well. Watch Only Angels Have Wings and you'll get a distinct Rick's precursor vibe from Cary Grant's airport in South America, the place where every path crosses in that town. While To Have and Have Not seems meant to be a kind of answer to Casablanca, that doesn't have time for a 40-year-old Bogart being lovesick like a high school kid; Bogart and Bacall are insolent and frankly carnal, in the model of all Hawks relationships, and there are some like Dave Kehr who regard it as the superior film for that reason. Well, I think it's a swell picture but there's so much in the peerless Casablanca that is not in Hawks' world, that makes it the summation of America fighting a war with Warner Bros. smart-aleckiness toward those insufferably pompous Nazis, the Douglas Dumbrilles of world conquest.

But there's another chapter in this rivalry—which is that six years after To Have and Have Not, Michael Curtiz made another version of the same Hemingway book. Which is not exactly a secret (I'm sure it plays regularly on TCM) but it's surely getting more attention than it's had since 1950 with this Criterion release, easily the least-known film they've licensed from Warner in a series that has recently included the likes of The Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year.

The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall significantly alters the story—not least because the Bogart character, played by John Garfield, has a wife and kids like in a 50s sitcom. He was a war hero "who felt eight feet tall" back then, but now he's falling behind in every way trying to make it as a charter captain and provide for his family. Wallace Ford as a sleazy lawyer who could have walked in from The Lady From Shanghai offers him a deal only a desperate man would take, involving four gangster-y types (think Kubrick's The Killing) and a rendezvous 50 miles out to sea. Garfield is that desperate man, and he takes it, no wartime sympathies for the Free French involved.

In some ways The Breaking Point feels like a 1970s remake of an old movie, in which the romance of it all is stripped away and it's told in drably realistic terms. There's Patricia Neal in the Bacall role, the insolent whore, but where Bogie and Bacall are what we all wish we could be, Garfield and Neal come off like sad people at the end of ropes they didn't know would be so short. On the other side—the character who was definitely not in the Hawks version—there's Phyllis Thaxter, much later to be Martha Kent to Christopher Reeve's Superman, as Garfield's long-suffering, very practical wife. She's really good, considering that her character is such a buzz kill by the standards of adventure cinema. It's a weird mix—Howard Hawks meets William Inge—but precisely because I didn't necessarily know where it would go with all the familiar pieces of this story, I found it fresh and enthralling. Not movie magic like the Hawks, but powerful drama, more like other social-realistic noirs of the period like Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway (in which Richard Conte is the one trying to make it after the war in the transport business, with a truck rather than a boat).

And then there's Curtiz. Curtiz is an interesting figure in the late 40s because he's one of the ones who never quite made a noir, yet had his fingers all over noir, like Hitchcock. Mildred Pierce, of course, was soap opera noir that took the Stella Dallas maternal-sacrifice genre and wedded it to noir (it was a big hit), and another key film, I think, was Young Man With a Horn, with its influential neorealist cinematography of New York. Ted McCord, an old western hand who suddenly came into better things with the end of the war (he shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and his next to last film would be The Sound of Music), shot both Young Man With a Horn and this one, and there's an interesting dialectic going on between Curtiz's glossy framing and McCord's naturalistic, plain-air cinematography—Curtiz will frame Neal or Thaxter from about the 4:00 position relative to their faces, a larger than life framing, and you know he's framing them just like he did Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. But McCord's scupltural modeling in the ultrasharp seaside light is nothing like the glamorous lighting and soft focus of 1943, so it's less like filming a goddess, and more like catching a glimpse of the divine in the face of a sailor's wife.

The visual qualities of the film, and the flawless quality of the surviving material, have to be among the reasons Criterion took a chance on this lesser-known title, and it's well worth seeing for those reasons; audio is uncompressed monaural sound. There are several essays on the film on the disc and in the booklet, including an interview with Alan K. Rode, author of a new Michael Curtiz biography (and soon to be on NitrateVille Radio).
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
Previous

Return to Talking About Talkies

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: boblipton, drednm, Mike Gebert and 9 guests