Pasolini’s ‘Decameron’ at the Film Festival
Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian director, has always been something of a puzzle for American critics, not simply because we have to reconcile his announced Marxism with what appears to be a kind of reformed Christianity (as reflected by the neo-realistic “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” as well as by the austerely allegorical “Teorema”), but because he forces us to keep shifting critical gears. No three Pasolinis are ever quite alike. At best, they come in pairs, like “Oedipus Rex” and “Medea,” neither of which have yet been released here.
There is, however, a peculiar kind of romanticism throughout all of his films. It is a middle-class romanticism that idealizes the spiritual and emotional freedom that Pasolini sees in what we used to call The Common Man, who, in slightly more straightforward, class-conscious Europe, is still The Peasant. As if he were some medieval maiden locked in a tower, Pasolini seems to long for the freedom to do what the simple folk do, which, to Pasolini, evokes sexual liberation as much as anything else.
In none of his films has this been more apparent than in his marvelous new work, “The Decameron,” which is as close to being uninhibited and joyful as anything he’s ever done.
A woman writes a best-selling book for women warning them about the “dangers” of men. A handsome photographer for a national magazine arrives in her town to do a feature story on her. Complications ensue.
The lady of the title is author Dorinda Hatch (Joan Caulfield), who writes a scathing best-seller in which she trashes all men. Photographer Bill Shelby (David Niven) vows to make Dorinda eat her words, thereby proving the superiority of the male of the species. Suffice to say that he doesn’t succeed–at least until the very, very end. The middle portion of The Lady Says No consists of a surrealistic dream sequence in which Dorinda realises that she loves Bill despite his rampant chauvinism. This film is not a likely candidate for screening at the next N.O.W. meeting. Lady Says No was produced and directed by Frank Ross, who at the time was married to star Joan Caulfield.
The 1968 film shows Fedor Karamazov as a stingy old man, who’s three sons are after his money. The Karamazov brothers, Dmitri, a gambler, Ivan, a thinker, and Aleksei, a monk, are living through their different problems. Ivan is trying to save the world by making a story of “The Great Inquisitor”. Dmitri, who lost money in gambling, is begging his father to help him. But the father gives a lot of money to his mistress Grushenka.
Northern Lawyer John Reynolds (John Wayne) goes up against the lottery racket in 1880 corrupt Louisiana.
While on the riverboat to New Orleans, he meets and falls in love with Southern Belle, Julie (Ona Munson), General Anatole Mirbeau’s beautiful daughter. The General (Henry Stephenson) and his right-hand man Blackburn ‘Blackie’ Williams (Ray Middleton) run the popular Louisiana State Lottery Company, which support illegal activities and brothels while corrupting judges and other city officials. The battle between the men are complicated with Reynolds’ love for the General’s daughter and interrupted by torrential rain storms that breaks the levees, floods the city and threatens to destroy the city of New Orleans.
Stylishly directed by Bernard Vorhaus who had previously directed John Wayne in the memorable drama, Three Faces West. Includes an early performance by Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones). Continue reading
20th Century-Fox evidently adored “triangle” comedies like Wife, Husband and Friend; apparently so did Loretta Young, who appeared in most of these films. Young plays the wife of businessman Warner Baxter, while “friend” Cesar Romero is an amorous singing teacher who convinces Young that she has a future in opera. To show up his wife, Baxter takes lessons from diva Binnie Barnes–and as it turns out, he’s the one with the ideal operatic voice. The romantic quadrangle is resolved when Baxter makes a disastrous stage debut, whereupon Romero and Barnes exit and Baxter and Young realize the error of their ways. Wife, Husband and Friend was remade in 1949 as Everybody Does It, with Paul Douglas (of all people) as the would-be Caruso. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide Continue reading
A beautiful but hopeless fight against circumstance and the death of an American dream in a by-passed Welsh town. Three kids, forced to make up their own rules, are seduced by the possibility of something better. For what other choice is there when reality lets you down?
Set in the present day in Banwen, a two-bit town in the wilds of Wales’ industrial south, House of America, centres around the Lewis family – Sid, Boyo and Gwenny – whose father Clem has apparently run away to America. Left in charge of their eccentric and mysterious mother – Mam – the kids yearn to escape to the States to visit their father, but the chance of them doing so is remote as there are no jobs for them in the small town.
Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., in the New York Herald Tribune (1952):
Joan Crawford has another of her star-sized roles….Playing a musical comedy actress in the throes of rehearsal and in love with a blind pianist, she is vivid and irritable, volcanic and feminine. She dances; she pretends to sing; she graciously permits her wide mouth and snappish eyes to be photographed in Technicolor….Here is Joan Crawford all over the screen, in command, in love and in color, a real movie star in what amounts to a carefully produced one-woman show. Miss Crawford’s acting is sheer and colorful as a painted arrow, aimed straight at the sensibilities of her particular fans. Continue reading