Sunday, 30 May 2010

Angel (1937)

Over the years there have been a number of actors with only one working eye who forged long and memorable film careers -- Jack Elam and Peter Falk immediately spring to mind. But I can only think of one actor who became a leading romantic player despite having only one leg. That would be Herbert Marshall (1890-1966), the dapper and debonair Englishman, who is one of this film's trio of stars. He plays a distinguished British diplomat with a greatly loved, but unfortunately unwittingly neglected wife, played by the luminous Marlene Dietrich. On a trip to Paris she meets Melvyn Douglas at a slightly disreputable club (more like a high-class brothel, had the Censor permitted this description). Their relationship is undoubtedly consummated, although limited to passionate kisses on screen, before she disappears without his even knowing her by any name other than 'Angel'. Of course, as luck would have it, after she returns to her comforable life with Marshall, he and Douglas are introduced by a mutual friend and turn out to have been World War I buddies, when they both pursued the same mademoiselle while on leave in France (where Douglas was unfortunately nicknamed 'Poochie'!) So our three protagonists soon find themselves at a strained luncheon meeting where the truth strives to play itself out.

This storyline could have been a turgid melodrama, were it not for the skill of the three leads, who bring a light and civilized style to what might have been a sordid tale. Credit for this must also go to the film's wonderful director, Ernst Lubitsch, famed throughout his career for his 'Lubitsch Touch' of sophisticated wit and delicacy of treatment. An example from this movie is when Marshall and Dietrich reminisce about an early weekend together in Vienna, when they stayed at a small inn in a suite at the top of four flights; when he mentions that there were two rooms, she smiles knowingly and asks 'were there two?' Lubitsch began his career with the legendary Austrian impresario Max Reinhardt, before directing a string of silent classics in Europe. He moved to the States in the early Twenties and continued to bring his famous 'touch' to a wonderful run of now classic movies which include "One Hour with You" and "Trouble in Paradise (both 1932), "Ninotchka" (1939), and "To be or Not to Be" (1942) amongst many more. He was once quoted as saying, 'I've been to Paris France, but Paris Paramount is better'.

I have seen critics carping that his inimitable style is less evident in "Angel" than in most of his better-known films, but I do disagree. He elevates what might have been a run-of-the-mill domestic drama into the fantastic realms of high-blown romance and sophistication. The well-chosen supporting cast add to the movie's overall charm, including Ernest Cossart as Marshall's butler, who takes his low-born fiancee to the races and points out all of the servants of well-known toffs, and the inimitable Edward Everett Horton as Marshall's valet, who professes his love of opera by oom-pah-pahing a passage from 'The Barber of Seville'. 'Whoever persuaded you to be a valet, must have been a music lover' says Marshall. Charming stuff impeccably played.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Black Death (2010)

I attended the world premiere of this nearly A-list movie last night. 'Big deal' you might say and you would be right. There were no red carpets nor arriving limousines nor papparazzi looking for their latest fix -- just a bunch of die-hard horror fans. In fact the nominal stars of this film -- Sean Bean (I'm always tempted to call him 'Seen Bean' or 'Sean Bawn') and the Dutch actress Carice van Houten -- weren't even in attendance.

This is the fourth film from British horror talent Christopher Smith and we were all present at the invitation of our friends from the annual August FrightFest. Apparently his first three directorial efforts were similarly premiered under their auspices, and while I can remember the premieres of "Triangle" (2009) and "Severance" (2006), I don't recall first viewing "Creep" (2004) on the big screen. All three of these movies were set in the present day and while generally low-budget, did manage to attract bankable stars and showed a keen horror sensibility on the part of their young director. This film, in contrast, is set in England in 1438 at the time of the outbreak of bubonic plague and strives for a definite arthouse sensibility mixed with the ranks of dying and decaying bodies.

A young monk, Osmund, played by Eddie Redmayne -- not an actor I really know -- takes the actual main role. He offers to lead knight Bean's band of mercenaries (lots of familiar British character actor faces here) to find a village that has apparently escaped the ravages of the Black Death and where necromancers are rumoured to bring the dead back to life. He begs for this assignment from head monk, David Warner, because the location is near where he hopes to meet up with his illicit young love. When they finally arrive, the lass is supposedly dead but then seemingly returned to life, leaving young Osmund reeling in horror, and a conflict is thrown up between Bean's and Osmund's Christian fanaticism and the 'old religion' beliefs of the villagers, led by the witchy van Houten. Both sides are convinced that only their ideas are valid -- does this remind one of any modern-day zealots??? -- and the outcome is lots of blood and gore to decimate the valiant cast.

I wasn't all that impressed with the film, although great pains were taken to evoke the period and the production values were certainly high. It was just a little tedious in part and it was hard to empathise with the conflict of interests as portrayed. I didn't think that van Houten -- so good in "Black Book" (2006) -- brought much passion to her role and she looked like she was in two minds about even being there. Bean (or Bawn) declaimed his ideology with dubious conviction. Poor old young Redmayne was left to carry the acting can, including an unnecessary coda which showed him turning into a cold-hearted, avenging destroyer, wreaking havoc on any would-be witches that crossed his subsequent path. I guess that's what happens when young love goes awry.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinema (1995)

I have now watched this film from veteran French director Agnes Varda three times, but have only just really fully experienced it. To explain further, the first viewing was on German TV and like virtually all films shown thereon it was dubbed in German. Despite having virtually no idea what the characters were gabbing about, I was fascinated by the visuals. Here was definitely an affectionate tribute to the power of cinema, made to celebrate its centenary. There were a host of recognizable stars, largely in cameos, and brief clips from dozens of famous and less well-known films. I then found a French-language copy of the DVD, but horror of horror, the English subtitles wouldn't work. (I gather that this is not just my problem, but a widespread one, although the titles do show up on an Xbox! apparently.) I had just about enough French to pick up some of the subtleties of the script, but hardly enough to understand the dialogue completely. Still it was wonderful yet again to see the well-chosen extracts and visuals.

Now finally I have viewed a print with legible titles at the National Film Theatre during their current celebration of Varda's films. The story concerns a 100-year-old man in the character of Simon Cinema, played with great verve by veteran French actor Michel Piccoli. He lives in a beautiful country house filled with acres of cinema memorabilia tended to by his very strange butler, who constantly dons outlandish outfits, and by two acrobatic maids. A young cinema-buff, Julie Gayet, is employed to visit for two hours daily (latterly fixed from 5 to 7 in echo to one of Varda's own films) to discuss cinema generally and to jog Piccoli's occasionally failing memory. Mind you, as far as he is concerned, he was present on every classic film set and starred in most of the great movies referenced. The household has a constant stream of visitors to pay homage to the grand old man and to cinema in general; these include amongst others Gerard Depardieu discussing ways of being put to death on screen, Jeanne Moreau and Hanna Schygulla -- as two of his screen wives, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anouk Aimee, Romane Bohringer as the spectre of death, and many, many more. A pair of occasional visitors are the ghosts of the Lumiere Brothers, wreathed in lights like a dressing-room make-up mirror. The most frequent visitor is an also-aging Marcello Mastroianni as 'the Italian friend' who argues with Piccoli on themes such as did Godard steal from Fellini or vice versa, but who is really out to relieve Piccoli of his valuable collection of prints and artefacts.

Apart from the judicious use of the many very short film clips which include "The General", "Singin' in the Rain", and "Un chien andalou" to enlarge the action, there are other purely visual gags, such as Gayet's bicycle being stolen or Robert DeNiro and Catherine Deneuve going boating together. At one stage Monsieur Cinema wishes to visit Hollywood for one last time; Harrison Ford and Stephen Dorff appear briefly -- both looking completely gormless -- in a room where other actors wear the black and white masks of bygone screen legends like Bogie. Similarly there is one last trip to the Cannes Film Festival to include fleeting shots of Clint Eastwood and the like. Varda obviously made judicious use of her stars' availability and good-natured help with her project.

The film is not exactly perfect. Far too much screen time is given to Varda's own son, Mathieu Demy, who plays Gayet's boyfriend here and an aspiring filmmaker. Together they conspire to pass off a friend as Piccoli's missing grandson and his only potential heir to get their hands on his fortune to finance Demy's own ambitions. This subplot really adds very little but I suppose one must allow Varda her own maternal indulgences. However one is still left with a wonderful wallow in nostalgia for anyone who loves movies. Now if I could only get the subtitles on my disc to behave themselves...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Minor MGM Musicals

Most film fans are familiar with the classic MGM musical extravaganzas from the Arthur Freed unit, but less so with some of their early predecessors and one or two of the overblown flops. In order to replace four black and white beauties that I had on beta tapes, I purchased a nine-disc box-set (the third volume of 'Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory') and I have been ploughing my way through them in my down time over the last few weeks.

Two of them are fairly quickly dismissable. The only movie in the set that I had never seen is "Hit the Deck" (1955) where gobs Tony Martin, Vic Damone, and little Russ Tamblyn romance Ann Miller, Jane Powell, and Debbie Reynolds whilst being pursued by the military police to the chagrin of Tamblyn's admiral dad, Walter Pidgeon. Despite some heavy-duty hoofing from Miller and a fair amount of crooning from the rest of the cast, this is fairly unmemorable stuff. The other "dud" from the same year, despite its high production values (this one was Freed-produced), is "Kismet". Directed by Vincent Minelli and starring Howard Keel in full throttle, this tale of shennanigans in Arabia was more fun and more interestingly handled in its 1944 Ronald Coleman/Marlene Dietrich non-musical telling. The production here is far too heavy-handed and ponderous; despite a selection of evergreen songs sprinkled amongst the dreary lesser ones, the movie is rather heavy going.

This brings me to the four movies that occasioned my purchase: "Broadway Melody of 1936" (1935), "Born to Dance" (1936), "Broadway Melody of 1938" (1937), and "Lady Be Good" (1941), the latter being the only other Freed-produced film in the set. The first three are showcases for the tapping talents of Eleanor Powell, pairing her with Robert Taylor in the 'Broadway' films and with James Stewart in the other. Her career was relatively short-lived, stretching from 1935 to the early 40s when she married Glenn Ford, and by the fourth film her role was demoted to 'best friend' to bickering, song-writing couple Ann Sothern and Robert Young, despite giving her two swell dance numbers. The first of these is particularly memorable; it has her rehearsing her stage role in the company of a winsome pet dog who makes an unusual and amusing acrobatic dance partner. Powell was normally a single act and her solid, muscular, syncopated tap is not something that one can watch until the cows come home; in fact, its appeal is best in little dollops. She was quoted once as saying that a tap dancer is really a frustrated drummer, but I believe that drum solos are best when brief.

The four movies do however have numerous compensations for a surfeit of Powell and their occasional longeurs and cliched storylines. Buddy Ebsen's goofy dancing features in the first three films and there is something ever so likeable about his gangly grace. It's a shame that his big screen career disappeared when he proved allergic to the tinman's metal make-up in "The Wizard of Oz". Fortunately we are spared any major musical efforts from love interest Taylor, but it is a sweet hoot listening to Stewart doing his best to sing a love ballad and to keep up with his co-stars' dancing talents when forced to do so. A fifteen-year-old Judy Garland makes her big screen debut in the second 'Broadway' film and the movie thrills to her unleashing her big, big voice, especially in tandem with singing legend Sophie Tucker. Then there is Sothern's Oscar-winning rendition of 'The Last Time I saw Paris' particularly timely during the German occupation and nicely rendered with a photomontage of the city in happier times. Other distractions include the deadpan singer Virginia O'Brien doing her thing and a sub-Nicholas Brothers act -- the three Berry Brothers -- amazing one with their energetic dancing splits. Mind you, Powell herself could split with the best.

That leaves me with three more films to watch and I somehow doubt that I will be writing about these later on: two minor efforts from 1950 "Nancy Goes to Rio" and "Two Weeks with Love", plus the 1954 Sigmund Romberg biopic "Deep in my Heart". I do hope that all three will produce at least some memorable moments in exchange for sitting through the more tedious sections which I can recall from previous viewings. I guess that's what the fast-forward button is for!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Profound Desires of the Gods (1968)

The distinguished Japanese director Shohei Imamura who died in 2006 had a long and interesting career. He won the Golden Palm at Cannes on two occasions (for the remake of "The Ballad of Narayama" in 1983 and for "The Eel" in 1997). He was also in the running for that award with "Warm Water under a Red Bridge" (2001), "Black Rain" (1989) -- not the Ridley Scott/Michael Douglas film of the same title in the same year, and "Zegen" (1987) -- a Japanese version of Don Quixote. In addition he is also responsible for classics of Japanese cinema like "Vengeance is Mine" (1979) and "The Insect Woman" (1963).

It is therefore remarkable that the amazing film under review here is not even listed in the majority of my many film guides and has never surfaced on DVD, although I understand that a Blu-ray copy will be available here soon. Also known as "Legends from a Southern Island", this is a very long (nearly three hours), incredibly beautifully photographed, and fascinating study of a backwater society isolated from the modern world and seeped in its own brand of primitive religion and superstition. The residents of the secluded island of Kurage are untouched by organised religion and believe in their own gods to determine their behaviour. Apart from those above, their gods also include their economic masters from abroad who control the local industry, such as it is. When the sugar cane crop is threatened by drought, a company engineer arrives, but he is soon sucked into the native indolent lifestyle, especially when he becomes enamoured of a wild local lass who is more than two sandwiches short of a picnic.

She is the somewhat simple nympho daughter of a family of outcasts who are well into incest and who have alienated the other islanders with their outlandish behaviour. One son is kept chained by the ankle to prevent his dynamiting for fish and to keep him digging away in a pit, attempting to dislodge a huge boulder that a tidal wave has deposited on the family's (and the Gods') rice paddy. He is also in love with his sister who is considered a powerful shaman and who has been taken as a mistress by a local bigwig. The family's tyrannical and aging grandfather is also the father of at least one of his grandchildren, making the family's structure and superstitions something of a mystery difficult to unravel, let alone to comprehend.

All of this is played out against some of the most beautiful nature photography I have ever seen, with unforgettable images of sea creatures, water, and sky. With their livelihoods threatened and perpetually punishing weather, the island inhabitants regress into a form of primitive madness and crowd hysteria. When the outcast siblings attempt to escape to find a new life together on a neighbouring isolated island, they are chased by boatloads of screaming, mask-wearing pursuers determined to punish them. The chase and the lovers' ultimate fates produce some indelible images for the blinking, unbelieving viewer.

The film ends a few years on when this 'colourful' environment with its 'quaint' natives has been turned into a tourist attraction for the mainlanders. They come to gawk at the island's landmarks and are treated to kitschy versions of the old legends. Nobody seems to miss or regret a way of life long forsaken, celebrated now only in the songs of an ancient and crippled minstrel.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Bad Lieutenant (2009)

A few days back I made some negative remarks about Nicolas Cage when I was commenting on his role in "Knowing", also from 2009. Having reinvented himself in recent years as a sensitive action man -- if that's not a contradiction in terms, Cage has received plaudits for his conflicted cop in Werner Herzog's strange policier. I'm afraid that I must disagree with such praise and label his role here as hammy at best, but more of that below.

My initial reaction when I heard that they were 'remaking' Abel Ferrara's movie of the same title from 1994 with Cage replacing Harvey Keitel in the lead role was a resounding 'why bother?', since despite trying on several occasions to warm to that movie, I have never succeeded. However, the resemblance between the two films is only superficial in that both characterise their lead by his addictions to drugs and gambling. But whereas Ferrara's flawed hero is seeking some sort of Catholic redemption, I'll be damned if I know what Cage is seeking, other than possibly more drugs. Herzog, widely perceived as an eccentric director, probably never had any intention of remaking the original drama, but rather decided to use it as a some sort of post-modern satire on police procedural movies veering into black comedy. Subtitled "Port of Call - New Orleans", the film is set in the post-Katrina environment, but with none of city's stereotypical touristy trappings. An uncharacteristic deed to save a drowning prisoner leaves Cage with a bad back, results in his first promotion to lieutenant, and accounts for his growing reliance on strong drugs, a trait he shares with his callgirl galfriend, Eva Mendes. He subsequently becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a Sengalese drug dealer and his family, and nothing but nothing can stop his determination to solve the case. This includes cruelty to old ladies, illegally aiding drug dealers, bribing a football star with arrest to get him to throw a game (to get his bookie off his back), all the while stuffing his nose with coke (which he obtains by any means going, including raping a young lady), and generally being flaky and strung-out. His performance is in fact so far over the top that it resembles farce more than great acting. This is not his best role since "Leaving Las Vegas", but a self-indulgent fiasco.

There was in fact the occasional titter from the preview audience with whom I viewed the movie (it is to be released here shortly with generally glowing advance reviews from the local movie mags), but I would be hard pressed to agree that this is some sort of comedy. It is far too nasty a film for that. While this may seem something of an unusual outing for Herzog, I think he must have approached the project with his tongue firmly in his cheek to provide his own riff on the conventional fare. However I do not believe that he has found his new Klaus Kinski in Mr. Cage. Kinski was a genuine eccentric, as one may suggest Herzog himself is. Cage's character is not a 'nutter' in the Kinski mold; he is only pretending to be one and not very convincingly to my taste. One can tell that Herzog is doing his best to amuse himself in what very definitely bears little resemblance to your everyday police film by incorporating shots of dead alligators, hallucinated iguanas, and the breakdancing soul of a just-murdered hoodlum into the supposedly gritty action.

The supporting cast is of some interest. I do not see the appeal of Ms. Mendes, whose character has even less attraction than Cage's. However roles for erstwhile star Val Kilmer as another bent cop (somewhat underused here), Fairuza Balk as a highway patrolwoman, voice-of-Chucky Brad Dourif as the bookie, and a nearly unrecognizable Jennifer Coolidge as Cage's alcholic father's second wife serve their purpose. However the attempt to wrap it all up in a happy-ever-after coda rings completely untrue -- as was probably Herzog's intention. One knows that Cage has not really attempted to change his ways and that he will next be playing 'The Bad Captain'!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Wolf (1994)

Occasionally reviewed as the thinking person's horror film, this movie certainly has a lot going for it. Its impeccable credentials include direction by Mike Nichols from a script co-written by Wesley Strick, Hitchcockian music from maestro Ennio Morricone, and lead roles filled by Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. The supporting roles are equally well-cast and include turns of varying importance from Christopher Plummer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, David Hyde Pierce, Ron Rifkin, Brits Om Puri, Eileen Atkins, and Prunella Scales, and even a early cinema appearance from David Schwimmer.

So why am I in two minds about this film? Probably it is because its clever opening scenes and its sophisticated dialogue end up in a confusing mess of half-baked horror conventions. It is very definitely a film of two halves and only the first half allows the brilliance of the personnel to shine. Nicholson plays a high-powered publishing editor whose career looks ready for the dustbin when Plummer's conglomerate takes over his firm and erstwhile protege Spader is conniving behind his back (to say nothing about shagging his wife). On a business trip to New England, his car hits an animal; on investigating he finds an injured wolf who bites him before running off. Back in New York he finds his senses becoming sharper and his behaviour more predatory. The wimpish executive prepares to fight back as the wolf in his DNA takes control.

I have always liked Nicholson's screen presence, even in some of his early and rather wooden roles, but I would never place him amongst the highest acting talents, despite his number of Oscar nods and wins. Like many of the best screen actors, he normally plays variations of Jack the Lad, rather than losing himself into any Actors Studio-ish characterisations. However in this film he shows the bestial side of his personality with great cunning. One can see that he understands the gradual changes that are occuring within him, combined with amazement at his new prowess and despair at his lack of control. Pfeiffer too moves from initial indifference to deep infatuation in something of an underwritten and confusing character. In the course of getting even with Spader (and one should ask here why that actor has moved from an interesting screen actor to a television stalwart), he marks his territory by peeing on his suede shoes (!) and biting him, causing Spader also to mutate.

This is where the film begins to go downhill. Although Spader makes up as a swell werewolf, his wolfish behaviour is so far over the top that the viewer's initial inclination is to laugh at his excesses. This builds to an ending where the two leads combine to dispatch the vile Spader, but leaves the viewer at a complete loss to understand what happens next. One has no idea what will be the fate of Nicholson's transformation and the writers then throw in the suggestion that Pfeiffer is a werewolf as well, perhaps the one responsible for Nicholson's own infection, although she has displayed absolutely no wolfish behaviour or symptoms at any point of the action.

I don't consider this comment a spoiler, since the viewer is left to make up his own mind on the basis of some, I think, misplaced visuals. While these may serve to explain the earlier death of Nicholson's unfaithful wife, you can debate until the cows come home which of the characters was actually responsible. They add very little to a movie that has started out as an intresting riff on horror film-making.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958)

There is something immensely gratifying about not only being able to satisfy one's curiosity, but also being more than delighted with the result. In the course of a year I usually manage to delete a number of films from my "would like to see" lists, but too often the eventual viewing produces largely disappointment or at best a reaction of "I'm glad I've seen it finally, but...". In contrast, the above Czech film, also known as "The Deadly Invention", from animator-director Karel Zeman is a landmark of screen imagination and originality.

Although I understand that this film was something of a throwaway staple of television programming in the U.S. back in the '70s, I had never seen it; I listed it on the basis of an intriguing review posted by the mighty critic Pauline Kael (oh, how I miss her!). It is a movie that deserves to be better known and better distributed, since it is difficult to get across in words how unique Zeman's film is. Loosely based on several Verne novels, the storyline has an evil megalomaniac, keen on world domination, kidnapping a naive but brilliant scientist to develop the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Sounds very up-to-date, doesn't it? He also unwittingly takes hostage the scientist's young assistant who must escape and warn the world of its impending doom.

What makes this film so unusual is Zeman's combination of live action, animation, puppets and painted sets -- all held together by a technique that he calls 'Mystimation' -- giving a baffling world of trick visuals and a melee of patterns and design. The action appears to be taking place in a landscape of steel engravings and litnographic images, pulled from the illustrated pages of Verne's novels. It is completely baffling how real people can be so seamlessly incorporated into such an obviously make-believe environment, with its carefully rendered undersea life (including gigantic beautifully rendered fish), intricate pumping machinery, and sprawling castle fortresses. The actors themselves seem somewhat superfluous in comparison with their fantastically-rendered backgrounds, but this is quite possibly intentional. They do, however, manage to get across the spirit of scientific experimentation, nefarious motivations, and bold adventure, so essential to the spirit of Verne's works.

My only small quibble is that the Czech film archive furnishing the print for this showing at the National Film Theatre decided to send an English-dubbed, rather than subtitled, copy. Fortunately this did not spoil the viewing experience, since the dialogue falls into minor significance as one stares happily at the director's amazing creation. One is tempted to rename this movie "The Fabulous Mind of Karel Zeman".

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Most weeks when I scour the schedules I notice several films which I have seen previously, although most often not for some time, and I wonder whether they might deserve a place in my ever-growing collection of films on disc. Too often they are something of a disappointment on this second or third viewing -- and the same may well be true of those currently in my library, but that doesn't stop my reconsidering them. There were three such movies last week and here are my comments:

Houseboat (1958): This Cary Grant starrer has him as a feckless divorced father suddenly lumbered with his three kids on his ex-wife's death. Like "Father Goose" which I have written about previously, the mixture of Grant and troublesome children is not necessarily an ideal combination. However, the USP of this movie is Grant's co-star, the 24-year old Sophia Loren in her first English-language role, playing the spoiled daughter of a famous Italian conductor who gets taken on as a Nanny for the sprogs, despite having no home-making skills whatsoever. To add to their problems, the house Grant was planning to inhabit gets run over by a train (don't ask) and the whole kit and caboodle end up living on a derelict houseboat. While certainly very decorative, Loren was not really much of an actress at this stage of her career and her inexperience next to the debonair Grant makes her character hard to believe. However the film tootles along nicely to the inevitable conclusion, and I am happy to watch Grant do his double-takes until the cows come home.

Whirlpool (1949): I've seen this one by director Otto Preminger from a screenplay by Ben Hecht several times, but never quite remember it. It's the "usual" psychological tale of repressed anxiety, hysteria, kleptomania, hypnotism, and homicide, but never quite takes off. The lovely Gene Tierney plays the troubled wife of psychiatrist Richard Conte, while a very stagey Jose Ferrer is the womanizer who has her under his suggestive spell. He uses her to take the fall for the murder of a dowager who was threatening to expose him and establishes his own unchallengeable alibi by being in hospital recovering from a serious operation. However all is quite apparently not what it seems. None of the cast is really believable enough to carry off the high hokum of the plot and I just couldn't imagine wanting to have this movie on tap, as it were, for subsequent re-visits.

The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946): The great French director Jean Renoir sat out the war in the United States and many pick this film as his greatest achievement during his Hollywood years. I just can't agree since the film is far less successful than Luis Bunuel's 1964 version, and for my money nothing outshines the director's "This Land is Mine (1943) -- if only because it stars the daddy of all screen actors, Charles Laughton. The screenplay was adapted from the French novel by actor Burgess Meredith who also appears as a nutty captain, in tandem with a blonde Paulette Goddard (they were married at the time) as the eponymous chambermaid. She is the cheeky servant in the anti-Republican household of Judith Anderson and Reginald Owen, used as a ploy to attract their sickly son Hurd Hatfield from leaving home, and coveted by the nasty valet Francis Lederer (who let it be said makes a fine villain). While Renoir nicely evokes the feel of French country life of the period, the standard of acting amongst his cast is so very variable that the film has little hope of succeeding. Bunuel's film is, at least in my not so infallible memory, far more sly and subtle in playing out the tale, but perhaps I need to have another look at that one as well.

So you may ask, did I take any copies? It will come as no surprise to learn that yet another Cary Grant film joins my collection -- but when I will watch these 4700-and-growing-odd films is one of life's unanswerable questions.