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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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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Ruthless reveals a message about capitalism that, if ubiquitous, rings true.

Ruthless is an Eagle-Lion production that must be the most lavish project ever directed by Edgar Ulmer, who spent most of his career working with budgets that seemed barely to include the camera. Thematically, it’s his Citizen Kane or Magnificent Amberson, here seen in a fine print showing off sinuous and ceiling-heavy photography from Bert Glennon and lavish design from Frank Sylos. Unlike the aforementioned films, Ruthless is not great; however, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off of.


Tagged as: edgar ulmer, ruthless
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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, Jul 9, 2014
Operation Petticoat, one of post-war America's more popular war flicks, is an example of the era's basically conservative teases.

Ten years after the end of World War II, the subject of the war became safe for comedy, at least in America. From Broadway and TV and Hollywood came such projects as Mister Roberts, Operation Madball and No Time for Sergeants. One of the biggest hits of 1959, and a breakthrough for director Blake Edwards, Operation Petticoat joined the march of military hijinks and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Operation Petticoat opens in 1959, as a submarine called the USS Sea Tiger is about to be junked. Admiral Sherman (Cary Grant), the original captain, reviews his logbook, leading to the rest of film’s flashback of how the submarine was salvaged after nearly being scuttled by Japanese bombs in December 1941. Key to the restoration process was the larcenous, unscrupulous shenanigans of his new supply officer, Lt. Holden (Tony Curtis). The final humiliation is that the submarine is painted pink, presumably an emasculating color (and a dangerously conspicuous one), and this leads to a final round of tension with America’s own navy. This could be seen as a gentle though none-too-subtle satire on the masculine ego of warfare.


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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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