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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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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Counter-Revolutionaries: Knight Without Armour (1937)

KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937)

To view Knight Without Armour click here.

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)

To view Blithe Spirit click here.

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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The Past Is Always With Us: The Naked Kiss (1964)

NAKED KISS, THE (1964)

To view The Naked Kiss click here.

Samuel Fuller developed a reputation over time of being the tough guy director of movies like Pickup on South Street (1953), The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Big Red One (1980). This is all well and good but his films have a sense of style, and insight at their core, that belies the notion that Fuller can be pigeonholed as the cigar-chomping model of masculinity behind the camera. He may well have been, but the man put together more movies about regret and despair than most directors and occasionally dipped deeply into the well of sentimentality. In 1964, he put together a movie whose story and plot could have easily been mistaken for the kind of movie directed by Douglas Sirk, although with completely different results. In fact, The Naked Kiss (1964) may be described as the best movie Douglas Sirk never made.

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“Just shut up and watch!”: Remembering Seijun Suzuki (1923-2017)

TokyoDrifter_1966_39 image 2

To view the work of Seijun Suzuki click here.

On February 13, we lost Seijun Suzuki. The Japanese director, screenwriter, actor and producer was 93-years-old at the time of his death and a titan in my own cinematic universe but I haven’t had the opportunity to properly mourn his passing. With Suzuki’s birthday fast approaching (May 24th) I thought I would devote some time to discussing the movie maverick who is being commemorated on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck with “Chaos of Cool: A Tribute to Seijun Suzuki.” The programing theme presents seven of Suzuzki’s films including Take Aim at the Police Van (1960), Youth of the Beast (1963), Gate of Flesh (1964), Story of a Prostitute (1965), Fighting Elegy (1966), Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967) but if you search for the director’s name on FilmStruck you will also find Everything Goes Wrong (1960), which I singled out in the past. If you are unfamiliar with Suzuki or already a fan, “Chaos of Cool” provides subscribers with a fantastic opportunity to explore the work of one of Japan’s most dynamic, influential and innovative filmmakers.

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All You Need Is the Importance of Love

THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975)

To view That Most Important Thing: Love click here.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream press, one of the biggest losses to the film community last year was the death of filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, a dazzling Polish filmmaker who stirred up attention both positive and negative from critics and his government in the early 1970s with The Devil (1972). He wound up relocating to France where he made the lion’s share of his later work, the first of which was L’important c’est d’aimer (1975). Translating that title elegantly into English is a tricky feat; American distributor Seaberg Film Distribution tried its best with its dubbed 1977 version called The Most Important Thing: Love, while others try to smooth it out as The Main Thing Is to Love or The Importance of Love. However, none of those Baz Luhrmann-style monikers really give you an idea of what’s really in store in this deeply affecting and wildly flamboyant portrait of passion and artistry that’s unlike anything else you’ll ever see.

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Bigotry & Bloodshed: Sapphire (1959)

SAPPHIRE (1959)

To view Sapphire click here.

A beautiful young woman named Sapphire (Yvonne Buckingham) has been murdered. Her bloodied corpse was found in London’s Hampstead Heath park. A seasoned detective (Nigel Patrick) and his young partner (Michael Craig) are called on to investigate the case but as they try to piece together the puzzle of this post-war whodunit the mystery only deepens. Behind her tweed skirts and pale complexion, Sapphire was keeping many secrets including the fact that she was the biracial child of a black mother and white father. Did race play a part in her murder? Is a family member involved? Or was she killed by one of her male suitors? Before the killer is unmasked, this curious mystery takes some surprising twists and turns. In the process viewers get a firsthand look at London’s vibrant city streets undergoing a tectonic shift as denizens of white working-class pubs and black jazz clubs mix, mingle and occasionally fall in love. We also get a taste of the revolting racism quietly simmering underneath this modern cultural melting-pot.

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