Melon Brando

Dear readers,

Although we all appreciate and revere classic film, sometimes it’s good to poke a little fun at the movies and actors of old. Here’s a little something my friend and I created, parodying the films of the great Marlon Brando. You can read more and watch the “Directors’ Commentary” on my other blog, Time for Levity.

On a side note, a normal review will be posted soon.

-luke

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday, Stay Classic!

Dear readers,

Can you believe that it has been a year since Stay Classic began? From February 2010 ’til the bitterly cold February 2011, I have gotten over 3,500 hits, posted 16 full-length movie reviews, and procrastinated more than anyone I know. If anyone still reads my humble little blog, I promise to you that I will post more reviews, more lists, and more general rambling than ever before!

Please comment! Wish Stay Classic a happy birthday! Feel free to give gifts!

-luke

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Third Man (1949)

The iconic chase scene.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a mystery (or anything, I know). But this last weekend, I saw what I may very well call one of the greatest mystery films ever made. To tell the truth, there were only a handful of pre-1950s mystery/film-noir movies I had seen before this one; and, with the exception of Citizen Kane and a few others, all of them had been made by Alfred Hitchcock. And although I can’t get enough of Hitch, I thought it might be nice to try out some other mysteries.

Normally, I enjoy ’40s mystery/film-noir films and films with political thriller overtones, such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Foreign Correspondent (1941), but I rarely have the urge to watch them multiple times. There are certainly some standout films from this genre, like the ones mentioned above (and Sabotage (1936) and Secret Agent (1936) with Sir John Gielgud), but, at the risk of sounding very rude, there are many that don’t seem very great at all. Good, certainly, and most of them better than what comes out regularly these days. But nothing too terribly special. The Third Man is not that way. It is incredibly watchable. It’s not hackneyed or cliched, not very dated at all. Following are some of the reasons this movie is truly enjoyable.

The actors. The performances in this film are spectacular.

I’ve always liked Joseph Cotten. He seems to me like a somewhat tougher, more callous Joel McCrea. In The Third Man, he plays a moderately alcoholic writer of run-of-the-mill Western novels, and he plays it to perfection. He is suspicious, uneasy, sarcastic, vulnerable.

Then comes the beautiful, exotic, mysterious Alida Valli who plays Anna Schmidt. With a career that spanned nearly 70 years, this woman knew what she was doing. She brings all of the elegance and class she possessed to this role, making a memorable movie human and beautiful.

Trevor Howard, who, rather than being a popular leading man, mainly made his way in movie history as a supporting actor. In The Third Man, he plays Major Calloway, a man of business and of principle. In his job, he must not have emotion or personal involvement; he must be stoic and unshakable, yet understanding and efficient. That’s precisely how Howard plays it.

But the most important actor, perhaps, of this film is one of the greatest geniuses of cinema history: Orson Welles. His character, like Welles himself, is an utter enigma, without certainty or explanation. Without Orson playing this part, the film would perhaps not be a mystery.

The direction. This will be very short, because I’m at a loss for words. Very dynamic, innovative direction by Mr. Reed. He has done an untouchable job. Mystery-movie-makers take note.

The music. Oh, the music. This film boasts what is, in my opinion, the best score EVER in a motion picture. I’d say it’s even better than the score of Chaplin’s Limelight (1950), my other favorite.

It’s odd, certainly, and it seems unfitting to some. But, in my opinion, it’s eerie, brisk, full of mystery, and it reflects the story and the complex emotions of the characters with perfection.

On what is it played? you may ask. Anton Karas played the film’s remarkable theme on a fairly rare (as in, not heard too often nowadays; just making sure Harper understands the context) string instrument called a zither. To me, it’s beyond words. You just have to hear it for yourself. Sorry I couldn’t be more poetic.

The end scene. I judge the greatness of end scenes by their ability to leave me silent in thought, confusion, or shock for at least a minute after the film ends. Some of my favorite end scenes include those of Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Last Year at Marienbad (1961), and The Third Man. The end of Dr. Strangelove caught me off-guard and left me shocked that anyone would dare to end a movie that way. Last Year at Marienbad’s ending, like the rest of the film, confused me more than any other movie ever has. The ending of The Third Man, with the silence of its protagonists, the moving zither music, the emotion… It left me silent. Pondering. Reflecting. Comprehending.

(A Very Brief) Synopsis

(CONTAINS MODERATE SPOILERS)

An American writer of pulp fiction named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) travels to post-war Vienna to visit an old friend, Harry Lime, only to find that Lime has mysteriously died. After some digging, Martins meets his deceased friend’s intimate, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). Together, they begin to investigate what really happened to Harry Lime.

Information

Directed by Carol Reed;

Written by Graham Greene (screenplay), Alexander Korda (story, uncredited), Carol Reed (uncredited), and Orson Welles (uncredited);

Starring Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt, Orson Welles as Harry Lime, and Trevor Howard as Major Calloway;

Produced by Hugh Perceval (associate producer), Carol Reed (producer), Alexander Korda (producer, uncredited), David O. Selznick (producer, uncredited);

Music by Anton Karas.

(Because of copyright issues, the Criterion Collection DVD of this film is now, sadly, out of print. However, as of now, it is available in its entirety for free on YouTube. Watch it there while it lasts. Everyone should be able to see this incredible piece of filmmaking.)

-luke

Happy New Year!

It’s now 2011! I hope everyone has a fantastic year. Here’s a great New Year’s bit from my favorite comedian, Jack Benny.

-luke

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 11:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Mon Oncle (1958)

The charming, pre-modernized streets of France.

In the list of most beautiful comedies, Mon Oncle may very well steal first place. This is simply one of the most imaginative, feel-good films I have ever seen. It is not only a feast of ingenious physical comedy, but it is also a statement against modernization and its overwhelming subsequent effects.

Now, usually, when I watch a comedy, I do not expect an abstract philosophical observation. If I do expect something of that sort, I usually enter the viewing a bit wary. But this satire is brilliantly executed; the statement is wrapped up in good-hearted humor, sublime music, and fantastic set pieces (all of which I’ll explain in detail below).

Jacques Tati, the film’s writer, director, producer, and starring actor, is often regarded as France’s comedy master. An obvious precursor to Rowan Atkinson’s memorable Mr. Bean character, Jacques Tati created the unforgettable Monsieur Hulot: a bumbling, lovable, trench coat-wearing fellow who causes accidental catastrophe as he tries to mold to the ever-changing modern world. After his first feature film, Jour de Fete in 1949 (in which Tati played Francois, not Hulot), the Monsieur Hulot series started in 1953 with Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, and continued with Mon Oncle, PlayTime (1967), and Trafic (1971).

In Mon Oncle, the statement about modernization is instantly evident. The credits appear on signs at a construction site. The sounds of the engines of various construction vehicles are almost unbearably loud and obnoxious–then comes the antithesis. The film switches immediately from the loud, raw atmosphere of the construction site to an quaint, unmolested French neighborhood. The contrast is beautiful and sad; it forces one to realize that, although modernization has led to several inventions that are beneficial to mankind, too much modernist reconstruction can lead to the loss of meaning for existence.

If this was the sole purpose of the movie, it would perhaps be quite a drag. But this is not the case. This statement is not presented in the stark, dramatic form one would expect, but rather in a superbly choreographed comedy of errors. Tati, as Monsieur Hulot, is endearing and hilarious, conducting himself with silent whimsy and subtle naivete. His smile is sweet and sad, especially near the end of the film, and his awkward way of walking is absurd yet irreplaceable. No one can recreate Hulot. Jacques Tati, to put it simply, IS Monsieur Hulot. Inseperable and one.

Now, for the sets. Mon Oncle boasts some of the most brilliant, fantastic set pieces ever made for a film. The only sets I can think of that would rival the Arpel family’s ultra-modern abode are the buildings (made expressly for the film) in Tati’s PlayTime (1967) and the apartment complex in Rear Window (1954). As if this movie marvel wasn’t enough, Hulot’s own apartment building is one of the most beautiful, unbelievable film sets ever made. These are phenomena which mere words cannot effectively describe; they must be seen.

To hear the score of Mon Oncle is to have your heart warmed. The gently plinking piano is soon accompanied by a quintessentially French accordion. The visual partners to this piece are shots of mischievous canines rummaging their way through trashcans (the crashing of the can’s lid is synchronized with the music, and acts as a brief drum solo), and eventually moving from the lovely, unadorned streets of Old France to the coldly modern neighborhoods, where we meet the Arpel family and their neoteric residence.

On a side note…  For those who prefer newer comedy, I will say that the sight gags in Mon Oncle rival those in, say, Airplane (1980) and Hot Shots! (1991). They’re not as blatant, no, but (in my opinion) just as funny.

If you want to feel good, watch this movie. I will warn you, this film does not belong to the “Instant Gratification” class of comedy. The jokes are subtle; the humor is in the whole. That said, it is possibly the most heartwarming movie (to me) that I have ever seen. It helps us to remember that “old-fashioned” is not a dirty word.

Summary

The Arpel family is the epitome of ultra-modern. Their house is a fully automated, avant-garde, highly polished prison–that is, to their son, Gerard. He does not enjoy living in this glimmering steel cage; thus, he spends most of his time with his uncle, Monsieur Hulot, who leads a simpler existence than Gerard’s parents. However, Gerard’s parents believe the naive Hulot to be a bad influence on young Gerard. Thus, they attempt to make Hulot one of their own. Monsieur Arpel gets Hulot a job at his plastic factory, and Madame Arpel hosts a garden party (one of the funniest scenes in film history) in attempts to mold the bumbling Hulot into a person of order and class. After many failed attempts, the Arpels seem to have given up. But Monsieur Hulot may have a more positive effect on them than they’d like to think.

Information

Directed by Jacques Tati;

Written by Jacques Tati (written by), Jacques Lagrange (artistic collaboration), Jean L’Hôte (artistic collaboration);

Starring Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot, Alain Bécourt as Gerard Arpel, Jean-Pierre Zola as Charles Arpel, Adrienne Servantie as Madame Arpel, and Betty Schneider as Betty, Landlord’s Daughter;

Produced by Jacques Tati (producer), Fred Orain (producer, uncredited), Alain Térouanne (associate producer), Louis Dolivet (co-producer);

Music by Alain Romans, Franck Barcellini, Norbert Glanzberg (uncredited).

-luke

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