Rightwing Film Geek

Other films seen at the weekend

crown.jpgTHE IRON CROWN (Alessandro Blasetti, Italy, 1941, 3)
I’ll admit that I saw this on TCM lying on my couch at a pretty late hour, but I can’t imagine that I would have been enthralled by it under any circumstances. It’s a fairy tale about a crown on its way to Rome that does not leave a kingdom until all has been set right in it. Although conceived as a mythological fairy tale, THE IRON CROWN is not half as much fun as any of the ROBIN HOOD movies (OK, maybe it’s as much fun as Kevin Costner’s PRINCE OF THIEVES, but no more). Massimo Girotti (I think) is very stiff and has no charm in him (at least here). People rave about how lavish and spectacular it looks, but the black-and-white photography hit me as dark and muggy, and lit in too low a key for this kind of fantasy. Too much of the film (in some places, every other shot) is taken up by exposition using fairy-tale book intertitles and the shots themselves are too quickly edited to have much impact. It’s just not a very good movie.

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TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (Jacques Becker, France, 1954, 8 )

Several postwar French crime-thrillers have gotten theatrical re-releases in these past couple of years. TOUCHEZ (it means DON’T TOUCH THE LOOT) isn’t quite as good as RIFIFI, but is notably better than QUAI DES ORFEVRES and miles ahead of the one it most closely resembles, BOB LE FLAMBEUR. In fact, comparison with BOB makes clear the most obvious thing about a policier flick — you need a charismatic actor in the central role. By “charismatic,” I don’t mean in a “big, grand star” sort of way. In fact, the great Jean Gabin is notable here mostly for his underplaying, his “seen-it-all” cool, his worldliness that never shades into worldweariness, his wisdom. But Gabin has “It” to spare, while Roger Duchesne in BOB acts like someone waiting for Gabin to pass out some of “That.” There is only one big set piece in TOUCHEZ and it’s an exchange, not a heist. In fact, the film opens after the gold heist that gained the loot that is the object of contention. Instead, we get marvelous scenes of everydayness and the kind of things villains do when they’re not being villainous. My favorite sequence is one where Gabin brings his weak right-hand man to his super-secret lair and methodically lays out a spread of biscuits, pate, glasses of wine, forks, and plates. And then Becker shows the two men preparing to spend the night, getting into their pajamas, laying out their beds, brushing their teeth (no, really). The sequence doesn’t move the plot forward in any way, and it really only exists to show the everydayness that binds the two men as friends. But I wish the whole movie were this empty.

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OUT OF TIME (Carl Franklin, USA, 2003, 7)

Again, here’s a crime film that succeeds primarily because a great actor (Denzel Washington in this case) whom we instinctively like inhabits (yes, “inhabits,” not “plays”) the central role. Instead of being about the good side of a criminal like TOUCHEZ, OUT OF TIME is about a good man, a police chief no less, trapped in a web of false appearances (some of them the result of his own lies and thievery) when he has to investigate the death of the married woman with whom he had been having an affair. Oh … and the lead investigator is his estranged wife. If Hitchcock could have ever gotten inside the skin of a policeman, he might have made something like this — a series of hair-breadth escapes from investigators while the flawed central character struggles to solve the crime himself. And digs himself deeper. As for Denzel, this film is a smart move after his Oscar-winning turn in TRAINING DAY. Then, as a cop rotten to the core, he played on his previous image of righteousness to lead us on. Here, while there’s never doubt about his innocence and he’s reverting to something closer to his previous attractive image, the memory of TRAINING DAY makes everything feel different, a bit more threatening. Carl Franklin has made a great movie before (1992’s ONE FALSE MOVE); OUT OF TIME has more the feeling of a vacation film (the Florida Keys locations look really nice) “just” trying to spin an entertaining yarn and make the filmmakers some money. But this is as good as ambition-free commercial American cinema gets.

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DUCK, YOU SUCKER (Sergio Leone, Italy, 1971, 5)

I dunno. Maybe if I’d never seen THE WILD BUNCH. Maybe if James Coburn could play Clint Eastwood better. Maybe if Rod Steiger made a better Eli Wallach. Maybe if Leone had more of the dust, the rocks, the 5 o’clock shadow, the sweat on the faces. Maybe if Leone concentrated more on the mano-a-mano retail killing and less on dynamite, massacres in pits or bombings of trains (yes, I know that’s his point with the opening Mao quote; but it’s not what he’s good at it — again compare the insane climax of THE WILD BUNCH with the parched showdown in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, both great scenes, but indicative of completely different temperaments). Maybe if Leone’s great strength, portraying honor among lone men, fit in better with political material (the weakest scene in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is the one where politics intersects — the attack on the bridge). Maybe if Ennio Morricone had written one of his better scores. Maybe if I just didn’t hold a director as great as Leone to such a high standard. Maybe I’d appreciate more the tense early meeting of Coburn and Steiger. Maybe the prison rescue and the irony of the praise of Steiger would resonate deeper. Maybe I’d remember the faces of the Mexican peasants. Maybe.

# posted by Victor : 2:44 AM

October 21, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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