Akira Kurosawa – Ichiban utsukushiku AKA The Most Beautiful (1944)

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The Most Beautiful is a wartime propaganda film depicting the efforts of female factory workers in a precision-lens manufacturing plant. It is episodic and anecdotal and very documentary-like. Donald Richie records specific instances of documentary techniques borrowed principally from Russian filmmakers such as the austere and static composition of its scenes. This need not be entertained to any considerable degree: the point is, holistically, the overwhelming impression is one of a document. We see many shots of the lens-making equipment, and through these learn the process of lens manufacture itself. Nearly every scene is segmented with shots of a parade (a military band, a marching platoon of young soldiers, etc.) and the film itself was shot in a real factory, a length to which Kurosawa would rarely go in later work. Continue reading

Arthur Maria Rabenalt – Am Abend nach der Oper AKA In the Evening After the Opera (1945)

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This totally forgotten film is adapted from a story by Franz Nabl who also provided the basis for Der verzauberte Tag. The story is about a rich murderer (Siegfried Breuer) who killed his wife out of jealousy nd tries to start a new life. He meets a young woman (Gusti Huber) and marries her without telling her the secret directly. She feels there’s something wrong and things get complicated when a dubious individual not only gets the legal papers which prove the husband has been a convict, but also falls in love with the young woman.
The film not only boasts an intelligent script and great performances, but is very well shot and directed. The lighting is often elaborate, intertwining with the sumptuous set design, while an inquisitive camera slides through the rooms. This one is a must see and should be a strong incentive for German users to consider buying the box. Continue reading

Maurice Tourneur – La Main du Diable aka Carnival of Sinners (1943)

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A man arrives at an isolated mountain inn clutching a small box. The man is panic-struck when, during a sudden blackout, the box disappears. To the assembled guests at the inn he tells his tragic story. The man, Roland Brissot, was once a penniless artist who, one day, bought a talisman from the owner of a restaurant for one franc. The talisman, a severed hand in a box, immediately transformed Brissot’s life and he became a hugely successful artist. Then, one day, he receives a visit from a small man in a suit who tells him that in buying the talisman, he has sold his soul to the Devil… Continue reading

Byron Haskin – I Walk Alone (1948)

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It’s a mighty low class of people that you will meet in the Paramount’s “I Walk Alone” — and a mighty low grade of melodrama, if you want the honest truth — in spite of a very swanky setting and an air of great elegance. For the the people are mostly ex-gangsters, night club peddlers or social black sheep and the drama is of the vintage of gangster fiction of some twenty years ago.

True, the premise of the story, which originated with Theodore Reeves in a play done under the title of “Beggars Are Coming to Town,” is that an old-time bootleg mobster who has finished a long stretch in jail can’t use the old-time tactics in muscling in on a welching ex-pal. The theory is that café business and corporation law in this new day are completely against the operation of any old-fashioned strong-arm stuff. Continue reading

Henri-Georges Clouzot – Manon (1949)

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Henri-Georges Clouzot (“The Raven”/”The Wages of Fear”/”“Diabolique”) directs one of his lesser efforts and co-writes with Jean Ferry an adaptation of Abbe Prevost’s 18th century lusty classic French novel ‘Manon Lescaut.’ It’s updated to immediately after World War II France. It was shoddily made, the characters were sketchily drawn, the lead couple is unlikable, the screenplay was ridiculously inept and the novel’s bawdiness was compromised to make it more Hollywood safe, nevertheless Clouzot’s craftsmanship and style made an impression at the Venice Festival and it won Best Film in 1949. It did a good job capturing the sleazy atmosphere of the low-life underground scene in a post-war Paris. Continue reading

Jean Cocteau & René Clément – La belle et la bête AKA Beauty and the Beast (1946)

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While some other mid-20th-century directors were pursuing the chimera of “total cinema,” Jean Cocteau was chasing down the dream of a “total art.” But if “total cinema” meant capturing on screen the actual world as it really was, Cocteau’s “total art” meant giving form, instead, to the otherwise impalpable worlds of desire and dream. Both quests were fundamentally unrealistic, but Cocteau embraced this truth in ways both joyously inventive and technically rigorous. The most ambitious and talented fabulist since E.T.A. Hoffmann, Cocteau not only produced a vast and diverse corpus of poems, drawings, plays, sculptures, novels, and libretti, he also wrote and directed a small but astonishing group of films. Beauty and the Beast is the best of his five feature films and the greatest fable of his entire oeuvre—a vulnerable-beast-in-love tale to end all others, from King Kong to Edward Scissorhands. Continue reading

Henri Decoin – Les Inconnus dans la Maison aka Strangers in the House (1942)

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Synopsis:
Since his wife left him, almost twenty years ago, the once brilliant lawyer Loursat has slumped into a life of despondency and drunkenness. He lives in a vast empty house with his teenage daughter, Nicole, with whom he hardly communicates. One fateful day, something happens which pulls Loursat back from the abyss: he discovers a dead body in his house. When his daughter and her group of rebellious young friends are charged with the murder, Loursat decides to take charge of the case.
— scarabus Continue reading