Lonesome (1929): A Rediscovered Treasure

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

So often you will here the term “hidden gem” when someone is talking about a movie they have seen, but how often does that phrase actually apply? Very few movies today have actually been forgotten or don’t have some kind of underground following. If you are looking for the next “hidden Lonesomegem”, you needn’t look any further than the 1928 romantic film, Lonesome. It is about as rare a film as you can find.

Set in New York, the movie tells the story of two people lost in the chaos of life in the big city. Mary (Barbara Kent) lives in a small hotel room where her entire life revolves around the mundane tasks such as sleeping, eating and working as a telephone operator. Jim (Glenn Tryon) also lives in a hotel, and although he is decidedly less organized about his life, he still is focused on the same seeminglyLonesome unimportant tasks, such as his work at a factory as a press operator.

Today is a different day for these two because everyone is released from work early for a 4th of July celebration. As all the other workers leave their jobs, they are all paired up with their respective partners, but Mary and Jim are alone and they both end up back in their hotel rooms with nothing to do. Their lives are sad because they both yearn for someone with whom they have a common bond.

They both get the idea to head to the beach, and along the way finally get their first glimpse of each other. There is an obvious attraction, and they spend the afternoon falling in love. In the evening they become separated and must try to find each other again among the Lonesomeendless crowds that surround them.

Simply put, Lonesome is a brilliant film. It has everything that a great romance should have. It was made during the akward transition into talking pictures, so there are a couple of scenes with dialogue that feel out of place. However, the rest of the movie moves along nicely, with great camera movement and amazing technical aspects, that resemble many of the great filmmakers of the day.

Paul Mejos is not a commonly known director, but it won’t be long before his movies and directorial talents become more popularLonesome around the world. Born in Hungary in 1897, he knew from a young age that he wanted to direct on the stage. After much hesitation from his family, they came to the agreement that after he finished school, he would be allowed to pursue the career of his choice. In 1921, he received his M.D. from the Royal Hungarian Medical University of Budapest. At last, at the age of 24, he could begin directing.

After many moves and many jobs, Mejos ended up in Hollywood, in 1926. He made his directorial debut with an independent picture, The Last Moment (1928). When Charlie Chaplin saw the film he distributed it through United Artist, and in a wide release it got outstanding reviews. It was considered revolutionary, but unfortunately it is now considered to be a “lost film”.  Lonesome was the movie that Mejos made next, and itself is an amazing Lonesomeaccomplishment in filmmaking.

By 1931, Mejos had made a couple of other American movies, but had decided he was done making films the “Hollywood” way. He moved back to Europe and made movies there. Before long, he was filming what are essentially documentaries all over the world. He worked extensively in Madagascar and then in Peru, where he personally discovered 18 “lost” Inca cities. If that wasn’t enough, he moved back to the United States where he spent the remainder of his life being at the top of the field of anthropology.

Although Mejos spent his life in various fields, as time continues and his surviving films become more widely known, he is going to be remembered for his ingenuity and revolutionary filmmaking. Thanks to the beautiful restoration by the Criterion Collection, Lonesome is now available to anyone, and as most of us are seeing this movie for the first time, it is going toLonesome start getting the recognition that it deserves. It won’t be long before Lonesome begins appearing on some of the “must see” lists that create so much discussion today.

Along with Lonesome, the Criterion edition includes Paul Mejos’s The Last Performance (1929) and Broadway (1929). I look forward to enjoying these films as well.

This Happy Breed (1944)

★★★★★

 

This Happy Breed tells the story of the Gibbons family, from the end of WWI until just before the start of WWII. The family consists of the father, Frank (Robert Newton), his wife, Ethel (Celia Johnson), and their three children, Vi (Eileen This Happy BreedErskine), Reg (John Blythe) and Queenie (Kay Walsh). Also living with them is Frank’s widowed sister Sylvia (Alison Leggatt) and Ethel’s mother (Amy Veness).

As the movie begins, Frank has just returned from the War and they are all moving into a house in South London. When they arrive, they learn that their neighbor is Bob Mitchell (Stanley Holloway), a friend of Frank’s during the War. He has been living in this neighborhood for almost a year with his wife and their son, Billy (John Mills).

This Happy Breed is a character study. Each scene unfolds and shows the audience what is currently happening in the lives of the characters as well asThis Happy Breed the events of the world. At the end of each scene, we fade out and then fade back in. When we fade in we are at a point in time a couple of years ahead of where we left. By jumping over these time periods, we are able to examine how these characters evolve in their thoughts on the world in all areas.

The beauty in This Happy Breed is in being able to watch the changes that occur, especially in the children, as they continue to get older. The events in their world help to mold the minds of this group that has already lived through WWI, and sees the ever approaching and increasing danger of WWII ahead.

The movie is based on the play written by the extremely talented Noel Coward. It was written and ready for the stage in 1939, but with the This Happy Breedoutbreak of WWII, it was held until 1942. Although David Lean and Noel Coward had just co-directed In Which We Serve (1942), David Lean directed This Happy Breed alone, as his solo directorial debut. I know that I show some prejudices toward Lean (because I believe he is brilliant), but for his first directorial effort he shows his uncanny ability to be a truly magnificent storyteller. The majority of This Happy Breed is shot in a small house that feels so cramped that at the beginning of the movie we, as the audience, almost feel as if we are in the way of the actors, but as their lives progress we become less like an audience and more like another member of the family.

The story is filled with warmth and humor, but also shows the truthful side of life, without glossing over the difficult areas.This Happy Breed Lean once again makes a story become real and touch his audience, in an emotional journey of this common family that is just surviving the world around them. The Gibbons family isn’t filled with people that have important standings in the world. They were common, run of the mill individuals, just trying to live their lives the best way possible. This is a theme that Lean would use again in some of his masterpieces: Brief Encounter (1945), Summertime (1955), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970).

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

★★★★

 “Life, every now and then, behaves as though it had seen too many bad movies, when everything fits too well – the beginning, the middle, the end – from fade-in to fade-out.”

The Barefoot Contessa is a 1954 drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The movie opens at the funeral The Barefoot Contessaof Contessa Maria Vargas Torlato-Favrini. Four men who knew her well in the years before she died, tell the story of her life and death in a series of flashbacks.

Movie director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is past his prime and looking for a break to get him back to being an A-list director. He has been hired by the wealthy, aspiring producer, Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), to help him discover “the next big thing”. They have traveled to Spain, along with Edwards’ public relations man, Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien), to see a dancer named Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). Although they arrive too late to see herThe Barefoot Contessa performance, they are all enamored with her beauty, and arrange a screen test for her.

The test proves well and Maria breezes easily to the upper rank of actresses in Hollywood. She is desired by many, but finds herself waiting for a prince charming to sweep her away. Dawes, himself, is very happily in love with his wife, Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars), and Maria longs for this same romance in her life.

“To make a hundred dollars into a hundred and ten dollars – this is work. To make a hundred million into a hundred and ten million, this is inevitable.”

Joseph Mankiewicz had an amazing career as a writer, producer and director in Hollywood. His best movies are the ones that had scripts (often written by himself) filled with great characters dealing with an unusual problem, yet somehow he The Barefoot Contessafound a way to relate these characters with everyday people as well. I don’t think (or rather I hope) there are very few people who can relate to the stories of A Letter To Three Wives or All About Eve, but audiences still find similarities between the characters and their own lives. With The Barefoot Contessa, Mankiewicz had the difficult task of finding a way to relate his audience with a young, stunning actress who becomes a Contessa. This isn’t any easily relatable character, but simply by not allowing her to easily find love, she becomes a sympathetic woman longing for the fairy tale that every woman seems to desire. Mankiewicz, once again, proves that he is one of the greatest writers to ever work in Hollywood, and it is unfortunate that he is not more recognized for his achievements.

Mankiewicz’s work on The Barefoot Contessa was groundbreaking; of course he had some help along the way. TheThe Barefoot Contessa immensely talented Jack Cardiff was the cinematographer. He is considered one of the revolutionary cinematographers in the color era, as can easily be seen in many of his movies, including The Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and The African Queen (1951). Cardiff saw colors differently from other people, and that made him one of the premiere men in his craft. The Barefoot Contessa probably isn’t his finest achievement, but having someone of his caliber working on any movie can only help make the final product look spectacular. He photographed Ava Gardner and made her look like the gorgeous sex symbol that she plays. Obviously most people consider Gardner to be one of the most beautiful women anyway, but in this movie she shines like never before.

The Barefoot ContessaIn addition to one of the finest cinematographers, Mankiewicz was able to have William Hornbeck as his editor. After achieving success with his editing on It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), The Heiress (1949), A Place In The Sun (1951) and Shane (1953), Hornbeck was fully prepared to bring his immense skills to this project. Together with Mankiewicz, they told their story through flashback narration, much in the same way as All About Eve. The one major difference between The Barefoot Contessa and all other movies up to that point, was in one particular scene when we see the same events happen in two separate flashbacks, from different points of view. This is a concept today that doesn’t seem that unique, but in the mid 1950’s it was an innovative idea.

The acting in The Barefoot Contessa falls in an unusual category. Because different people tell the story, and most of the The Barefoot Contessastories don’t have overlapping characters, the majority of the roles are supporting characters. Even Ava Gardner herself seems to be a supporting character to the voice over. It is an ensemble movie, and it works much better this way. Humphrey Bogart was at a point in his career where his roles were changing. The same year this movie was released he starred in Sabrina and The Caine Mutiny, as he tried to find a “new” type of role. His character in The Barefoot Contessa was understanding, tender and loving. He is more like a father figure than anything else. I kept waiting to see the Bogart that so many have come to expect, but he remains a sensitive, affectionate man in mourning for a woman that he loves like a daughter.

Ava Gardner performs exactly they way you would expect. She looks beautiful as a dancer, and then looks The Barefoot Contessabeautiful as an actress. She dances in the gypsy camp with everyone’s attention, and she swims in the ocean with everyone’s attention. Every moment of the movie shows off her ability to look stunning, and it becomes distracting to her acting. Luckily, she is talented enough to be put in a situation where she knows that everyone is starring at her, and she still is able to focus on what she needs to do as an actress. One of the earliest scenes of the movie takes place in the club where she dances. She apparently is an inspiring dancer, but we can only know this from the reactions and expressions of those watching her. We never get to see her in the scene.

Another performance that is deserving of recognition is that of Edmond O’Brien. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, even against some difficult The Barefoot Contessacompetition, including Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger in the award favorite of the year, On The Waterfront. O’Brien’s performance is unlike the others I have seen of his in the past. He is funny and brash, and oh yes, nervous and sweaty.

This was not at all the kind of movie I was expecting, but it was an amazing example of underrated filmmaking. When talking about a movie that stars Humphrey Bogart and the lovely Ava Gardner, you would expect something more flashy and ostentatious, but instead we are given a warm, touching love story that is doomed from the beginning.

 

 

Shock Corridor (1963): The Hard-Hitting Samuel Fuller

★★★★

 

Samuel Fuller always made movies off the beaten path. He wasn’t looking for a movie to be popular or even loved. He did, however, make movies that were thought provoking and intense. It’s hard to walk away from a Fuller movie with an Shock Corridoroverwhelming feeling of happiness, yet it’s easy to feel more educated about the world we live in. His 1963 drama, Shock Corridor is one of his best and most upsetting films.

There is a murder at a mental hospital and the police are unable to figure out what really happened. Journalist, Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck), thinks the fastest way to winning the Pulitzer Prize is to be admitted into the hospital to talk to theShock Corridor other patients that were witnesses.

Barrett spends a year training with doctors so that he will be able to be convincing to the admitting doctors at the hospital. He also has to convince his stripper girlfriend, Cathy (Constance Towers), to pretend to be his sister and claim that he has been making sexual advances toward her. She is reluctant, but eventually gives in because she wants him to succeed in his career.

Shock CorridorOnce he gets inside, he has to learn how to fit in with the other patients, as well as become close to the witnesses. All three of these men have become insane due to the effects of war and racism in America. Barrett pretends to be friends with them, and even displays similar mental problems in order to get close to them.

As he continues to further his investigation, Barrett also undergoes treatment for his sexual “problems” with his “sister”. One day when Cathy comes to visit she tries to kiss him, and he responds by shoving her away, since the doctors have taught him that he shouldn’t have sexual feeling toward her. Cathy is distraught, but there is no way to get him out of the hospital before he solves the crime.

As Barrett continues to get closer to the killer, his treatments become more involved and he even is subjected to electric shockShock Corridor therapy.  Although he tries to keep a clear head, his “new world” sinks into his mind and begins to overtake him.

Shock Corridor is a gritty, hard-hitting movie that doesn’t pull any punches. It shows the effects of the social issues that America was facing in the 1960’s, and allows its audience to understand the impact that many faced when they had to deal with these situations.

Stanley Cortez was the cinematographer on Shock Corridor, and it is one of his best movies. Almost every scene of the movie was filmed in a small room or in the narrow hallways of the hospital. Cortez was a master of the “stage shoot”. This first garnered him attention as Orson Welles’ cinematographer on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and then again on Since You Went Away (1945). Both of Shock Corridorthese movies earned him Academy Award nominations. As the years went on, he continued to film movies in the same way, but it wasn’t until later that his work was appreciated properly, especially in movies like The Night Of The Hunter (1955), The Three Faces Of Eve (1957) and both on Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss (1963). Today, these movies are regarded as brilliant pieces of cinematography.

Sam Fuller wrote, produced and directed Shock Corridor, and today it stands as one of the high points in his career. Obviously he was not a man who was afraid to tackle though subject matter, but I am amazed at the strength he had throughout his career, as he continued to make movies without worrying about the public’s reactions. Perhaps that is why he is now remembered as aShock Corridor truly great director, even though he didn’t receive the same recognition in his time.

I have also reviewed the Samuel Fuller movies: I Shot Jesse James (1949) and Pickup On South Street (1953).

 

Everlasting Moments (2008)

★★★★★

 

Everlasting Moments is a 2008 Swedish drama from acclaimed director Jan Troell. Although it is not an extremely well known movie, it is one that really touched me emotionally, and I felt compelled to share my thoughts on it today.

Everlasting MomentsIn the early 1900’s, in Sweden, Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) wins a camera in a lottery. She and her husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), have no experience with photography, so they set it in a drawer and forget that it even exists.

The Larsson family lives in a lower class working neighborhood in Sweden. Sigfrid takes whatever jobs are available, while Maria spends her days doing odd jobs like house cleaning and laundry around the neighborhood. She also has her hands full raising their seven children.

The two things Maria didn’t know about Sigfrid when they were married were his love for other women and his love of Everlasting Momentsdrinking. The more he drinks, the more he looks for more women to enjoy. When he drinks he also becomes physically abusive toward Maria.

As times grow more difficult around World War I, Maria tries to sell her camera. She takes it to a photography store that is run by Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen). Instead of buying the camera from her, he teaches her how to use it properly, as well as develop her own photographs. What she produces are some amazing photographs that capture fascinating images of things and people that may seem ordinary. Oddly, Maria doesn’t have an understanding of her natural talent. She continues to improve as a photographer and is even able to bring in some money when Sigfrid is in jail.

Maria continues to gain confidence in her abilities, and she also begins to develop an intimate relationship with Sebastian. It is not a closeness based on physical needs, but rather an emotional one. Of course the problem is that it does Everlasting Momentsbegin to interfere with her marriage.

The movie then goes on to show the difficulties that this couple endures, and how they must work in order to keep their marriage and family from crumbling beneath them.

Prior to watching Everlasting Moments, I hadn’t heard anything about the film or about director Jan Troell. Based on this one experience, I must admit that I am highly impressed. Everlasting Moments was a breathtaking film that captured the spirit and essence of a specific time and place in history. Jan Troell has used the camera to capture shot after captivating shot as if he was putting together an immense photographic album to share with the world. I don ‘t feel as if I watched a movie about a persons life, but rather experienced Maria’s life through her eyes. Maria was able to open up her thoughts through Troell and his unique perspective on filmmaking, in order to share her story with the world.Everlasting Moments

Everlasting Moments is based on the book by Troell’s wife, Agneta Ulfsater-Troell. Maria Larsson is actually Agneta’s great aunt. As Agneta was writing the book, Jan said he wanted to make it into a movie. He felt that he identified with Maria in the story. Troell loves the art of photography and the idea of capturing solitary moments that can live on forever. On many of his movies, Troell is his own cinematographer because he loves the ability to improvise a shot during filming. Troell doesn’t always feel that he is even a director, and often feels he is in the wrong place while filming. He blames it on his lack of formal training as a director.

His feelings of not belonging in the director chair could have something to do with the path his career has taken. Jan Troell first gained success with his 1972 movie, The Emigrants. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including two nominations for Troell for Best Screenplay and Best Director, as well as a nomination for Best Picture. Troell was then lured to Everlasting MomentsHollywood, and over the next few years struggled to make a movie that he loved. His way of filming was much different from the American way, and the restrictions set upon him were frustrating and exhausting. Instead of being his own cinematographer, he was forced to rely on others. He ended up butting heads with many people, mostly cinematographers, and within a short time was ready to return to Sweden and his way of making movies. Troell has continued to work sporadically, and has continued to make critically acclaimed movies.

While filming Everlasting Moments in 2008, Troell was filled with a sadness thinking that it could prove to be his final movie. Luckily, he soon decided on another project and The Last Sentence is due to be released in December 2012.

As a worldwide fan of movies I was surprised, and a little disappointed, that I hadn’t seen any of Jan Troell’s movies. IEverlasting Moments have tried several times to find a copy of The Emigrants, but to no avail. The only reason I was able to watch Everlasting Moments, is because Criterion released it in their collection. After I finished Everlasting Moments and was so thrilled by what I had seen, I went to see what other Troell movies I could find. I was extremely disappointed to find that all but one was unavailable at this time. After reading about Jan Troell online, I have learned that he is considered one of the three greatest directors to ever come from Sweden. Although I have only seen this one movie, I don’t doubt this to be true. I am however questioning why his movies aren’t more widely produced. I will continue to try to find his movies, and if his other work is anywhere as remarkable as Everlasting Moments I am certain that my search will not be in vain.

The Black Swan (1942)

★★★

 

Pirate movies can be extremely fun. From the moment the opening credits begin, with a ship rolling through the waves The Black Swanand the big thunderous music pounding triumphantly through the speakers, everyone gets excited. The 1942 swashbuckling adventure, The Black Swan, is certainly no different. Directed by Henry King and starring his regular leading man Tyrone Power, this movie delights with the greatest of ease. After Spain and England sign a peace treaty, the pirates that have been lingering around Port Royal have a tough decision to make. They can become subjects of England and have their past crimes erased, or the can head out to sea and once again be England’s enemy. Captain Morgan (Laird Cregar) hasThe Black Swan already agreed with the King Of England to become the new Governor of Jamaica. He enlists his pirate friend, Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power), and his first mate, Tom Blue (Thomas Mitchell), to stay in Jamaica, but the villainous Captain Billy Leech (George Sanders) and his faithful first mate, Wogan (Anthony Quinn), set sail and vow to continue their pillaging on all English ships. Although Jamie would rather be at sea, he is loyal to Captain Morgan and he has also fallen in love (or lust) with former governor’s beautiful daughter, Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen The Black SwanO’Hara). She, however, wants nothing to do with him…at least that’s what she thinks! Is this the greatest pirate movie ever made? Well no, but it is still a fun adventurous romp, as well as being magnificently filmed. It won an Academy Award for its color cinematography and was nominated for awards for Special Effects and Scoring: Drama or Comedy. One of the reasons this movie is so fun to watch is the highly enjoyable acting by this wonderful cast. Tyrone Power and George Sanders are a great sword fighting pair, and I found them highly entertaining. Their chemistry is undeniable, which is why they paired together again. Maureen O’Hara was perfect in this role, and even at the young age of 22, had enough fire in her to take on asThe Black Swan many pirates as she could. Her quick wit and fast mouth keep the scenes light and funny, but her beauty and passion leave the movie feeling romantic. She is gorgeous, and her performance makes it obvious that she has the ability to be a major leading lady. It wasn’t her first movie (it was number eleven), but it is the earliest movie to show her “star power”.

Comanche Station (1960)

★★★★

 

“A lot of money has a way of making a man all greed inside.”

Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott made seven westerns together in the second half of the 1950’s. The last of them was Comanche Station, which was released in March of 1960. It was intended to be Scott’s last movie, but he was coaxed out Comanche Station of retirement to make one last movie, Ride The High Country (1962), for Sam Peckinpah.

Comanche Station is the tale of western wanderer Jefferson Cody (Scott). As the movie opens, he appears to be trying to trade goods with a group of Comanches. To the viewer’s surprise, we discover that he is trading everything for a white woman, Nancy Gates (Nancy Lowe).

They ride together out of Comanche territory to an outpost. Jefferson has heard of her, but wasn’t specifically looking forComanche Station her. When they get to the nearest outpost, they stop to water their horses. The post is empty, but not for long, as three men come riding in being chased by Indians. Jefferson joins in and helps fight off the Indians.

After the Indians leave we discover that the three men are outlaws. Their leader, Ben (Claude Akins), even knew Jefferson during the war. Ben informs Nancy that her husband has offered a $5,000 reward for her return. Jefferson says that he Comanche Stationdidn’t know about the reward, but she doesn’t believe him.

Ben talks to his two sidekicks, Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust), and tells them that he plans on going along with Jefferson and Nancy through the Indian country, until he gets the opportunity to kill Jefferson and Nancy too, if necessary.

“Oh, I admit I’ve never had much luck when it comes to women. Oh, I’ve run with a few, but nothing you could call serious. Except maybe that little gal down in Sonora. She said right out that she wanted to marry me. She told everybody… everybody but her husband. Oh, he came within that of doing me with a scatter gun. That taught me a lesson though – always check the brand to make sure you aren’t driving another man’s stock.”

Perhaps it’s not the most original idea for a western, but there are certain aspects that make Comanche Station different from other movies. There is this strange assortment of characters that all ended up together, and even though they don’tComanche Station agree about anything, they are willing to work together in a fight for survival. They’re misfits, like in the movies Clint Eastwood later would make, yet they all hold on to a common goal. (In this case, it’s staying alive.) Even though the audience, as well as Jefferson, knows that Ben is looking for a chance to kill him, when the Indians attack, Ben saves Jefferson’s life. It’s not because he wanted to save him, but because he needs him. Jefferson is the only character who doesn’t seem to need anyone but himself.

Many westerns, especially in the 50’s, seem to have a group of like-minded people coming together to defeat evil, but this story (written by Burt Kennedy) doesn’t even clearly show all the characters motivations until the end. Of course we can assume that Randolph Scott is our hero, but the movie develops slow enough for the characters to decide for themselves what kind of a future they want.

Comanche StationBudd Boetticher knew how to use space better than so many other directors of his time. There wasn’t a need for a close-up every couple of seconds. As our band of misfits travels through the vastness of the west, we feel that we are along for the ride as well. In a time when so many movies were shot on back lots and soundstages, every Boetticher movie looks and feels real.

Well, except for the leading lady that is saved from the clutches of the Indians with beautiful long, styled hair and perfectly placed make-up!