Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Some olde-tymey movies I’ve had a chance to watch recently

As I slowly try to clean up my almost full DVR, I get to watch a bunch of olde-tymey movies on TCM and some other places, as well as trying to keep up with some newer movies. So here are some old (meaning: before the 1960s, which is fairly arbitrary, but just deal with it!) movies I’ve seen recently!

1. Shanghai Express (1932). Marlene Dietrich made seven movies for Josef von Sternberg between 1930-1935 (they cranked them out in those days!), and this is the first one I’ve seen. It’s an excellent movie, with Dietrich, Clive Brook, and Anna May Wong giving wonderful performances, but even the rest of the cast is pretty great, too (despite a Swede – Warner Oland – playing a Chinese revolutionary). Everyone boards a train from Beijing to Shanghai in 1931, during the Chinese Civil War, and at one stop the government takes a man away. It turns out he was a rebel, and Mr. Chang (Oland) is his superior – a major rebel leader. So Chang stops the train and tries to find a hostage to exchange for his man. Dietrich and Brook play estranged lovers, as they knew each other years earlier before Dietrich did something to drive Brook away. She and Wong are “coasters” – courtesans, although Wong is never actually described that way – but Dietrich and Brook still love each other. The movie isn’t just about them, though, which is nice. Although we never get anything about the war – it’s clear that von Sternberg and the writers are not sympathetic to the rebels, but we have no idea what the war is about – we do get the casual racism of the Europeans toward Wong (she and Dietrich are friends, but even Brook is dismissive of her), the idea of opium as a scourge of the Chinese, and sexual politics. Wong is raped by Chang, and instead of crumbling, she does something about it. Dietrich is put in a tight spot by Chang, and she makes a decision that turns Brook against her. There’s a wonderful scene after this in which they both want to say something to break through the wall that has been put up between them, but neither can. Later, there’s an amazing shot of Dietrich, sad because Brook doesn’t trust in her anymore, in darkness of her room. She’s looking up, and the shadows frame her face beautifully, and her trembling hand holds a cigarette (cigarettes were so handy in movies to give hands something to do; it’s a shame they don’t show up very much anymore). The cinematography in general is terrific – at one point, Dietrich stands behind a door with slats in it, and she looks like she’s in a cage even as her situation becomes very much like a prison sentence. There’s a fantastic tracking shot of her moving down the corridor of the train and then the camera stops, letting her move to the end of the hall, as she debates with herself whether she’s going to talk to Brook. The movie could easily have been a bit longer, as there is that sense of it not existing in China due to the lack of context of the war, but other than that, it’s quite great. And Dietrich and Wong, as you’d expect, are luminescent. Dietrich’s wardrobe is on motherfucking point, too!

Look at that coat! and how sexy is Dietrich wearing Brook’s hat?!?!?
Anna May Wong doesn’t have time for your shit!

2. The Lady Vanishes (1938). This early Hitchcock movie doesn’t quite measure up to his greatest, but it’s pretty good nevertheless. Like a lot of old movies, it could easily be 20 minutes longer (it’s 99 minutes long) to flesh out some of the characters a bit more without dragging too much, but efficiency was the word of the day back in the day, so we get through this sucker quickly! As is typical with Hitchcock, he brings in some almost real-world stuff – he loved himself some espionage – without being too specific, which makes the stakes feel a bit less than they should be. In this case, the vagueness about where the story takes place (it’s a fictional country, I guess, but if they mention which country, it’s very quick and not mentioned often) means we don’t get a good sense of why all the tomfoolery is necessary. Anyway, without giving too much away (the movie is, after all, 80 years old), a young woman befriends an older lady the night before she boards a train to England, and the next day, after getting bonked on the head by a falling flower box (which is a failed attempt to kill the old woman), she hangs out with the lady for while, falls asleep (her head hurts), and when she wakes up, the old lady has vanished and the people in her compartment claim she never existed. An English couple on board who saw her say the same thing for their own reasons, as do two Englishmen who don’t want the train stopped, so they lie as well. The reasons for those lies are ridiculous, especially in the instance of the two gentlemen, who really should have been beaten about the face and neck for their intransigence. Anyway, the young lady eventually gets the help of a musician she got into a tiff with at the hotel the night before, and they get to the bottom of it all. Margaret Lockwood is quite good as Iris, the heroine, as she only doubts herself briefly and stands up to more than one man who tells her she’s imagining the woman. Michael Redgrave, the musician, is good, too (in his film debut), and the two English gentlemen who refuse to help are played as comic relief, which weirdly works (even though they’re douchebags for much of the movie, redeeming themselves only slightly at the end). There are some very impressive special effects in the movie – the opening shot is nice, as Hitchcock flies over a model to give us a sense of a mountain setting, with only the immobile “people” near the train – small models – giving it away and making it look a bit silly. But there are some other nice effects – at one point Redgrave has to climb out the window of the moving train, and a train going the opposite direction nearly hits him, and you could almost believe he was actually between two trains. As I noted, there’s not a ton of character development, although Iris does get the bulk of it. And as usual, a pair of people fall in love very quickly, which I guess has been done not only to death in modern movies, but old ones as well. All in all, this is a fun thriller. Definitely not a peak of Hitchcock’s career, but not a bad way to spend an hour and 40 minutes.

Margaret Lockwood doesn’t care if you judge her!

3. Drums Along The Mohawk (1939). A few years ago, I read the novel that this movie is based on, so I figured I should watch the movie and see what’s what! This is, of course, the most famous color movie to come out in 1939 – I can’t imagine any other 1939 movie being more famous than this – and it’s beautiful to look at (Technicolor was really cool, yo). It was filmed primarily in Utah, and the scenes are all achingly gorgeous. Unfortunately, it’s not that great a movie, and it’s far inferior to the book. It’s short (1.45), and it fails to add the nuance that the book did. For all the racist ways Walter Edmonds describes the Indians, he manages to make more than a few of them fascinating characters, something that is missing from the movie (even Blue Back, the “noble savage” from the book, is much more of a caricature in the movie). Because of its brevity, the sense of frontier living that was so much a part of the book is not explored in the movie, and it becomes much more of a war movie. Even here it falls a bit short, because while Edmonds elided some of the more horrific things that went on in the Revolution, he does actually try to make the British characters with motivations, while in the movie, they’re largely absent (this was done, according to director John Ford, so that they didn’t piss off the British, who were about to get into a fairly big war with the Nazis, and Ford didn’t like Nazis). It’s entertaining enough, and we get some of the novel’s oddball humor, but it does rest on the roles of Gil and Lana. Henry Fonda, the Golden Age’s nerdiest leading actor, is nerdy as Gil – he’s all earnest and bright-eyed for a good portion of the movie, despite seeing and doing some horrible things in battle, and Claudette Colbert is a bit miscast as Lana, but her transformation from belle of the ball to hardened frontier wife is impressive (Colbert is awesome, so it’s not surprising she does a good job). They don’t really have much chemistry, so it’s hard to believe Fonda even knows how to get his wife pregnant, yet Gil manages it somehow! But they’re better than the rest of the cast except for Edna May Oliver, who was nominated for an Oscar and does a fine job as the old widow who takes them in after the Indians burn their farm. It’s a perfectly fine movie, but nothing special.

Don’t fuck with Claudette Colbert!

4. Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Hitchcock’s movie could best be described as “atmospheric,” which is the reason why it’s successful, because the plot contains so many holes I’m surprised Swiss cheese isn’t an element in the story. First of all, the two policemen at the beginning don’t know what Joseph Cotten looks like, but they know he’s staying at the boarding house. They’re staking out the boarding house, but when he leaves, they see him and allow him to walk right past them before giving chase after he has a head start. Wouldn’t they stop every man coming out of the boarding house? Then, when he gets to Santa Rosa, California, and begins hanging out with his sister and her family, he gives his niece, Charlotte (called “Charlie” after her favorite uncle), a ring that presumably comes from one of his victims. For a (presumed) murderer who has killed three people and gotten away with it, giving Teresa Wright an engraved ring is idiotic. Then he makes it so obvious that he’s hiding the news story about the “Merry Widow” killer, even though no one in the family has any reason to suspect him. Then the two cops show up and simply putter around, one of them putting the moves on Teresa Wright, the other matching wits (and, one suspects, losing) with Ann, the precocious 10-year-old daughter in the family. Handsome cop (Macdonald Carey) tells Wright his suspicions about Uncle Charlie, but never does anything about the danger they might be in. A photo they took of Joseph Cotten is sent to witnesses to identify, but when another suspect is killed, everyone simply assumes he was the murderer and the photo angle is dropped. Anyway, the killer presumably married three widows and then killed them, and no one knew what he looked like? The witnesses couldn’t describe the killer, needing a photo instead? Joseph Cotten has that weird wavy hair – wouldn’t one of the witnesses have mentioned that? Then, Teresa Wright simply tells Uncle Charlie to leave town and she won’t say anything else, and the cops, it seems, would let her – they even leave town after the case is “closed”! Finally, Uncle Charlie decides that leaving town isn’t good enough – he has to make sure Wright keeps her mouth shut. Sheesh. It’s still a very tense thriller, with Cotten and Wright doing really excellent work. Wright’s hope that the world is a wonderful place is sorely tested by her uncle, but she continually shows the strength she has underneath her small-town naïveté (that’s another odd thing about the movie; Santa Rosa wasn’t a huge town in the 1940s, with around 12,000 people, but everyone knows everyone’s name, which is bizarre). Wright dominates Macdonald Carey in their scenes together; he’s not bad, but his character is a bit of a drip, and she’s full of verve. Meanwhile, Cotten plays Charlie beautifully – Cotten’s quiet demeanor works really well for milquetoasts like Holly Martins, so when he’s playing a character like that but who’s really evil, it’s even more effective. He’s utterly creepy, from the way he seems to be sexually attracted to Wright to the way he looks like he could snap at any moment. His speech about women late in the movie is horrifying but mesmerizing, and it’s wonderfully and weirdly undercut by his sister, played by Patricia Collinge, basically pooh-poohing it and telling him not to say such stuff in front of the women’s club to whom he’s giving a speech that evening. The rest of the cast is fine but shallow – Henry Travers (Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life) and Hume Cronyn (in his film debut) argue constantly about the best way to kill each other, which adds some nice macabre humor to the movie, and Collinge is fine as the clueless mother. The images of women dancing to the “Merry Widow” waltz is never explained, which is weird, and it’s not explained why the tune gets stuck in Wright’s head. But it’s very suspenseful, and Hitchcock movies are always good to see from a technical standpoint. There are some dazzling shots in this movie – my favorite is in the library, when Wright begins to suspect Charlie, and the shadows start to move in around her and trap her. It’s really well done. This is a solid movie, better than some Hitchcock movies (like The Lady Vanishes!), but not as good as his classics.

‘Has his hair always looked that weird?’ she wondered, suddenly realizing that a weird-haired dude could certainly be a murderer!
‘Okay, so here’s where I make creepy sexual advances toward you, and here’s where I tell you if you don’t succumb you’ll never work again. Got it?’

5. Gaslight (1944). I love that this movie has turned into a verb, even though I think “gaslighting” is horrible and no one should engage in it. I just mean that I dig etymology, and the fact that this movie entered the zeitgeist so pervasively that we now refer to making someone crazy as “gaslighting” is neat. But no, don’t gaslight anyone. Don’t be that guy.

Anyway, the movie itself is fine, although it misses being a classic by a little. Bergman probably deserved the Oscar; she beat out Claudette Colbert (who is awesome, as I noted above) in Since You Went Away, Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington, Greer Garson (also awesome) in Mrs. Parkington, and Barbara Stanwyck (more awesome!) in Double Indemnity. The only one I’ve seen is Double Indemnity, and while Stanwyck is excellent, I don’t have a problem with Bergman beating her. The sets are amazing, the direction is very good, slowly boxing Bergman into her overstuffed house, giving us a sense of claustrophobia even as she gets it, too. Joseph Cotten, who’s a fine actor in stuff like Shadow of a Doubt (see above), is wildly miscast as a Scotland Yard detective; he doesn’t even attempt a British accent, which makes his part far more amusing than it should be. He does what he can with it, though. Angela Lansbury, in her screen debut (she was 17 when they began filming), is absolutely magnetic, and while I simply could not get Jessica Fletcher out of my mind when I look at her (my mother was obsessed with that show in the 1980s), she’s still amazing. Charles Boyer, who was also nominated for an Oscar, is excellent, although this is where the movie fails a bit. Boyer is too villainous too fast, so that we’re never really convinced that Bergman is going crazy and it’s obvious that Boyer is up to something. The movie isn’t long – less than 2 hours – so it could easily go a bit longer to make us believe that Bergman might really be going insane, because if you don’t accept that, pinning everything on Boyer is easy. He’s a good villain, but not as good as a charmer. It’s a different problem than I had with Suspicion, in which Cary Grant is charming and slightly creepy, so he works (my problem with Suspicion is its awful and abrupt ending). Gaslight will never be as good as, say, Rebecca, because Joan Fontaine is better at playing unhinged than Bergman, so we believe she might be going crazy, and the villain could be a few different people, and the villain is more ambiguous than Boyer in this movie. Still, it’s not like George Cukor is a hack, so it’s quite a good movie, but if someone decides to remake it, I think they would probably go a slightly different direction to make it more nuanced. They’d probably just make it more like a horror movie, unfortunately.

(Pictured: the attractive Oscar nominees of 1945! Sorry, Bette Davis, you know it’s true!)

6. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). This is the touchstone of classic noir, but it probably shouldn’t be – it proves that reputation doesn’t always equal quality and why the censors during the Hollywood Golden Age were awful, as this is a weirdly neutered movie that you can tell has a classic lurking within it. It took years to get it to the screen because the censors were so freaked out, and what we get is a strangely sexless noir with a “happy” ending, which is bizarre. John Garfield and Lana Turner are very chaste in this movie, and when she announces that she’s pregnant near the end, it’s obvious that it happened well before they got married, but no one ever comments on that. Then, when it’s all said and done, Garfield seems almost happy to go to the electric chair because he thinks there’s a chance he’ll be reunited with Turner in … Heaven? After what they did? Anyway, this becomes a problem because their supposedly torrid affair never convinces us that they would plot to kill Turner’s husband over it, so the movie remains unconvincing. It’s frustrating, because Garfield and Turner have obvious chemistry (they apparently had sex once because they thought it would work, but realized they had more chemistry on-screen than in real life, so they stayed friends), so this could be a classic, but it never quite gets there. I don’t know if the characters’ stupidity was in the novel or if the censors insisted on cuts that made them look stupid, but if you were Cecil Kellaway (age in 1946: 53/54) and you looked like this …

Poor, doomed Nick!

… would you hire John Garfield (age in 1946: 33/34) as a helper and then basically encourage him to hang around with your hot young wife (Lana Turner, age in 1946: 24/25)?

You might, if you were a big dummy!

Then, when they’re arrested, Garfield doesn’t ask for a lawyer (I know, it was a different era, but come on!) and allows the district attorney to bully him into turning on Turner (so to speak). Then, now that their lust for each other is poisoned, Garfield decides to stick around the Twin Oaks and Turner lets him. That’s just asking for trouble, if you ask me. You guys got away with murder – it’s best if you leave each other and never look back! Finally, when Turner goes off to visit her sick mother, Garfield heads off to Mexico with a new doll, and there’s his chance to disappear! But he comes back, and their final act begins. Come on, you two! But that gets back to the unconvincing “love” between them – it just doesn’t feel enough to potentially throw away their lives for it. It’s always hard for me to watch movies where the people make terrible, terrible choices because they can’t keep their clothes on, but this one is even more hard to parse. I imagine it’s because of the censors. People can read all that steamy stuff, but God forbid it gets up on the screen!

It’s too bad, because Garfield and Turner are dynamite in this movie (Hume Cronyn, as a shifty lawyer, is excellent as well). Garfield begins the movie almost like a caged animal, moving around her as if he’s sizing up dinner before he pounces, and you can see why he never stays put too long in one place, because he looks like he’s ready to bolt at any moment. Turner is pure sex and bad news, and she’s amazing in the film, from her first appearance in her lounging clothes, putting out her hand contemptuously so Garfield can hand over her lipstick, then looking exasperated when she has to come to him (see below). Over the course of the movie, she becomes far more evil and Garfield becomes more and more of a sap, and the transformations are impressive. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Turner is absolutely scorching in this movie. You can almost believe that Garfield would throw away his entire life just to get a peek of her shapely legs. (My mother loves to tell us of her college roommate, Lana Turner, who was definitely not the actor. It’s not that uncommon a name!)

While this isn’t a great movie, it’s certainly not a bad one, and it’s worth seeing. I wonder if the Nicholson/Lange version is any better …

7. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). John Huston directed two movies (possibly three, according to IMDb) that came out in 1948, this and the one below this, Key Largo. That’s a good career for some people, and Huston was like, “Ho hum, just another day at the office – hold my beer while I go on to direct The Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen, The Night of the Iguana, The Man Who Would Be King, Prizzi’s Honor, The Dead, and play quite possibly the greatest villain in movie history.” Huston has a cameo in this movie, too, giving Bogart money thrice in one day before he becomes exasperated. Also in this movie? Robert Blake, as the kid who gets Bogart his lottery ticket. I hear that the 14-year-old Blake was a real hit with the women in Mexico. That’s right, he was a real lady-killer … I’ll see myself out.

Anyway, this is rightly a classic, and Huston fully deserved the Oscar for both writing and directing – his only Oscars – and his father, Walter, deserved it for Best Supporting Actor. Walter is terrific, acting as the voice of both experience and conscience as he, Tim Holt, and Bogart head deeper into the mountains and find gold. Bogart won his only Oscar for The African Queen, and he’s very good there, and he was nominated for Casablanca, but not for this movie, which is shame, because he’s amazing. I don’t know if it’s because his arc is so dark and nobody wanted their leading men to be like that in 1948 (I doubt it; this was the era of film noir, after all), but I’m stunned he didn’t get nominated (Olivier won for Hamlet; even back then the voters were suckers for prestige projects!). He’s a decent man living on the streets of Tampico, which is partly why Tim Holt throws in with him, but once he gets a look at the gold, he slowly turns paranoid and deadly. Yes, the “bad guys” are supposed to be the Mexican bandits (who don’t need to show you their stinkin’ badges), but they’re easily dealt with, and Bogart emerges as the villain, even if we’re never quite sure he’s actually going to turn villainous. Holt balances him nicely as the swell guy who just wants to get along, and Huston is the peacemaker, so when he’s invited/abducted by Indians to their village after saving the life of one of them, Bogart and Holt are left alone with each other and things don’t go well. The setting is spectacular – this was the first movie shot completely in Mexico – and the three leads are terrific. And Bogart was almost completely bald by the time this movie started filming, but his wig is on motherfucking point. I’m glad I watched it; it’s one of those movies that everyone knows about but not everyone has seen, and that’s a shame. So now I’m off that list!

8. Key Largo (1948). I know this is a classic, but I’d never seen it, so now I have! It’s pretty good, with John Huston doing a lot with the confined quarters of the Largo Hotel, using the shadows very well and shifting the characters around nicely to keep things moving along. Bogart is terrific as the taciturn war hero, although he’s so much like Rick from Casablanca I’m surprised he doesn’t say “I stick my neck out for nobody” at some point. I’ve never been as smitten with Bacall as some people, but she looks very nice in this movie (she was 23/24 when it was made) and she could always stare intently, which is what she does excellently in this movie (I’m being a bit humorous, but also serious, as some actors really can’t do a good stare, and Bacall had the eyes for it). Edward G. Robinson is very good, bigger than life and totally menacing, and all the other actors are good, too. Claire Trevor, astonishingly, received the only Oscar nomination for this movie, and she actually won for Best Supporting Actress. She’s quite good, but for that to be the only nomination for this movie is weird (as I noted above, Huston won the 1948 Academy Award for directing, but it was for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, not this movie). It’s a good thriller, with a pretty good ending, and it’s even a pretty good psychological thriller. Bogart seems to want to mess with Robinson’s head to placate him, while Lionel Barrymore, playing the old owner of the hotel, doesn’t give a shit and insults Robinson throughout. Robinson treats Trevor terribly, and it seems like he’ll suffer no consequences for that, but she’s smarter and tougher than she looks. It’s nice to see a cop actually express remorse about shooting a minority in the back (although, to be fair, the cop did shoot two innocent Indians in the back, so his remorse doesn’t help them), especially in 1948. And I love olde-tymey movies (well, all movies do this, but it’s more prevalent in olde-tymey ones) where people fall in love so easily. Barrymore and Bacall know almost nothing about Bogart when he gets there – yes, he says he served with Barrymore’s son, but everything he tells them could easily be things he found out as part of a con – and by the end, which occurs the next morning, they’re both ready to welcome him into their lives. He acted heroically, sure, but they still know absolutely nothing about his past. This kind of thing happens a lot in movies, but for some reason, olde-tymey movies make less of an effort to show that the dude (it’s usually a dude) is really a good guy. Key Largo 2: McCloud’s Revenge is all about Bogart stealing everything Barrymore has because he’s really the son of Barrymore’s moonshining business partner, whom Barrymore betrayed and sold out to the cops back in ’28. Michael Bay could direct!

Stare for us, Nora!
You tell ’em, Claire Trevor!

9. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). This brisk (81 minutes) thriller has a great cast – Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, and Anne Francis, among others – and works almost perfectly, except for the fact that it is a little too brisk. There’s not a lot of tension after the first few minutes, and Tracy finds out pretty easily what’s going on in Black Rock – an isolated community in Arizona where he arrives, unannounced and mysterious, one day in late 1945 – so the shock of what did happen is lessened, because it comes to us as exposition from one source. Anyway, Tracy – wearing a black suit and fedora, and never taking his left hand out of his pocket because he has some undefined disability – arrives in Black Rock, which is the definition of a tiny town – there are about seven buildings in the entire town. He’s there on business, but he won’t say what it is, and the townspeople – Robert Ryan is the ringleader, with Borgnine and Marvin as his main thugs – aren’t in the mood to help him carry out his business. So there’s some tension early on, but it’s soon pretty obvious what happened in the town once Tracy admits he’s there to see a certain person. I don’t want to give too much away, because I have a feeling this is slightly lesser known that Gaslight, so I don’t feel too bad giving away what happens in that movie. Tracy is far too old to be playing a World War II vet – he was 54 when the movie was made – but other than that, he’s very good as the taciturn, urbane dude who has no time for the townspeople’s shit. Ryan is a good villain, because he’s charming, which is the best way to play a villain. Marvin is menacing and Borgnine is a big goofball – it’s hard to watch this movie and believe that he won the Oscar for Best Actor in this same year for Marty, but he’s excellent in Marty. Pop Culture Rule #1 rears its head, though, showing that even in the 1950s, it was axiomatic! As I noted, the biggest problem is the pacing – things happen very quickly, so there’s not enough time to build up any sense of menace, and Tracy is no hero, so the instant he can, he tries to get the hell out of there, making the final confrontation that much sillier, because it’s clear that Tracy doesn’t give a crap about Black Rock. Still, it’s a pretty good movie, and it was shot mostly around Lone Pine, California, and the scenery is stunning. It’s not a bad way to spend an hour and twenty minutes!

Everyone remembers Anne Francis from Riptide, right?!?!?!?

10. Diabolique (1955). This is actually called “Les diaboliques,” so I’m not sure why it was released in America without that title, or even as “The Devils,” which is the translation. I mean, we find out very early on that Véra Clouzet and Simone Signoret, playing the wife and mistress of a louche headmaster of a boys’ school, are planning on killing him, and Paul Meurisse is a “devil” as well, as he treats his wife with contempt and his mistress not much better (the fact that everyone knows of this situation, doesn’t care, and that the wife and mistress are friends makes this perhaps the most French movie ever). Their plot to kill Meurisse is pretty good, although it’s clear early on that Clouzet is the weak link, and she almost screws it up. Then, of course, the shenanigans begin, as they try to dump the body in the pool at night and almost get caught, and then no one checks the pool in the morning even though it’s filthy, so they create an excuse to have them drain the pool, and of course the body is gone. I wondered why they just didn’t leave it until there was an organic time to check the pool, because if Meurisse goes missing, then eventually they’ll have to look for him, and if it’s a long enough time, no one will remember what they were doing on that particular weekend, but it turns out that there’s a perfectly good reason they want the body discovered. Clouzet begins to freak out, especially when a boy insists he spoke to the headmaster. A retired detective becomes curious and starts snooping around. It’s a tense thriller, with good performances from both Clouzet and Signoret (Clouzet died at 46 in 1960 and made only three movies, all directed by her husband), playing diametrically opposite women united by their hatred of one man. Clouzet is in frail health and very timid, while Signoret is brassy and tough. It’s not surprising why a heel would marry one and fuck the other, but that doesn’t mean he has to treat them both so poorly, especially as neither women seems to mind the arrangement as long as the guy isn’t a douchebag. Anyway, I won’t give away the ending, but if you follow Sherlock Holmes’s dictum, you can probably figure it out, and toward the end, it seems like one character lets another die even though the first character, it seems, could have easily saved the other one. It’s weird. Anyway, I’ve heard the 1996 remake is absolutely terrible, so stick with this one!

(My wife insists that when we lived in Portland, we watched both this movie and the remake. I have absolutely no recollection of this, and usually, if I forget I’ve seen something, watching it again jogs my memory, but this didn’t do that, as I still had no recollection whatsoever of watching this movie. I told my wife that as my memory is naturally impeccable, there are only two explanations: either she has a secret boyfriend with whom she used to watch movies, or she’s from another dimension and watched the movie with Other Dimension Me before somehow crossing over to our dimension. I don’t know which would be better, because as she put it: If she’s from another dimension, what happened to my original wife? That question is just one reason why I love my wife so much.)

(Also: hadn’t Meurisse ever heard of ménage à trois? It’s a French term, for crying out loud! I mean, look at his options!)

That was fun, wasn’t it? Everyone should watch an old movie every once in a while – Spielberg and Lucas didn’t invent movie-making in the 1970s, after all!


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, you’re better than me at seeing these classic movies. To date, I’ve only seen two of the above: Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Bad Day at Black Rock, and I saw the latter so long ago I hardly remember any of it. Sierra Madre, though, is indeed awesome – I need to watch it again, and maybe catch a few of these other movies … and maybe that one with Greer Garson in the bubble bath… 😉 (By the way, I don’t think Bette Davis was even nominated for an Oscar in 1945…)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Hey, that’s Claudette Colbert in the bubble bath! 🙂 I can’t remember which movie that was, but it was from the early 1930s, so I cheated a bit and showed a photo from well before 1944. For the others, I tried to get them as close to 1944 as possible. And Bette Davis was nominated in 1945, but I meant for the Oscars covering 1944, while the ceremony was in 1945. Sorry for the confusion!

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Hmm (*after looking it up*), I guess it is – the movie in question is actually Sign of the Cross, which is apparently all about the plight of persecuted Christians in decadent Rome, but with lots of emphasis on those decadent Romans. Now I *really* want to see it. Anyway, looked a lot like Garson to me, at first glance.

        Also looked up the Oscar information; interestingly enough, both Garson and Bergman were nominated for both 1944 and 1945 – in the latter year, Bergman’s nomination was for her role in Bells of St. Mary, which I have seen! Cute movie, I guess, although it really strained my suspension of disbelief: the nuns in that Catholic school back in the 1940s were a lot cooler, and more liberal apparently, than the nuns in my school back in the 1970s.

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        I get the same thing with some early 70s tv shows, with Henry Corden. He took over the voicing of Fred (and did a ton of other cartoons); but, you occasionally come across him, as an actor, in things like The Brady Bunch and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. What;s even wilder is when you find out things like Clint Howard, Ron’s brother, was the voice of Roo, in the Winnie the Pooh feature film or you watch The Andy Griffith Show, where they have the choir and realize the leader of the choir is Olan Soule, who voiced Batman, on The Super Friends.

  2. For me THE James M. Cain movie will always be Double Indemnity… though there was a 1980s version of Postman with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange that was deliciously nasty. But (this is sort of tying in to the Flintstones point) the thing about Double Indemnity is that it stars Fred MacMurray, who is so utterly and indelibly a dad figure for people my age– because of My Three Sons— that it’s impossible to see him as anything else. So it becomes a subtext thing. Throughout Double Indemnity some subconscious part of my brain is muttering, “Wow, Steve Douglas was really a prick when he was single.” Same thing whenever Robert Reed showed up as a villain on 70s cop shows. It was always, “Holy shit Mike Brady what are you doing??”

    1. Greg Burgas

      The first time I saw Double Indemnity I thought the very same thing – “Man, it’s weird seeing Fred MacMurray as any other character” – but he’s quite good in the movie, so that helped!

  3. Simon

    For another ménage à trois, what about Miriam Hopkins’s steamy threesome with Gary Cooper and Fredric March in Lubitsch’s scandalous 1933 rom-com DESIGN FOR LIVING? (Unless you’d prefer his movie in red and blue tones, the classic 1943 comedy HEAVEN CAN WAIT?)

    Or, for a vintage-like B&W film, what about Ossang’s strange 2017 noir adventure 9 FINGERS?

    * http://vulturehound.co.uk/2017/10/the-plague-is-on-board-9-fingers-london-film-festival-review/
    * https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/9-fingers-9-doigts-review-1096804

    (As for your marital conundrum, maybe your original wife went were your other-dimension wife came from, ala Miracleman: couldn’t some quantum fluctuation of the multiverse swap them per Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle?)

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