The Moon and Sixpence
The artist and his biographer, they are not Gauguin and Maugham but one Strickland and a certain Wolfe.
The great work is a holocaust to “pride and contempt”, there is no place on Earth for it, “the ugliness of his life finally destroyed him,” says a title, concluding the film.
Strickland has run through London and Paris and Marseilles, Tahiti is his home.
Wolfe has a portly valet who groans picking up after him, and a perfectly normal sense of the proprieties (he thinks Strickland hath a devil in him), the artist describes himself as a man in the water who must somehow swim.
Lewin exercises the most brilliant technique to achieve the design of his work, a vague resemblance to the real persons has been noted.
“It was as if I were present at the beginning of the world.”
The problems of painting are not those of literature and film, though a similarity exists. Ken Russell takes perfect cognizance of this. Max Brod refused to burn Kafka’s works, and so we have “the secret king of German prose” (Nabokov).
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times contributed a prize piece of imbecility on “the popular conception of a genius”. Variety praised the direction as “keenly intelligent.” Geoff Andrew (Time Out) finds “unusually sophisticated Hollywood entertainment.” Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “extraneous exotica.” Leonard Maltin, “surprisingly adult”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “a little stodgy”.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
It will readily be seen that a trilogy is formed with The Moon and Sixpence and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, or rather that they are the same theme in three views.
It is equally obvious that the question raised by Maugham for his own purposes is answered explicitly by Wilde, the famous prescription that the Life or the Art might be beautiful, Maupassant considers the nature of the problem.
The repetition of scenes and material, even actors, from one film to another is a particular constant.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “one might venture to slip it a ribald razz.” Variety, “interesting experiment.” Geoff Andrew (Time Out), “generally underrated”. Leonard Maltin, “haunting”. TV Guide, “subtle and frightening”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “fascinating”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “elegant variation on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” citing James Agee and Richard Winnington to no purpose.
“I confess, I never could resist Lady Agatha’s quail.” A great and terrible work.
The Shooting Party (dir. Alan Bridges) remembers the hunting accident. The final scene recalls Citizen Kane, as some writers have noted.
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami
“This is the history of a scoundrel,” the modern Punch.
A work almost frightening in its sublimity, a reader of Maupassant, Lewin, his key work, a successful analysis of The Moon and Sixpence as a close variant.
Metty cinematography, Milhaud score, Aldrich assisting the director, Milhaud conducting.
It is very profitable to Jacques Becker (Les Amants de Montparnasse), “now is the time to buy. The painters are all starving. They’ve not a sou!” The painting of all paintings, Ernst’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, in Technicolor. “Yes,” says Bel Ami looking at it. Certain lessons of Welles are well taken.
“I could have been happy with Clotilde,” says Bel Ami, the essential paradox. He is a journalist, what says the profession? According to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “really, it is incredible that a picture could be made from a Guy de Maupassant novel and be as tiresome as this. But there’s no denying the evidence,” which in his view is Lewin’s responsibility “who not only directed but wrote the screen play” though he did not create the “downright nauseous” painting. Variety was bogged down by the novel, “cast is exceptionally strong and, under Lewin’s skilled direction, is mostly responsible for the film’s merits.” Tom Milne (Time Out) neglects to understand it, “if there is a villain it is a society so” blah blah blah, “a sadly neglected film.” According to Leonard Maltin, “delicious, literate”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) finds “esoteric story material” and a “fascination with Egyptian sculpture and feline symbolism.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “tame and stuffy”.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
The structure is profoundly simple, a one-two-three punch and then a magnification of it with the introduction of a torero who meets his match, and it serves from first to last as a Khayyam exegesis.
The thought is elaborate and extremely fine, like the production, the writing and the filming.
“Pandora Reynolds, of Indianapolis and points east” meets the honest-to-goodness fliegende Holländer in Esperanza, Spain after watching a sot kill himself for her, and another suitor push his racing car over a cliff to satisfy her.
The torero injects a scene of comedy and a welcome analysis, the Dutchman cannot be killed, that is the curse. The torero, stupefied at seeing his rival stride into the toreo after several knife wounds in the back, stands stock-still and is gored.
The racing car driver sets a new land speed record on the beach at Esperanza, even with the engine on fire.
Initially, the critical response was rather poor (Time, New York Times, Variety), it has now somewhat improved.
Khayyam’s Moving Finger reveals finally its identity with Shakespeare’s “this gives life to thee.”
In Morocco, a tale of the old witch and her superstitions practiced upon a young woman, a Parisian doctor fights for her.
The charms of this are so patent they are a well of understanding, a certain allure of Robert Wise’s The Haunting and still more of Jimmy Sangster’s Lust for a Vampire is at the heart of the structure, a formidable construction for a volatile analysis.
Tribal hostility is another factor. A plague on the people is a blessing to cutthroats. Lewin ironically cites The Sheik (dir. George Melford) the better to turn the title character into a Biblical heroine.
It is certainly a work of genius. “The head of a gazelle” for a Parisian fireplace, or the wife of the Caid.
“Handsome but hopeless”, said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “the screenplay is terrible... a model of dramatic non sequiturs,” etc.
Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide is caught short, “Lewin’s weakest film.” Halliwell’s Film Guide gives out that it is “pretentious and ill-considered”.
The Living Idol
“The most startling discovery in the whole of Mexican archæology,” a stone jaguar in a pyramid, a gassy girl strangely affected by the sight of it, Juanita.
In Baudelairean terms, the title needs no explanation.
“Superstition is the name that science gives to truth.”
The jaguar god, the jaguar cult, all in a folded tortilla, believe it.
Dance of skirts and gentlemen, fiesta (Eastman Color by Jack Hildyard, score by Rodolfo Halffter).
The jaguar at the fiesta, with his tail between his legs.
“The disease of our time, which believes in flying saucers and has no faith.”
The director’s formidable genius takes him to Mexico City after off-camera journalistic exploits in Korea delay the action.
Metempsychosis, Mayan mythology, Tourneur and Wise, “the problem of evil” stated from Blake’s Tyger, “a magnificent poem, the most profound in the language, perhaps in any language.”
Samuel Fuller’s Tigrero, the missing link. A lecture on human sacrifice. A theory of art. Apotheosis of Christianity. A paradox of culture.
“Nothing worth explaining can be explained,” says the archæologist.
Far less than this would have nonplussed Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “esoteric, incomprehensible and absurd.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide seconds that, “but rather enjoyable”.