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Tuesday, Sep 9, 2014
Both No Highway in the Sky and 5 Fingers are two excellent examples of post-war Hollywood cinema shot abroad.

After World War II, Hollywood studios began making films in England and elsewhere in Europe. Available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives are two such items of the early ‘50s: No Highway in the Sky and 5 Fingers, both wonderfully civilized suspense films.


James Stewart plays perfectly in his element as Theodore Honey, an absent-minded American “boffin” (as the limeys call scientific chaps) testing aircraft metal fatigue in No Highway in the Sky. He’s introduced with bumbling eccentricities, such as forgetting which house he lives in and raising his plain, retiring daughter (Janette Scott) as a lonely genius. It’s all well-played, amusing, and disarming. The suspense begins when he realizes he’s on an airplane that’s about to crash, according to his calculations. He warns the crew and a glamorous movie star (Marlene Dietrich, basically playing herself), and they all await the outcome tensely.


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Monday, Sep 8, 2014
Magic Boy is Japanese animated cinema in the style of Disney.

Magic Boy has the distinction of being the second Japanese animated feature in color. The first was The Tale of the White Serpent (1958), released in the US as Panda and the Magic Serpent in July 1961. Since MGM distributed the English-dubbed Magic Boy in June 1961 (according to IMDB), it was the first to be seen in the US. That version is now available on demand from Warner Archive.


Sasuke is a boy who lives in the forest with his older sister and his little animal friends. When the faun’s mother is killed by a sea monster who is actually an evil witch (as indicated by traditional long black hair and chalk-white skin), Sasuke climbs a mountain to learn magic from a hermit. This takes three years, during which neither he nor the baby animals ever get bigger. After the obligatory training sequences, there’s a big fight—lots of death but no blood—in which he’s aided by the local handsome prince who’d been so unhelpful in saving the village from destruction by the witch’s army.


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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Good Sam juxtaposes the reality its characters live in with a sort of Shirley Temple optimism.

One shot of Good Sam features Gary Cooper standing in the middle of two women. One cries in misery while the other laughs her head off, and they seem about equally at the edge of delirium. This moment defines the whole movie, which balances comedy, pathos, and irony so freely within each scene that you don’t know how the movie expects you to react. This ambiguity of affect marks the cinema of Leo McCarey. He’s so fascinated by observing the nuances of human reactions, and how the emotions of different characters feed and counterpoint each other, that he lets scenes run on quite long; you get the feeling he’d just as soon they never end. Were he active but few decades later, he might have been John Cassavetes.


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Monday, Aug 11, 2014
On a regular basis, yours truly will discuss many of the movie "firsts" that have occurred in his life over the last half century. Let's start with Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise.

I was 13, and a budding cinephile. The Marquette Mall Theater in Michigan City, Indiana had become a second home, a relatively short bike ride away from the Gibron “estate” and a holder of hundreds of motion picture mysteries. None of them were more potent than the weekend Midnight Movie.


Even as a introductory teenager, the notion of staying up that late was still a tad ‘foreign’. On those rare occasions when we were traveling out of, or into, town at said hour, I would always crane my neck to see the crowds lining up at the box office. I wanted to know who was still awake enough to watch a movie, what manner of human had it in them to, at that late hour, keep alert enough to enjoy any entertainment whatsoever.


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Thursday, Aug 7, 2014
Warner Archive has offered up a version of the 1955 version of "Kismet", which contrasts nicely with its 1944 counterpart.

A bit of gaudy Technicolor escapism fashioned in the middle of WWII, William Dieterle‘s Kismet takes place in a never-never-Bagdad that crosses the Arabian Nights with Hollywood. The always excellent Ronald Colman plays the self-styled King of Beggars with as much magnetic swagger and light charm between turban and goatee as could have been mustered by Errol Flynn—and we might as well mention Douglas Fairbanks, since the film seems to be channeling bits of The Thief of Bagdad.


Marlene Dietrich doesn’t have that much to do, but she does it with enough high camp to become her own spectacle within the spectacle; in other words, she comes across like Marlene Dietrich. Her highpoint is a bit of interpretive dance that looks like a light exercise routine as she’s decked out in gold paint like the unfortunate damsel in Goldfinger. The viewer can only stare as she leans backward and lays her head upon the dais. Perhaps the laziest gal in town is about to take a nap, but her audience is at full attention.


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