Monday, 30 June 2014
LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE/ Second Breath (1966) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. ****
LE SAMOURAI / The Samurai (1967) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. *****
My introduction to the world of Jean-Pierre Melville came at a lunchtime screening of SECOND BREATH in a private viewing theatre in Wardour Street circa 1967. The film had been bought by the company I worked for and to this day I am convinced they never understood what a gem they had. For my part I was hypnotised by the movie. A year or so later LE SAMOURAI somehow managed to get a general release and it just blew me away. A few nights ago I watched both films again and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish my admiration for either. Over the years I have managed to see the majority of Melville's movies from his first LE SILENCE DE LA MER, LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES and ARMY IN THE SHADOWS and, of course his other classic gangster dramas, BOB LE FLAMBEAU, LE CERCLE ROUGE and LE DOULOS. Only his final film, UN FLIC, disappointed me - but maybe I need to see it again. Melvilles gangsters exist in a world of violence which has its own rules of honour and loyalty although both are, for the most part, illusory and are paid lip service to in much the same way as his characters adopt the trenchcoats and fedoras of their Hollywood counterparts. Then there are the iconic actors - Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Yves Montand and Gian-Maria Volonte. Just-perfect Melville.
Friday, 20 June 2014
YEUX SANS VISAGE/ Eyes Without a Face (1959) directed by Georges Franju. *****
One of the great strengths of European cinema for me is that some of its best directors have been able to appreciate the poetic surrealism in pulp fiction. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is one of the supreme horror movies of the 1950/60's. Under Franju's direction, what is basically another mad doctor plot, is transformed into a powerful gothic nightmare full of images that burn themselves into the mind's eye. Who could possibly fail to be horrified by the unflinching operation scene - time and hundreds of inferior films may have lessened its impact for today's de-sensitised audiences but back in 1960 it was phenomenally effective and enough to get the film banned in England for several years. The scene where Edith Scob empathises with and comforts the dogs who share both her fate and imprisonment, Maurice Jarre's hauntingly jolly score, Alida Valli hunting victims among the students of Paris, the sinister CV2 and the unforgettable climatic image. I've already mentioned Scob and Valli so it is only fair to mention Pierre Brasseur as the coldly unemotional doctor. This is essential viewing. The story and themes of EYES WITHOUT A FACE have surfaced in a myriad of inferior films (Robert Hartford-Davis's awful CORRUPTION is one such) but only Pedro Almodovar, with THE SKIN I LIVE IN, suggesting that Franju's true spirit had been appreciated.
Sunday, 15 June 2014
LE PREMIER CERCLE/ The Dead List/ The Ultimate Heist (2009) Directed by Laurent Tuel. "
Well this one is certainly on my dead list. This tale of Armenian-French gang boss (Jean Reno with nothing to do) and his failing relationship with his son moves at a snail-pace with very little happening to relieve the boredom. Add to this the fact that all the characters take turns in acting totally stupidly without the slightest logical reason. The ultimate Heist of the American release title takes up only a few minutes at the very anticlimactic climax.
Saturday, 14 June 2014
L'EMPIRE DES LOUPS/ Empire of the Wolves (2005) Directed by Chris Nahon. **
Engaging but hardly memorable in the long term is the best way to describe this rather schizophrenic thriller. It can't really decide what it is so we get a bit of sci-fi, some horror, a serial killer, terrorist, cop film. At 90 minutes or there about one of the central characters (the reliable Jean Reno) seemingly dies by (quite spectacularly) being, symbolically, dragged down to hell in an underground cemetery in Paris. The film could have easily ended at that point but it suddenly shifts tone and location to Istanbul. About this time our hero is asked by the villain "Why did you come?" He answers "To understand". Well, I felt a bit like that myself, especially when Reno suddenly reappears. The bemused hero says "I saw you die in Paris" but receives no reply and we get no explanation. The first part of the film, set in a Paris that increasingly resembles some nightmare version of the city is the strongest and most interesting. The scenes in Turkey (with a surprise appearance by Vernon Dobtcheff) look as though they were made up on the spot and by the time one of the characters suddenly wants to do a human sacrifice to a strange idol it is quite a relief of hear Reno say "It's over". It's quite enjoyable if you don't take it seriously. The only other film I've seen by this director is BLOOD : THE LAST VAMPIRE and that wasn't particularly memorable either.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
A FACE IN THE FOG (1936) Directed by Robert F. Hill. **
It is hard to believe that this film was made as late as 1936, it seems to belong to a period five or six years earlier when these borderline horror mystery films were churned out by Hollywood's poverty row production companies. Even allowing for the fact that the print viewed was pretty dire it is obvious that the technical aspects of this film were very poor indeed and far beneath the average quality of most films made the same year. The plot is the standard mad killer on the loose who is here called "The Fiend" but you might just as well substitute "The Bat", "The Cat" or "The Octopus". The Fiend himself is a suitably grotesque creation, a black clad, crippled hunchback who evoked for me Vincent Price's similarly attired killer in HOUSE OF WAX. The killer's identity will come as no surprise to anybody with half a brain cell. Al St.John (one of only two cast names I was familiar with) was incredibly irritating as compulsory comedy relief. I've seen worse and this at least has some nice location footage and some nice old cars. Also viewed was MURDER AT MIDNIGHT (1931) Directed by Frank Strayer * which is about as bad as this mystery genre gets.
Thursday, 5 June 2014
JENNIFER (1954) Directed by Joel Newton. **
Low budget thriller which, in later years, would no doubt have ended up as a television movie-of-the- week.
There seem to be absolutely no other credits for either director Newton or writer Virginia Myles which rather adds to the mystery. The plot is standard cliche with an attractive woman taking the job of caretaker at a spooky mansion where her predecessor vanished mysteriously. Unexpected noises in the night, a local business man who seems to know more than he says and locals who utter dire warnings about strange goings on at the house. Cliche piled upon cliche. But, hell, it is an Ida Lupino film, which is a good reason to invest 70 mins in it. I prefer the lovely Ida in Film Noir mode but this was fun, if not entirely memorable. although the whole plot really comes to nothing it has a few very effective scenes (despite the over insistent "creepy" musical score) and a possible supernatural twist saved for the very last shot of the film. Ida's hubby, Howard Duff, is good in support and Ned Glass does a nice spot as the manager of the local grocery store. like me, you can catch the movie for free on You Tube.