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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 28, 2014
Perhaps Fear in the Night will never look or sound better, always like a nagging, half-forgotten celluloid memory.

The world of film noir is full of passive patsies and benighted saps, and one of the most passive and benighted is Vincent Grayson, played by skinny young DeForest Kelley in his debut film. The low-budget wonder Fear in the Night is one of the most oneiric and dreamlike of noirs.

The first reel is surreal in several ways. It opens with wavering montages of superimposed images to indicate the hero’s dream state. These images showcase a room with multiple mirrors and doors. This must naturally remind noir fans of Orson WellesThe Lady from Shanghai, which came out the following year. Of course, the Welles version is even more flashy and disorienting, although it wasn’t a dream sequence. But then, maybe this one isn’t either. One of this uncanny movie’s mysteries is whether or how much of what we see is a dream. Crime films discovered the power of surreal dreams following Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and this trend was hitting stride in “psychiatric” items like Spellbound (1945) and Shock (1946). Fear in the Night is a high point.

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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Flicker Alley's new Blu-ray/DVD combo We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents and Itinerant Filmmaking provides a glimpse into obscure corners of film history.

In a phenomenon that historians have called itinerant filmmaking, small companies made a living traveling to various towns and making films. They might advertise in the paper, or they might pitch the project to city councils or booster groups as a promotional idea. They got paid to shoot local amateurs in little stories around carefully chosen locations. The small crew, sometimes just a director and a cameraman, would shoot and edit the picture and then give the print (usually the only copy in existence) to whomever had commissioned it. Then they would move on to the next town.

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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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