Daily Projections, 6-4-2019: Miquette et sa mère (1950)

Title: Miquette et sa mère
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1950
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

A film Clouzot apparently had little interest in making and greeted with equal disinterest by critics and audiences alike, though still very funny if you ask me. Two timid lovebirds (Miquette and Urbain) kept apart by a scheming uncle-Marquis who has designs of his own on Miquette as she strives to make it as an actress in order to make jealous the lover she believes has jilted her. The humor is broadly farcical, blend of irony and slapstick, not unlike Preston Sturges, though considerably more French and likely to have scandalized American audiences of the time (e.g. a particular ancestor is well regarded for having had the Sun King). The very best scenes are played between Danièle Delorme (Miquette) and Bourvil (Urbain). The latter a gifted physical comedian who plays the bumbling idiot well and the former with a gift for portraying the coquettish ingenue. Something in the way Delorme glides through the film, even in the comedic moments, the way she dodges an aspiring lover’s advances while never seeming to notice them, is almost balletic. There is an air about her performance which recalls…someone, though I can’t say for sure who. Perhaps Sidney Fox in Once In A Lifetime. Miquette et sa mère gets a bad rap for some reason, though you won’t hear it from me.

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Daily Projections, 5-22-2019: Miracle In The Rain (1956)

Title: Miracle In The Rain
Director: Rudolph Maté
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1956
Screening format: TV (TCM)
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

Aired following Minnelli’s The Clock. Recorded for later viewing because people on Twitter kept going on about how good it was. Miracle In The Rain begins like a standard wartime romance. A soldier (Van Johnson) in the city on a pass meets a girl (Jane Wyman) and wriggles his way into her life (sounds a lot like The Clock so far), they fall in love and promise to get married after the war. Miracle In The Rain continues to play like standard romance until midway through the picture Van Johnson is killed in action. From which point, Ruth (Wyman) becomes despondent and fixated on a statue of St. Andrew in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s different, certainly. Van Johnson is Van Johnson, but the more impressive performance is turned in by Wyman (only a few years before the oldish maiden aunt in Pollyanna) as an always demuring Ruth finally allowing herself a bit of happiness only to have it dashed away. If anything, Miracle In The Rain (novella, story and script by Ben Hecht) is proof that Hecht could make the occasional foray away from biting cynicism, though he never really seems at home in this melodrama. Or does he? Ruth’s fixation on St. Andrew eventually leads to her becoming dangerously ill. And yet, St. Andrew is, among other things, the patron saint of protection against sore throats…and fever.

Daily Projections, 5-21-2019: The Devil Doll (1936)

Title: The Devil Doll
Director: Tod Browning
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1936
Screening format: tV (TCM)
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

A wrongly convicted prison escapee takes advantage of a deceased acquaintance’s technology enabling him to shrink human beings down to doll size and control them with his mind. He sets up shop, disguised as an old woman, in Paris and uses his dolls to exact revenge on the people who framed him and to clear his name so his daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) and mother may live without shame. It sounds like a Tod Browning movie because it is, made perhaps even more Tod Browning-y by cowriter Erich von Stroheim. Somehow, the “wrongly convicted” aspect of The Devil Doll makes the idea of the ever-grandfatherly Lionel Barrymore roaming around Paris killing people moderately more palatable, though there is still the element of Barrymore in drag to contend with. Maureen O’Sullivan is charming enough in her role as Barrymore’s estranged daughter, though somehow she doesn’t make nearly the impression of her fiancé Toto (played by Frank Lawton). Interesting moral concepts arise at multiple points during the film, issues like guilt and shame and revenge. Barrymore’s Lavond frequently shows signs of guilt over his actions – in an “it took prison to turn me into a criminal” kind of way – though any sense of guilt is ultimately trumped by a sense of responsibility to his remaining family.

Daily Projections, 5-21-2019: Soak The Rich (1936)

Title: Soak The Rich
Director: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1936
Screening format: 16mm on DVD
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

Produced, directed, and of course written by two of the finest screenwriters of the Studio era, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Walter Connolly plays an absurdly wealthy many (during the Depression, no less) convinced that Communists and FDR are out to get him. An irreverent look at just about every facet of American politics and higher education in the 1930s, like any good MacArthur and Hecht film, everyone is relentlessly skewered and pilloried through witty dialog and nearly absurdist irony. And everyone, from the FBI and the wealthy, to aspiring student radicals and a single rogue anarchist come across as complete fools. Soak The Rich proves that even in 1936, college students thought everyone who disagreed with them was Hitler (“We don’t wanna hear anything you have to say. Who does your father think he is? Hitler?!” is an actual line spoken in this film.) If Hecht and MacArthur could see us now…Well, for one thing, they would almost certainly make this film all over again (then they’d be run out of town because comedy is dead in Hollywood and Ben Hecht also happened to be an advocate for the Jewish State). As it stands, Soak The Rich is a film every modern politician and college student would likely consider hate speech and also gloriously funny (and would be even funnier if the lines were delivered quicker).

Daily Projections, 5-20-2019: Bugsy Malone (1976)

Title: Bugsy Malone
Director: Alan Parker
Country of Origin: USA / UK
Year: 1976
Screening format: Streaming
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

A musical comedy about 1920s gangsters starring a cast of literal children. An interesting concept to say the least. Parker cleverly eschews the immensely disturbing image of children mowing each other down with Tommy guns by making the “Splurge Gun” (which fires whipped cream) the weapon of choice for these babyfaced racketeers. Performances from a very young Scott Baio and Taxi Driver era Jodie Foster are the obvious highlights of this juvenile production, though first (and last) timer Florrie Dugger handles the slang laden adult dialog admirably. While some of Paul Williams’ score plays true to the time period (namely the showgirl numbers taking place in Fat Sam’s Speakeasy – mostly), others veer more in the direction of the pop songs he was and is best known for (“Just An Old Fashioned Love Song”). Of the latter, the hypnotic softshoe rhythms of “Tomorrow” are a particular highlight. There’s a lot to love about the genuinely funny Bugsy Malone, from the remarkably mature performances from Baio and Foster, who are in a class of their own here, to the beautifully realistic looking pedal cars the characters “drive” around town. The only real complaint I have (one shared by the director) is the choice to dub the kids’ singing with adult singing voices. It’s blatantly obvious, looks beyond bizarre, and is puzzling to the point of distraction.

Daily Projections, 5-17-2019: Linnaisten Vihreä Kamari (1945)

Title: Linnaisten Vihreä Kamari
Director: Valentin Vaala
Country of Origin: Finland
Year: 1945
Screening format: DVD
Setting: home
First viewing? no

Linnaisten Vihreä Kamari is the anti-Vaala film in some ways. Vaala, who so often imbues his films with light (even the ones that take place at night, e.g. Ihmiset Suviyössä, are set in the summer when it is basically never dark), instead let’s the darkness play around a bit here. A little bit horror, a little bit romance, almost every bit gothic. What’s in a name? To the Littow family, quite a bit apparently, even though it may not even be there’s to begin with. Snooty relatives and con artists all vying for a piece of the action when it comes to the beautiful Littow girls and their even more beautiful inheritance. Regina Linnanheimo plays the perpetually heartbroken yet surprisingly understated elder sister Anna while Rauli Tuomi portrays the commoner-cum-nobleman architect. Vaala’s historical melodrama (based on a novel by Zachris Topelius) is, at times, dripping with so much “old dark house” atmosphere one half expects to find Catherine Morland reading by the fireside and yet the daytime scenes are lighthearted and playful. Linnaisten Vihreä Kamari can turn on a dime. And boy does it turn often. Every time one plot point seems to be tied up, a new one emerges. It’s the gift that keeps on giving—or the story that never ends—depending on your personal outlook on Finnish melodrama (I tend toward the former).

Daily Projections, 4-19-2019: L’Arbre, le Maire, et la Médiathèque (1993)

Title: L’Arbre, le maire, et la médiathèque
Director: Eric Rohmer
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1993
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

Of the 16 Rohmer films I’ve seen so far, this is probably the closest he gets to a manifesto (Rohmer was a royalist and dedicated environmentalist who claimed to have never driven a car or ridden in a taxi). Ostensibly about a socialist small-town mayor determined to build a multidisciplinary library and cultural center encountering plenty of political snags along the way. In reality, the story is really only half of the film. About 30 minutes in the middle of the film all but abandon the plot entirely while a freelance journalist interviews villagers about farming and local economics and their entertainment habits before finally reaching local schoolteacher M. Rossignol (played by Rohmer veteran Fabrice Luchini) who gives probably the most memorable (and typically Rohmerian) speech in opposition to the proposed médiathèque of the film. Rohmer is really reaching for something beyond simple environmental conservation here. He’s looking for a conservation of “the old ways”, hence discussions of changes in farming techniques and the aesthetics of modern architecture and the ethics of erecting a new building in an old village. “Did it never occur to you to have a space that serves no purpose? That’s the problem with modern architecture, it’s too functional.