Monday, August 22, 2011

The Big Clock

I've been visiting my sister-in-law. She mentioned watching this classic because of my article. So, I decided to re-run the post. Enjoy the article and this great film!

Fantastic film noir! Ray Milland plays the editor of the largest crime magazine in America. He is ultra-career orientated. So much so that he has missed his honeymoon 5 years in a row. Charles Laughton plays the owner/publisher of the magazine for which Milland works. He has used his immense power and wealth to manipulate Milland into working to the point of destroying his personal life and marriage. Rita Johnson portrays Laughton's long-time mistress. They are having a difficult time in their relationship and she attempts to use Milland to blackmail Laughton. After Milland and Johnson spend the night barhopping she turns up dead. Laughton, in a jealous rage, has murdered his mistress in her own apartment. Milland saw Laughton at her apartment just before the time of her death.

Publisher Laughton also noticed someone leaving his mistress's apartment just as he arrives. He uses his staff, not knowing that his own editor, Milland, witnessed him at the crime scene, to find this missing witness. Laughton wants to frame him for the murder. Milland is forced to find himself to aid in his own framing. Can he elude the massive efforts of the Publishing millionaire? And, can Milland somehow find enough evidence to prove that his boss is the murderer? Before his own time runs out?

The Big Clock is classic film noir. A good man, played by Ray Milland, is tempted by a femme fatale, portrayed by Rita Johnson. Although he resists her temptation, he still ends up on the dark side and in massive trouble. Everything points to him, even witnesses, as the murderer. We know he did not do it, but the publisher's power and money are all working against him in a race against time. Evil, using a beautiful woman, is tempting good. Classic film noir.

Director John Farrow does a nice job of keeping the movie moving. The novel, by Kenneth Fearing, is much longer and more detailed. I like both, but for different reasons. This film is taut and suspenseful. The first half sets up the crime and all the participants. The second half races us toward the confrontation we all know is coming. The script adaptation, by Jonathon Latimer, aids in keeping the movie tight. Milland, Rita Johnson and Director Farrow's wife Maureen O'Sullivan all do fine jobs in their performances. But Charles Laughton steals the show. He is at his creepy best. Constantly checking the time and his schedule, harassing his employees and stroking his mustache all serve to make him even creepier. He is terrific here.

The Big Clock is a fine example of a 1940s film noir. Tight direction and script with classic characters and story line. And a running time of just an hour and a half. A wonderful diversion on a lonely night.

Filmed in 1948, directed by John Farrow, written by Jonathan Latimer, starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan and Rita Johnson. Look for a pre-Dragnet and MASH Henry Morgan. Also, check out the woman operating the elevator in the first sequence. She went on to be Lois Lane in the Superman tv series. Remade in the 80s as 'No Way Out' with Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman and Sean Young. The original is much better, but the remake has its moments.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mrs. Miniver

This is a moving drama about the trials and tribulations of a British family faced with the onset of World War II. Greer Garson, in the title role, portrays a strong woman who leads her family through a most difficult time. She won, and deserved, the Academy Award for her perfect performance. This film won 5 other Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. This is a touching film that will tug at your heart, but, thankfully, it lacks the syrup of so many films that attempt to be moving. Mrs. Miniver feels honest. Because of that honesty the viewer can't help but be emotionally tied into the events portrayed.

This film receives a lot of credit for helping to move American attitudes towards supporting the British people. It was released in 1942 just as America was joining the war. The U.S. had been a country that was torn about becoming involved in another "foreign war". America had been attacked by the Japanese, but our national emotions were greatly moved towards supporting the individuals living under attack in England by this tale of strength and heroism under fire.

Filmed in 1942, directed by William Wyler, written by Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton and Claudine West, starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Dame May Whitty, Teresa Wright and Reginald Owen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Art of the Steal

This 2009 documentary not only fascinated me, but it enraged me. It is the story of the fantastic art collection of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Barnes passed away in 1951 and was one of the first Americans to bring post-impressionist and modern art over from Europe. In the early 1920s he organized a showing of his large collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That exhibit was ridiculed and insulted by the established art world in and around Philadelphia. He then created an art school, moved his collection to a large mansion in the suburbs and sheltered it from large public displays. Upon his death his only request was that the art "never be moved or sold" and that it not be shown to large crowds.

Fast-forward to the 1990s. Now his collection is one of the most revered in the world. The Philadelphia art establishment that ridiculed and insulted him now want to get their greedy, grubby paws on all that art. Lawyers are hired, stooges are put in place, trusts are busted and wills are ignored. Oh well, who cares? Dr. Barnes is dead and the powerful and famous want the art.

The Art of the Steal documents the history and future of this fabulous art collection. As I said, I got a little angry while viewing this film. My wife left the room and told me not to tell her what happens. But, in many ways, that is the sign of a great documentary. I think you too will be angry, frustrated and/or sad by the goings-on documented here. One thing you won't be is bored!

One note about the Dr. Barnes collection. I have traveled to many parts of the world to see great, and not-so-great, art. I have never seen this collection and would love to. But, I respect the wishes of the man who worked so hard to put this collection together more than I desire to see the art. A dying man's wishes, spelled out to the letter in his will, should be followed.

The collection is perhaps the greatest private art collection in the world. It contains, among other pieces:

181 pieces by Renoir, 69 by Cezanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso, 21 by Soutine, 18 by Rousseau, 16 by Modigliani, 11 by Degas, 7 by Van Gogh, 6 by Seurat as well as pieces by El Greco, Gaugin, Manet, Goya and Chirico. Amazing.

Made in 2009, directed by Don Argott.