#202 (tie) – Germany, Year Zero (1948), dir. Roberto Rossellini

Germany, Year Zero (1948)

I’ve said all along you’re a tough one… Twelve-year-old Edmund Koeler walks through the nigh deserted streets of Berlin in the aftermath of World War II in director Roberto Rossellini’s examination of the German psyche following defeat.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Italian director Roberto Rossellini made two heavily charged films focusing on the effort to free Italy from the grip of Fascism. Both Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisá (1946) took an interesting (if self-serving) perspective when it came to representing Fascism in Italy, almost completely ignoring the Italian Fascists while heaping unending scorn on the Nazis who occupied Italy in the closing days of the war. The Germans in these films were irredeemable monsters who seemed to derive pleasure from murder and torture; almost cartoonish villains that served as a sharp contrast to Rossellini’s more nuanced approach to Italian and Allied characters. So it is something of a surprise that the third film of the director’s famed ‘Neorealist Trilogy‘ — Germany, Year Zero (Germania, anno zero, 1948) — is about the suffering of the German people in the wake of defeat. The film follows the 12-year-old Edmund Koeler as he vainly attempts to help his impoverished family make ends meet in the ruins of Berlin. Like in the two previous films of the trilogy, Rossellini makes use of non-professional actors and location shooting in an attempt to bring gritty truth to what is essentially a melodrama. But set among the destruction and despair, the movie’s greatest strength may be that it offers a perspective on Third Reich Germany that is rarely considered by the victors of the war, that of a damaged country ravaged by bombs and ideology both. (73 min.) Continue reading

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#235 (tie) – Red River (1948), dir. Howard Hawks & Arthur Rosson

Red River (1948)

Denial ain’t just… John Wayne stars as a ruthless rancher willing to kill his ranch hands if it means keeping his own form of order on a cattle drive from Texas in Howard Hawks’ Red River.

Howard Hawks is a mainstay of the Sight & Sound list, contributing more entries (six) than any other American director. This will be the fifth Hawks film we’ve tackled here at Fan With a Movie Yammer, and it is readily apparent that the director is a master of many styles. So far we’ve seen an adventure drama, two screwball comedies, a noir whodunit, and now with our latest film — Red River (1948) — a Western. And a very expansive Western at that, as the movie finds cowboy film legend John Wayne and the tightly wound Montgomery Clift (in his first major film role) at the head of a massive herd of cattle as they seek to drive their way to fortune and glory in post-Civil War America. Red River is an unusual Western, passing over the black-and-white morality of so many of these films by presenting a deeply flawed hero/villain in Wayne’s iron-hard rancher. It also serves as an interesting snapshot of a transitional moment in American cinema as a new breed of actor was starting to emerge that eschewed the heightened (some might say stagy) performing styles of Golden Age Hollywood in search of something more real and emotionally resonant. This, of course, comes in the form of Clift, whose twitchy performance as Matt Garth stands in sharp contrast to the old school styles of his fellow actors, and set the stage for the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando in the decade to come. (133 min.) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – Paisà (1946), dir. Roberto Rossellini

Paisa (1946) directed by Roberto Rossellini

I like this plane! An American soldier drunkenly rants to a thieving Neapolitan street kid in a vignette from Paisà, Roberto Rossellini’s anthology of stories examining the effects of WWII on the Italian people and the Allied soldiers who fought against the fascists.

In 1945, during the closing months of World War II, Roberto Rossellini kicked of the neo-realism film movement in Italy with Rome, Open City, his look at Nazi oppression and the Italian anti-fascist resistance. Rossellini’s follow-up, Paisà (aka Paisan, 1946), is in much the same vein and serves as the second of a trilogy of neo-realist films examining aspects of the Second World War. (The third film — Germany, Year Zero — is also on the Sight & Sound list.) Like in Rome, Open City, Rossellini makes use of on-location shooting and a cast populated largely by amateur actors or non-actors, but the director tries to work on a much larger canvas for this film. Or perhaps that should be canvases, as Paisà is actually a collection of six stories that track the progress of the war as Allied troops move ever northward up the boot of Italy. Each story is an autonomous block, completely separate from the other tales, but they share the common thread of focusing on moments of interaction between Allied personnel and Italians either fighting in or affected by the conflict. Though spiked with humor, romance, and devout expressions of faith, Paisà is not a film that revels in the downfall of fascism. Instead it is unflinching in its presentation of the brutality of oppression and the violence and sacrifice it took to liberate a still-stricken nation. But through all the suffering Rossellini never preaches, it is left to the audience to decide upon the grand purpose of these tales. (120 min.) Continue reading

#235 (tie) – My Darling Clementine (1946), dir. John Ford

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Opposites attract. Henry Fonda (left) and Victor Mature (right) star as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in director John Ford’s classic re-imagining of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

John Ford is a definite candidate for greatest American director of all time. He’s the only director to win four Academy Awards, and he was a man of seemingly endless creative energy, directing some 140 films over a 50-year career. He also has the rare distinction of being a filmmaker who almost single-handedly defined an entire genre of film: the Western. Westerns have been around since essentially the beginning of narrative movie-making. Indeed, one of the first big hits in American cinema was The Great Train Robbery, a short that kicked off the endless parade of movie outlaws holding up trains in the Old West. Heck, even the first feature film ever made, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was essentially an Australian Western about the bush outlaw Ned Kelly. But it was Ford who really codified the form, particularly with 1939’s rip-roaring action-melodrama Stagecoach. With My Darling Clementine (1946), however, Ford offered up a different sort of Western. Though the movie is very loosely based on the true story of the 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, My Darling Clementine is more a movie about relationships and the inevitable march of modernity than it is about quick draws and outlaw/lawman honor. Modest in scope but emotionally earnest, Clementine is also one of the best-looking Westerns ever made, further elevating the proceedings by applying the atmosphere and compositional daring of Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. (97 min.) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – The Big Sleep (1946), dir. Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep (1946)

Somebody’s always giving me guns. Humphrey Bogart stars as the iconic private eye Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, director Howard Hawks’ shadow-drenched adaptation of the classic detective novel of the same name.

In 1939, at the age of 51, former businessman Raymond Chandler published his first novel, The Big Sleep, a dark, complex mystery following hard-boiled private detective Philip Marlowe as he wends his way through a series of murders and disappearances tied to a blackmail and pornography racket. Chandler is one of the great stylists in American literature and a giant in the genre of detective fiction, but there is no doubt that a solid measure of his fame stems from director Howard Hawks’ film noir adaptation of The Big Sleep (1946). The film capitalizes on the tough, anti-hero charisma of Humphrey Bogart in the role of Philip Marlowe and spices up the mix by pairing Bogie with Lauren Bacall. The two were then in the midst of a torrid affair and that chemistry is splashed all across the screen — in some ways it actually saved the movie from potential box office disaster (we’ll get into that below). In many respects The Big Sleep is a tangled mess of a film. It’s not really the best place to go for a coherent narrative or earned plot twists, but it is blessed with some of the best dialogue of any noir fiction. And while the film as whole might not make much sense, individual scenes sparkle with sexual tension or slang-ridden bravado. It’s the rare murder mystery where it doesn’t really matter a damn who done it. Being along for the ride is more than enough. (115 minutes) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – The Shop Around the Corner (1940), dir. Ernst Lubitsch

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Please, Mr. Postman. Margaret Sullavan’s character checks for a letter from her unknown true love in the charming but down to earth romantic comedy classic The Shop Around the Corner.

We’ve already taken a look at one film by director Ernst Lubitsch here at FWAMY: the effortlessly elegant but wittily raffish romantic comedy Trouble in Paradise. The Shop Around the Corner (1940), however, is a marked departure from that earlier film, in that it trades the refined trappings of the über-wealthy to focus on a set of retail workers in a shop in Budapest (packed full of thoroughly un-Hungarian American actors). The film also leaves behind the rafts of sexual innuendo and sparkling banter that are a hallmark of Trouble in Paradise to craft something more willing to be deeply earnest about love and loss. But that doesn’t mean that Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson (who co-wrote Trouble in Paradise) suddenly decided to get all dour and dreary on us. The Shop Around the Corner still manages to engage with its artful, but sincere, dialogue and excellent sense of character. Foremost among those characters are top salesclerk Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) and new hire Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), a pair who loathe each other in person but have unwittingly been falling for each other through an anonymous exchange of letters. If that scenario sounds a bit familiar, it’s because this film was remade in 1998 as the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle You’ve Got Mail. But don’t let that dissuade you, because the famed “Lubitsch Touch” is in full effect in The Shop Around the Corner, and there’s plenty to love waiting there in Box 237. (99 min.) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – Duck Soup (1933), dir. Leo McCarey

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Hail, hail, Freedonia! The Marx Brothers — (from the left) Zeppo, Chico, Harpo, and Groucho — declare war with a bang and a song in the anarchic musical comedy Duck Soup.

The Marx Brothers come racing into the Sight & Sound mix with Duck Soup (1933), their funniest and most unhinged film. Veterans of vaudeville and the Broadway stage, the four Marxes — insulting motormouth Groucho, Italian stereotype Chico, silent lunatic Harpo, and Zeppo — first came to the big screen in 1929, bringing with them an anarchic sense of humor that didn’t run against propriety so much as throw a grenade at it. But even though the Brothers (who were actual siblings) tore through their movies like a tornado, their earliest films were typically dragged back to earth by needless romantic subplots and anodyne musical numbers. Not so in Duck Soup, which sees Groucho as the gloriously named Rufus T. Firefly, petty dictator of Freedonia, and Chico and Harpo as a pair of colossally incompetent spies from rival nation Sylvania — oh, and Zeppo is there too. Now in charge of an entire country, the Marxes are allowed to run completely wild, creating a frantic satire of politics and war — and movie musicals. Audiences in 1933 didn’t warm to Duck Soup like they did the Brothers’ earlier pictures, but it has since come to be recognized as their finest film and, with its blatant disregard for even basic matters like continuity and plot, it may be the zaniest Hollywood comedy ever made. (68 min.) Continue reading