Friday, 4 May 2007

Sandra Dupuy reviews her ten favourite films, part 5

The Night of the Hunter
USA 1955
Director: Charles Laughton
Screenwriter: James Agee, Davis Grub (novel)
Runtime: 93 min
Certificate: 12
DVD Distributor: MGM DVD

I treasure Laughton’s single directorial work because it is a UFO in the landscape of Hollywood cinema. It doesn’t fit in the directorial trends of the 50s, and seems to pay a tribute to early cinema and expressionism, while demonstrating quirky originality. Laughton and his inventive technical team make a flamboyant use of shadows and silhouettes, creating stylised shots such as the dreamlike view Pearl and John have from the window of an abandoned warehouse at night. Dark silhouettes of trees and moon are outlined against a white background, to which the preacher’s silhouette on a horse is added as soon as his resonant tones of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” are heard.

The Night of the Hunter possesses a dark fairytale feel, starting with a disembodied Lilian Gish telling a Bible story as she floats among the stars. Moving on an enchanted journey along the river Pearl and John are at one with nature, cradled by an eerie song that sounds like an incantation. The young protagonists have to endure death, cruelty and starvation, but good ultimately triumphs over evil in the person of mother hen figure Ms Cooper.

Robert Mitchum became one of my favourite actors, because of his brilliant performance in Night of the Hunter. The inspired theatricality of it is the perfect complement to Laughton’s poetic direction. Light-years away from Mitchum’s usual laconic characters, Preacher Harry Powell is both charming and terrifying, sinister and ridiculous. There’s an animal-like quality to Mitchum’s acting, as he rants, bellows, and limps away with a wounded-beast cry after being shot.

The Seven Year Itch
USA 1955
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenwriter: Billy Wilder, George Axelrod (play)
Runtime: 105 min
Certificate: PG
DVD Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

There had to be a Billy Wilder film in my list, and this is it. I chose it over Some Like It Hot for its multiple references to Hollywood cinema history, and because it represents my first encounter with the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon. All men wanted to be with her and all women wanted to be her, and I was no exception to the rule. Despite having to tame George Axelrod’s witty sexual comedy on account of repeated injunctions from the almighty Hays code, Billy Wilder managed to craft a riotous and fast-paced comedy. I love the opening with the mock western sequence illustrating the history of Manhattan. Billy Wilder leads the viewers in one direction, and executes a complete turnaround the next moment, taking everybody by surprise.

The fantasy sequences where Richard Sherman’s over-active imagination elaborates fantasies of seduction, or paranoid thoughts of his wife catching (or even killing) him, work well for different reasons. The contrast between the women’s desperation when they’re rejected, and Richard’s deadpan attitude when he declines their advances, is a permanent source of hilarity. It’s just a joy to try and spot spoof-like references to melodramas such as Brief Encounter from which the film borrows Rachmaninov’s second Piano Concerto and Tom Ewell’s put-on plummy accent, also From Here to Eternity's famous steamy beach sequence. The film goes even further in self-referencing, when Richard, to Tom Mackenzie’s enquiry about the blonde in the kitchen, retorts: “Maybe it’s Marilyn Monroe!”And the actress is irresistible as the falsely na├»ve blonde starlet. She brings wit and sparkle to the film, delivering her innuendos with perfect comic timing. The most emblematic moments in The Seven Year Itch; the iconic subway scene, the bathtub scene with the plumber, the moment where she dips her chips in champagne, or the piano duet, are memorable because of her.
This concludes Sandra Dupuy's top ten. Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

roger said...

Very good job ! Clear ideas, powerful images, very good style. Keep on !

roger said...

Very good job ! Clear ideas, powerful images, good style. Keep on !