Sunday, May 18, 2008

Look Ma, No Subtitles!

Staying away from the art house and the avant garde this week, I watched three fairly accomplished genre exercises.

185. And Soon the Darkness (1970, directed by Robert Fuest) is the work of several talents from The Avengers television show (Fuest, writer Brian Clemens), but you would never know it from the film itself. Absent are bizarre design excressences like Fuest occasionally used on that show, and later employed in baroque fashion on the Dr. Phibes movies. What you have here is an exercise in tightly controlled dread. And, for that matter, it seems like it was created on a bet. Given the title, you might expect the film to indulge in some kind of expressionist use of light and darkness, but no. There's not a single scene in this movie set after dark. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The filmmakers understand that some sunlit scenes can instill a feeling of existential dread just as effectively as the dark (other films that exploit this: The Hitcher, the first half of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). In its particulars: the movie follows a pair of English girls bicycling through rural France. After a tiff, they separate, with the vivacious blond choosing to sun herself in a clearing while her more sensible friend continues on. Then the blond vanishes, and her friend must trust in increasingly suspicious strangers to help her find her. This is all performed more or less bloodlessly, but there is a pall of menace that makes the movie seem better than it actually is. Pamela Franklin is excellent in the lead.

186. Serenity (2005, directed by Joss Whedon) ties up most of the loose ends from Whedon's ill-fated television series, Firefly. I like Firefly a lot--more than Buffy and Angel, that's for sure--so this was a welcome addition. It hits a lot of stock sci-fi archetypes (the preternaturally gifted child, the warrior woman), but it also borrows the Night of the Living Dead scenario for its climax, as our band of misfits is besieged by the cannibal "Reavers." Entertaining, and it doesn't spare the carnage among the regular characters.

187. The Westerner (1940, directed by William Wyler) won Walter Brennan an Oscar for his portrayal of Judge Roy Bean, who forms a friendship with Gary Cooper's drifter after Cooper convinces the judge that he knows the judge's idol, Lily Langtree, personally. It keeps Cooper from hanging on a false horse-thieving charge. But things turn sour when Cooper finds that the judge is burning out homesteaders, including the girl Cooper is sweet on. This comes to a head at the opera house where the judge buys the house in anticipation of a performance by Ms. Langtree. This is a strange transitional western. Stagecoach blew open the doors a year earlier, and this film follows its lead, but it still has some of the cornier elements of the horse operas of the day. Plus, it hasn't even a passing acquaintance with history, not that I care much. Cooper gives one of his best performances. The new DVD from MGM is a dramatic improvement over the old one, even when one considers the lack of extras.


DeAnna said...

That's a rare week in my movie watching too. Seems I never watch movies in English anymore.

Sadly, since moving, I don't watch as many movies. I typically rent two movies a week and they have been going unwatched. :( Too many little condo projects and the weather has been chasing us out of the place. It has gotten HOT, or did last weekend and my place has crappy ventilation so I didn't get to watch my kurasawa rental. I noticed several non-samurai criterions in the new releases that I wanted to see, but not until we sort out the temperature control in here.

gelpi2010 said...

Hi Chris, this IMDB's Hal-900 (aka Robert Gelpi). I love your blog!

I enjoy everything Wyler and The Westerner in no exception. Auterists have done a terrible deservice to people like him. Anyway, you didn't mention Gregg Toland. Wyler and Toland were a pair made in heaven. Look at the montage in all their films together! Magnificent.

BTW, Have you seen Huston's insane Judge Roy Bean film? Great double-feature idea, right?

dr.morbius said...

Heya, Hal! Or Robert. Or whatever you prefer. Thanks for stopping by. I like Wyler and I'm totally not an auteurist, so you're preaching to the choir.

I have seen Huston's movie, but not in a very long time (like, 25 or 30 years). It used to run on cable all the time in the early days of HBO.