Archive for The Public Enemy

The ’68 Comeback Special: Banditi A Milano

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by dcairns

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Continuing our trawl (Scout Tafoya & I)  through the unscreened films in competition from the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, a project I share with Scout Tafoya of Apocalypse Now.

BANDITI A MILANO is an obscure polizzi directed by Carlo Lizzani, and it’s (to me, anyway) one of the more surprising selections in the ’68 line-up. Lizzani has some impressive credits (his 1967 spaghetti western REQUIESCANT, aka KILL AND PRAY, featuring PP Pasolini, is highly regarded), but is mainly a genre specialist, and the crime genre is usually not particularly respected at Cannes unless in the hands of the Americans. Lizzani is also one of the few directors from that line-up to be still alive AND working.

The movie begins as a mockumentary, and a not entirely convincing one. Tomas Milian as a youthful police commissioner with a long cigarette holder seems unable to pause convincingly to suggest extemporaneous speech. Then we meet a retired hood who can do that kind of thing brilliantly, and it becomes clear that stylistic consistency isn’t going to be the film’s strength… but then things get interesting…

With a sometimes-handheld look, Lizzani blunders about from anecdote to anecdote, seemingly attempting a kind of MONDO CANE portrait of criminal life in one Italian city. The glimpses into protection rackets etc don’t seem to offer any insights you couldn’t get from THE PUBLIC ENEMY, but the fast movement of the narrative is a compensation. There’s a bit about an aspiring female singer who gets abducted and set on fire, all set to swooning romantic music (by Riz Ortolani), thereby echoing the weird eros-thanatos admixture of the giallo genre. And then Gian Maria Volonte shows up as a bank robber and we settle into a longer story, and things get really quite interesting — (1) because this sweaty, lipless motormouth is a magnetically repulsive presence, tirelessly ranting, each phoneme jabbing like a stubby finger (2) because long stories have more room to engross than short ones and (c) because the very notion of beginning a film with a series of sketches and then lunging with no warning into a more developed storyline is a weird and interesting structural approach. So we award points for originality at least.

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Then there’s an action climax at the one hour mark where VO introduces us to a cluster of civilians going about their separate business, all on a fatal collision course with the latest bank robbery — the novelistic device of sharing future knowledge with the audience is one too rarely used. The movie’s cynicism climaxes in a “happy” ending where justice is seen to be done but nobody in the audience is likely to be satisfied.

Volonte’s media-savvy crook isn’t quite as interesting as his paranoid cop in INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, but it’s a close thing. Likening his gang to the Beatles and Milan to “America in the thirties” — cue cars screeching through streets blasting at each other with tommy guns — he’s the kind of magnetic psychopath who spews out provocative statements he may not even believe, but which do occasionally contain food for thought. Lizzani’s movie is at least good enough to deserve a proper subtitled DVD — it’s the best polizzi I’ve seen, thought admittedly I haven’t enjoyed many examples of that thick-eared genre. Any other Italian cop-show recommendations?

vlcsnap-2013-09-12-13h28m51s77Check out Scout’s previous entry here.

 

Sisters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2013 by dcairns

Spent all of Thursday thinking it was Wednesday and went in to work on Friday thinking it was Friday. Despite not even opening that bottle of vodka I bought. Probably a good thing I didn’t.

Here’s yesterday’s entry in Dwight Frye-days at Limerwrecks, on SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. And so –

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LES ANGES DU PECHE, Robert Bresson’s nunsploitation film? Well, the title, ANGELS OF SIN is a fantastic one — Nigel Wingrove should recycle it for one of his softcore habits-and-tits films. The film itself is something else.

Bresson’s style is still at an early stage of evolution, which means he hadn’t yet eliminated everything he didn’t like, or modified everything he didn’t quite like — the movie is more like a traditional one of the period (1943), albeit a particularly elegant and tasteful one. And it has actors, not models, in the lead roles, including the brittle Jany Holt, who was leading a double life at this time, acting by day and working for the resistance by night. Her sharply-sculpted face, often chic, is here useful to suggest frosty, hard-bitten cynicism.

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She plays a woman framed for a crime she didn’t commit who resolves to kill the man who framed her. Bresson gives her a gun-buying scene to compare with Cagney’s in THE PUBLIC ENEMY or Schwartzenegger’s in THE TERMINATOR. “This is the best. It takes six bullets. Six more in the extra clip. Will that be enough?” Jany replies: “If it isn’t, I’ll come back.” Which fills the mind’s eye with the cold-blooded image of her plugging her betrayer twelve times, noticing some vestigial respiration in the ventilated form, and calmly returning to the store to buy another round, then strolling back and perforating him again. It doesn’t happen that way in reality, of course.

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Meanwhile, Renee Faure, a young novice, has become obsessed with saving Holt’s soul, and invites her to join the convent, which welcomes women with a shady past (the first scene shows the Mother Superior and her cronies planning to collect a parolee from under the nose of her pimp, the whole operation planned like a heist or a military raid–gripping stuff!). Holt moves in to the nunnery as a way of hiding from the law, but resents the way her would-be-rescuer sees her as some kind of personal project. She resolves to destroy Faure rather than be saved by her.

When John Boorman unwisely undertook EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, he said that rather than making a horror movie he wanted to make a theological thriller. Ignoring the fact that Friedkin’s original already is that, at least to an extent. Boorman made a gloriously silly film. When Paul Schrader unwisely undertook the film that, incredibly, wound up entitled DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST, he acknowledged that the first film had powerfully visualized the struggle for a soul (albeit in somewhat corporeal terms).

But Bresson’s film does all that much more simply, without the distraction of pea soup — it’s a really exciting movie, as exciting as PICKPOCKET though less mature in Bresson’s style, and even though I regard the business of marrying Christ with a certain amount of horror, I was able to get into it and see it from the point of view of the sisters. It’s a point of view that sees salvation as more important than life itself, which I always struggle with a bit, but this is one of the more compelling dramatic uses of the idea I’ve seen.

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Cinematographer Philipe Agostini also shot part of Ophuls’ LE PLAISIR, and all of Dassin’s RIFIFI, Carne’s LES PORTES DE LA NUIT, Duvivier’s UN CARNET DU BAL.

Strange to see Bresson so much part of the mainstream at this point. I enjoyed this so much I’m resolved to try LES DAMES DU BOIS DU BOULOGNE without delay.

You can buy it: Angels Of Sin / Les anges du péché / Angels of the Streets (1943) Region 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Compatible [DVD]

Pre-code Unknown

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by dcairns

In which I continue my slow spread across the internet. Picture one of those burning maps you’d get in the opening titles of Hollywood war or western pic: that’s me and the internet.

At The Daily Notebook, I contribute to the ongoing process of capsule-reviewing highlights of New York’s Film Forum pre-code series, along with Gina Telaroli, Ben Sachs, Craig Keller, Glenn Kenny, Zach Campbell and Jaime N. Christley. I’ve tackled THE PUBLIC ENEMY, THREE ON A MATCH (above), RED-HEADED WOMAN and CALL HER SAVAGE.

And at Electric Sheep, I chip in to the round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, with pieces on TROLLHUNTER and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN.

Been viewing a lot of pre-codes lately, because Fiona’s been unwell and pre-codes are perfect when you’re doped up on painkillers. Here are capsules of a few more we ran –

TWO ALONE

This is a really beautiful pre-code pastoral (was that even a thing?) in which unloved foster-child Jean Parker falls from juvie home runaway Tom Brown. Memorable nastiness from the foster family, but the movie isn’t overall about making you want the bad guys to suffer horrendous fates, although some of the time you do. In the end, this tender film satisfies you by rewarding the good characters instead.

Notable for Parker’s nude scene and the sympathetic view of pre-marital sex and extra-marital pregnancy, and taking the side of the despised outlaws over the nominal pillars of the community. Elliot Nugent directs, and it’s interesting to see small-town values being repeatedly trashed in these movies.

THE MATCH KING

We had David Wingrove to dinner with the plan to watch the ne plus ultra of Bad Cinema, Baz Luhrman’s emetic epic AUSTRALIA, but even he, who owns a copy of BOXING HELENA and watched WILD ORCHID four times, couldn’t make it through the antipodean hellscape (it’s like being injected into the mind of a ten-year-old with ADHD), and so a nice 80-minute pre-code seemed the ideal antidote.

Warren William — the starving lion — magnificent scoundrel — king of the pre-codes — the other Great Profile — is a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemer who tries to dominate the world, starting with a humble match factory. He saves the family firm with money borrowed on holdings that don’t exist, which means he’ll always owe more money than he can pay back, “until I own everything in the world, and then I’ll only owe money to myself.” On the way to his inevitable fall, Glenda Farrell, Claire Dodd and Lily Damita become notches on his bedpost. Every now and then the screenwriters have WW do something truly rotten on a personal level, in case we find his massive-scale financial chicanery too endearing. “This is like a primer in capitalism,” our dinner guest remarked, awestruck.

HOT SATURDAY

Our new favourite Nancy Carroll is torn between rich playboy Cary Grant and homespun geologist Randolph Scott. Quite a choice. But meanwhile smalltown gossip threatens her future. Chief slanderer and hottie Lilian Bond makes malice seem almost sexy, and this is a useful rebuttal to Leo McCarey’s claim that he taught Cary Grant everything. Grant is stiff in his Mae West and Sternberg movies, but effective for Leisen and Walsh and, in this case, the less celebrated William A. Seiter.

BIG BROWN EYES

Grant again, paired with blonde Joan Bennett, who’s notably abrasive and snappy under Raoul Walsh’s rambunctious purview. She’s a manicurist-turned-crime-reporter (!), he’s a police detective, and they’re hot on the trail of a ring of burglars, fences and baby-killers. Walter Pidgeon makes an assured snake-in-the-grass, and the accidental assassination of a sleeping tot shows how pre-codes could turn reckless tonal inconsistency into some kind of demented virtue. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy?

ME AND MY GAL

The best and pre-codiest pre-codes overall may be the Warners films, but the Fox films are the rarest, thanks to that library’s largely unexploited status (apart from the legendary Murnau & Borzage at Fox box set). This is Walsh again, and Bennett again (with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t beauty spot) and Spencer Tracy, during that part of his career where he played ostensibly lovable louts rather than patrician paterfamilias types. Here he rises through the police force and into Joan’s arms in a sweet, sassy romance that folds in a crime story and some alcoholic Irish shenanigans. Twice, Bennett’s father turns to the camera and invites us all to have a drink. Another character is paralyzed and communicates by blinking, allowing for some THERESE RAQUIN inspired plot twists, and the weirdest scene is cued by Tracy talking about a movie he just saw, “STRANGE INNERTUBE or something,” which leads to a series of internal monologues by himself and Bennett as they cuddle up on their date. Crazy stuff.

Walsh made a quasi-sequel, SAILOR’S LUCK, which has been getting a lot of attention in New York screenings and on the blogosphere, and which we’ll certainly be watching next.

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