A bandleader, a silent Frenchman and Dr. Mabuse (sort of): movies viewed

Anthony Mann directed two movies that gave Jimmy Stewart a darker edge, Winchester ’73 and Bend of the River. He also directed the very non-dark THE GLENN MILLER STORY (1954), starring Jimmy Stewart as the once legendary band leader and June Allyson as the woman behind the man. This is a standard musical biopic showing Miller’s (largely fictitious) rise from struggling musician to band leader before he vanished flying over the English channel in 1945. The most interesting thing is Allyson as Mrs. Miller because she’s such a fantasy figure: drops her current boyfriend when Glenn calls for the first time in two years, infinitely patient and understanding, and finances his first band by saving money every week from the household accounts. With Henry Morgan as Stewart’s best friend and Louis Armstrong and Gene Kruppa playing themselves; well-executed with pleasant music, but it definitely suffers that it’s music from an older generation (I imagine millennials would be just as uninterested in The Mick Jagger Story). “I like Moonlight Serenade, you like Moonlight Serenade … but nobody else does”

LA SILENCE DE LA MER (1949) is Jean-Pierre Melville’s adaptation of the same-name WW II novel, in which a French gentleman and his daughter greet the German officer quartered in their house during the occupation with stony silence. They keep this up despite the charming officer’s willingness to monologue at length, declaring himself a Francophile who dreams of the day their nations will be one — only to learn near the end that his fellow officers have no more use for the French than they do for Jews. This created a fair amount of controversy over whether it was soft on Nazis or showing that even when they appear nice, they’re still the enemy; another controversy (as detailed in the multiple special features) was that Melville didn’t get the author’s permission. Instead he made it over a couple of years (he only scraped together money for one day’s filmmaking at a time), then offered to show it to a jury of resistance fighters to decide whether it was worth releasing (one of the interviewees scoffed that the chance of them saying no after he’d labored so long was nil). Well done, but more interesting than enjoyable. “Poor Beauty — she is at the Beast’s mercy but he insists on imposing his awful presence.”

French filmmaker Claude Chabrol was a big admirer of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse films,  and in DR. M (1989) he got to make his own, including a poster that would have fit some of Lang’s films perfectly. When a wave of suicides strikes East and West Berlin, a detective (Jan Nicklas) sees a connection with Sonja (Jennifer Beals), the spokesmodel for a booming vacation resort. Beals insists that’s crazy, but it turns out sinister Dr. Marsfeldt (Alan Bates) is using her without her even knowing it. In the ultimate gamble for men’s souls, “Dr. M” is brainwashing people across Berlin to kill themselves, a plot he gloats can no more be broken than the Berlin Wall itself.

Of course as this came out right about the time the wall came down, the heavy use of the divided city made it almost instantly dated. Mabuse expert David Kalat says Dr. M also fell between the stools: not enough of a thriller for the mass audience, but not arty enough for Chabrol’s established fans. As the other films listed in Kalat’s Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse are unavailable, that wraps up this little cycle of rewatching. “It’s like God’s playing Russian roulette”

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