WolfmanOz at the Movies #63

Tom, Dick and Harry

Were the names given to the three tunnels that were used in the mass escape by British and Commonwealth POWs from the German POW camp Stalag Luft III. The film of course is The Great Escape (released in 1963) which depicts a heavily fictionalised version of the escape, with numerous compromises made for its commercial appeal, for example, focusing more on the American involvement in the escape, but regardless, the film stands as one of the great entertainments in movie history that is beloved by so many.

At the film’s beginning, the Germans move the most troublesome Allied POWs to a new, maximum security camp supervised and run by the Luftwaffe.  The prisoners establish an escape committee, the “X” Organisation, led by “Big X”, RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (played by Richard Attenborough) and based on the real-life mastermind of the escape, Roger Bushell. Bartlett proposes an audacious plan: to tunnel below the fence of the camp into the forest, to break out 250 men. 

While the characters are fictitious, they were based on real men, in most cases being composites of several people; but the one thing the film does stick relatively close to the known facts is how the tunnels were planned and dug including how the escape was finally discovered by the Germans.

The Great Escape also saw a re-teaming of many who were involved in the classic 1960 western The Magnificent Seven – Director: John Sturges, Composer: Elmer Bernstein, Editor: Ferris Webster and Actors: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.

The large, international cast is superb, but the standout is Steve McQueen; it’s easy to see why this movie cemented his status as a major movie star. This film established McQueen’s box-office clout and superstar status.

Of the 76 men who originally escaped from the camp, 3 managed to finally make it back home. However, 50 were “shot” aka murdered by the Nazis on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. The film depicts this as three truckloads of recaptured POWs splitting off in three directions. One truck containing a number of the prisoners are invited to stretch their legs in a field, whereupon they are all machine gunned in a single massacre, with the implication that the other two are also done in the same manner. In reality, most of the POWs were shot individually or in pairs. Therefore, although not accurate in terms of the specifics, the film’s depiction still captures the appalling nature of this horrendous war crime.

But as an intended mass entertainment, ending the film on such a downbeat manner would probably have been disastrous for its box-office success so the film-makers had the last scene with a re-captured Hilts (McQueen) returning to the POW camp and being placed in the cooler defiantly with his baseball glove and ball all to the sound of Elmer Bernstein’s magnificent music. It certainly never happened but really who cares, it’s simply a wonderful coda with its final “this picture is dedicated to the fifty” as a fitting tribute. For me it’s one of the most perfectly realised endings in film history.

The film’s enduring appeal lies in a number of factors – the bravery and defiance of a group of men placed together in incredibly trying circumstances;  the viewer marvelling at the ingenuity and seemingly unbreakable spirit of the imprisoned soldiers; a cast to die for; a terrific music score that perfectly captures the mood of the film; and, finally, there is no sermonising, no soul probing: simply the film is great escapism.

I’ll always remember when I first saw this movie on re-release in the mid-1970s. It was at a suburban cinema in Auckland where the seating was benches, and an extremely large Maori sat in front of us and the whole family (all 4 of us) had to get up and move along to the right.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . Not a lot of people know that.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #62

Queen of Diamonds

Released in 1962, The Manchurian Candidate stands as one of the most insanely plotted and brilliantly executed political thrillers ever made.

The plot centres on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey), who is part of a prominent political family. Shaw is brainwashed by Chinese and Soviet communists after his army platoon is captured in Korea.

Shaw returns to civilian life in the United States, where he becomes an unwitting assassin in an international communist conspiracy led by his mother. The group plans to assassinate the presidential nominee of an American political party leading to the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Shaw is triggered by agents when they suggesting he plays solitaire; where the queen of diamonds activates him.

I never really cared for Laurence Harvey as an actor, but in this film, he is perfectly cast as the unlikeable but oddly sympathetic Shaw. It was arguably his finest movie performance.

He is ably supported by Frank Sinatra in one of his best roles as the army intelligence officer who begins to unravel the diabolical plot.

But the film also boasts one of the all-time great villainess in Shaw’s mother, played by the late Angela Lansbury of Jessica Fletcher / Murder She Wrote fame.

Lansbury was only 3 years older than Harvey but she is superbly convincing as his evil and manipulative mother who has incestuous feelings for her son. It is an unforgettable performance, as she is also the controlling wife of a witch-hunting anti-Communist senator with his eyes on the White House.

According to a false rumour, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after  JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963. The film was never removed, and public interest in it was minor before the shootings of Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald and the autumn 1962 release had run its course. Movie distributors avoided reviving a thriller with a bleak ending that millions of people had seen barely a year earlier. Of course following the assassination there was much talk and conjecture that Oswald was a Manchurian Candidate.

Director John Frankenheimer had a varied career, of which this film was his finest but his other notable films, mostly from the early to mid 1960s include Birdman Of Alcatraz, Seven Days In May, The Train, Seconds and French Connection II.

The Manchurian Candidate is a classic blend of satire and political thriller that was uncomfortably prescient in its own time. It was remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep with an updated emphasis on the Gulf War. It’s pretty good but no classic like the original is.

This film also takes aim at the frenzy of the McCarthy era whilst also depicting the Cold War paranoia of the times; The Manchurian Candidate remains potent and shocking moviemaking whilst it still remains distressingly relevant today and it is in my top 100 favourite films of all-time.

Enjoy.

I’ll be in Auckland next week for a family wedding but I’ll still have my weekly post for next week submitted to Dover later this week.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . Tom, Dick and Harry.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #61

They call me Mr. Tibbs !

Was the defiant response by Sidney Poitier’s character policeman Virgil Tibbs to the aggressive and racist police chief of Sparta, Mississippi, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger in his Oscar winning Best Actor role) in the timeless mystery drama classic In The Heat Of The Night released in 1967 and directed by Norman Jewison.

The film tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi.

After the murder victim is discovered, Tibbs is arrested at the train station as he had a fat wallet and is accused of murder until Tibbs reveals he is a top homicide detective.

Frustrated by the ineptitude of the local police but impressed by Tibbs, the murdered man’s widow threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, so the town’s leading citizens are forced to comply with her demand.

Tibbs initially suspects the murderer is plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the town’s most powerful citizens, who publicly opposed the murdered man’s new factory. When Tibbs interrogates him, Endicott slaps him in the face. Tibbs slaps him back.

What becomes apparent whilst watching the movie is that the murder mystery actually takes a back seat to the interplay and development of the two main characters; and what two characters we have which are both superbly played by Poitier and Steiger.

Tibbs comes across as a rather arrogant and, initially, a dislikable character which adds to the tension between the two, and we also see the development of Gillespie from a loud redneck racist to a man who appreciates and comes to admire Tibbs as he gradually puts his prejudices away. Steiger’s performance is an absolute master class and was fully deserving of the many awards he won for that role.

In contrast to other films of the 1960s like The Chase and Hurry Sundown, which offered confused visions of the South, In The Heat Of The Night depicted a tough, edgy vision of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders more than itself, a theme reflecting the uncertain mood of the time, just as the civil rights movement was attempting to take hold. Director Norman Jewison wanted to tell an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together in spite of their difficulties.

Almost everything in this movie is superbly done; from the sharply drawn minor characters, the careful plotting, the timing of each scene’s setting, mood and dialogue.

IMO it’s one of the finest films from the 1960s.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . Queen of Diamonds.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #60

Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true

Was the original disclaimer written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman at the beginning of the 1969 western classic Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid although the director George Roy Hill deleted the first five words when he noticed in previews that the caption was generating laughs.

When the film hit the screens 54 years ago, cinema was still relatively squeaky clean. Not only did heroes, especially in Westerns, play fair, they were on the right side of law and order, not professional outlaws like Butch and Sundance. This was a movie that changed all the rules overnight, and did so with such panache that it became a box-office sensation and embedded itself in the public’s affections forever.

Despite initial hiccups, it was clear from very early on that the film was going to be special. It started as the pet project of screenwriter and novelist William Goldman, who by chance come across the story of Robert Parker aka Butch Cassidy and Harry ‘Sundance Kid’ Longabaugh, who had both become famous in the days of the Wild West but were not well-known to the contemporary public. Goldman was intrigued by the pair because their non-killing approach to their robberies had made them popular with the people and because the resurrection of their activities in South America after they’d been hounded out of their native country.

It wasn’t too surprising that Paul Newman, a star since the mid-50s and currently riding high for his acclaimed performances in Hombre and Cool Hand Luke, was invited to be in the film, not least because he’d recently appeared in the Goldman-scripted Harper. However, Newman was under the impression that he was being asked to play Sundance and had to be corrected by director George Roy Hill. “I went back and read the script that night and thought, hell, the parts are really about equal and they’re both great parts.” Newman recalled. “So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be Butch.’

We all now know the man destined to play his partner in crime but 20th Century Fox didn’t originally want Robert Redford in the picture because he was a not a major star. However, Newman insisted, and a new superstar emerged.

The film mocked western conventions as much as it celebrated them, nowhere more so than the scene where the duo evaded the posse on their trail. In their stomach-churning jump off a cliff into a river below, the pair, far from being heroic, were scared and undignified.

Something else that made us feel the picture had an edgy and contemporary feel was the razor sharp dialogue. Although the two protagonists were intensely loyal to one another, that didn’t rule out a constant call-and-response of sniping and bitching. “Is that what you call cover?”, “Is that what you call running?”. Up until the film was released, audiences had only been used to such repartee from stand-up comedians.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid presented us with a catalogue of superb and instantly memorable scenes. All these passages have subsequently become iconic. Most iconic of all is the poignant finale. Cornered by the authorities, the pair determined to start a new life in Australia once they’ve escaped, unaware of the fact that an entire army regiment lay in wait for them. As Butch and Sundance charge their opponents, the scene was freeze-framed, then darkened to sepia as the soldiers’ volleys resounded . . .

For all its edginess, the movie contained no gore, nudity or profanity (unless we count the never-completed expletive during the descent into the river).

The film actually got off to a shaky commercial start. Several key reviewers derided it. However, any concern on the part of its participants soon lifted when it became clear that the film was becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. It proceeded to achieve the status of the year’s top-grossing movie in the USA, doing more than twice the business of nearest competitors Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider. The critics must have been even more irate when his screenplay garnered Goldman an Oscar for Original Screenplay. The film also won Academy Awards for Cinematography, Music and Song (the unforgettable Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head). Unfortunately it missed out on Best Picture which IMO it should have won.

Redford later recalled that he had no idea of what a game-changer Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid would be. “None of us felt we were making the landmark western of the late Sixties,” he observed. “But the ground did move. On Butch Cassidy, I remember laughing a lot and thinking, ‘This is just too much fun, which means it’s either shit or gold.'”

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post (dead easy) . . . They call me Mr. Tibbs !

WolfmanOz at the Movies #59

All About Me !

Is the memoir of Melvin James Kaminsky better known as Mel Brooks.

Born on June 28th, 1926, Mel Brooks has had a career that has spanned over seven decades incorporating TV, movies and theatre in which as a writer and director of comedy he has had many successes with broad farces and parodies.

It is an indictment of our miserable times that his humour would be now be deemed as unsafe and therefore would be cancelled. I’m sure TV stations now would have trigger warnings for a number of his films if they dared to screen them, and yet, his humour, for all intents and purposes, was simply very funny.

During his teens he changed his name to Melvin Brooks and like Lee Marvin, from an earlier post, saw active service in World War II, mostly as a combat engineer and he participated in the Battle of The Bulge.

After WWII, he became a comedy writer for TV, where he was hired by his friend Sid Caesar to write jokes for his TV series. He would continue to be a prolific comedy writer in TV for the next 15 years culminating in him creating the iconic and classic TV comedy show Get Smart in 1965, although his involvement in it was largely limited to just the first season.

For several years, Brooks toyed with a bizarre and unconventional idea about a musical comedy of Adolf Hitler. He explored the idea as a novel and a play before finally writing a script. He eventually found two backers to fund it, and made his first feature film, The Producers (1968).

The film was quite outrageous in its satire in that all the major studios refused to distribute it but he finally found an independent distributor where it became an underground hit. Brooks also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The film is about a theatre producer (Zero Mostel) and his accountant (Gene Wilder) who, as part of a scam, decide to stage the worst stage musical they can create. They find a script celebrating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and bring it to the stage.

In a 2001 interview, Brooks explained – “I was never crazy about Hitler . . . If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win . . . That’s what they do so well: they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”

He followed up The Producers with The Twelve Chairs in 1970 which largely went unnoticed. But then in 1974 he directed and co-wrote, in the same year, two of the best and funniest American comedies ever made.

The first was Blazing Saddles a riotous send-up of the western genre, where a new sheriff is appointed to the town of Rock Ridge – it just so happens he is black !

It is just one of those films where belly laughs are continually hitting the audience non-stop amidst a pool of obscenities whilst at the same time western movie conventions are being parodied outrageously.

It also allows me to show the greatest farting scene in cinematic history !

Brooks immediately followed it up with Young Frankenstein which is arguably his best film, albeit it may not be his funniest; but in terms of narrative, technique employed plus it is all gloriously photographed in black and white, the film is a loving homage to the three Universal Frankenstein films of the 1930s starring Boris Karloff.

Brooks even managed to entice Gene Hackman to make a hilarious uncredited cameo in the delightful sendup of the original scene from The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935).

After Young Frankenstein came Silent Movie (1976) where Brooks also starred as a once-great Hollywood film director planning to make a comeback by making a silent film.

The film starts well for the first half although the second half peters out, but Brooks showed he could deliver on visual comedy.

Hitchcock was the next target of Brooks in the wildly uneven High Anxiety (1977) but it was still funnier than most comedies released in the late 70s.

Brooks output slowed down in the 1980s and 1990s with History Of The World, Part 1, Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men In Tights and Dracula: Dead And Loving It. His films were increasingly become more and more uneven but even in the poorer ones he could still generate laughs.

He could even annoy Kevin Costner who didn’t take too kindly to Robin Hood: Men In Tights sending up Costner’s own serious and mediocre film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. For me it this was Brooks best comedy film since the 70s.

Mel Brooks will be 97 later this year – long may he live on.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post (should be easy for calli to know what it is) . . . Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true

WolfmanOz at the Movies #58

A nation awaits its . . .

Downfall (Der Untergang) released in 2004 and brilliantly directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, vividly recounts the last days of Hitler’s Nazi Germany in Berlin. This has been filmed numerous times before but none have come remotely close to matching this films depiction of the utter collapse and moral bankruptcy of not only Hitler and the Nazis but also the country as a whole.

The film starts with Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge recounting her first meeting with Hitler in November 1942 as she and other women are being interviewed by Hitler who comes across as a caring and polite man.

We then fast forward to April 20th, 1945 as the senior Nazis come to Berlin to make their respects to Hitler on his 56th birthday, and in addition to their sycophantic conversations with their Fuhrer they are also mostly all plotting their escapes from Berlin.

Hitler is played by the late Bruno Ganz, a very versatile German actor, but here he gives the performance of a lifetime. He doesn’t humanise Hitler but he does show he is human. A very hard balancing act which he pulls off brilliantly. Too many portrayals of Hitler tend to be second-rate ranting caricatures, but Ganz, and the film, also shows sides of him that depicts how he seduced an entire nation into the abyss.

According to screenwriter Bernd Eichinger, the film’s overlying idea was to make a movie about Hitler and wartime Germany that was very close to historical truth, as part of a theme that would allow the German nation to save their own history and “experience their own trauma”. To accomplish this, the film explores Hitler’s decisions and motives during his final days through the perspective of the individuals who lived in the Fuhrerbunker during those times. Eichinger deliberately chose not to include mention of the Holocaust because it was not the topic of the film.

The films also has one of the internet sensations in that tens of thousands parodies were made of the following clip where Hitler becomes angry after hearing that Steiner’s attack never happened – the subtitles are changed to reflect the comic interpretation. I even did one for a presentation at a conference on a project I was working on at a previous job. However, this scene is a chilling insight into the abhorrent nature of the man who blames everyone else for the catastrophe he has brought upon Germany and its people.

But unlike many other movie depictions of the final days of The Third Reich we also get to see the chaos of the fall of Berlin, largely through the eyes of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Dr. Ernest-Gunther Schenck, outstandingly portrayed by Christian Berkel. Whilst Hitler was living out his fantasies of imagined armies in his Fuhrerbunker, the citizens of Berlin were scrambling for any type of peace and survival amidst the carnage.

The film contains, IMO, one of the most distressing scenes in cinema history, as it painstakingly recreates Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children with cyanide in the Fuhrerbunker. This scene is utterly appalling in showing the woman’s callous evilness.

Also the film was the subject of dispute by critics and audiences in Germany before and after its release, with many expressing concern in regards to Hitler’s portrayal in the film as a human being with emotions in spite of his actions and ideologies. Screenwriter Eichinger replied to these responses from the film by stating that “the terrifying thing” about Hitler was that he was human and “not an elephant or a monster from Mars”. I believer Eichinger was absolutely spot-on in his response.

Downfall is no easy watch but it is an absolutely absorbing and riveting piece of cinema. In fact I rate it as one of the few truly great films of the 21st century and it sits amongst my top 50 favourite films of all-time.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . All About Me !

WolfmanOz at the Movies #57

A love caught in the fire of revolution

A couple of weeks ago on the Weekend Open Thread there was a some discussion in regards to David Lean’s film Doctor Zhivago. I had briefly touched upon the movie on my post on David Lean a few couple of months ago but given the interest in the film, it is probably due it’s own review and discussion.

Released back in 1965, Doctor Zhivago was David Lean’s follow-up film to his magnificent masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia. What Lean, and his cinematographer Freddie Young could do with sand they would do now with snow.

Based on the best-selling 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak which I have to admit I have not managed to read all the way through. I’ve tried but Pasternak frequently introduces a character by one of his/her three names, then subsequently refers to that character by another of the three names or a nickname, without expressly stating that he is referring to the same character. It just proved too much for me, but I am reliably informed that the film is relatively faithful to the novel.

The story is set in Russia during and post World War I where a narrative framing device set in the late 1940s or early 1950s, involves Zhivago’s half-brother, now a general, searching for the daughter of Zhivago and Lara where he believes a young woman may be his niece and where he tells her the story of her father’s life.

Omar Sharif plays the title role, a married physician and poet whose life is irretrievably changed by the Russian Revolution whilst falling in love with another woman, Lara Antipov played by Julie Christie.

interestingly Lean’s first choice for Zhivago was Peter O’Toole who turned the role down. Now O’Toole is my all-time favourite actor of but he wouldn’t have been right in the role. There’s an intensity, an almost manic aura with O’Toole which is not how I envisaged Zhivago. Omar Sharif was perfectly cast after he had initially sought the role of Pasha Antipov (Strelnikov).

Also Julie Christie was not the first choice for Lara. Producer Carlo Ponti wanted the role for his wife Sophia Loren but Lean persuaded him that Loren wouldn’t have been convincing playing Lara as a virgin early in the film !

Assembling most of the crew from Lawrence, including screenwriter Robert Bolt, production designer John Box and composer Maurice Jarre; the film was mostly shot in Spain and the production looks throughly authentic, as we see in the following clip, depicting the snow covered streets of Moscow.

When released the film went onto to become the 2nd highest grossing film of the year (behind The Sound Of Music) and is in the top 10 highest-grossing films of all-time adjusted for inflation. The public fell in love with the film although critical reaction was somewhat mixed, as if, they resented Lean’s success and ability to make both a popular and thought provoking dramatic film.

Critics have complained that Lean had romanticised the drama over the politics of the Russian Revolution, which I have always totally disagreed with.

Lean was always a subtle film-maker and there are many touches and scenes where he under-scores the conflict between the human condition and the devastating impact of socialism/communism that was imposed upon them.

No scene better demonstrates this when Zhivago, on his way to Varykino in the Urals, is caught and is interrogated by Strelnikov. The dialogue exchange between the two is striking and is superbly acted by both Sharif and Tom Courtenay as Strelnikov.

One of the things that also strikes me with the film is that Zhivago’ wife, Tonya, is not an unsympathetic shrew but a likeable and strong woman. Yet despite that, I am always hoping against hope that Yuri and Lara can find lasting happiness but knowing that ultimately their love affair would end with their parting, which we see in the desperation of Yuri in trying to get his final glimpses of Lara as she rides off into the distance.

Nearly 60 years after it was first released and at just over 3 hours long, Doctor Zhivago is not only one of cinema’s great epic historical romantic dramas it is also, IMO, the best cinematic depiction of the Russian Revolution, a seismic event which caused untold misery, suffering and death to tens of millions of Russians.

Doctor Zhivago sits amongst one of my favourite 50 films of all-time.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . A nation awaits its . . .

WolfmanOz at the Movies #56

The Man in Lincoln’s Nose

Was the original title that Alfred Hitchcock initially thought of for his spy thriller North By Northwest where he envisaged the leading man hiding from the villains in Lincoln’s nose at Mount Rushmore and being given away when he sneezes.

Although I have already written about Hitch very early in my posts, after re-watching this film just recently it deserves it’s own post as I rate North By Northwest as one the most purely entertaining films ever made. It almost acts as an anthology of all the typical Hitchcockian situations; but made here with a polish and excellence where everyone involved were at the peak of their talents.

The film’s plot sees Cary Grant playing Roger O. Thornhill (the O stands for nothing !) a New York advertising executive who gets mistaken for another man (actually a decoy fake agent) and is then pursued across America by agents of a mysterious organisation led by Phillip Vandamm, played with silky menace by James Mason, as they try to prevent Thornhill from blocking their plans to smuggle microfilm, which contains government secrets, out of the country.

On the run he boards the 20th Century Limited train to Chicago where he meets Eve Kendall who hides him from the police. She is seductively played by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint who plays the Hitchcock cool blonde seductress better than anyone else ever did in a Hitchcock film (including Hitch’s favourite in Grace Kelly). The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint just ooze sexiness and innuendo.

It turns out Eve is working undercover for the government and is actually Vandamm’s mistress and she tells him to be at a meeting at an isolated rural bus stop.

What follows is an absolute doozy of a scene as a crop duster tries to kill Thornhill. Of course, logically, it doesn’t make sense, but Hitch always prided himself in his ability to make the audience park their brain under their seat whilst watching his films.

Thornhill catches up with Vandamm and Eve at an art auction but in order for him to escape, Thornhill disrupts the auction until police are called to remove him. His last line in this clip to his would-be killer is simply priceless.

Ultimately, travelling in a vague north by northwest direction, Thornhill makes it to Mount Rushmore for the film’s memorable climax.

Even this final scene has a very strong sexual suggestion as Eve is hanging on to the mountain by her fingertips, Thornhill reaches down to pull her up, at which point the scene cuts to him pulling her, now the new Mrs. Thornhill, into an upper berth on a train, which then enters a tunnel as the final credits roll on. Hitchcock called it a “phallic symbol . . . probably one of the most impudent shots I ever made”.

I’d also say that Cary Grant probably gives his most definitive film performance in this movie showcasing his debonair demeanor, his light-hearted approach to acting, and his perfect sense of comic timing.

As an aside, Cary Grant’s grey suit worn throughout the film, was deemed to be the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style according to a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006.

This is one of several Hitchcock films that featured a terrific music score by Bernard Herrmann plus an opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass. This also featured Hitch’s trademark cameo as he is seen getting a bus door slammed into his face, just as after his director credit is seen leaving the screen.

The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman who wanted to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” which I reckon he achieved in cramming in nearly all of Hitch’s favourite themes and motifs into this movie.

There was of course the MacGuffin which was Hitch’s term in describing a physical object that everyone in the film is chasing, but which has no deep relationship to the plot which is explained in the film as two characters converse at an airport where there is a loud noise of an aircraft which pretty much drowns out what they are talking about.

I could go on but I would just recommend you go and watch this masterpiece of suspense, ideally in a cinema, but if not then in the comfort of your own home – it is simply magnificent as one of the purest pieces of entertainment ever committed to celluloid.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . A love caught in the fire of revolution.

Parasite: Christianity with Korean characteristics

I was struck by a particular sequence in the movie the first time I saw it (on the TV, I’m have to confess) two or three years ago. WolfmanOz’s commentaries on movies brought that sequence to mind again. If you haven’t seen Parasite, it is probably best not to read this post, which is certainly a spoiler. I apologise for the quality of the video clips, which come from screen captures.

I know nothing of pre-Christian Korean religious practice or folk lore, but a cursory search yielded a whole Pantheon, represented, for example, like so.

It’s easy enough to see which ones are dangerous, and the convention that is used. It may be that all of the elements of Parasite can be accounted for in terms of Korean mythology. Nonetheless, major elements of the movie strike me as being specifically Christian.

The two main families of the story are the Kims – father Ki Taek, mother Chung Sook, daughter Ki Jung and son Ki Woo – and the Parks – father Dong Ik, mother Yeon Kyo, daughter Da Hye, and young son Da Song. The Kims are scroungers living in the lower reaches of the city in a sub-basement with windows at street level. The Parks are wealthy, living on the heights in a house designed by a famous architect. A successful contemporary of the Kim children is going overseas, and recommends the son to take over his tutoring of the Park’s daughter. This friend brings to Ki Woo from his grandfather a scholar’s stone, for no obvious reason. It’s a grace. Scholar’s stones, or landscape stones, are microcosms of mountainous landscapes; a kind of bonsai mountain.

Daughter Ki Jung’s talent for fraud begins to shine through as she expertly forges qualifications for Ki Woo, who, unlike his contemporary, is not attending university. Ki Jung is subsequently represented by Ki Woo as an art therapist for the Park’s son, Da Song. She immediately exerts iron control over both the son and the mother, showing an enviable ability to bend others to her will. This young woman is CEO, or at least, Vice-President (Human Resources), material. Mrs Park, obsessed with all things American, calls Ki Woo Kevin, and Ki Jung, Jessica.

By similarly polished deceit and manipulation, the Parks’ driver is replaced by Kim the Elder. The housekeeper, Moon Gwong, was inherited by the Parks from the original owner, the architect himself, so she is a tough proposition. In elaborate choreographed interactions, the Kims manoeuvre Mrs Park into dismissing her without notice. She is then replaced, of course, by Mrs Kim.

The whole family is now employed by the Parks, who then leave for a camping holiday to mark son Da Song’s birthday. The Kims are sprawled over the living room furniture enjoying the Park’s food and booze, as the rain begins to come down more and more heavily. Then Moon Gwong rings the doorbell and begs to be let in for something she has forgotten. Beneath the basement, hidden behind shelves and a blast door, is a deeper basement bomb shelter, and living down there is Moon Gwong’s husband, Geun Se, who has been emerging at night to get food ever since the Parks moved in.

The couple discover the family relationship of the Kims, and after some slapstick, they are restrained by the Kims in the shelter, when Mrs Park calls to announce they will be home in a few minutes. Only Chung Sook is supposed to be in the house. More slapstick. At this point, as father, son and daughter scatter into hiding, Mrs Kim serves dinner to Mrs Park, and Bong Joon Ho begins to reveal his purpose.

Da Song sees a demon

The three are trapped until the Park parents fall asleep on the sofa, when they escape from the house and into this startling sequence.

Flood and fire

The colour keys in this are critical. As the descent begins, the dominant colour is green, most noticeable in the place where it changes – the road tunnel. As the Kims descend we see the green stripes on the walls and green characters on the footpath lights. The first bright burst of red is from the taillights of a car turning at the end of the tunnel as they shuffle towards it. From that point, the colour key is red. It seemed to me on first viewing, and does still, that this sequence is a descent into the Inferno; paradoxically, in the context of a flood, yet nonetheless obviously. Notice the son’s momentary reluctance to be swept down by the flood.

All of the reviews and commentaries that I have seen insist that the movie is built around class divisions and tensions. The division is deeper than that. It is the division between the earth-dwellers – the Parks – and the denizens of the underworld. The flawed earth-dwellers, snobbish, supercilious, gullible, live in the green world of the Parks’ garden, whose lawn and trees are the background to most of what happens in the Park home.

In Bong Joon Ho’s universe, it seems, the underworld is populated with demons, ghosts, the restless dead and lost souls, all of whom interact with the overworld and its people. When the Kims arrive at their flooded sub-basement, the correspondence of the underworlds is reinforced by intercutting the scenes as they recover what they can, with scenes from the underworld of the Park home, where Moon and her husband are bound, and the wife is dying from injuries sustained when she was kicked down the stairs by Mrs Kim.

Through this appalling chaos run themes of conscience and repentance, focussed on the mysterious scholar’s stone, which is what Ki Woo rushes into the sub-basement to rescue, and which rises through the floodwater to meet him.

The stone rises

Up to this point, the Kim family has expressed its optimism through its “plans,” as seen during the descent, and where the “plan” is often a plot or scheme. The refugees from the flood sleep in a gymnasium, and the son asks the father what the plan is. Ki Taek’s answer reveals a resignation of despair; Ki Woo’s reveals a resignation of optimism and the significance of the stone.

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:4

The Rock clings, follows, nags the conscience and, when necessary, leads, even into the valley of the shadow of death.

A halo for Ki Woo

Despite two attempts, Ki Woo cannot be killed, or even permanently injured, with the stone. Note the spreading pools of blood and what looks for all the world like water on the floor from which Geun Se picks up the stone the second time.

Mio caro bene!
Non ho più affanni e pene
no ho più pene al cor.
Vedendoti contento,
nel seno mio già sento,
che sol vi alberga amor.

My beloved!
I no longer know suffering and pain,
I no longer have grief in my heart,
Seeing you happy,
I feel that in my heart
Now only love abides.

Handel Rodelinda Mio Caro Bene
The flies, and the remorse

The flies settle on Geun Se’s body as soon as he stops moving. The final trigger for Ki Taek’s rage is Mr Park’s disgust at Geun Se’s smell. This theme runs through the movie. The Kims’ scheme is almost brought undone when the son, Da Song, announces that all four smell the same. Back in the sub-basement, Ki Jung points out that their common scent comes not from common soaps or deodorants, but from where they live. As the Kim family waits under the table to escape the Park home, Mr Park muses on Ki Taek’s smell. It’s a bit like boiling a rag, and is sometimes smelled on the subway. The flies know, though, the smell of the dead.

Bong Joon Ho’s underworld is an eclectic Purgatory; one in which destinations are yet to be decided; to which redemption may come; from which resurrection is possible. It is the spiritual basement of the world. Looked at another way, this is the most sophisticated zombie movie ever made.

Ki Woo and Chung Sook survive the carnage, and return to their familiar underworld. Ki Taek retreats to that other underworld beneath the basement of what was the home of the Park family.

…a hope that enters into the inner place… Hebrews 6:19

This final scene is filled with the most extraordinary joy. I think everyone feels it, and the credits close on this sense of spiritual elevation, whatever unsolved puzzles Bong leaves them with. The Good News is like that.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #55

Golden Boy

Born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on April 17th, 1918, William Holden became one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and is probably my favourite actor from that era.

After graduating from high school he became involved in local radio plays and by the late 30s was appearing in a number of uncredited roles in films at Paramount.

He got his big break in 1939 when he changed his surname to Holden after the assistant director on the big film he was going to work on was divorcing actress Gloria Holden.

The film was Golden Boy which also starred Barbara Stanwyck in which he played a violinist turned boxer. The film has dated now but it propelled him into leading roles in the early 1940s which was cut short when he was called up into the US Air Force where he acted in training films – somewhat quite different to Lee Marvin’s WWII experiences from last weeks post.

After the war he resumed his film career which was proving rather unremarkable until he landed the part of the down-at-heel screenwriter taken in by a faded silent film actress in Billy Wilder’s magnificently scathing drama of Hollywood in Sunset Blvd. (1950). It’s in my top 20 favourite films of all-time.

Holden was exceptional in a role he would make his own in the coming years playing a self-loathing cynical lead. He also helped set up in having Gloria Swanson delivering one of THE all-time great lines in movie history.

In the same year he also played opposite the superb Judy Holliday in the wonderful comedy Born Yesterday, and for the next few years he was on a golden run with hit after hit.

In 1953 he won the Best Actor Oscar in Stalag 17, again directed by Billy Wilder, for his outstanding portrayal as the enterprising and unsympathetic cynic who barters openly with the German guards for various luxuries. This mixture of drama and comedy was quite unusual for the time and still stands as one of the best POW films ever made.

Other films he starred in during this period included Sabrina, The Country Girl, The Bridges At Toko-Ri and Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.

Although a little old for the main role in 1955s Picnic he bought a sensual air to his role as the wandering vagrant, never better exemplified in this lovely scene where he dances with Kim Novak’s character.

Holden then starred in David Lean’s The Bridge On The Rover Kwai which was a huge financial and critical success.

By the 1960s Holden was becoming less interested in his films and became more involved as a managing partner in an animal preserve in Africa where he fell in love with the wildlife and created the Mount Kenya Game Ranch.

In 1969 he has a great role as the outlaw leader Pike in Sam Peckinpah’s blood-soaked superb western The Wild Bunch, and was one of many stars featured in 1974’s The Towering Inferno.

Two years later he gave his last great leading performance in Network as the world-weary TV news division president; and two years after that he had another good role in the Billy Wilder film Fedora.

An alcoholic for most of his life, Holden died on November 12th, 1981, aged only 63, when he bled to death in his apartment after cutting his forehead from slipping on a rug while drunk and hitting a bedside table.

Enjoy

and the tease for next weeks post . . . The Man in Lincoln’s Nose.