Join the Midcentury Productions mailing list to find out what we will be showing once it's safe to get back into theaters...
Maya (1949) screened FRENCH 5, 2018
Posted by Solomon on 8/8/2017, 1:37 pm
Meticulously staged and beautifully photographed story of a prostitute.
I think noir fans and fans of French noirs will like this movie, whether or not it's to be considered a noir or poetic realism.
The noir elements include much of the photography. The story is told mainly in a port city that has a red light district that's much like the Casbah, replete with stone steps and stone buildings. The prostitutes hang out in front of their apartments. These "exterior" sets are very attractive and beautifully lit, reflecting a lot of careful work and design. I really liked the photography in this film by Andre Thomas who did Corridor of Mirrors the same year. I wondered whether these sets had been recycled from earlier movies, but I didn't check. Other exteriors use the port itself. The story opens on board a ship at sea and focuses on the eagerness of the crew to land and find a woman.
The story is primarily about one prostitute, played by Viviane Romance, who can also be seen in noir work like Panique (1946), Sirocco (1938), L'étrange Monsieur Victor (1938), The Puritan (1938) and further back in the 30s. Romance's identity is completely tied up in being what her patrons want her to be. Jean-Pierre Grenier is a sailor who falls in love with her, at first because she reminds him of a former love. He woos her and she resists leaving to become his wife in an idyllic cottage with garden. The story focuses on the course of this romance. In a somewhat connected subplot, Marcel Dalio, a steward on a big liner, has fallen for a high-class woman who doesn't know he exists. He has stolen one of her nightgowns. After a knifing incident, he takes refuge with Romance who dons the gown and true to her identity "becomes" Dalio's dream woman, if only briefly. Threaded through the story is an exotic eastern mystic played by Valéry Inkijinoff. He speaks in sayings about how everything is illusion.
The director, Raymond Bernard, did Wooden Crosses (1932), the monumental Les Miserables (1934) and A Friend Will Come Tonight (1946), to mention several that I've seen and found to be excellent.
Macao, l'enfer du jeu (1942) aka Gambling Hell screened FRENCH 3, 2016
Posted by Solomon on 8/14/2017, 6:29 am
Summary: Von Stroheim angles to make a gun deal with Sessue Hayakawa who fancies Mireille Balin
Macao, l'enfer du jeu (1942) aka Gambling Hell is a noir, mostly set in exotic Macao after a tumultuous opening on the war torn China mainland. Level-headed woman of the world Mireille Balin, maintaining her poise among bombs dropping, is rounded up with others. She could be shot but Erich von Stroheim, a gun runner, rescues her; and his yacht takes them down to Macao where he hopes to buy a store of munitions from Sessue Hayakara, secret manager of a gambling casino and a power in Macao. Rounding out the story are the yacht's captain and crew, Hayakara's daughter (Louise Carletti) from a French mother, a young newsman (Roland Toutain) who hits it off with Carletti, and a snitch (Henri Guisol) who sells information to anyone for $50 a shot.
I watched the original version with von Stroheim, and it runs 91 minutes. The story develops gradually, developing character, and then it takes firm hold. The settings feel Oriental. The interior sets are marvelous. Director Jean Delannoy obtained really good performances from all concerned. Von Stroheim shows a lot of range in his character, being at times gracious, solicitous, tense, relaxed, playful, and confident amid troubles. Hayakara's character likewise gives him a chance to show a wide range. He can be wily, firm, a father with a soft spot for his daughter, arrogant, commanding respect, violent, and a man used to taking what he wants, even Balin. Balin is very strong in her part too, completely convincing, mature and yet with the light of girlishness not extinguished.
The story gets darker as it proceeds. At first it seems like any number of adventure stories set in the Orient. Give it a chance. It builds up, leading especially to a highly melodramatic climax or two. Although the gun deal frames the plot throughout, Balin is central to the story through her relationships with Stroheim and Hayakara; and Carletti's role is crucial, along with Guisol's. This is good plotting.
NOTE: I am not sure it's possible to find the version of this film with Pierre Renoir in place of von Stroheim any more. Anyone have it?
L'assassinat du Père Noël (1941) aka Who Killed Santa Claus? screened at NOIR NOEL, December 2017
Posted by Solomon on 8/12/2017, 12:24 pm
L'assassinat du Père Noël is a beautifully done atmospheric noir, a treasure as so many of the French noirs are. The level of sophistication in these movies, sets, dialog, characterizations, and acting, is very high.
This one is impossible to pigeon hole. Beside its noir elements that keep breaking forth throughout, it also is a bit of a Christmas story. It is mainly a sharp rendering of village life and characters, including the children. And it also contains a poetic-romantic story. The mystery element is slight because we are given a strong but not entirely unambiguous visual clue near the beginning.
The time is before and on Christmas. The place is a snow-laden and isolated village in a mountain area. Such settings can easily be as noir as any city-scape via the use of well-chosen times of day. The Church has a valuable diamond ring that it puts on display near the manger every year. This year a thief wants it and will plot to steal it, placing the blame on Harry Baur, who always dresses up as Santa and visits homes with children. The kids get quite a lot of play in the movie, and they're priceless. Baur's daughter (Renée Faure) is pursued by the local schoolteacher (Robert Le Vigan), who is an anti-cleric, rather stuck on himself but not a bad guy. Her heart is with Raymond Rouleau, however. Faure could not be better as the love-stricken maiden. Among several oddities in this story, Rouleau is a returning baron whose fortune is gone, and he's wearing a glove and letting it be known that he is leprous. Another oddity is that the local pharmacist's (Jean Brochard) wife is partly mad and wanders around everywhere asking people if they've seen her missing cat. Baur has the curious occupation of making hand-made globes. The children, confined to village life, love to hear him spin tales about China and a Chinese warlord. Fernand Ledoux is the town mayor. Near the end, Bernard Blier appears as a policeman called into the village because of the body that has been found, the theft and several people being knocked about.
This movie passed German control and censorship. But did it convey anti-German sentiments in some subtle ways? The story is not set in the time of the German occupation and has nothing to say about it. The criminal involved is French. The disturbance of the village's traditions by this person might mirror the German intrusion into France and the French collaborators. There are several hopeful plot turns toward the end that may suggest that the French will survive the occupation and stand on their own feet again.
NOTE: The first "provincial gothic," a new sub-genre of French noir that emerged during the Occupation that expanded beyond the remote "villages encased in snow" and became more pointed allegories for the forces of darkness that were tearing away at France, both from without and from within. The latter variation mutated after the war into depictions of despair and madness.
La foire aux chimeres (1946)
Posted by Solomon on 8/11/2017, 8:40 am
Desires and dreams give birth to illusions
Author: msroz from United States
11 August 2017
La foire aux chimères (1946) aka Devil and the Angel, means Carnival of Illusions. This is a film noir, a melodrama and an ill-fated romance story. I agree with the current 3 reviews that this is a very fine movie. The lighting is extraordinary throughout, producing tremendous atmosphere. The closing sequences, shot with a tilted camera, are memorable.
A very full plot description can be found in critic John Grant's noirish blog. Erich von Stroheim's face is disfigured and he's subjected to the taunts and pranks of co-workers. He longs for acceptance and female company, and he finds it in the blind, luminously beautiful and angelic Madeleine Sologne, who is part of a carnival knife-throwing act. He feels sorry for her, but she mentions her compensations. She can imagine herself in a palace, if she wants. She always dreams of being somewhere else, in a castle. Stroheim tells her that he has the same dream. He'll make her dream come true, but he can't enter the castle alone. So, they marry, but this is film noir and dreams may come true or they may only seem to come true and be illusions, discovered to be illusions only later on after being revealed by other realities.
It's interesting that von Stroheim appeared in so many films that involve theater and illusions in one way or another. He appeared in the famous La grande illusion (1937). He starred in The Great Gabbo (1929) as a ventriloquist. In The Great Flamarion (1945), he did a marksman act. In Sunset Boulevard (1950), he was a retired director, catering to the illusions of Gloria Swanson. In The Mask of Diljon (1946), he was a stage illusionist. In Portrait of an Assassin (1949), he was an injured former acrobat. His butchered epic Greed(1924) teaches that happiness from gold is an illusion. It seems that von Stroheim chose movie roles that reflected his strong tendency to play a role in his real life, to adopt notable dress, to create an appearance, to gesture and move in distinctive ways, and to become the man you loved to hate. He chose roles that involved stories involving illusion. In this movie, he is far, far different, becoming a sympathetic character caught up in his love. However, the story demands that illusion again becomes predominant.
L'assassin a peur la nuit (1942)
Posted by Solomon on 8/15/2017, 9:32 am
Summary: Burglar Jean Chevrier hides out in the country at a stone quarry
L'assassin a peur la nuit (1942) is a noir whose main character is a thief (Jean Chevrier) who works with another (Henri Guisol) on the job and with his woman (Mireille Balin) behind the scenes. She collects curios and associates with a shady antique dealer and fence (Jules Berry). The movie, as in Delannoy's "Gambling Hell" takes its time establishing the characters, but midway the noir orientation in story, character and staging becomes clear and maintains through the rest of the film. Much of the story occurs in a country setting, near a stone quarry, a hideout for Chevrier who is fleeing police pursuit. There he meets the innocent Louise Carletti, setting up a Balin-Chevrier-Carletti triangle. She was "Jasmine" in Gambling Hell, and in one line mentions the jasmine flower.
The story is not really predictable despite some familiar plot elements. Although Chevrier tends to be impassive and not an animated actor, he still manages to create the required intensity and emotional charge that's needed for his leading role and the situations he faces. Carletti is much more lively. She has a larger role than Balin during most of the film's middle, but Balin has important and deeper scenes at the start and final third.
This film doesn't have the magic of a Port of Shadows (1938) or a Gabin-Morgan pairing, yet it proceeds on its own terms and the result is well worth seeing. Only 60 votes on the film and 2 user reviews so far. There are no critic reviews on IMDb. Presumably this reflects lack of accessibility, which is too bad because the quality of these old French noir films is high.