For Reel

The Family Jewels (1965)
May 28, 2016, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jerry Lewis
3.5 Stars
The Family JewelsThe Family Jewels at once shows Jerry Lewis at his most overtly sentimental and narratively frustrating. That is, while he immediately introduces a sickly-sweet dynamic between a young precocious girl (Donna Butterworth) and her beloved family chauffeur (Lewis), he also shows an incredible dismissiveness in the way that he tosses aside that dynamic in order to focus on increasingly long comedic set pieces. It’s a frustrating structure, but one which also somehow works—perhaps because, like the young girl, the audience knows each of these stops is essentially useless because ultimately she belongs with the chauffeur. This same sense of frustration and anxiety is perhaps best demonstrated when Lewis is given control of a gas station for ten minutes and, inevitably, all hell breaks loose—both the character and the artist don’t quite know when to stop. Those who dismiss Lewis’ sense of humor will find each of the uncle visits insufferable, but while they may not show the obvious visual genius of something like The Ladies Man, they do feature some genuinely witty plays with the camera (in one scene involving a photographer uncle, there is no difference between the camera lens shooting the film and the camera that exists within the film’s world).

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
August 22, 2015, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Martin Ritt
4 Stars
The Spy Who Came in from the ColdIn 1959, Richard Burton and Claire Bloom starred in Look Back in Anger, one of the seminal “Angry Young Men” films. Shot by Oswald Morris, the film dealt with a young man’s disillusionment with middle class values, suggesting that British society had become seriously ill. It seems like no coincidence that Burton, Bloom, and Morris were paired again for this adaptation of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, his first best-seller. As with the trend of counter-culture British films released in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this Cold War spy picture is equally disenfranchised, with communists and capitalists alike having their feet held to the fire. When it is a necessity to be no less brutal than one’s enemy, then where is the line between good and evil drawn? Burton plays Alec Leamas, an aging British agent who is not fond of absolutes–when asked about subjects such as his religion, he angrily responds that he’s simply “a man.” Save for the occasional outburst in the first half, the performance is a still one, a nicely accomplished feat of restraint that matches director Martin Ritt’s chilly tone.

Two on a Guillotine (1965)
August 10, 2015, 7:34 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Conrad
3 Stars
Two on a GuillotineWilliam Castle found enormous success in the horror genre in the 1950s and 60s with a series of low budget shockers that dependably made a great profit for both Columbia and Universal Pictures. Two on a Guillotine was the first of a trio of thriller films directed by actor William Conrad for Warner Brothers, and it’s a picture that was made to capitalize on the success of Castle’s ethos–the tagline on the poster starts with a call, “Attention: Guillotine-agers!” Unlike Castle’s more ludicrous productions, however, Two on a Guillotine does have a great deal of polish and seems just as interested in following the success of The Haunting as it is in mimicking a low budget fright film. It does a decent job of navigating these contrasting wishes–the gimmick of a mansion filled with numerous pranks occasionally turns the atmospheric setting into a playhouse. The suspense gets slightly more intense in the latter half, however, and Virginia Gregg is quite effective in a small part as a hysterical woman who loved the believed-dead John Duquesne (Cesar Romero). Conrad contributes some compelling, eery images (such as a bizarre sequence in which a distraught Connie Stevens is framed by the strings on a harp), but he has an unfortunate tendency to back away from the most suspenseful moments in favor of a playful tone that undermines any prolonged sense of dread.

Le Bonheur (1965)
July 18, 2012, 2:01 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Agnès Varda

The opening credits of Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur present an idyllic field of wild sunflowers accompanied by Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. This anticipates much of what follows – being Varda’s first film in color, she experiments liberally with various hues, often filling her frames so pleasantly with greens and yellows that her images resemble a fashion advertisement. It comes as little surprise to learn that something darker lurks underneath the delicate surface. Despite the beauty of the images, the credits are edited aggressively, cutting frequently to closeups of the flowers with no real rhythm or consistency. Later in the picture, when François arrives at the apartment of Émilie (with whom he is having an affair), Varda uses the same cutting to suggest the violence of the action, the devastation that he is wrecking on his loyal wife, Thérèse. Varda’s third feature is a masterfully bleak examination of not only relationships, but of what Varda suggests to be the selfish act of pursuing happiness. When François approaches his wife with the news of his affair, he assumes that she will be nonplussed to learn of what he would classify as his progressive sexuality. In doing so, he reveals how little he understands about his wife – to him, she is an accessory that brings him joy and little else. On one hand, it is completely admirable that a man like François knows exactly what it takes to make him happy. On the other, Varda demonstrates just how much a perverted quest for self-satisfaction can blind one to another’s misery.

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
February 17, 2012, 6:02 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Otto Preminger

The ad campaign that accompanied Otto Preminger’s delirious mystery thriller, Bunny Lake Is Missing, emphasized that patrons would be denied admission into the theater once the opening credits rolled, a tactic that Psycho had made famous in 1960. While over-looked today – perhaps due to its immediate kin in the psychodrama genre (in addition to Hitchcock’s iconic effort, Peeping Tom and Repulsion were also landmark thrillers of the time) – it offers far more than what the shallow marketing had promised movie-goers in 1965. Impeccably photographed in black and white Cinemascope by Denys Coop (who started his career as a camera operator on films such as The Fallen Idol and The Third Man), the picture’s deviant world is singularly eccentric, with such inventions as an eerie repair shop referred to as a “Doll Hospital”, a woman who records children’s nightmares, and a sadomasochist with a whip fetish played by none other than Noel Coward. Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea star as American siblings new to London, who early on discover that Lynley’s daughter is missing. A police superintendent played by Laurence Olivier leads the investigation, and he soon questions whether the daughter, Bunny, ever existed in the first place. Preminger wisely plays up an incestuous angle between the brother and sister subliminally – before the characters are properly introduced as being related, their proximity on screen and the way that Dullea reassures Lynley makes one wrongfully identify them as husband and wife. While the radical change of tone that accompanies the final twist is unfortunate, the picture’s third act provides a chilling chase sequence quite unlike any other. Beyond its pleasures as a mystery thriller, Preminger’s clear ambition was to challenge the limiting parameters of what a family was expected to be – Lynley, as a single mother, is presumed to be delusional by the conservative authorities.