The influence on Cocteau is primary in La Belle et la Bête and L’Aigle à deux têtes, with Ophuls’ Liebelei before him Litvak has a vantage well-understood and vividly remembered by Altman, for example, in Cookie’s Fortune.
The film was highly praised by Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, who preferred it to Maxwell Anderson’s play on the same subject, though Nugent finds the early politics represented by Litvak rather mysteriously swept aside, like Romeo’s Rosaline.
Time Out Film Guide says it’s well-done “rubbish”, and of Litvak that it’s “his one really estimable picture.”
“A somewhat chilly subject” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
Lest Russian soil be bought for the extraction of oil by a foreign consortium, the grand duchess and her husband the prince cheerfully sign over to a Soviet commissar all the gold entrusted to them by the Tsar.
The circumstances of the couple’s life in Paris (cp. La Cava’s My Man Godfrey) are much if not all of the film, a setting for this jewel. For the occasion, Litvak outdoes Lubitsch.
The brutality of the commissar is cheerfully acknowledged by him as a “necessity”.
The nobility of this action is a matter of fulfilling the Tsar’s will in such an eventuality.
It did not seem to Frank S. Nugent in his New York Times review very likely.
In general, criticism has not esteemed this film as it ought, much more than a masterpiece.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
In the equivalent of two reels Litvak has the anecdote concerning a book called Crime and Research, he enters the underworld in the next and finds himself at home among Lang’s Berlin mob. “If he ain’t a lunatic, he must be a genius!”
The original Hudson River String Quartet (cf. Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers). “Well so long, Professor, and don’t take no lead quarters.” The original of Humbert’s diary, too, in a way.
J. Lee Thompson in The Passage has the end of Rocks. The original Catch-22 in the trial scene.
Screenplay by Wexley & Huston from Barré Lyndon, cinematography by Tony Gaudio.
Variety, “an unquestionable winner” (cited in Halliwell’s Film Guide with dim praise and Otis Ferguson). Time Out, “amusing anecdote”, Leonard Maltin likewise.
“America’s growing up” between Roosevelt and Taft. The desultory sportswriter turned failed novelist, the philandering banker and the man who has everything are brought to book.
Variety, “has the sweep of a virtual cavalcade of early 20th-century American history.” Leonard Maltin, “lavish”. TV Guide, “good drama”. Time Out, “turn-of-the-century melo”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “a prime example of Hollywood Soap Opera.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “well-made potboiler for women.”
Confessions of a Nazi Spy
The Mabuse plan for the U.S.A., run from Dr. Goebbels’ office to render chaos and step in triumphant. Nazi propaganda and espionage are meant to clear the way to South America.
That’s where they ended up, of course. Edward G. Robinson essays his pipe-smoking FBI agent ahead of Welles’ The Stranger. The rest of the cast was recognized at once for its depth and brilliance.
Castle on the Hudson
Sing Sing, a modern penitentiary for a gangster who finds Saturdays unlucky.
He’s better in than out, better dead than fed, according to the knowledge of life obtained during his sentence, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, as Curtiz has it.
All This, and Heaven Too
The entire panoply of a celebrated case, presented as analyzed by Racine’s Phèdre. The “musical introduction” before Rachel’s performance at the Théâtre Français is the prologue in America, filmed by Litvak with the faultless precision that is his distinctive mark.
At the center is the play, informing the historical events. It is coincident with the film, which is to be understood by its lights. Surrounding this inner structure like the seats of an amphitheater are the circumstances of French history touched upon by the screenplay, Napoleon, the Empire, the Restoration, 1848. This magic circle focuses an intense satire on the drama, and further delimits the scope of critical understanding.
Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Von Stroheim belong not to myth but to fairy-tale and romance. On the other hand, La Dolce vita, The Go-Between, The Comedians, Hour of the Wolf, Saraband, Doctor Jack, Citizen Kane, The Queen and The Servant are of the modern drama.
L’affaire du duc de Choiseul-Praslin has three personages, la Duchesse (Thésée), the governess (Hippolyte), le Duc (Phèdre). Even the wave that breaks upon the camera twice in montages representing the governess’s travels (from Southampton to Calais, from France to America) is a symbolic detail of the play, the god invoked in vengeance by Thésée, Neptune.
The classical tragedy thus presented through a prism of actuality with all the attendant intricacies and complications is the function of Litvak’s style in the body of the film.
City for Conquest
The structure is a brilliant combination of John Adams on “politics and war” and Samson eyeless in Gaza, where they don’t just throw dust in your eyes, they rub it in.
The upshot sets Gotham on its ear in Carnegie Hall.
Crowther thought it went on too long.
Out of the Fog
From Irwin Shaw, the come-and-go of a protection racketeer on the Brooklyn docks, strictly contemporaneous with Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
Meaninglessly filmed to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “literally as old-fashioned as sin.”
Incredibly, Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide) says this, “originally intended by Shaw as an anti-Fascist statement, the film’s message is inevitably confused by the fact that Mitchell and Qualen take the law into their own hands.”
Blues In The Night
A nightmare between two boxcars on the Great Western & Iowa.
It takes place in The Jungle across the river from New York, a disused roadhouse run by a gang of thieves.
The prologue speaks of starting your own band, no longer pounding out requests from drunks.
The actors are generally overkeyed into the drama for effect, Kazan is a notable actor in a substantial role.
This Above All
The shock of Dunkirk drives a soldier to desert, the shock of the Blitz brings him around.
This is a very simple and straightforward account rendered in highly complex terms. It could hardly do more to establish the disaster without diminishing the overall effect.
The style and technique are very advanced. “Great Stuff This” says a mirrored Bass ad reflecting the hero, “Keep the Home Fires Burning” takes a slow verse when his girl chimes in.
Bosley Crowther was one of many who had read the book, he compared it to the film like a querulous customer.
“Superior”, says Halliwell. “Lushly directed crap” (Time Out Film Guide).
The Long Night
To get rid of the gesticulating eejit and mountebank who pins a gewgaw on your girl and says she’s Montezuma’s daughter is something he drives you to with his own gun, and that’s World War II.
There’s this film in remembrance, and what happens after that.
“Film opens with bang-bang... picture is too grim” (Variety).
Halliwell calls it “empty”, the Monthly Film Bulletin disapproved of it as a remake of Le Jour se lève, Agee said both were “merely intelligent trash,” which no doubt Auden the wag would have said was preferable to merely unintelligent trash.
“Hollywood’s cannibalisation... bowdlerised and tricked out” (Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide).
Carné’s film is transposed to America and no mistake.
Sorry, Wrong Number
A marvel of composition, dizzying seascapes built in long recollection like Pinter’s Betrayal, finally to get to the present point.
The fate averted in Yorkin’s sequel to Arthur befalls the would-be wife.
Stanwyck in the last stages of fear looks like Anna Magnani in La Voix humaine.
Crowther thought the moral was something about telephones.
Litvak’s style exactly complements the structure.
the snake pit
Litvak’s great masterpiece on psychiatry as a healing art to suffering humanity, its father and mother are Sigmund Freud and Saint Dymphna.
The record of state hospitals as overcrowded, pressed for time, occasionally cruel, and Bedlams at bottom, also reveals a therapy that can be understood, that “identifies the light switch” interpreted by Huston in Freud.
Decision Before Dawn
The petty thief and circus roustabout, or the patriot?
The singular nightmare of ruined Germany appears as itself in the last days of the war, two POWs and an American intelligence officer go behind the lines.
The experience is that of the patriot, young and sensible, everything he sees tells the story.
The American bets on the thief as more reliable in the long run.
Act of Love
A sentimental journey to Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Some idiot of a captain during the war nixed the wedding and the girl had a fond memory of Villefranche.
Exceptional, bright memory of the war (screenplay by Irwin Shaw from Alfred Hayes), vivid bitterness, deprivation, hardship, rigors of combat over in the last months.
A very average GI, a very average French girl.
A very average American tourist on the Riviera, the captain.
Bosley Crowther established that it was a dull, morose film lacking in “poetic justification”, as a matter of fact he says in his New York Times review “it is difficult to tell from where we’re sitting who went soft in the head.”
The picture ends, not as Crowther has it “in a fadeout of sentimental mooning and tears” but like so many such journeys after the war.
The Deep Blue Sea
England’s in it, an RAF pilot lands her, he goes, she must stand.
The structure, with explicit reference to the Battle of Britain, nevertheless eluded Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, if that’s of any consequence.
Losey has many variants of this, from The Sleeping Tiger to The Romantic Englishwoman, as a consequence of the misunderstandings.
Lubitsch and Stroheim and Preminger vie for the crown, it belongs to Litvak here.
The technique very effectively makes use of the theatrical element as thematic, and introduces Helen Hayes as the grande dame.
Bosley Crowther’s infinitely fatuous pen supplies Litvak with an epigraph from the New York Times, which speaks of “Miss Bergman’s long absence from commendable films.”
Truffaut was badly mistaken, as sometimes happens to the best of critics. “Anatole Litvak despises you,” he wrote, “despise him back” (this is the review in which he also says, “this is 1957, when it is our governments that would cheerfully declare, ‘The State is us’”).
The vehicle is an airline bus from Budapest to Vienna just after the uprising, but the film is Sternberg’s Shanghai Express with a notable interpolation of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes at the border hotel.
Therefore, “Boule de suif”, who in this instance is a divorced English aristocrat facing a Soviet major, her paramour is a wounded “Hungarian counter-revolutionary” traveling under a British passport.
The psychological symbolism of a bullet in the Hungarian’s shoulder, the major’s caged passion, and the lady’s ambivalence, is the salient expression in a whirl of dramatic circumstances, treated to the point of exhaustion and suddenly revealed each time.
Crowther, who says one scene is badly written but not which one, has this amusing comment, “while it isn’t precisely the finest comprehension of a great international tragedy that might be conceived, it is a taut and tearing recount of a plausible border incident.”
The romance of a Paris decorator and a European businessman. The former is consoled by an American while the latter is away on his various jaunts.
Critical misunderstandings are led by Judith Crist and Bosley Crowther of the New York Times.
Five Miles to Midnight
The late war, the Occupation, guilt of the appeaser, with more or less oblique reference to Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz). Le Couteau dans la plaie, a phrase arranged by Beckett decisively as “the screaming silence of no’s knife in yes’s wound.” Outside Chez Régine, and again at “a boîte called La Pomme d’Eve”, a source of The Night of the Generals... “I got all the gangsters in Chicago after me.”
Framed as an insurance fraud, which is why the last call is to a certain Walter (Double Indemnity, dir. Billy Wilder). Hitchcock is cited from I Confess (the detour signs), Rear Window (the apartment building), and The Trouble with Harry (le petit homme armé).
Screenplay Versini-Viertel-Wheeler, décor Alexandre Trauner, costumes Guy Laroche (who lends his boutique), cinematography Henri Alekan, score Mikis Theodorakis.
Reviewers as a rule hadn’t the foggiest from the earliest. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “rather contrived and far-fetched... a bit fraudulent and tedious...” TV Guide, “tawdry little melodrama... a sorry disappointment for the gifted director... none of the plot works, the leads being too lightweight to carry the heavy tale... the acting is miserable... dismal drama...” Dan Pavlides (All Movie Guide), “tragic and suspenseful tale of domestic abuse...” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “hysterical melodrama... far too long for its content,” citing the Monthly Film Bulletin on “panic... fear and guilt,” also Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in Show, “one of those movies without a country that are becoming as fixed a part of the international scene as...”
The Night of the Generals
From the outset, The Night of the Generals was badly misunderstood (by the New York Times, for example) as a whodunit. Nichols in Catch-22 shows an understanding of the real structure, a developing witness to Hitler’s rise that ends demonstrably at the beginning, in the beer hall.
The final summation of thought in this late masterpiece is allowed to express itself in tacitly Biblical terms, a harlotry of the nations beset by a scourge of God, to the end precisely of obtaining this Jonah of sorts.
He hides in the lavatory at a prostitute’s screams, through a hole he espies a general’s striped pants. Major Grau finds three generals in Warsaw without an alibi that night. The event coincides with General Tanz’s destruction of “half the city”.
Two years later in Paris, 1944, another murder and a failed arrest, coincident with the Stauffenberg plot. The witness is framed and flees.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Nibelungen Division’s formation is celebrated in Hamburg at a beer hall, Tanz is the speaker. It’s 1965, he has ended his sentence for war crimes, the witness is brought forth.
Tanz is explicitly identified with Hitler, there is no mystery.
Two aspects of the film are immediately striking, first the visual dominance of Litvak’s camerawork, which is prepared as an overture by Robert Brownjohn’s title sequence of uniform braid and decorations, fishnet and eyes, a red light bulb and a sword in jump cuts against a backdrop of darkness. The widescreen images are complex to an overwhelming degree, foregrounds and backgrounds are treated to an “inessential” focus compounding the frame. Litvak’s tilt-and-pan with dolly and zoom engages the entire frame at once with vertiginous perspectives.
Vincent van Gogh is the leading figure in a locked room of “decadent” pictures at the Jeu de Paume, property of Goering. The façade of General Tanz crumbles at the sight.
Secondly, the dramatic conveyance isolates Tanz, he is “a perfect maniac”, the rest are sane, bound by circumstances which they resist more or less ably. They exist as real portraits seldom do, the action of the drama is on a different scale.
Polanski in The Pianist takes out the theme of the witness, a music student whose studies were interrupted by the war, for closer examination. Lance Corporal Hartmann (Mailer’s title, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, translates these names, Hartmann and Tanz) has a tryst with a general’s daughter in the royal bedroom of the occupied palace at Warsaw, by a pleasantry they are identified with the King and Queen of Poland.
To the “new world order” proclaimed by General Tanz, Litvak responds with another order of filmmaking. In every sphere, he has made a film among the greatest ever produced, and it is entirely a wonder that no-one has ever noticed.
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
She’s an overworked gal Friday at a Paris advertising firm (she walks into a fashion shoot and is caught in a magnifier), she has to work late, sleeping over with the boss and his wife.
She falls asleep and the film happens, which is the decisive structural point.
Critics never noticed it.
The car is her boss’s, the glasses are tinted and her own, the gun is a Winchester in the trunk, there is a body, after an affair.
The surreal conundrum on a drive to the Côte d’Azur is marvelously capped with a supervening plot (the dream explains itself), yet critics were displeased.
What, to a professional, could be more demeaning?
“A kind of Preminger without the pizzazz,” said Jay Cocks of Time.