Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

AROUND INDIA WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
2017 / Icarus Films Home Video / 72m / $29.98 / NR
This documentary – or more accurately assemblage of bits and pieces – is more fascinating than its unimaginative title suggests. Culled from both professional and amateur efforts from the dawn of cinema to 1947, it presents a portrait of India during the period of British colonial rule. The presentation is chronological but a tad haphazard. I was especially frustrated that lush Technicolor footage of a Shiva dancer was interrupted every so often and never shown in its entirety and I still don’t quite understand what home movies of a Brit official playing in the garden with his daughter had to do with the India, save possibly to illustrate further the privileged life of the occupiers; certainly we can see in various government and social gatherings that well-off indigenous peoples are in short supply. There is no narration beyond what may have originally been part of the films and explanation subtitles are limited to describing who made them. Still the visuals and the condescending tone toward the country’s religious and social traditions is telling. One heartbreaking sequence has a Salvation Army lass convincing a native she must shed her numerous bracelets and necklaces – traditional accessories – to become… oh, I don’t know… civilized or a good Christian or something (the footage is silent so we don’t hear what the SA lady is saying). Newsreels of Mahatma Ghandi – now universally seen as one of history’s greatest men – treat him as a dangerous radical. Well, so was Christ.    Around India with a Movie Camera (2018)
Except for one film all the work here is from Caucasians and by and large the perspective is that their cultural values are superior and must be imposed on the ignorant brown Indians. There are looks at traditional ceremonies – usually with an “Isn’t it quaint” attitude and architecture (forget about the Egyptian and Meso-American pyramids – if there’s evidence of long ago alien builders it’s in these magnificent ancient temples), Also of interest is early documentary color footage lensed by master British cinematographer Jack Cardiff who went on to film “The Red Shoes” amongst other classics. And there’s a short subject (presented in it entirety as one of the exras – pity the Shiva dance wasn’t) of the adorable Sabu taking the viewer on a tour of such landmarks as the Taj Mahal and pointing out in almost a postcript that the British tradition of tea drinking is owed to India (more accurately that part of the world but never mind). If you’re sensitive to the nuances here there’s some pretty uncomfortable, even offensively racist, material. Some might wish for a stronger narrative but director Sandhya Suri chose instead to work with composer Soumik Dutta (whose score is excellent by the way) the create a poetic flow to the disparate elements. This low key approach may not do it hard enough for some but it does assuredly hit the proverbial nail on its head.

GWEN
2019 / RLJE Films / 98m / $28.97 BR / NR
It goes without saying – or at least it should – that the phrase “not for all tastes” should be retired. No film – or art or music for that matter – is for all tastes. This production can best be termed arthouse horror and that designation will alert horror fans as to whether this murky, moody, deliberately paced exercise is their cuppa. The production is not without its shocks – or buses to appropriate a term applied to Val Lewton’s exercises in suggestive horror. And as with Lewton what appears to be supernatural doesn’t necessarily turn out to be. Set on the Welsh moors in consistently brooding weather the film deals with Elen (Maxine Peake) and her two daughters, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) being the eldest, struggling to keep the family farm going while dad is off at war (the time period is never quite defined but it seems to be in the latter half of the 19th century). Things are not going well. The family’s herd of sheep is mysteriously slaughtered overnight (a neighboring family suffered a similar experience before being murdered themselves) and the farm’s horse, crucial for transporting vegetables to market, bolts and breaks its leg (“At least we’ll have meat,” observes Elen before cutting its throat). Mom suffers from epilepsy and there isn’t the money to procure the medicine that eases her suffering. A wealthy man in the village wants to procure the farm to expand his mining interests but Elen stubbornly refuses to sell her home.
Those are the driving elements of a film that is more about menacing mood and character than plot; it is also about Gwen’s coming of age, with life presenting her with situations that force her to cast childhood aside. The film’s arc traverses from an opening where Elen upbraids Gwen for being off frolicking with her young sister, causing all the chores to devolve on mom to a shocking finale that guarantees she will be a little girl no more. I probably should say no more so as not to spoil the revelations except that this is a film of natural horrors – mostly of inhumanity and environment a la the Brontes – so don’t approach it expecting banshees wailing their way out of the forest. Savor the grim mood created and sustained by writer/director William McGregor in his feature debut (but with lots of shorts and TV work behind him), his use of landscape and sound design to create an intangible sense of menace (that ultimately becomes all too horrifyingly tangible) and the sublime, natural performances he has elicited from his cast. You may, as I did, find yourself initially underwhelemed by the film only to be haunted by it in the days to follow.

HOLOCAUST
1978 / CBS DVD, Paramount / 452m (2 discs) / $20.44 BR / NR
Time has not been kind to this groundbreaking mini-series but it still deserves pride of place as the first television docudrama (possibly the first film period) to deal with the plight of the Jews and other “undesirables” during the years of Nazi domination of Germany. By focusing on the Weiss family – Dr. Joseph (Fritz Weaver), his wife Berta (Rosemary Harris), their sons Karl and Rudi (James Woods and Joseph Bottoms) and daughter Anna (Blanche Baker) – who between them manage to intersect with the entire trajectory of the Third Reich’s solution to the “Jewish problem”. The doctor’s practice is limited to Jewish patients early on and then Karl is arrested – for reasons never quite explained but possibly because he has married an Aryan (Meryl Streep as Inga) – and whisked off to a model camp (a place that looks like a quaint European village and serves as a subterfuge for Red Cross inspections). Inga pulls strings with her National Socialist parents’ friends to be allowed to join him. Rudi runs off and joins the resistance holed up in a forest. Joseph, Berta and Anna are deported to Poland where they end up participating in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and eventually wind up in Auschwitz… as do Karl and Inga. A parallel plot has struggling lawyer Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty) take a job with SS officer Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner), initially just to support his family. At his wife’s urging to gain advancement by giving advice to his superior – which eventually leads to his discovery of Zyklon B and the inspiration for the “delousing showers” – he gradually becomes the consummate Nazi.Joseph Bottoms and Tovah Feldshuh in Holocaust
Gerald Green’s script is at pains to include everything, sometimes going to nigh ludicrous lengths to do so. At least four concentration camps are visited and all the others are at least mentioned. At one camp lengths of cloth are being cut into triangles to be sewn onto prisoners’ striped uniforms to designate their “crimes”: the yellow ones are overlapped to create the Jewish star while green are for Gypsies, pink for homosexuals, and so on; thus brief note is made that Jews weren’t the only people who were murdered by the Third Reich. The cast is exceptional with solid and underrated performances from Weaver and Harris and pre-stardom turns from Streep, Woods and Moriarty. Chief honors go to Warner as the amoral Heydrich (one of several nonfictional Nazis woven into the narrative); it’s a compelling portrait and the film loses much when he’s assassinated. For the most part I was underwhelmed by Moriarty but I finally decided that portraying the blandness of evil might have been the point. The major shortcoming is that the miniseries looks like the standard TV offering of its era; it’s overlit and director Marvin J. Chomsky’s camerawork is unadventurous. The dormitories of the death camps look amazingly neat and clean compared to photos we have of the real thing. You might also ponder how Inga has managed to smuggle lipsick into the place or how a group of people taking refuge in the woods just manages to have all the necessary accoutrements for a traditional Hebrew wedding. The show has both its adherents and its detractors – in the latter case most famously Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who wrote in The New York Times that it was: “Untrue, offensive, cheap… the film is an insult to those who perished and to those who survived.” I won’t go that far. Certainly the production was well-intentioned and is not completely without merit but it has undeniably been surpassed by later efforts.
NB: I would be remiss not to note I had issues with the first disc. Somewhere around chapter 12 of episode one there were freeze-ups that ultimately made it go to black before reverting to the main menu. Episode two refused to play at all. (There were no problems with the second disc.) Whether this situation exists only with my set or a few I cannot say but Caveat emptor.

THE LAST MILE
1932 / Alpha Video / 69m / $6.98 / NR
They’re hardly part of the cinematic landscape any more but the sub-genre of stories set inside the big house were common offerings in the 1930s and continued up to at least the 1950s. In fact this production, adapted from John Wexley’s play, was remade in that decade starring – Cthulhu help us – Mickey Rooney (at least I’ve been spared from reviewing that incarnation – there are few things worse than then Mickster going all dramatic). The tale involves Richard Walters (Howard Phillips), falsely convicted of murder and consigned to death row to await his date with in the electric chair. On the night of his scheduled execution Killer Mears (Preston Foster) manages a jail break, holding a priest and several guards hostage and killing several. As it happens this is also the same night that Walters is cleared of killing his business partner – though he’d have been fried by the time his pardon came through if not for the revolt. The plot is pretty slender; what was likely the first act of the play is mostly taken up with the impending electrocution of a prisoner (George E. Stone) and his Last Mile walk. Stone is primarily known to me for his comedic playing of The Runt in the Boston Blackie films (though of course I’ve seen him in other roles) and he gets a chance to go full-out dramatic here (maybe a tad too full-out). There’s also a flashback to the actual events of Walters’ business partner being murdered by stick-up men. Act II is taken up with conversations between the condemned men while the final act is the riot.
Top-billed Phillips didn’t have much of a career – he debuted a year earlier in William Cameron Menzies’ “The Spider” (where’s the DVD release of that anyway?) and was gone from films by 1938 – so you’ll be forgiven for asking “Who?” He was a handsome man and a decent actor but he’s blown off the screen by Foster (who admittedly has the showier role) whose career would stretch out another three decades – this film was bracketed by appearances in “Doctor X” and “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” but he was equally accomplished at comedy and played heroes as well. That he’s not better remembered is baffling. Movie buffs will also get a kick out of bit appearances by the likes of Paul Fix amd Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing as a rabbi!) and the distinctly pre-Code racial mix of the cast. Director Sam (aka Samuel) Bischoff’s only directorial credit is this production; he spent his entire forty year career as a producer (and he seems to have acted as such for all of independent Astor Pictures, which produced this as well as the Bela Lugosi vehicle “The Death Kiss” and the ambitious “Deluge” – whose footage of Manhattan destroyed by a tidal wave would be recycled into several Republic serials – in its short existence). In concert with cinematographer Arthur Edeson he has made a textbook example of how a potentially static set-up – with each prisoner in his individual cell in a long line – and make a visual feast. Fortunately Alpha has gotten hold of an excellent print of this public domain film and their work can be appreciated to the fullest.

THE SILENT REVOLUTION (Das schweigende Klassenzimmer)
2018 / Icarus Films Home Video / 111m / $29.98 / NR
Thanks to a plethora of formulaicTV movies – generally about abusive/homicidal boyfriends/husbands – the state of films “based on actual events” has become seriously degraded to the extent that I groan audibly whenever I see that phrase in a press release or on screen. The dramatic subgenre used to bring forth such ripped-from-the-headlines efforts as “Scarface” (the Howard Hawks original) and “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” and biopics such as George Arliss’ and Paul Muni’s vehicles. This riveting effort stands as proof that reality-inspired productions can make for engrossing cinema. The film is set in 1956, before the Berlin Wall was erected, and two students cross into the west ostensibly to visit the grave one one’s father. While there they attend a movie and see a newsreel regarding the Hungarian uprising (information about it was nonexistent in the state controlled media of East Germany). They glean more details from the illegal radio owned by an uncle and talk their fellow senior classmates into observing two minutes of silence at the start of the first class of the day in solidarity. They convince the reluctant pupils by informing them a popular soccer star was among the casualties. Their refusal to break silence to explain what they’re doing sends their infuriated teacher to the principal.
This apparently simple act turns out to have serious repercussions as first the principal and then a school official and then higher-ups in the Soviet controlled government grill the students. Expulsion of the originator (no university for you) and his (or her) parents’ livelihood is threatened. The iron fist of the Soviets under Stalin is portrayed in this microcosm in scenes that are sometimes difficult to watch (as they should be given the subject). Lars Kraume has directed – and adapted the book by Dietrich Garstka) with nary a false step, though a few details that strain credultiy – such as a priest surmonising on Judas at just the time that the student who informs enters the cathedral and the I am Spartacus moment – are likely straight out of the book. The look of the period, the clothes, the cars, is perfection. And the performances from a mostly young cast you’ve likely never heard of (you’ve probably never heard of the adults either for that matter) is excellent. This isn’t exactly a feel-good flick but the students’ ultimate triumph, while bittersweet, is uplifting. There’s a debate raging on social media following comments by Martin Scorcese about the current glut of superheroes movies. I’m in agreement with the director that they’re the cinematic equivalent of junk food (and while I admire the technical accomplishments I think they cost an obscene amount of money). If your taste runs to more substantial fare then this is a meal to savor.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (Bronenosets Potemkin)
1925 / Alpha Video / 85m / $6.98 / NR
Sergei Eisenstein’s second feature film is rightly considered one of the greatest of all time (“Sight and Sound” places it at eleventh as does the British Film Institute – no collusion of course). Briefly it tells the story of an actual 1906 mutiny by the sailors of the titular vessel over the conditions they are forced to endure – being served rotten meat while the officers dine lavishly for one thing. (Act I of the film – films in Europe and Russia followed a theatrical construction at the time – is entitled “Men and Maggots”.) They are urged into this by the revolutionary fervor sweeping the land (the Russian revolution took place over many years with the royal family given several opportunities to save themselves only to blow it every time). Their uprising is supported by the nearby citizens – per Stalin era propaganda of the time (all films from this era of Soviet cinema were propaganda of some sort) ALL the citizens – of the nearby port city of Odessa. That attracts a reaction from the police and ultimately of the Tsar’s soldiers, leading to the epic sequence, “Act IV: The Odessa Steps.” Even if you’ve never seen the film you’re no doubt familiar with some of its images such as the woman shot in the face, her glasses askew, and the baby carriage bouncing down the city’s endless steps (stolen outright by Brian DePalma for “The Untouchables” and frequently parodied).Bronenosets Potemkin (1925)
Eisenstein was a theorist in (possibly the inventor of) the use of montage as we know it today – and it is fascinating that someone trained in theater so quickly grasped that film was an entirely different medium at a time when cinema was still approached in a theatrical manner by many. “Battleship Potemkin” looks far more modern than almost anything else made the same year in any country. In the mutiny and Odessa Steps sequence, built with rapid cutting of short takes, often in extreme closeup, we can see the birth of the approach of such current day directors as Steven Spielberg when it comes to action set pieces. (The Germans were the first to catch on as can be seen in Fritz Lang’s handling of the flooding of the workers’ city in “Meropolis” and Paul Leni’s climaxes of “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Man Who Laughs”.) Eisenstein also practiced Neo-Realism decades before the Italians; all of the film is shot in actual locations (Odessa portrays itself) with nonprofessional cast members. Eisentein’s nontraditional ways would eventually get him in trouble with Stalin but at this point and for a while after he was Russia’s golden boy of cinema – though just how he got away with the overtly erotic shots of shirtless sailors sleeping in their hammocks is anybody’s guess. Alpha has got hold of a very nice print for their release so you can appreciate this astonishing film at a budget price.

BEFORE STONEWALL
1984 / First Run Features / 87m / $24.96 / NR
Manhattan’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 are generally considered the birth of the modern Gay rights movement. The event was the result of a police raid on the Stonewall Inn bar; such raids on Gay bars were commonplace but that night the patrons rebelled and the cops ended up barricaded inside the establishment, pelted with bricks, beer bottles and whatever else could be got hold of. But the uprising didn’t just come out of nowhere and wasn’t just because of outrage that the authorities would have the temerity to act on the same day that Judy Garland died. Such things as the Hippies with their sexual freedom ideals, the Black civil rights struggle and the Women’s movement fed into it along with the establishment, in the 1950s, of the Mattachine Society (which successfully battled the post office over distribution of its magazine) and the Daughters of Billitis. Both participated in protest marches against the State Department, which was busily firing homosexuals and lesbians in response to the McCarthy hearings (ironically guided by the closeted Roy Cohn). The Kinsey studies played their part, too, as did World War II earlier (all the boys over there and all the girls over here led to predictable experimentation and sometimes discovery of one’s true nature or flexibility at the very least).
The film’s coverage of gay life (mostly in large urban cities such as Manhattan and San Francisco) begins in the 1920s when bars and speakeasies might be discreetly gay with trendy heteros attending for the “decadent” entertainment (innuendo laden songs) or have a section of the bar that was for those in the know – such as the Astor Hotel’s bar. The film spends more coverage on the WWII and post war years (for an exhaustive look at Manhattan from the Victorian period onward I recommend George Chauncey’s “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940”). The 1950s were when vice raid crackdowns began on the bars; patrons would be arrested and their names published in the newspapers leading, more often than not, to their being fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes. This documentary, made for PBS, features interviews with those who lived through the pre-Stonewall times, including poet Alan Ginsberg, Harry Hay (one of the Mattachine founders) and activist/writers Dr. Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings (both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the first national march on D.C.). With Gay rights currently subject to attempted erosion (along with other civil rights) this 50th anniversary restoration is an important reminder of the bad old days – which we might be facing again.

ELEMENTARY: The Final Season
2019 / Paramount Home Entertainment, CBS DVD / 549m (3 discs) / $55.98 / NR
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) return for a last bow thanks to the wishes of CBS after what was supposed to be the sixth and final season. The show has been immensely popular and the network wanted to squeeze some further advertising dollars out of it. Fortunately all four principal actors were available (Aidan Quinn as Captain Thomas Gregson and Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell complete the quartet). Even the wonderful Patricia Madsen is on hand for a few appearances. (And in only the first episode, alas, there’s Tamsin Grieg, late of “Episodes” putting a deliciously wry spin on a humorless DCI.) At series start Holmes is back in London, deported following an agreement with HSA when he took the fall for a murder committed by another; Watson has followed. When Gregson is shot and left in critical condition (Quinn getting an easy clutch of episodes lying in bed on a ventilator) the pair return to Manhattan (Holmes surreptitiously of course) to solve the attempted murder.
Naturally the duo gets involved in other cases (Sherlock settles his problem with HSA with the first of a couple of instances where his actions have tragic consequences). In a nigh season long story arc they are approached by billionaire internet magnate Odin Reichenbach (yes there’s an injoke ultimately involved) who uses his Facebook-like empire to spy on the populace and determine who poses a threat based on their posts. If anyone appears to be planning a mass murder with guns or a bomb he has them assassinated and he wants Holmes and Watson to join his crusade. Holmes concludes some innocent people, who were no threat at all, have been killed and vows to bring down the tycoon. While I do like the series quite a lot I’m still of the opinion that using the names of Holmes and Watson is a gimmick because these characters bear no real resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (unlike the BBC’s modernized take with Benedict Cumberbatch). The cases are marvelously intricate, the cast is terrific and these final13 episodes put the series to bed in a marvelous fashion. (Though it wouldn’t surprise me if there are TV movies or some mini-series in the future.)

INTO THE ASHES
2019 / RLJE Films / 97m / $29.96 / NR
Nick Brenner (Luke Grimes) has put his criminal past behind him… he thinks. He has a steady, normal job, a loving wife, Tara (Marguerite Moreau), and a best friend, Sal (James Badge Dale), with whom he is building a cabin in the woods on weekends. His past is a secret from them as is the fact that he kept the proceeds from the gang’s last job. But gangleader Sloan (Frank Grillo) has just got out of the jug for that heist and wants his loot. To that end he kills Tara for no good reason except the movie would have nowhere to go otherwise. Because this is a revenge flick and one so predictable you can probably finish this synopsis without my participation, I won’t bother with further synopsising. Now the key to any genre production – as I’ve frequently noted – is delivering the goods, the familiar tropes the fans expect, but also bringing something extra to the mix. That might simply be the lead player; the “Death Wish” films succeed on the charisma – much underrated – of star Charles Bronson. Grimes may be a perfectly good actor but he doesn’t hold the screen in any scenes where he’s with either Grillo or Dale (I frequently found myself wishing the latter was playing Nick and Grimes the best buddy). "INTO THE ASHES"
That kind of old school approach also requires sharp pacing, which this film lacks – and it’s further diluted by switching to the perspective of Luke’s sheriff father-in-law (Robert Taylor) who comes across the aftermath of Nick’s undepicted mayhem (in a revenge flick we want to see the revenge, for pete’s sake). Another method is to add some additional element of quirkiness; Tarantino and the Coen brothers have built success with that approach. There is one brief moment of oddness here when Sloan, having presented Nick with his wife’s corpse, asks if there’s any butter pecan ice cream to go with the pie the woman baked shortly before her demise. But nothing along those lines emerges afterward. Now I don’t mean to suggest that the film is completely without merit; it’s well-acted (Grillo positively rules every scene he’s in), nicely photographed and the dialogue is sharp and realistic. But nothing quite rises out of the ordinary and some of it doesn’t quite approach it. Fans of this kind of material will find it passable; the rest of you should probably steer clear.

A SCORE TO SETTLE
2019 / RLJE Films / 104m / $29.96 / NR
Oh dear, what has happened to the once nova hot career of Nicholas Cage? For some time now he’s been relegated to lower budgeted, independent efforts – some of which have actually been pretty interesting (I very much liked “Pay the Ghost”) but many of which have not been very remarkable. Almost all of them have allowed him to do his patented rage schtick and let’s be honest here: a) he’s very good at that and b) otherwise he’s a pretty bland actor without a strong director (such as “Moonstruck’s” Norman Jewison). Shawn Ku, despite praise for his work on “A Beautiful Boy,” seems not to be in that league – or maybe the aforementioned film, which he co-scripted, was a more personal production. He doesn’t feel very engaged here; even much of the camerawork feels dispassionate, observing but not involved. Cage plays Frank, a mobster who is released from prison after two decades, taking the fall for a crime others committed. Though he apparently did this quite willingly he now wants revenge for his lost years and the suitcase full of cash he’s buried will allow him to live luxuriously in an expensive hotel while he carries it out. I know what you’re thinking but this isn’t quite that kind of flick. Not entirely.
At film’s start a prison doctor informs Frank that the insomnia from which he suffers will kill him if he doesn’t start getting some sleep; this doesn’t figure into the plot all that much but every now and then Frank has some disorienting dizzy spells. On Frank’s exit he is greeted by his now grown son, Joey (Noah Le Gros, giving the most engaging performance in the film), who’s a recovering addict – the script lays this entirely to Frank’s absence, which seems glib. Joey doesn’t want any part of the dirty money but Frank convinces the young man to join him in the suite; supposedly this leads to some bonding but the script can’t quite deliver the goods on that score. The most interesting twist here is that those on whom Frank wants payback have aged too; one is dead, another on life support and so on. Time has moved on even if Frank hasn’t. There’s a sub-plot involving a high-end call girl (Karolina Wydra), with whom Frank becomes intensely smitten, that I’ve seen way too may times before and that, here, serves no real purpose aside from giving the splendid Wydra some screen time. Benjamin Bratt also scores nicely but if I tell you anything about his character it could spoil some plot turns. What might have been an interesting variation on the revenge genre never catches fire due to a lethargic pace.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

ANIARA
2019 / Magnet / 106m / $29.98 BR / R
For those who can appreciate more subtle and mature science fiction I recommend this Swedish/Danish remake of a 1960 Swedish film and based on a 1956 poem by Swedish writer Harry Martinson. The titular, boxy city-sized spaceship, which somewhat resembles a skyscraper laid on end, is transporting former citizens of earth to their new homes on Mars. It’s implied, though not stated outright, that we’ve so depleted the earth that it’s no longer habitable – or at any rate no longer able to sustain the full population of the planet. So, it’s Marsward Ho until an asteroid collides with the ship, knocking it off course and destroying navigation function – something the captain withholds from the passengers for as long as possible. The vessel had just enough fuel to propel it on its journey so it can only coast through space until it encounters a body large enough to use its gravitational pull to slingshot it back on course to the red planet. The ship’s astronomer, however, gets hugely inebriated in a bar one night and spills the beans that no such planet is known to be anywhere along Aniara’s current course. This news of course spreads throughout the passengers and they face the realization that their trip will last years, not weeks. It may in fact never end.
The film revolves around MR (Emelie Jonsson), the tech who operates the Mima, a computerized program that provides vivid hallucinations of earth. It’s an attraction that is initially little used by the passengers but as the journey wears on becomes so vital to so many it burns out. Stripped of its comfort and facing an unknown future the populace reacts in various ways. There are numerous suicides (the despondent astronomer being one of the first) while others form orgiastic cults (be warned there is relatively brief but graphic nudity here – European filmmakers are less panicked by a glimpse of willie). The years stretch on and on with no alteration to the ship’s destiny – food of a sort is not a problem because of what’s being grown in the greenhouse (a plant that also provides oxygen). But a hopeless ennui rules until it is discovered that a probe (at first thought to be a rescue craft) is on course to the ship. It’s thought that its fuel can be transferred to the Aniara but that becomes a false hope when no one can figure out how to open the mysterious, rocket-shaped object. The film is a pretty grim affair and might be intolerably downbeat save for director/co-scripter Pella Kågerman’s dispassionate approach. Still it’s not a production for everyone, not even for all sci-fi fans; there are no phaser battles and nothing explodes. This is for those who can appreciate a more thoughtful approach – and one that will likely haunt them for some time to come.

BEAU BRUMMEL
1924 / Alpha Video / 80m / $6.98 / NR
John Barrymore is probably most familiar to most people for his films of the sound era when he was increasingly transitioning to quirky character roles. In the silent era – and even in the early 1930s he was what was dubbed a Matinee Idol, meaning he was known for his romantic turns and nicknamed The Great Profile. Here he stars as George “Beau” Brummel in a loose adaptation of Clyde Fitch’s loose theatrical presentation of the life of the Regency dandy who rose from soldier to bosom chum of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV). Per this version of history Brummel’s rise is prompted by revenge. Denied the hand of the woman he loves, Lady Margery Alvanley (Mary Astor) – who is forced into a more socially advantageous union by her parents – he determines to manipulate society. Several fortunate events allow him acquaintance with the Prince and the opportunity to save him from a sticky situation. Soon the upper crust is flocking to his dressing room and parlor to learn the latest fashion or some new tasty scandal and tres intime late night suppers. Alas he is exposed as entering into an affair with the King’s wife (more revenge – the monarch has taken the widowed Lady Margery as his mistress) and he descends into penury. John Barrymore, Alec B. Francis, William Humphrey, Willard Louis, and Carmel Myers in Beau Brummel (1924)
As Carrie Fisher famously (well, in my little film-obsessed world anyway) told Robert Osbhorne, “Just because a film is old doesn’t make it a classic.” And this vehicle for Barrymore is no classic. It is as lacking in visual finesse as most U.S. silents of the time. It took the influx European directors and cinematographers – mostly German – to bring Hollywood films to the level of story telling brilliance they achieved in the latter half of the 1920s, though a few directors, such as Fred Niblo, Raoul Walsh and Roland West were, by the time of this production, becoming more adventurous. This film’s director, Harry Beaumont, was never more than a competent craftsman who was valued by the studios for bringing in films on time and on or under budget. (He did turn in some nifty Bs in the sound era and you are advised, if you’ve never seen it, to catch the outrageous “Murder in the Private Car” the next time TCM shows it.) This effort is however worth watching for its star who is perhaps best known for his more… er… exuberant performances. Don’t get me wrong; I love his turns that some call hammy but that I find meticulously judged and wholly appropriate for the roles in question. (Who, after all would want to see him restrained in “Svengali” or “The Twentieth Century”?) Here, where many of the other actors are giving typical, overdone pantomime silent film performances he holds the screen with masterful understatement. A flick of the eye, a slightly raised eyebrow or simply staring down an adversary and he blows all others off the screen. Only Astor (who would become even better with the coming of sound) and Irene Rich as the Duchess of York approach him with naturalistic emoting.

THE GIRL IN THE FOG (La ragazza nella nebbia)
2017 / Icarus Films Home Video / 127m / $26.98 / NR
You have likely not heard of Donato Carrisi but in Italy he is a very successful novelist specializing in thrillers. Here he has turned his hand to directing his own adaptation of his latest novel, something only a handful of writers have attempted (while other authors have directed films only Clive Barker comes to mind in terms of adapting and directing his own work to the screen). The result signals a talent to watch with a twisty-turny plot handled in an unexpected and visually more impressive manner than you’d expect from a tyro director. The story revolves around the disappearance, in a small mountain village, of a 16 year old girl. In that she had red hair this resembles a series of unsolved disappearances from years ago. The story is told in flashback by Agente Vogel (Toni Servillo) to a psychiatrist (Jean Reno) after he’s been found wandering in the fog. He claims not to know how that came to be and so he begins at the beginning – when he was assigned to investigate – in an attempt to recall how his misty perambulation came about. Not long after arriving – along with a gaggle of reporters covering the sensational story – Vogel sets his sights on schoolteacher Loris Martini (Alessio Boni) based almost entirely on circumstantial evidence but, most tellingly on surveillance camera footage that shows his van frequently in the same vicinity as the missing young woman in the days before her disappearance. Jean Reno and Toni Servillo in La ragazza nella nebbia (2017)
Vogel is a showboater who is obsessed with keeping his name and face in the news and building his case through the media. He is especially interested in cracking this case – and be publicly seen solving it – because he has recently been humiliated when his not entirely scrupulous methods convicted and jailed a man later proven to be innocent (but not before his life was ruined, resulting in a million dollar settlement). There is as much tension created here by the search for the missing teen as there is regarding Martini’s guilt or innocence. Boni gives such an appealing performance that you hope for his innocence but the script gives him a number of questionable actions. Credit writer/director Carrisi for keeping the viewer guessing right up to the end. In many ways the story itself might be termed what Alfred Hitchcock called a McGuffin; the mystery thriller aspects serve to allow for character studies of the two protagonists and the film is as much – or even more – concerned with that. If that’s in the writing or simply because Servillo and Boni offer such rich and nuanced performances I can’t quite say. I do know this is not just another mystery with cardboard characters (and I should note all the acting here is superb). This is an astonishingly good film that has more to offer than the usual thriller.

THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING (Druga strana svega)
2017 / Icarus Films Home Video / 104m / $26.98 / NR
Those with a better grasp of Yugoslavia’s political history will get more good out of this biographical portrait of Srbijanka Turajlic, written and directed by her daughter Mila (who also prompts her mother’s comments from offscreen). The country had a turbulent history in the 20th Century, partly through reorganizations of Europe following the world wars. Per Wikipedia the country “… came into existence after World War I in 1918 under the name of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes by the merger of the provisional State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (… formed from territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire) with the Kingdom of Serbia, and constituted the first union of the South Slavic people as a sovereign state, following centuries in which the region had been part of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary… The kingdom gained international recognition on 13 July 1922 at the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. The official name of the state was changed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 3 October 1929.” In 1945 it became the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia but was renamed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963. More permutations of territories and politics than need be recounted here followed until a revolt in 1992 installed Slobodan Milosevic who was overthrown in 2006. Druga strana svega (2017)
The film’s title derives from a locked door in Turaljic the elder’s apartment, which was once her parents’. After the Soviets gained control following WWII, ownership of the building was taken from them and the size of their own apartment reduced by closed and locked doors with the building repartitioned. In the course of the documentary the elderly resident on the other side of the door passes away, allowing that room to be restored. Turaljic has been a participant in much of her country’s turbulent post WII history, living in the reduced abode where the neighbors spied on them (and presumably each other) using their doors’ spyholes to see who was visiting; her parents quickly learned to be careful what they were saying in their own home. Turaljic went on to become a peace and democracy advocate, often in and then out of favor with movements in which she was involved. The documentary is augmented with archival footage, including of the woman herself delivering rabble-rousing speeches. It’s a fine film and shot through with enough humor to keep it from getting heavy.

REBORN
2018 /Jinga Films / 80m / NR
streaming on Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV. Sony Playstation and FandangoNow
Julian Richards, working from a script by Michael Mahin, has created a horror thriller that’s also an homage to horror films, mostly those of the second half of the last century. The body of a stillborn baby is brought to life by a freak lightning strike (a la “The Curse of Frankenstein”) and the creepy morgue attendant – who takes nude photos of the more nubile female corpses – takes the reborn infant home to mom. Flash forward 16 years and mom is now a mummified corpse (paging “Psycho”) and the attendant is having less than paternal feelings toward Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert), The young woman has developed telekinetic powers, however (just like “Carrie”), of an electrical nature and she puts paid to the old pervert before heading out into the world in a search for her mother. Naturally the medical staff she tracks down (from info on her old toe tag) aren’t as cooperative as she deems acceptable and there’s soon a bunch of dead people littering Los Angeles. Said mom, Lena (Barbara Crampton), is a one-time star of low budget horror films who – as is common with middle aged scream queens – is having a rough go getting work and seems to be supporting herself (and her large and lovely house) by giving acting lessons. Tess finds Lena and the latter thinks the former is merely another student – and a very promising one.                                                                                      Kayleigh Gilbert in Reborn (2018)
I’ve already noted some of the references; they’re not just lazy, derivative scripting. They’re quite deliberate and include an outright steal from “Carrie” (which I won’t reveal) that has a deliciously cheeky resolution. Crampton is the star of Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” (a poster of which adorns the wall of Lena’s studio and which features basement morgue reanimations) suggesting the kind of films Lena starred in. The cast also includes Michael Pare as a cop investigating the accumulation of deaths and Rae Dawn Chong as Lena’s agent; both were not unknown presences in genre product back in the day. (While not known for genre work, Monte Markham’s career hasn’t exactly been high profile either. It was a pleasure to see him in a supporting role as Lena’s shrink.) Does all this referencing make it a great movie? Well, no… the separation and reuniting of parent and child isn’t explored as much as it might be; an actor’s process of drawing on life experience for performance gets more attention. It does make what is on the surface just another cheesy B-horror somewhat deeper than most while providing some fun in-jokes for genre fans to savor.

SWINGTOWN: the first season
2008 / CBS DVD, Paramount / 547m (4 discs) / $55.98 / NR
Set in the year of the USA’s 200th birthday and at the height of the sexual revolution that was birthed in the turbulent 1960s this short-lived series has Susan and Bruce Miller (Molly Parker and Jack Davenport) move a few blocks away to a wealthier neighborhood. It also turns out to be a hotbed of hedonism and their new neighbors, Trina and Tom Decker (Lara Parilla and Grant Show), are eyeing them lustfully as they move into their new digs. They will soon introduce them to weed and spouse swapping. The Miller’s neighbors and BFFs from the old neighborhood, Janet and Roger Thompson (Miriam Shor and Josh Hopkins), especially Janet who’s a control freak from hell, fear the friendship will fade. Despite the spicy pretext, more premise than promise, there’s little – if anything – to frighten the horses here; the show is more about relationships than raunch. Relationships between husband and wife, between friends and between parents and children are the real focus here; this was on broadcast TV of 11 years ago after all. The Deckers may have an orgy room but we only get a brief and timid glimpse of the goings on.                                                                                       Still of Damon Carney in Swingtown
And while the writing is fairly perceptive (save in the unbearably clunky pilot that introduces so many characters so quickly you need a scorecard) what we have here is still essentially soap opera. More interesting than the bed hopping is the transition of Janet from a conservative values type (and a wholly obnoxious character) to someone with less judgmental moral attitudes. But the real standout in the cast is Hopkins as her sweetly goofy and tongue-tied husband. He’s got barely any dialogue in the first several episodes but can do more with a glance than most actors can with a full page monologue. He, too, has an interesting character arc involving growth. The series is spot on regarding the look of the era (check out those kitchens) and in its choices of music. But the anchor couple, the Millers, just aren’t very interesting (and Parker smiling tremulously in close-up grows tired fast). And while nudity really isn’t necessary to tell these stories I wonder if the reason the show only lasted a season is because it wasn’t more daring. Some subjects just belong on cable or they don’t quite ring true.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK
2019 / Magnet / 87m / $26.98 / R
This limp thriller has a young parks employee, Wendy (Karina Fontes), heading out into the wild to post handbills along a hiking trail. At some point she wanders off the trail and gets lost; of course her cell phone charge dies shortly after she realizes this. In trying to find a spot where her walkie talkie will make a connection she discovers a several days old body. Eeuw. (I’m not being snarky; that’s approximately her reaction.) Now she has to stick around near the corpse until help arrives and deal with another hiker (Casey Adams) – maybe a murderer! – who insists on rummaging through the body’s clothes for identification. Oh, yes, and there’s a bear that – despite much being made of it on the case art – only shows up at practically the end of the film and (SPOILER ALERT) is easily sent packing. From the cheesy, computer generated opening titles (over some of the crappiest music I’ve ever heard) to, well, just about everything else, this film misses the mark and – except for really good photography – looks every bit as low budget as it likely is. It’s essentially supposed to be a study of a young woman finding out she’s stronger and more resourceful than she realizes but Wendy is such a whiner who comes off feeling very entitled that it’s nigh impossible to care about her (particularly as she makes bone-headed decision after bone-headed decision – not that the story could proceed without them). There’s a plot twist at the very end (no, I won’t spoil that) that seems pulled in from another movie. If it is really the point here I’ll just note that Rod Serling used to do this kind of thing more successfully and in one third the time.

THE BRINK
2019 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 91m / $26.98 / NR
Some little while back here I reviewed a documentary on Roger Ailes; that work was in the nature of an expose while this look at Steve Bannon is more balanced and without obvious bias. So your reaction is likely to depend on where you fall on the political spectrum. If you’re to the Left you’ll wish he’s been hammered harder; if to the Right you’ll wonder why he isn’t more glorified. For this liberally leaning writer two of the most telling moments come early on. The first is when Bannon talks of visiting Auschwitz and being impressed by the flawless engineering of the place and pondering on how those who designed it must have just focused on the task and put aside the evil it would be put to (he doesn’t seem to consider that the death camp might have been created by true believers in Hitler’s dream). I can’t help but ponder if he is, perhaps unknowingly, drawing a parallel to the racist agenda he promotes – and my use of that word is not an opinion; Bannon’s remarks on the public record over the years are clearly racist. His more recent campaign to coordinate the anti-immigrant campaigns of an assortment of European politicians is the final proof if any is needed but that he acknowledges and embraces the attitude came when he recently exhorted a crowd to wear the term racist as “a badge of honor”. Case closed. 
Somewhat later he espouses his “populist” ideology by railing against the “elites” and then, within a sentence and with no hint of recognizing the irony, references his years at Harvard. I’m sorry but it doesn’t get any more elite than Harvard. And let’s not forget he was once a Goldman Sachs banker (he’s shown a couple times meeting with former execs); that hardy puts him in amongst the common herd. Nor does his formerly being underwritten by the astronomically wealthy Mercer family – a situation that ended when his comments about the Trump White House, related in “Fire and Fury” hit print (and leading the POTUS to dub him Sloppy Steve). But then recognizing irony isn’t his strong suit; he declares that a foundation he’s creating will not accept foreign money but later does just that from Chinese CEO Miles Kwok (aka Gun Wengui, wanted by his country for a variety of illegal doings). Allison Klayman’s documentary follows Bannon from just after his resignation (or ouster) from the Trump administration through his stumping for his endorsed candidates in the 2018 mid-terms to his jet setting about to forge a European alliance of far right candidates. Klayman’s approach is to put all the pieces out there without comment, leaving it up to the viewer to draw conclusions. I’ve always thought him slime so nothing changed here.

DOGMAN
2019 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 101m / $26.98 / NR
Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is a timid, affable dog groomer in a poor section of an unnamed Italian town who gains some extra cash by selling cocaine. What money he can set aside is lavished on his shared custody daughter. He is frequently drawn into criminal pursuits by the town bully and ex-boxer Simoncino (Eduardo Pesce), who also hits Marcello up for free coke. Simone insists on having a spare set of keys to Marcello’s shop (yclept Dogman) so he can break into and rob the shop next door, promising the cash-strapped groomer a cut of the loot. As there’s no evidence of the grooming shop first having been broken into Marcello, who doesn’t rat out the thug, becomes the prime suspect and does a year in prison. On his release, unsurprisingly Simone reneges on his promise and so Marcello sets out on revenging himself. That’s really a very spare recounting of an intricate plot but it might be best you don’t know more going in. Director Matteo Garrone is possibly best known for his Italian Mafia film, “Gomorrah.” and here he is once again concerned with criminals but of the petty and independent kind. Despite the complexity of the plot the film is as much – possibly more – a character study. We see Marcello interact lovingly with his daughter and gently with the dogs (the very opening scene shows him calm a very angry pooch who very decidedly does not want to be washed).   
But there’s also focus on Marcello’s fellow shopkeepers who are equally terrorized by Simone, to the extent that at one point they discuss hiring a hit man to off the bully. Later they ostracize Marcello for having abetted, and possibly participated in, the break-in and thus acting against one of their and his own. The transition from being one of the fellowship of small businessmen to outcast may be as much motivation for Marcello to cast off his mild-manneredness after being stiffed on his portion of the take. We know less of Simone who seems more an elemental force of nature but may be just a tad mommy dominated. Garrone’s film is very much in the Italian Neo-Realist tradition, shot entirely in natural locations (Castel Volturno standing in for the unnamed village) with photography that is gritty yet more carefully composed and striking than documentary in its look. But in a production where the technical aspects are not in the forefront and scenes are often mere snippets (and sometimes without dialogue) it is the direction and acting that must carry the show; both are subtle and naturalistic. Fonte, who is in almost every (maybe every) scene, is exceptional as the woebegone groomer and Pesce is one scary presence. Garrone has crafted another outstanding, if not precisely upbeat film with a more than slightly up-in-the-air finale.

THE HEIRESSES (Las herederas)
2018 / Icarus Films Home Video / 98m / $26.98 / NR
Marcello Martinessi has crafted a Neo-Realistic film (from Paraguay, however, not Italy) that is very, very understated; much is inferred but very little is stated outright. Formerly affluent Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) have been living together for 30 years and have recently been forced to start selling their inherited possessions. Chiquita is withdrawn, possibly depressed, not eager to get out of bed to visit friends, spending most of her time working on abstract watercolors. Chela organizes things so that everything is just so for Chiquita, including having the breakfast items placed exactly right on the tray). When Chela must serve a prison term for fraud (unpaid bills) Chiquita must become more self-sufficient; there is a newly hired maid but she’s not terribly efficient at first. Then an elderly neighbor asks Chiquita to give her a lift to her bridge game and all the participants decide to get rides home with her, all of them paying for the taxi service. Chiquita has not driven in years – and this may be the closest thing to a job she’s ever held – but bringing in money and the social interactions involved start to bring the middle aged woman out of her shell.
Built in short scenes that don’t really pay off until they accumulate, this is a film where one must pay attention to the details. The relationship between Chela and Chiquita is never spelled out but the hints are there. We first see Chiquita in a very large bed; the two women are never shown sharing it but Chela is never depicted as having her own bedroom. Chela also seems peeved that Chiquita is becoming more able to look after herself, even dealing forcefully with the rude people who are potential buyers of the household goods. Chela specifically tries to denigrate the gypsy taxi service, painting it with all sorts of dire implications; clearly she prefers Chiquita to be dependent on her (perhaps she even hired a less than capable maid on purpose rather than the only one they could afford?). But whether or not the two women are in a relationship rather than a close friendship gets a question mark attached. Chiquita goes into outright panic when a young woman who uses her chauffeur service makes an overt sexual move on her; her reaction suggests more than an unwillingness to be unfaithful but rather horror of having a same-sex encounter. It’s hardly the only unanswered question here (unless I missed some clues) and there’s an ambiguous ending to ponder as well – the two women’s relationship will have changed but we don’t learn how. It’s a fascinating film.

HOTDOUG’S: THE MOVIE
2018 / Random Media / 57m / $14.95 / NR
This is a thoroughly enjoyable little documentary about a hot dog “stand” that was strictly gourmet. Yes, that’s right: past tense. HotDoug’s closed down a number of years ago despite being so successful people lined up around the block and waited for hours to be served in the postage stamp size restaurant. Why make a film about a place that’s only a memory? Because, amongst other things, this is an object lesson in how to run a business. Treat your employees as if they are family and your clientele as friends. Owner Doug Sohn was hands on, greeting customers, taking their orders and ringing up the (cash only) sales. He also personally created the menu, deciding which exotic meats (armadillo, venison, curry pork, or escargot anyone?) would be ground up and encased and what unusual other ingredients would be included (ever had truffles in your sausage? how about foie gras?). One of the reasons the place was a success (though not immediately of course) was Sohn’s dedication to excellence. I wish the place was still around; I’d like to try some of these exotic (and very reasonably priced!) “encased meat” sandwiches (of course I’d have to get my butt off to Chicago to do so). Filming was obviously underway well before Sohn announced he’d be shutting down – a good bit of the footage is devoted to the tearful last day – so why it’s taken about five years for this film to see the light of day is a puzzlement. But it’s a perfectly made example of a good documentary, hitting all them right notes in its telling of a standard American Dream (in this case owning your own restaurant) and, at just under an hour, it doesn’t overstay its welcome – a lesson quite a few documentarians should learn. The subject isn’t weighty and neither is the handling. Take a bite.

ROMOLA
1924 / Alpha Home Video / 105m / $6.98 / NR
Back in high school English class we tackled George Eliot’s “Silas Marner,” an experience that decided me against ever reading anything else by the author. I surmise that finding Eliot a slog to get through might not be uncommon based on how few big screen adaptations there have been of her work – the excitement for it just isn’t there. This silent version of her historical drama is the only feature version ever attempted (a one reeler of 1911 preceded it) and it was made at a time just before it would have been impossible to do without ruinously expensive set building. Director Henry King – whose career stretched from 1915’s “Should a Wife Forgive?” to 1962’s “Tender is the Night” – hied his cast off to Italy and filmed in Florence, Tuscany and Pisa… yes, that really is the actual leaning tower seen in the background at one point! At the time the locales were not much different than they’d been in the time of the Medicis and Savoranola, which is the period in which the story is set (the latter is even a character in the tale). Technology, including the introduction of the automobile, would soon make such location production difficult (only a year earlier Universal gave up on its plan to make “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in Paris because the city was no longer Quasimodo’s home town).
The potboiler story begins just after the Medicis have been driven out at the urging of Savoranola and centers on Romola (Lillian Gish), who is beloved by painter Carlo (Ronald Colman) and the daughter of a blind scholar. A shipwrecked man calling himself Tito (William Powell) and claiming to be a scholar (he is neither a scholar nor named Tito) arrives in town and ends up in Romola’s household. The old man urges his daughter and the bogus scholar into marriage with hopes his great work will be completed by his son-in-law. Tito has meanwhile been pursuing Tessa (Dorothy Gish), who sells milk and garlic (!) in the square and is pregnant with his child after a marriage that is obviously fake to everyone but her. Tito also becomes involved in the city’s new, increasingly non-democratic, government and in that capacity is the one who sentences Savoranola to death (the crowds that once loved the monk turned on him and he was hanged and burnt). With sound some of the psychological insights that are said to be in Eliot’s novel might have been presented but as a silent film this is pure melodrama. It is impressively mounted, however, and a film crying out, nay, screaming for restoration and BluRay on the basis of its cityscapes alone. This print is soft and somewhat murky – to the extent that a few of the intertitles are impossible to read. The film is preserved in the UCLA archives but until they get around to restoring it this may be as good as it gets.

THE TOUGH ONES (Roma a mano armata)
1976 / Grindhouse Releasing / 94m / $39.95 (2 BR + CD) / NR
Inspector Tanzi (Mario Merli) is a handsome, snazzily dressed cop who is of the opinion that “the law protects criminals” so he ignores the law he’s sworn to uphold. “Don’t talk to me about rights!” he shouts as he beats up a hunchbacked suspect (of course because the screenplay has him always right, the perp is a gun-loving psycho killer with sharpshooter-perfect aim). Arthur Kennedy plays his boss, the less nattily accoutered Superintendent Ruini who’s always cautioning Tanzi to hold back with less than salubrious results. Yes, it’s an Italian variation (or should we say copycat?) of the “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish” films that celebrate renegade officers who are more vigilante than policemen. (To be fair the genre goes back farther than the Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson vehicles; it was already old when Bruce Wayne started prowling the nighttime streets of Gotham City.) And of course, to justify such things as thrashing someone senseless before bringing him in, or planting “evidence” in his glove box, this gang is really vicious. They tie Tanzi’s girlfriend in a car and lower it into a crusher, only pausing at the last minute so she can deliver the message to lay off and collectively they are given to more maniacal laughter than might be heard at a Tod Slaughter retrospective. There are some diversions to a complicated (or possibly merely confusing) plot, such as when Tanzi happens upon a gang of rapists and clobbers the crap out of them before even attempting arrest and a kind of subplot involving Vespa riding purse snatchers who get theirs in a traffic accident after pursuit byTanzi. There’s car chases and car crashes aplenty. It’s the work of Umberto Lenzi, revered by some but basically a hack who turned his hand to giallos, pirate epics and some of the most notorious of the cannibal films. (Here there’s a scene in a slaughterhouse that is grosser than anything in the last as a cow gets disemboweled – you’ve been warned.) Those without a taste for Neopolitan genre films, and their frequently nonsensical plots, should probably steer clear.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

BEFORE HOMOSEXUALS
2018 / First Run Features / 87m / $24.95 / NR
This prelude documentary to “Before Stonewall” and “After Stonewall” (and from one of the same producers, John Scagliotti, who also functions here as on and off-screen narrator and director) looks at the long history of same-sex activities courtesy art dating back to cave paintings. It takes its title from the fact that the word homosexual was coined less than two centuries ago even though men have had sex with men and women with women since before humans were homo sapiens and in all cultures of the world. Related imageWell, yes, we knew that – or at least those of us in the LGBTQ community did. Which begs the question, just who is this film aimed at? The homophobes in various fundamentalist faiths aren’t even going to give the thing a look, so its stated aim that it will “will improve understanding and respect, while decreasing intolerance, discrimination, and violence towards gays and lesbians worldwide through proving the hypothesis that gays and lesbians have always existed in every culture throughout history” seems a tad unlikely. The approach is all over the place, skipping from one period in history or one culture to another and back and forth rather than chronologically or sticking with one part of the world at a time. Additionally too much of the art is flashed on the screen for mere nanoseconds, making it difficult to determine just what its same-sex content is (if any). And Scagliotti inserts himself into the film far too much – we even get video of his wedding for no reason I could discern. I applaud the intent here, even if it is ground that’s been well covered, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

THE CLEANING LADY
2018 / RLJE Films / 90m / $27.97 / NR
Director / co-writer Jon Knaut’s thriller is nicely acted and beautifully photographed. I also admire its slow-burn approach, methodically building the story and making it incrementally more unsettling before unleashing the mayhem. Horror fans however are not going to find anything much new here in a predictable and far too credulity-stretching plot. Things happen because they must to advance the story and always involve the heroine, Alice (Alexis Kendra), making thoroughly baffling decisions. She hires one of her building’s cleaning crew, the badly scarred and barely verbal Shelly (Rachel Alig) to moonlight cleaning her apartment. Shelly is decidedly creepy – no even more than creepy, she practically has signage on her screaming Stay Away – so Alice’s decision to have her stay over for dinner and movie watching and otherwise befriend her is downright head-scratching. Shelley takes upon herself to clean Alice’s life, including murdering the latter’s married lover – a relationship Alice herself has been trying unsuccessfully to terminate. Rachel Alig in The Cleaning Lady (2018)
Shelly also seems to be trying to become Alice. Very early on she steals some jewelry and regards herself in a mirror; later she sedates Alice and makes a mask of her face to further emulate her employer. Just where she acquired that skill – or for that matter acid and the hypos of knock-out stuff she always has at the ready – is anyone’s guess. Even the backstory of how Shelly was pimped out by her mother while still very young and had boiling broth thrown on her face by a trick she treated badly explains only her ruined face and not her actions in the film. And just quite what’s going on (or at any rate why it is) with the ending I honestly can’t say. What good is to be found here lies in the acting. Kendra nails the professional woman whose life is maybe a tad too full for anything other than a half-a-loaf relationship even though she’s aware it can never blossom into anything meaningful. Alig is intense in a performance that’s essentially internal yet radiates from the screen; it’s difficult to describe but she’s incredibly scary. Elizabeth Sandy as Alice’s best friend is quite good also. It was nice to have a horror film where the female characters predominate (and where, refreshingly for an indie horror, there was no gratuitous nudity) but the clunky script is a deficit that can’t be overcome.

GUY
2018 / Icarus Films / 101m / $26.99 / NR
I’m not sure if star/director Alex Lutz’s film should be called a mockumentary. Those efforts are generally satiric (think “All You Need is Cash”) while this, despite some lighter moments, is a drama. Perhaps it’s best to term it a film in the form of a documentary. Its conceit is that filmmaker Gauthier (the mostly offscreen Tom Dingler) discovers amongst his late mother’s effects a letter she wrote to him but never sent identifying his father as pop singer Guy Jamet (Lutz as the older incarnation) with whom she had a groupie type one night stand. Under the pretext of making a documentary (one of several he claims to be working on) Gauthier seeks to know the father he never knew. He films the once very famous singer-songwriter (of very forgettable ditties) at his humble rural abode where he keeps horses and on tour, recording performances and backstage goings-on. Faux inclusions of Jamet’s TV appearances from his past – masterfully goosed to emulate fading film stock or slightly smeary videotape – are also included. There’s little real plot here; as in a documentary there are innumerable bits and pieces that may or may not add up to a portrait of the subject. Jamet interacts with his longtime lover who seems eternally to be cradling a pair of Chihuahuas, his backup band members, his manager, his stage manager and a rare lunch meeting with his son (that unknown son Gauthier’s footage is silent make it all the more poignant).
Jamet can be vibrant onstage before his still adoring and distinctly senior citizen fans but offstage he often displays the fragility of his years – he has a heart attack while horseback riding and his doctor forbids further such activity, a crushing order to a man devoted to his equine friends. Lutz –who also conceived the idea for the film and contributed to the script – is barely ever offscreen and is quite wonderful. If there is a fault here it s that the film goes on long after it’s made its points (but then most documentaries do). It does however lead to a lovely ending that goes where you’ve been expecting it to but not in the way you expect. It’s a minor piece of filmmaking – nothing earth-shattering or life-changing here but smart, even witty, perceptive and engaging. It may not alter your world but you won’t regret the time you spent with it. And you just might find it sticking with you longer than you expect. I did.

RETURN OF THE HERO (Le retour du héros)
2018 / Icarus Films / 90m / $26.98 / NR
Imagine if Jane Austen had a more robust sense of humor. Now I’ll admit Ms. Austen on page and screen is slyly witty in her satires of the social mores of her time (which evidently resonate with ours to judge from the flurry of adaptations – and not all from the BBC, mind you – that have graced screens large and small in recent years) but the lady is not LOL funny. This delicious trifle is set in Austen’s basic time and borrows a tad from the author – as well as Rostand and Shakespeare – to get its plot going. Young Pauline (Noémie Merlant) is being wooed by the older but dashing Capitaine Charles-Grégoire Neuville (Jean Dejardin) who has a snark exchanging Beatrice and Benedict-like relationship with Pauline’s older sister, Elisabeth (Mélanie Laurent). He proposes – to the delight of Pauline and her parents but the disgust of Elisabeth – and heads off to war. And then… silence. Pauline is so distraught she goes walking in the rain and contracts pneumonia. As recovery seems to hinge entirely on her will to live, Elisabeth commences to forge letters from the Capitaine declaring his love and detailing his exploits.
The young woman recovers and Elisabeth writes a final missive in which the missing soldier describes a situation he is unlikely to survive. Pauline finally notices the attention of another suitor; they marry and have a child. And then Neuville reappears, distinctly the worse for wear, having deserted and become a vagrant. Elisabeth pays him to go away but he finds it more amusing to stay and coast on his heroic celebrity (Pauline has apparently shared the faux adventures with the whole town) and use it to advance a Ponzi scheme involving a nonexistent diamond mine. Elisabeth can’t expose him without revealing her on perfidy, much to the delight of the rascal. She can plot against him but he always manages to squeak through, even when challenged to a duel by Pauline’s dead-shot husband. Dejardin – most famous on our shores for starring in the hideously overrated “The Artist” – has the showier role but for my money it is Laurent who is the center of the film. She’s the perfect Austen heroine, attempting to manage the lives of others while paying scant attention to her own but in a droll, sublime, understated way she’s also a satire of that kind of character. Co-writer/director Laurent Tirard’s film is a delicious soufflé.

TO A MORE PERFECT UNION: U. S. v. Windsor
2018 / First Run Features / 63m / $19.95 / NR
When Edie Windsor’s spouse passed away, she was presented by the IRS an enormous estate tax bill. The government did not recognize the marriage because Windsor’s partner for four decades was a woman, Thea Spyer. They’d gotten married in Canada and resided in New York; that state didn’t yet allow same-sex marriages but did recognize those conducted elsewhere. Matters on the federal level were quite different and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was the law of the land. For those who don’t remember, this ridiculously ill-named law “defended” heterosexual unions against homosexual ones (if any defense was necessary it might have been against the high rate of divorce amongst straight couples). Windsor sought legal advice and, after many rejections, secured it from Roberta Kaplan whose firm decided to take on the case pro bono, appealing the IRS decision, eventually coming before the Supreme Court. Related image
Director Donna Zaccaro sets the stage for the legal battle with mini-histories of DOMA – created in the conservative panic following Hawaii’s legalization of same-sex marriage – and of the gay rights movement of the second half of the last century. The latter is a masterpiece of concision as older members of the LGBTQ community likely need no rehashing of those five decades but others might benefit from what is essentially an introduction. It includes the raid on Manhattan’s Stonewall bar that prompted the riot that marked the official beginning of the gay liberation movement though Zacarro rightly recognizes the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis organizations that were paving the way years earlier. In the way it takes the viewer through this landmark case, whose details and persons may not be well known, and the background, which probably is but is necessary for context and speeds through the latter to give life to the former, this is an admirable documentary. Talking heads include out actress Rosie O’Donnell, political columnist Frank Rich and NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg. The most perceptive comment, however, comes at the top of the film from Windsor herself: “There is no such thing as gay marriage; there is only marriage.”

WOMAN AT WAR (Kona fer í stríð)
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 100m / $26.98 / NR
It isn’t easy to describe Benedikt Erlingsson’s film. Maybe it would be best to term it what might have resulted if Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel (who Hitch admired, by the way) had collaborated on a project. Things center on Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, who is never offscreen and who is exceptional) a community choir director who is secretly an eco-activist – or given the nature of her activism, it might be as accurate to call her a terrorist. The opening has her using her bow and arrow to pull down a power line, shutting down an aluminum plant and presumably disrupting power to homes and other businesses. Her activities have been going on long enough that the Icelandic government is prepared to capture her – it has even reached out to the United States for help – and what follows is Halla’s pursuit by a helicopter that (given there’s no camera trickery such as rear projection or CGI) surpasses Hitchcock’s justifiably famous crop-duster sequence in “North by Northwest”. It’s once the title music starts that things get quirky for Halla passes a trio (sousaphone, accordion and drums) in a field that is playing the music. Anytime there’s any music in the film these musicians – or a three woman Ukrainian a capella group – show up whether the scene is set in a street, another field or Halla’s apartment. Is it mere quirk, surrealism or a Brechtian touch, a la Lindsay Anderson’s “O Lucky Man”? I’ll leave that to you.
Halla’s life is about to get more complicated; a long-ago application for adoption has finally been approved when a young Ukrainian girl, orphaned by the war, is in need of a home and Halla’s name has come to the top if the waiting list. Should Halla be identified and captured by the combined authorities she will be imprisoned and lose her long sought chance to become a mother. And yet she just can’t pass up the urge to pull off one final, big job by blowing up an electrical tower. Her escape from this operation – which includes uses a sheep’s corpse to disguise her scent from tracking dogs (even hiding inside it so a helicopter doesn’t spot her) and bringing down a drone with her trusty bow and arrow – is even more intense than the opening scene. (The photography of these outdoor sequence, it should be mentioned is exquisite.) This is one odd movie – and I definitely do not mean that in a negative way. It’s a thriller dealing with serious political themes that’s also a human drama that’s often quite amusing (there’s a sub-plot of a bicycling Spanish tourist who is always luckless enough to be in the vicinity of Halla’s acts and thus getting arrested). And of course it’s also quite surreal with the musicians that apparently only Halla sees, nowhere more so than in its ending whose meaning the director (who co-scripted) leaves to the viewer.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

Not so short this time, but then it’s a Paul Leni double-feature…

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS
1928 / Flicker Alley / 110m / $39.95 DVD+BR combo / NR
Paul Leni’s film adaptation of one of Victor Hugo’s lesser known novels “L’Homme qui rit” or “The Man Who Laughs” had been something of a holy grail for me. I probably first became aware of it in the pages of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” a magazine that I suspect was responsible for creating more film fans and scholars (of all genres) than any other publication. I was sufficiently intrigued to snatch up the Classics Illustrated comic book version though it wouldn’t be until decades later that I would finally locate the novel itself, part of a lovely, old Hugo set (you know the kind, with embossed covers, gold lettering on the front and spine, marbled end papers, etc.), found at a library used book sale. Because it was there titled “By Order of the King” I didn’t at first even realize what I had. I wolfed it down – and I recommend it to everyone; it’s an amazing work – and was more keen than ever to see the film even if the critical consensus was that it was not as good (and hadn’t been as financially successful) as it might have been had Lon Chaney played the title role as he had in Universal’s two previous historical horrors with French lineage, Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
I finally scored a bootleg VHS tape and late on the night it arrived I popped it in the player, planning only to check the quality (remember how dreadful those bootleg dubs could be?). Within minutes I was rapt, too engrossed not to stick with it until the end. This was also my introduction to Leni and I think it’s his masterpiece. Those opening scenes that glued me to the screen involve jester Barkilphedro (Brandon Hurst) announcing the capture of Lord Clancharlie, who has refused to kiss the ring of King James. He is clapped into the Iron Maiden for his disrespect but not before he has been informed that his son Gwynplaine has been turned over to “surgeons” known as Comprachicos who create sideshow freaks with their knives. Cut to a proclamation that these transient “doctors” are banished from England and thence to the Comprachicos boarding a ship during a raging blizzard but refusing to allow a child to join them. The abandoned child heads off into the storm, his tiny figure juxtaposed against a landscape peppered with skeletal corpses swinging from gibbets. (This so resembles a moment in “The Devils” that I can’t help but wonder if Ken Russell had seen Leni’s film.) He encounters a frozen pieta of deceased mother and still living infant and, bundling the latter under his coat, trudges on. Olga Baclanova, Josephine Crowell, Sam De Grasse, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes, Brandon Hurst, Mary Philbin, George Siegmann, and Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs (1928)
This tour de force opening proceeds to reveal that the boy is of course the disfigured Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt as an adult) and he and the baby girl, Dea (Mary Philbin), end up with the traveling show of the philosopher Ursus (Cesare Gravina) with The Laughing Man and the blind Dea as the stars of Ursus’ plays (“… like Shakespeare, only better.”) The two are in love with each other but Gwynplaine fears his feelings are reciprocated only because Dea cannot behold his visage. The stars become even more crossed for our lovers when Gwynplaine’s true identity is revealed to Queen Anne (James having been supplanted), who decides to restore him to his peerage in order to punish a haughty duchess upon whose fiance has devolved the Clancharlie title and estate. Josiana must instead marry a “freak” and Gwynplaine must take his place in the House of Lords.
Leni’s storytelling/camera technique is extremely sophisticated for Hollywood at the time; most films made by U.S. directors resembled a series of tableaux with the occasional insert of a closer shot. The actors might move to create visual variety but the camera would be locked down. Things were changing with the arrival of European emigres, mostly German, of which Leni was one. In “Man” the camera glides along with the action (as in Gwynplaine’s trek through the snowy landscape) or cuts with frequency to new angles, all of which propel the story and/or impart information in the most compelling way. A few Hollywood natives, such as Roland West, were quick to glom onto the more mobile camerawork of German films but this film more closely resembles the technique displayed in Leni’s fellow transplants’ productions such as Victor Seastrom’s “The Wind” and F. W. Murnau’s “Sunrise” and is on a par with both. In fact I consider it one of the top ten best Hollywood silents. And the 4K restoration for BluRay reveals it in all its visual glory.Olga Baclanova and Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Leni was of course blessed with a rich story courtesy Hugo; one rich with symbollism and correlations. In the latter case consider Gwynplaine and the conniving, duplicitous Barkilphedro who rises from court jester to eminence grise in Anne’s court; both wear false smiles but only the former’s is immutable. Aside from a very few alterations the film is remarkably faithful to Hugo; it does substitute a happy ending for the author’s tragic one but – forgive me, Victor – I think Leni and scenarist J. Grubb Alexander were correct. The cast is also excellent. There’s Veidt – best known today for his evil Nazi impersonations in such films as “Casablanca” and the equally evil wizard in “The Thief of Bagdad” – as the Pagliacci-like title figure. His performance here is all the more remarkable because the makeup robs him of most facial expressions (and of course, this being a silent, his voice is not amongst his tools). He conveys everything through body language and those astonishing eyes for a nuanced and moving performance. Forgotten today is Hurst – indeed his career waned with alarming alacrity once sound held sway despite prominent supporting roles prior to the talkies – and Gravina – who retired from film the same year “Man” was released. Both offer grand portraits, one of unctuous villainy and the other of devoted nurturing.
You have probably never seen “The Man who Laughs” – heck, you may never even have heard of it but then its reputation was not stellar until it began being re-evaluated in the late 20th century (those who claimed Chaney’s “Hunchback” and “Phantom” are superior were just plain wrong). But if you have any affection at all for films without spoken dialogue – a real hurdle for many these days – you must treat yourself to this one. The extras include the original synchronized score and a very nice new one commissioned for the release.

THE LAST WARNING
1929 / Flicker Alley / 78m / $39.95 DVD+BR combo / NR
In the 1920s German films were increasingly the envy of the rest of the filmmaking world for their technical innovation. Ironically German directors were envious of Hollywood’s superior equipment and facilities. So when Hollywood lured European stars, cameramen and directors all were quite eager to answer the call. The German industry’s directors included Ernst Lubitsch, F. W. Murnau, Michael Curtiz and a man who alternated between set design and directing, Paul Leni. He was hired by Universal and put to work on adapting the horror-mystery stage hit, “The Cat and the Canary,” one of a plethora of spooky melodramas – including “The Bat” and “The Gorilla” – that were popular in Broadway theatres at the time and inevitably made into films. Leni threw everything he had into the project and it’s an endless Expressionist parade of visual surprises. A hand wipes away cobwebs to reveal the film’s title; an oddly shaped house dissolves into medicine bottles towering over an old invalid; the camera glides through corridors with billowing curtains; intertitles are animated… it is the ne plus ultra of old dark house thrillers and is sometimes considered to be the cornerstone of Universal’s horror movies to come (indeed James Whale copied some of its elements into “The Old Dark House”). Universal was pleased with the results – particularly with its success at the box office – and assigned Leni to a Charlie Chan adaptation, “The Chinese Parrot” (an apparently lost film) and Victor Hugo’s “The Man who Laughs”.Laura La Plante and Burr McIntosh in The Last Warning (1928)
There are assertions that the latter did not do as well at the box office as was hoped – certainly not enough for its lavish million dollar expenditure. Reviews were lackluster and while released totally silent it was recalled within a year to be re-released with a synchronized music and effects soundtrack, possibly to boost its popular appeal. Its alleged underperformance may possibly be verified by the studio next handing Leni a project in more familiar (and lower budgeted) territory. From the play, derived from the novel “The House of Fear” (and remade as a talkie under that title in 1939), Leni was to craft an old dark theatre tale that would be staged primarily on the Paris Opera set built for “The Phantom of the Opera” (a set still in existence today, by the way). Universal also brought back Laura LaPlante, their biggest female star at the time and the lead in “Cat”.
The plot involves an actor being killed during a performance, electrocuted when he grabs hold of a prop candlestick. The investigation stalls when the body disappears and the owners, the Bunce brothers (Burr McIntosh and Mack Swain) shut down the theatre. The venue remains closed for many years until a new producer, Arthur Mchugh (Montague Love), takes over and summons the original remaining cast (including LaPlante as Doris Terry), the director, Richard Quayle (John Boles) and stage crew (Slim Summerville and Bert Roache may be the only names known today… and then only to a very few). McHugh announces his intention to present the same play whose performance was fatally interrupted long ago. Warnings to get out ensue, courtesy notes left in scripts and other locations; heavy scenery gets dropped onto the stage, narrowly missing those below, and the company starts spotting the ghost of the departed (or is he?) performer. It’s all a lot of nonsense, but if you can get past the idea of a secret passage – complete with quicklime pit – in a theatre you’ll have no trouble swallowing the rest.
Leni makes what is not quite a sow’s ear into a silk purse courtesy the outrageous camerawork he deployed in “Cat” (his visuals in “Man who Laughs” are striking but more restrained). There’s a delirious opening montage and later a theatre front resembles a yawning face (not quite Moloch from “Metropolis” but Leni was surely winking at Fritz Lang). At one point the camera is propelled from the back of the stage toward the audience, just clearing the descending curtain. (The wonderful use he makes of the opera house set makes me wish he had been in the U.S. early enough to be assigned “The Phantom of the Opera”.) Quirky intertitles are once again in play, particularly for the Bunce brothers whose simultaneous dialogue is presented in duplicate. (And anyone who thinks Leni isn’t playing things for laughs as much as scares should note the presence in the cast of Mack Sennett vets Swain, Roache and Summerville.) Boles makes a sturdy hero (and possible suspect) but those unfamiliar with her other work might wonder why LaPlante was considered such a big deal; she gets to do little more than look nervous and scream (silently of course) every so often. Handily stealing the film is Love, who often played villains in the silents and who manages to be smarmily suspicious even without his wonderfully plummy voice. It’s Leni’s show all the way of course but only Love manages not to be overwhelmed by the director’s bravura handling of the material.Related image
The 4K restoration comes from a French print (Universal apparently no longer has the negative) that is slightly worse for wear, though the worst scratching is on the titles and during the first few minutes. It’s a pity the presentation isn’t pristine but it still looks very good (and it sure beats the blurry VHS copy I acquired some years back). A brand new score was commissioned for the release and it’s splendid.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION:
In recognition of the company’s 40th anniversary, McFarland will be running a web site promotion through June 30 covering ALL books. That includes “American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929,” which includes my essays on the above two films and “The Cat and the Canary”. Web site orders will be discounted by 25%. The web site coupon code is ANN2019. McFarland’s web site is https://mcfarlandbooks.com

American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 93m /$19.98 / PG-13
Perhaps you’ve encountered André Leon Talley as a Fallback guest on Ari Melber’s “The Beat” or one of Davy Way’s YouTube podcasts (as I have) and wondered just who this guy is (as I did). This lighthearted – yet surprisingly deep – documentary will fill you in on a man who’s hardly a household name – though, as the saying goes, that depends on the household. Talley was born into a poor family in the still segregated south of the 1950s but managed to attend Brown University where he wrote on students he deemed fashionable for the campus newspaper. He moved to Manhattan afterward and was soon lucky enough to be taken under the wing of Dana Vreeland, then editor-in-chief of “Vogue,” who secured him a slot as a receptionist at Andy Warhol’s The Factory. That gave him the entre to write for Warhol’s “Interview” magazine which in turn led to being Paris correspondent for “Vogue” (though the aging Vreeland was no longer in command and would pass away soon after Talley got the job).
What is remarkable is that this was the career arc of a black man, and a gay black man (while not exactly out he was scarcely in the closet) at that time and in the fashion world. Talley notes that the Paris fashion scene had certainly not seen a black man in such a powerful position before he arrived. Yes this is in many ways a film about Haute Couture, and given only the very wealthy are concerned with such these days that might make this production rank pretty high on the frivolous meter. But while Talley may not be political he is certainly politically aware as his comments several times reveal. He was also responsible for a “Vogue” fashion layout that parodied “Gone with the Wind” by having an Antebellum south where the whites were the servants and the black models the masters. He speaks of growing up in a time and place where blacks were excluded or treated differently by some businesses. The subject himself keeps this from being as revealing a portrait as it might be – he says for instance that he never had a love life, fashion was his love, and that’s as far as things go on that level. His guardedness may make the film less satisfying than it might be for some but it’s still immensely entertaining.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (Il vangelo secondo Matteo)
1954 / Alpha Video / 137m / $6.98 / NR
I first encountered Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film of the life of Christ back in college (amazingly for the early 1970s in a fairly rural state college it had a very healthy offering of films and even two classes on film history at a time when film was not yet widely considered art – I was already an avid film fan but only scarcely informed and the venues became my education). I was knocked out by its approach. This is not the typical lavish Hollywood spectacle with enormous, clean-scrubbed sets. It’s spare and gritty in the Italian Neo-Realist tradition (though Pasolini rejected that label) with even interiors faked by outdoor locales, filmed in natural light. None of the actors are professionals; Pasolini’s own mother plays the older Virgin Mary and 19 year old student Enrique Irazoqui portrays Christ (his lack of experience caused his dialogue to be dubbed). The latter is not your usual blond and beautiful Messiah but is rather thuggish looking and a visual reminder that Christ was considered dangerous enough that he had to be executed. You can believe this guy wreaking havoc with the temple merchants. Pasolini sets his unorthodox tone from the start with alternating closeups of Joseph and Mary staring directly into the camera but actually at each other. A less close shot reveals Mary large with child and is followed by a shot of Joseph turning and walking away; he knows he isn’t responsible for her condition. But an angel appears (as she will several more times) to inform him of the holy nature of things.
This is a surprising film from the director who was a declared Marxist, an atheist and homosexual. A previous film, “RoGoPaG” led to a jail sentence for its “blasphemous” depiction of a figure of Christ and many of his films have graphic (not pornographic) sexual content. (I count myself among those who have been unable to get entirely through his final production, “Salo.”) When a papal visit jammed the streets of a town the director was visiting he sat down to read the hotel’s copy of the New Testament and decided the life of Christ would be his next project, settling on Matthew because “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.” The dialogue is entirely from Matthew (making the middle section, all sermonizing and no action, a bit of a slog), which is surely one reason the Vatican newspaper deemed it “the best film on Christ ever made.” For all its apparent simplicity the film is visually rich with quotes of religious art directing the compositions and costuming drawn from a variety of eras (Jesus’ look recalls Byzantine depictions, for instance, while the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees are drawn from Renaissance artwork). No more daring, yet reverential, film on the subject would be made until Martin Scorcese tackled “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I should note that Alpha, as a budget label gets hold of what prints it can and sometimes they’re frankly a tad dodgy. Such is not the case here. Additionally it is Pasolini’s entire film while some subtitled versions are shorter by 40 minutes. Well done, Alpha.

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
2017 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 90m / $19.98 / NR
Things go very quickly down the rabbit hole when documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux decides to make a film about the “church” of Scientology, founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. (Throughout I will be placing the word church in quotation marks because of my certainty that Scientology is not a religion but a mind controlling cult that exists primarily for raking in oodles of money from its followers.) A letter requesting access for interviews with leaders is met with a rejection from the group’s lawyers and a warning not to even pursue the project. Why the “church” would automatically assume Theroux’s finished product would be negative should immediately give pause as it leads to the suspicion it knows there is much negative that might be uncovered. The set-up is a step-by-step program of classes, each of which requires tuition and purchase of books and videos (does this sound like a “church”?).The leaders, including top man David Miscavige, are prone to wearing what resemble naval uniforms for events and formal portraits, which is just plain,,, well… odd.Louis Theroux in My Scientology Movie (2015)
When Theroux makes contact with some former members who held high positions he receives more letters, claiming these men are “embittered” and that their narratives are not to be trusted. (Just how the “church” knows he has made contact is never discovered.) His car is followed by a van with heavily tinted windows and he is several times filmed while he is filming. The unknown crew demand he stop filming them and Theroux states he’ll stop if they stop, eventually leading to two cameramen pointing their equipment at each other (inference very much intended), filming each other filming each other. It’s like a Monty Python sketch played out for real. The filmmaker suspects a mole somewhere amongst his crew or the actors he’s hired to do dramatic recreations of such things as “squirrel busting” sessions – a Scientology practice of hurling insults at members thought guilty of being less than true to the “faith” in order to destroy any sense of self worth. When Theroux films near the “church’s” headquarters he is quickly met by goons – complete with a cameraman! – who attempt to chase him away even when he is on public roads or non-“church” property (which said goons insist is their property). Things move from surreal to downright chilling in short order. Theroux may not have gained access to the inner circle but he has revealed more about Scientology than it would perhaps have wished.

REINVENTING ROSALEE
2019 / Random Media / 80m / $14.95 / PG
There is no doubt that Rosalee Glass, now 103 years of age, has had a remarkable life. As a teenager she established a successful shirt making business in Warsaw in the 1930s. That came to a halt with the German/Russian occupation of Poland (the two countries still in their pact) and eventually she, her musician husband Abraham and their two week old son (and first born) were sent to a labor camp in Siberia where the boy died. At war’s end the couple – and daughter Lillian born in the meantime – were moved to a displaced persons facility and thence to a ship bound for the US of A., landing in Miami. She learned English and Abraham became a watchmaker. When tuberculosis took his vision she went to work in a sewing factory to support the family that now included a second son (who would also die fairly young). When Glass was in her 80s, Abraham also passed away and the load of tragedies for a time was too much for her but she would bounce back, deciding to live life to its fullest. She took piano, tai chi, boxing and acting lessons – the last led to a career of commercial appearances. For her 102nd birthday she ran with sled dogs, bundled up with her daughter in the sled.
She deserves something better than this film that too often resembles a home movie in its production values and feels more like the most elaborate birthday card ever. The offscreen narration is awkward and Glass’ onscreen talking head appearances sound as though she’s reading from a prepared script. Much use is made of archive footage from World War II and other Public Domain film (when Rosalee states Abraham looked like Cary Grant we get clips of Cary Grant in “Penny Arcade” – lots of clips of Cary Grant in “Penny Arcade”). Midway through we are informed that daughter Lillian, who directed, is the author of “Toxic People” and many more self-help books. In what seems like shameless self-promotion we are subjected to a montage of book covers and clips from TV appearances; thereafter she is hardly ever offscreen. She accompanies mom on a worldwide trip that includes visits to monuments and locales where Rosalee lays flowers to symbolically bury the family members who perished in the Holocaust. I’m sure the old dear needs some assistance getting around but this would look less like a vanity project if Lillian would have stayed out of frame. And it likely all would have turned out better if the daughter – who at one point proudly proclaims she’s now a filmmaker – had turned the reins over to someone more experienced. The subject and her amazing life are worthy of something far more , polished, though what’s here does have some rewards – primarily the ebullient presence of Rosalee herself.

THAT WAY MADNESS LIES
2018 / First Run Features / 101m / $24.95 / NR
This is a disturbing, saddening and frustrating look at what can transpire when a family member develops “madness” – to use the word in the title, which is a quote from “King Lear.” It’s difficult to know if that quote here refers to filmmaker Sandra Luckow’s paranoid schizophrenic brother Duane or the unhinged way health and judicial systems now approach those with mental and emotional issues. The closing of state run institutions – begun in California while Ronald Reagan was governor and continued countrywide under his presidency – in favor of smaller, private, for-profit group homes (owned by Reagan cronies in the case of California) has been exacerbated by civil rights actions that declare self-determination for the mentally ill unless they are clearly a danger to themselves or others (usually nothing less than declarations of murder or suicide suffice – and as news reports after mass shootings document, sometimes not even that). Luckow – formerly involved with “60 Minutes” and therefore no stranger to documentary filmmaking – finds herself travelling cross-country to deal with both her middle-aged brother’s increasingly erratic behavior and her father’s growing demementia (both parents would pass in the eight years covered by the film). Her first crisis is trying to protect her parents from a $120,000 hospital bill resulting from involuntary commitment following her brother’s first outright psychotic episode.Image result for that way madness lies documentary
Confidentiality and privacy laws prevent family from access to medical information – or even if a patient is in residence at a hospital – without consent and they also preclude the family from being able to help. Legal determinations basically say a person has the right to be crazy and no one has then right to interfere. In Duane’s case his first hospitalization resulted from legal proceedings after he stormed through he U.S./Canadian border, determined to find a woman he’d only met on the internet and marry her. This followed becoming engrossed in conspiracy theories and, as the family discovered later, sending thousands – perhaps many, many thousands – of dollars from his highly successful automobile restoration business to one of those Nigerian prince type scams, certain he was going to receive millions after all the hurdles had been dealt with. Time and again Ms. Luckow is frustrated or delayed in her efforts to get some sort of lasting treatment for her brother, sometimes by the law, sometimes by HIPAA rules and sometimes by her brother’s machinations (to forestall the sale of his house he moves in a woman friend whose squatting delays legal proceedings). Fair warning and no spoiler that the ending may seem incomplete to some but in light of reality it is the only possible one.

TICKLED
2016 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 91m / $19.98 / R
What starts out a bit silly when New Zealand journalist David Farrier, who writes on pop culture, discovers a Facebook page devoted to the sport of competitive tickling (yes, sport… you read it right) gets progressively darker as this documentary proceeds. Farrier requests an interview with “Jane O’Brien” (a pseudonym as it transpires) and receives a response from a “Debbie Kuhn” (another pseudonym) saying it wouldn’t be in the sport’s best interest to be associated with a known homosexual. This is followed by several more (unprompted) communications filled with homophobic slurs. (Now it may be my bias but young men being restrained and tickled by other young men strikes me as awfully gay – or at least the videos of them doing same must be aimed at a gay audience.) Rather than being put off, Farrier enlists a more tech savvy friend to do some digging and they discover hundreds of tickle-associated domain names all registered to the same entity. That turns out to be one David D’Amato who has been doing tickle videos under various pseudonyms for years. Where things get peculiar is that for the competitions (in many cities across the country) D’Amato puts the athletes (as they’re termed) in swanky hotels, pays each over a hundred grand and has even been known to give some cars!Image result for tickled documentary
Where things get dark is how those who cross the ticklemeister are treated. The young men who decline to continue participating are threatened with exposure to their families and employers (apparently the guys don’t want to be outed for their activities). One man interviewed discovered his video on YouTube, posted without his permission, and demanded the site take it down. He was informed by “Debbie Kuhn” (D’Amato of course) that now it would be reposted everywhere – which it was. Kuhn also wrote a letter to the principal of the school where he was employed as a sports coach, claiming he was a drug addict and a pedophile. Despite there being no basis for these allegations the man was fired and has had trouble being hired or retaining jobs since (more letters have apparently followed). Similar bullying communications, by letter, by phone and even in person from representatives of “Jane O’Brien” have been experience by Farrier. D’Amato doesn’t want anyone messing with his fetish site, which apparently exists more to satisfy his own personal kink; so far as Farrier was able to determine there is no income from the online presences yet the man spends lavishly creating product for them. You may approach this documentary prepared for a giggle but it will soon turn sour in your mouth.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

AS YOU LIKE IT
2019 / Random Media / 103m / $?? / NR
Oh, I really, really wanted to like this film so much more than I did. It’s a take that mixes the traditional in keeping with historical Shakespeare’s era’s all male casting and the modern by setting the text at a spa in today’s west. There is, of course, much precedent for shifting the Bard’s work to other times and locales, notably Orson Welles’ WPA stagings of “Julius Caesar” in then present day Italy, its fascist allusions obvious, and his “Voodoo Macbeth”. On the screen there’s been the gangster populated “Joe Macbeth” and Ian McKellan’s magnificent “Richard III”. And since this particular play has some characters disguising themselves as the opposite sex, returning to the historic approach ought to give LGBTQ resonance aplenty. Following the overthrow of Duke Senior (Geoffrey Anderson), his now persecuted daughter Rosalind (Grant Jordan) disguises herself as a man and sets out with her cousin Celia (Joseph Haro) to find her banished father while also counseling her clumsy suitor Orlando (Zach Villa) in the art of wooing. Orlando is clueless that “Ganymede” is Rosalind and becomes increasingly bewildered by his attraction to “him”. There are, additionally, several other characters in love and facing obstacles to their romantic desires.Image result for as you like it 2019 film
The primarily unknown cast (save Graham Greene as the shepherd Corin) is attractive and appealing and everyone speaks the dialogue naturally (something it sometimes seems only the Brits can manage). So why did I lose interest about halfway through? Is it because the understated performances are just a shade or so too lacking in oomph? Is it because the photography – aside from some splendid landscapes and flora studies – was a tad too undramatic or unadventurous? Is it because the desert is no substitute for the forest if Arden (usually describe as a magical place)? Is it because the characters are essentially shallow – maybe one-dimensional – and need actors who can be just slightly larger than life to put some fire ito their roles (as Laurence Olivier and Elizabeth Bergner did in the famous 1936 film – one made by refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and thus adding an inescapable and dynamic subtext)? I just know the middle section becomes flaccid and only Haro and Stephen Ellis as Touchstone, the fool, add any spark. It does pick up form the finale and it’s pretty to look at throughout but it just doesn’t quite score. Alas.

CRAIG OF THE CREEK, Itch to Explore, Season 1: Part 1
2018 / Cartoon Network / 45m / $14.97 / NR
I am decidedly not the demographic for this series and I’m not certain I can think back to six decades younger to properly weigh in on it. I’m pretty certain that at the age when I was glued to Saturday morning animated fare I would have preferred more classic character design. That aside the series is commendable for presenting kids as kids (though with some exaggeration). The titular Craig lives near a creek that runs through an extensive forest, which he explores with his friends Kelsey – who thinks she’s a superhero and has trained her parakeet to remain firmly atop her head – and JP – who’s older but prefers hanging out with younger kids because he’s just not very bright. Now before I go further I challenge those of you who are nearly my age: Can you think of kid shows you grew up with that even had a character of color, much less the lead (Craig is of course AA). The closest I can think of are the Cisco Kid and his pal Pancho. Everything else was pretty lacking in Technicolor. Or a girl who thinks she’s a superhero rather than aspiring to be Suzy Homemaker? Craig of the Creek (2018)
The dim sidekick is nothing new to kid fare but I suspect that the creators are oh-so-delicately inferring JP might be something more than a bit slow given at least one very pointed reference to his preferring to hang out with kids several years younger. (He is, by the way, fiercely devoted to Craig and Kelsey.) If I’m not reading too much into, huis intellectual challenges may make this the most diverse cast of main characters ever assembled. The stories are pretty simple affairs – sometimes with a smidge of message. A typical one has the trio curious to find out what lies at the center of an enormous area of poison ivy. After encountering some booby traps they discover it’s the hiding place of a kid who’s the target of bullies. As he’s immune to the weed he takes refuge inside the poison. The friends vow never to reveal his secret. I understand from some online comments that the young’uns love the show so introduce – or reintroduce – your brood to it.

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT
2018 / RLJE Films / 97m / $29.96 / NR
This is not the film you expect it to be nor was it the one I expected. When I first read the title in a PR email for the film I thought “This could be awful or it could be fun but it’s gotta be some extremely redolent hunk of overripe cheese.” Then I saw that Sam Elliott was attached and I knew it would be something different. And very different it is. It’s no spoiler to report that yes, Elliott’s Calvin Barr does kill Hitler (or maybe only one of his doubles) while still a young man (and played by Aidan Turner) and much later in life is recruited to slay a sasquatch (not “the” but a bigfoot) carrying a deadly virus. Both assignments are excitingly depicted – particularly the WWII one where Barr disguises himself as an SS officer and assembles a pistol from a cigarette case and a fountain pen (Q would have been proud of that gizmo). And early on there’s a sequence where the older Carr takes on three young toughs who try to jack his car.(a confrontation that draws governmental attention and results in the bigfoot assignment after it’s also been determined he’s immune to the virus).Sam Elliott in The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018)
There are those who might approach writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski’s debut feature expecting an action film, perhaps something with a touch of Tarentino to it. Well yes, there’s a certain B-movie homage vibe and there are certainly some effectively constructed action sequences. But what’s really important here is not those set pieces but what happens between them. The flashbacks to WWII include Carr’s thwarted wooing of the love of his life (Caitlin FitzGerald). He derives no sense of accomplishment for his celebrated (by others) ending of Hitler’s life because – as he notes later – the man’s evil ideas continued without him (and just look at our current political climate to realize they’ve lived beyond Germany). In the film’s present day (unclear but one with rotary telephones) the bitter, older Carr lives alone with his dog and is barely in contact with his barber brother (Larry Miller). Wrapped within absurdist fantasy and adventure is an ultimately serious rumination on aging (and a few other subjects). Yes, it’s an oddball mash-up to be sure but Krzykowski pulls it together beautifully due in no small part to his choice of star. Craggy-faced, rugged Elliott may be one our few septuagenarian stars who is believable as an action star. If your taste runs to out of the ordinary you must see this.

(THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF) NICHOLAS NICKELBY, DAVID COPPERFIELD
1947, 1970 / Alpha Home Video / 220m total / $6.98 / NR
On the basis of no research whatever I suspect Charles Dickens may be the author most adapted for the big screen – and I’m not even including such made for television productions as the many BBC mini-series. British cinema has always done Dickens best, capturing both the quirkiness and the melodrama (Hollywood rarely gets the former). The late 1940s was something of a golden age for British film adaptations of the author, bringing forth “Oliver Twist,” “Pickwick Papers” and of course “Scrooge” with the magnificent Alastair Sim. There was also this gem from Ealing Studios (best known for its comedies) under the direction of Alberto Cavalcanti (billed here, as he often was, merely by his surname), one of the most respected British directors of the time, albeit mostly forgotten today. He brings a visual panache and tightness of stoirytelling (though the latter may be in part due to screenwriter John Dighton whose resume is packed with great films). Dickens wrote this work, as he so often did, as a serial and as such it is of epic length and full of diversions (including the eponymous character briefly becoming part of a traveling theatrical troupe).
All the adventures are begat by the Nickelby family becoming impoverished on the death of the father. Uncle Ralph (Cedric Hardwick), the villain if the piece places Nicholas (Derek Bond) in a dismal boarding school (so-called) run by an evil, money-grubbing family (are there ever any nice schoolmasters in Dickens?). After caning the daylights out of the schoolmaster and absconding with the put-upon Smike (Aubrey Woods), Nicholas embarks on the series of professions that comprise his “adventures”. Eventually Uncle Ralph’s villainy is revealed, reversing the Nickelby family’s fortunes (and that of some others). Virtue is rewarded, evil gets its just rewards and sometimes the good die young. In other words, typical Dickens. It is interesting to contrast this production with the more recent one with Charlie Hunnam portraying the title character. Hunnam radiates an innocence Bond can’t quite manage (though he’s otherwise good in the role). But this one has Hardwick as the icy bad guy and no one ver did that better. It’s a pity the print here (apparently derived from a VHS tape, judging by the visual artifacts) is so soft and murky because the cinematography, both in composition and use of shadows, must be glorious. There don’t appear to be any other DVD presentations of the title, however.
The second half of the double bill is a production made for U.S. television (though shown theatrically in the UK). It was directed by Delbert Mann whose resume has a few noteworthy films but mostly prove he’d direct anything from intimate dramas such as “Marty”: to adventure flicks (“A Gathering of “Eagles”) ro smarmy comedies (“Quick, Before It Melts”). He brings no character to this adaptation and the middle section found me losing interest and not quite keeping track of characters and sub-plots. This may be due in part to a screenplay that structures an already episodic story as a series of flashbacks while David (Robin Phillips) mopes about at a cliffside inn overlooking the sea. The constant interruptions do not allow for things to gather any steam (it probably played better with commercials). There is, however, a rich assortment of famed British actors on hand: Richard Attenborough, Edith Evans, Wendy Hiller, Ron Moody, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Ralph Richardson (who may have studied W. C. Fields’ Micawber or may just be doing his usual Ralph Richardson schtick). There is of course the usual evil schoolmaster (Olivier) and an obsequious estate manager (Moody as Uriah Heep –god, I love Dickens names) enriching himself with a double set of books. It’s worth watching for the cast.

THE QUAKE
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 108m / $29.98 BR / NR
Back in 2015 a disaster film called “The Wave” took most everyone by surprise because a) it hailed from Norway, a country mostly known for artier cinema, b) its budget was in the direct to video range and c) it was a pretty intelligent take on the kind of thing Irwin Allen was offering up back in the 1970s with a touch if “Jaws” tossed in. A geologist (Kristoffer Joner) determines that a large chunk of mountain is about to dislodge and tumble into the lake creating a tsunami that will wipe out the town. But as it’s the height of tourist season no one wants to believe him and evacuate. Now I didn’t get to see it but my late friend and colleague Ken Hanke – whose opinion I valued above all others – wrote in the Asheville Mountain Xpress, “…this is predictable — but reasonably solid — material. Not as predictable is how well it works and how much the setting helps it all feel reasonably fresh. Director (Roar) Uthaug manages to milk every ounce of tension out of the material. He makes the characters feel real and earn our sympathy. It’s a pretty neat trick, considering that there’s not much here you haven’t encountered over the years in one form or another. Just as astonishing is the way he and his crew make a (roughly) $7 million movie look like a Hollywood blockbuster… In the end, I think the biggest — and pleasantest — surprise is that it’s an intelligent disaster picture. Oh, it hits almost every possible trope, but it does so with a degree of smarts, and it does it well.”
This production, from a different director (John Andreas Andersen) and with a hugely enelarged budget but the same basic cast, has Kristian Elkjord (Joner) estranged from his family and suffering from survivor’s guilt. When a colleague dies in an accident in a traffic tunnel he starts poking his nose into what the guy was investigating. He realizes that the city of Oslo is built on unstable ground and certain somewhat minor incidents are leading up to a massive quake such as hasn’t been experienced in a century. No one of course believes him even after the local opera house is leveled in a precursor tremble. Naturally the big event comes along (or there wouldn’t be a movie) and Kristian has to scramble to save his family, some of whom are stuck in a top floor of a skyscraper that’s precariously bent over and threatening to break off. This sequence, with the floor pitched at a dangerous angle and a grand piano having taken out the windows that might prevent people sliding to oblivion can only be described as a nail-biter. And that’s not just because of the situation itself and the tight direction but due to writers John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (repeating from “The Wave”) creating characters you genuinely care about. Yes there are the usual sketchily developed predictable victims to be (and one I’ll bet you don’t see coming). Excellent of its type.

SCHOOL OF LIFE (L’école buissonnière)
2017 / Icarus Films / 116m / $26.98 / NR
If I state that this film is charming you’ll likely get the idea it’s a lot gooier than it is. It involves a young orphan (Jean Scandel) who is entrusted to Celestine (Valerie Karsenti), a servant in the house of a rural duke, and her husband Borel (Eric Emosnino), the lord’s gamekeeper. For reasons that will only gradually become clear, Celestine tells her charge to introduce himself as Paul, her nephew, and to steer clear of the duke. It being summer Paul is left very much to his own devices and roaming the duke’s extensive grounds he eventually encounters the poacher Totoche (Francois Cluzet). Paul is fascinated by the man’s knowledge of nature and, despite being initially rebuffed by the grizzled, cantankerous coot, Paul spends all his days with him until school starts. The immense forest with its misty lakes and abundant greenery are like the setting of a fairy tale for the youngster who heretofore has known only the grim confines of an orphanage. But the estate is also a place of secrets – most of them Celestine’s. While she was summoned to the orphanage because she’d fostered children during the war and it’s known that Paul’s origins were in her community of Sologne, she does not taken Paul in on a whim after she’s seen him slapped.
The French countryside, its flora and fauna, is as much a character here as any of the humans and so lushly photographed you may well find yourself as in love with it as Paul and, as it turns out, the duke (Francois Berleand) himself. Yes the two eventually encounter each other (of course) and despite the old gent’s dislike of children the two become friendly. (Although he is introduced being a truculent lad he charms everyone he meets on arrival in Sologne – heck, you’d be charmed by this beautiful young man as well). It turns out the duke also rather likes Totoche for one thing; actually it seems everyone likes the poacher save Borel and even conspires to keep the gamekeeper from catching him in the act. Only the duke’s son lacks all sympathy for nature; he brings a group of friends to the estate for a hunting party that consists of shooting ducks (and a heron) out if the sky and just leaving them where they land. He’s the closest thing to a villain the film has – and naturally he us set to inherit. The final third may strike some as cliched but I found it Dickensian in that what you hope will transpire does its not so startling turn of events where the good prosper and those who aren’t don’t. It’s an old-fashioned film in the best sense and quite a beautiful and very well-acted one.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: The Story of Roger Aisles
2018 / Magnolia Home / Entertainment / 107m / $24.98 / NR
Roger Ailes was still quite young when he approached Richard Nixon on the latter’s second attempt at the presidency. He convinced the politician that he’d lost his previous bid because John F.Kennedy looked better on television; what Nixon needed was a media advisor. There had never been such a thing so Aisles was free to invent the job. Just how much Aisles had to do with polishing Tricky Dick’s image can likely never be calculated – he did get the candidate on “Laugh In,” saying “Sock it to me?” – but Nixon did achieve his goal. Aisles’ future involvement in Republican politics included crafting the infamous Willie Horton ad and ultimately creating a very successful cable venue, “All Talk.” It did well enough that Bill Gates approached NBC, which owned the channel with an offer of co-ownership and the creation of MSNBC (if you didn’t know – I didn’t – the MS stands for Microsoft).
Roger Ailes in Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (2018)Aisles was out but he got his revenge when he teamed with Rupert Murdoch to create Fox News. While the new network’s motto was “Fair and Balanced” it’s goal from the beginning was to destroy the more liberal MSNBC and all other things and persons liberal, even if it meant twisting the facts. The channel – which I have long preferred calling Faux News – reflected its founders’ racist and misogynist views from the inception. Aisles would eventually be ousted yet again – though not for years and not before the Fox company had paid out millions to settle multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment. (If there’s any doubt about Aisles’ attitude consider that female Fox News hosts were instructed to wear their skirts short.) Multiple women, some of who never brought any legal action, are interviewed here detailing Ailes’ approaches and the retaliation he took when rebuffed. His political actions throughout his careers were no more ethical and those too are detailed here. This is a portrait of what results when malice and power combine and I can’t guarantee it will let you sleep well.

THE LAST SHIP, The Complete Fifth Season
2018 / TNT / 440m (3 discs) / $29.98 / NR
Normally I eschew reviewing a TV series unless I can do so from its first season. Due to some mistake (most likely my own) I received the final season of this one instead of the full series. That may have been less a drawback than usual because the show started an entirely new storyline from what had transpired during the first four years of its run. In the eponymous novel by William Brinkley on which the show is based, a nuclear attack by the USA and Russia on each other – pretty much wiping out the planet’s population – sends the USS Nathan James on a quest for a radiation free new home for its crew. On the tube it’s a worldwide plague, the Red Flu, that inexplicably doesn’t affect the ship’s personnel, ,so the James under the command of Admiral Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) roams the oceans while a cure is sought. I learned from the indefatigable Wikipedia that said antidote was found in the second season so what took up the third and fourth seasons I cannot say.
In any event the final season has Chandler back to teaching at the Naval Academy where one of his student turns in a paper predicting that the next worldwide virus will be a cyber one. Sure enough a Columbian wannabe dictator causes computers to go out worldwide just in time for an air attack a la Pearl,Harbor that wipes out the entire fleet save the James, which is out at sea. The fight is on to stop the attempted conquest of Central America and the invasion of the USA. The proceedings include using a copy of “Moby Dick” to create a code as in “The Key to Rebecca” (the military command center and the ship just happen to have copies of the exact same edition), blowing up a just completed bridge (with CGI that doesn’t hold a candle to what David Lean did for real) and showing Tom Chandler having difficulty dealing with civilian life (lifted from “Hurt Locker”). I lost interest in te derivative season long before I finished the final episode. There’s an excess of automatic weapons fire and lots of (CGI) explosions – well, what do you expect when Michael Bay is a producer? If this is your cuppa Darjeeling, drink up.

MONSIEUR & MADAME ADELMAN
2017 / Icarus Films Home Video / 120m / $26.98 / NR
I could easily run the gamut of superlatives in expressing my delight in this wonderful film. It isn’t as easy, however, to categorize it because it keeps shifting tone and as a result telling you too much of the plot could spoil the experience for you. Let’s term it a romance with the ups and downs that entails. That the proceedings will enter some dark territory is suggested early on when Sarah Adelman (Doria Tillier) tells an interviewer who has attended her husband’s funeral that what he and everyone else there really wants to know is, “Did I kill him?”, leading to a succession of flashbacks. When she first meets aspiring writer Victor de Richemont dit Adelman (Nicolas Bedos) he takes a dislike to her because on the morning after she reads and extensively critiques his manuscript. Nonetheless she keeps reintroducing herself into his circle (deliberately?) by dating first his best friend and then his brother. Ultimately Victor realizes his feelings for Sarah are not antipathy but love and that leads to a long montage that had me thinking I was merely going to be seeing a French imitation if Woody Allen. But then director Bedos (who co-wrote with costar Tillier) places the couple in front of a theater showing “Annie Hall” and lets us know he’s in on the joke.
Image result for monsieur & madame adelmanWith Sarah’s editing (which apparently extends to some rewriting) Victor becomes a successful author leading to his frequent absences on book tours and her binge of conspicuous consumption, alcoholism and drug abuse; the tone consequently becomes more dramatic. Witty and sly in its writing, direction and acting this is a gem of a film. It’s a romance that is also a mystery and an ultimately poignant drama. Often the situation of a writer (or in this case writers) also playing the lead role(s) and directing results in less than quality films (auteurs such as Orson Welles and Woody Allen are decidedly in the minority) mostly because there’s no one to offer advice and say No when the occasion warrants. That Tillier and Bedos are not long-time writing collaborators and that this is Bedos’ debut film makes this an even more impressive achievement. In addition to the smart dialogue and perceptive viewpoint the film is a scrumptious visual feast. This is a profound film – but not a heavy one – in its look at the human situation and how love comes and goes and transforms. And if you take the time to view it a second time, knowing the ending, it yields even more rewards.

THE SECOND TIME AROUND
2017 / First Run Features / 107m / $24.95 / NR\
I’ve noted at various times the Canadian approach to horror and science fiction films; an unpretentious, low budget but often very inventive approach (think “Slither” and “Demon Under Glass” for starters). It turns out their straight dramas follow suit; this film is as intimate and low key as a TV movie – and that’s not automatically a bad thing. In this case it allows the two leads (Linda Thorson and Stuart Margolin) lots of room to create a believable, slow-kindllng relationship with each other. Opera loving widow Katherine (Thorson) takes a tumble down some stairs at the theater and ends up having to spend some time in an assisted living facility. She’s not much impressed with her fellow inmates, who are a shallow and not terribly intellectual bunch. Slowly she does become intrigued by caustic widower Isaac (Margolin), a Holocaust survivor who once aspired to be a cantor. Music becomes the initial bond for a friendship that blossoms into something more. The process is not smooth; Isaac has a serious, potentially fatal, health issue that causes him to withdraw until Katherine prevails in coercing him to enter treatment. Katherine must deal with the revelation she won’t be moving back in with her daughter because of the latter’s unexpected divorce causing a need to downsize.
In many ways the film isn’t anything you haven’t seen before but it’s rare and refreshing to see the tale told with senior citizens. And the cast makes it worthwhile – not only Thorson and Margolin but all the supporting players (particular note should be made of Alexis Harrison as Thorson’s, punkish granddaughter). But it’s Thorson’s and Margolin’s show all the way and they cruise past plot holes, often clunky dialogue and awkward yet predictable story advancements. Both get to deliver performances miles removed from the ones they’re most famous for – Thorson as the replacement for Diana Rigg on “The Avengers” and Margolin as the skeevy sidekick on a couple James Garner vehicles, notably “The Rockford Files”. Both have continued working since then but hardly in high profile careers; their touching, sensitive and nuanced playing here makes that a shame. Camerawork, despite a surfeit of 360 degree shots, and production design are meh and the script (by director Leon Marr and Sherry Soules) is ho-hum. But if you’re a fan of either lead you’ll want to see this outing.

TYREL
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 87m / $29.98 BR / NR\
Although this hastily put together feature has been getting some high marks in some quarters it struck me as having failed in its ambitions – so much so that I can’t even say what those goals might have been. At least one description I read had it that the film uses horror movie tropes to explore racism. While it’s true that here we have a group of friends repairing to an isolated cabin for a weekend of drinking and drugging, that’s as far as it goes. Neither cannibal hillbillies nor hockey masked killers nor Sumerian demons join the party. Early on one character mistakenly calls Tyler (Jason Mitchell) Tyrel and later, in a game requiring the participants to say something in a certain voice, another character draws a card calling for Black Voice. Are these mistakes, possibly due more to ignorance rather than bigotry or are they examples of racism? Tyler (and we) can’t help but notice he is the only AA in the group; that may signal color blind acceptance but the question arises as to why the group of friends isn’t more racially diverse (there is one token gay and a gent who’s much older than the rest – both Caucasian – but that’s as varied as it gets; the gathering is starved for Technicolor). While there are no overt displays of hostility toward him Tyler grows uneasy.
Max Born, Michael Cera, Roddy Bottum, Michael Zegen, Caleb Landry Jones, Philip Ettinger, Christopher Abbott, and Jason Mitchell in Tyrel (2018)As noted previously the production was put together on the fly when director Sebastian Silva had another project fall through. He quickly gathered a group of actors with whom he’d previously worked (including Michael Cera who shows up about midway) and hied them all off to a Catskills house. I have to assume that much of the proceedings were improvised so I’ll put aside any comments on the dialogue but it also resulted in a film that just doesn’t come together. Should the honkies gain some appreciation of how stereotypes and cliches are hurtful to minorities? I’d say so. (Note that the characters do not display any biased attitudes toward the gay man.) Should Tyler (and by extension people of color) be a tad less paranoid about their pigmentally challenged bretheren? Maybe. Does either transpire? No. It doesn’t help matters that on the second day Tyler begins drinking early and, drunk, begins acting like a total jerk, including driving off in someone else’s car and imposing himself on a neighbor. It all just keeps happening – made with a shaky camera often has the image out of focus – that until it doesn’t and the movie ends. Maybe some cannibal hillbillies would’ve helped.

Long’s Short Takes

AMERICAN VANDAL, Season One
2017 / CBS DVD / 267m (2 discs) / $29.98 / NR
I will hand it to this series for having a unique approach so far as my experience goes. When all 27 cars belonging to the high school staff are spraypainted with penises suspicion immediately falls on Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro). The young man is known for his pranks and sophomoric YouTube videos. Additionally he is not the best student, earning him the enmity of some teachers – a distaste he returns. The security footage of the incident has been erased and, as Dylan is part of the school’s AV team, this further counts against him. He protests his innocence and why not? Whoever is the culprit will be responsible for $10,000 in damages, will be expelled and lose any hope of going on to college. (That Dylan is repeatedly referred to as a candidate for higher education is odd given he’s clearly dumber than a brick.) Wannabe filmmakers Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund (Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck) aren’t entirely convinced of their classmate’s culpability and set out to investigate, documenting their exploration on video.Tyler Alvarez and Jimmy Tatro in American Vandal (2017)
As the behind the scenes aspect of the making of their documentary is also shown what we have here is a mockumentary of the making of a mockumentary, and I don’t think that’s been done before. Beyond that and the quality of the performances I was not so very taken by the series; whether or not you are might depend much upon your age. It’s been hailed as a true picture of high school – and even won a Peabody fer pity sake – so there’s much here I might be far too old to appreciate. But then I found high school a shallow experience while I was in it and stopped attending reunions because there were too many ex-classmates who saw it as the high spot of their lives. (And just what are you to make of those who ignored you back then – or worse – acting like best buddies now?) Getting me past characters I didn’t much give a hang about is clever, consistently funny dialogue and decent actting from the cast. I especially liked Tatro who perches Dylan between adorably dim – and even fragile – and total a-hole. And I have to admit I got totally engrossed in finding out who drew the dicks.

CHECKMATE
1960-62 / Alpha Video / 150m / $5.98 / NR
I have only the dimmest of memories of this series, which aired when I was still a wee twig of a thing. I remember it was a favorite of my parents and that it starred Sebastian Cabot (who was a favorite of my parents) and two other guys. The other two guys are top-billed Anthony George and Doug McClure. George had been working his way up to leading man status and was fresh off a recurring role in “The Untouchables;” this show was pretty much the high point of his career and he would soon descend into the soaps (including playing Burke Devlin in :Dark Shadows”). McClure was just moving out of bit parts and establishing himself as the boyish sidekick he’d portray for decades; most of his career was on the small screen – a clutch of fantasy films inspired by the work if Edgar Rce Burroughs were the rare tiesmhe had star billing in movies. His career seemed to sputter along so much that he was likely the inspiration for has-been (or never-quite-was?) movie star Troy McClure on “The Simpsons”. Cabot was a dependable character actor in films – I am particularly fond of his Wazir in “Kismet”, a delicious portrait of casual malevolence. But I, as usual, digress – though not so very much.Related image
The trio run a detective agency – a concept that overran the airwaves at the time (“77 Sunset Strip,” Hawaiian Eye” and “Surfside Six” to name just a few). Theirs is a very expensive one and the twist is that they aim not to solve crimes but to prevent (or checkmate, get it?) them. What the producers saved on star salary (the leads were clearly had at a reasonable rate) they splurged on guest stars – all available after the movie studios trimmed their contract player rosters in the early 1950s. June Vincent and James Whitmore are amongst those appearing in the three episodes on this disc. A particular highlight for me is Peter Lorre guesting in the first episode as an old enemy of Cabot’s character, hatching a plot to frame him for a murder that, in fact, doesn’t happen. Eric Ambler, the Tom Clancy of his day, is credited with creating the show, though what hand he had in its ongoing production is unknown (he seems not to have written a single script). The show, while watchable, has not aged particularly well. The stories are nicely complex but move more leisurely than today’s cathode tube fare and photography is uninventive. It’s the acting that remains engaging today.

DOWN BY LOVE (Éperdument)
2015 / Icarus Films Home Video / 110m / $26.98 / NR
Turns out even the Europeans can stumble when it comes to movies based on actual events. Aside from “Next Time I’ll Aim for the Head” (reviewed here some time back) I hadn’t encountered European productions in the vein of those movies (mostly for U,S. television) that are so obsessed with the approach. “Next Time… “ was excellent but this one falls victim to the trap of its story being a cliched one we’ve seen before not matter how ostensibly true. Anna Amari (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an inmate transferred to a new prison as she awaits trial (for what is never quite revealed). Jean Firmino (Guillaume Gallienne), the director of the facility, notices her immediately and begins finding ways to be around her, including giving her a part-time assignment in his office. Eventually the predictable happens and they begin a torrid affair that’s so obvious rumors fly. Firmino’s wife (Stéphanie Cléau) moves him first to the sofa and then out of their apartment and the prison authorities start investigating him. That doesn’t stop him from becoming increasingly reckless.
In addition to a familiar story the pace is too leisurely, the performances mostly too subdued and there are too many non sequiteur moments; a film that runs shy of two hours seems to take much longer to play out. The film also never makes explicit just what Anna’s motives are; is she genuinely in love with this middle-aged man, twice her age, or playing him? Is it love or just lust on his part (he may not know the difference but we should)? Parallels made to Racine’s “Phaedra” are a conceit that adds no depth to the proceedings. The acting is solid if, as noted, mostly restrained; only Exarchopoulos and Cléau get any truly dramatic moments – the script parcels things out pretty evenly but the film ultimately seems about the female characters. As perhaps it should be. But too much is either ambiguous or simplistic and the direction feels unfocused in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. That any of it works at all as more than the tale of a creepy old man putting the blocks to a teenager is entirely due to the performers.

HAPPY HOUR (Happî awâ)
2015 / KimStim / 317m (2 discs) / $27.99 BR / NR
Ya got five plus hours to spare? If so you just might find more good than I did in this epic length but intimate drama from co-writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi. It had its genesis in an improvisational acting workshop Hamaguchi held for people who’d had no previous performing experience and the four female leads and some of the rest of the cast were drawn from that workshop as was, apparently the film’s story. Said story kicks in at about the half hour mark after it’s been established that the quartet of female leads are friends for some time and enjoy taking daytrips and attending various events. One is a somewhat woo-woo symposium that eats up most of the opening 30 minutes. That’s followed by a gathering that is, presumably, the titular event. Lots of talk – lots and lots of insipid talk – finally leads to the revelation that Jun, who introduced the other three women to each other, has been having an extramarital affair and wants to divorce her husband. This action leads the other three to examine their situations.
One is long divorced and abruptly goes from being disinterested in sex to a wild round of noncommital hookups (and even a flirtation with lesbianism); the two married women start taking notice of the small annoyances they’ve brushed off over the years. The film is made of teeny tiny moments and nuances that build up but, please! it doesn’t need the excessive running time to make its point. A lot of footage is of people walking and walking, sitting in trains doing nothing while the scenery flashes by and talking for a long time without ever getting to the point. Additionally these people, men and women both, are a pretty unlikable, self-centered lot. The most interesting thing here for me was the cinematography transitioning from prosaic in the beginning to downright scrumptious as the women (not the men; they’re a particularly dim lot) do more self-examination. Now I’m fully prepared to admit I just didn’t get it. The production has been universally acclaimed; it has an astonishing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Clearly my reaction is a minority one.

THE GUILTY (Den sjyldige)
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 88m / $26.98 / R
Before I dig into this excellent and very intense thriller I want to note how tickled I was to see the Nordisc logo at the beginning of the credits. Chalk it up to film geekiness but Nordisc is one of the oldest film companies in the world – Gaumont might be older – having been in operation since the earliest days of the silents. Pretty cool to see it’s still around. The events start when policeman Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) – temporarily on desk duty – takes a call during the second shift at the emergency center (the equivalent of our 911). The woman on the other end calls him ”sweetie,” which initially takes him aback but he soon determines she is pretending to be talking to her child. Further questioning reveals she is in a car being kidnapped by her ex-husband. She doesn’t know where she is and Holm has only a vague idea of her location based on the cell tower in use. The police in that area only reluctantly dispatch officers because there’s not a more specific search area and they lack (at least at first) even a description if the vehicle. Because his computer read-out gives him the woman’s address Holm is able to call and reassure her daughter and send officers to her home to look after the children. Jakob Cedergren in Den skyldige (2018)But there is an even more horrific crime here than what first seemed the case. And the title turns out to be apropos of characters other than the one you might first suspect.
Director/co-writer (with Emil Nygaard Albertsen) Gustav Möller has crafted a sharp, intelligent film that peels like an onion, each layer stripping away what you thought you knew or revealing a little something about what you questioned. I do hope that’s not already telling too much and putting you on guard for a guessing game because this is a movie that’s best experienced as it unreels. As it is you’re likely to tumble to some of the details a tad earlier than their revelation (or maybe I’ve just seen too many thrillers). What lifts this effort beyond just another well-made nail-biter is that it takes place entirely in two rooms and Cedergren is very nearly the only actor onscreen the entire time (I was reminded not a little bit of “Locke”). There are exceedingly brief interactions with other call center employees but most of the timke Holm is interacting with voices on the other end of the line. That you care about their fate (and come to be concerned about Holm’s) is a credit to the filmmaking but even more so to a tour de force performance from Cedersen, often filmed in Dreyer-like close-ups so tightly framed you could count his eyelashes. Let me be blunt: this guy is effing amazing and you do yourself a serious disservice if you don’t catch his superb performance.

THE KEY TO REBECCA
1985 / CBS DVD, Paramount / 194m / $29.98 / NR
He’s been mostly supplanted by other writers but once upon a time, not so very long ago, Ken Follett was the dean of espionage thrillers (“Eye of the Needle” is also based on one of his novels) though he has also written in other genres, especially historical fiction. This is a mini-series and that is the chief problem here because the production is structured to accommodate commercials. Tense moments and cliffhangers that would have had viewers on the edge of their seats waiting for the end of the breaks are resolved nigh instantly. Surprisingly, rather than making the proceedings whiz by it creates a leisurely pace – not one so slow it’s fatal but certainly more than is good for it. It does however allow for savoring fine acting from Cliff Robertson (always a favorite), Season Hubley (in a Betty Page bob), David Soul, Robert Culp and, in small roles Anthony Quayle and Marne Maitland (in a far more sympathetic part than those he essayed in Hammer horrors). Director David Hemmings – unrecognizable from his “Blow-Up” days – also contributes a cameo.
Soul – who I never was keen on before this – plays Alex Wolff whose Egyptian half wants the British out of Egypt and who German side is willing to collude with the Nazis to have General Rommel (Culp) drive them out. He gets advance info on Brit military maneuvers by reading the contents of a general’s briefcase while his mistress keeps the guy… er… distracted and then telegraphs to Rommel using a code based on a page in Daphne duMaurier’s “Rebecca.” He’s opposed by Major Vandam (Robertson) whose only initial advantage is being able to track the trail of funny money Wolff has been spending. In a plot turn out of “Notorious” he coerces busted black marketer Elene Fontana (Hubley, who never had quite the career she deserved) to become… um… available to Wolff so the Allies can discover where he’s holed up. Many twists to an essentially slender plot and murders ensue – Wolff’s as unstoppable as Jason Voorhees. Controversial at the time was a kiss between Hubley and Lina Raymond during a threesome with Hemmings. Sex and blood are both mild and the film is as well.

SHOPLIFTERS (Manbiki kazoku)
2018 / Magnolia Home Entertainment / 120m / $26.98 /. R
A poor Tokyo family that supplements their meager earnings by shoplifting discovers a little girl shivering in the cold and takes her in. Not only has the child been left outside but there are burn marks and bruises suggesting physical abuse. The girl, who they rename Lin, is reported missing by her parents – but only after authorities have noticed her absence. Even then her new “family” doesn’t return her; she’s perfectly happy with them and they rationalize that they haven’t kidnapped her because they’ve demanded no ransom. Hearing Lin’s parents in a violent argument firms their resolve to take the little girl into their keeping, meaning there are now six people, including Grandma, in a house of two small rooms. There’s little more to the plot than that; the film details the family’s hardscrabble day-to-day experience with only a visit to the beach relieving the unending chore of surviving. Both parents have low paying jobs (mom is soon laid off from her sewing factory position), Grandma visits the family of her husband’s second wife and gets guilt money (an amusing moment has her peering into the envelope and kvetching about how little it is) and the kids drop things in a backpack while dad distracts the clerks.
Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in Manbiki kazoku (2018)Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda makes no judgements about these people, he merely observes and given the film is based on his research into families living on the edge what has resulted is social realism – or, if you will, a fictional documentary. It is made in documentary style in short scenes that may not go anywhere initially but add up and pack a wallop with an unexpected revelation near the end. And despite the grinding poverty (illegally augmented of course) in which this family lives the film is not a depressing one, even when Grandma dies and, to keep from losing the house, they bury her in the garden and declare their intention to assert they have always lived there and the old lady never existed. Even here there is a quirky comedy underlying the seriousness of the scene. The ending is not entirely upbeat but it isn’t tragic either. The feeling is that this family will endure and always be devoted to each other. Frankly it’s a heartwarming feel-good movie though that aspect will take you by surprise. This family is flawed but scarcely dysfunctional. And the film is a treasure.

THE SILENT COMMAND
1923 / Alpha Video / 80m / $5.98 / NR
For years it was accepted as fact that Bela Lugosi’s U.S. film debut was as the vampire count in “Dracula.” His silent European films were acknowledged but not the stateside productions (both silent and sound) that preceded his most famous movie. To be fair film research was still in its infancy back then and a good many of Lugosi’s silent productions are lost. This thriller represents his U.S. screen debut; Fox Films signed him on after he attracted notice for his performance in “The Red Poppy” on Broadway. He portrays Hisston, a sugar plantation owner who’s really an agent if an unspecified foreign power plotting to blow up the Panama Canal. Our naval intelligence gets wind of the scheme and assigns sturdy, upright Captain Decatur (Edmund Lowe) to quash it. It’s Decatur who has deployed mines at various spots along the canal – so we can blow it up in case it falls into enemy hands, I suppose. I’m a little unclear in that point but much here plays out like a compressed Republic serial so don’t fret the details; just sit back and enjoy the tide. Only Decatur knows the locations – an early attempt to steal the only copy of the plans resulted in a fire that consumed them – so it’s vital Hisston compromise Decatur.Bela Lugosi, Betty Jewel, and Edmund Lowe in The Silent Command (1923)
To that end he employs Peg Williams (Martha Mansfied), professional vamp and the middle section, dealing with adultery, treason and a court martial (buttons ripped off, sword broken over a knee) is fairly uninteresting but leads to an exciting climax as Devatur races to the canal in a Navy warship during a hurricane to put paid to Hisston and his attempt to blow up the Gatun Locks. It’s Lowe who was the star here though he’s mostly forgotten now. His appeal has always eluded me. He’s uncommonly bland here and Lugoxi steals the show – as he does when they reteamed, again as hero and villain, in the underrated (and certifiably nuts) ”Chandu the Magician”. Surprisingly Bela does this with an understated performance – he could be restrained when the part called for it –and sheer charisma. It is interesting to compare this film technically with the overrated “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” from the same year, which looks positively primitive by comparison. J. Gordon “Edward may also be forgotten (though not so much his grandson Blake) but he was one of the premiere directors in the silent era (he helmed 22 of Theda Bara’s films). This is no lost or forgotten classic but aficionados of silent fare will find some fun here. The print is mostly quite good; it appears to have been cobbled together from various sources, some not so great as others.