Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Apache Drums (2021 restoration Universal Pictures)

Hugo Fregonese: Apache Drums (US 1951) avec Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally Barr) et Willard Parker (Joe Madden).

Quand les tambours s'arrêteront / Kuoleman rummut / Dödstrummorna.
Hugo Fregonese / États-Unis / 1951 / 75 min / DCP / VOSTF
D'après le roman Stand at Spanish Boot de Harry Brown [there seems to be no such novel].
Avec Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker.
La Cinémathèque française : Rétrospective Hugo Fregonese
Ouverture de la rétrospective [announced: en présence de Jacques Lourcelles (sous réserve); Lourcelles could not attend] séance présenté par Jean-François Rauger
E-sous-titres français n.c.
La Cinémathèque française : Salle Henri Langlois, mercredi 29 mars 2023, 20h00 21h15

La Cinémathèque française : "Une petite ville est attaquée par les Mescaleros. Les villageois se réfugient dans l'église et résistent aux assauts des Indiens."

"L'un des chefs-d'œuvre de son auteur, qui porte autant la patte de Fregonese – art de la concision, précision du découpage, science du rythme – que celle de Val Lewton, producteur historique de la RKO et des séries B de Jacques Tourneur. Circonscrite dans un petit village d'Arizona, puis confinée dans son église transformée en camp retranché, l'action de ce western aux atours classiques se teinte peu à peu d'une violence baroque : la longue attaque nocturne des Apaches qui clôt le film le fait basculer dans un fantastique spectral, dont John Carpenter s'inspirera lors du tournage d'Assaut

AA: In the Hugo Fregonese retrospective of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna in 2022 I already visited this 2021 restoration of Apache Drums but was too tired to focus.

Apache Drums starts from an Indian viewpoint: the desperation of the Mescalero Apache in the year 1880. Quoting AFI Catalog online:

" An offscreen narrator, presumably a Mescalero Apache, states as the film opens that his people can go neither north nor south: "The hunger wolf chews on our strengths. Soon the warriors will be too weak to fight. Then the white man will thrust us away from the earth, and only the empty sky will know the voices of the Mescalero." "

" This is followed by an onscreen statement: "A hungry people rose to fight. Their fury fell upon settled places where peaceful Americans carried on trade and Welsh miners dug for silver. One of these places was the town of Spanish Boot." The historical Victorio was a Chiricahua Apache leader who led his people from the hated San Carlos Reservation to their homeland, the Black Mountains.

Although Apache Drums then switches to the white man's viewpoint (in the desert mining town Spanish Boot) for the rest of the film and although it is a brutal tale of the Indian wars, it does not belittle or demean the Apache. "Don't underestimate the Apache". There is an interlocutor, an Apache Cavalry scout, Pedro-Peter (Armando Silvestre) who explains the Mescaleros' behaviour during the final night. Sam has mortally wounded their chief Victorio, "prophet, priest and war chief all in one", and now the Indians are getting into a war trance by drinking and music.

" According to the pressbook for the film, Dr. Chris Willowbird, a "noted authority on Indian lore," supervised the recording of the authentic Apache music for the soundtrack. An orchestra of twenty Apache Indians was used for the recording, which was highlighted by an Apache religious chant sung in ceremonial preparation for going into battle. "

" The soundtrack also includes Apache drinking songs and "several warpath numbers." The Los Angeles Examiner reviewer commented that the "Indian drum work, tribal music and primitive customs are particularly well handled in this film, and the sets for once seem real."
" (AFI Catalog online)

Pedro-Peter explains that after the death of Victorio, the Apaches are now set to kill and be killed in a final battle to turn into ghost warriors.

The Indians are ferocious but honorable. When an Indian's oath is questioned, Pedro-Peter answers: "Oath to an Indian means a great deal more than to a white man".

The metaphysical dimension, the presence of death, the sense of the supernatural and the ghost warrior theme link Apache Drums to Val Lewton's legendary cinéfantastique cycle for RKO. Apache Drums was the last film produced by Lewton who had started as David O. Selznick's story editor in the 1930s helping adapt Tolstoy and Dickens for the screen. Lewtonian touches here even include a cat (a kitten is helped to a bowl of milk in the opening sequence). Besides RKO Fantastique it feels also relevant to evoke Universal Horror, since Apache Drums was produced and distributed by Universal.

Hugo Fregonese brings vigorous energy to the low budget Western. His mise-en-scène is dynamic. His first shot in the desert mining town, inside looking out, framed by a door opening to the sun-drenched town square, evokes Ford.

In the beginning we witness the bordertown in transition. The gambler and the dancehall girls are evicted. The middle part takes place in the desert. Fregonese creates a sense of dread in visions of ominous hills. The last third is devoted to the siege in the church.

" The final siege sequence is one of the most remarkable passages in American cinema. ", states Dave Kehr, high praise indeed, as the siege narrative has a formidable cinematic legacy since D. W. Griffith. The siege is of course fundamental in epic narrative in general since Iliad and the Odyssey. Even in such a perspective, Apache Drums excels. 

The situation looks desperate. The threat remains mostly invisible, conveyed by the Apaches' chant. The white people are protected by high walls and exposed by elevated windows. They are also protected by a heavy gate, but finally the Apaches set it on fire. The whites respond by counterfire. They prepare to die and fight to finish. When children panic, Sam and Sally reassure them with magic tricks and a singalong of "Oranges and Lemons". To the Indian chant, they answer with the Welsh march "Men of Harlech".

Technicolor becomes a creative means of expression, culminating in the siege where fearsome Apache warpaint stands out. For Dave Kehr " their bodies painted in primary colors and bathed by matching pinspots" is "an audacious concept that looks forward to the bold stylization of Mario Bava".

In his introduction, Jean-François Rauger also asked us to pay attention to " la robe verte de Coleen Gray ". The green dress does highlight Coleen Gray's beauty.

Apache Drums is a moral tale but not a moralistic one. Betty Careless (Ruthelma Stevens) the dancehall madam is proud of her mission. Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally) is a quintessential Fregonese protagonist: a gambler and a tramp. The Puritan Reverend Griffen (Arthur Shield) is a moralist who undergoes a transformation. The turning-point is when Sam and Griffen fight marauding Apaches in the desert together.

The subtitle of Bologna's Fregonese tribute was "A Drifter's Escape". Fregonese's movies are studies of freedom and its limitations. In Sally Barr (Coleen Gray), Sam meets his match. "It's a kind of pity that I only like bad men and want to make them good", says Sally. Sam wants both Sally and his freedom but cannot have both.

Sam is a tramp and a daredevil, a man in search of himself, in a loose sense in the William S. Hart tradition of the "good bad man". In combat he is fearless, but Sally tells him that "sometimes it's easier to be brave than honest."

Although introduced as a "every man for himself" type, Sam grows into a leader of the community, first in the water search party and finally in the siege where also the question of morale (as in esprit de corps) is dramatized both in matters of a fighting spirit and questions of honesty (preparing to what seems a certain death).

Apache Drums is a B movie with an A spirit. The weakness of the movie is the casting. One could imagine alternatives: Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Joel McCrea (as in The Saddle Tramp)... Apache Drums is often called Fregonese's greatest movie, but I prefer The Raid and Black Tuesday because of the casting.

A perfect, brilliant 4K restoration from 2021 by Universal Pictures in collaboration with The Film Foundation at NBC Universal StudioPost laboratory, from a 35 mm nitrate 3-strip original negative preserved by UCLA.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Soylent Green

Richard Fleischer: Soylent Green (US 1973).

Richard Fleischer: Soylent Green (US 1973) avec Charlton Heston.

Soleil vert / Maailma vuonna 2022 / Världen år 2022.
Richard Fleischer / États-Unis / 1973 / 97 min / 35 mm / VOSTF
D'après le roman Make Room! Make Room! de Harry Harrison.
Avec Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotten.
25 indispensables de la science-fiction
Lundi 27 mar 2023 - 18h30 Salle Henri Langlois
New York, 2022. Les hommes ont épuisé les ressources naturelles. Seul le « soleil vert » parvient à nourrir une population miséreuse qui ignore tout de cet aliment. Accompagné de son fidèle ami, un policier va découvrir au péril de sa vie l'effroyable réalité de cette société inhumaine.

Réalisateur : Richard Fleischer
Assistants réalisateurs : Daniel McCauley, Gene Marum
Scénariste : Stanley R. Greenberg
Auteur de l'oeuvre originale : Harry Harrison d'après le roman "Make Room, Make Room" (1966)
Société de production : MGM - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Producteurs : Walter Seltzer, Russell Thacher
Directeur de la photographie : Richard H. Kline
Ingénieurs du son : Charles M. Wilborn, Harry W. Tetrick
Compositeur de la musique originale : Fred Myrow
Compositeurs de la musique préexistante : Edvard Grieg, Piotr Ilitch Tchaïkovski, Ludwig vanBeethoven
Directeur artistique : Edward C. Carfagno
Décorateur : Robert R. Benton
Costumier : Pat Barto
Maquilleur : Bud Westmore
Monteur : Samuel E. Beetley
Directeur de casting : Joe Canutt
Coordinateur des effets spéciaux : A. J. Lohman
Conseiller technique : Frank R. Bowerman
Interprètes : Charlton Heston (le détective Robert Thorn), Edward G. Robinson (Sol Roth), Leigh Taylor-Young (Shirl), Chuck Connors (Tab Fielding), Paula Kelly (Martha Philipson), Brock Peters (le lieutenant Hatcher), Joseph Cotten (William Simonson), Stephen Young (Gilbert), Roy Jenson (Donovan), Whit Bissell (le gouverneur Santini), Lincoln Kilpatrick (le prêtre), Mike Henry (Kulosik), Leonard Stone (Charles), Tim Herbert (Brady), John Dennis (Wagner), Carlos Romero (le nouveau locataire), Celia Lovsky (la bibliothécaire), Dick Van Patten (l'employé du "Home"), Forrest Wood (un subalterne du "Home"), Faith Quabius (un subalterne du "Home"), Morgan Farley (un "livre"), Belle Mitchell (un "livre"), Cyril Delevanti (un "livre"), John Barclay (un "livre"), Joyce Williams (un "mobilier"), Beverly Gill (un "mobilier"), Cheri Howell (un "mobilier"), Jennifer King (un "mobilier"), Erica Hagen (un "mobilier"), Suesi Eejima (un "mobilier"), Kathy Silva (un "mobilier"), Marion Charles (un "mobilier"), Pat Houtchens (le gardien de l'immeuble obèse), Jane Dulo (Madame Santini), Jan Bradley (la femme au foulard), Joseph Mell, Bern Hoffman, Nora Marlowe, Guy Way

AA: There is special pathos in a prophecy about a future that has already happened. Escape from New York... Blade Runner... Tonight: Soylent Green.

We see landline telephones and cathode ray television sets. But there is such solidity and gravity in the vision and the structure of Soylent Green that anachronisms turn into bonus features.

The greenhouse effect has taken place. The ecocatastrophe has reached the last frontier: the ocean. The ocean is dying, no longer able to produce plankton. Pollution and smog destroy conditions of life. Overpopulation, mass poverty, famine and homelessness are everywhere.

Investigating the murder of the executive William Simonson (Joseph Cotten), detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) gets a look into the way of life of the power elite who live in an existence separate from others.

Simonson had lost his will to live having learned the secret of his Soylent corporation, producing synthetic food wafers. That is why he had to be eliminated, and why he did not resist.
Reportedly Harry Harrison, the author of the novel on which Soylent Green is based, was unhappy that MGM turned his serious dystopia into an action thriller. I can understand that, and yet the themes are so powerful that even the chase action format does not harm them. Retrospectively, the thriller approach connects Soylent Green meaningfully with the great American political thrillers of the 1970s. As does the gritty realism with which the world of the future has been imagined.

Charlton Heston became a superstar incarnating mythic heroes of Antiquity (Moses, Ben-Hur, John the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told). "Charlton Heston is an axiom. He constitutes a tragedy in himself" (Michel Mourlet)*. In the 1960s Heston became a science fiction superstar in the dystopia Planet of the Apes, followed by The Omega Man and Soylent Green. In Soylent Green he is an antihero, a rogue cop, a corrupt and violent police officer, yet with a mission to save the world.

Robert Thorn is a loner, but he lives together with Professor Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), "the Book". Like in Fahrenheit 451, books are getting extinct, hardly being printed anymore, in another sign of the downfall of society. But there is still a small team of ageing book people with access to a library.

Soylent Green was the last movie of Edward G. Robinson whose film career had started in the silent era. His character is proudly Jewish with expressions such as "l'chaim". Robinson was great till the end, his is the heart of the movie. Sol Roth's extraordinary assisted death sequence is the last in which he acted, two months before his own death. Roth's "death movie" is a nature montage on a huge wall-sized screen accompanied with his favourite music (Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, Grieg's Peer Gynt). Thorn and Roth exchange final confessions of love, a redeeming feature in the stony and brutal Thorn.

The wonderful Leigh Taylor-Young is the female lead as the slave woman Shirl. The apartments of the power elite come equipped with live-in concubines such as Shirl. They are called "furniture". The movie (the aspect does not appear in the novel) enters the territory of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but there is no feminist viewpoint, no resistance. The women are soft and submissive. The movie even seems to share patriarchal attitudes of its dystopia in the way the scantily clad women are reduced to objects of visual pleasure. Leigh Taylor-Young would have deserved roles in the league of Offred. Instead, she was cast as a token woman. She interrupted her successful film career for seven years after Soylent Green.

Richard Fleischer was a director of many genres and idioms. He was no stranger to dystopian science fiction: his breakthrough into the big league took place in Jules Verne's 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea, produced by Walt Disney. He discussed slavery unflinchingly in the controversial and pathbreaking Mandingo. The ethos is always the one best summed up by Hegel in his master and slave dialectics: in conditions of slavery, no one is free.

Having recently seen Fleischer's early B movie gem, Armored Car Robbery, it is striking to compare its admirably compact cinematic storytelling with the more loose and relaxed epic mode of Soylent Green. Its most appealing feature is that it provides time to reflect. Although an action movie, the tempo is often tranquil, the opposite of the current ADHD fashion of action cinema. The exception is the opening rapid fire montage covering the history of the world from the 19th century to the year 2022 in fast forward accelerando.

I wrote about Armored Car Robbery that I hesitate to call it a film noir, because there is no transcendent dimension of evil, no cosmic agony and the streets are not dark with something more than night. In Soylent Green, they are.

It was a great pleasure to view the 35 mm print, slightly worn, not quite brilliant, but with juicy and vivid colours intact.

After the screening, the movie seemed to continue on the streets of Paris. Giant garbage heaps pile up, beggars and the homeless inhabit sidewalks, and massive strikes and demonstrations go on since months. An exceptionally big strike action day is announced for tomorrow. Officially it is about the pension reform, but the background is the neoliberal turn of 1971 (the period in which Soylent Green was made), the end of regulation and the start of increasing inequality, accompanied with an awareness of an imminent ecocatastrophe and a quietly growing "no future" ambience.

* "Charlton Heston is an axiom. He constitutes a tragedy in himself, his presence in any film being enough to instil beauty. The pent-up violence expressed by the sombre phosphorescence of his eyes, his eagle’s profile, the imperious arch of his eyebrows, the hard, bitter curve of his lips, the stupendous strength of his torso - this is what he has been given, and what not even the worst of directors can debase. It is in this sense that one can say that Charlton Heston, by his very existence and regardless of the film he is in, provides a more accurate definition of the cinema than films like Hiroshima mon amour or Citizen Kane, films whose aesthetic either ignores or repudiates Charlton Heston. Through him, mise en scène can confront the most intense of conflicts and settle them with the contempt of a god imprisoned, quivering with muted rage.” Michel Mourlet: "Apologie de la violence", Cahiers du Cinéma 107, May 1960.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Mon crime / The Crime Is Mine

François Ozon: Mon crime / The Crime Is Mine (FR 2023) avec Nadia Tereszkiewicz (Madeleine Verdier) et Rebecca Marder (Pauline Mauléon), second row: André Dussollier (M. Bonnard), Isabelle Huppert (Odette Chaumette), Fabrice Luchini (le juge Gustave Rabusset), third row: Édouard Sulpice (André Bonnard), Dany Boon (Palmarède) and Félix Lefebvre (Gilbert Raton).

FR 2023. PC: Mandarin Cinéma, FOZ et Scope Pictures. Distribution: Gaumont. P: Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer.
    D+SC: François Ozon - d'après la pièce de théâtre de Georges Berr et Louis Verneuil (1934). Photographie: Manuel Dacosse - couleur - scope. Décors: Jean Rabasse. Costumes: Pascaline Chavanne. Musique: Philippe Rombi. Montage: Laure Gardette.
    Distribution (selon Wikipédia):
    Nadia Tereszkiewicz : l’actrice Madeleine Verdier
    Rebecca Marder : Pauline Mauléon, l’amie avocate et colocataire de Madeleine
    Isabelle Huppert : Odette Chaumette, actrice célèbre au temps du cinéma muet
    Dany Boon : l’architecte marseillais Palmarède
    Fabrice Luchini : le juge Gustave Rabusset
    André Dussollier : M. Bonnard, patron d'une entreprise de pneumatiques
    Félix Lefebvre : le journaliste Gilbert Raton
    Édouard Sulpice : André Bonnard, le fils de M. Bonnard et petit ami de Madeleine
    Régis Laspalès : l’inspecteur Brun
    Olivier Broche : Léon Trapu, le greffier de Rabusset
    Michel Fau : le procureur Maurice Vrai
    Daniel Prévost : M. Parvot, le Président des Assises
    Evelyne Buyle : l’actrice Simone Bernard
    Myriam Boyer : la concierge Mme Jus
    Franck de Lapersonne : Pistole, le logeur de Madeleine et Pauline
    Jean-Christophe Bouvet : le producteur de théâtre Montferrand
    Suzanne De Baecque : Céleste, la domestique
    Lucia Sanchez : Mme Alvarez
    Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat : Émile Bouchard, admirateur de Simone Bernard
    Dominique Besnehard : le chef de rang du restaurant
    Georges Bécot : la voix du cinéma
Genre : comédie dramatique
Durée : 102 minutes
Dates de sortie : 21 janvier 2023 (Festival Premiers Plans d'Angers) ; 8 mars 2023 (sortie nationale).
Viewed at Pathé Beaugrenelle 6, Paris 15, 26 March 2023.

Synopsis: "In 1930s Paris, Madeleine, a pretty, young, penniless and talentless actress, is accused of murdering a famous producer. Helped by her best friend Pauline, a young unemployed lawyer, she is acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. A new life of fame and success begins, until the truth comes out."  (Unifrance)

AA: François Ozon belongs to the film directors who pursue maximal variety, genre-hopping from film to film. In Mon crime he is on a favourite terrain: the boulevard play. The Ozon layer is perfect.

The film is based on a play from 1934 by Charles Berr and Louis Verneuil, heavyweights of the French stage, also well-known on screen. Among other projects, they collaborated in 25 plays. This one was first filmed in Hollywood in 1937 by Wesley Ruggles for Paramount, starring Carole Lombard, Una Merkel, Fred McMurray and John Barrymore. The Finnish title was Vaalea valehtelijatar [The Blonde Liar], the French one, La folle confession. Another Hollywood adaptation is Cross My Heart (Paramount 1946, directed by John Berry and starring Betty Hutton and Ruth Donnelly).

Ozon has wisely kept his adaptation in the original period, the 1930s. The heart of the movie is the friendship of the two young and poor protagonists. From their small sixth floor apartment window the Eiffel Tower can be glimpsed.

The police finds it dubious that Madeleine and Pauline share a bed, yet there is no room for two beds in the tiny apartment. Madeleine and Pauline are best friends, not lovers, but their shared bath (in more lavish living circumstances) cannot be seen in terms of economy. There is a hint of a lingering desire in Pauline that is left unreciprocated.

Visiting the cinema, Madeleine Verdier (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) and Pauline Mauléon (Rebecca Marder) see Billy Wilder's Mauvaise graine (1934) starring Danielle Darrieux, who acted in Ozon's Huit femmes 68 years later. The most fascinating cinephilic contribution is Isabelle Huppert's character, the silent film diva Odette Chaumette. It is a delicious counterpart to Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. Even here there is a swimming pool and a manslaughter.

François Ozon movies aspire towards the condition of an exquisite pastiche. Everything is brilliant, witty and immaculate in his pâtisserie. Gravity is missing. Yet it cannot be claimed that Ozon is a shallow film-maker with nothing to say.

I am not familiar with the original play or the Hollywood adaptation, but Ozon's version is Me Too relevant in intriguing ways. The manslaughter takes place in the context of a rape attempt by a mighty theatre producer. We learn alternative versions, see untrustworthy flashbacks, and the film ends with a play within a play that may be close to the truth. The film also raises questions about the other side of the coin. Might Madeleine use sex as a currency to pursue her career, and is it her modus operandi.

It's a man's world, but women hold their own with bewildering manoeuvres. In the Hollywood adaptation of the play, the female protagonist was a pathological liar. Here, Madeleine is a talented actress, suspected of mounting excellent performances even in the courtroom.

This is my first encounter with Nadia Tereszkiewicz, a 26 year old French actress of Finnish and Polish lineage, already in her eleventh role in a feature film. Her personality is original and assured, firmly grounded yet able to convey a dazzling movie-movie fantasy. Young women benefit from beauty, but the poise of Tereszkiewicz indicates more. She won the Best Female Newcomer Award at the 2023 Césars, for Forever Young / Les Amandiers, which I now need to see. I thank Kalle Kinnunen for alerting me with his feature article on Tereszkiewicz in Helsingin Sanomat, 20 March 2023. May Tereszkiewicz live and prosper until the age of 100 like Darrieux.

Since the beginning, films have drawn from the boulevard theatre, from Max Linder, René Clair, Sacha Guitry and Jean Renoir to Alain Resnais.

For Ozon, the world is a stage, including the scene of the crime, to which he returns repeatedly, in the finale as a re-enactment. He loves theatricality, both obligatory scènes à faire and surprising coups de théâtre. He loves actors. He loves women. He loves the mysteries of appearance, performance and make-believe.

From a concoction of crime and comedy, kitsch and wit, Ozon stages a celebration to the boulevard theatre.


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Walad min al janna / Boy from Heaven / Conspiracy in Cairo

Tarik Saleh: صبي من الجنة / Walad min al janna / Boy from Heaven / Conspiracy in Cairo (SE/FR/FI/DK 2022) with Fares Fares (Ibrahim) and Tawfeek Barhom (Adam).

صبي من الجنة [meaning literally: Boy from Heaven] / Salaliitto Kairossa / Boy from Heaven (Sweden) / La Conspiration du Caire.
    SE/FR/FI/DK © 2022. P: Atmo / Memento Production / Bufo. Co-P: Film i Väst / Arte France Cinéma / Sveriges Television / Mikael Ahlström Films / Haymaker / Post Control / Final Cut For Real. P: Kristina Åberg, Fredrik Zander (Atmo). Co-P: Bufo (Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff); Post Control (Toni Valla), Memento Production, Final Cut for Real
    D+SC: Tarik Saleh. Cin: Pierre Aïm - colour - 2,39:1 scope. AD: Roger Rosenberg. Cost: Denise Östholm. Makeup: Pia Cornelius. M: Krister Linder. S: Fredrik Jonsäter, Pontus Borg. ED: Theis Schmidt.
    C: Tawfeek Barhom (Adam), Fares Fares (Ibrahim), Sherwan Haji (Soliman), Mohammad Bakri (General Al Sakran), Makram J. Khoury (Sheik Negm), Mehdi Dehbi (Zizo).
    Language: Arabic.
    Locations: Cairo, Istanbul, Gothenburg.
    120 min
    Festival premiere: 20 May 2022 Cannes Film Festival - Prix du scénario - Prix François-Chalais.
    French release: 26 Oct 2022.
    Swedish release: 18 Nov 2022.
    Guldbaggen 2023: best screenplay.
    Finnish festival premiere: 29 March 2023 Night Visions.
    Finnish release: 6 April 2023, released by B-Plan Distribution.
    Sous-titres français: Françoise Monier & / Hiventy.
    Viewed at L'Épée de Bois 2, Cinéma Art & Essai, 100 rue Mouffetard, M° Censier - Daubenton, Paris 5, 25 Nov 2023.

Synopsis from Wikipédia: "Adam est fils d'un simple pêcheur. Il est admis à l'université al-Azhar au Caire, institution sunnite par excellence. Le jour de la rentrée, le grand imam de la mosquée Al-Azhar, plus haute autorité de l'islam sunnite en Égypte, meurt, presque devant les étudiants. Commence alors une guerre sans pitié pour lui trouver un successeur."

"Le pouvoir politique égyptien veut absolument éviter le choix d'un imam proche des Frères Musulmans et imposer un candidat qui lui convienne. Le colonel Ibrahim de la sûreté d’État se voit confier la mission d'orienter l'élection. Pour agir au sein de la prestigieuse institution, il recourt à l'aide d'étudiants qu'il appelle ses "anges". Zizo, l'étudiant avec lequel il travaille, est inquiet pour sa sécurité et souhaite interrompre sa collaboration avec Ibrahim. Il se rapproche alors d'Adam et gagne sa confiance, car il souhaite le proposer à Ibrahim pour le remplacer."

"Une nuit, Zizo est assassiné sous les yeux d'Adam. Ibrahim se voit confier l'enquête sur son décès. Il convainc Adam de collaborer avec lui en lui promettant le financement d'une opération qui doit sauver la vie de son père. Il ordonne à Adam de se rapprocher et d'espionner des étudiants proches des Frères Musulmans."

"Le Cheikh Ngem, qui est aveugle et charismatique, et est considéré comme un candidat tout à fait crédible pour le poste de grand imam, se présente à la sûreté et s'accuse du meurtre de Zizo, ce qui est évidemment très peu crédible. Il est néanmoins emprisonné. Ibrahim comprend que le Cheikh Ngem sait en fait que Zizo a été assassiné par la sûreté et qu'il compte profiter de son futur procès pour dénoncer les vrais coupables."

"Le colonel Ibrahim s'arrange pour qu'Adam devienne l'assistant du cheikh Al Durani, un candidat proche des Frères Musulmans que le pouvoir égyptien ne veut pas voir obtenir la direction de l'institution. Grâce aux informations transmises par Adam, Ibrahim découvre que le cheikh a contracté un mariage secret avec une très jeune fille avec qui il a eu un enfant, et Adam et lui se servent de cette information pour l'écarter de la compétition."

"Finalement, le candidat élu au poste de grand imam sera le cheikh Omar Beblawi, un proche du pouvoir égyptien. Le supérieur d'Ibrahim décide alors qu'Adam est désormais inutile, et demande à Ibrahim de l'arrêter pour qu'il soit accusé du meurtre de Zizo et condamné à mort. Ibrahim refuse de jouer le jeu, mais Adam est tout de même arrêté. Ibrahim va alors voir le chef de la Sureté et le convainc qu'Adam peut convaincre le cheikh Ngem de renoncer à s'accuser du meurtre de Zizo."

"Adam est finalement libéré et peut retourner dans son village."

"Adam est « témoin pendant tout le temps du film de la guerre que se livrent les pouvoirs politique et religieux, l'un et l'autre voulant imposer son homme lige à la tête de l'institution »"

"Tarik Saleh explique que son scénario a été inspiré par les conflits religieux qu'il a découverts dans le roman d'Umberto Eco, Le Nom de la rose. Le personnage d'Adam peut également être rapproché du propre grand-père de Tarik Saleh, qui était originaire d'un petit village du delta du Nil et a étudié à Al-Azhar alors que sa famille était analphabète
" (Wikipédia)

AA: A political thriller of the highest order by Tarik Saleh.

I am reminded of the best American political thrillers of the 1970s, as well as the great tradition of Italian political cinema.

But Tarik Saleh's film, deeply rooted in the culture of Islam, is an original and pathbreaking contribution.

Without indulging in explicit brutality, Conspiracy in Cairo conveys chillingly the reign of terror exercised by the Egyptian security police.

Essentially, Conspiracy in Cairo is a mind game, a battle of wits. The political power elite, the religious hierarchy and the security police are the main players. The Muslim Brotherhood haunts as a shadow conspiracy, against which another ingenious conspiracy must be mounted, followed by yet another one, which puts in danger the life of the rookie student Adam (Tawfeek Barhom).

A master detective, crucial in solving the conspiracy and finding a solution, is one of the greatest spirits in the community, the blind sheik Ngem (Makram J. Khoury). "Close your eyes to see the truth".

University of Bologna (founded in 1088) is generally called the oldest in the world, but Al-Azhar University (970), the main setting of Conspiracy in Cairo, is older.

Tarik Saleh was inspired by the medievalist Umberto Eco, a professor in Bologna, whose novel The Name of the Rose was in turn influenced by the works of Leonardo Sciascia, a key source of Italian political thrillers.

With his spiritual strength and religious wisdom, young Adam transcends the devilish intrigue, but the experience leaves him psychically scarred and profoundly disillusioned.

I was thinking about my colleague and friend Matti Salo whose last book was a monograph about the political thriller. He would have been enthusiastic about Tarik Saleh's excellent film.


Thursday, March 23, 2023

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Daniels: Everything Everywhere All At Once / 奇異女俠玩救宇宙 (US 2022) starring Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang.

奇異女俠玩救宇宙 (Cantonese) / 媽的多重宇宙 (Taiwan) / Everything Everywhere All At Once [Finnish title] / Everything Everywhere All At Once [Swedish title] / Everything Everywhere All At Once [French title].
    US © 2022 IAC Films / Gozie AGBO / Year of the Rat. In association with: Ley Line Entertainment. Distr: A24.
    A Film from Daniels. / Un film des Daniels.
    Produced by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Mike Larocca. Producers: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert. Jonathan Wang.
    D+SC: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinart. DP: Larkin Seiple - 1,85:1 - 1,33:1 (some scenes), 2,00:1 (some scenes), 2,39:1 (some scenes) - colour - source format: CFast 2.0 ARRIRAW 2.8K, 3.4K - released as a DCP Digital Cinema Package. PD: Jason Kisvarday. Cost: Shirley Kurata. VFX: Zak Stoltz. ED: Paul Rogers. M (original score): Son Lux. M supervisors: Laruen Marie Milkus & Bruce Gilbert. Casting: Sarah Halley Finn.
    C: Michelle Yeoh (Evelyn Wang), Stephanie Hsu (Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki), Ke Huy Quan (Waymond Wang), James Hong (Gong Gong), Jamie Lee Curtis (Deirdre Beaubeirdra), Tallie Medel (Becky Sregor), Jenny Slate (Big Nose), Harry Shum, Jr. (Chad), Biff Wiff (Rick), Sunita Mani (TV Musical Queen), Aaron Lazar (TV Musical Soldier), Brian Le (Alpha Jumper - Trophy), Andy Le (Alpha Jumper - Bigger Trophy), Neravana Cabral, Chelsey Goldsmith, Craig Henningsen (Security Guards), Anthony Molinari (Police - Confetti), Dan Brown (Police - Salsa), Anthony Nanakornpanom (Police - Luchador), Cara Marie Chooljian (Alpha Jumper - Jogger), Randall Archer (Alpha Jumper - Edgelord), Efka Kvaraciejus (Alpha Jumper - SWAT).
    Characters also include: Alpha RV Officers, Kung Fu Master, Maternity Doctor, Laundromat Police and Raccacoonie Puppetereers.
    Loc: 400 National Way, Simi Valley (IRS Building) - Font's Point, Anza-Borrego State Park, CA (universe of rocks) - San Fernando Majers Coin Laundry - East 7th Street and Mateo Street, LA - Elysian Park, LA - The Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway, LA.
    Languages: English, Mandarin, Cantonese.
    139 min
    Festival premiere: 11 March 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival.
    US premiere: 25 March 2022 (limited), 8 April 2022 (wide).
    Finnish premiere: 29 April 2022, released by Cinemanse.
    French premiere: 31 Aug 2022, released by Pathé Live.
    Academy Awards: 12 March 2023: won seven awards and is the most awarded film of all time.
    VOSTF, sous-titres français: Louis Brisset.
    Viewed at Pathé Beaugrenelle 5, Paris, 23 March 2023.

Press notes: "Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure about an exhausted Chinese American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can't seem to finish her taxes."

IMDb: "A middle-aged Chinese immigrant is swept up into an insane adventure in which she alone can save existence by exploring other universes and connecting with the lives she could have led."

AA: The movie is broken down into three parts: I Everything, II Everywhere and III All At Once.

I thank the Academy for the awards, due to which Everything Everywhere has been rereleased and I get to see it on the screen. The Daniels's film was originally released in Finland soon after the American premiere, but it was impossible for me to catch any of the few screenings in my hometown Lappeenranta.

My first reaction: I am overwhelmed and exhausted. But also impressed by the originality. On the surface Everything Everywhere looks like a hyperactive, ultraviolent action rampage. The Daniels do not respect the classic wisdom of alternating action with contemplation.

Everything Everywhere is a science fiction film about time travel, time reversal, time lapse, multiple reality, alternative universes, and mind fracture. It is also about ADHD, a condition apparently becoming more common and aggravated in an age of digital and virtual existences. Perhaps ADHD is a sign of the times.

The themes are great, and the ways they are dramatized are original: the generation gap (of three generations in a Chinese family in America), the culture shock (of Asians in America), gender identity (the daughter is a Lesbian), existentialism (the sense and authenticity of human existence), the new global pessimism of Generation Z (regarding the survival of humanity in an imminent ecocatastrophe) and a specific Asian pessimism (about Asian American identity).

The film moves hilariously from kitchen sink realism (in the ordinary universe dealing with a laundromat business and a tax declaration) to extraordinary universes in which characters transform into parallel identities and fight each other's superpowers.

The comic sense is unique. A cook's toque hides a raccoon. An image that brings it all together is the Everything Bagel, something in the category of a Black Hole, a threat to the universe.

The range of the imagery is incredible from cosmic visions to videogames, Indian musicals, speaking rocks on a mountain, puppets, Chinese theatre, hot dog fingers, bullet time visions, psychedelia, Jodorowsky, anime and wuxia. Particular movie references include 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ratatouille.

The visionary urge is formidable. The associations are not facile. This is not a cinema of attractions, neither of distractions. There is an underlying sense of urgency and gravity. But the excess of associations leads to a "more is less" experience. It is about being "lost in space" - lost in the space of consciousness and imagination. Endless battles in parallel universes paralyze us from doing something in our regular universe.

The Daniels provide their excellent cast unique challenges in many realities. Michelle Yeoh as the long-suffering matriarch of a multicultural family becomes a subject of visionary blitz montages of transformations.

There is lack of psychological depth and nuance at first. Repetitive and brutal fight sequences follow each other. Towards the end of the second part, the account of the mother-daughter relationship gets more moving, and the whole family romance as well.

Michel Gondry: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (SC: Charlie Kaufman)
Hayao Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke
David Wain & Michael Showalter: Wet Hot American Summer
Chris Smith: American Movie
Juzo Itami: Tampopo
Liu Chia-liang: Drunken Master II (starring Jackie Chan)
Paul Thomas Anderson: Magnolia
Benh Zeitlin: Glory at Sea
Kirsten Lepore: Hi Stranger
Spike Lee: Malcolm X


Friday, March 17, 2023

The Black Whip (2023 étalonnage La Cinémathèque française)

Charles Marquis Warren: The Black Whip (US 1956). Sally Morrow (Angie Dickinson) halts the rapist by gunpoint. She is about to kill him.

Die schwarze Peitsche / Le Fouet noir / Musta ruoska / Den svarta piskan.
    US © 1956 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. PC: Regal Films, Inc. P: Robert Stabler.
    D: Charles Marquis Warren. SC+story: Orville H. Hampton. Cin: Joseph F. Biroc – b&w – RegalScope 2,35:1. Set dresser: G. W. Berntsen / G. W. Bernsten. Makeup: Jack Dusick. Hair: Pat Whiffing / Patti Whiffing. SFX: Louis DeWitt, Jack Rabin. M: Raoul Kraushaar. S: Lloyd D. Wiler. ED: Fred W. Berger. Script supervisor: Richard Chaffee.
    Avec: Hugh Marlowe (Lorn Crawford), Coleen Gray (Jeannie), Adele Mara (Ruthie Dawson), Angie Dickinson (Sally Morrow), Richard Gilden (Dewey Crawford), Paul Richards (John Murdock), John Pickard (Sheriff Persons), Dorothy Schuyler (Delilah Ware), Charles H. Gray (Chick Hainline), Sheb Wooley (Bill Lassater), Strother Martin (Thorny), Harry Landers (Fiddler), Patrick O'Moore (Governor), William Hamel (Constable), Duane Grey / Duane Thorsen (Deputy Floyd), Rush Williams (Jailer Garner), Howard Culver (Dr. Gillette), Sid Curtis (Bartender), Rick Arnold (Black Leg), Robert Garvey (Black Leg), Bill Ward (Black Leg).
    Loc: – Corriganville, Ray Corrigan Ranch, Simi Valley. – Iverson Ranch, Chatsworth. – According to Wikipedia, sets from Gunsmoke were used.
    Filming dates: early Aug--early Sep 1956.
    AFI: 6968 ft>78 min. – Wikipedia: 78 min. – IMDb & Cin. fr.: 81 min.
    US premiere: Dec 1956.
    Banned in Finland in 1957.
    La Cinémathèque française : Fenêtre sur les collections : Le RegalScope.
    Séance présentée par Noémie Jean.
    DCP from La Cinémathèque française, étalonnage en 2023, VOSTF, double sous-titres français / allemand.
    La Cinémathèque française, Salle Jean Epstein, vendredi 17 mar 2023 – 20h15

"April 1867--The war ends.. but leaves behind it derelicts, plunderers, looters and crazed killers that hound the frontier... haunting the night in violent vengeance." (Written prologue)

La Cinémathèque française: "Suspectées d'avoir aidé le chef du gang des Blacklegs à s'évader de prison, quatre entraîneuses de saloon trouvent abri dans une auberge. Les Blacklegs s'y réfugient à leur tour et sèment la terreur."


Beyond the Western Canon. La Cinémathèque française brought us two late 1950s B Westerns, The Black Whip and Ambush at Cimarron Pass, under the banner Le RegalScope. The second golden age of Western movies was nearing its end. A Westerns were transforming into super-Westerns, post-Westerns and meta-Westerns. In low budget westerns like the ones screened tonight, timeless strengths and traditional virtues were sufficient. The films were not necessarily dumb nor naive. Both tonight's films are set in the Western's favoured timeframe – right after the Civil War – and both bring a sense of ache and wisdom to the treatment. Everybody is gun mad after the collective trauma.

Both were produced by Regal Films but financed, copyrighted and released by Twentieth Century-Fox to satisfy B-movie needs in their double bills. Their production belongs to the context of Robert L. Lippert, a "King of the Bs", who financed, produced or masterminded 300 films in 1945–1969, including the first films directed by Samuel Fuller and early genre films by Monte Hellman. The golden age of B westerns was also coming to an end because of the phenomenal supply of television Westerns. To compete with television, the enterprising Lippert sought distinction, for example by filming in scope. The technology was CinemaScope, but because Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to protect its elite trademark, they had to be labelled RegalScope and shot in black and white.


While the Civil War in Ambush in Cimarron Pass is a subtext, The Black Whip is an explicit Civil War western all over just like The Raid, dealing with bandits who refuse to accept that the war is over.

The Black Legs band is an offshoot of Quantrill's Raiders, like Jesse James's gang. The leader is John Murdock (Paul Richards), notorious for his black whip.

A masked woman helps the killer Chick Hainline (Charles H. Gray) to escape from prison. It is clear that the woman must be one of four saloon hostesses, but it is impossible to tell which one, and they are all banished.

When a wagon wheel is broken, the friendly Dewey Crawford (Richard Gilden in his first credited feature film role) of the nearby White Star Inn and stage relay station offers the women refuge. But his brother Lorn (Hugh Marlowe) objects and asks the women to leave because he knows that the Black Legs will follow them.

The trauma burning inside is the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, the most notorious atrocity of Quantrill's Raiders. Jeannie (Coleen Gray) reveals that her family was murdered in it. Lorn, anguished and conflicted, finally confesses that he was the Confederate liaison with Quantrill but withdrew disillusioned from the cause after the massacre.

Charles Marquis Warren was a Hollywood veteran, having started in the early 1930s. Although devoted to motion pictures, he was persuaded by CBS to launch as director and producer Gunsmoke for television, already a sensation as a pathbreaking radio series. It was the second adult tv Western series and grew into the longest-running tv Western series. In 1959 at CBS Warren got involved as producer and director with Rawhide, the sixth longest running American tv Western series.

The distinction of Gunsmoke was evoking true West in terms of brutal realism, as distinct from kiddie stuff. In The Black Whip, the evocation of brutality is unflinching. Warren has talent in dealing with violence, both in scenes of the black whip – and sexual violence and harassment when the Black Legs are let loose on the women.

The mise-en-scène is dynamic, the staging of the action energetic. Like Ambush in Cimarron Pass, The Black Whip is not star-driven, not focused on a main protagonist. The cast grows into a memorable ensemble, each participant is meaningful. After the opening flight of the fugitives, the rest of the film is mostly set inside the White Star Inn.

Hugh Marlowe, a veteran of many classic films, often as a second lead, gets a rare leading role. His Lorn Crawford is a sum of his contradictions, a torn figure seeking redemption.

Warren's account of the saloon women is sympathetic and without hypocrisy. Jeannie (Coleen Gray, the cinema's original Elektra the Electric Woman in Nightmare Alley) stands up against the Black Legs. Sally Morrow (Angie Dickinson, here still a brunette) averts a rape attempt by any means necessary. Ruthie Dawson reveals that she was the one who set Chick Hainline free. The reason: he is her brother. She is played by the veteran Adele Mara, about to embark on a successful television career. Cast with these well-known actresses is Dorothy Schuyler as Delilah Ware, whose two credited theatrical feature films were both directed by Warren.

Strother Martin as the buckboard driver is already memorable in one of his earliest Western parts.

Paul Richards, familiar from Gunsmoke, is monstrously fearsome as the deranged, sadistic John Murdock, who enjoys slashing the kindly Dewey with his cattle whip, permanently disfiguring the youngster's features. Dewey, who may not have seen women very often, is in thrall of the female visitors and acts like a gentleman in protecting them. He casts a longing look when the buckboard leaves the inn on its way back to town. Only Jeannie stays at the inn with Lorn.

The dialogue is brisk and laconic with philosophical comments such as:

– Are you on the run?
– Everyone is

– Loneliness is 95% fear.
Jeannie seems to read Lorn's mind and guide him from his anxiety. Their shared trauma is leading to mutual conclusions.

Shot by one of America's great cinematographers, Joseph F. Biroc, whose career started in 1918 and who shot masterpieces such as Swing Time and It's a Wonderful Life. He shot the first 3D movie Bwana Devil and was Robert Aldrich's favourite DP from World for Ransom till All the Marbles. He shot Samuel Fuller's Run of the Arrow and Forty Guns, but also Blazing Saddles and Airplane II: The Sequel. Biroc shared an Academy Award for The Towering Inferno. From the early 1950s till the late 1980s he was also prolific in television.

The 2023 DCP screened was unrestored, a straight digital scan from a used screening print, joins and all. Well done, conveying Biroc's cinematographic flair impressively.


Ambush at Cimarron Pass

Jodie Copelan: Ambush at Cimarron Pass (US 1958) with Hollywood veteran Irving Bacon as Judge Stanfield and Clint Eastwood as Keith Williams. Clint's first major role in a theatrical feature film. He is third billed.

Le Cri des Apaches / Kuolemansola / Dödspasset.
    États-Unis / © 1958 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. / PC: Regal Films, Inc. P: Herbert E. Mendelson.
    D: Jodie Copelan. SC: Richard G. Taylor & John K. Butler – story: Robert A. Reeds & Robert W. Woods. Cin: John M. Nickolaus, Jr. – b&w – RegalScope 2,35:1. PD: John B. Mansbridge. Makeup: John Chambers. Hair: Fritzy La Bar. Property master: William Sittel. M: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter. S: Harold Hanks, Harry M. Leonard. ED: Carl Pierson. Script supervisor: Joan Eremin.
   Avec: Scott Brady (Sgt. Matt Blake), Margia Dean (Teresa Santos), Clint Eastwood (Keith Williams), Irving Bacon (Judge Stanfield), Frank Gerstle (Capt. Sam Prescott), Ray Boyle / Dirk London (Johnny Willows), Baynes Barron (Corbin, the Gunrunner), William Vaughn (Henry, the Scout), Ken Mayer (Cpl. Schwitzer), John Damler (Pvt. Zach), Keith Richards (Pvt. Lasky), John Frederick / John Merrick (Pvt. Nathan), Raven Grey Eagle (Indian), Desmond Slattery (Cobb), Charles Soldani (Indian).
    Loc: Iverson Ranch, Chatsworth.
    Filming dates: 9 September 1957 (IMDb).
    6543 ft / 1994 m / 73 min / Cin. fr.: 67 min.
    US premiere: 11 Feb 1958.
    Finnish premiere: [8 Aug 1958 (IMDb)] 8 Dec 1961 Tuulensuu, distributor: Elokuvatuotanto Oy (Tenho / Elonet).
    La Cinémathèque française : Fenêtre sur les collections : Le RegalScope.
    Séance présentée par Felicidad Guarda.
    35 mm print from La Cinémathèque française, VOSTF, double surimpression français / arabique.
    La Cinémathèque française, Salle Jean Epstein, vendredi 17 mar 2023 – 18h30

La Cinémathèque française: " Des Yankees et des ex-Confédérés sont forcés de résister ensemble aux attaques des Indiens décidés à récupérer leur dû. Mais ils sont confrontés à la faim, la soif et la chaleur, qui compromettent leur fragile collaboration. "

[last lines] [Sgt. Blake orders the cache of repeating rifles burned to keep them from being captured by Apaches]
Pvt. Zach: We lugged those rifles for a hundred miles... a hundred miles for nothing!
Keith Williams: No, not for nothing. Sometimes you gotta lose before you finally win.

[watchword] Sgt. Matt Blake: A man's gotta take a lot of things he doesn't bargain for, Prescott. Maybe that's what makes him a man. (Quotations from the IMDb.)

AA: Beyond the Western Canon. La Cinémathèque française brought us two late 1950s B Westerns, The Black Whip and Ambush at Cimarron Pass, under the banner Le RegalScope. The second golden age of Western movies was nearing its end. A Westerns were transforming into super-Westerns, post-Westerns and meta-Westerns. In low budget westerns like the ones screened tonight, timeless strengths and traditional virtues were sufficient. The films were not necessarily dumb nor naive. Both tonight's films are set in the Western's favoured timeframe – right after the Civil War – and both bring a sense of ache and wisdom to the treatment. Everybody is gun mad after the collective trauma.

Both were produced by Regal Films but financed, copyrighted and released by Twentieth Century-Fox to satisfy B-movie needs in their double bills. Their production belongs to the context of Robert L. Lippert, a "King of the Bs", who financed, produced or masterminded 300 films in 1945–1969, including the first films directed by Samuel Fuller and early genre films by Monte Hellman. The golden age of B westerns was also coming to an end because of the phenomenal supply of television Westerns. To compete with television, the enterprising Lippert sought distinction, for example by filming in scope. The technology was CinemaScope, but because Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to protect its elite trademark, they had to be labelled RegalScope and shot in black and white.


Many Westerns center on a protagonist star, but Ambush at Cimarron Pass is an ensemble piece. Two hostile teams – the remains of a Seventh Cavalry detail transporting a captured gunrunner (Union) and the last men of a Texas cattle drive (Confederates) – meet on a long voyage in the wilderness towards Fort Revelry and reluctantly join forces to survive Apache threat. To distract them and meanwhile steal their horses, the Apache release Teresa Santos. She is the sole survivor of murder, pillage and rape at her home ranch, which was burned to the ground. The goal of the Apache is to retrieve the gunrunner's shipment of repeating rifles confiscated by the cavalry. The gunrunner and a dubious judge endanger the voyage, Teresa Santos introduces a volatile sexual charge, and the unreconstructed spirit of the Confederates threatens to set the Civil War aflame all over again.

A loose cannon during the voyage is the hotheaded Texas cowboy Keith Williams, a gun happy fanatic Confederate, interpreted by Clint Eastwood in his first major role in a theatrical feature film. Eastwood has supposedly called Ambush at Cimarron Pass probably the lousiest Western ever made. It is not, but Eastwood did not make another theatrical film in five years (the next one was A Fistful of Dollars). "A man's got to know his limitations", the quote from Magnum Force, later became Eastwood's motto. In this movie, Eastwood's range is certainly limited, but he has not discovered his strength, either.

The subtext of the tale is the healing of the wounds of the Civil War. The men of the Union and the Confederates must work and fight together in order to survive the dangerous journey. The coolheaded leader of the Cavalry unit, Sgt. Matt Blake (Scott Brady), refuses to be provoked and carries no grudge against Keith whom he has to discipline in a brutal fight. After Sam Prescott (Frank Gerstle), the leader of the Texans, accepts Matt's authority, the rebels mostly stay in line. The gunrunner Corbin (Baynes Barron) and Judge Stanfield (Irving Bacon) remain traitors and troublemakers who put everybody in danger.

Irving Bacon was a Hollywood veteran actor who had started in the movies in 1923. Ambush at Cimarron Pass was one of the last on a career of 500 film performances. He is memorable as the shifty and shady judge, who may not be a judge after all.

Margia Dean, still with us at age 100, had a long career, having started as a child actor in the 1920s. In Hollywood, her longest continuity was as "Queen of Lippert" in various production setups of Robert L. Lippert, from Shep Comes Home (1948) to Moro Witch Doctor (1964) shot in the Philippines. Among others, she appeared in Sam Fuller's first films and the first Hammer horror film, The Quatermass Xperiment, co-financed by Lippert. Of royal Greek descent, the Miss San Francisco and Miss California of 1939, she is a dignified and exciting leading lady, a convincing survivor in the Wild West.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass was the only film of the editor Jodie Copelan as director. It is hard to discover a directorial viewpoint.

The Cinémathèque française print has joins and scratches but they hardly diminish B movie pleasure.


Sunday, March 12, 2023

Armored Car Robbery

Richard Fleischer: Armored Car Robbery (US 1950). In the finale, LAPD strikes at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport. In the middle, below the wing of the airplane: Charles McGraw (Lt. Jim Cordell).

Ryöstö Los Angelesissa / Jagad av radiopolisen.
Richard Fleischer / États-Unis / 1950 / 67 min / 35mm / VOSTF
Avec Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman.
Séance présentée par Kiyoshi Kurosawa, hosted by Jean-Francois Rauger.
Viewed at the Festival Toute la mémoire du monde 2023, La Cinémathèque française, salle Georges Franju, dimanche 12 mars 2023, 19h00 20h10

Dave Purvis, dangereux criminel, reste inconnu de la police. Il organise minutieusement le braquage d'un fourgon blindé pendant un match de baseball. Mais les choses tournent mal, et l'inspecteur Cordell se lance à la poursuite de sa bande.

« Un crime se produit, la police intervient, un inspecteur poursuit un criminel en fuite. Pourquoi cette histoire si simple attire-t-elle l'œil du spectateur ? C'est parce qu'elle représente l'essence du cinéma. N'importe qui peut la comprendre : c'est ça le cinéma. On s'émerveille de la vivacité et de l'efficacité de Richard Fleischer, sa mise en scène construit son film autour d'éléments purement cinématographiques. Plusieurs scènes comptent parmi les plus inoubliables de l'histoire du cinéma ; celle du hold-up au stade de baseball, ou celle où le méchant, joué par William Talman, tire sur ses camarades. » (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

AA: When Richard Fleischer started his film career at RKO in 1942, a many-sided talent was revealed. A lasting achievement of Fleischer's formative years was a cycle of seven low budget thrillers made in 1948–1952, the last of which was The Narrow Margin.

The 1950s were a golden decade of the "big caper film", and Armored Car Robbery was released in the same year as its most celebrated achievement, The Asphalt Jungle, an A picture. Fleischer revisited the genre later in an A production, Violent Saturday.

But the beauty of the B movie is that it reveals talent in its naked form, defying the constrictions of time and budget. As Kiyoshi Kurosawa remarks in his introduction, the revelation here is of the essence of cinema, a pure cinematic talent.

The short duration of the B movie can also turn into a blessing, resulting in an admirably compact expression that reminds us of a definition of poetry: a discourse charged with meaning. Musa lapidaria.

Action cinema is a perfect school for mise-en-scène and montage. Armored Car Robbery is a tale of professionals with a dual focus, equally on criminals and the police. The narrative is based on the chase.

A master criminal, Dave Purvis (William Talman), has survived under the radar thanks to his extreme caution, constantly changing names and addresses. The heist is planned, rehearsed and carried out well. But the Los Angeles Police Department happens on the scene earlier than expected, and a chase is immediately launched on motorways, the harbour and the airport.

There is a police procedural emphasis. Professionalism is highlighted, and there is documentary appeal in the account of the coded language and the latest technology of radio communication and wireless surveillance. Yet the mission is also personal. The leader of the team is Lt. Jim Cordell (Charles MacGraw), and his partner Lt. Phillips (James Flavin) is killed in the gunfight following the robbery. The scene at the hospital is brief, but the feeling is enhanced by the heartfelt presence of Anne Nagel as the widowed Mrs. Phillips. It was Nagel's last role in a theatrical feature film. Solidarity among the police is manifested in a quiet and laconic fashion. The police are not glorified as heroes. Their strength is their good team spirit.

With the gang of thieves it's different. Dave Purvis's partner is Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley) who introduces Al Mapes (Steve Brodie) and William Foster (Gene Evans) into the team. Benny's motivation for the heist is to prove his worth to his wife, the burlesque dancer Yvonne LeDoux (Adele Jergens). Unbeknownst to him, Yvonne is having an affair with Dave with whom she plans to escape. When Benny is fatally wounded in the gunfight after the robbery, Dave refuses to call a doctor. For him, Benny is "expendable", as are all the other partners. No honour among thieves, no mafia loyalty. A brutal pun about Benny and his wife: "The Naked and the Dead" (Norman Mailer's novel had been published in 1948).

There are no redeeming features in the criminals, particularly Dave and Yvonne. The focus on the cash nexus evokes Jean Domarchi's essay "Le fer dans la plaie" (1956), in which the critic celebrated Hollywood for its insight in commodity and money fetishism, penetrating the essence of capitalism sharper than Mosfilm and well-meaning progressive film-makers. Domarchi claimed that Marx would have loved Minnelli, particularly The Bad and the Beautiful, in which the producer reduces his talented team into expendable instruments, commodities. Just like Dave and Yvonne treat their team.

Fleischer does not demonize the gang. He shows them as victims of themselves and as their own worst enemies.

The police procedural approach was an aspect of a trend that had been growing since the end of WWII in espionage, journalism and police films produced by showmen like Louis De Rochemont and Mark Hellinger. The Naked City was the most famous achievement in the trend that was inspired by Italian neorealism, not least in the enthusiasm of shooting on location.

Armored Car Robbery was shot in and around Los Angeles, and the IMDb lists locations such as: Los Angeles City Hall, around Wrigley Field (no longer extant), Los Angeles County USC Medical Center and San Fernando Valley (the motor court that is Dave's final address). Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport (today Van Nuys Airport) is the final setting.

Armored Car Robbery is generally characterized as a film noir, but I have my reservations. For me, it is an excellent caper film that belongs to the post-WWII wave inspired by neorealism and shooting on location.

Richard Fleischer, whom I had the good fortune to meet twice, was an amazing director and a lovely human being, but I don't find in him a film noir sensibility. There is a dream mode in every great film (even documentaries), but the peculiar oneiric quality distinctive to film noir is absent here. All his life, Fleischer was fascinated with the psychopathology of murder, but his approach was that of a sober doctor who will find out about the mysteries of the criminal mind.

There is no madness in the method of Richard Fleischer. There is no transcendent dimension of evil. There is no cosmic agony. The streets are not dark with something more than night.

The vanitas theme is common to the big caper films, most fully achieved in The Asphalt Jungle. It was the struttura portante of John Huston's oeuvre from The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre till The Man Who Would Be King and Prizzi's Honor.

Armored Car Robbery is the earliest film I remember with the image of the robber's suitcase falling to the ground and banknotes flying to the four winds at the airport. Stanley Kubrick reused the image memorably in The Killing.