1940s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#451 Post by Tommaso » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:06 pm

knives wrote:That's my excuse for not including A Cantebury Tale actually. It's far too easy just to list all of their films of the decade.
My problem, too. It seems unfair to all the other excellent filmmakers. But not listing all of the Powell/Pressburger films seems unfair to the Archers.

Best Fords of the decade: How green was my valley and She wore a yellow ribbon. The first is wonderfully written, acted and shot, genuinely touching but never melodramatic and seems to be a film very close to his heart even though it's set in Wales, not his beloved Ireland. The latter encapsulates everything that is so iconic about the Wayne/Ford westerns, but in a way almost turns the whole thing into some sort of musical. Lots of comedy, but still there's a somewhat deeper core to it.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#452 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:07 pm

zedz wrote:Visconti: La terra trema (As far as I'm concerned, this is Visconti's greatest film and - by far - the greatest Italian neo-realist film, but I haven't noticed that much mention of it in this thread. A must-see, obviously. Ossessione has a good chance of making my list too.)
I wouldn't mind hearing more on why you like this film so much. I saw it a few years ago and while I thought it was a fine enough film, I wasn't blown away, and even found it dull in parts. Then again, my favourite Visconti is Le Notti Bianchi, so what do I know.

I definitely second those who prefer The Fallen Idol to The Third Man. It runs a much larger emotional gamut and is so precisely realized in the way it transfigures common thriller tropes into almost unrecognizable forms, where The Third Man still leans heavily on well-established and recognizable generic forms. That's not a knock on the latter, just a way of saying that the former pushes everything just one step further.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#453 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:15 pm

Team Odd Man Out!

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#454 Post by swo17 » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:19 pm

Tommaso wrote:And I surely also agree with zedz on La terra trema...Definitely go for the Italian disc (english friendly), as it's infinitely better than the BFI release.
Aaargh, and I just bought the BFI a few weeks ago. When you say Italian, are you referring to the Ripley's Home Video release?

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the preacher
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#455 Post by the preacher » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:30 pm

For lovers of La terra trema I recommend Leitão de Barros' more lyrical approach in Ala-Arriba!, certainly my Portuguese pick of the decade.

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zedz
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#456 Post by zedz » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:50 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
zedz wrote:Visconti: La terra trema (As far as I'm concerned, this is Visconti's greatest film and - by far - the greatest Italian neo-realist film, but I haven't noticed that much mention of it in this thread. A must-see, obviously. Ossessione has a good chance of making my list too.)
I wouldn't mind hearing more on why you like this film so much. I saw it a few years ago and while I thought it was a fine enough film, I wasn't blown away, and even found it dull in parts. Then again, my favourite Visconti is Le Notti Bianchi, so what do I know.
It's the film where I think Visconti's tendency towards the operatic is most thrillingly grounded by his socialist / realist urges. Rather than having ready-made visual opulence laid out for his convenience (not that this is necessarily a bad thing) in the form of glamorous movie stars and venerable palazzi, he's fashioning incredible visual poetry out of much more humble found materials. I also feel like it's the film that pushes the neo-realist project as far as it ever went, constructing a sweeping, crushing epic out of its source anecdote, and managing to be much more politically dynamic than most of its rivals as well. And in addition to this, it's an incredible sea film to file alongside Man of Aran and Epstein's Breton works, so it's a triumph of documentary spectacle as well, with an unruly natural energy that Visconti never really revisited.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#457 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:08 pm

Cold Bishop wrote:Team Odd Man Out!
Easily

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#458 Post by Tommaso » Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:32 pm

swo17 wrote:
Tommaso wrote:And I surely also agree with zedz on La terra trema...Definitely go for the Italian disc (english friendly), as it's infinitely better than the BFI release.
Aaargh, and I just bought the BFI a few weeks ago. When you say Italian, are you referring to the Ripley's Home Video release?
Yes, the RHV release. Restored image, removable subs, some extras, too, if I recall correctly. As to the film itself, what zedz just said.

Another one:
Cold Bishop wrote:Manon (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1949)
Thanks for the recommendation, I'm not sure whether I would have unearthed this one from the kevyip without your excellent post on it, Cold Bishop.

But I'm puzzled. For the most part this is an excellent, typically cynical film in the manner that we've come to expect from Clouzot. I agree that Manon is less a femme fatale than a girl totally driven by her instincts, and these instincts are surely right given the cold, greedy and opportunistic environment the story is set in. This way, the film totally gets rid of all the melodramatic romanticisms that pervade so many other versions of the "Manon Lescaut" story. And I really, really like Cécile Aubry in that role.

But for heavens sake, what made Clouzot conceive the ending? If those blood-thirsty Arabs stand in for the new French government, the Vichy regime, or even the nazis (I really don't know, but they must have some metaphorical significance that escapes me), well, it's certainly a damn stupid and very stereotypical idea. Instead of rising "to the stratosphere", the film in its final 20 minutes descends into a completely overdone mess of clichés, becomes melodramatic and reminds me, even visually, of the worst excesses of some B-movies from the 50s. This really marred the whole film for me. Those sequences may be memorable because of their over-the-top character, but they are completely unbelievable, and that is the main difference to Sternberg for me. And the final speech of Des Grieux to the dead Manon doesn't make it any better. A good film ending in very bad taste.

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TMDaines
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#459 Post by TMDaines » Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:44 pm

swo17 wrote:
Tommaso wrote:And I surely also agree with zedz on La terra trema...Definitely go for the Italian disc (english friendly), as it's infinitely better than the BFI release.
Aaargh, and I just bought the BFI a few weeks ago. When you say Italian, are you referring to the Ripley's Home Video release?
Oops, the BFI is pretty dreadful. The RHV is (as pretty much always) excellent, and has some nice extras to boot. There's several of theirs that have English subtitles and are excellent releases.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#460 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:41 pm

Tommaso wrote:But for heavens sake, what made Clouzot conceive the ending?
I don't think it has anything to do with allegory. It mean exactly what it means and sums up the point of the film: if you think the end of the war and the defeat of fascism is going to lead to peace and prosperity, you couldn't be more wrong. It also another case of his bitter irony: the Jews fleeing post-Nazi war ravished Europe for the promised land, and finding the same thing there.

Like I said, it's an incredibly bleak and cynical ending, too much so. And half-a-century of Middle East conflict doesn't make it, or the one-dimensional nature of the Arab "threat", more palatable. But I certainly think it's of a piece with the rest of the film. And I think it demonstrates that Clouzot wasn't a fascist, but just a complete and utter pessimist.

And if you're not a sucker for excess and hysteria when its done right (I am a Ken Russell, after all!), then there's probably no converting you.

Edit: Leaving behind Sternberg (and I think the film could have used a bit more Sternberg in regards to Aubry's Manon), I know perhaps a better point of comparison: the hysterical, sado-masochistic ending to Duel in the Sun. Another violent, sun-bleached, desert-laden ode to amour fou, located at the moment where death and eroticism meet. Of course, the sexual politics between the two films couldn't more different.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Sat Jan 14, 2012 1:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#461 Post by lubitsch » Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:37 pm

Tommaso wrote:But not listing all of the Powell/Pressburger films seems unfair to the Archers.
Oy. I'm aware that P & P have rightfully risen enormously in reputation among cinephiles but somehow this goes a bit too far. Some of the criticism launched in the 40s was and still is spot on. Just because they are bold and cinematic they aren't necessarily preferable to the more classical British films of the era. Often it#s a lot of ballyhoo around slightly vacuos vehicles and very very rarely does the great elements jell into a cohesive film. Nobody would contest that sequences are outstanding like the ballet from Red Shoes or the bomb deactivation in The Small Black Room but they tend to dwarf the rest of the films.
Tommaso wrote:Best Fords of the decade: How green was my valley and She wore a yellow ribbon. The first is wonderfully written, acted and shot, genuinely touching but never melodramatic and seems to be a film very close to his heart even though it's set in Wales, not his beloved Ireland. The latter encapsulates everything that is so iconic about the Wayne/Ford westerns, but in a way almost turns the whole thing into some sort of musical. Lots of comedy, but still there's a somewhat deeper core to it.
Agree about the first, disagree about the second where the single parts fall apart and are not always that great to begin with. Otherwise Ford is arguably the strongest director of the decade with The Grapes of Wrath, The Long Voyage Home, How Green was my Valley, My Darling Clementine and Fort Apache he has five films which I would consider for a top 50 list. Sturges isn't far behind though.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#462 Post by Tommaso » Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:01 am

Cold Bishop wrote: It also another case of his bitter irony: the Jews fleeing post-Nazi war ravished Europe for the promised land, and finding the same thing there.
Right, but the whole thing about the Jews going to Israel has nothing to do with the rest of the story. None of the Jewish characters is given any prominence in the film, we don't get to know them, and they seem only like a sort of 'backdrop' on which the story of the two main characters continues. And that simply doesn't make any sense to me, and that's why I can't read that much of a political point in the whole thing.
Cold Bishop wrote: And if you're not a sucker for excess and hysteria when its done right (I am a Ken Russell, after all!), then there's probably no converting you.
Oh, I have nothing against excesses, after all I do like most of Veit Harlan's work... But the ending of Manon has a totally different tone compared to the rest of the film, which is quite nuanced in its portrayal of the characters. So the excessiveness of the end sits not well with the film as a whole, it almost seems to come from a different film. And that's what I find irritating.
lubitsch wrote:
Tommaso wrote:But not listing all of the Powell/Pressburger films seems unfair to the Archers.
Oy. I'm aware that P & P have rightfully risen enormously in reputation among cinephiles but somehow this goes a bit too far. Some of the criticism launched in the 40s was and still is spot on. Just because they are bold and cinematic they aren't necessarily preferable to the more classical British films of the era. Often it#s a lot of ballyhoo around slightly vacuos vehicles and very very rarely does the great elements jell into a cohesive film. Nobody would contest that sequences are outstanding like the ballet from Red Shoes or the bomb deactivation in The Small Black Room but they tend to dwarf the rest of the films.
First of all, I've said already that I will only list six of the ten P&P films of the decade, and incidentally The Small Back Room isn't among them. But I disagree if you say that those famous sequences tower so much above the rest of the films, or that the films are not cohesive. On the contrary, I can't think of many other films of the decade which are written as well as the P&P films. It's just that their 'unity' and 'meaning' often does not come from the plot or the narrative itself, but is achieved by different means. I think of the elaborate colour coding in Black Narcissus for instance, or the way that all of The Red Shoes evolves from the central question of art vs life. The ballet sequence is a concise summing up of that theme, not an independent 'showpiece', even though it may work as such, too. Even an apparently loose film like A Canterbury Tale is perfectly glued (ahem...) together by the script's constant exploration of the acts of 'seeing' and 'representation'.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#463 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:05 am

Wow, I am... totally unimpressed by Monsieur Verdoux. I was expecting to enjoy it immensely, as I've liked almost everything with Chaplin in it I've seen, and him in a black comedy seemed particularly appealing- but this didn't work for me at all.

The filming seemed weirdly flat- Chaplin was never much for fancy shooting, but here it seemed oddly like a three camera sitcom, sticking to medium closeups and two shots, all in closed in sets. The performances seemed sitcomesque, too, overly broad and unconvincing. And the whole conceit of the thing felt like Lolita if Nabokov didn't recognize what a monster Humbert Humbert was- the whole thing seems structured around the argument that maybe killing old ladies really isn't that bad (which it cheats by making all the ladies Chaplin kills awful.)

The obvious touchpoint here is Kind Hearts and Coronets, which I love, but honestly this felt like it had neither the satirical point nor the wit of that movie. Rather than being wicked and dashing and sharp, it just felt ugly and cruel.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#464 Post by lubitsch » Sun Jan 15, 2012 8:48 am

Here's a little guide to Scandinavian cinema

The Norwegian film industry was a very weak and small one since the theatres were state owned and didn't have to pay taxes which in other countries were used to fund films. I've seen only Gattegutter which however is quite good and thematically somehow belongs to the group of films about gangs of children after the war in desolate surroudings even though this one in fact takes place in the 20s. Still it feels like Children of the Beehive or Valahol europaban with the youth gangs unemployment, strikes and the attempts to find a stable life. Director Arne Skouen became one of the most important Norwegian directors.

The Swedish cinema is a bit more elusive than it should be, the missing Sjöström's in the silent era aren't the only case. I think I'm not the only who would like to see Molander's version of Ordet and I also don't get why Alf Sjöberg's Himlaspelet and Bara en mor don't float around somewhere on the net, there must have been at least TV transmissions of these supposedly important film. If anyone has them (no subs necessary), please let us know, we can offer something nice in exchange. The available films are obviously mostly Bergman who however wasn't yet a major director. None of the 7 films he directed is really great though almost all have qualities which hint at future greatness. Generally it seems to me he's dabbling in film styles and genres experimenting with story structure without really making it jell. Det regnar på vår kärlek is rather charming, but there's no top 50 film for me around, the same goes for the two films he scripted and Molander and Sjöberg directed. The best Swedish film of this decade was made by Hasse Ekman, there are subs for two of his 40s film on the net and Banketten is the film to watch, an acidic comedy drama about the family of a rich industrialist who failed with his children, only one son is responsible but doesn't want to have anything to do with him while the other is a parasitic thief masking his behaviour with witticisms. The daughter is the most startling character, a weak willed sexual masochist who is shown in a rather startling scene when she gets slapped, beaten and raped offscreen by her sadistic husband. The film is a pretty obvious inspiration for Festen by Vinterberg. Also quite engaging though a bit too much in love with his own cleverness is Ekman's Flickan från tredje raden/Girl from the Third Row an intriguing story of a ring passing through many hands being told by an mysterious girl to a despairing playwright.

Finnish cinema holds also unexpected pleasures though Tapiovaara, its main director of the 30s, was a victim of the Winter War and his single 40s film isn't quite as interesting. However the 40s were the great decade for Teuvo Tulio whose films are available in three subtitled DVD sets. Especially Sellaisena kuin sinä minut halusit/The Way You Wanted Me, Rakkauden risti/The Cross of Love and Levoton Veri/Restless Blood are arguably the most outlandish melodramas made in the 40s with the lead actress of the last two films, Regina Linnanheimo, being the most expressive actress of the deacde. Tulio's films are on the one hand utterly amateurish with hilariously bad cutting, sets with fake backgrounds and skies (there's even a clapperboard visible once!), melodramatic cliches and grotesque acting, on the other hand he has a very strong visual grip on his films inspired by directors like Dovzhenko, Machaty as well as a curiously feminist attitude allowed to do things which under Hollywood censorship never could be made. The first two films are very similar versions of fallen women, the second with the twist that it's essentially a remake of Pushkin's The Postmaster. The third progressively descends into the shrillest melodrama mixed with quite a bit of horror, Linnanheimo easily outacting Bette Davis in her wildest role. Finally we shouldn't forget Hannu Leminen's Valkoiset ruusut/White Roses which is an earlier version of Ophüls' Letter from an unknown Woman and a very well made one again with an impressive lead actress.

Finally Denmark reappears on the scene. I guess we all know Dreyer's Vredens dag and I quite agree about its high status. However there's at least one other film I'd like to suggest for watching and that's Ditte menneskebarn made by Bjarne and Astrid Henning-Jensen, a study of a poor family in the 19th century where the daughter has to find her way through life being mistreated by her mother and her employer, but also can rely on her grandmother and her stepfather. It's a curious mix of realism and poetry again anchored by a strong lead performance by Tove Maes, the characters having a touch of Dickens. There's also a very explicit but in itself unspectacular nude scene for her showing why Denmark was among the first countries to allow for the production of sex films. Not easy to describe the charme of this film which had quite a renown once and could use a properly subtitled commercial DVD but at least there are English subs around. I wish there were subs for one, two other films but at least we have some for Otte akkorder, a very quiet episode film with a grammophone record passing hands and connecting the stories which essentially are intriguing character studies. The film features the famous danish actress Bodil Kjer after whom the national film award Bodil is named, while Bodil Ipsen the other woman who also was the godfather for this prize directed Afsporet a film which is a very intriguing missing link in cinema history taking up strands of French Poetic realism and seguing into the dark world of film noir. It's not completely successful, but an interesting item for those interested in these movements.
Last edited by lubitsch on Sun Jan 15, 2012 3:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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thirtyframesasecond
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#465 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:58 pm

I've no real prior knowledge of the Ford movies of the '40s. If I only had time to see 2-3, what would be the most recommended?

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Shrew
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#466 Post by Shrew » Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:47 pm

There's Domino's guide for a quick overview, but my favorite 3 are Fort Apache, My Darling Clementine, and The Grapes of Wrath. Apache precisely because Fonda's colonel is such an asshole, but also competent, which makes his mounting frustrations and mistakes more sympathetic. Plus the ending manages to appear patriotic while questioning the Nationalist construction of American history, which is quite something.

The next 3 would probably be They Were Expendable, How Green Was My Valley, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. At least you should watch one of the Westerns and one of the contemporary films, just to get an idea of Ford's range and coherence across genre.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#467 Post by puxzkkx » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:14 pm

Of the potboilers Bergman made in the 40s none of them are worthy of a placement nor, really, of a watch unless you're a completist - I've seen all but Night Is My Future and the best is probably A Ship to India which is a watchable melodrama with some strong supporting performances from Holger Lowenadler and Anna Lindahl. The rest are all varying degrees of mediocre - although if an original cut of The Devil's Wanton shows up it might change things, as the second half of the mutilated version I saw has some interesting touches - and It Rains on Our Love is risibly bad. To me he only gets into his groove in 1950 with To Joy.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#468 Post by swo17 » Sun Jan 15, 2012 8:03 pm

I trust you aren't including Prison as one of the "potboilers"? It's a whole other animal, quite forward thinking, and full of the ideas that are typically associated with later Bergman.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#469 Post by lubitsch » Sun Jan 15, 2012 8:36 pm

Calling Bergman's films potboilers isn't really appropriate, ironically the you haven't seen is the film who arguably fits the description best. I think it's pretty clear that Bergman wants to get away from classical melodramas, already his first film, Crisis, has many country vs. city cliches but the direction focuses our interest away from them. It's just that he tries too hard to be original, fragmenting his stories halfheartedly, changing styles within the films and achieving no coherent whole. Ship to India Land is often considered one of his worst films and it't certainly the most simple-minded with its EVIL father figure.
But my intention was originally to divert attention from Bergman to a few other Scandinavian films, too often in such cases people just pick the films of the cirectors they know regardless if they are the best from the era in question.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#470 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Jan 15, 2012 8:39 pm

The Long Voyage Home (fights off dominoharvey and Matt with a stick) and They Were Expendable will be my high-rankers. My Darling Clementine for the Westerns.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#471 Post by puxzkkx » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:20 am

swo17 wrote:I trust you aren't including Prison as one of the "potboilers"? It's a whole other animal, quite forward thinking, and full of the ideas that are typically associated with later Bergman.
That's what I was referring to as The Devil's Wanton. I mean, it is interesting watching these films and seeing the first traces of themes, stylistic touches etc that he would revisit and build on, but they were director-for-hire projects and this comes through.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#472 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:41 am

Ah, I didn't recognize it under the alternate name. Though it is perhaps relevant that Bergman wrote and directed the film for no pay, which suggests to me that it was more personal to him than just a director-for-hire job.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#473 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:02 pm

A heads-up: Ophuls' Letter from an Unknown Woman, which is as exceptional as it is unavailable in R1 (i.e. completely), will air on TCM next Monday night.

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thirtyframesasecond
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#474 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:14 pm

Letter from an unknown woman is almost certainly going to be in my top ten or thereabouts. It's an astonishing film. Domino mentioned Rebecca as Joan Fontaine's signature performance but I always consider it to be Lise in this. It's incredibly moving.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#475 Post by Tommaso » Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:40 pm

Indeed, and it has all the trademarks of Ophuls' late masterpieces from the 50s: an incredible sensitivity in directing the actors and completely stunning visuals which however don't seem to be intended as a showing-off, but always serve the greater impact. Currently my #5 on the list, and I think it will stay there.

And please don't forget "Sans Lendemain", which everyone considers a thirties film, but it became ineligible thanks to imdb in the last round, so please put it onto this list, then.

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