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Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014
In Alain Robbe-Grillet's cinema, one ought to be wary of men who play games.

One doesn’t watch a movie by Alain Robbe-Grillet to follow a story, but to follow a false story. Cobbled from various impulses and ideas, they form pseudo-narratives that either encourage or defy viewers to make sense of their patterns.

In the interview included as a bonus to his 1968 feature The Man Who Lies, Robbe-Grillet explains that he was invited to make a film in Slovakia with lots of resources, that he wanted to create a showcase for actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (presumably for his means his physicality, his capacity for mercurial shifts, his gift for enigma), that a nearby castle (which they could use) had a woman waiting for her brother who disappeared in the World War II Resistance, and that Communist monuments to dead heroes were fabricated to include all kinds of villains as well. From these ideas, and from his fondness for Franz Kafka’s The Castle and Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, Robbe-Grillet constructed the web of references that form this movie.

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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
Andre De Toth's noir-ish western, Ramrod, is notable for its examination of doubles; almost every character has someone else who matches their identity.

Andre De Toth’s Ramrod is a classic film licensed by Olive Films from Paramount, although this indie production was distributed by United Artists and this print for some reason opens with the MGM lion. What matters is that it’s here now, in a print a bit dusty but easily watchable. It stars De Toth’s then-wife Veronica Lake, reunited with the same Joel McCrea who supposedly never wanted to work with her again after Sullivan’s Travels.

From the beginning, it quietly shows off nice lengthy shots (from cinematographer Russell Harlan) that glide sideways for complexly staged actions, usually left to right. This gives an aesthetic unity to a first reel whose script is a confusing snarl of relations and implications based on a story by Luke Short. It’s a complicated, seething, noir-ish western in which everyone deceives everyone else about something or other, and indeed deception is sometimes necessary for survival. Shot in Utah, the story takes place in a part of the country where everybody lives in picturesque canyons that dwarf them; at the risk of making too much of it, the climax finds McCrea’s hero “reborn” from a womblike cave.

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Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014
There's really nothing wrong with the movie except the script, which has lots of firepower for something so tiresome.

Struggling evening-jacketed songwriter Terry (Robert Taylor) moons around Miami because he’s fallen in love at a distance with chic gossamer-caped Consuelo (Norma Shearer). When he loses $3,500 to her at chemin-de-fer, she hires him to run interference against unfaithful cad Tony (George Sanders), with whom she’s hopelessly in love. Terry will pretend to be Consuelo’s lover, and he’s to ignore all Consuelo’s later orders to the contrary.

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Monday, Jun 16, 2014
This modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

This is the almost-nothing-happens, not-quite-romance between a tall, gangling, aw-shucks, naive young cowpoke (Carleton Carpenter) and a tight-sweatered blonde (Jan Sterling) who always seems about two minutes away from taking his cash and leaving him flat. The story is so light and anecdotal, it’s a wonder it stretches to 70 minutes, but those 70 engage the viewer enough to see it through as our cowboy chalks up a learning experience.

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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The color of going too far

RaroVideo’s DVD of Alberto Cavallone’s difficult-to-describe Blue Movie is an important release that I hope presages more from this obscure cult figure. I say this with due consideration. Many people, attracted by the title’s promise of sleaze (on which the film delivers both less and more than most would wish), will find the movie a confusing, unwatchable eyesore, which it is. This is partly for reasons beyond the late Cavallone’s control, and partly due to his deliberate vision.

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