Pete Roleum and His Cousins
Losey, Bowers and Eisler for Standard Oil at the 1939 World’s Fair on the manifold uses and benefits of the stuff.
A mighty damn amusing film spectacle (a colloquy with the house).
“Nothing to do with anything... but oil!”
A Child Went Forth
Summer camp is envisaged as a wartime necessity and a peacetime benefit, one such place is filmed by Losey almost entirely with his camera on the children playing.
He has an objective interest in these ruralized tots and toddlers three to seven years of age, and a professional one. A girl’s nap below a sunlit window anticipates Wyeth, a boy blowing bubbles in his pink lemonade recalls Chardin. There is above all perhaps a sense of Winslow Homer.
But these children are in no particular time or any country. “Freedom, independence, and the discipline of common sense” are specified in Munro Leaf’s narration. It is possible that Malle knew this film and paid homage to it in Black Moon.
Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth”, provides the title and part of the text, “Affection that will not be gainsay’d, the sense of what is real, the thought if after all it should prove unreal, / The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious whether and how, / Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks? / Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes and specks what are they?”
The Boy with Green Hair
Losey’s psychological savvy would seem almost miraculous if we had only the critics to go by, their primitive understanding (Sarris, Simon) comes to grief on this film in particular, above all, first and foremost. Never mind the patient work to establish all the details that go into the exploded mind of a war orphan, and then his stilted vision of others like him depicted on posters from overseas, and lastly his great awareness of the mysteries behind his suffering, the letter to his older self, never mind all that.
The rigorous authenticity, the supreme art, and the visionary quality, all gone to waste because Joe Doakes the movie reviewer sits on his own head for breakfast.
Snobbery and brutishness lead to a lynch mob, or nearly. The middle term of this equation is beautifully realized as the working press, working.
And since the lynching fails, a rational editor gets his paper wrecked, the Union.
So he goes across the tracks and runs off his daily on a press used once a week by La Luz.
Not that rational, he’s got a defense fund up for the poor scared kid a concatenation of absurd events has made the object of a manhunt.
Great picture, not quite admired as it should be.
Losey on Lang is a copyist’s film, often to advantage, a great deal of the time. The film has been transposed, however, into an American crime drama, Lang’s vertical structure is subsumed by the mob’s invasion of the Bradbury Building from basement to roof. The intention and the style are quite different.
Corman’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre states the theme very clearly. The mob functions every day, the citizenry do not care unless some particular outrage is committed (or, says Losey’s crime boss, there’s a political angle). The mob wrecks lives and kills children, kills their hope of ever being men and women, yet a single depraved and helplessly sick man alarms the populace, rouses the police, brings down the weight of society and sets the mob in self-defense after him, the publicity couldn’t hurt in a grand jury investigation (Endfield’s The Underworld Story has this notion of the mob rising into society).
Men are evil, the killer was told by his mother, “not people but men”, they must be punished to be good. Therefore he kills children and small birds so that they do not enter the evil world of men, and so that he may be punished.
The cops do a lot of legwork, the mob is a racket, much of the filming is conducted on location, the direction is pure Losey where it is not Lang.
The true public servant is solid as a rock, boring, and likes his work. His crooked counterpart is played by Van Heflin.
Which gives you the motor court he presides over outside Las Vegas, and the abandoned mining town that is his place of last resort.
The structure is easily understood as a mirror arrangement out of Losey’s M. The influence of Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice has been noted (by Halliwell), Welles’ The Stranger is akin.
The top of the heap is a pile of slag.
The magnificent technique is exactly what it was a dozen years later, when it was noticed, and not so fine as another dozen years further on, when it was disregarded.
The Big Night
Losey answers one of the great queries, what is it about critics?
Critic = Judge in Greek. We even have the Polish translation, Sedziasky.
Al Judge has a sister, the victim wouldn’t marry her, she killed herself.
The victim couldn’t, he’s still married, she left him for somebody else.
Borges has a similar story of love and death in a night, “The Night of the Gifts”.
It will surprise no-one that Crowther vituperated this in the New York Times. Variety also ran a pan.
Stranger on the Prowl
The theme is shared simultaneously with Charles Crichton’s Hunted and J. Lee Thompson’s The Yellow Balloon, more or less.
Losey brings this to bear on Oliver Twist, in Italy, with precisely the punchline of Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D., also simultaneous.
This is a complex proposition, and no doubt about it. The Italian title, Imbarco a mezzanotte, is also good.
A.W. of the New York Times was pleased to see Muni, but had no use for the film.
The actor has a complicated shift, a weak stowaway drifting hungrily through town, then a hale and hearty vagabond with a .45 to sell for passage, throughout a ringer for William Faulkner.
The Sleeping Tiger
“London... this evening...” The model is Hitchcock, in the minutiæ of technique, in the spectacular action shots, and most of all in the conception of acting as precise representation. This conveys more faster than anything else could, except music.
Almost from the first few seconds, it’s unmistakably akin to The Servant, and a few seconds later it’s The Romantic Englishwoman.
Most other films would stop at the conclusion of Dr. Esmond’s treatment. The continuation, distantly related to Nabokov and Truffaut, is a very difficult modulation. A significantly precise film, from a technical standpoint, and but for the omission of necessary retakes (in the car chase) due to budgetary limitations, one of the apices of British cinema in this regard (Bitter Sweet, Pygmalion, The Third Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey). Godard speaks somewhere of a continuity lapse as moving and beautiful (there is one in It’s a Wonderful Life, for example). The perfection of Losey’s films is bound to find human checks occasionally.
A cornucopia of direct influences or reflections and transmissions, That Cold Day in the Park, The Terminal Man, A Woman Under the Influence, Equus, etc.
The precise lighting shows a very controlled naturalism casting shadows for variegated purposes, defining realms of light within the playing area, or structural positioning within the shot, and is not less unusual than the camerawork. Malcolm Arnold’s score is a Losey score.
Finger of Guilt
Ishmael in Moby Dick had just preceded his work here, Basehart as a Hollywood film editor turned executive producer in England borrows a characteristic of Huston’s for the voice in certain circumstances.
The drama, a case of blackmail in a way, shapes up as a “succession of images” that go directly into Kazan’s The Last Tycoon, and there is a very nice conjunction with Pinter’s Tea Party in the eye examination that begins Losey’s film.
The mistress who never was, the boss’s wife in Hollywood, the old flame now signed for Eclipse at Commonwealth Pictures, Ltd., the father-in-law who runs the studio, his assistant jealous of the boss’s honor, and Rosenbaum says it was shot in two weeks (as The Intimate Stranger).
Time without pity
A clever, driving man of industry (he’s in motor cars) can kill a girl just like that, her young man goes to the gallows on circumstantial evidence.
The police and the lawyer and the Home Office simply have no basis on which to allege another killer.
And so, hours from the hanging, the young man’s father arrives in London, just out of a Montreal sanatorium after a long drunk, and he’s a failed novelist, a very unreal person.
The father totters and stumbles through the case and gradually divines the real answer, but still has no evidence and no confession, therefore he contrives to be killed by the murderer.
The real so real it hides the truth, the unreal so unreal it can do nothing for it, cancel each other out.
Critics have been led astray by various aspects, which are ironic in truth, like the M.P. holding a press conference for a bill against capital punishment, or the murderer’s wife and her love for the gentle and lovable young man.
Revudeville at the Windmill Theatre has the victim’s sister among the chorines, the father interviews her in the wings and later at a caf’ nearby, the young man was a vicious brute who beat the girl black and blue, wrong man.
The material later figures in La Truite.
One of the most striking images is never seen but only described. Back in Canada, locked up with all the mail the patient was not allowed to read, is a stack of the English magazines he enjoys, and in among the pages the murderer’s suicide note on blue writing-paper, put there in a hurry and forgotten.
The Gypsy and the Gentleman
You can seat an English critic before a Gainsborough Picture and he will see nothing, try the experiment. Fortunately, like Whistler before him, there was Losey, whose self-sufficient analysis of this film is The Servant.
He serves as a pivot from the great works of that studio to the British masterpieces of subsequent years by Richardson (Tom Jones), Schlesinger (Far from the Madding Crowd) et al., and this, as has been pointed out (Halliwell mentions The Man in Grey contemptuously), is a Regency costume drama (cinematography by Jack Hildyard).
Thinking it over, Time Out Film Guide sagely says it’s “not without interest”, Halliwell’s Film Guide holds that it is “a barnstormer notable only for waste of talent.”
The material is very closely related to Renoir’s La Chienne and Lang’s Scarlet Street, Leslie Arliss deserves mention indeed.
Off a London bus, beside the Thames.
The artist is surprised to learn that the lady is dead, and that she was no lady after all but a tart.
The lady is not dead, a tart is dead, her husband’s mistress.
From this the rest can be understood, add that the artist is localized in a Van Gogh constellation, the husband is a diplomat, he showered gifts upon the tart, even a Van Dyck study and objets d’art.
Detective Inspector Morgan of the Criminal Investigation Department handles this one, his theory is wrong (“beautiful theory,” says Charlie Chan in similar circumstances, “too bad not true”).
Crime scene with flashbacks as the suspect tells the tale (Bond Street art gallery, Tate Gallery, half-day Chelsea studio), police station, airport to confound the diplomat.
Eugene Archer of the New York Times was quite enthusiastic (he saw it as Chance Meeting).
It is generally seen as a more or less clever policier (Halliwell’s Film Guide, etc.).
After this, there had to be Eva.
On a London bus, beside the Thames.
He does not pay, it does not pay, the money just disappears.
The big shot goes on a caper that’s sold out from the start, a syndicate operator shops him for the lot, the consolation prize is “a passport and a ticket to nowhere, by a circuitous route.”
The girl he loves is to die as “a bad risk”.
Strenuous efforts leave him dead like LeRoy’s Little Caesar, the money up for grabs in a furrowed field that snow has fallen on.
Critics have consistently lost the circuitous route and missed the point apologetically on Losey’s behalf.
Sarris in The Village Voice blamed producer’s cuts for the astonishing swiftness of, for example, the racetrack robbery, though presumably Losey had seen Kubrick on the subject and felt less not more was needed.
The self-delusion of the tough hood (Stanley Baker) in one mystery after another that draws him along a fool’s game is the entire show, unless his final doggedness against the syndicate be reckoned in the account somehow.
The director asks his assistant to get a second option from the novelist, thus the fall of man at a cocktail party in Venice.
The assistant and the novelist even marry, but Eve (introduced as Eva Olivieri, that is Ève Olivier) destroys them both.
The second theme of Samson and Delilah is vividly seen amid two columns at the Hotel Danieli bar, which recurs in the final lines.
The classical statement of the artist’s position has him signing his name to a gift from the gods, this cannot be manufactured.
Hence the surrealism of Eva, and Samson’s secret. Adam’s strength did nothing to create the world.
The producers reduced the work by a third or a fourth and withdrew it from the Venice Film Festival, Losey repined. Crowther said in the New York Times they “didn’t cut it enough.”
The specific construction has the assistant go to Rome with the director, Eve (the novelist calls her Eve) fills the void by a surrealistic means Buñuel admired in Cet Obscur Objet Du Désir.
“The book had made me famous, the film had made me rich.”
The material is extensively reworked from Blind Date.
The book is l’etranger en enfer (so given on the cover), sconosciuto in inferno (the assistant, whose name is Francesca, reads T.S. Eliot in Italian), presumably stranger in hell, a tale of Wales by Tyvian “Ty” Jones.
The producers wanted Godard, who a year later directed Le Mépris.
These are The Damned
How a twenty-percent discount on Losey’s film came to be distributed belatedly in America is best explained, perhaps, by English critics and their terrible incomprehension. “A scientist keeps radioactive children in a cliff cave, sealed off from the world’s corruption. Absurdly pompous, downcast and confused sci-fi melodrama set in Weymouth, with a secondary plot about motor-cycling thugs,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, which also cites the absurdly pompous and confused remark by Tom Milne, “a folie de grandeur”. The New York Times received the material more gratefully as a result.
Edgecliff Establishment (“No Unauthorised Personnel”), housing nine children born the same week and accidentally exposed to radiation that has left them with a very low body temperature and radioactive themselves, therefore immune to the effects of an inevitable war.
The “secondary plot” that initiates the film is actually the main one, as this is a film about Teddy boys who are projections of a government policy admitting the possibility of atomic war, hence the sculptress obliterated (she turns up again in A Clockwork Orange). The identification of delinquents and test subjects is made at the end when a blight like that in Kramer’s On the Beach is released (the children themselves, freed briefly). The last fact is the sad downcast one that faceless children’s voices calling from the cliffs are Teddy boys and government ministers, rightly understood.
The widescreen cinematography takes a planetary view of England once or twice, for good measure. Hawks’ Scarface theme figures in the gang leader and his sister. The vacationing American is a wartime motif (Hawks’ Today We Live, for example), his boat is called Dolce Vita, the compliment is repaid in the motorcycle tour at the end of Fellini’s Roma. An excellent score illuminates the views of Dorset.
To build cities in Brazil for refugees from Asia Minor. Delayed in London, setting up house.
Welles is the conscious mickey (Citizen Kane) to deflect the camera editing (The Stranger) that is a new refinement.
La dolce vita, repaid by Fellini in “Toby Dammit”.
Don Siegel favors the opening shot in Dirty Harry (tower to trees to Crapper, whence Barrett).
The Gypsy and the Gentleman.
King & Country
It’s a long way of saying that a deserter under such conditions as are depicted in this film and who is executed by firing squad is correctly understood to have been killed in action, the opening shot states the theme in a lengthy and very precise camera movement along a triumph and a memorial to the fallen.
Time Out Film Guide considers this a version of The Servant, Eugene Archer speaks for his confreres in the title of his New York Times review, “Attack on War”.
Housman, Beardsley, Carroll, Masefield.
If you want to know why Welles labored so long in the vineyards of Europe, it was for this film, that it should arise, and so it did.
Dirk Bogarde’s impersonation of an American dictating a letter on “widows and orphans” is abandoned in mid-flight. Clive Revill as the financial advisor accepts a blank British ultimatum as cheaper, too, by telegram.
“Pacco will understand,” says he.
“Hm, I suppose so. He reads the comic strips.”
Those labors include Sir Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
“Oleg, can it be that this egg is fertilized?”
There is an admirable syntax in Losey’s constructions that again repays the price of admission.
A very fine bit of Goldfinger on the mountain road, following on a musical duet, with a surprise ending and continuation.
“Do you mean, really flash?”
Dialogue of Gabriel and Modesty.
“We are under a flag of truce, remember.”
“You’re on board the Andronicus, bound from Bezerta to Dubrovnik, with a cargo of fruit and nuts.”
“He’s a fruit merchant, see?”
“He is a nut.”
The Battle of the River Plate for the two observers in port.
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen...”
Thunderball (Dr. No). The screaming lobsters become articulate in Nichols’ The Day of the Dolphins.
Tosca on the gypsy sailing craft.
“I’m the villain of the piece.”
Gabriel tells Modesty, “To destroy you would be to destroy myself.”
Fifty million pounds in diamonds to a sheik for oil, Gabriel wants them (the resemblance of his island villa to Sissy Goforth’s in Boom is not fortuitous).
As later in Welles’ F for Fake, the magic act early on must be observed closely, Losey gets it clear on film.
Lawrence of Arabia for the sheik’s exaltation, The Secret of the Purple Reef for the gunman’s exuberance.
The creature Gabriel has an ex-wife who keeps tame men in trim, Modesty forbids.
Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp) is the man of the hour (in Paris, Michael Craig).
The Minister is Scottish (Alexander Knox), so is the financial advisor, the fratello is Italian, of course, and Harry Andrews negotiates Modesty for the government.
The sheik arrives in the nick of time like the angel of Hodges’ Flash Gordon with his hordes, “his banners flying” (and with unique reference to John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!, and Thunderball, and the duet).
Monica Vitti as the heroine.
It bewildered Bosley Crowther twice, he tells us.
The one about the Austrian princess and the three men of Oxfordshire, a student prince (“You’re standing on his face!”), an archæology don on the television whose wicket falls, and a philosophy don who sends her packing.
The impossible object is Bresson’s Affaires Publiques, but the image on a travel poster in Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver serves the turn, Venus de Milo with a Hitler moustache.
A rock in the boiling sea, pull back through a slit in the villa to include a serpentine column shafting a griffin. Just at the end, after many peregrinations, the camera barely indicates a return to this shot (serpentine), then abandons suggestion for symbol (this very slow opening shot redresses the split achieved by Welles with a slow dolly-in that ultimately separates Sloane and Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai).
Sissy Goforth, Flora to strangers, owns an island. She bought it with the proceeds of endless marriages, Harlan Goforth (the first) was a “king of munitions”, the sixth a poet who must have inspired Shirley MacLaine’s ironic title, Don’t Fall Off the Mountain. Mrs. Goforth has a bodyguard (brownshirt dwarf with dogs) and a secretary and Italian staff who “don’t even understand their own bloody language” when she orders them about.
Angelo Della Morte to her on Isola Goforth. It’s simple enough to have baffled the critics, anyway.
There is a beautiful contrapposto to be drawn from the Witch of Capri in reference to Frank & Leslie’s Pull My Daisy. The real source of the play’s failure and the film’s is the certainty that deep political satire of both sides wins no friends.
The Witch exists to dish the dirt on the Angel to extravagant Goforth dying high above the Mediterranean on her rock-strewn isle with Easter Island figurines. The widow keeps a monkey and a mynah on her terrazzo chained and caged, respectively. She is a monster of ingratitude, “the milk train doesn’t stop here anymore,” human kindness is abstracted from her absolute droit du domaine.
The Angel, Christopher Flanders, is “a professional house-guest”, the poet of a single volume and a sculptor of Calder’s school. He braves the sea by leaping from a power boat after his bags at the culmination of a sequence inculcating Antonioni’s boat-camera in L’Avventura for a deft visitation and a précis of the vigor in all the performances.
Losey’s widescreen compositions pivot on the terrazzo in an up-angle of unusual perspective through the railing, Flanders small in the lower left, Mrs. Goforth and the secretary looming large at center and right, the railing cuts the picture horizontally, the two women behind and above it, Flanders below.
The Hamlet ending is an union dropped (a diamond ring) into a glass of wine and cast down the cliff. Barone Bill Ridgeway, the Witch of Capri, is an adjunct of that “heartless world” divested finally.
Apart from the satire, Williams’ position (the title adds “by Tennessee Williams”) artistically has been questioned as harsh or “moralizing”, indifferent critics could not see Mammon for their unease.
Elizabeth Taylor follows Hermione Baddeley and Tallulah Bankhead with a fully-formed technique that devours Williams’ dialogue and dispenses it as poetically just. It’s a throwaway so natural it seems artless, the drama gets its way by deliberate application. So much energy is conducted into the visual field that this is one of Truffaut’s “film-creations”, the view is Losey’s of an act in train. Perfect response is absolute vigor from Richard Burton, fires controlled nor banked nor blazing, a figure of health.
Noël Coward as the Witch wears a specially-tailored suit and halloos from the funicular, a bemused and enthralled figure of fun.
The “bloody bitch of the world” dictates her memoirs from villa to villina ubiquitously over loudspeakers, that her secretary may transcribe. Her scurrilous recall of failed mountings fills the air, she expatiates on “the meaning of life”, it is a memory. Here she moves across the terrazzo by night, firepots flare while two sitarists play, she wears a “Kabuki” headdress out of haute couture with Klimt-gown (or Signac’s Fénéon) to match, offering gull’s eggs (“it hampers their reproduction”) and a gargantuan red fish cooked whole to Ridgeway her guest (“I couldn’t possibly”), she moves again, “just a memory.”
The sound of waves crashing is given by the title. “The shock of each moment,” says Flanders, “of still being alive.” Mrs. Goforth coughs blood, “paper rose”, and dies like Camille. Her “naturalness of nature” is her pride. “I have lots of art treasures in my bedroom, including myself.”
A “piccolo passagiatto” puts Flanders on the railing above the sea in his Japanese warrior’s robe and sword (left by the poet-husband) defiantly, an up-angle two-shot with Mrs. Goforth anxious for him suggests Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, a down-angle with the sea as background Koster’s My Cousin Rachel.
The exceptional subtlety of the construction floats Williams some splendid conceits, Flanders according to the Witch has a “sleeping trick” of pills with an early call, he gains good will in rich houses thusly, the artist on a suicidal brink.
“Another goddamn village delegation” greets the island’s proprietress, a fisherman was mauled, his widow repines. Rudi (Michael Dunn, a sharp performance) the bodyguard is forthwith commanded to post a cave canem on the “forbidden entry” signs.
The Earth Is a Wheel in a Great Big Gambling Casino is the title of Flanders’ Calder-mobile. “What’s human or inhuman is not for human decision,” says Mrs. Goforth, who did not rise to her eminence without being clever. Dried flowers adorn her vases and table, the ultramodern villa somewhat resembles the one in Jack Smight’s Harper.
Flanders admits he is a disappointment to some. The Witch is quite taken, though a swath of rich women are no more. Flanders explains, “I’m a man who has lost many friends.”
The secretary is a widow, he does two things for her. The late husband’s photo goes into a drawer, the sleeping pills are removed. Mrs. Goforth is daily racked with pain, she keeps an Italian doctor on staff.
The critical response to play and film is entirely unwarranted except as a political inevitability. Ebert saw nothing but a rewrite of Huston’s The Night of the Iguana as though Shakespeare had not themes in his workshop. Canby’s review is amazing in his contempt for the artists of whose profession he is the sole arbiter or Great Assbite.
The whore who lands her ass in a tub of butter becomes, as Sartre says, respectueuse, “gentlemen came every day,” her daughter dies into life, so runs the parable.
It’s fairly easy to see a line of development from The Servant to this film by way of first Accident and then the incredibly maligned Losey-Williams collaboration Boom!, and the attenuation of the academic theme, but there is an even more direct understanding of Secret Ceremony available, that it is a direct response to Our Mother’s House or anyway to the belief expressed by that film’s director and leading actor that they had somehow failed to bring the point home satisfactorily, from the point of view of spectators.
In this understanding, Losey has clarified the situation beautifully by translating the work out of its childhood setting, the faux mother is a streetwalker, the daughter fully-grown but childish of mind, the husband a stepfather and traveling professor. Two aunts, sisters of the late first husband, complete the milieu.
Much of Losey’s work is explicated further on, the feminine bath is recognizable in Steaming, the beach scene in La Truite.
Losey has quite a startling overture in the grand manner of Ford or Minnelli, not stylistically but as pure cinema and to offset all the dramatic representation. It combines monumental exteriors and rapid cutting to give a picture of St. Mary Magdalene Church as Van Gogh’s Auvergne amidst bare ground and new buildings in London.
The Cocteau element in all this is worth mentioning, out of Les Enfants terribles and Les Parents terribles, rather than go over the frequently mischaracterized but nevertheless by now at least comprehended story. Cenci is the girl’s name, she gives her mother a Baudelairean air (“you used to say that all one needs is a big bed with all the people one loves in it”) and herself a bit of Mallarmé (“I’m afraid to sleep alone”).
The motherly whore is Leonora, the estranged husband Albert. The two aunts keep a plaster cast of Daddy Gustav in their antique shop, their mantelpiece bears his face.
Mia Farrow mirrors the structure in reverse, her magisterial playing is reserved for the end, the rest is a complicated pretense that is extremely acute and full of brilliance. Robert Mitchum gratifyingly fulfills a promise made in The List of Adrian Messenger, here is the Anglo-American article in all its finery. Elizabeth Taylor calculates her best effects for the drama.
Pamela Brown and Peggy Ashcroft are a nicely-adjudged pair of eccentrics, as fine a piece of character-painting as one could wish.
Richard Rodney Bennett has a theme, it’s whistled by Mitchum, picked out on a piano and finally sung by Farrow (“o that I were where I would be”).
At the pinch, Bennett comes as near to Webern as well he may, and there’s an end supplied by Dreyer’s Ordet before the fact, as it were.
She is an American, the motherly-minded streetwalker, one has been to Philadelphia (on the English side).
Figures in a Landscape
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the basis of dizzying views taken from a fixed camera in the cockpit of a helicopter. Miller’s Lonely Are the Brave represents the dilemma in large part.
The crux of the matter is not revealed until the end, making this a double bill with Yates’ Murphy’s War, and here the question is whether or not to rise above one’s enemy.
Two figures, for the purpose. The dialogue that so mystified Canby winnows out any red herrings.
Tremendous score by Richard Rodney Bennett.
The one suggestion of David pursued by Saul is not taken up but prepares the finish.
The peculiar abstruseness of the film stems from the analogy of the Boer War, the Union, and the subsequent fate of the region to Hartley’s time of writing, Pinter’s “PRESENT” (that is, “any time in the last 20 years”, to the time of filming).
The significance is precisely, then, a tragedy of manners.
There are amusing relations to such films as Renoir’s La Règle du jeu and Glenville’s The Comedians.
Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Bertolucci’s 1900 appear to have been signally influenced or to bear a more or less close relation.
Lexically the most perfect film ever made, in that the contingent relationships between script and image are made congruent, as can be most clearly seen in the confrontation between Leo and Ted in the farmhouse, but throughout, the disposition of the camera brings so appositely into play a hearth or a hayrick that the classical cinema of Hathaway, whose Kiss of Death has a very similar consciousness of the visual field, is wrought to an even more definite pitch.
The Assassination of Trotsky
Trabajadores and obreros, among them escritores, march with banners against him.
He is the lone principal witness to Stalin’s dictatorship and mass murder, a guardian of the workers’ state.
Men in police uniforms raid his Mexico City hideaway, his bedroom is sprayed with bullets. He fortifies the establishment.
Among his retinue is a girl who takes a lover with Stalin on his brain, shown vividly in a dissolve on Rivera’s frescoes.
An immensely droll masterpiece on the political machinations of madmen, filmed with the usual vivacity and precision by Losey, massacred by the critics, admired extraordinarily by Roger Greenspun of the New York Times.
The ice axe figures shortly in Hutton’s The First Deadly Sin, the general tone with its perfect realism of the time, 1940, is haunted by echoes of Marat/Sade in Peter Brook’s filming.
Eisenstein has his share in the festivities (¡Que Viva Mexico!), which explains the joke of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
A Doll’s House
Losey films this on location in Norway, a fact noted in the occasional review. This is most strikingly seen in exteriors, and scenes with an exterior view like the opening in a glass-walled café that looks out on a frozen lake for ice skating (arrived at by a slow pan to an extreme long shot of skaters).
The dexterous interiors mainly serve to isolate the main strands and clarify the action, whereby the final scene is short and swift.
Christine and Krogstad come and go, part and join, over her necessitous security and his misapprehension. The sin of the father is visited on Dr. Rank. Torvald’s misprision in the matter of his wife’s falsification undoes the marriage, the various strands are contrapuntal.
And there is the counterposition of a cathedral interior briefly seen in answer to the calm exterior of Nora and Krogstad’s walk, it hears his shouted promise not to forgive.
Legrand’s brass score is played on the piano by Dr. Rank in one scene, it begins in false cadences and ends in true ones, remarkably.
A view of the studio, the great dark apparatus facing the bright accurate settings, to begin with.
Laughton’s Brecht, music by Eisler and Hartley.
The style is a foretaste of Don Giovanni, but there are no location exteriors. Russell’s The Devils has certain points in common.
The recantation looks in reflection like Cool Hand Luke. Stesichorus denied that Helen ever went to Troy, and got his sight back.
The professor of mathematics at U. of Padua and Chief Engineer to the Arsenal of Venice, who proved Copernicus by observation and was proscribed.
“Thus I refute him,” said the Great Cham, kicking a stone.
The great critic of this is Richard Attenborough, who reproduced in Chaplin one of its greatest effects, the master’s doubt in later years.
Canby didn’t like Topol in this part, which is to miss all the point.
Which is precisely as it should be in a New York Times review, barring the occasional exception.
Ebert agreed with Canby, and still got a Pulitzer Prize.
“It lacks inspiration,” says ‘Alliwell.
The Romantic Englishwoman
Does it matter how Suspicion ends? This, then, is The Sleeping Tiger, in color, ending not like Contempt but at the end of the line, in the most beautiful sunlight upon chairs and tables at an outdoor restaurant. The modern interest for Losey is in another tempo, the day that begins with a washing machine, and this sustains him for the travelogue of Europe and the drug trade, filmed in sparkling shots whose definite impression is given a certain sense of hilarity by Richard Hartley’s score. Shakespeare developing a theme, or Hitchcock remaking The Man Who Knew Too Much? Losey expanding a thesis, enlarging a circle beyond resignation.
She is as vapid and hopeless as the romantic Englishmen in Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case and Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater, nothing but a dull horse that has kicked off the traces and now prances about the paddock with a smug, satisfied expression in the company of a drug mule, that is the pure guffaw of it, the creature is a German poet (it’s on his passport), her husband is a successful English novelist and screenwriter.
It’s the dumbfounding literary joke that makes the thing a violin in a void, though that hasn’t stopped certain film critics from being thoroughly confused, even with Pinter’s The Collection ready at hand and amply cited or rather implicated.
The story is a ruse like a tightrope or a musical line, in order to fabricate a state of mind. Having satisfied himself on certain matters in The Go-Between, and most particularly a desire for perfection, Losey is free to pursue something of an abstraction by way of making an utterly original film about the Occupation, the diffidence and purity of which are akin to Incident at Vichy, and the essence of which is the overtaking of the mind by events, and the subsistence of the mind to the last.
In order to handle with the utmost tact material foul beyond description, it is treated in absentia, or by reflection, as far as possible. The gag material passes for real in much the same way Magritte’s backdrops do. The central tenet is that The Trial may be made to serve this turn with the proper care, and it does. Spangling the piece are a bit of Altman here, a flash of The Last Time I Saw Paris, a quote from Doctor Zhivago, an evocation of Russell’s Mahler (and The Metamorphosis), a touch of Polanski’s The Tenant, a definite homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a whiff of Casablanca (in support of a longstanding joke), and finally, in the midst of a well-rounded summation of D.O.A., a conscious acknowledgment of the great centerpiece of Is Paris Burning?, the descent to the train platform.
In comparison to the party scene in Eva, the little dinner party scene shows the sort of vaudeville this is, filmed quietly in a long take. There is much use of a hand-held camera, and some keen editing. The opening scene may owe a debt of precedence to Werner Herzog’s The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser. The apparition of Hitchcock or Renoir in a scene calculated to show off Alain Delon’s resemblance to Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces pays tribute to a major influence. Over the whole picture hangs the emblem of a “wounded vulture” like a burlesque dropcloth or a pub signboard.
Nazi doctors, the culture vulture.
The title is given in English, so it’s a fairy tale.
“The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”
A simple confusion of identities, police files on the Lamb of God, a matter of certification.
Kindertotenlieder a vile cabaret (Russell), North by Northwest (call for M. Klein), Fellini’s grotesques.
A legal matter at midnight or noon in the ransacked house.
Roundup of the Jews, inutility of certificates.
“Cheap mystification” (Time Out Film Guide). “A little more passion, though, would have been appreciated” (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader).
“One of the great European films of the post-war years” (Film4). “Occasionally arresting”, says Halliwell, “but generally rather glum.”
Les Routes du Sud
Cossacks on the beach.
“It’s 1975. I’m a bit fed up with all this...” A rainy day in Cherbourg.
Long years of “tracts in Spain”, someday he’ll be gone, Franco.
Right outside, Cossacks (Zinnemann has Behold a Pale Horse).
“You’re replaceable, comrade?”
Scenario. Firing squad on the beach, coup de grâce.
“I began as a gagman for Cecil B. De Mille in Hollywood.”
“De Mille made comedies?”
“No, exactly, I changed my profession” (this is what you call a private joke).
Spain, “it’s still the country where my father was shot.”
The death of Franco, by Jorge Semprun.
It occurs in a welter of circumstances to an exile in France (screenplay rejected, boy beaten while demonstrating, wife killed in Spain), a news item on television. “He died in bed.”
Come-and-go of a young mistress as well, for whom the rich author’s compatriot Miguel is a “bourgeois intellectual” (cf. Resnais’ La Guerre est finie).
The idea turned down by an even richer producer concerns a German soldier who surrenders to the Russians out of solidarity and is shot on Stalin’s orders as a provocateur, a novel or a short story not a film, says the producer. A film congruent to its action, says the screenwriter, a true account of a Communist named Korpik who tried to warn them of the invasion.
“Isn’t that enough?”
“... Producers pay you to write that?”
Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) summarizes the film as follows, “a father and son who have been moving apart are brought into violent confrontation by a family tragedy,” and points out that it is “Joseph Losey’s second French film (after Monsieur Klein).” Hal Erickson (Rovi) makes a similar bollocks of the action, “from time to time yearns for the excitement of his antifascist days...”
For the Hexenmeister, a wizard. Everything in Losey’s repertoire goes into account, he finds a tessitura for every scene and momentum, sometimes off the beat by delaying (as in the overture) a new tempo on the screen until it joins in like the glassblowers and the caldron flames.
A great and constant analysis of the drama, not so very charming as Bergman’s The Magic Flute perhaps, but not a Singspiel either. It requires and receives a different treatment.
Even the eighteenth-century stage puts in an appearance, amid the multiplicity of effects.
The Napoleon of Japanese business naturally looks to Paris for a cure, and furthermore tips off a French colleague. Another Frenchman is heedless and loses everything.
That is the essential structure, a mirror to Accident.
In opposition is the title character along with her husband, who in the complex formal arrangement reveal the psychology of “weak Western democracies”.
The remarkably similar incomprehension of Maslin (New York Times) and Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) suggests the possibility of an initial American release that was somehow truncated, though American critics had much the same trouble with the earlier film.
The play, evidently an exhaustive spoof of “women’s lib”, is presented rather as it must have been on the stage in London and New York, where Variety says it had “ebullience and sheer fun”.
The filming is a lens on the play for its hole in the roof over the head of a widow, and that is the entire mechanics of it.
Canby (New York Times) was disappointed, but then for him Losey was “serious to the point of utter humorlessness.”
The material serves the image, one that brings to mind Calvino’s Hidden Cities and the painter Delvaux and, above all, the severity of the nude’s divorcement from all that is not itself. These odalisques and brides stripped bare by their bachelors, spouting lines that are perhaps not quite so very fetching as Clarke’s in The Titfield Thunderbolt, are the bareness of thought itself, which Breton pictured as “a white curve on a dark ground.”