Rightwing Film Geek

Greene Day

blacklegion.jpgHopefully, this won’t be too much of a regular feature, because the day after I put up my Graham Greene post, I read his review of BLACK LEGION and was absolutely floored. The film (Greene accurately calls it “intelligent and exciting, if rather earnest”) stars Humphrey Bogart as a man who loses his job to a foreigner and so joins a group that’s about equal parts American Nazis and the KKK (this is 1936). Anyway, here is Greene on one of the film’s strengths.

It is an intelligent film because the director and script-writer know where the real horror lies. The real horror is not in the black robes and skull emblems, but in the knowledge that these hide the weak and commonplace faces you have met over the counter and minding the next machine. The horror is not in the climax when Taylor shoots his friend dead, but in the earlier moment before the glass when he poses romantically with his first gun; not in the floggings and burnings but in the immature question at the inaugural meeting “if we join up, don’t we get a uniform or something?”, in the secret accounts read to the Managing Director: so much from the sale of uniforms and regalia, so much from the officers’ commissions, so much from revolvers at wholesale rates, total profits for the months, $221,049, 15 cents.

Keep in mind … not only is Greene writing 25 years before Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” in Eichmann in Jerusalem … he is writing a half-decade before Eichmann committed his crimes. Talk about prescient.

January 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The start of an affair

greene.jpgA few weeks ago, I bought a book of film-criticism by a man, a famous literary figure, whom I’d heard had done film criticism (and later worked as a film writer), but never read any of it. It’s a single-volume hardback, first US printing, of “Graham Greene on Film,” which collects all (or nearly all) of the film reviews Greene wrote for the London Spectator from 1935 to 1940.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough — I bought it at a used book store and it’s available in several forms at Amazon; even the particular volume I got is available used from outside sellers via Amazon.

I exaggerate not when I say that not since my first readings of Pauline Kael 20 years ago (and there is no higher praise than Kael comparisons in Victorspeak), have I read a critic with whom I felt so simpatico, or felt so envious of. Whose sensibility seemed so tapped into mine. That’s not a coincidence — I really think Kael and Greene had a great affinity, at least in their critical sensibilities despite their surface differences (British-vs.-American, waveringly devout Catholic-vs.-secular Jew, dry-vs.-galloping senses of humor, sorta-left Tory-vs.-populist liberal, etc.)

Though the affinity doesn’t end with it, it does begin with the fact that both Greene and Kael wrote personally in their own voice, confident of their own judgments, reflected in each critic’s constant use of the first-person plural and the second person, indicating that the reader is expected to be in intimate communion with the critic, addressing you personally, as one of us. “The story doesn’t concern you too closely, so that you can leave the theater feeling fine and sad, as if your human nature had been paid a very pretty compliment. You have had a taste between [the newsreel] and [the cartoon] of the Soul, Love, the Point of Honor before the lights go on.” Which of the two wrote that?

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January 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments