1931-1940

Walt Disney – Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940)

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Fantasia (1940), a Disney animated feature-length “concert” film milestone, is an experimental film integrating eight magnificent classical musical compositions with enchanting, exhilarating, and imaginative, artistically-choreographed animation. The conceptual framework of the individual pieces embraces such areas as prehistoric times, the four seasons, nature, hell/heaven, the themes of light vs. darkness and chaos vs. order, dancing animals, classical mythology, and legend. Read More »

Jean Renoir – La Règle du jeu AKA Rules of the Game [+Extras] (1939)

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Synopsis
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir’s masterpiece The Rules of the Game is a scathing critique of corrupt French society cloaked in a comedy of manners. At a weekend hunting party, amorous escapades abound among the aristocratic guests and are mirrored by the activities of the servants downstairs. The refusal of one of the guests to play by society’s rules sets off a chain of events that ends in tragedy. Poorly received upon its release in 1939, the film was severely re-edited, and the original negative was destroyed during World War II. Only in 1959 was the film fully reconstructed and embraced by audiences and critics who now see the film as a timeless representation of a vanishing way of life. Read More »

René Clair – À nous la liberté (1931)

One of the all-time great comedy classics, René Clair’s À Nous la Liberté is a skillful satire of the industrial revolution and the blind quest for wealth. Deftly integrating his signature musical-comedy technique with pointed social criticism, Clair tells the story of an escaped convict who becomes a wealthy industrialist. Unfortunately his past returns to upset his carefully laid plans. Featuring lighthearted wit, tremendous visual innovation, and masterful manipulation of sound, À Nous la Liberté is both a potent indictment of mechanized modern society and an uproarious comic delight.

Perhaps the most elegantly rendered feature film of the very early days of sound production (barring, perhaps, Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS), Clair’s classic is such a seemingly effortless blend of romantic melancholy, bitter social criticism and gentle surrealism, that its many aesthetic qualities tend to overshadow the film’s astounding technological innovations in the poetics of sound. Read More »

Lloyd Bacon – Marked Woman [+Extras] (1937)

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Bette Davis’ famous walk-out from her home studio of Warner Bros. may have hurt her financially, but in the long run it paid off with bigger parts in better films. Like many Warners films of the period, Marked Woman was “torn from today’s headlines.” Specifically, it was inspired by the recent downfall of gangster Lucky Luciano, who at one time controlled all prostitution activities in New York.

The ladies herein are euphemistically characterized as “night club hostesses,” but when Luciano look-alike Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Cianelli) shows up at a fancy clip-joint to give the girls their marching orders, the audience can tell exactly what’s going on. Read More »

Rouben Mamoulian – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [+Commentary] (1931)

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The film, made prior to the full enforcement of the Hays code, is remembered today for its strong sexual content, embodied mostly in the character of the prostitute, Ivy, played by Miriam Hopkins.

The secret of the astonishing transformation scenes was not revealed until decades later (Mamoulian himself revealed it in a volume of interviews with Hollywood directors published under the title The Celluloid Muse).
Hyde enjoys the rain.
Hyde enjoys the rain.

A series of rotating filters matching the make-up was used on the lenses, enabling the make-up to be gradually exposed or made invisible, depending upon the scene.

Wally Westmore’s make-up for Hyde, simian and hairy with tusks influenced greatly the popular image of Hyde in media and comic books (the American Classics Illustrated edition of Jekyll and Hyde clearly based its design of Hyde on the Fredric March movie, although it is more toned down); in part this reflected the novella’s implication of Hyde as embodying repressed evil and hence being semi-evolved or simian in appearance. Read More »

Rouben Mamoulian – Love Me Tonight (1932)

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“DVDSavant” wrote:
Parisian tailor Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) goes to the chateau of the Duke d’Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith) to collect a debt owed by a spendthrift nephew, the Viscount Gilbert de Varèze (Charlie Ruggles), Maurice passes as a Count and interacts with other members of the household, including the nervous bookworm the Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth) and the near-nymphomaniac Countess Valentine (Myrna Loy). But he falls madly in love with Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald) and slowly wins her to his side. Now, how does Maurice explain to her that he’s nothing but a tailor? Read More »

Yasujiro Ozu – Otona No Miru Ehon – Umarete Wa Mita Keredo AKA I Was Born, But… (1932)

Synopsis
Yoshii and his family move to a Tokyo suburb, to the same neighborhood as his boos. His two boys are initially terrorized by the school bully, and run truant. Eventually, they beat up and usurp the bully’s place, lording it over all the boys, including the boss’ son.

Review
Mr. Yoshii (Tatsuo Saito), an office clerk, has moved his young family into a new neighborhood in the suburbs, strategically located just a few blocks from his employer, Mr. Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto). One afternoon, while playing outdoors, Yoshii’s younger son, Keichi (Tomio Aoki) catches the attention of the neighborhood children, among them, Iwasaki’s son, who proceed to tease him. Read More »