Posts tagged film
Posts tagged film
“The Third Man is set in Vienna, but it is a Vienna that I have not experienced because it is set right after World War Two. I was born there one year after the last Russian soldier had left [the city was divided by the Allies after the war and the Russians kept a hold on the city until 1955]. I heard from my parents and grandparents that it was no fun being there during the war.
The film was written by Graham Greene and I admire him enormously. He tells very complex situations in a very approachable form, without ever losing the literary level. That’s true mastership: complicating matters is not difficult.
Then of course there’s the magnificent Orson Welles who comes in more towards the end of the film but his presence is always there. In the rest of the cast there are actors who I met as a child because my parents were involved in the theatre [as set and costume designers] in Vienna.
Everybody loved the music in the film which was discovered just by serendipity. Carol Reed [the director] had never heard of the zither before but he heard one in one of the little wine places all over the city. It’s a very Austrian instrument. The Viennese man Anton Karas, who wrote the famous Harry Lime theme music, was a rather mediocre zither player, but he worked on the film because that was the person who played the instrument when Reed heard it for the first time.
In a way, the cinematography defined a whole genre, film noir was not unheard of, of course, but when you talk about that genre in the wider sense, The Third Man is probably the first example you think of. I identify with it because I like to believe there are many different influences that come together in me as a person, with English with America, having lived here for so long, but being from Vienna and that’s all also there in the film.”
Christoph Waltz on why he identifies with The Third Man [x]
I just identify with Holly Martins.
This makes me so excited for my final, as yet-undelivered (c’mon, Santa!) Christmas present. Thanks, Mr. Ben!
Criterion Review: #643 THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)
THE FILM: “Must a picture be logical, when life is not?” - Alfred Hitchcock
The first and most formative of Hitchcock’s early spy thrillers, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) is — at heart — a work of self-discovery. In 75 scattered, thrilling, and winningly ridiculous minutes, the ever-burgeoning beacon of British cinema fully comes into his own, having finally found the genre that let him be himself. His genius had been evident for years, slowly evolving alongside the cinema itself, his career beginning to bloom as the silent era gave way to the wide world of sound (his 1929 thriller Blackmail perfectly straddled that divide, the studio only deciding to re-conceive it as a talkie after it was already in production). Early fare like Murder! and The Skin Game are not without their moments of supreme craft, but they were constrained by obnoxious hurdles like “logic” and “narrative integrity,” obstacles that inhibited Hitchcock from truly flexing his muscle. But The Man Who Knew Too Much was always going to be different.
It was supposed to be just another Bulldog Drummond film before Hitchcock and his team got involved and transformed the latest installment of the long-running P.I. saga into a kooky spy thriller with global sweep. Of the ideas invoked during the writing process, one of Hitchcock’s collaborators recalled that “Everything was welcome, if not always agreed,” which is a pretty good way of describing the film, itself. Beginning with a skeet-shooting competition at a swank Swiss resort, sailing to London for some business with a dentist and a sun-worshipping cult, and climaxing with an iconic assassination attempt during a concert at Royal Albert Hall, The Man Who Knew Too Much marches to the beat of its own drummer, hanging together by the sheer velocity of its craft.
The plot isn’t just typical Hitchcock, it’s prototypical Hitchcock. Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are a stiff Limey couple on holiday in snow-covered St. Moritz with their precocious daughter Betty. There’s some wacky business in which Betty almost causes the death of a ski-jumper (“silly kids!” everyone concludes), and we meet a sniveling little German man named Abbott (Peter fucking Lorre), but the real fun kicks off at a dinner party later that evening, during which a French spy is assassinated by an unknown enemy agent. With his dying breath, the spy leaves Jill with some secret information (there’s your MacGuffin) and instructs him to relay it to the British consul, to which Abbott and his henchman respond by kidnapping Betty and threatening to murder the young girl if Bob completes the mission. That’s more or less all there is to it, as Bob hunts for Abbott while the villains plot the hilariously elaborate hit at the heart of their scheme.
As a movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much moves with an awkward gait and such a ruthlessly streamlined sense of purpose that it grinds forward with a wayward irrelevance, but as a manifesto, it’s deliriously exciting. Actually, that’s selling things a bit short (I find that this film is often subject to such dismissiveness, an attitude no doubt fueled by Hitchcock’s decision to remake it with Hollywood stars in a more serious vein 22 years later). Peter Lorre was an afterthought in casting, but the villainous Abbott drives the film long after the wheels have fallen off. The maniacal munchkin’s phonetic line-delivery imbues his villain with an enigmatic quality that transcends the text — Abbott is written as a stock bad guy, but Lorre’s unwavering giddiness builds a wonderful cartoon stoicism around the pathetic persona he made so iconic in Fritz Lang’s M. The final ticks of his signature timepiece are a classically Hitchcockian flourish, but the beguiling relationship he shares with his nurse — distilled from impenetrable looks, clouded by the complex psychic folds that typically make for a spy movie’s first victims — is 100% Lorre. He’s a villain with rich interior life that we’ll never know. While Bob and Jill Lawrence are thin constructs created for the purpose of the film’s events, it feels as though The Man Who Knew Too Much is only documenting Abbott’s final days — as the movie’s credits roll, you won’t be thinking about where the Lawrence family might go on their next vacation, but rather what sort of adventures Abbott enjoyed before he was felled by a handsome couple he probably considered too mundane to pose a threat. It might be a stretch, but Lorre’s performance reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight — both are innately feral agents of destruction, but at least in Hitchcock’s film the other characters get to share in some of the fun.
Beyond Lorre, The Man Who Knew Too Much is sprinkled with several of Hitchcock’s most thrilling set-pieces, the best of which stand toe-to-toe with any of the immortal sequences found in his more universally worshipped fare. The attempted assassination at Royal Albert Hall is rightfully revered by Hitchcock acolytes (the cymbal crash suggests that Hitchcock wasn’t merely excited to use sound, but keen to involve it), and the climactic shout-out resolves with the wry symmetry that would define Hitchcock’s dual senses of wit and justice. But my favorite sequence remains the tussle in the church of the sun worshippers, a fight scene in which a mess of wooden chairs are used in lieu of guns. It’s wonderfully sloppy, and yet immaculately timed, moving with a chaotically comic energy that feels resolutely modern as a result of its perfection (rhythm never really goes out of style).
Criterion’s new edition should prompt a new generation of cinephiles to appreciate Hitchcock’s first pass at this story in its own right. Despite its drunken pacing and tossed off plot, The Man Who Knew Too Much is possessed by the infinite pleasures of what cinema can be. It’s neither top-tier Hitchcock nor his most accessible work, and — when it comes to his early stuff — I’ll always prefer more agreeably coherent fare like The Lady Vanishes, but it’s terrific fun to watch Hitchcock finally solve his own talents. As one moment early in the film makes abundantly clear, no other filmmaker has ever taken such pleasure in weaving a tangled web, and in very few of Hitchcock’s films did he so gleefully use the camera as his loom.
THE TRANSFER: I can be a bit of a neophyte when it comes to the A/V department, and so I was shocked to discover that Criterion’s HD transfer of The Man Who Knew Too Much — which I thought looked nearly immaculate for a film made in 1934 — wasn’t created from the original negative (h/t to Blu-Ray.com). Indeed, the negative was apparently lost a number of years ago, and so this transfer is made from the best surviving materials (a fine-grain master positive). I certainly never would have known, as the detail and clarity of Criterion’s Blu-ray is nearly flawless. Most pivotally for me with an older film such as this one, is that there is no distracting flicker. Strikingly good.
THE EXTRAS: Film historian Philip Kemp provides a dry but highly illuminating commentary, which is well worth a listen even if it isn’t necessarily the highlight of the disc. The audio track, spoken in Kemp’s inimitable growl, is rich with information about the history of the production — Kemp is at his best when he’s critical of Hitchcock’s directorial missteps, with a keen eye for where the master of suspense fumbled his blocking. “The Illustrated Hitchcock” consists of two 25-minute interviews with Hitchcock from 1972, which are absolutely sick with amazing quotes from an aging and giddily candid Hitchcock (him picking on the late Charles Laughton is especially fun). Also included are 23 minutes of Truffaut’s audio recordings of the famous conversations he had with Hitchcock, but for anyone who has read the book in which those sessions were compiled — and that should be everyone — this isn’t particularly exciting. Finally, there’s “The Film That Warped Too Much,” a 5-minute restoration demonstration, in which a narrator takes us through the remarkable process by which the beautiful transfer on this Blu-ray was created.
THE BEST BIT: “Hitchcock essentially understood how little it took for a life to be destroyed.” Guillermo del Toro, who wrote a book about Hitchcock in 1990, shows up for a 17-minute interview in which he speaks with tremendous insight about what makes The Man Who Knew Too Much the first modern Hitchcock film. His attention to sound, especially regarding the final shout-out, is particularly astute. I wish we got him yakking about every film Criterion put out. I’ve gotta get that book.
THE ARTWORK: Bill Nelson’s penciled cover illustration harkens back to the film’s original one-sheet, which rightly emphasizes Peter Lorre’s cigarette-plugged face. His pencil sketch also makes room for the insert of the gun from Royal Albert Hall. It’s a lovely design, though I may have preferred a direct reproduction of the classic poster. F. Ron Miller’s package design continues the aesthetic of contrasting bold orange / yellow type with an ink-black background. The whole thing is maybe a touch too noirish for the rather silly source material, but it sure is pretty.
THE ARBITRARY VERDICT: 87 / 100.
Relevant to my interests.
Watching Sabrina for the first time and Audrey Hepburn is
amazing incredible unbelievable. God’s gift to man.
Also Humphrey Bogart’s character is pretty great. Embodiment of the progressive promise of post-war industry. Better living through chemistry! Rising tide lifts all boats!
Cookie Monster presents: THE 39 STAIRS
“made by a guy named Alfred.”
here’s to a better week, Sesame Street style. a brilliant lesson in having fun with your MacGuffin.
A true monsterpiece.
MODERN TIMES - FEBRUARY 5, 1936
THE SILENT ERA TRULY COMES TO A CLOSE
The ending came with little fanfare on Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce, California. The only people on-site to witness the finale were the stars and crew of the film Modern Times, who were there to film the iconic final scene.
“Sierra Hwy. & Penman Rd., Santa Clarita, California, USA”
International Poster Tour: THE 39 STEPS (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 1935
— PART TWO —
“There are 20 million women in this island and I get to be chained to you.”
Confirmation bias: I was just thinking about this movie this morning! It’s so good.
I’m not a Star Wars nerd although I do really like the films, and let me say: this guy is right about everything.
Good god I love this blog:
In this breaking-the-fourth-wall scene from AIP’s genre-creating 1963 surfsploitation movie, Professor Sutwell (Robert Cummings) and his assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone, the bookish bombshell from The Big Sleep) bail out [far left] once Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and his crew discover that the oldsters are studying the mating habits of aboriginal Southern Californians — i.e., them. Because it lampoons previous teen movies from The Wild One and Splendor in the Grass to Gidget and Blue Hawaii, Beach Party helps demarcate the end of the Fifties (1954-63). The blocking here symbolizes the moment at which the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation grows up; the question now is whether they’ll adopt a reformist cause (the movie’s subplot, which prompts a spooky-kooky Vincent Price cameo) or instead remain simultaneously utopian (Avalon’s stage name reminds us of that blissful island, from Arthurian legend, which is populated by scantily clad youth) and skeptical about the competing ideologies of their elders. Sutwell, who represents the Partisan Generation, favors the former; but if you dig the surfers’ scene, you’ll disagree.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
This article, man! This is extremely timely.
Like Ian Fleming and P.G. Wodehouse, Woody Allen returns compulsively to the same creative ground. In Allen’s case, it’s ground trod by anxious, well-to-do white people, who swap partners and drop cultural references in an empty, godless universe.
In the past year, I’ve watched:
I thought I was doing well, but that’s 7/40. At this rate, I’ll never be a nebbish, adulterous intellectual with an overwhelming fear of mortality and love for Dixieland jazz!