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Veronica Lake

I Married a Witch

The 1942 comedy I Married a Witch had all the makings of a flop but it turned out to be OK – it’s a classic if looked at from the right angle. People kept coming and going for a start. Dalton Trumbo was hired to write but then left before he was finished. Preston Sturges was meant to produce it but never actually did. Joel McCrea had been signed up to star but bowed out when he realised he’d be working opposite Veronica Lake. He’d done a stint with her already on Sullivan’s Travels and, according to him, “Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake”. Then there was the pre-shooting falling-out … Read more
Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun

Vortex

Grimly powerful and powerfully grim, Vortex is the story of a longtime married French couple on the final lap of the track. Elle and Lui, Gaspar Noé’s film calls them, Her and Him, universalising the particularity of what happens to the characters played by Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento, a first lead role in front of the camera for the 80-ish-year-old director. It’s appropriate that Argento is known for horror because in its own domestic downbeat beat way this is a horror film, the sort of one we’ll all one day get to take a leading role, if we’re “lucky” enough to get that far. As in the recent Lux Aeterna, Noë does … Read more
A wounded Juan next to a bull

100 Years of… Blood and Sand

1922’s Blood and Sand was Rudolph Valentino’s third big hit movie in two years and it deserved to be. A grand, well-appointed, beautiful-looking, subtly-acted adventure rippling with themes and sub-themes and with properly fleshed-out side characters, it’s got more going on under the hood than at first appears. Famous Players-Lasky (later to become Paramount) had been caught on the hop by Valentino’s success and insisted that he carry on with the schedule already mapped out for him – which is why you’ll find a number of B movies sprinkled along the way between The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his breakthrough, and Blood and Sand. Though Valentino was hot stuff (and knew it), … Read more
Jessica at an art gallery

Memoria

Jessica (Tilda Swinton) is woken in the night by a bang. Memoria, a bizarre film which gets odder the longer it goes on, begins. What is the noise? Outside, in the dawn light, in a parking lot full of cars, one of the car alarms goes off, then another, and another, until all the car alarms are parping away. Gradually, one after another, they all fall silent again. Jessica visits a sound engineer called Hernan (Juan Pablo Urrego) to try and replicate the sound she heard. She visits her sister who is ill in hospital. She has a meeting at a hostel with a man who wants her to sign some papers. She’s … Read more
Brandauer and Duvall

The Lightship

The Lightship should be a great film but isn’t. It goes wrong somewhere, particularly towards the end, when there’s a mad rush for the exit (or, the filmic equivalent, a mad rush to get everything said that needs saying before the big finish). It was released in 1985 and stars Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer, two actors at the peak of their drawing power. At this point you could still smell the napalm on Duvall after Apocalypse Now, and his character here is a variation on Colonel Kilgore, the insane verbose genius. Opposite him the Austrian Klaus Maria Brandauer. In the wake of the success of 1981’s Mephisto (a Best Foreign Language … Read more
David leads the salt harvesters in prayer

Lapwing

Lapwing is a film set in 16th-century England with just enough background detail to get the thing moving, at which point writer Laura Turner and director Philip Stevens get busy with what they’re really about – pressure-cooker drama. The time. In 1554 the Egyptian Act made it essentially illegal to be a dark-skinned person of no fixed abode in England. It was aimed at Egyptians (as Gypsies were called). It also made it illegal to offer Egyptians help. The place. The North Sea coast, where a small group of intinerant workers are harvesting salt, bagging it up and taking it to market. As the action opens, a small gang of “Egyptians” have approached … Read more
John Moulder-Brown, David Niven, Gina Lollobrigida

King, Queen, Knave

Here’s the sort of film King, Queen, Knave is – one where a pratfall is accompanied by a sound effect, in case the pratfall wasn’t obvious enough. One where a woman’s breasts appear primed for a fondle, as if they came with a homing device for wayward male hands. One where an attractive women at a certain point in the evening must make a deal of slipping into something more comfortable. One where bed springs are noisy. It’s from 1972, it might be no surprise to hear, and stars David Niven, Gina Lollobrigida and John Moulder-Brown – Niven plays German department store magnate Charles Dreyer, Lollobrigida is his lusty younger wife, Moulder-Brown is Dreyer’s … Read more
Susie and fellow students dance

Suspiria

What’s the point of remaking Suspiria if you’re going to take out all the stuff that made the 1977 original so unique? Dario Argento, the director of the original, asked that question himself after he’d seen this remake – wondering, in short, “why?” – after director Luca Guadagnino’s new version debuted in 2018. There’s something in what he says. Out goes the original film’s original grand vision – its bad-trip looks – and with it goes the original story’s big idea of witholding of what was going on until the film’s dying moments. In comes a bracketing structure which introduces Chloë Grace Moretz at each end of the film, for no real reason … Read more
Ginger Rogers as young Su-Su

The Major and the Minor

The Major and the Minor is an elevator pitch movie selling itself on its title. As to what’s in it for the viewer, quite a lot if you like comedy that rides right into inappropriateness. It’s written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and one of the joys of watching this under-regarded 1942 comedy is looking on as two masters of their craft get into one tight spot after another – sometimes deliberately – and then Houdini-like spring free. Maybe when they first came up with the idea Brackett and Wilder didn’t realise that half-price train travel out of New York in the 1940s applied only to the under-12s. Maybe they thought 16 … Read more
Hans behind bars

Great Freedom

Talk about the love that dare not speak its name (to quote Oscar Wilde), Great Freedom (Große Freiheit in the original German) has a monumental love story at its centre but isn’t quite sure about expressing it. The whole film operates like this, sideways, backwards, though it starts straightforwardly enough with some footage from a camera hidden in a men’s public toilet, where Hans (Franz Rogowski) is caught indulging in a series of same-sex encounters of a salty kind, with whoever happens to be passing. The footage is part of evidence in Hans’s trial for crimes against decency and he’s soon in jail. It’s 1968, homosexuality as a crime is about to be … Read more
Giulietta Masina

Juliet of the Spirits

1965’s Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli spiriti) was Federico Fellini’s first film in colour and he goes at it like a child whose Christmases have all come at once. Up comes a screen of opening credits so vividly blue that it’s shocking, followed by an opening scene where the quiet and mousey Juliet (played by Fellini’s own wife Giulietta Masina) is assailed on all sides by people, chatter, action. The quiet romantic evening she’d had planned with her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) has been upended. He’s brought home a gaggle of people, party animals who want to have fun. Fellini wants to have fun too, and he wants to fill the screen … Read more
Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz

Parallel Mothers

“Transgressive” is a word bandied about a fair bit when it comes to Pedro Almodóvar, but Parellel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) again shows that for him it’s a two-way street. His films are different, unusual, unconventional – yes. And yet in the relationships they portray not that far from the everyday, not that far from what we’re used to, unfrightening. At least since his international breakthrough with 1987’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, it’s been one of his main concerns to show how like the rest of us his exotic hothouse creatures actually are. They love, they laugh, they cry, they’re human. Which is particularly the case with this ripe melodrama … Read more

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