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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The play's the thing

The Reckoning begins with lovely, stylized, cold images of nature while Nicholas (Paul Bettany) shaves his head in a forest, drinks from a stream, and flashes back to his downfall from priesthood for sins of the flesh. After a terrifying encounter, he learns (again) that appearances are deceiving and takes up with a troupe of traveling players who perform “Mysteries” (Biblical plays) across the rural England of 1380.


They arrive at one village, dominated by the castle of the local lord (Vincent Cassel), just in time to witness a mute woman’s conviction for strangling a boy. She’s sentenced to hang. The troupe’s leader (Willem Dafoe) wants to put on a new kind of play, one that dramatizes the local event. After arguing the morality of this, their investigation and production stirs up new evidence and lots of trouble, as we realize we’re in yet another plot about a serial killer of children. This is apparently what we need to take our entertainment seriously nowadays.


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Friday, Jun 6, 2014
Those fresh bellboys.

The Czech-born Francis Lederer was a talented and popular European star whose Hollywood career never quite got over his accent. It was necessary always to cast him as some vaguely European gentleman, which was never quite as useful as a vaguely British gentleman. You can always see that he’s good, however, even (or especially) in a trivial throwaway like The Gay Deception, now available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives.


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Friday, May 30, 2014
American trouble

After making a reputation in frantic comedies (highlight: Duck Soup ) and more sophisticated ones (Ruggles of Red Gap and The Awful Truth ), writer-director-producer Leo McCarey evolved an output that swings from comedy to sentiment and melodrama, even juggling tonal ambiguity within scenes. His early high point was the 1937 Love Affair, more famous as his own remake, An Affair to Remember. McCarey can be especially strong with ambiguous family dynamics in which people are embarrassed by those they love; his great example is Make Way for Tomorrow, about which Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich it would “make a stone cry”.


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Friday, May 30, 2014
Old time religion.

Henry King’s I’d Climb the Highest Mountain ranks with Jacques Tourneur’s Stars in My Crown and Robert Duvall’s The Apostle as a remarkable film about a Southern preacher.


It’s narrated by his new bride (Susan Hayward), recalling the trials and anecdotes of the year she spent with her parson husband (Richard Lundigan) in northern Georgia, where the film was shot on location with several local non-actors as extras. That’s why you hear moments of jarringly authentic accents amid the scattered bits of Hollywood convention, like the fact that Hayward must look freshly made-up even in childbirth.


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Friday, May 23, 2014
Get to the eye candy.

This film opens with the testing of an aircraft that an entrepreneur hopes to sell to the U.S. Air Force. A TV journalist conveniently informs us that the Air Force insignia have already been applied to the plane in anticipation—in other words, that the film will be using stock footage. (Kudos to the Classic Sci Fi blogspot for identifying the alleged “X-109” as footage of the F-104 Starfighter.) We experience five clumsy minutes of such footage (especially noticeable in an HD transfer) combined with process shots and bad effects to convey the idea that pilot Fred Norwood (John Ericson) is dodging a flying saucer that doesn’t show up on radar. He gets canned in an uncomfortable scene.


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