Italia K2

A very pretty, dangerous mountain, fatal before. Scientific preparations include a high-altitude chamber, geological briefings, physical testing, a general analysis.

The 1954 Italian expedition led by Prof. Ardito Desio of the Club Alpino Italiano (“e cosi desio me mena”, as Holbein has it from Petrarch).

A stravaging schoolboy on the Alps to begin with, helped out of a pickle. Dmytryk evidently recalls it here and there in The Mountain.

Baldi has an inexhaustible genius for the beauty of these mountains on the long approach in pictures that are confessed to give little sense of the sublime vastness (cp. The Conquest of Everest)... well over halfway through the film and more than halfway up K2, the ascent has not yet begun in earnest, base camp has prosciutto in cold storage, a W.C., an electric generator, a post office and a small shrine, the men sport like Scott’s party amongst the penguins (vd. Charles Frend). The steady, calm, businesslike climb is immediately met by a wintry blast as reported on the Riviera, death of an Alpinist. The frosty vertical ascent, a sunny interval, step by step with guide ropes. Ninth camp, final ascent, view from the summit. Church bells rejoicing in the Alps, the seared faces of the two final climbers.


Night Train to Milan

A scattered handful of passengers, “it’s not true, there’s always plenty of empty space on trains going Christmas Eve! Well, it does happen sometimes, but now and again, you know, during Easter, although it’s just the same during Easter.A certain gift, a resurrection, a certain Schneider, Bauer.

Out of Rome, with a stop at Florence a little before midnight, Santa Claus is there on the platform with his sack on his back, pacing...

Il criminale, to begin with. “Do you always read books upside down?The Butcher of Belsen, next stop Bologna... a postwar discussion... the grass widow of an eager executive, she digs the guy (there’s a jazz quartet rehearsing in one of the empty or nearly empty cars, en route to an impromptu date), “what would have happened to me, if I’d been in your concentration camp?”

“Not what you’re thinking, anyway.Standoff at Modena... on to Milan, “hunted like the Jews!”

A very agile, very able New York dub of Baldi hitting on all cylinders.


Giacobbe, l’uomo che lottò con dio

The vigor and brilliance of his subsequent films are not in evidence until Jacob is at the well, rather Baldi finds drama in the image per se, and let it be said that Huston appears to have drawn on the Abraham section for The Bible, a fitting homage.

Abraham and Lot part ways, the angel appears, sacrifice of Isaac.

A novel in pictures, maid brings food to somber patriarch at rich table, boy eats a piece of fruit contentedly, stands beside mother, looking at her, she drinks from a goblet, he goes away (Hagar, Abraham, Ishmael, Sarah).

Blake is called upon for an image of Isaac on the pyre, Abraham stretched upon him to kiss his eyes, with a repeat after the dismissal. Similarly, Rebecca’s formative hands clasp and clench below her bosom as she speaks to Jacob of the prophecy, they rise to cover her eyes as Abraham confers a curse to the cursers, a blessing to the blessers.

The fate of Lot’s wife is elided as narration in order to effect a comparison with Sarah’s laugh.

A Salvador Dali landscape accompanies Jacob’s farewell from Esau, and recurs after he wrestles the angel.

Festive colors, antique carts, oxen. The dubbed version is an excellent example of the New York school. Laban has a sneer from the silents in one close-up.

The screenplay is very finely worked out, not overelaborated. The Herzog image at the return over Jordan, an ox swimming in close-up. Jacob rising into frame, with smoke and light and the river behind him bearing a raft, to pray before encountering Esau, answered by a laugh. The light dawns in his eyes after the wrestling match.

Esau and his men on horseback like Huns. Jacob’s train winding on past the Jordan, the camera tilts up to the blue sky streaked with clouds.

Laban,” says Jacob, the man who fought with God, “let it be as you wish, because this is the will of the Lord.His uncle shrugs with a smile, “mmmmmm.”

Laban’s herds have doubled, “you have been able to share in the blessings of God Almighty,” Jacob tells him. “I admit it,” says Laban freely, “I admit it.”


Saul e David

The drama of the image in Jacob, the Man Who Fought with God is now the drama of character from Amalek to Gilboa, and once again Huston takes a note for The Bible, condensing rather than embellishing the worldly king of virtues pertaining to his station but as such fixed with a tragic flaw in the purposes of Jehovah, just adumbrated in the study of Isaac learning his descent by reciting the names on his father’s staff, before the Sacrifice is required and annulled.

Norman Wooland played Horatio to Olivier’s Hamlet, and Catesby to his Richard III. Here, he has the lead in a highly Shakespearean Tragedy of King Saul. This is coupled formally with a view of David derived from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, hence he is blond. Gianni Garko is an actor entirely unknown in the United Sates except by dint of his resemblance to Buster Crabbe as Tarzan, it might be.

Ahimelech and forty white-robed priests are put to death in the open courtyard of the king’s palace. No man of Israel will do it, but Doeg the Edomite slays the high priest himself, and one by one the bowmen follow suit, at Saul’s command. When Ahimelech is hit by the arrow, Saul roars with pain, everything that passes his lips after his deconsecration is a pronouncement against himself.

After the battle in which Saul is slain, David’s speech, “how are the mighty fallen,” is spoken off-camera over a view of the disaster.


I Grandi condottieri

The English-dubbed version is subtitled “a film by Marcello Baldi”, with a credit reading “directed by Francisco Perez Dolz. It seems incredible that such a film should remain in obscurity for so long that its authorship is in doubt, but that is what appears to be the case.

The Great Leaders is equally divided between Gideon and Samson, which gives their stories as formal epitomes of the Old Testament and New. The inspired version of Gideon has him a wily peasant, a Cincinnatus of sorts who leaves the plow at the behest of the angel of the Lord, slays the Midianites, and retreats back to his farm, or so his press package would read. Instrumentality is his gift, like an ass, along with a little cunning. Ivo Garrani’s portrayal of him is a rich, comic experience. He’s an older country cousin of the Navy man played by William Holden in Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, and there is an influence of Lawrence of Arabia on the formal layout of the piece, one should say. The stunning direction throughout is brought to acute points in the pre-dawn and sunup tests, and the night assault with pitchers and torches makes a grand sight rigorously filmed. Fernando Rey’s urbane study of an angel is very remarkable for its droll savvy and easy comedy.

Samson is, of course, a high comic figure in his own right. The screenplay hews more closely to the text even than with Gideon. The vision of a Gaza harlot is like a fresco, Rosalba Neri’s Delilah is a flickering portrayal of woman’s wiles and will and mind and everything else, a complete repertoire, an exquisite performance.

Anton Geesink is a Michelangelesque Samson, who expresses in a glance the joy of slaying Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. He’s as natural a study as everything else in this brilliant, flawless picture.

The temple of Dagon is a fine structure, the camera tilts up from the god’s fishtailed statue (earlier seen horizontal before installation) and shows all five stories full of Philistines around the central, open atrium. Its destruction is a mighty effect, and coming at the end of the film echoes the angel’s first behest to Gideon, that he should destroy the altar of Baal, etc.

This is a classic work of the Italian New Wave which The Film Encyclopedia of Ephraim Katz did not avow to exist, even, not in its first edition anyway, and not that it matters.

What matters is Samson disappearing under the city gates, which rise and go out of the city and into the night.