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  • Beware of a Holy Whore

    Beware of a Holy Whore

    The slow-mo shindig of a stalled film production, just another day at work for Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Cinema is the eponymous harlot, Hollywood in any case, artists and artisans and groupies comprise the torpid idolaters, "they're kind of a commune." The Sorrento Coast doubles as a Spanish villa for the pellucid backdrop, the main stage is a hotel lobby featuring a steady flow of Cuba Libres and a jukebox stocked with Leonard Cohen dirges. The director holds the film stock…

  • Buchanan Rides Alone

    Buchanan Rides Alone

    Midway through the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott run, a poetical treatise on the toll of getting a good steak in a bad spot. All Scott's easygoing soldier of fortune wants is to settle down, between him and his stretch of land in West Texas is the border outpost ruled by a trio of pig-bellied brothers, "quite a town." Sheriff (Barry Kelley), judge (Tol Avery) and hotel manager (Peter Whitney) are all cut from the same corrupt cloth, the stranger smiles until…

  • Forbidden

    Forbidden

    It goes from rural library to luxury liner in about three minutes, the jilted bookworm (Barbara Stanwyck) cashes in her savings and emerges mid-ocean as a fur-swathed socialite—Now, Voyager anticipated and distilled, and Frank Capra is just getting started. ("I'd set fire to the whole town and play a ukulele while it burned," snaps the awakened wallflower in a signature Stanwyck aria.) A room-number gag much later taken up by Godard (Détective) introduces her to the rising politician (Adolphe Menjou),…

  • Le Million

    Le Million

    Cinema is the revelry that keeps us up at night, says René Clair, the audience peeps in through the skylight window for a tale that is told. (The opening view of the slanting cityscape advances on Under the Roofs of Paris, his maquette boasts a chiming clock tower and a vertiginous foretaste of Polanski's Frantic.) The penniless painter (René Lefèvre) has but an unfinished canvas to show for his "bohemian" status, the fair-weather chum (Jean-Louis Allibert) and the ballerina he's…

  • The Magnificent Ambersons

    The Magnificent Ambersons

    "J'aime le souvenir de ces époques nues." (Baudelaire) There's no nostalgia like a modernist's nostalgia, Orson Welles on the "disappearing miasma" of Midwestern aristocracy is an ornate procession of engravings, half fondness and half dread. The whirlwind of changing fashions (a Cocteau joke given Keatonesque spark) launches the preamble, an introduction to 19th-century Indianapolis where a smashed bass viol scotches a serenade and halts a courtship. (Minnelli swiftly picks up on its musicality in Meet Me in St. Louis.) The…

  • Sylvia Scarlett

    Sylvia Scarlett

    The "theatrical line" and the "queer feeling," all part of the artiste's palette. The first casualty is conventional Victorian femininity, slashed with scissors as Sylvia (Katharine Hepburn) fashions herself into Sylvester, off with the braided tresses and on with the slanted trilby. From Marseilles to London is a seesawing cruise with father the fugitive embezzler (Edmund Gwenn), Cary Grant as the amoral "gentleman adventurer" materializes on the deck out of the mist in a manner not lost on Visconti (cf.…

  • The Mortal Storm

    The Mortal Storm

    Against the encroaching New Order, Frank Borzage's ewige Liebe. The Fatherland is a community at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, plush and cozy like a Christmas morning, the father is a revered professor (Frank Morgan) whose birthday dinner is interrupted by news of a rising chancellor. Make Germany "strong and powerful again," as they say, start by beating up the old man who prefers not to sing the Nazi anthem, and so it goes. (The lively beer hall is…

  • La Chienne

    La Chienne

    The triangle ("lui, elle, et l'autre") is an old stone, Jean Renoir tosses it into the fountain to make ripples. The camera is inside an ascending dumbwaiter in a little sendup of Der Letzte Mann's famous opening, distant Moulin Rouge lights can be seen from the window at the company dinner and there's the timorous clerk (Michel Simon) at the end of the table, looking like Zola squashed. He skips the party and runs into the masochistic kitty (Janie Marèse),…

  • Deliverance

    Deliverance

    The vanishing wilderness and the eternal beasts: "Let's go back to the city and play golf, huh?" Much of the groundwork was laid by Mann in The Naked Spur, for John Boorman it's a marked advancement on Hell in the Pacific and a full-scale exploration of cinema's elemental side. (The Appalachian river is introduced framed by piney foliage and consumed by sunlight, it later expands and splinters into pure, raging foam.) James Dickey's macho-poet bluff is split four ways, he's…

  • Angel Face

    Angel Face

    Electra out of the Blitz and into Beverly Hills, just a stark dream shared between Otto Preminger and Howard Hughes. The lost princess in the castle on the hills is a raven-haired heiress (Jean Simmons), the hot-rodder turned paramedic (Robert Mitchum) is foolish enough to think he's in control, he slaps her and she slaps right back. A Nabokovian account: The British father (Herbert Marshall) has put down the novelist's pen, the American stepmother (Barbara O'Neill) deals with bridge parties…

  • Hallelujah

    Hallelujah

    The premise is from Emerson ("to take a master's part in the music"), black voices on a jagged screen herald the remarkable flow of black images. The land, vast as ever for King Vidor, dotted with cotton and rattling with souls lost and found, the sharecropper (Daniel L. Haynes) takes you through it. A season's harvest goes for $100 in the city, the temptress (Nina Mae McKinney) and the gambler (William Fountaine) separate the farmer from his earnings, the ensuing…

  • The Fearless Vampire Killers

    The Fearless Vampire Killers

    The toothy grin from Roman Polanski’s early short is here a fanged one, the auteur himself peeps through the keyhole and pulls an "eek!" face for the camera. A moonstruck note kicks off the lustrous caricature of Hammer frights, the sleigh carrying the batty scholar (Jack MacGowran) and his timorous assistant (Polanski) into Transylvania comes equipped with wolves literally snapping at their heels. (A later joke has one of the lupine beasts chased off by a vexed hunchback, who returns…