Classic Courtroom Dramas: Witness for the Prosecution (1957), & Anatomy of A Murder (1959)

I am continuing the celebration of classic films this month with this double film review post. American legal dramas of the 1950s were in the league of their own, and, apart from the two films I will discuss below, there were also such films as Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954) & Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Witness for the Prosecution [1957]★★★★1/2

This is a mystery legal drama directed by Billy Wilder (The Apartment (1960)) and based on Agatha Christie’s theatrical play. Charles Laughton plays eminent British barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts, whose declining health prevents him from participating in major criminal trials, but who, nevertheless, reluctantly agrees to take on a very strange murder case. Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering his female acquaintance who, quite unexpectedly, left him a large inheritance. But, did Vole actually murder her or was her tragic death the result of a burglary gone wrong? Vole’s enigmatic German wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, and the murdered woman’s housekeeper give evidence in court, as Sir Wilfrid, acting for the defence, soon finds that his hands are more than full as a result of all confusing details emerging in this case. Although initially rather “slow-burn”, this film finally has so many “mind-blowing” twists it can put to shame many modern productions. Moreover, its use of humour, brilliant acting and intriguing flashbacks all mean that the story is as engrossing as its characters are mesmerising to watch.

Continue reading “Classic Courtroom Dramas: Witness for the Prosecution (1957), & Anatomy of A Murder (1959)”

Recently Watched: Dark Waters (2019), & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters [2019]★★★1/2

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven (2002), Carol (2015)) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home-town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark, and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

Continue reading “Recently Watched: Dark Waters (2019), & Thank You for Smoking (2005)”

Out to Sea: Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965), & Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944)

I. Ship of Fools [1965]★★★★

When I think of the things I have seen on this ship. The stupid cruelties. The vanities. We talk about values? There’re no values. The dung we base our lives on…We are the intelligent, civilized people who carry out orders we are given. No matter what they may be. Our biggest mission in life is to avoid being fools. And we wind up being the biggest fools of all” (Dr Wilhelm Schumann in Ship of Fools).

Based on a novel by Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools tells of a passenger ship sailing from Mexico and bound for Germany. On board, the people are from all walks of life and classes, from a Countess (played by Simone Signoret) who lost everything to desperate Spanish farm workers and a middle-aged Nazi sympathiser, to an aging southern belle (played by Vivien Leigh), who is in search of “something” and one artistic couple having a serious relationship trouble. The film focuses on each of those in turn, taking rounds, and could be said to represent a series of “film vignettes”, rather than a straightforward plot moving to one cinematic climax. Directed by Stanley Kramer (Look Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)), who always promoted films with important social issues, Ship of Fools is distinguished by its unusual presentation, incredible cast, and the acting of Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner.

Continue reading “Out to Sea: Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965), & Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944)”

Recently Watched: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956), & Isle of the Dead (1945)

I. The Servant [1963]★★★★1/2

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant is considered by some to be one of the finest British films. It tells of Tony (James Fox), a flamboyant member of the upper class, who has just moved in to his central London residence after a period spent in Africa. He immediately hires a man-servant for himself, demure, respectful and knowledgeable Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Hugo not only knows how to cook and take care of a house, but he is also an expert interior decorator and has been a gentleman’s servant for many notable Lordships. This tale of a friction between the upstairs and the downstairs reaches the zenith of tension when Hugo introduces “his sister” (Sarah Miles) to the household and when Tony’s own fiancée (Susan Stewart) decides to make the house her own dominion. The Servant works delightfully as a satire on class differences and servitude, showing a thin line that often separates usefulness from a nuisance, and kindness from submissiveness. This tale of hidden corruption has a frightening change of dynamics.

Continue reading “Recently Watched: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956), & Isle of the Dead (1945)”

Recently Watched: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994), & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern [1991]★★★★★

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in this film, based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress, and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she had never imagined existed, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous psychological game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s and a true cinematic masterpiece.

Continue reading “Recently Watched: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994), & Close-Up (1990)”

Recently Watched: The Red Shoes (1948), West Side Story (1961), & Black Narcissus (1947)

220px-The_Red_Shoes_(1948_movie_poster)I. The Red Shoes [1948] – ★★★★1/2

The Red Shoes is about the rise to stardom of a dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) who falls under the strict control of one charismatic, but elusive and mysterious company director Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Page becomes truly famous after appearing in Lermontov’s ballet “The Red Shoes”, but soon finds herself torn between her new love – composer of “The Red Shoes” – Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and her professional life. The film is brilliant in terms of cinematography, camera-movements and visual impact. The beautifully-designed production and the ballet, that incorporates a story of one girl whose red shoes take control over her life, are memorable. The film also makes certain observations on the creative process of a theatre/ballet production, and on art and artistic input. It asks – what price a person will be willing to pay for the sake of artistic glory and full professional realisation in theatre/ballet? The story of one girl whose red shoes control her (a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale) mirrors the story of Victoria Page who, ultimately, has to choose between her romantic interest and her blind devotion to the demands of the man behind the “The Red Shoes” genius – Boris Lermontov. 

Continue reading “Recently Watched: The Red Shoes (1948), West Side Story (1961), & Black Narcissus (1947)”