Monday, July 28, 2008

Target #227: Laura (1944, Otto Preminger)

TSPDT placing: #320
Directed by: Otto Preminger, Rouben Mamoulian (uncredited)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 Only]

Laura. She's the talk of the town. She's enterprising, intelligent and beautiful. Men fall over themselves to get close to her, women envy her sophistication; Laura is, to paraphrase a very well-known detective, the stuff that dreams are made of. Such are her charms that she will even drive one respectable person to commit murder. Her murder. But who would want to kill Laura Hunt? Otto Preminger's nifty little 1940s thriller, Laura (1944), simultaneously evokes the spirit of hard-boiled pulp noir, an Agatha Christie murder mystery and even a little surreal fantasy. With a brief running time and an intimately-small cast, the film is perhaps closer in spirit to a traditional "countryhouse murder" tale than sprawling gangster film noir pictures like John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946). Nevertheless, stylistically, Laura is pure noir, and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, a notable favourite of Billy Wilder later in his career, expertly employs shadows and lighting to create the close, claustrophobic atmosphere that arises when one person in the room must be a cold-blooded murderer.
There is no other way to say it: Gene Tierney is absolutely ravishing. From the film's opening moments, when we glimpse her seductive figure in a hanging portrait, my heart melted; I was instantly brought under her enchanting spell. If I may adopt the vocabulary of our hard-boiled hero, she's a perfect dame! When hard-edged cop Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews, the spitting image of Steve Martin in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)) is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of the city's most coveted women (Tierney), he uncovers a bizarre romantic triangle that offers endless motives for such a heinous crime. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), an older newspaper columnist with a reputation for acid wit, originally offered Laura her big break in business, and had protectively maintained a relationship with her that surpassed love and bordered on obsession. Meanwhile, a wealthy charmer, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), had asked for Laura's hand in marriage, a proposal about which she had been non-committal. Even in death, Laura's femme fatale charm remains just as potent, and Lt. McPherson soon finds himself infatuated with her lingering spirit.

Then, of course, comes the wonderfully-surreal moment when our love-struck detective awakens to watch his murder victim walk into the room. Originally, Rouben Mamoulian {Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)} had been hired to direct the film, and his version ended with the revelation that Laura's reappearance had merely been a dream, a construction of McPherson's subconscious. When producer Otto Preminger decided to take over, he unceremoniously scrapped Mamoulian's completed footage and started over. Even without this final psychological complication, which might nevertheless have seemed a cop-out, Preminger's mystery is consistently engrossing and often fascinating. Most intriguing of all is Lydecker's relationship with Laura, and Clifton Webb's unconventional yet highly-effective casting in the role. The noted Broadway performer had not acted in a film since the silent era, but his flamboyant and foppish personality translates perfectly to the screen. Lydecker doesn't seem to actually love Laura, but rather he wishes to be her, to live vicariously through her, and for any man (other than himself) to be in Laura's life is an affront both to himself and his sexuality.

Currently my #4 film of 1944:
1) Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)
2) Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra)
3) Gaslight (George Cukor)
4) Laura (Otto Preminger)
5) Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock)

What others have said:

"Not just another noir classic of '44, Laura almost succeeds in pulling the screen apart at the seams, if only to stitch it together again in a visibly frantic finale. The narrator's a critic, the cop a would-be necrophiliac, and the femme fatale a faceless corpse... or are they? Less investigative thriller than an investigation of that genre's conventions - voyeurism (looking at, and for, Laura), a search for solutions (not just whodunit but whodunwhat), and the race against time (clues and clocks, fantasies and flashbacks) - the plot is deliberately perfunctory, the people deliciously perverse, and the mise-en-scène radical."

"Otto Preminger's directorial debut (1944), not counting the five previous B films he refused to acknowledge and an earlier feature made in Austria. It reveals a coldly objective temperament and a masterful narrative sense, which combine to turn this standard 40s melodrama into something as haunting as its famous theme. Less a crime film than a study in levels of obsession, Laura is one of those classic works that leave their subject matter behind and live on the strength of their seductive style."

"Waldo Lydecker, who introduces himself to a detective investigating the murder of the titular Laura by stepping out of a bath like some hybrid of Smithers and Mr. Burns, acts as the piece's unreliable narrator, stalking through his scenes like a dandy in honorary high collar and spats while providing the strangest contention in a strange film: that this aging, fey, homosexual lothario was passionately in love with his ward, Laura. The picture might be the most overt iteration of film noir as a genre about emasculation ever put to celluloid, and trying to puzzle out whether Waldo's for real and chief gumshoe McPherson buys any of his honeyed hooey constitutes a good portion of what's fun and maddening in equal measure about it. That tension between what's ridiculous and what the characters take seriously makes Laura a mystery, for sure, but not for the obvious reasons."


Friday, July 25, 2008

Target #226: Andrey Rublyov / Andrei Rublev (1969, Andrei Tarkovsky)

TSPDT placing: #48

Just as Andrei Rublev faced doubt about whether or not, having sinned, he could continue his celebrated iconography, I likewise find myself in two minds about Andrei Tarkovsky's film. My experience with the director's other work is, as usual, limited, but I still couldn't shake that persistent expectation that I would love Andrei Rublev (1969). There is certainly much to love about it, but my appreciation for the film can best be described as admiration rather than affection, and, though I can speak with only the utmost praise for Tarkovsky's achievement, it doesn't occupy that exclusive space close to my heart. The film is a deeply-personal religious work, an examination of faith and moral values, and so perhaps it's inevitable that the film didn't leave such a deep impression, considering my preference towards atheism; one unfortunately cannot discard all personal convictions for the mere purposes of appreciating a work of art. I do, however, like to think that the majesty of cinema, in most cases, is able to transcend religious boundaries.

Andrei Tarkovsky released his first feature-length film, Ivan's Childhood, in 1962. Even prior to its release, the director had already expressed interest in filming the life of great Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev, even though very little is actually known about his life. Working with a screenplay written by himself and Andrei Konchalovsky, Tarkvosky began filming in 1964, and a 205-minute cut was screened for a private audience in Moscow in 1966. The critical response, however, was mixed, and sizeable cuts were made to the film's running time, before a 186-minute version screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969. I'm not entirely sure which version I ended up watching; the time counter indicated somewhere around 165 minutes, though my brief research couldn't uncover any major missing sequences. In hindsight, I should probably have held out for longer and acquired the Criterion Collection DVD, which restores the picture to its four-hour glory. In several years' time, when I inevitably decide to revisit Tarkovsky's film, I'll make certain to do just that.

Andrei Rublev is divided into nine distinct segments, including a colour epilogue displaying Rublev's weathered icons as they exist today. They each explore a facet of the great painter's life, placing particular emphasis on his faith in God and how it relates to his work on frescos and icons. Interestingly, though Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn) himself appears in most of the stories, he is often hidden in the background, a passive observer on the behaviour of others, including Kirill (Ivan Lapikov), who is jealous of Rublev's recognition, and young Boriska (Nikolai Burlyayev), who successfully casts a bell using faith rather than knowledge. One consequence of this narrative format is a lack of cohesiveness in Tarkovsky's storytelling. We adequately follow the plot of each segment, but, as the whole, the film doesn't seem to build towards any notable climactic revelation – the completed film is equal to the sum of its parts, which is still very impressive, but pulls it short of being a masterpiece. Once again, however, I must acknowledge that the 205-minute version may potentially correct this problem.

One statement that can not be disputed, however, is that Andrei Rublev really is a beautiful piece of film-making. Vadim Yusov's black-and-white photography captures the exquisite delicateness of nature with almost heartbreaking intricacy; even the raindrops of a midday shower are imbued with the gentle elegance of the Heaven from which they ostensibly fell. Tarkovsky finds simple beauty in the quiver of a tree branch in the breeze, the leisurely flow of a river, herds of livestock fleeing from an aerial balloon. In portraying the complete opposite, the destruction of nature, the director is capable but not quite the master he is otherwise. The raiding of Vladimir by a troop of Tatars was obviously supposed to be the centrepiece of the picture, but Tarkovsky underplays every detail to such an extent that his "chaos" ultimately winds down into a staged conflict. Compare this sequence with Sergei Bondarchuk's burning of Moscow in War and Peace (1967), in which one feels as though he has descended into the fires of Hell, and the contrast is telling.

Currently my #2 film of 1969:
1) Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger)
2) Andrey Rublyov {Andrei Rublev} (Andrei Tarkovsky)
3) Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen)

What others have said:

"The key is that the events in the film illuminate Rublev's state of mind -- or rather they show what Tarkovsky imagines to be Rublev's state of mind, since few facts are known about the painter's actual life story. In that way, Rublev's character here is emblematic of The Artist, particularly one torn between a devotion to the spiritual and the nagging sensation that, perhaps, there is a great hypocrisy behind much of what masquerades as spirituality."

"Lacking the cult credentials of Tarkovsky's later and more immediate sci-fi films Solaris and Stalker, Andrei Rublev delivers something more austere; a story of oblique mysticism that styles the artist as a Christ-like figure crucified by the brutality of the age as he wanders in search of redemption and - what may perhaps be ultimately the same thing - inspiration. Rublev becomes Tarkovsky's own canvas, and it is on him that the filmmaker paints a vision of his belief in art as a means of rediscovering the spiritual."

"Based on the life of fifteenth century Russian monk and icon painter Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitzine), this magnificently mounted epic film follows his experiences in a Russia ravaged by Tartar invaders. Rublev is shown during various times of his life--the period is vividly recreated in all its violence. The movie represents that very rare hybrid, an epic that is highly personal, expressing the feeling of an artist who is in inherent and endemic conflict with the surrounding society and its oppressive institutions."


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Target #225: The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)

TSPDT placing: #552

Directed by: Jack Clayton
Written by: Henry James (novella), William Archibald (screenplay), Truman Capote (screenplay), John Mortimer (additional scenes & dialogue)
WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

The secret to mastering the horror genre is atmosphere. Modern directors can keep their unrealistic monsters, their overuse of gore, their sudden cheap scares – great horror is all about atmosphere. For this very reason, Alejandro Amenábar's The Others (2001) is one of the finer chillers to have come our way in the last decade, and it's not altogether unsurprising to discover that the film borrowed extensively from an earlier film, Jack Clayton's masterful ghost story, The Innocents (1961). Adapted from Henry James' 1898 novella "The Turn of the Screw," the film's screenplay was co-written by William Archibald and Truman Capote. Like James' original story, which has been endlessly debated by literary critics for over a century, Clayton's film has, after all these decades, retained its tone of ambiguity. Is it a ghost story? Is it a psychological exploration of a sexually-repressed woman? Whichever way you interpret it, 'The Innocents' remains one of the horror genre's landmark achievements, and the secrets of an old, dark mansion have rarely been more sinister, nor indeed, more beautiful.

The elegant Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, the reserved daughter of a country parson, who agrees to become governess to two orphaned children in the care of a wealthy, indifferent businessman (Michael Redgrave). After travelling to a remote country mansion, Miss Giddens meets Flora (Pamela Franklin), a warm and vivacious young girl with a fondness for her pet tortoise. However, when Flora's brother Miles (Martin Stephens) is mysteriously expelled from school and sent home early, life at the house begins to take a sinister turn, despite the boy's charming and seemingly-innocent demeanour. Peculiar apparitions begin to appear, supplemented by an unnerving selection of unidentifiable creaks, voices and music. Large homes, it seems, breed large secrets, and it doesn't take long before Bly House reveals its tragic past, a scandal involving the former valet Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Giddens' predecessor Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), who were romantically involved and who both died in bizarre circumstances. Could the mansion's past, long thought forgotten, be returning to haunt and corrupt its current residents?

Placing Kerr in the main role was a very deliberate and effective casting decision. Few actresses are able to project such grace and reverence, and, consequently, the audience is expected to treat her character's suppositions as sensible and well-founded suspicions. But, indeed, is it sensible to suppose that two former lovers, to allow their continued romance, have inhabited the souls of two young children? Why has Miss Giddens alone witnessed these perplexing manifestations? The participation of author Truman Capote contributes elements of Southern Gothic literature, and the perceived haunting might justifiably be approached as the metaphorical personification of Miss Giddens' repressed sexual desires. Having endured a confined childhood with a smothering religious father, she has taught herself to suppress these desires, and her feelings towards Michael Redgrave's prosperous businessman instead manifest themselves in the form of the ghost of Peter Quint, a handsome rogue who represents everything from whom her parson father had shielded her; Quint's former lover, Miss Jessel, could conceivably have been her in different circumstances.

In the film's most shocking and unsettling twist, Miss Giddens' ill-directed sexual desires transfer themselves from the absent businessman to his roguishly-charming nephew, Miles, a pre-pubescent boy. Their frictional relationship, which must have caused severe headaches for the censors, culminates in a alarmingly-sensual kiss, which Miss Giddens' feebly returns in the film's final moments. If we were to exclude for the moment the possibility of ghostly possession, the perceived "corruption" of the two young children could be viewed as a result of their abuse by the now-deceased lovers, and it is strongly implied that the children may have been present when the pair performed sexual acts; it is only when forced to confront these memories that the children finally deteriorate into hysterics, and permanent emotional damage is done. Both children are excellent in difficult roles, but Martin Stephens is the genuine sensation, approaching the role with maturity and assuredness that suggests an actor twice his age. Stephens recognises perfectly that young Miles should not be an openly sinister character, and yet every charming complement is undertoned by the subtlest hint of sardonic menace.

At the end of the day, whether one accepts The Innocents as a psychological thriller or a traditional ghost story, the unambiguous truth is that Jack Clayton's film is brilliant. The black-and-white Cinemascope photography by Freddie Francis {who also worked on The Elephant Man (1980), and has directed his own share of films} is breathtaking to behold, with many scenes seemingly lit only by the flickering flame of a single candle. The sound design, particularly in a virtuoso sequence of "things that go bump in the night," employs bird and insect calls, wind and faceless human voices to evoke the desired atmosphere, and Georges Auric's musical score complements the tone beautifully. The film is similar in style to Robert Wise's haunted-house chiller The Haunting (1963), itself one of the horror genre's greatest entries. Surprisingly underseen in most circles, The Innocents deserves to be lauded among cinema's finest horror movies, not just due to its extensive creepiness, but because of the film's impeccable artistry and thematic depth. What a treat this would be on the cinema screen.

Currently my #1 film of 1961:
1) The Innocents (Jack Clayton)
2) One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder)

What others have said:

"Our vote for the most intelligent and evocative ghost story ever filmed, Jack Clayton's adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is cryptic in ways that force us to find clues insinuated in single lines of dialogue, or in the spaces between the lines. It's a movie that speaks in ellipses, not exclamation points. It sneaks under your skin, subtly and suggestively portraying something sinister and perverse that may exist only in the protagonist's head, but that doesn't mean it can't mess with yours."

"This unresolved mystery charges the events of THE INNOCENTS with a dreadful sense of uncertainty far more thrilling than the simple supernatural chills of a typical haunted house movie – another “turn of the screw,” as James would have said. At the same time, the ambiguous narrative serves up its share of suggestive shivers; its ghostly apparitions, achieved without special effects, convey a palpable sense of horror... Their supernatural stillness, as much as anything else, sends shivers down the backbone, playing the vertebrae like a skeletal hand tapping on a xylophone."

"This creepy but ultimately perplexing thriller was one of the first films designed to scare you without showing, say, severed limbs and nonstop gore. The Innocents features a wide-eyed Deborah Kerr as a governess sent to a stately manor where she will care for two children. When they start communicating with ghosts, demons, dead people, the devil -- what they are, we'll never find it -- the poor governess comes unhinged. Not altogether frightening, but it has a few creep-out moments that mostly redeem its totally ambiguous ending."
Also recommended:

"Gaslight (1944) is shot beautifully in black-and-white, with cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg making excellent use of shadows and lightning to create the ominous and silently threatening atmosphere of the old home. The whole film has the subtle feel of an Alfred Hitchcock picture: it includes two actors who would star in the director's films, and the mysterious plot always keeps us wondering whether what we are seeing is real. Overall, Gaslight is a wonderful and engrossing psychological thriller, with stunning photography and great performances. Not that you need an excuse to spend 100 minutes watching the lovely Ingrid Bergman…"

"Secret Beyond the Door... (1947) borrows elements from the then-prevalent film noir movement, adding shades of post-marriage paranoia from the likes of Rebecca and Cukor's Gaslight (1944). Lang also mixes in snippets of Freudian psychoanalysis, not unlike what I find be found in Hitchcock's own Spellbound (1945). The final product is not without its charm, and contains various moments of precisely-articulated suspense, but you can never overcome that niggling feeling that you've seen it all done better."

"Fortunately, multi-talented director Robert Wise understood that there is little more frightening than what we can't see, and I was pleased to discover that The Haunting (1963) is one of the most frightening horror films ever made, a masterpiece of paranoia, suspense and near-surrealism. Throughout the film, an always-nervy Nell (Julie Harris) narrates her character's thoughts, perhaps a slightly intrusive and distracting film technique at first, but it later becomes imperative to the narrative, as we slowly realise the importance of her character, and how Nell's mind is gradually becoming unwound amid the mystery and paranoia."


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Shooting Lessons" Half-Year Update

A warm hello to my loyal readers, of which there are – last time I counted – about two, sometimes three. Yesterday, July 21, marked the six month anniversary of the birth of my “Shooting Lessons: 1000 Pictures” blog, and I’d just like to take a few minutes to reflect upon our achievements thus far in the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? Top 1000 quest.

When I first welcomed readers to “Shooting Lessons,” I had seen exactly 178 films from the list. I am happy to report that this tally now sits at 224 films, which means that, in the intervening six months, I have enjoyed a total of 46 brand-new titles from the Top 1000. This figure obviously doesn’t include the countless pictures I’ve watched that do not appear on the They Shoot Pictures list, including many very exciting new releases. If you’re interested in any of these films, full reviews for all can be accessed through my IMDb comments.

Additionally, when I began this endeavour, I expressed my intentions that I should complete the TSPDT top 100 within six months. In this case, I was clearly dreaming. Even early on, I decided that it was fruitless to try and force myself to adhere strictly to such a short selection, and so I regularly interspersed my viewings with films from both the entire Top 1000 and whatever else happened to strike my fancy.

In the top 100 stakes, my tally has lifted from 46 to 54: The Searchers (1956), Rashômon (1950), The Apartment (1960), The 400 Blows (1959), Persona (1966), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), Gone With the Wind (1939) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). From the top 10, I have yet to see The Rules of the Game (1939), Seven Samurai (1954) and Tokyo Story (1953).
My film-watching highlights for the year? At the top of the list is certainly my May 4 cinema viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a breathtaking and awe-inspiring film in every sense of the word, and most likely the greatest ever made. Another worthy competitor is my double-bill cinema screening of Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) earlier this month. Excluding repeat viewings, my only 10/10 rating for the year was for Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975), a wonderful David Lean-like epic that I recommend to everyone.

The first six months of 2008 (and December 2007) are also notable in that I discovered the bulk of Billy Wilder’s work, and, after 16 films and counting, he has become one of my all-time most cherished directors. Some of Wilder’s unexpected surprises have included the light-hearted and charming Irma La Douce (1963), the tense WWII propaganda picture Five Graves to Cairo (1943) and the first winning teaming of Lemmon and Mathau in The Fortune Cookie (1966).

What do the next six months have in store for “Shooting Lessons: 1000 Pictures?” Certainly I hope for another fifty films to strike themselves off the list, and, after that, I’ll be at the whim of the TSPDT folk when they decide to update their listings – hopefully the revision won’t be too harrowing for me. With a wonderful Ingmar Bergman box-set currently coming my way thanks to Ebay, I can hope to see more of his films. I would also like to branch out more exhaustively into the work of Carol Reed, John Ford, John Huston, Fritz Lang and David Lean.

At this point, enthusiastic encouragements would be most appreciated. Thanks to everybody for their support, and here’s wishing for another half-year of shooting down pictures.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Target #224: Nuovo cinema Paradiso / Cinema Paradiso (1988, Giuseppe Tornatore)

TSPDT placing: #342

Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore (story)(screenplay), Vanna Paoli (collaborating writer)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Filmmakers often possess a deeper passion that is noticeably reflected in their work. However, there is one passion that all directors inevitably share, and that is for cinema itself. Films like Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and, more recently, Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind (2008), exhibit such affection towards movies and movie-making that no film-lover can help but like them. In 1988, Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore released Nuovo cinema Paradiso / Cinema Paradiso, his personal ode to the magic of movies and the humble small-town cinema. After a poor local performance, the film was sheered down to 123 minutes (from 155 minutes), and subsequently went on to win both the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. In 2002, a 170-minute director's cut {marketed in the United States as Cinema Paradiso: The New Version}, which restored all of the original future, was released into theatres. As the director's cut was the only version to which I had ready access, this was the one that I watched for the first time. The director's cut is notable in that it greatly expands on Alfred's role in Toto's life and career.

In the hustle-and-bustle of modern Rome, acclaimed film director Salvatore "Toto" Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns home to a sad message from his elderly mother: "Alfredo has died." During the night, the man reflects on his childhood, when, as a bright and fervent young boy (played by Salvatore Cascio), he used to frequent his small town's local cinema, where the friendly projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) taught him, however reluctantly, the tricks of the trade. Flash forward several years, and Toto is now a mature and intelligent teenager, falling for the first (and only) time into the throes of young love. Though I have not seen the shortened theatrical version, from what I've been able to gather, the story doesn't delve too deeply into the adventures of the adult Toto. In the director's cut, most of the additional running time is dedicated to his home-town return, as he is drawn almost overwhelmingly into the regretful ghosts of his past. These sequences are, of course, not without interest, but Tornatore is at his strongest in the first act, with Toto as an impressionable young boy immersed in the joy of cinema.

Philippe Noiret is wonderful as the warm and occasionally brusque film projectionist, and his interactions with Toto (especially young Salvatore Cascio) develop into a powerful father-son relationship. The director's cut intriguingly suggests that Alfred deliberately mislead Toto about Elena (Agnese Nano, later Brigitte Fossey) in order to preserve his chances of succeeding with his #1 love of all, movies. Alfred suspected that, had Toto married Elena, he would never have been able to become an accomplished film director – as a beloved father figure for the boy, he made the difficult decision that Toto could never have made. The ethical complications of Alfred's decision are problematic, but one can at least follow his logic, and his motives, however misguided, were certainly well-intended. At the film's end, as the adult Toto is doubting his love for cinema, his passion is reassured with a wonderful montage of the romantic moments that the town's prudish priest had once sliced from every film to be screened in his theatre. This is the magic of cinema. It's not just the films themselves, but also the flood of personal memories that accompanies each forbidden screen embrace.

Currently my #2 film of 1988:
1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis)
2) Nuovo cinema Paradiso {Cinema Paradiso} (Giuseppe Tornatore)
3) Rain Man (Barry Levinson)
4) Die Hard (John McTiernan)
5) Koshka, kotoraya gulyala sama po sebe {The Cat Who Walked by Herself} (Ideya Garanina)

What others have said:
"Tornatore's movie is a reminder of the scenes in Truffaut's Day for Night, where the young boy steals a poster of Citizen Kane. We understand that the power of the screen can compensate for a deprived life and that young Salvatore is not apprenticing himself to a projectionist, but to the movies. Once that idea has been established, the film begins to reach for its effects, and there is one scene in particular - a fire in the booth - that has the scent of desperation about it, as if Tornatore despaired of his real story and turned to melodrama."
Roger Ebert, March 16, 1990

"But, for the most part, this hamfisted movie is very enjoyable. Despite his crowding of the film with familiar Italian-character cutouts (screaming parents, admonishing priests, masturbating boys and, yes, even a town idiot), screenwriter/director Tornatore gives these and other cliches an entertaining flow, a certain Mediterranean deliriousness. His excessive spirit is given appropriately sentimental swirl by scorer Ennio Morricone, and comely authority by cinematographer Blasco Giurato, who floods Paradiso with exquisite compositions."
Desson Howe, February 16, 1990

"Telling the story of a young boy’s relationship to a projectionist and, more importantly, to popular film, it never is afraid to simplify itself further so that no one watching feels left out of its banality. When the young boy’s mentor tells him not to give into nostalgia, the sentiment feels laughable considering this film’s reverence to all things wistful. There are never-ending emotional climaxes here, but the film drags on despite the fact that things keep happening quickly."


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Target #223: Voyna i mir / War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk) - PART FOUR

TSPDT placing: #823

Directed by: Sergei Bondarchuk
Written by: Leo Tolstoy (novel), Sergei Bondarchuk (screenplay), Vasili Solovyov (screenplay)

Continued from: Part Three

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

I must admit I was surprised when, following Russia's so-called "moral victory" at the bloody Battle of Borodino, Part Four of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace (1967) opened proceedings with Field Marshal Kutuzov's reluctant retreat and Napolean's march onwards into Moscow. One suspects that the narrator's patriotic speech at the end of 1812 was perhaps a little premature, as Russia never seemed more vulnerable and defeated than the moment when French troops sidle casually into the nation's deserted capital. While it suffers from the unfocused and disjointed narrative also present in Part One, the final instalment of Bondarchuk's epic cinematic accomplishment is a brilliant and satisfying conclusion to a great story; as a proud nation is brought to its knees, the emotional register frequently strikes its ceiling. War and Peace IV: Pierre Bezukhov (1967) is arguably the picture's most important segment, when the story's primary characters place everything on the line for the future of their beloved Russia.

First and foremost, Part Four is a visual masterpiece, and Bondarchuk once again places his mark on the film with an assortment of dramatic episodes that are staggering in their intensity and attention-to-detail. During the burning of Moscow, as Pierre Bezukhov (Bondarchuk) attempts to rescue a young girl from a fiery inferno, the characters are almost completely obscured by the blustery splinters of ash that gust across the screen. I have no doubt that the filmmakers destroyed an entire village (which they probably built themselves) in order to achieve this remarkable set-piece, and the sheer intensity of the raging red flames often gives one the impression that Pierre has, with the arrival of the French, unexpectedly descended into the sweltering pits of Hell. Later, following the withdrawal of the invading army, Bondarchuk counterpoints these visions with another sequence, an awesome, seemingly-endless overhead tracking shot of the lines of weary soldiers stumbling through a bitter snowstorm.

Part Four of War and Peace provides the ultimate test for many of the story's characters. Prince Andrei (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), who was wounded at the Battle of Borodino, must finally accept his impending death, and his final departure is preluded by an eerie dream sequence, in which Andrei wakes to observe a procession of indistinct faces marching past, the exodus of a lifetime of people, places and memories. Natasha Rostova (Lyudmila Savelyeva), now an emotionally-mature young woman, must accept her past mistakes and make peace with the man whose love she had betrayed. Pierre, who had previously expressed his complete disinterest in the war at hand, must choose to defend his beloved Fatherland, even if it may cost him his life. The picture's eventual conclusion, though certainly sad, strikes just the right note of bittersweet, and we feel as though we've just completed something very special. The overriding emotion is one of hope: wars will come and go, but life goes on, and life is the most important thing of all.

Currently my #1 film of 1967:
1) Voyna i mir {War and Peace} (Sergei Bondarchuk)
2) The Graduate (Mike Nichols)
3) In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison)

What others have said:

"Bondarchuk, however, is able to balance the spectacular, the human, and the intellectual. Even in the longest, bloodiest, battle scenes there are vignettes that stand out: A soldier demanding a battlefield commendation, a crazed horse whirling away from an explosion, an enigmatic exchange between Napoleon and his lieutenants. Bondarchuk is able to bring his epic events down to comprehensible scale without losing his sense of the spectacular. And always he returns to ToIstoy's theme of men in the grip of history."
Roger Ebert, June 22 1969

"The balls and battle scenes are monumental, and Bondarchuk (who plays the bumbling Pierre, as Orson Welles would have in the 40s if he’d realized his own version with Alexander Korda) moves his camera a lot, incorporating some expressive 60s-style flourishes. Even at 415 minutes (over an hour shorter than the Soviet release) this rarely suggests the vision behind Tolstoy’s set pieces or populist polemics; his feeling for incidental detail is more evident in (non-Tolstoyan) films like The Leopard and The Magnificent Ambersons. This is a landmark in the history of commerce and post-Stalinist Russia, but not cinema. If you’d like to merely sample it, try parts one and three."

"The resulting showpiece is the Battle of Borodino, an unprecedented concert of cinematograph, man, beast, and pyrotechnics. Bondarchuk has no head for geography—armies' positions are a muddle—but you can't help thrilling over the densely orchestrated scrolling shots that tour the carnage, or the camera's bayonette-skimming zipline plunge... The novel's domestic drama is judiciously streamlined—subplots pared off, characters demoted to the background - but there's still an impulse to get everything in. Such fidelity hampers the story's ability to play in specifically cinematic terms: hence the over-reliance on voice-over to draw things together."

"The film's narrator pays some lip service to Tolstoy's determinist view of history, but what this movie is all about is spectacle -- serving up one breathtaking, eye-dazzling sequence after another, filling its wide-wide screen with extras and architecture, dressed for the occasion. Indeed, Bondarchuk seems to have realized he had the biggest opportunity any filmmaker ever enjoyed - a blank check and the unlimited use of the world's largest country for a backdrop - and he was determined to make the most of it. Amazingly, however, there's not a whiff of self-indulgence in the film, every shot is imaginative and just right, and its use of the special grammar of silent film -- iris shots, triptych panoramas, split screen -- pays respectful tribute to the great epics of D.W. Griffith and Abel Gance."

"Exhaustive, spectacular, often dazzling in its ambition and faithfulness to Tolstoy, the movie is still regarded as one of the wonders of epic cinema. The early-19th-century battle scenes between Russian soldiers and Napoleon's troops, never compromised by computer-generated effects, are the real thing. Especially during the battle of Borodino — a massive aria that doesn't quite come off — you may wish it were shorter. After a few minutes, the horror of amputated limbs, stricken horses, smoking cannons and agonizing deaths begins to pall. But this is the crucial confrontation in War and Peace, and Bondarchuk insists on devoting the better part of an hour to it."


Target #223: Voyna i mir / War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk) - PART THREE

TSPDT placing: #823

Directed by: Sergei Bondarchuk
Written by: Leo Tolstoy (novel), Sergei Bondarchuk (screenplay), Vasili Solovyov (screenplay)

Continued from: Part Two

Part Two of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace was a quiet and contemplative affair, an exploration of a young woman's romantic development amid conflicting emotions and temptations. By the conclusion of Part Three, there has been little character development of this sort, and Natasha Rostova (Lyudmila Savelyeva) makes only a solitary appearance in an early sequence that highlights the uneasy intimacy of her relationship with Pierre Bezukhov (Sergei Bondarchuk). The director seems to have decided that personal affairs are no longer important – this episode is about war! With a brief running time of 84 minutes, War and Peace III: 1812 (1967) nonetheless contains among the most awe-inspiring depictions of conflict ever committed to film, surpassing even the grandeur of the Bondarchuk's work in Part One and later in Waterloo (1970). Over the course of his film's production, the director sustained no less than two heart attacks – as one might expect, one of these came about during his recreation of the Battle of Borodino. I really can't blame him.

This battle, which lasts the bulk of the film's running time, is a genuine battering of the senses, film-making of such overwhelming excessiveness that it just about places the viewer amidst the blasts of smoke and the shudder of cannon-fire. After somehow securing the support of the Soviet Government, Bondarchuk employed full use of their resources, and conscripted 120,000 men to help recreate the Russian Army's mighty encounter with Napoleon Bonaparte's forces. Unlike the great battle in Part One, which seemed somewhat detached and impersonal, the Battle of Borodino focuses closely on the perspective of Prince Andrei (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), who has accepted that he may be dead by the day's end, and Pierre Bezukhov, whose clean civilian attire contrasts harshly with the dirty and ragged clothing of the weary soldiers. Of course, Bondarchuk can't resist regular use of his trademark sweeping overhead shots, but every detail is so meticulously orchestrated that one can only stare in fascination. What Part Three lacks in emotional depth, it more than makes up for in pure, uninhibited chaos – the chaos engineered to perfection.

Like most extravagant war films, War and Peace (1967) boasts a curiously-duplicitous attitude towards combat. We are reminded frequently of the inanity of war, and yet Bondarchuk simultaneously celebrates its necessity; no director can expend so much effort on a battle without glorifying it to no small extent. The narrator's final words, perhaps sourced from Tolstoy's original novel, are shamelessly patriotic and no doubt designed to elicit nationalistic cheers from the Russian audience – "a moral victory which compels the enemy to recognize the moral superiority of his opponent and his own impotence was won by the Russians at Borodino." Even though the Battle of Borodino ended in a bloody stalemate, the French troops were afflicted with sufficient losses to withdraw their offensive. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Vladislav Strzhelchik) is unsympathetically portrayed as a cold, remorseless strategist ("Never, to the end of his life, had he the least comprehension of goodness, of beauty or of truth, or of the significance of his actions…"), a far cry from Rod Steiger's interpretation just three years later.

Stay tuned for Part Four.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Target #223: Voyna i mir / War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk) - PART TWO

TSPDT placing: #823

Directed by: Sergei Bondarchuk
Written by: Leo Tolstoy (novel), Sergei Bondarchuk (screenplay), Vasili Solovyov (screenplay)

Continued from: Part One

Well, consider me astonished! Part Two of Sergei Bondarchuk's epic adaptation of "War and Peace" contains not a single gruesome war-time death, and yet I think I enjoyed it more than the previous instalment. Voyna i mir II: Natasha Rostova (1966) almost entirely follows the exploits of the title character Natasha Rostova (Lyudmila Savelyeva), the adolescent daughter of a countess. Napoleon has signed a treaty with Russia, and thoughts of war have momentarily drifted from the minds of its inhabitants, who now turn their attention towards the equally-tragic themes of love, friendship, hatred and passion. If we'd expected peace to have provided temporary relief from the carnage and chaos of conflict, we're certainly offered some reassurance, but the story's major position seems to be that heartbreak is hardly restricted to the horrors of war. Human relationships are delicate and potentially-implosive entities, and the conflicting emotions offered by the heart can often result in tragic consequences, condemning fresh young personalities to a lifetime of dissatisfaction.

Part One of War and Peace gave us our first glimpse of Natasha Rostova, as a bright-eyed and giggling youngster yearning for her first romance. By the conclusion of Part Two, she will have forever bid farewell to her childhood, and have entered the sobering years of adulthood, heartbroken and disillusioned. The film's first major set-piece – perhaps rivalling Bondarchuk's own battle recreations in scope and attention-to-detail – is a breathtaking New Year's Eve ball, adorned by hundreds of elaborately-costumed dancers who sweep across the floor with impeccable grace. Displaying a versatility that calls to mind a similar sequence in Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Bondarchuk's camera glides majestically amid the flurry of waltzing couples, while retaining its intimacy through focusing the spectacle largely from Natasha's perspective. It is here that the blossoming beauty again makes acquaintance with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, whose wife had previously passed away during childbirth. Andrei immediately confirms his love for Natasha, whose enthusiasm for life had offered the war-weary soldier a fresh opportunity at happiness.

Lyudmila Savelyeva really is very impressive in the main role, undergoing a dramatic transformation from shy débutante to disgraced lover. By the film's end, following her liaison and attempted elopement with a married man, Andrei finds that everything he'd loved about Natasha – her youthful naiveté, her fervor towards the wider world – has evaporated in a cruel rite-of-passage, and he regretfully rejects any future with her. Natasha's emotional maturement is also reflected in a noticeable physical transformation, and that Bondarchuk filmed the 'War and Peace' over a number of years would certainly have been beneficial in communicating her character's growth. Savelyeva at times boasts a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, who played the same role in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), and her character bears similarities to Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, though she distinctly lacks the resolve to handle the troubles brought forth by her own dishonourable actions. Whereas Part One attempted to cover too many narrative threads, thereby sacrificing our emotional attachment to any of the characters, Part Two effectively addresses this issue, and, as for Natasha, our hearts are with her.

Stay tuned for Part Three.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Target #223: Voyna i mir / War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk) - PART ONE

TSPDT placing: #823

Directed by: Sergei Bondarchuk
Written by: Leo Tolstoy (novel), Sergei Bondarchuk (screenplay), Vasili Solovyov (screenplay)

Few people have been daring enough to even read Leo Tolstoy's epic piece of literature, "War and Peace (1865-1869)," let alone adapt it to the cinema screen. At over 1000 pages in length, the novel is notorious for its intimidating thickness, but those who have read it will usually agree that it is one of the finest achievements in the history of literature. I've never been courageous enough to attempt the story myself, but Sergei Bondarchuk's 1960s adaptation, Voyna i mir (1967) seems an equally ambitious undertaking. At over seven hours in length – usually divided into four parts – the Soviet film defines "epic" in every sense of the word, and, with a budget of $100 million {over $700 million when adjusted for inflation}, it is also the most expensive movie ever made. Watching such a lengthy film in one sitting seemed a rather daunting task, so I've instead decided to segregate my viewing into the picture's original four parts, over four consecutive nights if possible. The experience began last night with Voyna i mir I: Andrey Bolkonskiy (1965), first released in July 1965 at the Moscow Film Festival.

I'm the first person to admit that I am disproportionately impressed by epic cinema. The story may be non-existent, the performances may be merely adequate, but if there's sufficient spectacle then I'm a sucker for it. Part One of Bondarchuk's War and Peace possesses spectacle in great abundance, and, in every frame, the picture's considerable budget has been put to excellent use. Even the most brief and discreet sequences are gloriously embellished with lavish set decoration and costuming, to such an extent that the flood of colour and creativity becomes almost overwhelming. Unlike comparable masters of epic cinema, such as the wonderful David Lean, Bondarchuk apparently has little use for precise cinematographic composition, and frequently the photography is entirely hand-held, no mean feat considering the bulkiness of those 70mm cameras. In some ways, the unexpected use of this filming style is distracting and occasionally sloppy, but it also adds a unique liveliness to the proceedings – if I'm going to have to sit through a stolid costume drama, why not brighten things up a bit with a dynamic camera?

The opening hour of Andrei Bolkonsky is a watchable but occasionally tiresome introduction of the major characters, none of which are overly interesting, with the exception of Pierre Besukhov (Bondarchuk himself), whose habit for alcohol and recklessness must be stifled following the inheritance of his father's fortune. It is only during the first bloody battle that the director finally spreads his creative wings, and Bondarchuk's magnificent cinematic scope is almost awe-inspiring to behold, as thousands of soldiers courageously fall in a breathtaking conflict amid the blood and smoke of open warfare. During these sequences, the film generally avoids spending too much time on any one character, and the director is evidently most concerned with offering an "God's eye" view of events, rather than from the perspective of war's insignificant pawns. Using this method, which he also employed to great effect in the English-language picture Waterloo (1970), Bondarchuk is able to retain the "sprawling" tone of his source material, even if such spectacle comes at the expense of any intimacy that we might have had with the story's characters.

Stay tuned for Part Two.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Repeat Viewing: Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

TSPDT placing: #2
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Pierre Boileau (novel), Thomas Narcejac (novel), Alec Coppel (screenplay), Samuel A. Taylor (screenplay)
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

John "Scottie" Ferguson has a fear of falling. As the detective dangles precariously from the unstable guttering of a tall building, he impulsively looks downwards to glimpse the distant ground seemingly rushing towards him, all the while paradoxically shifting further and further downwards to maximise his inevitable plummet. This optical effect, sometimes known as a "contra-zoom," "trombone zoom" or even the "Vertigo effect," was invented by Irmin Roberts, a Paramount second-unit cameraman, and Alfred's Hitchcock's use of the technique is pivotal to the success of Vertigo (1958), the director's final collaboration with James Stewart. Human eyes interpret the relative dimensions of objects using a combination of size and perspective signals, and the simultaneous forward zoom / reverse track, which alters perspective while maintaining object size, instantly perplexes our eyesight, triggering sensory confusion and successfully mimicking the dizzying sensation of acrophobia. It may not be an incredibly subtle means of communicating Scottie's vertigo, but it's effective, and, particularly in the film's second half, Hitchcock employs a seamless combination of subtle and blatant film-making techniques to polish his landmark thriller.

Just a few nights ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a double-bill cinema screening of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thrillers Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958), both starring James Stewart and both among the finest pictures in the director's distinguished repertoire. Both films deal quite substantially with the notion of voyeurism, a topic further explored in Hitchcock's crowning masterpiece, Psycho (1960). Rear Window was the greater crowd-pleaser among the two, replete with gleefully-dark dialogue and a delicious murder mystery glimpsed through the rear window of Stewart's cluttered apartment. Vertigo succeeds on distinctly-different terms: though rather lumbering and morose in comparison, the film is easily the Hitchcock's most intense thriller, with little of the playfully-black humour to be found in most of the director's acknowledged classics. This being my second viewing, it was interesting to note a film divided into two rather-incompatible halves, one a leisurely, borderline-supernatural ghost story, and the other a vivid exploration of loss and obsession. It's a curious combination – and one that I fear contradicts some commentators' claims of "perfection" – but it's also an altogether fascinating one.

The film's opening half concerns acrophobic detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has retired from the police force after his disability caused the death of a colleague. An old colleague, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), hires Scottie is surveil his wife Madelaine (Kim Novak), whom he tentatively suspects of having been inhabited by the spirit of a tragic-afflicted ancestress. Hitchcock confidently strings together a series of surveillance episodes, as Scottie tails Madelaine across San Francisco, observing her fixation with her nineteenth-century counterpart, culminating in an attempted suicide at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. These sequences move at an unhurried pace, usually with extended periods of silence, underscored by Bernard Hermann's eerie soundtrack. However, to one with prior knowledge of the story's eventual conclusion, these comprehensive episodes of observation seem rather superfluous, a deception that exists as a trifling footnote to the film's primary concerns, of obsession and doomed passion. In any case, Scottie soon finds himself falling in love with Madelaine, and, when she is tragically wrenched from his grasp, his own grip on reality begins to falter.

The film's second half, following Madelaine's apparent suicide, marks a crucial turning-point in both the story and our perception of the major characters. James Stewart, long considered the "everyday man" with his shy and polite demeanour, suddenly descends into darkened territory, emerging from his cocoon of self-pitying isolation only after attaining a streak of relief from the face of a passing stranger, Judy Barton (Kim Novak again). In a wretched bid to recapture the passion of his lost love, Scottie forcefully alters Judy's appearance to reconstruct Madelaine's image, and, in one of Hitchcock's all-time most powerful moments, the pair embrace in a hotel room, the camera spinning deliriously about them as their surroundings modify to momentarily evoke the memory of Scottie and Madelaine's final, blissful kiss. However, in choosing to construct a superficial duplicate of his love, Scottie has effectively thwarted any romantic future, and, when it is revealed that Judy and Madelaine were the very same person – the fabrication of an elaborate murder plot – he comes to realise that, not only had he initially "fallen" for an illusion, but his own self-made illusion was equally unviable, if not more so.

Currently my #1 film of 1958:
1) Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
2) Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
3) The Fountain of Youth (Orson Welles) (TV)

Currently my #4 film from director Alfred Hitchcock:

1) Psycho (1960)
2) Strangers On A Train (1951)
3) Rear Window (1954)
4) Vertigo (1958)
5) Rope (1948)
6) Rebecca (1940)
7) North by Northwest (1959)
8) I Confess (1953)
9) The Lady Vanishes (1938)
10) Spellbound (1945)

11) Dial M for Murder (1954)
12) Frenzy (1972)
13) Foreign Correspondent (1940)
14) The Birds (1963)
15) Stage Fright (1950)
16) Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
17) Lifeboat (1944)
18) Notorious (1946)
19) The 39 Steps (1935)
20) Sabotage (1936)

21) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
22) Torn Curtain (1966)
23) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
24) The Trouble with Harry (1955)
25) Blackmail (1929)
26) Under Capricorn (1949)
27) Secret Agent (1936)
28) The Lodger (1927)
29) Number Seventeen (1932)
30) Family Plot (1976)

31) Suspicion (1941)
32) Murder! (1930)
33) Rich and Strange (1931)
34) Easy Virtue (1928) What others have said:

"Vertigo (1958), which is one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made, is the most confessional, dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is about how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie, a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman--and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams."
Roger Ebert, October 13, 1996

"Hitchcock makes crafty use of Stewart's all-American image by casting him as the anxious, struggling anti-hero. It's a setup for the classic story in which the hero rescues a distressed woman. But the director takes pains to make us see just how culpable Scottie is, to the extent of having him castigated at length for his negligence by the coroner (Henry Jones) at the inquest after Madeleine's death. I've never before been quite so struck at the accuracy of the coroner's devastating monologue. It's small wonder that Scottie soon finds himself under professional care."
Walter V. Addiego, San Francisco Examiner, 1996

"Vertigo is an enjoyably duplicitous film, full of artificiality in both the film-making (lots of back projection) and the story (things not being what we thought), in other words: pure Hitchcock. Added to this is composer Bernard Herrmann's particularly haunting score, with its falling and rising melody representing Scotty's giddy state of mind as his obsession with Madeleine escalates, and also the heights of the San Francisco locations he roams... Hitchcock's Vertigo is a psycho-drama where he replaces the suspenseful set-piece with bitter emotion and twisted motive; and the absence of virtually any humour makes the relentlessness of Scotty's fated obsession all the more dark and harrowing."
Martyn Glanville, 2000 Also recommended from director Alfred Hitchcock:

"Just like in many of his films, in Dial M for Murder (1954) Hitchcock heightens the suspense by subversively enlisting our sympathies for the villain. Nobody in their right minds would wish for the lovely Grace Kelly to be murdered, but somehow we are manipulated into almost hoping that Tony's plan is a success, and we revel in his sly brilliance as he recovers from his initial failure to implement an equally-devious Plan B. By doing this, Hitchcock makes the audience feel as though they are, themselves, a part of the crime, and as though their own fates hinge on the outcome of Chief Insp. Hubbard's (John Williams) investigation."

"A lesser director might have baulked at the task of making a continually-suspenseful 96-minute film set entirely in a lifeboat. Hitchcock, however, used the situation to his advantage, and the tiny set on which Lifeboat (1944) was filmed (allegedly the smallest in film history), creates a constricting, claustrophobic atmosphere. The surrounding ocean landscape, presumably simulated using the director's favoured rear-projection, is surprisingly convincing throughout... During filming, the cast members were exposed to the elements, which aided the realism of their performances, but also led to frequent illnesses such as seasickness and pneumonia."

"Foreign Correspondent (1940) is most fondly-remembered for its various incredible set-pieces, and the dramatic/romantic subplots that link them are almost immaterial. Your heart will pound during the assassination in the rainswept street; your heart will stop as Jones creeps silently and perilously through the enemy-occupied windmill; your heart will explode as the trans-Atlantic clipper dives terminally into frigid depths of the ocean, cascades of seawater charging through the cockpit of the aircraft. The resultant sequence on the floating aircraft wreckage would no doubt influence Hitchcock when he directed Lifeboat (1944), one of many moments in which Paul Eagler's visual effects left me speechless."