All posts by NotesonFilm1

About NotesonFilm1

Spanish Canadian working in the UK. Former film journalist. Lecturer in Film Studies. Podcast with Michael Glass on cinema at https://eavesdroppingatthemovies.com/ and also a series of conversations with artists and intellectuals on their work at https://josearroyoinconversationwith.com/

Burt serves his sentence in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

Was Burt Lancaster ever a gay pinup? I mean he obviously is one to me now but I mean socially, amongst gay subcultures in the 40 and 50s? Kiss The Blood off My Hands has a great scene with Burt, in his prime and shirtless, being flogged senseless. It ostensibly was an approved system of punishment handed out by the courts in post-war Britain, where the film is set. It´s a scene that must have inspired many fantasies and clearly influenced many a subsequent gay sex shop.

PS on a more serious note, it´s also worth thinking about male action stars and scenes like these, where they do bear the burden of the look, where they are objectified, but usually via pain or suffering, a punishment unjustly meted out. Errol Flynn, the major action star of his day, had several scenes like this in the Michael Curtiz pirate pictures he did in the thirties for Warners. What´s interesting about this one, is that the punishment is just. It´s not quite the fault of the character Burt plays. He was a POW, he´s not being too successful at processing trauma, he´s lashing out with terrible consequences. He´s done the deed but the rages or red flags that lead to them are caused by the war and he´s just as much a victim as the people he ends up victimising. He´s mired in circumstances outside of his control that work against him.

 

José Arroyo

Mitchell Leisen in Variety Girl

This is really just for those of you who might want to know what the famously queer Mitchell Leisen, great director of Easy LivingMidnightHold Back the Dawn and so many other classics, looked like. At the time of his appearance here in Variety Girl in 1947  he was Paramount’s top director second only to C.B. DE Mille, who also makes an appearance. Their status is the reason for their presence in the film. Mitchell’s would sadly change, too soon and for the worse:

 

Burt and Lizabeth Scott kid their personas

Variety Girl is one of those all-star productions, usually featuring unknowns, that showcased a particular studio’s stars whilst raising money for a cause. Most of the famous ones — Stage Door CanteenThank Your Lucky Stars — were made during the war and in aid of the war effort. Variety Girl was made post-war, in 1947, in aid of the Variety Clubs of America, which itself had a history worthy of a movie. The Variety Club was initially set up as a show-business social club. However, on Christmas Eve 1928, a baby was left at the Sheridan Square Film Theatre with a note:

‘Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show-business people and pray to God that you will look after her. Signed, a heartbroken mother’.

This could have been the basis of a great melodrama but is instead turned into the premise of a musical. In the film Catherine grows up, goes to Hollywood, visits the sights and ends up at Paramount, where we get to see all the stars there at the time: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Alan Ladd, William Holden etc.

The film is not good but it does have many treasurable bits. I wanted to share the clip above, where you can already see Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott kidding their personas, because it’s surprising to think that this is only a year after Burt Lancaster became a star with his very first film, The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946). He’d also had a success with Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1946). Desert Fury (Lewis Allen, 1947), with Lizabeth Scott had already been released, and the two had teamed up again for I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1947). The bit above fulfills the function of giving audiences what they’d liked but also providing publicity for  one attraction that was still playing in parts of the country (Desert Fury) and the forthcoming I Walk Alone, another hit.

Burt Lancaster waited a long time to get into the movies. He was already 32 in The Killers. But his success was extraordinary and immediate. As Cosmpolitan said, “a star with a meteroic rise “faster than Gable’s, Garbo’s or Lana Turner.’ Thomas Pryor in The New York Times wrote that “even in a place where spectacular ascents are now more or less commonplace, the rise of Burt Lancaster is regarded as something extraordinary”. His name ona theatre marquee was now said to be good for at least 1 million in ticket sales (Kate Burford, loc 1625, Kindle).

In Variety Girl, he’s ‘Buffalo Burt Lancaster’ who puts a cigarette on the side of Lizabeth Scott’s mouth and will light it with just one bullet. Of course, he misses: it’s a spoof. One year into his movie career and Lancaster already has a persona to kid, a powerful one, aspects of which would cling to his stardom throughout the rest of his life.

 

José Arroyo

Bibliography: Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, London: Aurum, 2013)

Pearl Bailey in Variety Girl: ‘I’m tired’

I grew up watching Pearl Bailey. She was a staple of 1970s variety television, popping up as a much welcomed guest to liven up  shows with her warmth, sass and savvy. And later, I did have the opportunity of seeing her marvellous turn as Frankie in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954) singing ‘Beat Out Dat Rhythm on Da Drum’ (“Gypsy Song”).  But I’ve never seen her as young and beautiful, as charismatic, as she is in this number wonderful, simple number, from Variety Girl (George Marshall, USA, 1947): ‘I’m Tired’

 

 

José Arroyo

Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk, USA, 1947)

Crossfire (1947)

 

A landmark noir with a superb opening sequence (see below): we see some men through their shadows reflected on a wall. They’re fighting. The only light source seems to be from a lamp and  the light gets extinguished as it falls on the floor. For a moment we only hear sounds. Then the lamp gets turned on again but we only see a person below the waist. We follow that person’s feet and they reveal a body on the floor. The man searches its pockets. The first man grabs the other man, clearly drunk, and we see only their legs as they leave through the door. The camera then pans back to allow us to gaze on the body on the floor. There’s a dissolve and the body gets turned over to show us it’s now clearly a corpse with a man we will come to know as Captain Finley asking a woman, ‘Was Samuels drunk when you left him at the bar’?

 

It’s a great opening, all shadows, mystery, half-seen moments of violence. Who are these two men? What were they doing there? Which one is the killer? Why did he kill? These are questions the film sets up. They’ll be answered progressively and only fully at the end. In the meantime the world of the film is dramatically conveyed: darkness, violence, murder, mystery, murkyness. And it´s got a particular and particularly resonant context. These are all returning soldiers who have been demobbed but have yet to find their way home, in a liminal, transitory space, with many of them not yet adapted to a civilian context and some still processing trauma. The world created is a vivid one.

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Crossfire is based on novel by Richard Brooks, The Brick Foxhole. In the novel the cause of the murder was homophobia. The film changes it to anti-Semitism, newly unacceptable after Auschwitz, and denunciations of which were then in vogue: Elia Kazan’s Gentlemen’s Agreement, made the same year, won the Oscar for Best Picture.

According to Thomas Schatz in Boom or Bust:’ In 1947, Hollywood’s film noir output accelerated and took on a new complexity as the period style began to cross-fertilize with other emerging postwar strains. Sometimes noir only slightly shaded an established formula or recombined a bit with another genre. Crossfire, for example, is very much a hard-boiled crime thriller except for two elements which interject element of both the message picture and the police procedural:the killer (Robert Ryan) is an ex-GI motivated by rabid anti-semitism, and he is eventually brought to justice by a police detective (Robert Young) operating very much by the book (p.379)’.

What anti-semitism brings as motive and cause to a crime film and police procedural like Crossfire is that it´s particularly difficult to prove.  Robert Young, nice, steady Robert Young — to my generation forever Marcus Welby MD– is top-billed but burdened with the thankless task of delivering the film´s message, offered in the most cringey and condescending way possible. According to Pauline Kael, ‘There are condescending little messages on the evils of race prejudice that make you squirm; this is the patina of 40s melodrama’. It´s difficult to disagree with the former but I´m not sure about the latter.

In many ways, the film is an archetypal noir: flashbacks that offer different perspectives on the action; unreliable narration, subjective camera on scenes evoking drunkenness that are all canted angles out of focus, and marvellous to see,;low-key lighting often deploying one source (see above). It´s got a great look from cinematographer J. Roy Hunt; and Dmytrik is wonderful at creating interesting compositions (see below):

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…and at choosing just the right angles for maximum expressiveness, such as the way the film suggests the very real threat and power that Montgomery (Robert Ryan) represents (see below):

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According to J.R. Jones in The Lives of Robert Ryan:´Dmytryk also chose his lenses to make Monty look increasingly crazed: at first his close-ups were shot with a fifty-millimeter lens, but this was reduced to forty, thirty-five, and ultimately twnty-five millimeter. ¨When the 25mm lens was used, Ryan´s face was also greased with cocoa butter,¨Dmytryk recalled, ¨the shiny skin, with every pore delineated, gave him  a truly menacing appearance¨(p.59).

 

Crossfire is exciting to watch. But it´s also blunt and capable of great crudity — not just thematically, as in the homilies offered by Robert Young´s Finlay but also through it´s mise-en-scène. Note below how Ginny, the hooker marvellously played by Gloria Grahame is introduced via a dissolve of a trash can (see gif below)

gloria-in-crossfire

Robert Ryan nominated for Best Supporting Actor; Gloria Grahame won for Best Supporting Actress. Sam Levene is the victim. George Cooper is Mitchell, the fall-guy. Robert Mitchum was clearly used just for box-office and is completely wasted.

The film was a B produced by Adrian Scott, later one of the Hollywood Ten. It´s box office success would launch Dore Schary from producing B´s at RKO into his running of MGM, still for  while, the ‘Tiffany´s’ of the studio.  It´s the product of progressive filmmakers then at RKO who wanted to make a difference (Schary, Scott, Dmytryk) and was praised for it´s worthyness. But it was also , one of a series of films that led to the famous saying, ‘if you want to send a message, use Western Union.’

To say that it´s a landmark is not to say that it´s great.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

j

 

I Married a Communist aka The Woman on Pier 13 (Robert Stevenson, USA, 1949)

 

It’s got Robert Ryan and some great noir lighting, and it’s of undoubted historical interest. Yet, I Married a Communist aka as The Woman on the Pier 13 is hard to watch and even harder to say anything good about. Ostensibly Howard Hughes used it as a loyalty test for directors. Many (Huston, Ray etc) turned him down. Robert Stevenson took the job. Ryan’s wife told their son that the choice the actor faced was take the job or lose the career.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 218 – Contagion

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

We may be living under lockdown conditions, but no virus can stop us, and to prove it we’re taking on Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, about a virus that rips through every country on Earth, the scientific work to stop it, and the social decay that it leaves in its wake. Suggested as a podcast by an irony-seeking Mike, it backfires as it actually just frightens him.

At least, for a while. We think about the film in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic currently upon us, of course, praising what we recognise in the film’s imagined crisis, remarking upon the differences. Much of what it depicts feels very true to life, and it strongly evokes panic and a sense of uncertainty; on the other hand, the difference less than a decade makes is thrown into sharp relief with the film’s essentially competent and well-intentioned government response to the disease, a far cry from the lies and bluster being spouted by certain American presidents today – something that would have been not only unimaginable but laughable at the time of the film’s release. José notes that a high proportion of the public worry in our current outbreak comes down to its economic effects, which again, Contagion does not imagine as even a minor point.

It’s a well-made film, tightly plotted and paced, juggling several plots and sets of characters, understanding keenly how and when to jump between them, and its staging, editing and cinematography bring to life the paranoia of living in a society in which any surface innocently touched by any stranger’s hand could spread a deadly disease, and the fear and confusion engendered by a lack of trust in the government and loud countervailing voices. Contagion uses its characters and scenes as representative of ideas as much as, or more than, things in and of themselves, which Mike argues leaves it emotionally distant and overly simplistic – though there’s plenty of room for debate, particularly over Matt Damon’s performance.

All in all, Contagion is an impressive piece of thriller fiction whose successes and failures are both given oxygen in the light of very recent developments. If you watch it, be prepared to be made even more paranoid than you currently are… because the world we’re living in now is even more insane.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

The Woman on the Beach (Jean Renoir, USA, 1947)

The_Woman_on_the_Beach_(1947_film)_poster

 

Scott (Robert Ryan) is a coastguard who’s boat was torpedoed during the war and is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Eve (Nan Leslie), and they’re planning to marry. But he´s not quite well and they decide to wait. Big mistake. One day he meets a woman on the beach, Peggy (Joan Bennett). She’s no good. She’s married to a blind painter, Tod (Charles Bickford) and has already cheated on him once before.  For Scott, meeting Peggy is like coming out of a fog and into a compulsion, and is beautifully visualised for us by Renoir (see below).

out-of-the-fog

For Peggy meeting Scott is… well who knows for sure. The film leaves it deliciously ambiguous. Sometimes the film indicates that he’s just some bit of juicy meat to her. Other times, a means out of an increasingly self destructive and interdependent relationship with her husband. As you can see below, she admits to cheating on her husband before: ‘I’m a tramp, say it. ‘And whilst she admits to being a tramp she certainly makes no apologies for it. Watching Bennett, perhaps the surliest female presence in all of American cinema, is a pleasure all film noir lovers will recognise.

In Jean Renoir: A Biography, Pascal Mérigeau writes that, ´Renoir knew  that he wouldn´t be able, as he´d confirm after the project, to attempt something that I´d wanted to do for a long time: a film about what you´d  call sex today..but envisioned from the point of view of the purely physical,¨and that it would be impossible ¨to tell a story about love in which the reasons for attraction between the different parties were purely physical, a story in which sentiment would play no part at all¨ (location 11636, Kindle edition).

The film has a discourse on art by someone who should know: Renoir fils learned  a thing or two about it from his father and his friends: the painter who can no longer see, who’s vision is entirely encapsulated in paintings increasingly gaining in value because he can no longer make them, who’s tied to the past in those works and thus also imprisons she whom he loves most, a woman who might only be staying with him for what those paintings are worth…it’s almost too much as a plot though Bickford is wonderful as the blind but still controlling husband, his gaze almost always in the right place so it rouses suspicions as to whether he really is blind.

The nightmare sequences at the beginning and end are wonderfully modernist. The first one, which  starts the film is below:

…and useful to compare to the one near the end:

 

Renoir is extraordinary in creating a mood, a sense of physical compulsion in which questions of morality are over-ridden by desires that can’t be fully comprehended. Mérigeau writes, ‘there´s  nothing to please a viewer who may have been attracted to the idea of seeing a film noir. Although it truly is a film noir, it contains no crime other than those that might exist in the minds of the characters, who need to get rid of their traumas, obsessions, and fantasies if they are ever  to escape their deep, adherent isolation’ (location 11738)

The ending makes no sense to me. It is perhaps arrived at too quickly and I plan on looking into the production history of the film at a later point (and due to the wonders of social media Adrian Martin has kindly pointed out to me that Janet Bergstrom has written a dossier on the troubled production, Janet Bergstrom, ‘Oneiric Cinema: The Woman on the BeachFilm History 11 (1) (1999) 114-125) ..But I loved it in spite of that and plan to see it again.

The Woman on the Beach was Renoir’s last American film, one in which he says, ‘I wanted to proceed more by suggestion than by demonstration: a film of acts never carried out..This gives the film an ambiguity that well-complements its intensity: strong feelings not quite understood but carried on into actions, many of them later regretted.

 

It´s a film Renoir tried to forget, without ever quite disowning. It´s certainly imperfect. But it´s also a very beautiful film, a hypnotic presentation of a lulling into sexual desire and physical compulsion that deserves to be seen again and again in spite of its faults

 

José Arroyo

Bibliography:

R. B.Jones, The Lives of Robert Ryan

Pascal Mérigeau: Jean Renoir: A Biography, RatPac Press, 2016, translated by Bruce Benderson with a Foreword by Martin Scorsese.

An idle thought on Burt Lancaster

Burt

 

Burt Lancaster. I was idly glancing at the TV when Apache (Robert Aldrich, 1954) came on, and there´s a love scene there with Jean Peters that´s as sensual and perhaps more deeply felt than the famous beach scene in From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953). Then, I saw the beginning of Jim Thorpe: All American (Michael Curtiz, 1951) where again he plays a native person, a natural athlete, where his very grace in movement is a reproach to the system: ´when they win it´s a great battle, when we win it´s written up as a massacre’. Then the acrobatics in The Flame and The Arrow (Jacques Tourneur, 1950) are as joyous and exhilarating as any musical number. these bits made me think that whilst we tend to emblematise US culture through cinema as Brando or Marilyn or James Dean, Burt Lancaster is the star who best evoked how America was seen at home and abroad in the middle of the last century: the strength, dynamism, beauty, the plenitude expressed by his figure, the freedom in his movement, the chiclets teeth that gleamed like a new Cadillac and the shock of wavy hair that evoked the wildness of ranges and forests and beaches. And that he evoked all of that — and one only has to see what Anna Magnani says about him in Bellisima (Luchino Visconti, 1951) to know that he did, whilst still condensing a critique, truly makes him stand out for me, though perhaps others will say the same of Monroe, Taylor, Holden, Brando et al. A morning thought.

 

José Arroyo

Mademoiselle ange (Geza Radvanyi, France/Germany, 1960)

mademoiselle ange

A supernatural love story. Romy Schneider plays Line, an airline stewardess hopelessly in love with Pierre Chaillot (Henri Vidal), a rich race-car driver who’s about to marry a heartless princess, Augusta de Munchenberg (Michèle Mercier). The princess leaves the race-car driver to helicopter off with an Italian popstar and Line’s guardian angel takes on her form to make Pierre fall in love with her instead.

It’s a trifle that begins as a madcap Runaway Bride and ends with a runway groom, and not a very good one at that. Why see films from 60 years ago that were not very good then and worse now? Well firstly it’s interesting to see what were considered cinematic attractions then: colour of course, the Riviera setting, the café society life of popstars and princesses, cars and car races, helicopter and airline travel, the glamourising of advertising — all signifiers of modernity, image culture, speed, the high life — and of course the wondrous Romy Schneider, rather bland here but extraordinarily beautiful and given a marvellous moment of transformation when she appears as Pierre’s guardian angel in Line’s body as he’s about to commit suicide over Augusta (see below):

 

Romy is the star of the film but the perspective is still that of a relay of male looks, and crude ones at that, as we can see below:

 

If Romy is figuratively crudely undressed via her advertising dummy, the film also puts on display — in a more coy and more dignified way — the body of a very young and very sexy Jean-Paul Belmondo, full of energy and a bit over the top as Pierre Chaillot’s sidekick:

So a film for fans of Romy and Belmondo, a reminder that Europe once had a transnational commercial cinema that offered plenty of attractions, an example of the ideologies at work in the construction of aspirations in modern mid-century Europe where the aristocracy and organised religion were on the wane but still carried weight, a nicely distracting trifle.

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José Arroyo

 

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Miraculous Journey of Tadpole Chan, d: Jacques Tourneur, 1961)

 

I saw this episode of The Barbara Stanwyck show mainly to see what Jacques Tourneur could do in what is basically a twenty minute television format but became entranced by the way each episode started.

As you can see above Barbara Stanwyck turns her head, the camera pulls back, the name of the show appears and leaves us only with her silhouette. It then fades to black, starts with her silhouette and the camera moves in to reveal the new dress she’s wearing ending with a medium shot above the waist as Stanwyck recounts the plot and informs us of who the writer and the director is.

The show was clearly influenced by the Loretta Young so which had been running since 1953 and would enjoy its final season just as Barabara Stanwyck would start her new one. Loretta was famous for modelling a new dress each show. I assume that the producers of the Barbara Stanwyck show also imagined that female audiences would tune in to see what its star was wearing. Barbara, however, does not twirl. It’s an elegant and informative opening.

 

The producers have clearly taken care to provide the star with as many changes of outfit as possible and they manage to cram quite a few in twenty minutes (see below).

 

 

The format of this series is an anthology one, with different stories each week, which gives everyone involved more scope but is perhaps less satisfying for an audience. Here Barbara Stanwyck is a silk entrepreneur who goes to the see the US Vice Consul in Hong Kong (Ralph Bellamy) guest starring and bumps into Hong Kong waif who has already found adoptive parents but can´t find the papers necessary to prove who he is and has a deadline in which to get them. Needless to say Ralph and Barbara help, everything is resolved at the end and US services abroad get praised in Barbara´s concluding chat, a visual and structural rhyme to the beginning.

The format allows for little preparation, few set-up, little camera movement in the story itself. What I noticed is that Tourneur frames judiciously, often keeping the accent on the boy. Stock footage is used extraordinarily well to give the impression that all the action happens in Hong Kong, and the actors give extraordinarily accomplished performances given the material. It´s also worth noting that the potential for racism is extremely high and the show largely avoids it even though I did wonder if it had in any way inspired the character of  Short Round in Spielberg´s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Stanwyck won an Emmy for her performance in the serious. As to Tourneur, he directed quite a lot of episodic television, and I will see some more, but…episodic television of this period is not a director´s medium.

José Arroyo

 

 

A quick note on Yuzo Kawashima´s ‘Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate’

sun

I´m too distracted at the moment to write even a note on Yuzo Kawashima´s great ‘Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate’, currently on MUBI, so I merely urge those who can to see it. It´s set in a whorehouse at a time of great social change where everyone seems to be running through the corridors and up and down staircases, very bawdy and funny, with a handling of diverse characters even Altman might envy, and with a nonjudgmental look on the very questionable things people often have to do to survive. It´s a picaresque film with a typical rascal hero, Saheiji, who lives by his wits. One of the things that makes this film great is that it lacks the cynicism of the picaresque: everyone has their reasons here, understanding and usually sympathy are offered to almost every character, and the look on the situation is that of humour tinged with a bit of nostalgia. Times of change are difficult ones and everyone needs to get by as best they can. The film usually comes out third or fourth in lists of favourite films in the history of Japanese cinema and one can understand why after seeing it.

José Arroyo

Further image/notes

Doña Francisquita (Hans Behrendt, Spain, 1934)

Do_a_Francisquita-927055723

Doña Francisquita is a musical film based on Amadeo Vives 1923 zarzuela. It was highly praised upon its release. According to Fernando González García in the program notes provided by the Filmoteca Española, of the Spanish films released that year it came third in the list of films that remained longest in distribution that year. It was a critical success also, with the cinematography of Henrik Gaertner –later Enrique Guerner — coming in for particular praise. Only the odd critic raised the issue that the mise-en-scène seemed a bit German for such a Spanish theme.

One of the elements that distinguish this film from the rest of Spanish cinema of the period is that all the cinematography design, editing, musical adaptation, one of the screenwriters, and director Hans Behrendt were jews already fleeing persecution in Germany.

Another distinctive element  is the way that Doña Francisquita makes female desire central to the narrative. All three female protagonists of the film, the eponymous Francisquita (Raquel Rodrigo), her mother Francisca (Antonia Areolo), and her rival, Aurora La Beltrana (Matilde Vazquez), express their desires freely and it is these desires that drive the narrative. Its worth remembering that the film was made in the context of the Second Republic´s passing of a whole array of new and progressive civil legislation in 1932, including a law permitting divorce.

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You can see a trailer for the film here:

 

The last element that distinguishes the film is the lush look, the mobile camera, the expressive compositions that are rare to find in the Spanish cinema of this period.

According to Jacasta Berry:

When Hitler came to power in 1933, German Jewish citizens lost almost all their basic rights. UFA fired 100% of all its Jewish employees. David Oliver sensed the time had come to leave Germany. He visited Spain and set up a film company there called Iberica Films. He then invited his cousin, Kurt Flatau to become his partner. Several German Jewish exiles, who were well known filmmakers, emigrated to Spain and joined the film company. From 1933-1936, the company made four films, ” Dona Francisquita”, ” Aventura Oriental,” “Poderoso Caballero” and “Una Femana Felicidad.”

The films featured Spanish actors, but almost all of the crew members were German Jewish exiles, including Hans Behrendt, the director, Max Winterfeld, the film composer, Enrique Guerner, the cinematographer, Hans Jacoby, the screen writer, and Herbert Phillips, the art director.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War erupted and the German Jews were driven into exile again. Some managed to survive and emigrated to France, England and America. But others weren’t so lucky. Hans Behrendt was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz. David Oliver and his family managed to migrate to England and  Kurt Flatau and his family went to France and then emigrated to the United States in 1941.

 

 

The story of the company that produced this film is also a fascinating one, and you can follow that here: The Story of Ibérica Films  or in the bibliography provided by the program notes above:

I’ve made a screen capture of one of the musical numbers for the film (below) to give a flavour for how they’re handles, narratively in the going back and fro from what’s happening backstage, onstage, and amongst the principal protagonists in the film; and visually to demonstrate the variety of angles deployed. The poor quality is a pity, particularly considering the Filmoteca’s wonderful restoration and the gorgeous copy it made available through ‘Doré en casa’.

 

In 1936. the Civil War erupted and by the its end in 1939 all the new progressive social legislation was rescinded and the jewish filmmakers who hadn´t managed to flee to a freer place, were sent back to Germany and concentration camps. Behrendt died in Auschwitz. Florian Rey´s Carmen, la de Triana with Imperio Argentian, another musical, this one made by Spaniards at UFA at the height of Nazism in 1938, would seem to me to be the logical companion piece for a double screening.

The film can be seen here (at least for the duration)

Further image/notes:

 

Noventa minutos/Ninety minutes (Antonio del Amo, Spain, 1949)

noventa minutos

 

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Congratulations and thanks to the Filmoteca Española for this inventive and valuable response to the current pandemic. They´ve had to close the Cine Doré in Madrid, but have put up the newly restored Noventa minutos/ 90 minutes, along with program notes and a report on the film´s restoration, online so people shut indoors can continue to see and discuss film classics and the nation´s film heritage, often, and certainly in the case of Noventa minutos, not the same thing. The online program is titled ‘Doré en casa’/The Doré Cinema from Home and can be seen here:

They´ve included programme notes on the film by José Luis Castro: 90 minutos José Luis Castro hola de sala

and a report on the history and various factors involved in the film´s restoration: restauración 90 minutos María Muñoz.

I thought it a pity they didn´t include a version with English sub-titles as it would certainly have increased the potential audience for the film. But then it is a service for Spanish people in Spain so why should they?

Noventa minutos/ Ninety minutes is a film that people interested in Francoist Spanish culture will be fascinated by. It was made by a team of filmmakers who´d fought on the Republican side of the Spanish civil war –something of an achievement in itself in the late forties, years of hunger and retribution — and by a filmmaker from a poor peasant background, Antonio del Amo (Pedro Almodóvar is the only other one I know of comparable background). When I saw it I thought of doing a video essay on how it exemplifies aspects of Francoist culture (the military, gender, religion, motherhood) but then read in the essay notes accompanying the film that it brushed against the censorship norms of the time, due to its advocacy for peace, and that according to J.C Seguín the fim is ‘a clear reflexion on and condemnation of the civil war and its disasters ({se trata de hecho} de una clara reflexión y una condena de la guerra civil y sus desastres), something I´d not cottoned on to, and all of which makes it even more fascinating.

The film is interestingly set in London during the Blitz and should be of particular enjoyment and interest to British friends. It begins with  a set of bobbies (see below, it’s worth looking it just to see how much like a Pepe the character of Preston [José Maria Lado] looks like). They  look nothing like bobbies so might in fact be military police patrolling the neighbourhood or it could just be part of the aesthetic of poverty so prevalent in Spanish cinema of the period. The bobbies talk about, and introduce us to, the inhabitants of a particular building :Mrs. Winter (Julia Caba Alba) who lives with and strictly controls her daughter Helen (Lolita Moreno),  a Spanish colonel and his grandson: a Spanish Doctor, Eugenia Suárez (Nani Fernández), a nervous Mr Marchand (Fernando Fernán-Gómez in an early role) and his wife who´s expecting at any moment; and key to our narrative, Mrs. Dupont (Mary Lamar) and her husband (José Jaspe)

 

Mrs. Dupont was once in love with and wrote letters to Albert (Jacinto San Emeterio) now in her home trying to blackmail her with them. He wants 500 pounds and sex. She´s only got 300 and is about to be taken advantage of at the very moment her husband walks in. She leads Albert into another room to hide , and that´s where the blackmailer comes face to face with a burglar, Richard (Enrique Guitart). They know and dislike each other, the burglar finding the blackmailer a cad. As they tussle with each other a bomb goes off, the blackmailer escapes, but the burglar, hurt now, is forced to descend into the bomb shelter along with the other inhabitants of the building.

Most of the action takes place in one set, the bomb shelter, a good way of making films in the cheap, and particularly economical considering the whole film was shot at night to take advantage of the sets used during the day for El santuario no se rinde [A. Ruíz-Castillo, 1949). There´s a deadline as well: once all the inhabitants are in the bomb shell they only have ninety minutes worth of oxygen. How will each face the possibility of death? Will they get out? The set-up reminded me of Jean-Paul Sartre´s Huis Clos, the being enclosed, the feeling of having no way out, the way each of the characters is a jumping point to a discussion of ideas. It´s filmed bu Juan Mariné with great skill and careful use of lighting, with skilful compositions, and expressive shallow focus. These are filmmakers who knew what they were doing but didn´t quite have the means to realise their ideas or make the best use of their skills.

The film innocently expresses very rigid notions of gender (you´re a real man), the delight when the baby born is a boy) and of romance (like when the doctor who´s now fallen in love with the burgler rushes to say it´s her first kiss’; on Spanishness  ´you as a Spaniard will understand’; and on Catholicism, Catholicism is the most beautiful religion, the urge to baptise the baby, the significance of the cross. How this ideology brushes up against it also being ”a clear reflexion on and condemnation of the civil war and its disasters’ is one of the reasons the film remains so interesting. But it´s not the only one. The plot is ingenious. The cinematography, carefully considered. We have on view already several different types of traditions of Spanish acting (Julia Caba Alba vs. Fernán-Gomez etc.

 

I´m grateful to Cine Doré for allowing me to see something I´d otherwise have great trouble accessing.

 

José Arroyo

 

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