A Forgotten Film to Remember: All Night Long (1963)

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To view All Night Long click here.

Basil Dearden is not generally a name that stirs excitement in the hearts of movie fans, or even classic movie lovers. I knew him as a British director who had worked in the 1950s and 1960s, but he did not make horror films for Hammer, and though he worked at Ealing Studio, he did not direct any of those iconic comedies that show up in retrospectives or DVD collections. Like many movie fans, my appreciation of British film of this period tends to lean toward Hammer and Ealing. Though I recognized Dearden’s name, I was not familiar with his body of work. After stumbling across All Night Long (1963) currently streaming on FilmStruck, I gained a newfound respect for him.

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Message or Muddle? Story of Women (1988)

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To view Story of Women click here.

The first thing we see is Marie Latour (Isabelle Huppert) playing with her children. She’s an attentive mother and, we soon find out, is surviving during wartime as best she can. There is not a lot of money for food and clothes, much less bills and upkeep. One morning, after waking up her children, she heads downstairs to retrieve her coffee mill from a neighbor only to find her sitting in a tub of mustard water. When Marie asks why, her neighbor tells her it’s because she is pregnant and with her husband soon shipping off, they don’t want the baby. Marie tells her mustard water won’t work and takes it upon herself to perform the abortion. Has Marie done this before? When asked, she indicates she hasn’t and simply wonders how hard can it be. That is how Story of Women, the movie based on the real life exploits of Marie-Louise Giraud, begins and by its end we are left without a clear statement from the film as to where her life stands. Were we given a message, or simply left in a muddle? The short answer for me is neither. The long answer to come is a bit more involved.

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Gunga Din (1939): An Original Blockbuster

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To view Gunga Din click here.

It’s summertime, which means we’re eyeball deep in the season of the blockbuster. These popcorn flicks widely vary in quality and entertainment value, but they all have one thing in common: they make money. And if they don’t make enough money during their run in the theater, they’ll rake it in with lucrative marketing deals with retail partners, toy manufacturers and home video sales. With all of the billion-dollar movie franchises that dominate our screens—Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, James Bond, among others—I’ve been thinking about the greatest blockbusters. The concept of the summer blockbuster is usually attributed to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, and while that film certainly set the trend for many popular films that followed, there are numerous movies from classic Hollywood that served as proto-blockbusters, including Gone with the Wind (1939), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Gunga Din (1939).

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The Mad King: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

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To view The Private Life of Henry VIII click here.

Henry VIII rose to the throne in 1509  after his father, Henry VII died. His father was the last man to ascend the throne through battle, Richard III being slain on the field in The Battle of Bosworth. But son Henry VIII never earned his throne through battle and was born with a sense of monstrous entitlement that would carry over into adulthood, and make its impact on the entire empire. In fact, his time on the throne would see the power of the monarch expand beyond anything previously imagined. Four hundred years later, in 1933, Alexander Korda would bring Henry’s personal life to the screen with The Private Life of Henry VIII, starring Charles Laughton in the title role. It became a box office hit and, to this day, Laughton’s portrayal of Henry is what most people think of when they think of Henry VIII, even if they’ve never seen the movie or heard of Charles Laughton. It’s like Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island (1950). It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen it or heard of Newton (though, if not, shame on you), your idea of a pirate probably comes from him. But Laughton’s performance, as good as it is, stands in service to a film that has only 97 precious minutes to tell a tale that could easily fill three hours and then some.

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Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

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To view the work of Toshirô Mifune on FIlmStruck, click here.

A quick search of Filmstruck brought up an impressive 24 films featuring the late great Toshirô Mifune including Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Yojimbo (1961), Red Beard (1965) and Samurai Rebellion (1967). Mifune was a giant in the world of Japanese cinema and although I’ve written a little bit about his background in the past in pieces such as Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s John Wayne and in my review of his first film, Snow Trail (1947), I wanted to know more about the man who had appeared in so many of my favorite Japanese films. My curiosity led me to recently watch Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015). This 80-minute-long feature directed by Steven Okazki and narrated by Keanu Reeves is the first documentary to offer a careful examination of Mifune’s life and work. It is not available on FilmStruck at the moment but Mifune: The Last Samurai is a nice companion piece to their current programming and should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the rich history of Japanese cinema.

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All Hail Queen Margot (1994)

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To view Queen Margot click here.

Anyone who read my appraisal of The Brontë Sisters (1979) a little while ago shouldn’t be surprised that one of my favorite actresses of all time is Isabelle Adjani, who had a significant impact on my young moviegoing mind in the 1980s and early 1990s. Her list of towering French and English language performances is formidable, but the fact that she’s rarely been seen on American screens in recent years speaks more to the state of our foreign film scene than her work as an actress. The last Adjani star vehicle to make a significant splash here was Queen Margot (1994), which was released as an awards contender by Miramax in December of that year. In a familiar Miramax move, the film was drastically shortened (by 15 minutes) and given a somewhat puzzling romantic ad campaign, which ended up shocking moviegoers who instead got a bloody tale of regal and religious treachery and violence. Don’t worry; the version running now on FilmStruck as part of our “Regicide!” theme is the original 158-minute director’s cut! [...MORE]

Shore Leave: Querelle (1982)

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To view Querelle click here.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder passed away on the morning of June 10, 1982, three weeks into the editing of his final feature Querelle. The New York Times reported that, “a video-cassette machine that he had been using was still running at 5 A.M., Munich time, when Miss Lorenz [Julie Lorenz, his roommate and editor] discovered his body.” He died of an overdose of sleeping pills and cocaine – he had long been pushing his body to extremes while shooting some 45 features in 15 years. Querelle is not a summation or a final statement, as Fassbinder was constantly shifting, poking and exploring his stylistic palette. New paths emerged within every film, and Querelle is just another fork in the road before his heart gave out, but it is a feverishly beautiful one. Querelle is a free adaptation of Jean Genet’s 1947 novel Querelle of Brest, about a dope-dealing seaman involved in a murder while on shore leave, while grappling with his repressed and newly emerging homosexual desires. Frankly erotic and garishly artificial, shot on horizonless soundstages and bathed in orange and blue filtered light, it is both ridiculous and sublime.

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Ida Lupino Gets Her Due

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To view the work of Ida Lupino available on FilmStruck, click here.

Ida Lupino was groomed for stardom by Paramount during the 1930s and achieved it at Warner Bros. in the 1940s. Yet, she loathed the star system, which turned actresses into manufactured personas that required them to behave offscreen as they did on-screen. However, her experiences as a star were not in vain because they influenced her career as a director, according to Ida Lupino, Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition, a new book by Therese Grisham and Julie Grossman.

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The Red Balloon (1956)

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To view The Red Balloon click here.

I like to think of silent cinema as our very own Tower of Babel as built by our great grandfathers in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Most pre-talkies required only a few scant intertitles here and there to be translated into different languages before being exported around the world. Most of the information then being conveyed was done visually. Iconic giants like Charlie Chaplin traversed easily across cultural borders and became famous on a level that even today no Kardashian could hope to match. Once the talkies came around, that tower of pure visual language that so easily spoke to many cultures came crashing down.

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Desperation and Bravery in Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961)

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To view Victim click here.

In late 19th century England, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was implemented, not only banning homosexuality, but making it a criminal offense. For decades, this senseless, discriminatory and repulsive law targeted, and subsequently ruined, the lives of countless gay men in England. Fear of becoming social outcasts, these men were also at risk of losing their jobs and homes. But what made this law even worse was that it left the door wide open for blackmail. If these gay men weren’t already frightened of the serious consequences brought about by this inhumane law, they had to worry about being exposed and outed to their families and employers without consent. Much like Prohibition in America encouraged the rise of an extremely violent criminal underworld peddling booze and drugs, the Criminal Law Amendment Act created a lucrative business for unscrupulous individuals to profit off of secrets. Blackmail was such an issue within the gay community, that the Criminal Law Amendment was known as “The Blackmailer’s Charter.” In 1957, seven decades after the law was enacted, John Wolfenden, an educator, along with a committee comprised of doctors, religious leaders, lawyers and professors, came to a near-unanimous decision to recommend that homosexuality be decriminalized—their findings became known as the “Wolfenden Report.” While many of the observations made by the committee are archaic by today’s standards, they were both groundbreaking and controversial for the time. Unfortunately, it took England another ten years to decriminalize homosexuality. But in the years between the Wolfenden Report and the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, there were no shortage of harsh social commentaries and protests in favor of equal rights for the gay men targeted by the law. In 1961, director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph released Victim, a cinematic masterpiece, with a groundbreaking, unflinching look at the shameful treatment of the gay community and condemnation of its blackmailers.

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