Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson, 1940)

***
UK



Four years after the Brits adapted Patrick Hamilton's play - about a rich Victorian bride whose foreign-accented and therefore sinister husband convinces her she's going through a mental breakdown - MGM re-made it into the bloated, expensive version for which George Cukor earned Ingrid Bergman her first Academy Award. As part of their copyright claim MGM also destroyed what they thought was every print in existence, though evidently they missed one.

Whatever tension the original conjures up has little to do with the flaky bride, who accepts her insanity a little too readily, and much more to do with the monstrous husband, whose manipulation of her is enraging. The photography by Bernard Knowles is often elegant, though there isn't much room for atmosphere in the cramped British National backlot.

The four or so people familiar with this version tend to claim it is the superior one. And it is, probably, if only because it's shorter.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bed and Board (François Truffaut, 1970)

***½
France



The fourth instalment in the increasingly artificial and superficial Antoine Doinel series tracks the early days of his marriage to the safer of his conquests from Stolen Kisses. Most of the scenes are structured around a cute, quirky joke rather than the more substantial impulses you imagine would be playing a role in Doinel's behaviour. But the movie can be a happy enough experience if you divorce it in your mind from the context of The 400 Blows.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Prisoner of Zenda (John Cromwell, W.S. Van Dyke II, George Cukor, 1937)

****½
USA



Ronald Colman gets to play both King Rudolf V of 'Strelsau' and his look-alike - an English cousin - who doubles for him when he's kidnapped. Irreproachably, charismatically noble as Colman is though, you can't help but want to see more of villainous and slyly sexy Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The two relish in their double-talk and witty repartee so much so that it spills into their swordfighting. Even at its most far-fetched, the picture is light on its feet and too much fun to complain about. And the lensing by the great James Wong Howe is so painterly and majestic that it lends class even to the really clunky bits of plotting.

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