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I May Destroy You
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PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE is war propaganda first and foremost. There is no question where the sympathies of the filmmakers lie. Directed by Michael Curtiz 2 years after making CASABLANCA, Curtiz borrows a few similar themes using some of the same actors. Where CASABLANCA was moviemaking at it's finest...PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE fails to produce the same kind of magic as the earlier film. I applaud the effort though.
The problem may be that this film is at least 90% backstory - that is, it is told mostly in flashbacks. Not only that, but you have flashback within flashback within flashback within flashback (if i counted correctly). I suppose if you structure your film in such a fashion - you better have one hell of a finale...and PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE tries to do just that - but I feel it just falls short of the goal.
Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains) heads a squadron of bombers composed of French expatriates based in England. The squadron flies bombing missions over Germany. After a mission - one of the bombers on occasion would make a detour and fly over the farm where the wife and child of one of the crew members live. Gunner Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart) would drop a canister containing a letter for his wife, Paula (Michele Morgan). She would eagerly run outside upon hearing the bomber in anticipation of her husband's dropping the letters.
When a british journalist (John Loder) arrives meaning to write a story on the French fliers - Captain Freycinet obliges the writer by providing the first of a series of flashbacks involving (for one) the crew of a freighter plying the waters of the Atlantic just prior to the start of WWII...(and secondly) a group of men serving time at the prison camps in the jungles of French Guiana.
PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE definitely lacks the witty humor of CASABLANCA - nor are the characters as endearing. Claude Rains' character here, Captain Freycinet pales in comparison to his wonderfully realized Captain Renault in CASABLANCA.
Humphrey Bogart's Jean Matrac may just be as conflicted as Rick - but Matrac certainly lacks Rick Blaine's charisma. Matrac will certainly test the viewer's loyalties when he makes a decisive and brutal moral decision near the climax of the film.
It's interesting that Michelle Morgan plays opposite Humphrey Bogart here. The French actress was the original choice to play Ilsa in CASABLANCA, before her salary demands handed Ingrid Bergman the role. One of the flashbacks here is even similar to the Paris flashback in CASABLANCA.
PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE is an interesting watch with excellent production values but pales in comparison to the greatness of CASABLANCA, which it tries to emulate in theme and emotions.
7 / 10
"It must be great to be a Prince"...or so it seems.
But the Prince, in this tale, feels otherwise...seemingly trapped by his lofty station in life.
Enviously watching other kids playing in the field beyond the palace's iron gates - which act as prison bars isolating him from the outside world.
It is only when the Prince (Ramon Novarro) becomes old enough to go to college does he finally start to feel what life is really all about. His entourage stops at a commoner's inn to decide if he wants to board there. When the innkeeper's pretty niece (Norma Shearer) demonstrates how soft and bouncy-bouncy the beds are...the blushing Prince decides this may not be a bad place to stay afterall...
The Student Prince in Old Heidelburg is one of the better crafted romantic comedies I have seen from the silent era. Even in this early film you can sense director Ernst Lubitsch honing his signature style - witty dialogue & action, sexy innuendo, expert camera work and edits.
I don't really want to say too much more lest the ending be spoiled...
"DEAR CHILDREN - YOU WILL HAVE 5 DAYS OF INSTRUCTIONS AND PREPERATIONS BEFORE YOU ARE FORMALLY ADMITTED AS POSTULANTS BY THE SUPERIOR GENERAL...WE CONSTANTLY STRIVE TOWARD PERFECTION BY 'INNER SILENCE'. THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF THIS SILENCE IS TO MAKE POSSIBLE CONSTANT CONVERSATION WITH GOD...THEREFORE, WE DO NOT TALK LOUDLY...NOR DO WE ENGAGE IN USELESS CONVERSATIONS. WE CLOSE DOORS QUIETLY. WHENEVER POSSIBLE WE USE A KIND OF SIGN LANGUAGE. THIS MEANS 'MAY I HAVE PERMISSION TO SPEAK?' THIS MEANS 'EXCUSE ME'....SHALL WE TRY IT?"
So in much the same way as Stanley Kubrick starts off FULL METAL JACKET with scenes of marines undergoing basic training...so too did Fred Zinneman devote the first 30+ minutes of THE NUN'S STORY with scenes of young women undergoing a kind of boot camp (if you will) in preparation for training to become a catholic nun - it may possibly be as mentally trying an experience as the military's.
Here we follow the story of Gabriella van der Mal (Audrey Hepburn), a belgian nurse who decides her calling in life is to become a nun and serve God by helping the poor living in the Congo. She is asked to shed aspects of her life in order to devote herself entirely to God. The plot of the story revolves around whether or not she has the mental fortitude to do just that - as her worldly desires come into opposition with her strict religious training.
Although some of the "rules" governing cloistered life have been modified by the Vatican since the release of the film - I still found it a fascinating watch as it showed me a world I'm not at all too familiar with - life in a convent. The portrayal is very convincing.
Audrey Hepburn is wonderful here as the conflicted nun, Sister Luke (her given name in the Order). So too is Peter Finch who plays the secular Dr. Fortunati, whom Sister Luke is assigned to work with in the Congo.
What I also like about this film is that it doesn't overly play up it's religious aspects but neither does it condemn it too. I found it to be a compelling and emotional watch.
I will now place THE NUN'S STORY as my second favorite flick about nuns.
The Powell/Pressburger BLACK NARCISSUS remains my all time favorite though...
9 / 10
When you think of 30's gangster films and the actors who starred in them...Gary Cooper would probably be the last actor you would think of. With his hayseed screen persona and slow delivery, Coop just doesn't lend himself to one's idea of the tough gangster. Cooper may have been too handsome for his own good because I just do not see the evilness that one can perceive, say behind James Cagney's snarling mug in THE PUBLIC ENEMY or Edward G. Robinson's scowl in LITTLE CAESAR. Cooper too fails miserably at the punch - here giving an awkward looking roundhouse swing (akin to a baseball pitch - with the requisite leg-lift, for goodness sakes) that you would never catch former boxer Cagney doing.
But all kidding aside, the young Gary Cooper is adequate in CITY STREETS, a story penned by Dashiell Hammett - which works more as a kind of "morality tale". I don't think Cooper's character was meant to be a gangster anyway. Cooper here plays "The Kid" - the cash-strapped boyfriend to Nan (Sylvia Sidney). Nan was raised by her step-father, "Pop" Cooley (Guy Kibbee), a seemingly jovial underling to succesful beer racketeer "Big Fellow" Mascal (Paul Lukas). Nan is conditioned to the ways of a racketeer by her step-dad, who would go so far as to reward her for keeping secrets - something which will come in handy when "Pop" later becomes prime suspect in a shooting.
"The Kid" is employed at the local carnival shooting gallery, but is himself very proficient with the pistols - and pleased to show off his marksmanship to potential customers - a talent not lost on Nan. She tries to persuade "The Kid" to quit the carnival and join up with her "Pop"... but "The Kid" wants no part of the dark side. He is proud of making an honest living:
Nan: "We can't even afford to get married."
The Kid: "If you love me, you'd marry me anyway."
Nan, disappointed: "Yeah...and live in a tent."
The Kid: "Why not?!?"
Nan: "I don't like tents..."
The Kid: "It isn't the tents. It's me..."
* MILD SPOILERS TO FOLLOW *
The above romantic scene was nicely shot at a moonlit beach by cinematographer Lee Garmes who takes full advantage of the use of light and shadows in this film...but, I think this is merely a warm-up for Garmes, who would use the same techniques to much better results in SCARFACE (1932). Director Rouben Mamoulian eschews the showing of graphic violence here - opting instead for off-camera killings...something that may disappoint some viewers - especially the climactic scenes, which comes off as possibly too non-confrontational for modern audience (referred to as hokey, or out-dated by some reviewers I've read). But I think it's very well in keeping with Dashiell Hammett's story of a couple trying to break free of the circle of violence created by the racketeers in this story. I too laughed at first, but "old fashioned" as it may seem - "The Kid" being able to disarm his adversaries without the use of violence is actually refreshing, now that I think about it...and plays very well with the morality of the story...and shows us that the ends doesn't necessarily have to justify the use of the "means" (if ya get what I mean...heh heh) and thus Mamoulian shows us the soaring birds to symbolize true freedom. Hmmmm...there are actually other "bird" references sprinkled throughout this film but I'll let you discover them for yourself.
Of special note and interest to trivia buffs is the use of voice-over narration in this film. Filmmakers were still experimenting with sound at the time and Rouben Mamoulian and actress Sylvia Sidney would be credited with the first use of this story-telling technique here...
Well...it took about 12 years for me to discover this film. When it was originally released - I too thought it was pure blasphemy. Remake Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO? Now THAT'S psycho!?! I really had no desire to see it...nor have I really read any reviews. All I know is that is was pretty much panned by critics and viewers - and probably deservedly so.
...but I happened to be surfing the cable channels one recent evening when I caught sight of the start of director Gus Van Sant's *ahem* remake *shudder* of Hitchcock's PSYCHO...and to my utter surprise - i was instantly hooked...and slowly realized what Van Sant had done.
If you are an artist...or would-be artist...then you probably had the desire to copy or emulate a drawing or painting from an artist that you much admired. Kids do this when they try to copy panels from their favorite comic books. Some of the French Impressionists were influenced by japanese art and copied (errr...studied) japanese drawings and composition. How many would-be abstract painters had a hand in making a spatter painting a la Jackson Pollack? Sure...not all artists (or filmmakers) have the wherewithal or resources ($25 million budget in this case) to try to copy an iconic film...but here it is.
When you think "remake" - you figure the director had an idea to improve, or maybe possibly expand on the themes of the original film. I also thought Van Sant would ramp up the violence (of the granddad of all slashers) to modern standards...and to my surprise - Van Sant does no such thing! Sure...Van Sant uses color film stock and sets the tale in contemporary times but the overall spirit of the film is exactly in keeping with Hitchcock's original...so much so, that I view his version of PSYCHO as a true homage to the master... rather than just a simple remake. I have yet to hear the commentary on the DVD (I would love to) but I'm thinking it must have been a ball and a challenge to have worked on a project like this. Because of their exact scene-by-scene recreation of PSYCHO - I can just feel director Van Sant's and cinematographer Christopher Doyle's admiration for the original...and that I, vicariously...was enjoying and applauding their attempt at recreation...and thereby giving you a much deeper appreciation for the original!
Scenes you once may have taken for granted - in my case, like the shot of Norman Bates craning his neck to view Marion Crane's signature in his check-in book (as pointed out to him by Arbogast) until the camera is virtually looking up Bate's nostrils. It's a bit of a disconcerting shot (especially at such an odd angle) but adds to the overall lunacy of the film.
I love the opening shot as the camera tracks over Phoenix and enters the window of a building and we see Marion Crane and Sam lying in bed...as if Hitchcock makes voyeurs out of his audience. I noticed the same shot during the opening of his THE LADY VANISHES (as the camera tracks over a miniature alpine village...and enters the scene through the window of an inn)...even the master copies himself! Thanks to modern technology, Van Sant achieves the same shot in one take -uninterrupted by edits.
It's also interesting watching the 2 films simultaneously. In the scene when Marion is awakened at the side of the road by a highway patrolman - Van Sant managed to find the exact same location as in the original. The scene is meticulously recreated - right down to including the same license plate numbers on both Marion's and the patrolman's cars...!!!
Van Sant's choice of casting Anne Heche as Marion Crane seems odd...since Heche doesn't remind me of Janet Leigh at all. WIth her short hair, large almond eyes, and slim figure - Heche seems a bit pixie-ish (a description I would not attribute to Leigh) - but overall she does a fine job...as does the rest of the cast. Vince Vaugh is the creepy Norman Bates and William H. Macy as the detective Arbogast.
Fabulous too is hearing Bernard Hermann's score redone in stereo by Danny Elfman.
I would not recommend viewing this over the original...but if you are a fan of the original -then viewing this might be a curiosity.
When the scene that contains Hitchcock's cameo appears - Hitchcock is seen scolding director Van Sant - a very nice humorous touch...but the end of the film has this dedication: IN MEMORY OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK.
That says it all right there!!!