All the films that Dan Sallitt has given the Red designation to on his wonderful color-coded lists, in roughly chronological…
An American Tragedy
A social climber (Phillips Holmes) charms a debutante (Frances Dee), seduces a factory worker (Sylvia Sidney) and commits murder
Josef Von Sternberg's tabloid version of the Dreiser novel crams more incidents from the book into its running time, but it is not as effective as the later, deliriously romantic, George Stevens version, A Place in the Sun. With the exception of the exquisite Sylvia Sidney, the cast is stiff and awkward, and Phillips Holmes is remote and unsympathetic, without any of the warmth that Montgomery Clift projected in the remake. The film is gorgeously shot, though, with lots of Von Sternberg's signature long dissolves, which were especially influential on Stevens. Von Sternberg does keep things moving in that distinctive early talkie style.
whoa! went into this one pretty much unprepared for what lay ahead—Sternberg's critical reading of Murnau's Sunrise is a forgotten masterpiece of the American cinema! I won't disagree with those who find the conclusion unsatisfying, but dig: it's also possible to see in the film a formal experiment of radical subtlety, with the final act reconfiguring everything that came before and producing a deeply disconcerting dialectic. and even if you can't get with that, everything leading up to it stands as some of the most beautiful filmmaking of Sternberg's career.
The last half hour is throwaway, but everything before that - a thick black-and-silver doomed love hallucination - is as great as anything Sternberg ever did.
Sylvia Sidney was stunning in her role as Roberta. Sadly Phillips Holmes in the lead as the troubled Clyde Griffiths didn't match her presence. Holmes came across hollow and empty which close to killed any sympathy for his character. And just every actor over-powered him with their performances. In way I guess thats what director Sternberg wanted as to show that Clyde's was a weak man, but without much else going for him in his role it left something to be desired. Still a good movie.
Preserving this list for posterity as it will disappear from here:
- after number 70, "In a Land…
This list should not be construed as a definitive "greatest films" package, but as an alternative compiled by a group…