Random Thoughts on The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

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To view The Testament of Dr. Mabuse click here.

Watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) again recently, I was struck by many things. So many, in fact, that coming up with just one angle from which to approach the subject seemed like a cheat as there were numerous angles available. Sometimes you watch a movie and a rush of thoughts, memories and ideas keep crashing into you from the screen, never letting you focus in on just one element of the film at any given time. That’s not a bad thing either and I think it’s one of the primary reasons that the best movies reward multiple viewings. A great and complex movie makes you think of different things while it’s going on, so you can’t possibly take it all in with only a single viewing. You must watch it again, and again, and again. And even then, you might not know exactly how to put it all together. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is one such movie and I have no single theme to tackle here. Rather, I’d like to take a kind of epistolary approach, a cataloging of mental diary entries and newspaper clippings that swirled around my head as I watched.

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Don’t Watch M (1931) on Your Anniversary, and Other Unsolicited Romantic Advice

M (1931)

In case you want to see M click here.

Today, my husband and I are celebrating our anniversary. When we were married, the two of us were young, broke and stupid. We had no earthly idea what we were doing, or what was ahead of us. But we had fun. Lots of fun. Sixteen years later and we’re still broke, we’re much older and not necessarily wiser (but maybe a little less stupid). One thing that has always been a constant in our relationship is our sense of humor about everything. Matter of fact, our mutual appreciation for irreverent humor helped guide us through many of life’s unexpected obstacles. And when it comes to romance, my husband and I are pretty unconventional and pragmatic. We’ve been that way since we first dated almost twenty years ago. Don’t get me wrong–there are little gestures and surprises here and there, but you won’t see the likes of us in a Hallmark ad campaign. Our idea of romance is spending time together, laughing and sharing the things we love with each other, such as music and especially movies.

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Crammed Full of Genre: While the City Sleeps (1956)

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, Dana Andrews, Sally Forrest, Thomas Mitchell, Ida Lupino, 1956

I just did a Fritz Lang movie last week (The Big Heat from 1953) and there have been other posts on the director around these parts lately as well so forgive me if I dive into familiar waters one more time. You see, I tend to focus on the ethical dilemmas of Lang’s work, in movies like M (1931), Fury (1936), Scarlet Street (1945), and, of course, The Big Heat*, where the good guys and the bad guys tend to overlap. But before I take a break from writing about Lang, I’d like to throw in one more post on what may be my biggest Lang surprise in all my years of watching him. It’s a movie that throws so many genre tropes together into one big pot, it’s a miracle any of it works at all. But it does, magnificently so. It’s one of those movies that came and went and despite having plenty of big names in the cast, it feels like a low budget movie shot on the run. This amazing little piece of work called While the City Sleeps (1956) may be Lang’s most purely enjoyable film.

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Joan Bennett: Fritz Lang’s Muse

SCARLET STREET (1945)

Joan Bennett got her start in Hollywood as a lovely, demure, fair-haired ingénue but made her mark as a sexy, feisty, dark-haired femme fatale. Her transformation was atypical in Tinseltown where many natural brunettes such as Carole Lombard, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, found success after becoming bottle blonds. Bennett’s makeover happened during the production of Trade Winds (1938), an amusing crime-drama where she plays a woman on the run from the law who is forced to change her appearance. She looked so striking as a brunette that she was inundated with fan mail after the film’s release and got approval from national hairdresser associations who publicly admired her exotic new ‘do. Critics disapprovingly compared her to Hedy Lamarr but according to the actress’s autobiography (The Bennett Playbill), she relished the idea of escaping the “bland, blond, innocent” image that had dogged her and the change of appearance brought about a newfound personal and professional confidence. Afterward Bennett became politically active, fell in love with producer Walter Wanger and began a creative partnership with director Fritz Lang that would forever alter the trajectory of her career.

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Vigilante Justice: The Big Heat (1953)

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William P. McGivern created Harry Callaghan, better known as Dirty Harry. Not literally. He created the literary environment that made Harry Callaghan possible, as well as Paul Kersey, the vigilante at the center of Death Wish (1974). McGivern was the writer who gave us The Big Heat (1953) and Rogue Cop (1954), both made into movies in the fifties and the former, The Big Heat, gave us the character of Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion, the cop at the heart of the film who fights against a corrupt system outside the lines, quitting his job to pursue vigilante justice on his own. It’s a good story but is Dave Bannion a good guy? Is there a good guy in the story? Maybe.

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July 18, 2015
David Kalat
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Guest post: How to Solve a Problem Like Maria

In case you missed the listings, TCM is screening Fritz Lang’s Metropolis this week—and users of the splendid TCM smartphone app can stream it at their leisure. I have a very fond spot for this film, beyond its significance as a masterwork of world cinema. I was a student at the University of Michigan’s Film and Video Studies program in the early 1990s when a previous restorations effort was unveiled at the Michigan Theater. In 2010 I was asked by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema to contribute to the UK Blu-Ray edition of the newest restoration, and got the special privilege of being one of the first people to see it.

Earlier this summer, the Chicago Symphony’s CSO at the Movies program screened the film with live accompaniment by the symphony, and I had the pleasure of taking my daughter Ann to see it with me. She had not seen the film before, and came out of the screening full of energy and enthusiasm for what she’d just experienced. It occurred to me that given that she’s blogged here before in my place, I should once again hand the keyboard to her to let her share her perspective. Click the fold below and I’ll let Ann take over from there—

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KEYWORDS: Fritz Lang, Metropolis
COMMENTS: 5
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January 10, 2015
David Kalat
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The Ministry of Fear

So what do we find here? Two different fortune tellers, neither one genuine. A dead man who isn’t dead—or, put another way, a man who is killed twice. Two different characters who kill a loved one, a set of secret microfilm that is stolen twice, a fake blind man, fake cops, a fake delivery of some fake books to a fake address. Is Mr. Travers the same man as Dr. Forester, or is Mr. Travers the same man as Mr. Costa? Which Mrs. Bellane is the real one—or is neither one of them a real person?

OK, slow down. Take this one step at a time.

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KEYWORDS: Dan Duryea, Fritz Lang, Ministry of Fear, Ray Milland
COMMENTS: 9
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Man Hunt (1941)

Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt, also known as “the other 1941 movie with Walter Pidgeon and Roddy McDowall,” starts as a tense “what if” story, becomes a taut thriller and ends up a rallying cry for England’s war effort, and through it all it never stops entertaining, never stops thrilling.  It couldn’t have been easy directing propaganda efforts in the war years, knowing that no matter what artistry you injected into the movie, its main intent would be to rally support and bolster morale while the bombs fell but some directors handled it with aplomb.  Fritz Lang was one such director and Man Hunt is one of the best propaganda efforts to emerge from the early war years.

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April 19, 2014
David Kalat
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Occupy Fritz Lang

There is a secret conspiracy that rules the world.

This hidden power can make or break a fortune at a moment’s whim.  It decrees the rise and fall of nations.  It chooses who lives, and who dies.

There are some—like the heroic British spy with a number for a name, or the alluring Mata Hari-like international woman of mystery he keeps running into—who think they can use the tools of surveillance, cryptography, and overall spookcraft to expose this obscure force and save the world.

Wanna know a secret?  This secret power—he’s a banker.  You can Occupy Wall Street all you want: the Great Banker is the spider at the heart of this massive web, and he will outlast you all.

So, yeah, for a silent movie made in Germany in 1928, there’s a lot going on here.  You can play along at home if you want when TCM runs this later tonight.

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KEYWORDS: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, spies
COMMENTS: 4
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March 1, 2014
David Kalat
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While the City Sleeps: Hell, Yeah!

Last week’s post on Jean Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal brought to light a pocket of fans of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps—and so in honor of that long-suffering cohort, this week I figured I’d properly pay tribute to one of Lang’s unsung classics.

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KEYWORDS: Dana Andrews, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, M, Vincent Price, While the City Sleeps
COMMENTS: 8
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