Corridor of Mirrors
Robert Venturi saw the Campodoglio and thought all modern architecture a mistake. Here is his story, suitably fictionalized with elements of La Belle et la Bête (dir. Jean Cocteau) and a score by Georges Auric, also Hitchcock’s Rebecca, shot in Paris for London interiors, in every way a masterpiece and regrettably overlooked (the New York Times thought it “preposterous”).
Filmed with lavish attention to every particularity of the action, such as the lunatic housekeeper named Veronica (she gave him a wipe), the nightclub coterie, the slatternly model and the fashion designer, and then of course the Renaissance fancy dress ball so monumentally well-filmed it might be The Archers but looks forward to Black Tights.
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “curiously memorable, baroque, and unoriginal”.
French film star in English manor house “to be alone”, Terence Lord Datchett has put her up on a club bet, pretending to be his own agent.
“But, tell me,” she asks his butler (Ronald Squire), “where did you learn to cook crêpes Suzette like that?”
“I used to be a cook in the Army, madame.”
According to Britmovie, “creaky and witless... squanders... predictable...”
Stewart Granger and Edwige Feuillère (Michael Medwin, a mere stripling, is her relentless PR man, Peter Bull and Irene Handl Mr. & Mrs. Fletcher, James Hayter and Dandy Nichols Mr. & Mrs. Burrell, Miles Malleson the christening vicar, et al.).
“M’lord, I have served your family for many years, as did my father and my grandfather before me. I have already this day consented to do various things on your behalf, many of which have caused me serious misgivings, but there comes a moment in man’s life to call a halt. In my judgment this moment has arrived. I will not type Miss Marly’s manuscript, no sir, no m’lord.”
“That was magnificent, but tell me one thing, just as a matter of interest, can you type?”
Her maid plies men with wiles, butler and gardener of the Irish variety must make common cause, “an armed truce is better than warfare with treacherous allies.” The maid returns fire, “the only country in the world where they prefer football to making love, ha ha, thank you.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “incredibly slight material is interminably stretched out, well beyond an excellent cast’s ability to help,” Love’s Labour’s Lost. Feuillère lies doggo in the first half whilst Granger plays the fool, hence the critics’ inability to follow. “It’s a perfect speech, really. You can leave bits out without making any difference to it at all.”
Early citation of a well-known saying, “you don’t play poker, mademoiselle, you own it.” A film full of foresight (a touch of Bergman’s Persona, for instance).
“Will there be anything more tonight, m’lord?”
“If there is I’m ready for it.”
Another saying. “Tonight, I shall wait until he’s at my feet, and then, I shall eat him for six.”
Over a birthday cake, “penance for the English burning Joan of Arc.”
De Mille made the point in Joan the Woman, Young repeats it for emphasis shortly after the war.
They Were Not Divided
The Allies (Colonials and British) who fell in the Second World War, personified in two who served with the Welsh Guards, the “Foreign Legion”.
All of them, these two, goes into the film, such as they are, a naturalistic and very funny film, for their sake, to make it what it is, more than brilliant.
“Dunkirk in reverse,” a small armoured unit from Normandy after D-Day across the Seine to Brussels and Nijmegen and the Ardennes in winter.
The greatest American poet of the time became an Englishman, the greatest British poet an American, a paradox worthy of notice by Jorge Luis Borges.
The Red Beret
The greatly obscure point (for so it must have seemed to H.H.T. of the New York Times, who saw the film as Paratrooper and hints that he was one himself, just after writing “Leo Genn seems a bit effete”, before concluding with “spiraling, devious corn”) is on the capacity after Dunkirk to drop fighting men in it, so that they may blast their way out of it.
There it is, but we may simply bask in the best English color cinematography and forget the rest, if we wish.
The unnamed co-respondent, not in an action for divorce but in a petition laid before the king that a charge of murder be brought against his secretary of state, one of two secretaries he maintains rather than a first minister, “it keeps power in my hands.”
The court of Philip II. The death of his brother and rival Juan in Brussels, the murdered man a firebrand and supporter of the latter.
Widow of Philip’s ancient counselor, that lady. The king’s own warrant for the deed. Prison and the rack.
“Forget it, Diego. It was written in the stars. Philip will always win.”
“I want another life for my son. There’s no laughter at El Escorial.”
A formal response anticipating Becket (dir. Peter Glenville) and A Man for All Seasons (dir. Fred Zinnemann, with Scofield again), most significantly a bedrock of Young’s Mayerling.
Bartlett and Veiller screenplay, Addison score, location filming.
O.A.G. of rhe New York Times, “a heavier hand on the dramaturgical throttle would have helped a good deal.” Leonard Maltin, “unemotional costumer”. Time Out, “the film falls victim to spectacularly fussy production design and Robert Krasker’s ‘Scope photography.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “never flows as a film should,” citing the Monthly Film Bulletin, “something went very wrong.”
Storm Over the Nile
After the war, Korda’s film takes on a new significance, which is why it is exactly repeated here in widescreen with a new cast and much of the original footage.
It is precisely the idea of Preston Sturges’ Hail the Conquering Hero.
“It is all very pip-pip and illogical,” said Bosley Crowther (New York Times).
Film4 entirely agrees but considers it “a pleasing yarn”. Radio Times returns to Crowther, “the story... has dated badly.” Penelope Houston has the last word, “not so much dated as fossilized” (cited in Halliwell’s Film Guide, which describes the film as “feeble”).
He is explicitly compared to Christ crucified in the last scene (which also invokes George Stevens’ Gunga Din), and implicitly to Joseph earlier on.
The magnificent battle scenes are used by Gilling (associate director here) for his The Brigand of Kandahar ten years later, a significant analysis of Young’s film, especially in view of the rather dim critical reception.
Action of the Tiger
It will be seen that this is a variant of Val Guest’s Break in the Circle, and with Sean Connery on deck a solid preparation for From Russia with Love, another variant.
Before Dr. No, “Venus rising from the sea.” The Countess in David Mercer’s The Cellar and the Almond Tree (dir. Alan Bridges).
“Who is he calling an old trick?”
The New York Times reviewer pronounced it “slow-moving” and “far-fetched”. The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “plodding and predictable.”
Cf. Dmytryk’s Soldier of Fortune, Milland’s Lisbon.
The North African campaign, Eighth Army.
An affair of various feats of villainy round a curious figure drawn one should think from Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt, an American sergeant with a grudge against Goebbels and vice versa.
Originally and in UK No Time to Die, blessed with the most felicitous of CinemaScope compositions from first to last, and every slack frame excised. Probably the inspiration is the American blacklist, which sent more than one notable expatriate to England.
“His overall career is staggeringly undistinguished” (Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema).
Adrian Turner (Radio Times), “lurches from one heroic deed to the next.” Britmovie, “fast-paced Boy’s Own-style adventure”. Leonard Maltin, “clichéd dud”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “World War II clunker”.
Too Hot To Handle
It opens “in the motley Strand” or nearly, with “tears from fullness of joy at so much life” and right into the Pink Flamingo.
This is The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (dir. John Cassavetes) and no mistake, a relatively simple wartime allegory that in the latter case was found to be incomprehensible by critics.
From here to Paris, 1-2-3-4 ou Les Collants noirs, “as Shakespeare once said, ‘gee, what a dame.’”
Sternberg and Lang have a part in this, among the numbers.
And precisely here, the undercranking of a brisk action shot that figures (from Hawks) in Thunderball usw.
Playgirl After Dark in the States.
Two hours with the Ballets de Paris, Zizi Jeanmaire, Moira Shearer, Cyd Charisse and Roland Petit.
“The Diamond-Muncher”, Les Halles.
“Cyrano de Bergerac”, Petit as Ferrer.
“Mourning in a Day”, a great joke.
“Carmen”, from Bizet.
Chevalier introduces and partly narrates.
Young has three cameras and every resource, including a view from your seat.
As Parisian as the flea on a beauty’s behind.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times exerted himself to criticize the filming, the choreography and the dancing, his word was “foolish”.
Whose hands are metal, owing to radiation. A Tong embezzler, German-Chinese, with SPECTRE. On Crab Key, off Jamaica, he “topples” American space rockets with a radio beam aimed at their gyros (his disembodied voice early on is remembered by Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey).
The Three Blind Mice kill our man in Kingston, then his secretary, Bond is instantly sent in. Government House has a SPECTRE agent, Bond tidies up.
The dominion of No is a terrorized bedrugged island from whose bourne no traveler returns, not for long.
Variety set the tone of criticism by entirely missing the point.
All the themes started here that were developed in the later films. Hawks’ The Big Sleep and Huston’s The Maltese Falcon are the main sources for the first half, Fleischer’s 20000 Leagues Under the Sea certainly figures in the second. Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse represents the great nexus of world-chasers that became Dr. No.
It’s Terence Young’s game all the way to Dr. No’s lair, where Ken Adam enters the picture and provides relief to a sustained piece of concentration centered on an extraordinarily large playing area in the middle ground, really vast, with unlimited extensions to right and left, remote backgrounds, and a variegated foreground. The characteristic angle is at standing eye level (compared to Huston’s seated camera in The Maltese Falcon, to which it modulates at times). This high angle gives a sharp floor plane on the one hand, which combined with Adam’s interrogation-room set appears to show the influence of the stage. On the other hand, as a treatment of the actors it’s likely to have come from a reading of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.
Venus rises from the sea-foam and says she once killed a man with a black widow spider, as Bond was very nearly killed by a tarantula. Adam is reported to have said he painted the copy of Goya’s Duke of Wellington in two days. His designs, where they are not superb and realistic, proceed from Vincent Korda’s in Things to Come (dir. William Cameron Menzies) by way of Strock’s Gog and are a further step toward Wise’s The Andromeda Strain, as well as finding a wonderful conviviality in-between realism and the most striking of inventions.
Dr. No has finally captured 007 (who has cost him “time, money, effort”), and now is rather let down at the man he sees before him. “Well, we can’t all be geniuses,” says James Bond, “can we.”
From Russia With Love
SPECTRE’s plot to steal the Lektor decoding machine from a Soviet consulate and sell it back involves a defector from SMERSH, a girl on the consular staff at Istanbul, and James Bond of British Intelligence. There is also a Dartmoor convict trained by SPECTRE to kill 007 in revenge for Dr. No, and take the Lektor once Bond has been lured into purloining it.
This is quite a different film from Dr. No, which was keyed to the seascapes of Jamaica. Back in Europe, Young adopts a diametrically opposed technique, probably influenced by Schlesinger. The medium close shot replaces the medium long shot, and this becomes a sculptural medium with elements of Pop, a fertile invention that allows Young to record brilliant performances by his actors, and notably Lotte Lenya’s sublime irruption of Berlin cinema.
Young’s pictorialism is active in Emperor Constantine’s reservoir and Saint Sophia (the latter perhaps a memory of Hitchcock), it is hard to imagine these scenes better filmed.
The train sequence is modeled on Neill’s Terror by Night, and the grand finale is an arrangement for full orchestra of two sequences from Guest’s Break in the Circle, with a secondary theme from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Here also, but in the service of the orchestration, is the vast seascape of Dr. No.
The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders
The exquisite romance of a highwayman and a maidservant.
Forever Amber (dir. Otto Preminger) is the model of analysis, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (dir. Richard Lester) follow suit, consequently the disclaimer in the opening titles is a joke.
Variety was receptive, Howard Thompson (New York Times) was left in the dark, Halliwell and Time Out Film Guide also.
Young’s masterpiece is precisely the comic understanding of Preminger that was lacking in critics at the time, and an understanding of comedy that was ten years ahead of its time, but everyone thought of Richardson and missed the point, though Variety took the comparison in stride, laughing.
Two hydrogen bombs sunk by a SPECTRE double on an RAF bomber with NATO into the Caribbean off Nassau, for ransom.
In the Bahamas, Young takes his technique for a spin and finds it perfect. However, his real interest is in the new dimension he has discovered, undersea photography (with the help of Ivan Tors). His whole film is geared to it structurally, so that his location finds and Ken Adam’s production designs are poised above this Nemo realm (Young’s debts are most importantly to Fairchild’s The Silent Enemy, also 20000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Man Who Knew Too Much, and again Break in the Circle, showing its debt in turn to Key Largo and To Have and Have Not).
This finishes laying the foundation for the rest of the series (the next film, Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice, opens in outer space).
Bosley Crowther, the New York Times man of film, took it all in with his customary nitwit flair, and spat it all out again.
Variety, “it’s posh all the way.”
An important feature of the style is Hawks’ undercranking on action, here throughout.
One of the most beautiful scores ever written.
The Poppy Is Also a Flower
Princess Grace of Monaco explains the title as she introduces the film, which is entirely based on the Allies’ other name in World War II, the United Nations.
The metaphor is heroin, the theme is the war in both of its phases, ending in 1918 and then 1945.
The essential beauty of this is the circular structure, ending in the poppy fields where the stuff is grown to begin with.
Criticism tends to fault this film as idle, somehow, and even to stamp the script (by Jo Eisinger out of Ian Fleming) as to blame, whereas it is especially brilliant.
The safecracker who signed a contract with the Nazis and betrayed them to the English.
England expects every cracksman to do his duty. A pivotal masterpiece, Chapman is asked at the end who he was working for, really, and he pivots on his barstool to toast himself in the mirror.
Critical disapprobation (one described this exceptional film as “unexceptional”) is a high moral tone.
Wait Until Dark
Critics at present seem to be at a total loss with regard to Wait Until Dark, and write of “urban loneliness” and “plot holes” as if for all the sweet world they had even the remotest idea of what they were talking about.
Drugs in a doll are handed to a photographer (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) at the airport. The straying courier (Samantha Jones) winds up dead in a dress bag hanging in his closet. The photographer’s wife (Audrey Hepburn) is blind. He goes out on assignment, while she receives the gentleman callers of the gang (neither she nor her husband has any idea about the drugs).
The gang inspect the apartment in her absence, but find nothing. The doll could be anywhere. These con artists work a scam now, designed to ferret the dingus out.
First comes the war buddy (Richard Crenna), who has the photographer’s old unit in his notebook. Then there’s the NYPD detective, played by Jack Weston (the self-described “blind lady” lives in a brownstone on the West Side). A mad old man and his concerned son are played consecutively by Alan Arkin. As the ringleader, he wears black leather and round sunglasses.
Young establishes the fourth wall briefly and abandons it. The airport sequence and various exteriors of New York in bare trees outside the apartment (day or night) are magnificent and laconic. The detective’s liquidation against a chain-link fence has consequences (notably for Frankenheimer in 52 Pick-Up). Young has a neutral editing plan that effects surprises continually, such as the liquidation of the war buddy. Finally, it’s the blind lady and the ringleader in a small apartment on the West Side lit only by the little bulb of a refrigerator, with two knives in play.
The piece falls into three parts. At first the apartment is seen objectively, as it is cased. In the middle section, it’s suddenly rather cozy (this transition is accomplished by a few quick diagonal shots well-chosen), and then in the final quandary it’s almost dematerialized. The blind lady discovers her phone line has been cut, and she clings to the stairway balusters like prison bars, then unscrews all the light bulbs to even the terms, leaving one darkroom light only that casts a barred shadow on the apartment. This is doused, and there is the finale.
It was Peckinpah who accepted the implications of all this, and made Straw Dogs, which builds on the perfection of Young’s technique and transcends it. Young analyzes this film as Dial M for Murder (from the fingerprints to the light-dark modulation, and by the same playwright) jazzed up with Pinter parodies and The Night of the Hunter. At some points, he has six or seven things going on at once, and he seems unruffled because of the wisdom of his assessment, which grasps the furious dilemma of Hepburn (or any actress) in this part (compare Bette Davis in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte or Vera Clouzot in Les Diaboliques) and addresses it realistically (the prodigious set is carried to the point of allowing Arkin to smell fresh laundry most evocatively).
Young modulates his entire range, but his most ferocious aspect is the medium close-up imparting to his sculptural figures a freedom of movement like dance. Three Days of the Condor and Frantic pick up various aspects along the lines indicated.
A romance of the late Middle Ages, such as Aucassin and Nicolette, suggested to Young by the mysterious events of the late nineteenth-century.
Archduke Rudolph is dissolute and bored, the Prince of Wales knows when to go home to his wife.
Rudolph is made Inspector General of the forces, suddenly he is enlivened with a purpose, until he realizes he’s being played for a fool.
Love for his mistress possesses him, he turns traitor in the cause of the Empire.
At last, a man who possesses his soul in patience, he enters “the other world” with her, as she describes it in a farewell letter to her sister. The abstemious Emperor wins every hand but this.
A film replete with ironies, nice judgments, subtle distinctions, and a deliberate manner of producing its effects that cannot be discounted.
L’Arbre de Noël
The death of a boy is a theme of poets such as Frost and Nemerov. Young’s film is pellucid in its surreal understanding, yet reviewers at the time understood it not at all, Howard Thompson (New York Times), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Halliwell’s Film Guide, Judith Crist.
The situation is not easily remedied, George C. Scott conducted a thoroughgoing analysis from another angle (Rage) and was met with similar incomprehension.
This is the charming French version of The Christmas Tree (planted on the day of his birth, chopped down and ornamented on the day he died), with Bourvil in his own tongue and William Holden voiced by an excellent mimic.
Holden takes up the theme again in Collinson’s The Earthling.
Amazingly, this goes back to one of the sources of From Russia With Love, namely Val Guest’s Break in the Circle, and then back to one of that film’s sources, which is John Huston’s Key Largo.
And all of this by way of a Richard Matheson novel, and set in the South of France.
The novel was filmed by Bernard Girard as “Ride the Nightmare” for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The nightmare is “Vietnam, not yet Algiers”.
A drug deal with the Turks off Beaulieu-sur-Mer (the studio is La Victorine). Old Army buddies of a sort descend upon Bronson and Ullmann and her daughter, the financing comes from Ireland as an English hippie.
Mason’s Southern characterization as the gang’s leader works out as Duvall’s heel in Skolimowski’s The Light Ship.
A Julienne escape amid the rocky hills is such a masterpiece Hitchcock might have taken note of it in Family Plot.
Young wants the cards on the table, so he puts them there. Sturges and Leone owe a debt to Kurosawa, he gives you Toshiro Mifune out West. The opening is from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the rest from The Scalphunters, maybe. He has the London assurance to wallow in color while he’s on location in the desert (Bronson and Mifune wrestle in a stream that is pure watercolor). The town is filmed like Last Train from Gun Hill, and the ending could be The Good, the Bad, and the Samurai.
The Valachi Papers
The bloody history of the Cosa Nostra from bootlegging to Marseilles drugs.
This includes the Giulio Cesare of the mob, Salvatore Maranzano (Joseph Wiseman), an educated man who studied to be a priest and became capo di capi.
A seminal reading of the mob wars that takes off from the television series The Untouchables and moves right on through the Thirties and the war to the testimony given by Joe Valachi (Charles Bronson) before a commission of rather ludicrous Senators in 1963.
Lino Ventura plays Vito Genovese, Walter Chiari a top hoodlum, Gerald S. O’Loughlin a top G-man, Jill Ireland the gumba’s daughter.
Plenty of real-life adventures, plenty of insights. The cretinous reviews out of New York and Chicago seem scarcely worth mentioning.
Like the horse crazed by the scent of Pascal’s wolves (Adam and Eve) in The Christmas Tree, one of the Amazons has a sneezing fit in the presence of a man, or thinking of one.
They do not burn the breast but live without men except at ritual matings with the Greeks to propagate their kind, for which the Amazons pay in copper. All, even the least of them, have killed a man. “Yes,” says the Greek king, a lover of peace and no bloody fool, “they do take themselves rather seriously.” Male infants are exposed.
A certain division in the ranks is amorously resolved.
The Queen of the Amazons reaches an understanding with the King.
The Amazons attack and are repulsed, there is a truce of sorts.
Robert Graves is a signatory.
The tribadic tribe, practically a trilogy with The Valachi Papers and The Klansman.
Intruder in the Dust (dir. Clarence Brown) is the basis of this, down to the suggestion of location filming. The specific ingredients are politics and economics, these provide a means of analyzing the situation.
Mayor Hardy (David Huddleston) owns the lumber yard and the bank, half the town works for him, the other half owes him money, and he’s the Grand Cyclops of the Klan. State and National headquarters are supposed to approve any local action. Niggers must be kept down but not driven north, no self-respecting white man will work for their wages.
The elected sheriff (Lee Marvin) keeps the peace rather than lower the boom, otherwise “all the blacks would be in jail,” a local reporter notes, and the peculiar Alabama town this is would not function the way it does, not that he cares. His Kluxer deputy (Cameron Mitchell) would be sheriff then, a brutal propagandist.
An ex-Marine of old stock (Richard Burton) shelters “relief hounds” on the tree farm where his abolitionist forefather was hanged, he openly scoffs at “racial bullshit”.
Satire is served up all around in full, succinct measure. It’ll stand to reason that Fuller ought to have directed his own script, Young’s treatment of the material ignores its richness not one whit, he introduces the town with a beautiful view of shacks in rolling hills.
Luciana Paluzzi and Linda Evans extend the cosmopolitan thought behind this representation of Ellenton filmed in Oroville. The performances of the great cast have been deprecated for no other reason than a dislike and misunderstanding of this film, which Variety vilified as “trash”.
A Zurich pharmaceutical company is the basis for an international version of Wise’s Executive Suite, the sudden death of the founder, the daughter who inherits, the technician who controls, various threats to the firm.
This was by no means understood by critics at the time, “it seems entirely constructed of loose ends and superfluous information,” said Vincent Canby of the New York Times. Variety described “the never-never land of high chic melodrama” and said of Young, “he’s clearly out of practice,” never noticing the skillful citations of Donen’s Charade, Hitchcock’s Secret Agent and Frenzy, as well as his own Wait Until Dark, among other things. Tom Milne in the Monthly Film Bulletin is cited by Halliwell as quite in agreement, “unutterably chic, inexpressibly absurd.”
Deadlines are no excuse, given plenty of time to work Time Out Film Guide says more of the same, “expensive, old-fashioned and overlong,” Halliwell’s Film Guide that it “seems always about to be better than it ever is.”
The effect of Kim Il Sung’s Soviet-backed blitzkrieg is merely to recapitulate the world war just ended, Young films the turning of the tide and stops at victory in Seoul.
Consequently, a major summation of the war in Europe and the Pacific, a masterpiece by Young on the subject, a lacuna filled on the police action in Korea, the central point being the landing at Inchon by the United Nations Expeditionary Force.
Nonsensical reviews were led by Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “a hysterical historical epic” (to be fair, he saw a curtailed version). Variety missed the point of casting Olivier as MacArthur and complained of religiosity, ignoring Henry’s Te Deum after Agincourt.
Halliwell’s Film Guide regards it as “an unsatisfactory mess.”
The Jigsaw Man
You have to make sense of all the British traitors, so you have one of them come back all dolled up with a KGB rejuvenation, a somewhat younger man who used to head British intelligence, and by God he’s got the KGB payroll list in his pocket, for security.
Not in his pocket, exactly. It’s in a village church, up the rear of a stone angel.
The character is heightened with many decorations and orders, a pillar of Western democracy.