Monthly Archives: January 2003

On Guard

On the basis of his earliest features, French filmmaker Philippe de Broca was sometimes regarded as a member of the New Wave, but subsequent films such as Cartouche (1962) and That Man From Rio (1964) showed him to be an adept commercial director. This entertaining 1998 swashbuckler, based on Paul Feval’s 1857 novel Le bossu (The Hunchback) and shot in ‘Scope, proves that de Broca hasn’t lost his touch. This is effective as straight-ahead, action-packed storytelling, losing some of its energy only in the final stretch of its 128 minutes. The cast is especially good, including Daniel Auteuil as the peripatetic hero (an acrobat-turned-chevalier-turned-actor), Fabrice Luchini as the villain, and Vincent Perez, Marie Gillain, and Philippe Noiret. It’s a pity that the distributors didn’t stick to the original title, that of the novel, and substituted the graceless and unnecessary English translation of a French fencing term. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Remember Last Night?

A screwball comedy and murder mystery in the Thin Man mode, directed by James Whale, who’s never been properly appreciated for the wit and the engaging minor characters found in some of his nonhorror features. Along with The Great Garrick, this 1935 release is one of the best of that neglected batch; its sheer goofiness helps explain why critic Tom Milne once compared Whale to Jean-Luc Godard. With Robert Young, Constance Cummings, Edward Arnold (as the detective), and Edward Brophy. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Films by Ernst Lubitsch

This week the Film Center launches a retrospective of Ernst Lubitsch’s Hollywood pictures with two of his finest: The Love Parade and Trouble in Paradise (many would add Ninotchka, also playing this week, but not me, even though it has Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas). The Love Parade (1929, 110 min.), Lubitsch’s first talkie and musical, helped to define continental romance as well as opulent operetta for Depression-era audiences. Racy and innovatively shot, it pairs Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald for the first time, and it’s one of their funniest films, with some of the best laughs coming from secondary leads Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane. Trouble in Paradise (1932, 83 min.), about a pair of jewel thieves (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) exploiting the owner of a French perfume company (Kay Francis), is one of the wittiest and most glamorous romantic comedies ever made and has as much to say about the Depression as any Busby Berkeley number. Unfortunately the series omits the underrated and atypical The Man I Killed (aka Broken Lullaby), but otherwise all of Lubitsch’s essential Hollywood pictures are showing this month; they virtually defined Hollywood entertainment when the term still meant something other than explosions and hard-sell advertising.… Read more »

Beat And Beyond: Films By Alfred Leslie

These three films by painter-provocateur Alfred Leslie constitute a sort of healthy beatnik sandwich. The first bread slice is Pull My Daisy (1959, 29 min.), his legendary Lower East Side collaboration with Robert Frank (who shot and codirected), Jack Kerouac (the writer and narrator), Anita Ellis and David Amram (jazz vocalist and jazz composer respectively), and Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky (all silent actors here, along with Delphine Seyrig in her first film performance). The second slice is the lesser known Birth of a Nation 1965 (1997, 25 min.), a tantalizing fragment salvaged from a two-hour sound feature that was shot on 8-millimeter in the 60s and then largely lost in a fire. Goofy, funny, challenging, and unruly in the best sense, it’s mainly a group grope with unrelated subtitles, plus a guest appearance by Willem de Kooning as Captain Nemo and the voice of Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade. Laid between these irresponsible and lighthearted works is The Last Clean Shirt (1964, 40 min.), a teasing bit of Zen minimalism and a prestructural-filmmaking prank that I hope won’t drive the audience out of the theater. It runs us several times through the same uneventful car ride, timed by a clock that’s mounted on the dashboard and accompanied on the sound track by the woman passenger’s untranslated chatter in what sounds like an eastern European language; various sets of subtitles translate the chatter, reveal the black driver’s thoughts, and creatively confuse us even further.… Read more »