The Devil Made Me Do It

DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, THE (1941)

To view The Devil and Daniel Webster click here.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) exists outside the conventions and formulas of typical Hollywood genres, vexing those critics and writers who like to categorize. Currently streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck, the film does not belong to horror, melodrama or historical drama, though critics have touted it as a combination of all or part of those genres.

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The Man Who Saw the Angel

Andrei Tarkovsky

To view films within the FilmStruck theme “The Masters: Andrei Tarkovsky” click here.

The May 8th headline from the Film Society Lincoln Center Newsletter read “Stalker Makes Box Office History”. It went on to note how the restored 2K scan of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film released by Janus Films “grossed a record-breaking $20,540 this weekend in its exclusive run at the Walter Read Theater. Not only does this mark the Film Society’s biggest re-release of all time, Stalker also had the second highest per theater average at the overall domestic box office, following Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It would be hard to think of two films that could be further apart in style, theme, form, content or execution, and it gives me, as an arthouse film programmer, hope for the future. With numbers like that, surely some younger folks are buying tickets to see gems from the past and helping to keep cinema’s rich legacy alive. [...MORE]

Cagney Fills the Screen in Shake Hands with the Devil (’59)

SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (1959)

To view Shake Hands with the Devil click here.

During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Peter Bogdanovich conducted a series of interviews with one of his idols: the larger-than-life, enigmatic director, Orson Welles. During their conversations, which Bogdanovich released as a book in 1992, Welles discussed his favorite actors and directors, citing the ones he drew inspiration from during his own career. One of the actors that Welles considered the best to ever appear in front of a camera was James Cagney. Of Cagney, the director said, “[He] has just got to be called the number-one screen-filler in movie history. A displacer of air.” What Welles meant by this is that Cagney was the epitome of “star quality,” and used his experience as a stage actor to bring the biggest, most focused performance that could be captured on camera. Welles is right; with his 5-foot-5 body, Cagney used every bit of the camera. And not in a way that would be considered overcompensation because of his size. Cagney was a natural. His voice, depending on the role, could seamlessly transition from soft and lilting, to terrifying. He had the physical range of a dancer—even in the gangster roles he was most known for, Cagney’s movements were almost balletic.

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Quirks, Quips and Q Planes (1939)

CLOUDS OVER EUROPE (1939)

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Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier had already developed quite the reputation among actors in the 1930s as powerhouses of the London stage. Both had worked together in the West End and had recently worked together on a production of Othello at the Old Vic, with Richardson in the title role and Olivier as Iago. So the fact that their first film together should be a spy comedy seems counter-intuitive until you see it and ask yourself why it didn’t happen more often? Richardson and Olivier, joined by Valerie Hobson, turn out to be one hell of a good comedy team and Q Planes is a comedy so quickly paced and expertly timed, it still seems fresh today.

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Mad Men & Women: Good Neighbor Sam (1964)

GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM (1964)

To view Good Neighbor Sam click here.

In case you haven’t noticed, FilmStruck is spotlighting the lovely Romy Schneider with their Icons: Romy Schneider theme that brings together 17 of her films made between 1955 and 1980. A few of the highlights include Sissi (1955), which rocketed the Austrian actress to stardom, Boccaccio ’70 (1962), The Trial (1963) and That Most Important Thing: Love (1975) discussed by my fellow Streamline contributor Nathaniel Thompson last week. Today, I would like to draw your attention to Good Neighbor Sam (1964), a light-hearted 1960s sex farce that satirizes the wacky world of advertising. Good Neighbor Sam is notable for providing Schneider with her first starring role in Hollywood and it was also one of many films that inspired the critically acclaimed Mad Men (2007-2015) series.

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Singing the Last Song: Dancer in the Dark (2000)

DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)

To view Dancer in the Dark click here.

Long before he was famously excoriated by the press for his remarks at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, director and reliable provocateur Lars von Trier was already a familiar face at the annual event with a string of awards under his belt including the Cannes Grand Prix for Breaking the Waves (1996) and the Prix du Jury for Europa (1991). Anticipation was riding high in May of 2000 when the film he dubbed the third in his “Golden Heart” trilogy appeared in public for the first time (following Breaking and his explicit, button-pushing The Idiots in 1998): Dancer in the Dark, his first musical. Publicity at the time centered on the use of over a hundred digital cameras to capture the elaborate musical sequences, but in retrospect it would be other factors that contributed to the film’s legacy after it went home with the Palme d’Or that year. Now streaming here as part of a series of Cannes-winning films, it’s still a dazzling and troubling film that sinks its teeth into you and won’t let go for days. [...MORE]

Desire: A Day in the Country (1936)

DAY IN THE COUNTRY, A (1936)

To view A Day in the Country click here.

One of Jean Renoir’s most beloved films is one he wasn’t interested in finishing. While making A Day in the Country, Renoir was in pre-production on both The Lower Depths (1936) and Grand Illusion (1937). Once A Day in the Country ran into money problems he put it to the side, leaving it to be finished by his producer Pierre Braunberger. Shot in 1936, it wasn’t released until 1946 as a 40-minute short, whereupon it swiftly entered the pantheon. A suggestive slip of a movie, adapted from a Maupassant short story, it portrays the dueling desires of a bourgeois Parisian family and two country layabouts out for a bit of flirtatious sport. What transpires is beyond their respective imaginings, a transformative lust that lingers well beyond that afternoon under the summer sun.

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Billy Bob Thornton and the Southern Gothic

SLINGBLADE_1996_FP_130

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Articles about Billy Bob Thornton’s films, scripts or starring roles inevitably bring up some combination of his eccentric behavior, Southern background and strange marriage to Angelina Jolie. Any one of those personal details might drive mainstream reviewers to ridicule or dismiss the films he has written and/or directed, but the three together have likely tanked any significant critical appreciation of his entire body of work.

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Counter-Revolutionaries: Knight Without Armour (1937)

KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937)

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The year 1937 witnessed a milestone for author James Hilton, as two of his books got the big screen treatment on both sides of the Atlantic. One, Lost Horizon, needs no introduction. Produced by Harry Cohn and directed by Frank Capra, the movie was a smash with critics and audiences alike. In Britain, the other movie adapted from Hilton’s work, Knight Without Armour, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Jacques Feyder, met with a troubled production and a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences upon its release. Ultimately, the film lost money and faded away. But it stars Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich and provides one of the more interesting takes on the Russian aristocracy during the revolution, especially coming only two decades after the fact and a mere two years before the USSR would work with Nazi Germany before switching horses midstream to work with the Allied Forces in World War II. [...MORE]

The Delightfully Perfect Blithe Spirit (1945)

BLITHE SPIRIT (1945)

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There are countless great movies, but so few are truly perfect. Some of the movies that I consider worthy of the “perfect” designation include Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), Mervyn LeRoy’s Random Harvest (1942) and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). In these films, it’s easy to break down what makes them special: not a single moment is wasted. Every shot, scene, snippet of dialogue, musical accompaniment and actor’s glance is carefully constructed; the result of the intricate work of cinematic masters at the helm. In Notorious, Hitchcock centers his story around two of the most beautiful, talented actors (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) while masterfully weaving romance, sexuality, political intrigue and an empathetic view of a morally corrupt character. In The Best Years of Our Lives, Wyler authentically captures the complicated nature of veterans returning home and adjusting to civilian life—something that was all too real for Wyler and his fellow World War II veterans. And in The Apartment, Billy Wilder skillfully creates a humorous and heartbreaking glimpse of two lonely people finding love while caught up in the midst of sleazy corporate America.

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