If I have any positive attributes as a writer, brevity is not one of them. I tend to write very long reviews which attempt to examine every aspect of a film. So with this in mind I thought I would set myself a challenge. The aim was three films in 1000 words. So you get my thoughts on three films in the number of words I generally write about one film (if you’re lucky). Could I get my views across in a much shorter space, and get my positive or negative thoughts across. No real thought went into the film choices. They were just a few I had to watch for uni that are on the list. Here we go. Wish me luck.
Fritz Lang’s M (1931) chronicles a city’s hunt for a heinous child murderer. The police are looking for him in force and are joined by the city’s gangsters annoyed at the increased police presence being generated. We are treated to masterful intercut scenes of both the cops and the crims formulating plans, with the editing making it hard to discern who are the law-enforcers and who the law-breakers. One of many pertinent and timeless social comments made by Lang throughout the film.
M features the greatest introductory shot for a villain I have ever seen. The murderer’s shadow ominously moving over a poster a young girl is throwing her ball against. It comes early in the film, but we instinctively know it’s our murderer, and that knowledge made my blood run cold. Lang continues to reveal aspects of him bit by bit, only revealing what he wants. Indeed we view him as a cold, ruthless, calculating supervillain until the film’s final scenes. Complimenting this approach by Lang is Peter Lorre’s performance. Quite simply it belongs in the top few performances ever. Only on screen for a short time, he makes it count. His childlike face invokes in the viewer a range of emotions, most of them very uncomfortable ones. Some find a measure of sympathy for him in the film’s final sequences. I personally didn’t. But it is a testament to Lang’s genius that sympathetic and non-sympathetic readings are equally valid.
Lang is a master of evoking emotion. The paced, waiting of a mother as she waits for her daughter’s return as the fear of the inevitable rises is felt by all. And the manner in which the murder of young Elsie is shown (or not) will make your jaw drop. Lang can compose a shot as beautiful as anyone, and he proves that in this film. But his genius as a filmmaker is proven by this one exercise of restraint.
I couldn’t do this film justice in 3,000 words let alone 300. Its a serial killer flick, a police-procedural, a heist flick, a social commentary and more. In short this is a masterpiece. If you or anyone you know doubt that film is an artform the equal of any other, watch this. In fact watch it right here:
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Some Like it Hot (1959) is the grandfather (mother???) of cross-dressing comedies extending through to such classics as Tootsie (1982) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993), and not-so-classics such as White Chicks (2004).
It kicks off with two broke and down on their luck musicians, played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, witnessing a shooting in prohibition era America. After dismissing their first idea of “growing beards” they go on the run with an all girl band, disguising themselves as female. Before long they both fall for the charms of Sugar played by Marilyn Monroe. Here I was expecting the film to go into familiar, two guys chasing the one girl territory. But whilst it flirts with this briefly it is too clever to go down that predictable path.
Whilst some of the jokes, like pretty much any comedy, have dated somewhat, the situational aspects of the comedy still provide oodles of hilarity for a modern audience. See Curtis trying to bluff his way around Osgood’s boat that he has commandeered for a hot date with Sugar. For all the jokes however, the real treat in this film is the three wonderful central performances. Monroe despite starting slow oozes sex-appeal and surprisingly good comic timing. Curtis is similarly excellent as the smarmy brains behind the operation. But it is Jack Lemmon for me who is truly something awe-inspiring, delivering an all time great comedy performance. Anyone in need of proof of this man’s genius needs only check out the ‘maraca’ sequence where the audience can’t help lose themselves in the moment just as Lemmon has.
Some Like it Hot proves the benefit of having a talented director such as Wilder at the helm of a comedy. Its all tied together so beautifully. The gangster back-story that you can’t help feel would work in its own right, a cracking score and slick black & white photography all provide a wonderful canvas for the three leads and a humorous script to weave their magic.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
The Blue Angel (1930) is generally considered to be an all-time great film. I struggle to see why. The film revolves around respectable college professor Immanuel Rath who falls in love with, and marries the (solely due to her profession) unrespectable cabaret artist Lola Lola. Following this he descends into destitution and a form of madness, ending up performing as a clown in Lola’s travelling company.
The issue is that the central romance the film depends wholly upon is rushed to the point of being unbelievable. Also, the wedding takes place over halfway through the film so the descent of this respectable man is barely chronicled at all. Instead director Josef Von Sternberg basically slaps a ‘Four Years Later’ sign on screen and everything has changed, without a whiff of satisfactory explanation. The formerly upstanding professor is now dishevelled whilst the once sweet Lola, who for some reason seemed to love the older man previously, now flirts overtly with others in front of him.
Marlene Dietrich who plays Lola Lola emerges from this the best. Hers is an excellent performance, and you can see why the professor falls for her character. She is also able to convey an excellent range of emotions, rising above material that provides no motivation for these shifts in character. The other performers are generally good, but not great and are clearly inhibited by the lopsided script.
Many much more insightful film commentators laud this film as a classic, so watch it for yourself and form your own opinion. But for me, despite a heart-wrenching final scene which illustrates what could have been, this was a bland and unbalanced experience.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
That was an incredibly difficult exercise. And despite some doubts I would be able to do it, I scraped in with the three reviews amounting to 987 words. After watching M I was tempted not to include it here but devote a whole article to it, such is its brilliance. But I thought that defeated the purpose of this article and hopefully you get a sense of my wonder at this film, and my feelings on the other two as well.