BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) resembles the WW II combat movies in which the Italian, the Texan, the Harvard grad, the Brooklynite etc. would all come together for the good of America. In this Jacques Tourneur-directed film, we have representatives of the Alliend powers including Robert Ryan (USA) and Merle Oberon (France) joining forces in postwar Frankfurt to find Paul Lukas, the one man who can reunite postwar Germany, after he’s kidnapped by German diehards. This falls in a narrow window of history, showing the Russians as the main obstacle to a peaceful post-war Europe but not giving up hope they’ll see the light (the bad guys would undoubtedly have been Red agents a few years later). “Never let it be said that an Englishman can’t play fair—on occasion.”
MR. ARKADIN (1955) stars Orson Welles as an amnesiac millionaire whose response to a petty thug hitting on his daughter is to hire the man to investigate Arkadin’s past. Except it turns out there are some secrets about his history Arkadin is hiding … One where the history behind it is more interesting than the finished product: Welles took the concept from his Mercury Theatre’s radio show The Lives of Harry Lime (itself a spinoff of the Welles classic The Third Man) but got shut out of the editing booth when he finished shooting. On top of that, there are no less than five markedly different versions out there. This is Criterion’s composite version, based (according to the special features)on existing footage combined with Welles’ statements about what he wanted (the flashback structure of the film, for instance, isn’t in all versions). Unfortunately while the end product shows Welles’ keen eye for visuals, it’s a turkey. The protagonist seems to think acting is the same as shouting angrily and there’s little dramatic tension or intensity in all the scheming and hidden agendas—even Welles seems overly stiff (it doesn’t help that he looks like the “King” from Burger King’s ads). With Gert Frobe, Akim Tamiroff and Michael Redgrave among the cast. “Some do not care to give—and do not dare to ask.”
NEW YORK STORIES (1989) is an anthology film with segments by Martin Scorsese, Zoe Coppola and Woody Allen; having seen the first two before and not caring for them, I settled for rewatching Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks.” This story of Allen dealing with his overbearing mother (Mae Questel) and her horror at his dating shiksa Mia Farrow starts out like an old sitcom, then gets much funnier when a cosmic accident has his mother manifesting in the skies of NYC, where she can discuss Allen with everyone (including fake psychic Julie Kavner). This worked much better for me than it did the first time around (mostly because the ending’s happier than I first thought). “Little is known of her son Sheldon except that he trained his name and that he is a bedwetter.”
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) is Woody Allen’s pretentious hybrid of Film Noir (corrupt doctor Martin Landau murders his mistress when she threatens to go public) and rom-com (documentary maker Allen falls for Mia Farrow while working on a film about superstar director Alan Alda), both supposedly tied together by the idea bad people get away with things and good goes unrewarded. Which is a perfectly usable premise, but Allen buries the first plotline in pretension—where noir cold-bloodedly accepts corruption as a fact of life, Allen writes like he’s breaking new ground.
Likewise the B-plot is the kind of romantic mess Allen usually mocks himself for, except in this case we’re supposed to sympathize—and as Farrow clearly makes the right choice in rejecting him, I didn’t. It is interesting though that Alda, as a smart-ass wisecracking director comes off very much as an Allen surrogate, like Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters and rewatching it has forced me to revise my estimate: It’s not Allen’s worst (September so far has that locked up), but given the critical acclaim, it’s far and away his most over-rated. “He takes his family to Europe for a few months, and then realizes there’s not going to be any punishment.”


Filed under Movies

4 responses to “Movies

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