Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy: The Cure for Modern Day Romantic Comedies

1949, ADAM'S RIB

Although they both had great movie careers outside of their collaboration, it is no secret that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were best when they were paired together. They only made nine movies together, but each one is a unique gem that showcases their chemistry off-screen as well as on. My personal favorite, Adam’s Rib, gives each actor a level playing field and plenty of crackling dialogue to fire at each other. They could make the most mundane scene light up the screen with just their presence. Long story short: they are the best cinematic couple in history. While I acknowledge that nobody will ever be as amazing as Hepburn and Tracy, I must wonder: why is there no modern-day couple that is able to capture this type of chemistry? (AKA I want a new Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy couple in my life…)

This small problem I have actually points to a larger problem in movies today. We are not getting any more romantic comedies. Yes, romantic comedies can be done very poorly, but when they are done right they can be some of the richest movie experiences. I can still remember the first time I watched many of the romantic comedies that are my favorites. I constantly go back and re watch them to revel in the romance and chemistry of the onscreen couple. Simply put I am a big fan of a romantic comedy. The problem of the genre hinges on the chemistry of the main couple. The story, cinematography and even dialogue can be dismissed if you feel the palpable attraction between the two leads. (Although the best romantic comedies have all four in spades) In our modern times, we think that having two hot bodies on-screen is enough to sell a picture. Thus they get an awful reputation that and studios start diverting their money towards more bona fide successes like superheroes. Which leads us to the terrible lack of romantic comedies.

One way to revitalize a flagging genre is to look at what worked in Classic Hollywood. I feel like borrowing from this era always produces the most fruitful results. Classic Hollywood had tons of practice with every kind of movie genre and were forced to get better in order to stay fresh and keep butts in seats. So different producers looked at a secret couple like Hepburn and Tracy and put them on-screen together time and time again to watch them fill the screen with their love for each other. A modern-day couple could do the same thing. Producers need to find an actor couple that are willing to work with each other and give them space to show what their relationship is about. Of course this needs to be backed with great dialogue and a structured story line in order to be truly great, but I think this can be pulled off. I think this strategy, if done right, can lead to some sweet and interesting romantic comedies. It will help revitalize the genre and give it some sort of right to existence. It wont be a cure-all to the many issues plaguing the stigma of romantic comedies today, but it will sure help.

If you want to study how a true couple interacts with each other, watch all nine Hepburn-Tracy collaborations. However I know that you don’t have all of the time in the world to watch movie like I do. So here are some of my favorites: Adam’s Rib, Desk Set, Woman of the Year, and Pat and Mike. All of these show the two great actors at their best.

If you have any suggestions on who would be the best new Hepburn and Tracy, please feel free to leave a comment below. All of the high-powered producers who read this blog (of which there are a million) will thank you for making their job easy.

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New Indie Thursday: Haute Cuisine

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I love food. I know that is a ridiculous thing to say, but I do. I love food so much that I spend an inordinate amount of time online looking at food porn which is just shots of amazing food delicacies (i.e. a really tasty looking burger). Therefore I have a soft spot for movies that showcase the art of food preparation. Haute Cuisine is the latest movie to be about a super star chef who makes amazing food.

Hortense is a French chef living a quiet life on a truffle farm. One day a private car comes to pick her up. They take her to Paris and finally to the residence of the President. The old President has appointed her the position of private chef, the first woman to ascend to that position. She cooks rustic dishes with hand-picked produce. She is assisted by a young pastry chef who makes exquisite desserts. The President is very fond of her and her food and they have long talk about old-fashioned dishes. This elicits jealousy among the other chefs in the structure. They want her gone and so does the rest of President’s staff once it is found out he is in ill-health and must watch everything that he eats. Feeling oppressed by the sanctions and purposely sabotaged by the other chefs, she chooses to resign instead of endure the torture. She then gets an assignment to become the residence chef for a French delegation in Antarctica. She wants to leave her famous past behind her.

The plot doesn’t matter a whole lot. You came for the food preparation and you will get tons of it. She is framed in a picturesque French kitchen (with copper pans hanging from the walls and low sunlight shining through the windows) for most of the action and all it does is highlight how great of a cook this person is and you are not. I will never be able to cook the great dishes she cooks as she recites the recipes to herself. This makes this film an escapist fantasy. I will never be as good as Hortense nor will I ever get to taste her food, but I can watch her make it.

The only fully sketched character in the film is Hortense. Everyone else seems to be a copy of a personality type. We  got the angry misogynistic male chef, the warm older president, the intrepid reporter, and the bright-eyed youngsters who look to Hortense for everything. Each type is exactly what you think they would be at any given time. Hortense, however, is a complex and surprising character. She is strong-willed, willing to stand up to the mostly male establishment with her simple jabs, and enthusiastic about her job. An example of her character is her explanation as to why she decided to join an all male crew in Antarctica. She said simply that it was good money and she can use it to buy a truffle farm. She gives no grandstanding speeches about the inequality of males and females in this world, which she would be fair to do. Instead her answer is simple and direct, yet the underlining message is: Fuck You, I can cook where I want to cook. That is the ultimate strong woman statement. Exuding feminine power without having to say it out loud. Go lady chefs!

Netflix Graveyard: The Flame of New Orleans

Poster - Flame of New Orleans, The_02

Here we go again, loyal followers. I am about to fawn all over Marlene Dietrich once more. I just can’t help it she is so amazing…. I might also just be working my way through a Marlene Dietrich box set… But don’t tell anyone.

The current installment of Marlene Dietrich porn is The Flame of New Orleans. This time Dietrich is a penniless countess who finds herself in New Orleans trying to find a husband that would be willing to reconcile her debts. She find what she is looking for in a rich banker who has fallen head over heels from the moment they met. I guess he just cannot resist those banana curls piled sky high on top of her head. Things are going great until this countess meets a sea captain with a pet monkey. This sea captain is down on his luck and about to loose his ship if he doesn’t come up with the money for a debt he incurred from the banker. In other words, this sea captain is the opposite of the banker, but the countess falls in love with him, nonetheless. Her heart tells her to run off with the sea captain, but her brain says to marry the banker. This manifests itself in her pretending to have a cousin that looks exactly like her that so she can have her cake and eat it to. The banker offers the sea captain a deal: in exchange for the erasure of his debts, he is to get this cousin out of New Orleans. This of course complicates things for the countess. She cannot go back on her word and actions by saying it was all a joke, but she also doesn’t want to get shipped off with the sea captain on accident. Whatever will she do?

To be honest this is a boring storyline with non-charismatic love interests. But it doesn’t matter because Marlene Dietrich is wonderful… like always. She is able to transform herself in one scene from the countess to her doppelganger without the aid of significant physical changes. She just straightens her bangs and hunches over: bam completely different person. It did take me a moment to realize that it was Marlene Dietrich still on the screen. Just a moment though… Dietrich’s performance is really the only reason to watch this film. The script is unexceptional, the two male leads are boring and nothing more than copies of a copy, and the depiction of mid 1800s New Orleans is hardly authentic, especially when it comes to the black slaves. However, Dietrich shines in almost everything she does. So that is hardly saying anything about this movie.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: The Pornographers

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The protagonist of this film makes two pornography pictures a day. He does it to support his adopted family, but there seems to be something else below the surface that drives him. There are several scenes where he philosophizes his profession, talking about how he is giving an outlet to an oppressed population. This may seem like a ridiculous justification, but it comes off as earnest in a world where the elder woman is obsessed with a carp fish whose dead husband’s spirit is caught in. The Pornographers is a strange morality tale about a man’s obsession with making art in the porno world. It also is one of Shohei Imamura’s greatest films.

Mr. Ogata lives with a woman who was once his landlady. She is suffering from a mysterious illness and wants to give the family business over to Mr. Ogata as a token of his affection. However she cannot shake the feeling that her dead husband, reincarnated into a carp fish, would disapprove. Her son vocally does because it takes affection away from him. The daughter is more intrigued by Mr. Ogata then vengeful for taking away her mother. Mr. Ogata spends his days making pornographic films and pimping on the side. He lusts after the daughter and she coyly plays with him. Complications ensue after the mafia learns about his porn outfit, he gets busted by the police, the landlady dies, and the daughter rebuffs him even after she marries him. He spends the rest of his days perfecting a sex doll modeled after the daughter.

Although this might seem to be a drama in the way of Ozu, it is actually a black comedy with a tragic figure at the center of the narrative. Mr. Ogata’s visions and ideas are taken with a grain of salt and his actions directly contradict what his supposed ideals. In one scene, Ogata is shooting a porn with an older man and a very young girl in a school uniform. The girl is unwilling to follow instructs. When Ogata asks the older man if she is deaf, he replies that she is just slow (read: mentally handicapped) and gives her a lollipop to make her more complacent. She then calls him father. So without Ogata’s knowledge he is now stuck in a situation where an older man is about to have sex with his mentally disabled daughter. He is disgusted by this but sees no irony in a few scenes later, he lusts after the daughter of the landlady, whom he had married. There are several scenes like this and this is what makes the film so great. Imamura does not let his protagonist off easily at any point. He pushes this man to every extreme possible until he breaks under the pressure. None of the characters are without flaws and they are shown without polish.

Voyeurism is an important aspect of pornography as well as in the cinema. Imamura shoots scenes as if we are peeping into a window or behind a curtain in order to give the illusion of voyeurism. This is an inspired choice that allows us to see the action from a non-traditional perspective. At one point we watch intimate moments from the reincarnated carp which leads a sense of naughtiness to the scene that shooting it straight on would leave out. Not only is the landlady overtly going against her late husband’s wishes that she never love again but she also believes that this carp we are seeing the action through is actually her late husband.

The Pornographers is a nuanced potrayal of what people will do to make money and keep ahead.

Close-Up

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When a Westerner thinks of Iran, they usually think of oppression and religious zealotry. What we don’t think about is the rich and vibrant artistic history that is still able to peek its head out every once in a while from underneath the dictator’s shadow. Film is one medium in which artistic people can express themselves in Iran. Most films coming out of Iran are strictly regulated and combed through to find any anti-Iran messages. In order to skirt around this, most filmmakers use children as their main protagonists. Seeing through a child’s eyes can allow the filmmaker to make allusions to the situations that normal citizens of Iran face without telling everyone outright. The most famous examples of these types of movies are the Cannes D’Or Winner The White Balloon and Children of Heaven. These movies are guaranteed to play big international festivals and become art house favorites while also slipping past the censors of this harsh government. Abbas Kiarostami started out making films about children, but moved quickly beyond this. He was not interested in the naturalistic and understated world that children stories necessitate. He also was not interested in big action films either. Instead he was interested in more Godardian questions. What makes cinema rich and powerful? Why do individuals use other individuals to accomplish their own needs? He answers both of these questions in unexpected ways in one of his first break out movies on the international stage: Close-Up.

Close-Up is a combination documentary and fictional drama using non-actors. The story is simple, but the execution is where it gets complicated. A man was caught impersonating a famous Iranian director for this well to do family. Although he did take a small amount of money from him, his real motivation was just to become something he is not. He induces the family into starting rehearsals for a movie he wanted to make about them. The family’s son was also really into cinema and was excited to finally become a part of something that he normally would not get to do. This family only finds out after they congratulated him on a prize he had won at an Italian film festival that he was not aware of despite the article saying that he sent a letter of thanks. The patriarch files a report with the police and the man is sent to jail. This is where Kiarostami gets involved. He hears about this story from a magazine article he read and immediately becomes interested in it. He travels to meet this man in jail and get him to explain why he did what he did. Once the complaint is dropped by the family and this man is allowed to go free, he convinces the family to reenact the events that transpired. Thus what we are seeing on the screen isn’t quite real, but what this family remembers to be real.

During the court room scene, the man accused tries to explain why he did it. He explains his penchant for art and creating but also his lack of funds and know how to get anything done. The son of the family echoes this same sentiment earlier in the film. They both want to be a part of the film world of Iran but have no concept of how to achieve these dreams. I think this is what drew Kiarostami to the subject matter. He had the same ideas and wants but he was lucky enough to receive the education and the chances to become what these two people will probably never become. Instead they are doomed to poverty or traditional work in order to earn money. Kiarostami gave these people a chance to shine, if only for a little bit. They were allowed to act, and become a part of film history. I think this is what is most heartwarming about this film. The desperate need that all of these people want to make art and become famous is fulfilled, if only temporarily.

Cinephilia as a Disease

Film Title: Inglourious Basterds

Recently I went to a doctor and discovered that I have a disease. This disease is has no cure and is terminal. I have… cinephilia. The only treatment is a regular and sometimes obsessive dose of watching films. The doctor says it is very common in mid-twenties loafer types who decide to write down their feelings about the future of film or how the only great mustaches are handle bar ones that Chuck Norris rocks. She says that I will do nothing for the rest of my years but annoy my family members, lovers, and friends with odd allusions to Ozu shots or Bette Davis lines. I am doomed to live a life where I am not afraid to offend someone by telling that their favorite movie sucks and tell them line by line as to why it does. Side effects include: long lists, encyclopedic knowledge of every major modern filmmaker including what most critics think of their filmographies, and long long hours sitting in a dark room with the sound turned way up watching images flicker past me.

When I was younger, I looked up to a couple of people. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Quentin Tarantino. I found out pretty quickly that I had absolutely no musical talent, so I could never be like my first two idols. But I did really enjoy films. There is an anecdotal story that floats around Tarantino that I latched onto pretty quickly. When he was younger, he worked in a video store. Every chance he got, he would slip in the back and watch the tapes people were returning as he rewound them. He would sit there for hours and just watch movies. He attributed his understanding of structure, plot and filmmaking in general to those long hours in the back of a video store. When I heard this story, I thought “Wow. I could do that.” From then on, I would steal my parent’s membership to the local video store and spend hours wondering the halls. I would use up a consider the amount of my spending money on being able to watch these movies over and over again. As I discovered foreign language films and prestige films, I began to feel a need to have some sort of direction; someone who could tell me what to see and what to skip. This is where a newer invention came into play. I was in high school at the same time that classic iPods were becoming popular. They were still impossibly expensive at least in our young eyes, but they were also insanely hip, especially among the proto-hipster crowd that I loosely belonged to. All of the serious music addicts had one and I must too. That year for Christmas that was the only thing I asked for and the only thing I got. I was thrilled. I busied myself by converting my cd collection into digital and discovering this thing I had never heard of before, podcasts. Podcasts opened up a new world for me. I listened to audiobooks, history lessons, tons of comedy, and most importantly movie podcasts. One of the first movie podcast I listened to was Filmspotting. Filmspotting taught me how to think about movies and inspired me to seek out the films on their top five lists at the end of the show. I began to make very long lists on yellow legal pads (even now I am strange person because I love to make lists on paper. The act of physically marking something off floors me) of films that I wanted to see. The problem was that my local video store had a very limited selection that was getting more and more limited by the intrusion of another very important innovation in my life, Netflix. My freshman year of college, I bought a Netflix subscription. This was the first monthly bill I ever acquired. (I wish that was the only one I have now…) And it gave me an opportunity to see films that would never have been in my video store. My yellow legal pad list soon became a long and lumbering Netflix queue and I began voraciously consuming movies. I also gained access to a college library section. Ten to twelve different movies a week would quickly become the norm. When I wasn’t watching movies, going to class, working my super easy work-study job or hanging out with my very small group of friends, I was on the internet seeking out more and more movies, learning about famous actors and directors lives and learning how to think about movies. My cinephilia got a hold of me and hasn’t let go ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced movie overload before. There have been whole months where I wouldn’t be able to watch anything new. Those Netflix envelopes would stay unopened on my kitchen counter. I couldn’t read anything more about Sven Nykvist’s use of light in Bergman movies or how this year (enter any year you choose here) has been the worst year for movies. I just couldn’t do it. But then I would feel guilty that I was paying for something that was collecting dust or I would watch a trailer on television that intrigued me (a hard thing for me these days to do, so many trailers and movies that advertise on television are lame) and I would pick up the habit again. One good movie would invigorate me and send me down that rabbit hole once more. I think everyone gets sick of their passions every once in a while and that is normal. But to get sick of something and then return to it again, that is when you know that you were meant to have that passion. Even if it is sick and obsessive like my cinephilia is.

I find endless joy in research and watching movies because they make me happy. I am able to travel in time and space. I am able to see what it was like in Paris in the late fifties or Alaska at the turn of the last century. I am able to get inside someone’s head and live someone else’s life for a couple of hours. I am able to see what it would be like to be a truck driver, a serial killer or a movie actress. I am able to learn things about myself and realize that I am not as different from the people who surround me. I don’t feel so alone when I am immersed in a fantasy world. I am at peace with myself when I watching a movie. For some people reading, listening or making music, or blowing glass gives you this sense of peace. For me it is movies.I am proud to call myself a cinephile. Because I am a sick person.

New Indie Thursday: Spring Breakers

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When Spring Breakers came out last spring, it was instantly controversial. It was too outrageous for sincere fans of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, and it was too sleazy for art house critics. Overall it seemed to have divided households, started civil wars and just ruined our economy… oh wait. It did none of these things, but it did appear on a lot of best of 2013 and worst of 2013 lists, the ultimate gage on just how controversial this movie was to critics and fans. So naturally I was intrigued by a movie I would normally just ignore. (I am not a huge fan of Harmony Korine and I actively hate any pop star celebrities) I was not prepared for what I would find.

Four friends want to make it in time for a rollicking Spring Break in St. Petersburg Florida, but they have no funds. They decide to don neon color ski masks and raid a diner in order to fund their debauchery. They make it to St. Petersburg and realize that it was everything they dreamed it was. Booze, drugs, boys, small bikinis, and montages of scooter rides abound. All the fun comes to a crashing halt once they eventually get busted (in their neon bikinis no doubt) with drugs on them. They cannot afford bail, but a wigger rapper who doubles as a drug dealer named Alien bails them out in order to have fun with them. One by one the girls either slip into the sleazy underworld Alien exists in or goes home on a bus never to come back into the story again. They steal from tourists, kill a few innocents, and sing along to a piano driven cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime.’

This movie felt like a dreamy, hazy movie long montage of debauchery and nothing else. There is little substance here, and very low stakes. But this seems to not worry the director, Harmony Korine, much. He seems content with editing together yet another sequence of Selena Gomez drinking in a neon bikini surrounded by like-minded individuals. Nothing felt earned or based in a movie reality. The girls can literally get away with murder.  This is the textbook example of a mood piece. In order to achieve this, Korine employs a technique I am seeing everywhere in new independent movies (Sleeping Beauty was very guilty of this). He gives the camera a fluid flow that swoops in on a character not really doing much. He softens the edges of the frame and layers on a light jazz piano piece. This gives the impression of everything having a dream like quality, but doesn’t reveal anything about a character or their motivation. In fact he uses this technique so much in this movie, we should dub it the Korine effect. It is overkill. It seems like Korine didn’t want to make a movie at all, just a movie length commercial for neon bikinis. This effect gives no weight to the debauchery around them and numbs us to everything on the screen. No doubt Korine wanted to provoke and scandalize a reaction at every turn, but it fails to make a real impression on me. To sum up: this is a disappointment. I do not see how this movie could have made any best/worst movies of 2013 lists. There was nothing here to care about. I instantly forgot it the moment it was over. Maybe I should stop listening to critics who praise the most over-wrought dreck.

 

Netflix Graveyard: The Devil is a Woman

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It is no secret on this blog that I love Marlene Dietrich. She may not be everybody’s cup of tea but she is mine and I will drink that tea no matter what she is in. But it helps when she is in a movie that is directed by someone who knows what they have. Josef von Sternberg was that director for Marlene. While she produced great stuff with other directors, nothing matches the vibrant sheen of von Sternberg’s work. The Devil is a Woman was their seventh collaboration and they seem to have gotten it just perfect with this one. (There is no suspense here: I love this movie!)

Antonio Galvan is running away from the Spanish government when comes across a Carnivale in small town. He joins the festivities and sees a young woman in a settee, Concha. He is immediately smitten and determines to stay in town until he can see her again. While he is waiting at a cafe, an old friend comes up to him and chastises him for being out in the open. This old friend is Capt. Don Pasqual Costelar (He is called Pasqualito by Concha). Once he realizes it is for Concha, he tells the story about how he fell in love her long ago and it ruined his reputation. He tells him about her swindling him, running off with various young lovers, and disappearing for long periods of time only to reappear in a night club. He is clearly still smitten with her, but desirous to be rid of her once and for all. Antonio hears this story and gets upset at this woman. He arrives at the appointed time and place, only to berate Concha for the mistreatment of his friend. Of course Concha puts her charm on him and they go to a room in a hotel and drink champagne. While they are in the middle of sexual innuendoing all over the place, Pasqualito shows up raging mad at his friend. He challenges Antonio to a duel the next morning. Once friends, they are now enemies because of some crazy hot chick. This will not end well…

Unlike the last Marlene Dietrich movie I reviewed, this movie is unafraid of Marlene being an outright vamp all of the time. She purrs, squeals, and flutters her fan all while manipulating every single man who comes into her path. The best part of the movie is that she does not deny that she manipulates men. When Antonio chastises her for breaking the heart of his friend, she basically says that he has to be more specific. Marlene dominates every scene she is in with her vivaciousness and her beauty.

The camera was made to look at her and the lighting was made to shine on her. In fact the cinematography and set design were probably the best I have seen in a while. The movie takes place in a small town in Spain and it feels like it does (although it is obviously a sound stage). There is one scene that I particularly like the lighting and framing of. This scene happens after Pasqualito takes advantage of Concha after all of the sexual buildup. He is regretting defiling her like that. This is manifested not by any words, but by the stance of Pasqualito shaded against an open balcony door with rain falling on top of him. It is a striking shot and the moment that you start to feel sorry for Pasqualito for being a fool. This movie is filled with great shots.

Marlene Dietrich is a feminist role model for many reasons, one of which is being able to play this type of character as her own person. She isn’t just a vixen. She is a well-rounded character that loves, feels and will ultimately do the right thing. I’m so happy that she was able to save this film from being lost after the studio destroyed the negative at the request of the Spanish government.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

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When someone thinks of a spy movie, they usually think of James Bond. A super slick ladies man with a closet full of awesome gadgets at his disposal as well as a dry wit and a sharp suit. In reality, spies are just like normal people. The missions they go on and the lives they live are usually very monotonous with only a few sparks of innate tension. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold takes this everyman approach to the spy genre and turns it into a dark and twisted world that shows the harsh effects being in espionage for too long can have.

Alec Leamas is a British spy working the East Germany and West Germany border. When we first see him, he is staking a vigil for one of his East German spies looking to defect. He is anxious and worried. As the night goes on, he becomes more and more tense. The spy must cross at a certain point where there guards for both sides present. Unfortunately for this unnamed spy, his bicycle could not outrun the East German bullets fired at him as he inches closer to the border. This rocks Leamas and shows the audience in a quick sequence just how serious this Cold War is. We join Leamas again when he is back on British soil. The boss man that he meets with, Control, expresses a desire for him to stay out in the cold a little bit longer. So he assumes a position as a drunk. He gets a job at a library and meets a young Communist librarian who takes a fancy to him. He falls for her just as his boss contacts him for a secret mission. He is to pretend to defect and feed false information to the East Germans. Things go wrong almost immediately and his girlfriend gets wrapped up in what turns out to be the most important mission of his life. It all culminates in a nice foil to the first scene, but I won’t give it away.

Once I saw Leamas drunkenly buy groceries, I had my doubts as to whether this persona was a put on or rather a result of his harsh years in the espionage trenches. This is a story of a truly depressed and lonely man. He was made lonely by his country and his career only to have both of them abandon him. It seems that he is not even capable of holding a conversation, let alone develop a relationship. It is only after a presumptuous girl who is won out by her curiosity, do you realize that he is actually human and not some morose drunk robot. Richard Burton turns in a great performance as Alec Leamas. He is subtle and understated yet monumental in the feats he is able to accomplish with this character. A particularly good scene involves him get irrationally angry in his local grocery store. One moment he is a sad drunk just wanting to get some food on credit and the next he is lashing out at the grocer and smashing anything he can get his hands on. This accomplishes his goal of getting the attention of the East Germans, but it also gives him a venue to express his pent-up anger. It is a great scene.

This movie is the perfect understated examination of jaded espionage. If you ever wanted to see a cut and dry picture as to why the Cold War should never have happened, watch this movie. You will see just how much damage has been done to the fighters of this war without any overt bloodshed or battles.

Masques

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Most of the French New Wave directors were influenced by one classic Hollywood director: Alfred Hitchcock. They worshiped at his tense thriller altar, creating books, intellectual studies and homages to his famous films. Almost every French New Wave director has a film in their filmography that could be said to have drawn off of the Hitch’s influence. One director from this elite sect of directors seemed to have created filmic sacrifices to the great god Hitchcock. That director was Claude Chabrol. Although he made other kinds of movies, almost every thriller he did was greatly influenced by this man. No more apparent is this but in Masques, one of his later period thriller. But did Chabrol do a better job than Hitchcock would have done in the same circumstances? I guess we shall find out.

Christian Legagneur (Philippe Noiret) is a famous game show host. He hosts a show where older people show off their talents in order to win prizes. He is warm and engaging on it. And he is insanely rich. A scrappy young reporter is assigned the task to write a book about his life.  Legagneur invites this young reporter, Roland Wolf, to his country estate where they can “work” in peace. Almost immediately Wolf is curious and suspicious about the goings on in this odd home. Legagneur is taking care of an invalid daughter of one his dead best friends. She happens to also be an heir to a fabulous fortune that was put into an account with both of their names on it. As Wolf starts his assigned project, it becomes apparent that Legagneur is not good at ruminating for long periods on his life. He always seems to be off doing something else. Thus he leaves Wolf alone to investigate a side project of his. You see Wolf isn’t who he says he is. He is in fact the brother of a vixen who had disappeared from the Legagneur estate a couple of months ago. Legagneur claimed that she and his invalid ward, Catherine, had a falling out and she had left to act in some provincial town, never to be heard from again. Wolf does not buy this excuse and starts to find little clues as to what his sister’s fate was. He also falls in love with Catherine only to realize that Legagneur has a strange fascination with keeping her sick. As Wolf unravels the mysteries lurking in this country estate, it becomes apparent Legagneur is not really who people think he is.

This movie wears several Hitchcockian tropes on its sleeves. The reversal of character, the red herring of completing a book, a couple thrown into the proceedings but nothing more than comic relief, the forbidden and sudden romance and craftiness of the villain all scream out Hitchcock. But there was a reason that Hitchcock was such a master: he is easy to copy, hard to copy right. This movie feels like a copy of a copy put somewhere to die. The only thing that makes it bearable to watch is Philippe Noiret who puts in a complicated and nuanced performance of this game show host. Almost everything cannot escape its blandness nor the creeping feeling that I should be watching Hitchcock instead.