Monday, February 28, 2011
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
"It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms."
Have I yet mentioned that I love college? I get to take all kinds of very interesting classes on topics I like, whilst avoiding those I don’t. I have access to far more reading material than I could ever have thought possible, the internet connection is faster and a lot more stable than back home, I can access at any time just about any movie I can possibly think of – thereby making the completion of this list all the easier. What’s even cooler is how well working my way through this list is complemented by classes I am taking. A fairly sizeable portion of the movies I have watched and subsequently wrote about on this blog have been watched directly as a result of in class viewings of movies, or as direct recommendation given during lecture. The movie I shall be reviewing today, Kind Hearts and Coronets, was recommended to me in just such a way.
The movie opens to show a man entering a jail. We soon learn that he is a jail warden, and tomorrow he shall execute the first lord in the last couple centuries. The warden enters the cell in which the Lord is being held, where we soon learn he is preoccupied with writing his memoirs. From this, we soon delve into the life story of Louis Mazzini, 10th Duke of Chalfont. He says he is born of an heiress of the D’Ascoynes, an illustrious family which held the title of the Duke of Chalfont. This heiress ended up marrying Mr. Mazzini, who was an opera singer. As a result of the unfavorable match, the D’Ascoynes disinherited the woman, and, with the subsequent death of Mr. Mazzini upon the birth of their son Louis, Mrs. Mazzini was condemned to a life of extreme poverty. Louis is raised an aristocrat by his mother, hopeful that someday the D’Ascoynes would reconcile with her. Eventually Louis grows up and his mother dies. Denied employment, accommodation, or even the right to bury his mother in the family tomb by the D’Ascoynes, Louis curses and reviles his family. Left without a mother and an income, Louis takes up residence with his childhood sweetheart Sibella. When Louis’ advances on Sibella are spurned in favor of a wealthier man, Louis embarks on a grand scheme: to become the Duke of Chalfont by killing every D’Ascoyne between him and the title. Through the course of the rest of the movie, Louis systematically orchestrates the “accidental” deaths of six of the eight D’Ascoynes, with the other two dying without Louis’s aid. In the meantime, Louis manages to secure his own independent success at his employment, whilst become ingratiated to various prominent figures in British aristocracy. He also manages to secure a favorable marriage to Edith D’Ascoynes, the widow of one of the killed D’Ascoynes. Suddenly Louis found the shoe on the other foot as he now held the power and wealth while those who once spurned him – notably Sibella – were mired in poverty and marital issues. Sibella implores Louis to marry her, but, remembering how cruelly she spurned him before, he haughtily refuses. Finally, Louis kills the last D’Ascoyne and achieves the rank for which he had always been searching, but just as he was at the apex of his glory, his dreams come crashing down around him as he finds himself to be the primary suspect in a murder investigation. It appears that Sibella’s husband committed suicide, and she has pinned it on him in a spiteful act of revenge. In spite of mounting an effective defense, he is condemned to death. Just as he is being taken to jail, Louis meets with Sibella, who promises to give him an out, and clear him of all charges if he will marry her. So we return to the present; Louis reveals that he agreed to Sibella’s bargain, but time is nearly up and no word has come. Just as he is about to be hanged, however, his savior arrives as Louis is acquitted of all charges. Louis exits the prison to find both Sibella and his wife Edith waiting for him. The movie ends ambiguously as it turns out that Louis left behind his memoirs and the damning evidence therein, in the jail.
The acting in this movie is simply superb. Dennis Prize, who plays Louis, was excellent. He does a fantastic job portraying the character of Louis, who is arrogant, and haughty, yet also a man of relatively simply and honest desires. I particularly love Prize’s delivery of lines. He’s perfectly flippant, making for an uproariously funny film. Equally good is Joan Greenwood, who plays Sibella. She does an excellent job of portraying a silly and vain girl, while later showing Sibella equally as a vindictive, spiteful, and very clever girl. It’s a natural progression and it doesn’t seem at all odd that she makes this transition. The true show stealer in this movie, however, is the supremely talented Alec Guinness, who plays every D’Ascoyne, including one female. Every single D’Ascoyne role is unique and interesting, and Guinness’s performance for each role is superb.
The directing in this film is quite good. The cinematography is decent, though nothing truly to write home about. The real notable part of this film comes in the writing. The way in which the story is told is excellent; the idea of a flashback is stupendous. The comedy is wickedly funny. I really like that the comedy is subtle; if you aren’t looking for it, you are not going to catch it. The only real problem I had with this movie was the pacing; it tends to drag a bit, but on the whole I don’t think this is so bad.
So why is this film on the list? For a number of reasons. Firstly, the movie is on the list for the superb performances of Alec Guinness. The ability of Guinness to play 8 different roles and to play them all superbly is just phenomenal. Secondly, this film is on the list for its wicked humor. In many ways it is the perfect representation of British humor. What the humor this movie really reminded me of was the play The Importance of Being Ernest. In the same vein, it is a movie which contains many hilarious jokes, and yet it never explicitly tells you that jokes are being made. Finally, this movie is on the list for its controversy. The movie studio which Kind Hearts and Coronets came out of was very conservative, and enforced strict regulations on the sort of themes and messages the movie was allowed to convey. Director Robert Hamer blazed trails in the studio by creating a movie which upended every idea encapsulated the studio. I know it doesn’t seem as though I’ve liked this movie very much, owing to the uncharacteristic short review, but this is owing more to the fact that I’m operating on very little sleep, after having recently finished writing a long paper, and on a very limited time scale, than to any sort of ambivalence to the film. This is unfortunate, as I truly adored this film, but such is life. Anyway great film: watch it if you don’t believe me.
Friday, February 25, 2011
The Princess Bride (1987)
"Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry' Humperdinck in a little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, make our escape... after I kill Count Rugen."
It’s hard to admit, but I was unaware of Rob Reiner’s classic “The Princess Bride” until fairly recently. Oh sure I knew all the famous quotes by heart, and I probably even watched the movie a couple times in various classes during Middle and High School. But I was never actually aware of what I was quoting when I was making these references. I think I first discovered the movie either Senior year in High School or last year, and it wasn’t until 3 weeks before my first “official” viewing of this movie that I had ever actually watched the movie all the way through, from start to finish. It is something I am grandly disappointed in, but at the same time, this sort of thing is conceptually the reason for this list. Take away the blog, mission statements, book full of movie notes, and (ill kept) deadlines, this list of mine is fundamentally about me seeing those seminal classics that my derision of film in my younger days had caused me to miss out on, and because of this, most of these movies I have never heard of, or else only been vaguely aware of in the past. I think this is what gives strength to my blog; most of these classic must-see films are new ground to me, and so I come into them with essentially no opinion, helping me to see these movies through a clear lens. All ranting aside, I am delighted that I finally managed to watch this movie; it was certainly one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen off of this list so far.
The movie opens with a sick kid in Chicago. He is home from school, and to keep him company, his mother has invited his grandfather over. The kid is disappointed by this, disliking his Grandfather and his antiquated style and nature. This disposition changes immediately, however, when the Grandfather presents the child with a present. Excitedly, the kid opens the gift, only to discover that it is a book. The grandfather reveals, however, that this book is special; having been passed down through the family for generations. The grandfather offers to read the story to the kid, and, reluctantly, he agrees. The grandfather then tells the story of a beautiful noblewoman, named Buttercup, who fell in love with her servant Wesley. Their happy tryst is soon broken up, however, when Wesley has to go away, and while sailing to his destination is intercepted, and presumed to have been killed by, the fearsome Dread Pirate Roberts. Time passes, and Buttercup is now engaged to the Prince of the realm, Prince Humperdinck. Days before the marriage is to take place, however, Buttercup is kidnapped by a rambunctious group of mercenaries, who plan to kill Buttercup in order to instigate war with the neighboring country. The mercenaries, who are composed of Vizzini (the brains), Inigo Montoya (a skilled swordsman), and Fezzik (the brawns) soon reach the neighboring country, but are pursued by a mysterious masked man. This man manages to defeat Inigo, Fezzik, and Vizzini in various (humorous) tests of abilities, and finally reaches his prize of Buttercup. At this point he reveals himself to be Wesley in disguise, and the two set off to live together. Prince Humperdinck has other plans, however, as he is in hot pursuit of Wesley, eventually catching up to him. Buttercup is “rescued” and Wesley is imprisoned and tortured. Some time passes, and after Humperdinck learns the true identity of Wesley, has him killed, while also revealing that he doesn’t love Buttercup at all, and is just using her as an excuse to instigate war. The now master less Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, having discovered this, set off together to find Wesley (Inigo also desires to kill “The Man with 6 Fingers on his Right Hand”, who he discovers is in the employ of Humperdinck). They find the corpse of Wesley, but, after taking him to a miracle worker, discover him to be only “mostly dead”, and so he is revived. Together, the three storms the castle, rescue Buttercup, and both kill the 6 fingered man and humiliate Humperdinck, before finally making their escape, into the sunset. The Grandfather finishes his story, resulting in the kid becoming more appreciative of his grandfather and books (as well as kissing).
The acting in this movie all around is excellent. Cary Elwes is fantastic as Wesley. His flippant delivery and matter of fact lines combine for a very hilarious, but equally lovable, compelling, and sentimental character. Mandy Patinkin (who I saw in Dead Like Me long before I saw this movie) was simply superb. Like Wesley, he was charming and lovable, while also stirring and inspirational. The twinkle in his eyes when he gives his monologue about the death of his father was touching, and his duel with the 6-fingered man is a Crowning Moment of Awesome if ever I’ve seen one. Robin Wright as Buttercup was decent enough. She pulls of haughty in the beginning, and her transition to love for Wesley was convincing, although she doesn’t really have any presence, and seems to me to be more of an object than an active participant of the film. I thought the portions of the film where she holds out hope that Wesley will come for her (after he is captured by Humperdinck) to be particularly flat. Andre the Giant, who plays Fezzik, was alright, but then again, he didn’t really need to be anything spectacular, but all the same he was lovable, and he had great chemistry with Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya. Wallace Sheen who played Vizzini was excellent as well. His monologue when he has a battle of wits to the death with Wesley is a classic. Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck) and Christopher Guest (Count Tyrone a.k.a. The 6-Fingered Man) were very good. I really liked their characters, especially Humperdinck. Sarandon really pulled off the sly, clever, genre-savvy villain well. He was deceptive, always alert, and yet at the same time extraordinarily haughty, and Sarandon does an excellent job conveying these characteristics in every scene he is in. I especially liked Sarandon showing Humperdinck’s vanity showing through when he discovers the depth of Buttercup’s love for Wesley. Equally fantastic were Fred Savage as the kid and Peter Falk as the grandfather. They were absolutely adorable together, and had a wonderful chemistry that engages you from the very start of the film.
The directing in this film is spectacular. Rob Reiner is a prolific director, and in this film he is clearly in his element. The cinematography is quite good, but more in an “Adventures of Robin Hood” way as opposed to a “Citizen Kane” kind of way. That is to say, the camera work is good, but it’s not an important player, it is merely effective in displaying the scene and showing the proper proscribed tone and feeling desired. The pacing in this film is simply fantastic. The movie grabs you in from the moment the grandfather enters, and from there the movie moves along quickly, always maintaining an upbeat attitude which keeps you entertained and enraptured the whole way through; the movie never really bogs down. The writing in really this film’s crowning achievement. What I especially like is the way in which writer William Goldman manages to write a script that is absolutely hilarious, without making the movie a comedy, strictly speaking. The movie doesn’t get so bogged down in its own absurdity that the plot and characters are left to the wayside as, say, Duck Soup or Monty Python does. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing that the latter movies do that, just that for The Princess Bride, this is extremely effective. I also quite like the manner in which the story is told and the fact that it is told to a captive audience. Goldman does a superb job of using the interruptions of the kid to serve as a way of creating tension and further engaging the audience. I also like that the movie’s plot operates on several levels; on top of the main plot of the love between Buttercup and Wesley, there is also the story of Inigo’s drive to avenge his father by killing the 6-fingered man, as well as the profound change which the kid undergoes as he becomes enraptured by the story. This multiplicity of plots does not lead to a bogging of the movie, and in general is very effectively carried out; you are equally engaged in all three stories. Perhaps the strongest point of the film is its dialogue, which is superb. There are so many great lines in this film that I could probably fill up a good portion of this review simply listing them off. It is this great quotability which has created the immense popularity, particularly online, of this film.
One thing I was particularly struck by in this film is its style. Rob Reiner does a splendid job of blending various comedic styles of other prominent comedy filmmakers into one hilarious movie. In particular I noted while watching this movie that it appears to be a combination of the fast paced dialogue of The Marx Brothers, with the absurd and spontaneous humor of Monty Python, with a dash of the distinctive style of Mel Brooks, and finally, with a little touch of Rob Reiner himself to make this movie the fantastic classic that it is. You can see elements of each popping up here and there and it is just splendid to see such diverse styles mixed so artfully. I loved every minute of it.
Finally, I liked the themes expressed in this film. While the film is absurd, compelling, and devilishly hilarious, it simultaneously has wonderful and heartwarming themes which connect it. The first is the idea of legacy, which is expressed several times throughout the film, starting at the beginning: the book, which, the grandfather says, has been read from father to sick son for generations in their family. Then there’s also the legacy of the Dread Pirate Roberts, who, Wesley reveals, had retired long before he himself took the moniker. Instead, he reveals, one Dread Pirate Roberts passes the title on to a successor just prior to his retirement, just so the new Dread Pirate gains the benefit of an established reputation, rather than having to make one for himself. The second and more prominent theme is that of an appreciation for older media and lifestyle. The kid at the beginning of the film is addicted to video games and sports, and is visibly irritated when he finds out that his grandfather gave him a book. However, by the end the kid is enraptured by the book, and develops a newfound appreciation for the more antiquated things in life, something I think many people in today’s world could stand to develop.
I think for many people, the inclusion of this movie as one of the 1081 greatest movies ever made (as of February, 2010) to be a no-brainer, but for the sake of the blog, let’s identify why this movie is on the list. This movie is on the list because it was directed by Rob Reiner. As I implied previously, he is a prolific director who can claim credit for two other films on this list. Additionally, this movie is on the list for its incredible cultural impact. It seems rather fitting that this movie, one about a kid finding alternative forms of entertainment whilst confined indoors would eventually become a staple of rainy-day, sick-day, or substitute showing in school and home environments. I think I must have seen the first hour of this film (without realizing the name of the movie) at least a good 10 times in various classes of the course of primary education. Moreover, this film is tremendously popular as a source of quotations and references. Finally, and most crucially to me, is the writing. This film is a superb blend of multiple styles of comedy with romance and action and adventure. I think the grandfather phrases it best: “[The story has] fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles,” and it is the seamless blending of all of these elements into one grandiose story which has earned this movie a spot on my greatest movies list.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
"In my practice, I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn't seem to mind... All of us - a little bit - we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear. "
The first time I had heard of the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” it was from a friend and neighbor from last year. I had told him about this little project of mine, and the first thing he asked was whether or not Invasion of the Body Snatchers was on the list. I checked, as he asked me at a time when I was creating the list, and I straightaway told him that it was. I almost immediately put his query out of my mind. It was about three months later when I was home from college and I was watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, and in the episode I was watching involved the characters falling asleep and being assimilated by the plant-thing which was visiting them. I didn’t really make any sort of connection until the very end, when one of the characters pointed at one of the other characters and unleashed a chilling scream – a scream I recognized. I remembered being a kid and watching a movie which took place in San Francisco and involves plants assimilating people and that blood curdling scream at the end of the movie, something which had horrified me ever since. I soon looked the movie up and discovered that the title was Invasion of the Body Snatchers; I also learned that it was a remake. I soon also discovered that the original was on the list (and was the one my friend was referring to), but the remake was not. I was upset, being that it was a film which had a profound effect on me (and which has a fairly good IMDB/RT score), but ultimately didn’t. So we finally arrive at the present day, or rather the present day of three weeks ago, as that’s when I watched this movie. I came in, knowing that while the film held similarities to the one I had seen, it was different, but equally good if not better. All the same, I was expecting to be dissatisfied by the film in comparison to the Sutherland version which I had by this time come to adore, and to be completely honest, by expectations proved to be true, and I know what you’re saying: that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I disagree. I liked this movie, it was rather good, but all things considered, I still prefer the Donald Sutherland version.
The movie opens in a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles. Police have brought in a clearly deranged man to ask a psychiatrist’s opinion on his mental condition. The psychiatrist initially dismisses the man as crazy, but eventually hears his story. The man’s name is Dr. Miles Bennell, and several weeks ago he had returned from vacation to his home town. Almost immediately he is notified to strange goings-on which occurred in his town while he was gone; a large body of residents seemed to have become hysterical, and were demanding to see the Doctor, and yet now that the doctor had returned and was attempting to set up appointments with these residents who not two weeks before were desperate to see him, now didn’t care to see him at all. Additionally there were a number of people who thought one person was not who they said they were – a young boy who was insistent that his mother was not his mother, and a young lady who insisted that her grandfather was not her grandfather. Miles investigates these cases, but thinks them unfounded as there is nothing to suggest they are not who they say they are – their personality, memories, etc. were the same. However the people remained persistent, insisting that there was something deep down, something in their eyes that was disingenuous. Things continue normally for a time, as Miles pursues a rekindled romance with his old flame, Becky Driscoll. This reverie was cut short, however, when a friend of theirs calls both of them over to his house, to show him a strange body they had found in their house: the body was featureless and didn’t even have fingerprints, but physically it was similar to the man who had called them. We soon learn that there are plants which are able to create a body which takes your form while you sleep, eventually killing you and taking your place. We also learn that this is what had been occurring while Miles was gone, and now nearly the entire town was taken over. Miles tries to evade the efforts of the subverted town to forcibly change him, and watches as his escape attempts are thwarted and all of his friends are taken over, culminating, tragically, by the loss of his love Becky. Ultimately, Miles escapes the town, and the body snatchers pull off their chase, revealing that Miles’ escape would not foil their plans of world-subversion. Miles flees to the highway, where he learns that there are trucks laden with the body snatchers’ seed pods heading all over the country. Miles makes a desperate plea for help, and is ultimately taken in by the LA police force. So we return to the beginning of the movie as Miles finishes his story, and the psychiatrists are ready to commit the man, that is until another officer comes in talking of a crashed truck bearing large seed-like pods. The movie ends optimistically with the psychiatrists ordering the notification of the FBI to the existence of the body snatchers.
This movie was originally made as a B-movie, and true to B-movie form, the acting in this film is rather mediocre. There really was not a single actor in this move who I thought gave a “good” performance. Kevin McCarthy, who played Miles, was especially sporadic. His performance was plagued by overacting and hammy delivering of lines. He’s too forceful when subtlety was needed and too limp when he needed to be strong. Similarly, Dana Wynter, who played Becky was underwhelming as well. I especially didn’t like her melodramatic portions, which came off more as annoying than moving.
The movie makes up for its mediocre acting with great directing, superb writing, and a very compelling premise. The cinematography in this film is clever and effective. There are several cool shots, such as the decision to show a number of driving shots from the perspective of someone sitting in the front seat of the car. Another good series of shots were the various escape or runaway scenes, which were very easily accomplished. Additionally, the modus operandi of the storytelling in this film is effective. I like that this movie is told through a flashback of a man who we know for a fact makes it out of town alive. This leads to a determinist viewing of the film in which you know, ultimately how the film is going to end, and yet the film plays up suspense, and makes the characters sufficiently likeable, that you still find yourself hoping that the movie does not play out in the way that you think it’s going to play out. The play with the lighting in this film is equally likeable, and it brought to me, visions of the spectacular plays on lighting of the famous film noirs such as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.
Most compelling of all for me is the premise of the film. The idea of alien plants which create seed pods which, essentially, steal your soul while you sleep, seems, at least to me, very original. The ultimate result is, in a similar vein to Hitchcock’s The Birds of 8 years later, a film which turns a harmless object, or something you wouldn’t consider at all terrifying, into something wholly horrifying. Perhaps the most striking portion of this film comes about 2/3 of the way through the film, when Miles, and by extension you, finally discover the full extent of the plant’s contamination. Previous to this point you had only known seriously of about three or four people who had been taken over, and suddenly you are shown that the entire town has been turned, and turned right under your nose. Ultimately, however, what makes this film effective in my mind is not the plant, or the main characters being taken over, but the overriding aims of the plants. They seek not to destroy; not to control, and not to subvert, but rather, their ultimate aim is to enrich humanity. The plant sees their actions as being beneficial to humanity – by removing love, happiness, sadness, anger, or any other emotion, any form of conflict is removed from the planet, and so world peace shall finally be brought about. Ultimately, however, this peace is brought about as a loss of any semblance of free thought will, or even personality, bringing up the question, is peace worth bringing about if you cannot fully appreciate the achievement? This notion carries obvious communist-capitalistic or anti-authoritarian connotations, and the ultimate horror of this film comes about as a result of the conflict of these ideas. The idea of subversion is abhorrent to you, but the idea of an end to conflict is not. So, while inside you feel for Miles, at the same time you wonder if the work of these plants is not, at least in some vein, a good course to follow, do their theories have merit. This conflict is shown in Miles himself, who opposes and resists the plants, but never truly gives a reason for why he is resisting other than human nature.
This conflict is where, in essence, the original differs from the remake. In the original, the plants, while disgusting, were not truly horrifying. There was very little sense of urgency in the film, and you never get the sense that the subverted humans are threatening, or in some cases, even dangerous. The remake takes this concept, and makes it infinitely more horrifying, by turning the humans monstrous. Whereas in the original the subverted humans are virtually indiscernible from their original persons, the humans in the remake were more zombie-like, more aggressive, and, when motivated, more monstrous. The thought of subversion is terrifying, assimilation is something to be feared and avoided, shown fully in the final, striking, terrifying, and chilling ending. This shift turns the late-70s remake into less of a question-raising horror which makes you answer questions, and more of a straight horror film. Ultimately I prefer the remake to the original; not because it takes place in San Francisco (which is awesome), not because it stars Donald Sutherland (also awesome), and not because the remake has the benefit of nostalgia for me, but rather because the remake achieves what I consider the original to have failed on; to successfully turn the plant into something horrifying. The remake is terrifying completely and totally. Just watching the ending to this day runs chills down my spine, which is something the original does not accomplish. This may be a result of the less optimistic ending of the 1978 remake compared to the original, but all the same, the original did not have the same effect as the remake.
Don’t get me wrong; I really liked this movie. It was the quintessential B-movie. It was very effectively carried out, and was enjoyable to watch. Its status as a classic, its great influence on the sci-fi and horror are profound and evident, and its quality as a directing and writing masterpiece is also evident. Its place on this list is secured in my mind. Ultimately, however, it fails as a horror, and I would consider it inferior to the remake. That being said, on the whole I like both films, but I like them in different ways. The remake is great when you want to quite simply have the bejeebus scared out of you, if you want a resonating chill and horror to remain with you for several days after the fact. But if you want to have a movie which makes you think, consider, and reconsider your views of the world for weeks and even months after seeing the film, then the original is a much more adequate, and it is this lasting, cerebral effect brought about by this film which is why the original is on the list and the remake is not.
Monday, February 7, 2011
The Haunting (1963)
“Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here... walk alone.”
As I have probably already intimated on this blog what feels like a hundred times over, it was not until very recently that I had any appreciation for black and white films, and, more especially, for the horror genre. Black and white as a genre was something that bored me to death. I saw it as slow, dull, disinteresting, and…old, quite simply. As for the horror genre, it was something I simply couldn’t stand. Horror movies used to scare me far too much for me to be able to make it through them. My sentiments about both of these genres changed almost completely during my junior of high school, and, more specifically, everything with this movie: The Haunting. I watched this movie in my English class while we were covering Gothic Literature, and though it sounds cliché to say this, it really changed my perspective on film entirely.
The movie begins as a narrator tells us the peculiar and gruesome story of Hill House; a House built in the late 1800s which was “born bad”. We are then informed that the narrator has a fascination with the supernatural and haunted houses. The scene then cuts to the narrator in person, who is talking to the current owner of the Hill House (who doesn’t live there out of fear). The narrator, whose name is Dr. John Markway, plans to stay in the house, alongside some assistants, to document anything strange which might happen at the reported “genuine haunted house”, and he has come to the owner in the hope of getting her permission to stay in the house for a couple weeks. The old lady gives her assent, though appears skeptical that he will last for more than a couple days, and also demands that her nephew, Luke, who is the old lady’s next of kin, stay in the house with them. Next we cut to Eleanor Lance, who is talking with her sister and her family about borrowing the car to go on a vacation. Her sister forbids it, but Eleanor goes anyway. It turns out that she has been invited by Dr. Markway to participate in his experiment. She arrives at the house, after interacting with the very creepy caretakers, moves into the house and meets her first partner, Theo, who we learn has ESP, when she instinctively knows everything that Eleanor is thinking. We then meet Dr. Markway, followed soon after by Luke, who is a pompous blue blood only visiting the house in the interest of selling all of its contents. The four of them get settled into the house, before slipping off to bed. Weird things happen almost immediately as strange noises start presenting themselves to Eleanor and Theo. The next day the group takes a tour of the house, and learns that Eleanor bears a striking resemblance to a past resident of the house. The next night there are more strange occurrences, and Dr. John begins fearing that Eleanor may be too unstable for the experiment. Eleanor demands not to be taken home, however. The next day begins to show Eleanor becoming more deranged, however, as she begins to believe that she belongs in the house; that its spirits are calling for her.
Things continue similarly until Dr. Markway’s wife appears at the house. Mrs. Markway, who is very skeptical of John’s supernatural studies, demands to stay in the house until John will come home with her. Eleanor, who is besotted with Dr. Markway, suggests spitefully that Mrs. Markway stay in the nursery, which is the supernatural heart, and therefore most dangerous, part of the house. The skeptical Mrs. Markway accepts in spite of the protests and begging of the other four residents. The other four decide to spend the night in the study, and after some terrifying noises and unnatural door movements, the four hear noises coming from the nursery, and rush off to find Mrs. Markway, who they learn has vanished. The four then continue looking for the woman, though Eleanor soon becomes separated from the group, lost in her own delusions. Eventually the three find and confront Eleanor, and force her to go home while the rest of them continue their search for Mrs. Markway. However Eleanor is sure that the house wants her to stay, and so drives off into the park of the house before any of them can stop her. She drives along for a time before finally the car appears to steer itself into the selfsame tree that the first wife of the original owner of the house crashed into and subsequently died on. The other three catch up to the sight of the accident, where they find a very distraught Mrs. Markway. Finally the three leave the house separately, with Dr. Markway implying that Eleanor was what the house wanted after all, confirmed by the bodiless voice of Eleanor speaking on behalf of the house with the closing words, “…And we who walk here…walk alone.”
The acting in this film is absolutely superb. I especially love Julie Harris, who plays Eleanor. Eleanor’s character is stunted; having been forced to care for her mother for the last 10 years. This period of 10 years affects every aspect of her character; she longs to be alone, and to have her own belongings, but at the same time, she’s terrified of it. Additionally she dreams of being somewhere she belongs, and will fight tooth and nail to hold onto that. She’s also very insecure. What’s great about Harris is that she carries this role superbly, demonstrating all aspects of this character, which serves as the focal point of the movie. Equally good is Claire Bloom, who plays Theo. Bloom stupendously displays, the spiteful character of Theo’s character. Theo is a woman who knows what everyone is thinking at all times, and wants everyone to know it. She loves feeling special, and she feels that the best way to portray this is by spitefully toying with Eleanor who is emotionally unstable; in effect she pushes all of her own insecurities onto Eleanor. The dichotomy of these two characters is outstanding. The desire for acceptance of the part of Eleanor, and Theo’s need to mock Eleanor act as opposing forces, and results, due to Eleanor’s emotional issues, to Theo driving Eleanor more rapidly into insanity as she gets enraptured by the house.
Luke was excellent. In today’s film he would be the cliché “funny man” which you expect to go first, and it is true that he is rather annoying, and that his jokes fall flat, but this is the point, and displays the greater degree of his flaws. Luke is rich, pampered, greedy, and a glutton. Luke’s actor, Russ Tamblyn does an excellent job portraying this. I also liked both of the male leads. Dr. Markway essentially plays the straight man of the movie. His character is driven by an obsession to legitimize his field of research – paranormal studies. While for a time this drive causes him to let Eleanor stay in the house in spite of her very obvious issues, I didn’t really see it, and other than that, he never seems to show a character. I think this works, however. Dr. Markway serves as the straight man, he is (relative) normalcy, and allows us to see the insanity of Eleanor and Theo, and the deep seated character flaws of Luke.
The directing in this film is absolutely the best. The cinematography of this film is fantastic. There are so many great shots in this film. Robert Wise does a great job in his filming style. I love the top-down shots looking down on our actors; I also like his use of minimalism in shooting, not ever showing the ghost or monster or whatever that is causing all of the commotion. There is no campy display of things moving. All of this shows a director which knows full well that it is not the monster itself which cases the audience to be afraid, but the thought of the monster which causes the true terror. There are a number of other great scenes, such as the scene of the camera travelling rapidly from the tower of the house down to the balcony where Eleanor is standing. The scene in which the door of the room in which the four are staying moves inwardly as if it were made of rubber is an absolutely fantastic scene. Another thing I like about Wise is his great patience. Like Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wise knows damn well when he has you, and he chooses those times to take his time in showing something happening. This happens, for example, with door handles turning, or when Dr. Markway is ascending a very rickety spiral staircase. You the audience feel for sure that something is going to happen, and so Wise teases you by drawing the scene out as long as he possibly can.
Another thing I love about this movie is the manner in which the story is told. While Wise tells you what’s going on through picture, the story is driven by Eleanor’s thoughts. This is great way of telling the story as we can both visibly see and hear the growing insanity of Eleanor as she becomes more and more delusional. What’s great is that by showing us all of Eleanor’s thoughts, Wise is in essence driving the audience to think in a like manner to Eleanor. This means that the audience is drawn into the insanity of Eleanor, allowing Wise to display the “horrors of the house” in a very ambiguous manner, without the audience being any the wiser. It is only in retrospect that you the viewer realizes that the “ghost” could have just as easily been all in your head, as it may have been all in Eleanor’s head. Wise is a clever, clever man.
Another piece of added depth to this film which I only recently realized is that the four central characters of this film each represent one or two of the seven deadly sins. Eleanor represents Lust, as she lusts after Dr. Markway. She also represents Envy as she envies Mrs. Markway, who has Dr. Markway’s love, and later as she envies what she presumes is the house claiming Mrs. Markway over her. Theo represents Pride as she is proud over her unique abilities (and demonstrates this by showing off her abilities unnecessarily). She also represents wrath as she lashes out at Eleanor repeatedly throughout the film. Luke represents Gluttony and Greed. Finally, Dr. Markway represents Pride as his vainglory prevents him from caring for his wards in the house, and he also represents Sloth as he intimates that rather than putting his exceptional abilities into a useful profession, he selects the research of the supernatural out of spite of his family. The fact that the movie can so artfully lace these facets into the film makes this great movie all the greater.
This movie is superb, one of my favorites out of this list so far. What upsets me is just how unsung this movie is. This movie won no Oscars; no Golden Globes, no nothing. When you ask friends if they’ve seen Casablanca or Citizen Kane, the vast majority will say yes (if they’re movie savvy); when you ask them if they’ve seen this movie, not only have they usually never seen it, often they’ve never even heard of it. This to me is very disappointing as in my opinion in terms of storytelling and cinematography; I would consider it to be on par with the Casablancas and Citizen Kanes of film. This is simply a fantastic movie, and I am happy that I saw it when I did, and considering this “unsung movie” went on to influence the not unsung classics of The Shining and Poltergeist; it definitely deserves its place on the list, and perhaps a place that is outlined in gold marker.
Friday, February 4, 2011
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
"One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it. Not a gang of slaves, but soldiers, British soldiers, Clipton, even in captivity."
In the largesse that was the Second World War, certain conflicts will spring almost immediately to the mind of the average American. These include, on the Western Front, battles such as D-Day, The Invasion of Italy, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. If you’re lucky, they may also have heard of Stalingrad, The battle for Berlin, and…perhaps even El Alamein! In the Pacific theater the average American has probably heard of Iwo Jima, Midway, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, and perhaps the leaving, and subsequent retaking of the Philippines. The common theme of these battles, with the exclusion of a few Soviet ones here and there, and perhaps one British one, they are almost exclusively American battles, and specifically (Pearl Harbor excluded), American battles which the Americans won. This sort of common perception of World War II among Americans brings to mind for me, and certainly lends credence to a certain webcomic I read recently, drawn by Kate Beaton at harkavagrant.com which slyly noted about World War II that, “America sends its best hunks to save the Earth,” and that “Ugly people and other people may have fought against the Nazis but we can never know for sure.” It’s a very funny observation, and one that certainly has merit, and while she in this comic was referring specifically to common perceptions of WWII Europe, I think it’s even more notable in the Pacific Theater. While Americans certainly fought and died in large numbers to defeat the Japanese, what often goes forgotten is that other nations fought the Japanese during this time as well. So my long introduction brings us finally to the movie for today, The Bridge on the River Kwai, which takes place in WWII, but rather than concerning itself with the standard Nazi killfest, instead deals with the often unsung British soldiers who fought the Japanese in Burma. This movie was well known to me long before I started this little project of mine – it being a favorite of my dad’s – before this point I don’t believe I had ever seen the movie all the way through before now. Having seen it now, though, I must say, it was a very good film, and one that I am sure I will cherish fondly for a long time to come.
The movie begins by showing graves on the side of a railroad, a train passes, and we are then presented with the title screen, “The Bridge on the River Kwai. The camera then follows the train down the railroad as we pass very starved looking men working on building the railroad. The train reaches the end of the line, and we hear some very forbidding, ominous music playing. We then cut to a pair of people who are sitting around digging a grave. The camera shows us that there are many, perhaps thousands, of similar graves in the area. The two stop when a Japanese officer arrives, one of the two men, an American, attempts to bribe the Japanese officer to get the two of them onto the sick list. The Japanese officer takes the bribe, and then leave. The American then returns to grave digging. He gives a sermon for the dead soldier, whose name, rank, and life he could not remember. We are snapped from this peaceful reverie with the arrival of a new body of soldiers, marching in orderly fashion, and whistling the famous, easily identifiable tune of this movie. The regiment arrives in a prison camp, and order themselves in military fashion. The soldiers are then greeted by the head of the camp, Major Saito. Saito tells the camp that they will be building a bridge over the River Kwai, a bridge that must be finished by mid-May. He also tells them that hard work will be rewarded, laziness punished severely, and finally, he tells them that everyone shall work as equals. The head of the regiment, Colonel Nicholson takes issue with this, and informs Saito that forcing officer POWs to work goes against the Geneva Convention. Saito says he does not care, and that all officers must work.
Later that night, the officers meet together in a manner similar to the later-released (and unafilliated) The Great Escape, to decide what they are going to do. Nicholson believes Saito understands that officers will not work, and that an escape commission will not be necessary. The next day Saito tells the British soldiers that their officers will work. Nicholson staunchly refuses, and tensions come to a head as Saito attempts to force Nicholson to work through threats. Nicholson stands his ground though, and all the officers are thrown into the oven. Shortly after this, the American, Shears, who has been watching from the sick bay, makes his escape with his partner grave digger, and a British officer. The officer and the grave digger were shot and killed, and Shears was pushed off a cliff and into the river. Meanwhile at camp, the officers languish in the ovens and the soldiers work to sabotage the bridge, Saito begins trying to reason with Nicholson, but all of his threats and bribes were turned down; he will not back down on his principles. Finally, the threat of a much delayed bridge forces Saito to stand down, he relents and lets all the officers out with the promise of not forcing them to work. Meanwhile, we learn that Shears survived the fall and wound up in a Burmese village, where he is nursed back to health, and sent on his way. After a long journey, he is picked up and brought to the city of Colombo in Ceylon. There he has been relaxing for a number of weeks before he is met by a British officer who wishes to see him about what he saw in the prison camp.
Meanwhile, Nicholson has taken a survey of the bridge, and determined that the Japanese are doing it all wrong. He decides that the British are actually going to build the bridge, and that they are going to do it right. They tell as much to Saito, who has broken over losing out to Nicholson, and has collapsed under the pressure of finishing off schedule. Back in Colombo, Shears visits the British officer, and discovers that he is part of a covert ops regiment, and they want to blow up the Bridge on the River Kwai, and therefore need his information about the terrain around the prison camp. The officer tells Shears he will have to go with the squad to help direct operations overland. Shears, who we learn is a coward, tries to get out of going back into action, but the British officer forces him to. After assembling a squad, the troops land in Burma, losing one of the 4 squad members in the drop. The men decide to continue all the same, and so they make their way to the camp. After some time marching through jungle, and the serious injury of the head of the squad, the men arrive at the camp, just in time to see the bridge finish, with the first train set to be passing over on the next day. The squad set up explosives, but Nicholson, who has come to see the bridge as his legacy, sees the charges and warns Saito. Eventually Nicholson, Shears, Saito and all but the injured officer are killed, but the Bridge is blown up, by Nicholson as with his dying gasp he falls on the plunger.
The acting in this movie is absolutely fantastic. Alec Guinness, who plays Nicholson, is absolutely fantastic. I love the very subtle change that overtakes him throughout the course of the movie. He starts out as a lofty and principled British officer, who chooses to save his battalion by surrendering. He’s principled, he believes in order, making sure his men remain forever soldiers, and strongly believes in the tenets of the Geneva conventions. However, by the end of the film, the bridge begins to override everything he once held dear; eventually forcing the officers to work after all, and finally, even forcing the sick to work on the bridge. The end of the film, in which Nicholson finally realizes this change is touching, and really is the climax of the film.
I also rather liked William Holden, who plays Shears. The sign of a great coward in film is one who you think may be a coward, but are not entirely sure of. Anyone can go on camera and just try to run away and say standard cowardly things like a large ham, but a great coward is one where you think he or she may be a coward, but are not entirely sure until he is forced to choose. William Holden plays his role like this. When you first meet Shears, he doesn’t at all appear cowardly, rather, he appears as someone who has been weathered by years in a prison camp, and his experience has taught him to be cautious, practical, and selfish. As the movie progresses, you begin to guess that he’s both disingenuous and a coward. This makes the climax all the better when Shears, a man who is dragged kicking and screaming back into Burma, performs the ultimate sacrifice, giving up his life in order to make sure that the mission succeeds. The change in character was both natural and very well played by Holden.
The final actor I liked in this movie was Sessue Hayakawa, who played Colonel Saito, and boy did I like him. When I first saw him, I naturally expected him to be stereotypical harsh prison guard with a character with about as much depth as a puddle after a light drizzle. This is absolutely not so, though. If anything, Saito is one of the best developed characters in the movie. Through the course of the film you can see the fear of failure, and the pressure to succeed starting to get to him. He’s not actually a bad guy, he’s just terrified of failing because he does not want to die. Hayakawa portrays this character superbly. On the front he appears to be a tough, cold-hearted killer, but you can tell that this is all a façade. One of the best scenes in this film is when Saito relents and releases all of the officers. The British prisoners return from work to see this and begin to cheer for their officers. The scene then cuts to show Saito alone in his room, huddled up and crying. It really humanizes the presumed villain, and helps show that not every Japanese officer was evil, it really humanizes the war; it was very touching.
The directing in this movie was pretty good. The cinematography was excellent; the movie demonstrates this right from the get go in the opening title, which I already described earlier on in this review. There were also a couple really cool transitions in the movie, for example one scene in which the camera pans from the action to the sun, and then from the sun down to another scene, it was very effectively done. The explosion scene is very cool, definitely a nice explosion, and watching the train going over the bridge at the end was very satisfying; making it seem like what the agents died for was not in vain. Director David Lean does an especially good job with the scene in which Shears and another agent are setting the charges on the bridge. This scene is contrasted by a scene of the British soldiers celebrating the completion of the bridge which Lean shows concurrently, cutting back and forth between partying and setting charges. What’s really neat about this is that the charge laying makes a scene which should be joyous and euphoric into a scene of tenseness and irritation. Additionally, this splitting has the benefit of making the charge laying scene all the more tense by taking you away from the action, leaving you to guess whether or not they’re going to get caught, and puts off the answer for another few minutes. It was really awesome. Additionally, Lean makes excellent use of dramatic irony in this film at the end, when Shears and his compatriots arrive at the bridge and it appears as though the Japanese have coerced the British and are abusing them harshly, when in reality the British under Nicholson have basically taken over the camp, and want to build a bridge to last for generations to come. This irony is better still because, even though Nicholson is acting traitorously by aiding and abetting the Japanese, you still feel sympathetic to his cause, and at least in some ways, want the bridge to last as well. This means that when the time comes to blow up the bridge, you still aren’t entirely sure who you should be rooting for, it’s very effectively used irony.
I also like the way in which this movie seems to be a number of different movies at once. At the beginning of the film it appears to be an escape film. Then as it progresses it appears as though Kwai is going to be about a regiment of British soldiers enduring the harshness of Japanese atrocities common in POW camps during WWII. Then it appears as though it’s going to be an escape film again, detailing the escape of Shears. THEN it appears as though the film is going to be about how the British prisoners saved the life of Saito by building his bridge, and the repercussions. THEN it turns into a standard action film as a reluctant Shears joins up with covert ops troops to take out the bridge. THEN it turns into some kind of action film with the underpinnings of some kind of romance between Shears and his Burmese guide, and between another operative and his Burmese guide. FINALLY, the film turns out to be a tragedy as most of the main characters are killed off in spectacular fashion.
This was an awesome film. It had everything you can expect from a film of its type; good action, entertaining dialogue, great pacing, and a whole bunch of tension. I believe this film was on the list for a number of reasons. The first is awards. This movie won 7 Oscars, which is an incredible number by any reckoning. Moreover, this film has one of the most iconic tunes that exists today; one of those tunes that everyone knows, but not exactly where it came from. But above all that, this movie is on the list because it is a damned good film. Not only is it of high technical quality, but it is enjoyable to watch, and any time a movie can be good critically and be a joy and a pleasure to watch, it is definitely deserving of praise.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
"Here's looking at you, kid"
We’ve finally arrived at the big one. Casablanca is one of those movies, akin to Citizen Kane which is widely considered to be among the top five greatest movies of all time. This was another of those movies which are just plain great movies which I hadn’t actually seen until I started this list, although I am remiss to admit it. This is, as I said, because I absolutely abhorred black and white movies until relatively recently, and once I started liking black and white movies, I never was able to get around to watching it. A desire to see this movie, alongside such classics as Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon was the primary reason I started this list in the first place. Now having seen the film, I must say it is a superb film, and has not only met every expectation I had going into the film, but surpassed them handily. This is, simply put; among the greatest films I have ever seen.
1942, the world is engulfed in a World War. We are told that many Europeans caught under Nazi rule are trying to flee to America, but the going is tough. The easiest way out is through Portugal, but getting to Portugal is no easy matter, and so many refugees are taking a more roundabout route, generally from Marseille to Algeria to Casablanca, in Unoccupied France, and from thence to Portugal, and while getting into Casablanca is easy, getting out can prove to be a much more difficult venture. After this introduction, we are thrust straight into the action as recent murders have rallied the police who are racing through the streets, rounding up the “usual suspects”. One man is gunned down after he turns out to be carrying out of date papers. We are then taken to the arrival of some planes, which we learn are carrying a number of German high brass, looking for someone. The head of Casablanca, Captain Renault welcomes the Nazis to Casablanca, and they leave the airport together. After this we are introduced to our main character, Rick. Rick is an American, who, like many residents of Casablanca, has been stuck in the town, unable to receive visas to leave the country, and so he has given up trying to get away, instead opening a cantina which has become one of the most popular bars in town. Rick is a cynical, selfish man, who “never sticks his neck out for anybody”. Rick, we find, is well acquainted with Renault, who informs Rick that a freedom fighter, Victor Laszlo, who is highly wanted by the Nazis has recently arrived in Casablanca, and is presumed to be on the lookout for visas so that he may flee to America. He is also told that one Major Strasser has arrived from Germany with the intent of not letting that happen. Later on in the night Rick comes into the ownership of some visas which had been stolen recently; visas that are irreversible, can be given to anyone, and would guarantee passage out of the country. Sometime after this happens, Laszlo enters the cantina with his wife, Ilsa Lund. It turns out that Ilsa knows Rick very well, as we learn in a flashback that Ilsa and Rick had been lovers in Paris before the Nazis arrived, they had even talked of marriage, but when the Nazis arrived, and Rick asked Ilsa to flee with him to Casablanca, she left him waiting in the rain at the train station. This, we learn, is the reason for Rick’s extreme apathy and selfishness; we also learn that in spite of her slighting him, he is still madly in love with the woman.
Laszlo tries a variety of methods to get himself and his wife out of the country, but are stopped by Renault and Strasser. Eventually Strasser decides that Laszlo is too dangerous to be allowed to live, and so pressures Renault to arrest and execute him. Ilsa, meanwhile, visits Rick and attempts to get the visas he has, by force if necessary. Rick threatens her to shoot him, but Ilsa cannot do it; she still loves him. Later that night, Laszlo is arrested, and Rick, the jaded freedom fighter who never sticks his neck out for anyone embarks on a plan to rescue him and get both he and his wife out of Casablanca. After a number of crossings and double crossings, Rick gets Laszlo freed, and takes Laszlo, Ilsa, and Renault (who he is holding at gunpoint) to the airport, with Strasser right on his tail. Although Ilsa and Rick love each other deeply, Rick realizes that Ilsa is Laszlo’s motivation for fighting, so he tells Ilsa to go with Laszlo to Portugal. Reluctantly she leaves, following Laszlo into the mist. Shortly after their plane takes off, Strasser arrives on the scene to confront Renault and Rick. Rick shoots Strasser, but Renault, another man who has never stuck his neck out for anyone, covers for Rick, and the two of them flee the country together, Rick saying those eternally famous lines, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The acting in this movie is simply stunning; it’s hard not to be so with such legendary actors as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. Everyone in this movie was good. Bogart, who plays Rick, was superb. You really see him as a cynical, selfish man, who hates the world and everyone in it, but at the same time you can really feel the underlying drive behind this philosophy; you can feel the pain of being literally left out in the rain by Ilsa. What I loved even more was his change from selfish man to selfless man, as his reawakened love for Ilsa drives him to stick his neck out for more and more people. It’s a very touching change. Bergman was equally good as Ilsa. You can see she cares deeply for her husband Laszlo, but you can also feel the underlying love that still remains for Rick. Perhaps the most moving moment in this movie is when Ilsa has Rick at gunpoint, trying to get the visas out of him. Rick challenges Ilsa, daring her to shoot him, but ultimately she cannot and breaks down in his arms. It is an extremely moving scene, and one that made the movie for me. What’s even greater than the two actors is the incredible and oft-noted fantastic chemistry between Bergman and Bogart. I don’t feel that I can aptly describe it for myself, but it was just outstandingly good, and will probably serve as the metric with which I rate romantic chemistry in movies from here on out. I liked Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo as well. He conveys his character extremely well, and I could see him actually being a freedom fighter, so moving were his speeches and the way in which he carried himself. Finally, is Claude Rains, who played Renault. I think he was my second favorite performer in this movie next to Bogart. He plays his character with such gusto; showing a man in many ways similar to Rick in his apathy and general unconcern with the problems of the people in town were conveyed very well. Unlike Rick, however, Renault carries underneath the heart of a pragmatist, a man who sees opportunity in a town in which everyone needs his help, and is perfectly willing to exploit this position. So while he is friendly and affable towards Rick, at the same time he is cruel and mean to just about everyone else. Beneath all of this, however, he has a soul. Although he gives the sense of unconcern, he truly does care for the plight of the people, or should I say certain people. When he delivers those lines at the end of the movie, “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.” I must say my mouth was agape for a good 5 minutes afterwards, that’s how great of a “Crowning moment of heartwarming” it is. Rains carries the complexity and contradiction inherent in Renault very well and very believably.
The directing in this movie is just as good as the acting, if not better. This movie was directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz, who is on a number of other movies on this list, such as the already reviewed “Adventures of Robin Hood”, which I have already reviewed. The cinematography in this film is fantastic. In Robin Hood I mentioned that, while the scenes are for the most part well shot, the shooting isn’t a major player. In this movie we see something wholly different. Everything in this movie is very cleverly shot. One scene I particularly like is the introduction of Rick. The scene starts at his hand, which signs his name to a bill, the camera then pans up until his whole face is shown. Even better than this is the lighting in this movie; just like in Robin Hood, Curtiz really likes to play around with shadows. I really like the way Curtiz plays with shadow and lighting in this movie to tell a story outside of the actual story. It is a facet of this movie which I don’t think I can adequately describe on paper, so I will just trust you to see it for yourself. I also really liked the pacing in this movie, namely, the contrasts. What I mean is that Curtiz has a manner of delivery in which he gives us a calm, serene scene, and then immediately contrasts that with a break marked by action and noise. It’s jarring, but also very well done; on the whole it’s very good.
The writing in this movie is just fantastic. The pacing is great; there was never a moment in this film in which I found myself checking the clock. There’s a nice flow of story, and it never really bogs down, which is awesome. What’s more is the movie tells a very compelling and epic story in a mere hour and a half. Another great thing about this movie is the dialogue. There are so many classic lines in this movie; that’s a given, but even better are little pieces that are just as good. One example is a German couple who’s finally gotten leave to go to America, and they explain that they are speaking exclusively in English now. Then one of the asks, “What watch?” referring to the time, to which the other replies, “10 watch”, little things like these make the movie for me. I also really like the casting in this film. What one may not realize is that the vast majority of this cast is European; in fact only 3 actors in this movie are American. The fact that the movie employs a wide range of actors and extras from all over the world really helps contribute to the “melting pot” feel of Casablanca that Curtiz was going for.
Finally, I loved the music in this movie. “As Time Goes By”, which comes to be the thematic linking music of the whole movie, is just wonderful and heartwarming. Added on to this is a lot of jazz, and I love jazz, so those moments were very good. On top of these is some wonderful loud ominous brass sounds mixed throughout, which really help contribute to that Curtiz style of sharp contrasts. It’s all just wonderful.
I don’t really feel like I need to say why this movie is on my list. A quick visit to Casablanca’s IMDB page will tell you as much immediately. It is considered by many to be somewhere between the 1st and 4th greatest movie ever made, intermixed with Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and The Godfather. 7 or 8 of the lines in this movie are listed among the best in film. Moreover this movie has become legendarily famous for the powerful performances of Bogart and Bergman and the magical chemistry they bring to the whole thing. Everything about this movie, from the acting, to the directing, to the music, to the pacing, to the writing, to the dialogue, even to the editing is absolutely flawless. Simply put, this movie doesn’t just live up to the hype, it exceeds it.