Man’s Castle 1933

Embarrassed to say but I just watched Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle for the first time this week.

Wow, what a movie!

Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young are both excellent but the way the movie plows headlong into the plight of desperate people during the despression is remarkable. There are some obvious hard cuts in the movie because when they re-released it a few years later, they cut out 9 minutes of stuff considered too offensive in the era of the production code. But, hell, what they left in is still pretty amazing.

And that ending! If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it.

Favorite line in the whole movie: “Murder? This ain’t murder. This is housecleaning.”

Great stuff.

How’s It Going, Everybody?

Every now and then I stop back in to look at some of the updated comments and I’m surprised, and gladdened, to see that there still are comments! Now, I no longer get paid to post here so this is just a “Hi, how are you?” to everyone who still comments here (so don’t freak out, Streamline, I’m still writing for you at tumblr – I won’t put this on the invoice).

I’ve missed talking with you guys quite a lot. Comments are difficult and burdensome on tumblr so most people just leave their comments on the twitter page. That would be, by the way, https://twitter.com/FilmStruck. My own twitter, if anyone wants to comment on my posts there, is https://twitter.com/fantomascinema . Please, feel free to stop by anytime.

So, this is going to be super informal since it’s not actually a paid post or anything.  Some movies I’ve seen recently:

PHANTOM THREAD. Thought it was excellent although I found it more visually beautiful to behold than dramatically captivating. All three leads (Day-Lewis, Manville, and Krieps) were exceptionally good.

BABY DRIVER. Wow! The sound mixing and editing really made this movie a showcase for what the cinema can do. I found it absolutely thrilling from start to finish. Terrific.

WONDER WOMAN. Right now, this may well be my favorite comic book movie yet. Also, I fully admit, I was pretty much gushing over Gal Gadot in every scene. Honestly think she could have gotten nominated. No emotional or dramatic theatrics, but she holds on tight to her character and never lets go.

LAST JEDI. Seen every STAR WARS in the theater, so I wasn’t going to stop here. Didn’t much care for it. Didn’t outright hate it, but I was pretty “eh” upon leaving the theater.

DUNKIRK. Liked it. Was hoping for more of a gut impact but didn’t get it. The evacuation, which is at the heart of the historic battle, takes a back seat to the drama of preparing for the evacuation instead. Works, but not as well as I’d hoped.

GET OUT. Fully pleased with this horror/satire. Fantastic work on everyone’s part and really happy that both Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya got recognized.

Well, that’s it for now.  Talk to you again soon!

Greg

 

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Affairs of the Heart: The Wedding Night (1935)

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To view The Wedding Night click here.

The Wedding Night was doomed from the start. It was producer Samuel Goldwyn’s final attempt at making the Ukrainian actress Anna Sten into a Garbo-level star, and his persistence had become something of a Hollywood joke. The Wedding Night became known around town as “Goldwyn’s Last Sten,” but though it failed as a star-making enterprise, it was another sensitively directed drama from King Vidor, detailing an unlikely romance between a dissolute big city writer and a Polish farm girl.

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Murnau and the Phantoms of Germany

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To view Phantom click here.

It’s that time of year when Nosferatu (1922), F.W. Murnau’s interpretation of Dracula, appears on lists of recommended horror films. The oldest, existing film version of Bram Stoker’s novel, Nosferatu is likely Murnau’s most watched title. It’s eerie Expressionist style was a major influence on the American horror genre, but Murnau’s talent for mise-en-scène is evident in all of his films. I have been fortunate enough to see most of his movies, but one film, Phantom, eluded me until recently. Currently streaming on FilmStruck, Phantom (1922) was one of those thousands of silents that had been lost to the pages of history. However, in the early 2000s, a print of the film was found in an old theater in Germany. The film was restored through the efforts of several organizations, including the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation.

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Mario Bava Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

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To view A Bay of Blood click here.

A Bay of Blood (1971) shares something in common with Friday the 13th (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Brazil (1985). The first commonality is obvious as A Bay of Blood was clearly a huge influence on Friday the 13th (director Sean S. Cunningham cribs Mario Bava’s murder-setups along with a forest-by-the-water landscape normally used to inspire a sense of idyll), leaving the second connection squarely on the shoulders of Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects master who could decapitate a person as easily for Bava as he could construct a small, amiable and home-sick alien with a penguin-like waddle for Spielberg. As to the third connection, I’d like to think that one would stump most. Here’s the answer: both A Bay of Blood and Brazil begin with the death of a fly. In Brazil it’s a big to-do, with a bureaucrat killing said fly such that it lands in a typewriter, causing a typo that sets in motion all the chaos to follow. In A Bay of Blood, around the two-minute-mark, a fly buzzes noisily in the night sky and then, seconds later, drops into the water with a soft “plop” and dies with barely a ripple. It will be the first death of many.

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An Unusual Western: William Wyler’s The Westerner (’40)

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To view The Westerner click here.

In 1940, immediately following his adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1939), William Wyler directed his first major full-length Western, The Westerner, starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Although he hadn’t yet made any Westerns for producer Samuel Goldwyn, this wasn’t Wyler’s first time working in the popular genre. In the 1920s, in the early years of his career working for Carl Laemmle at Universal, Wyler was a crew member on countless Westerns, eventually working his way up to director. Finally in the director’s chair and still under contract with Universal, Wyler only directed Westerns. It wasn’t until the 1928 comedy Has Anyone Seen Kelly? starring Bessie Love, that he was able to break free and experiment with other genres outside of the Western. Returning to the genre after a long absence gave Wyler a renewed perspective, allowing him to apply his artistic vision and constantly evolving camera techniques to something he was quite familiar with.

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Beware The Blob (1958)!

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To view The Blob click here.

The credits are Saul Bass lite. Different red shapes, blobby outlines, move forward on the screen while one of the great movie theme songs plays behind them. The song, “Beware the Blob,” performed by The Five Blobs (lead singer Bernie Knee) and written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, is instantly singable upon one hearing. Finally, the title of the movie, in black surrounded by a glowing red outline, appears. And so begins the 1958 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first major film role (often credited as his debut when in fact he had done both movies and plenty of TV before). The Blob is often pigeonholed into the same category as any other low-budget sci-fi film from the 1950s that most people would now call “cult classics” but it’s actually a lot more than that and deserves better. Better treatment and better direction. It’s a frustrating mixture of all the right ingredients producing a less than optimal outcome but still showing enough promise that it’s a fascinating journey.

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Boris Karloff is The Body Snatcher (1945)

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To view The Body Snatcher click here.

Director Robert Wise is widely regarded as a journeyman filmmaker with no defining traits or distinct talents. In The American Cinema: Directors And Directions 1929-1968 critic Andrew Sarris famously labeled Wise’s output as “strained seriousness” asserting that the director’s “stylistic signature . . . is indistinct to the point of invisibility.” David Thompson parroted these claims in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film when he stated that Wise’s “better credits are only the haphazard products of artistic aimlessness given rare guidance” and complained that his filmography was merely a “restless, dispiriting search among subject areas.” While it’s true that Wise explored a variety of genres including horror, science fiction, noir, westerns, musicals and war dramas, his best films frequently share a gloomy nihilistic worldview and he possessed the extraordinary ability to elicit career-defining performances from many of the actors he worked with.

A few of the remarkable roles Wise nurtured and defined include Lawrence Tierney’s ruthless Sam Wilde in Born to Kill (1947), Robert Ryan’s down-and-out boxer in The Set-Up (1949), Michael Rennie’s peace-pursuing alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Susan Hayward’s doomed career criminal in I Want to Live! (1958), Rita Moreno’s spirited and vengeful Anita in West Side Story (1961), Julie Harris’s meek and melancholy Eleanor “Nell” Lance in The Haunting (1963) and Steve McQueen’s solitary sailor in The Sand Pebbles (1966). But my favorite acting feat in all of Wise’s directing oeuvre can be found in The Body Snatcher (1945). Currently streaming on FilmStruck, this classic Val Lewton production directed by Wise, stars Boris Karloff in what is arguably his most accomplished performance playing John Gray, a merciless grave robber with soul-piercing eyes and a bone-chilling grin.

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A Chilly Early Christmas: L’assassinat du Père Noël (1941)

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To view L’assassinat du Père Noël click here

First of all, let it be said that this film has one of my all-time favorite opening credit sequences. It’s almost a lost art these days how much impact you can have on an audience the first time they see a film’s title blasted on a theatrical screen stretching from floor to ceiling, and the one here is just killer. Sure, it’s always cool to see the words Gone with the Wind (1939) scrolling across in huge letters or Star Wars (1977) blasting in your face with the full John Williams musical treatment, but there’s something about the opening minute or so of L’assassinat du Père Noël (1941) that really grabs you by the throat as a lurching figure carrying a sack loaded with gifts stumbles to the camera in moody lighting, his hood and beard picking up an eerie glow from behind as he gets closer to the camera. It’s both sinister and charming, a perfect opener for a film that mixes those two qualities in great abundance. I don’t care if Woody Allen’s been recycling that same black background and Windsor font for decades now in his opening credits; I’m a sucker for a riveting curtain raiser like this, and hopefully you are, too. [...MORE]

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