Satyajit Ray – Pather Panchali (1955)

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Sometime in the early years of the century, a boy, Apu, is born to a poor Brahmin family in a village in Bengal. The father, a poet and priest, cannot earn enough to keep his family going. Apu’s sister, Durga, is forever stealing guavas from the neighbour’s orchards. All these add to the daily struggles of the mother’s life, notwithstanding her constant bickering with old aunt who lives with the family. (IMDb)
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Stanley Kubrick – Spartacus [+Extras] (1960)

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Review from the Criterion website :
Stanley Kubrick directed a cast of screen legends—including Kirk Douglas as the indomitable gladiator that led a Roman slave revolt—in the sweeping epic that defined a genre and ushered in a new Hollywood era. The assured acting, lush Technicolor cinematography, bold costumes, and visceral fight sequences won Spartacus four Oscars; the blend of politics and sexual suggestion scandalized audiences. Today Kubrick’s controversial classic, the first film to openly defy Hollywood’s blacklist, remains a landmark of cinematic artistry and history. Continue reading

Brian Desmond Hurst – Scrooge AKA A Christmas Carol [+Commentary] (1951)

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Scrooge is a 1951 film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It starred Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge and was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, with a screenplay by Noel Langley. It was released as A Christmas Carol in the United States.

Comparison with the source material:
In the film, Mrs Dilber is the name of the charwoman, whereas in the book the woman was unnamed and the laundress was named Mrs Dilber. The charwoman’s role is greatly expanded in the film, to the point that she receives second billing in the list of characters. Continue reading

Michael Curtiz – We’re No Angels (1955)

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synopsis

Samuel and Bella Spewack’s English adaptation of French playwright Albert Husson’s morbidly humorous stage piece My Three Angels was brought to the screen as the heavily laundered but still wickedly funny We’re No Angels. The scene is French Guiana, a few days before Christmas. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray play three Devil’s Island “lifers” who escape from the infamous prison and hide out amongst the free colonists. In need of clothing and money, the trio makes plans to rob milliner Leo G. Carroll and his family. “We’ll cut their throats for a Christmas present”, Bogie, a convicted forger, remarks laconically. “That might spoil one’s belief in Santa Claus” replies philosophical wife-murderer Ustinov. The three escapees are deflected from their larcenous intent when they grow fond of Carroll, his wife Joan Bennett and their daughter Gloria Talbott. Discovering that Carroll is on the verge of bankruptcy, the convicts offer their services as household help (the sight of Bogie in an apron is worth the admission price in itself). Continue reading

Vincente Minnelli – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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synopsis – AMG:
Sally Benson’s short stories about the turn-of-the-century Smith family of St. Louis were tackled by a battalion of MGM screenwriters, who hoped to find a throughline to connect the anecdotal tales. After several false starts (one of which proposed that the eldest Smith daughter be kidnapped and held for ransom), the result was the charming valentine-card musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The plot hinges on the possibility that Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the family’s banker father, might uproot the Smiths to New York, scuttling his daughter Esther (Judy Garland)’s romance with boy-next-door John Truett (Tom Drake) and causing similar emotional trauma for the rest of the household. In a cast that includes Mary Astor as Ames’ wife, Lucille Bremer as another Ames daughter, and Marjorie Main as the housekeeper, the most fascinating character is played by 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien. As kid sister Tootie, O’Brien seems morbidly obsessed with death and murder, burying her dolls, “killing” a neighbor at Halloween (she throws flour in the flustered man’s face on a dare), and maniacally bludgeoning her snowmen when Papa announces his plans to move to New York. Continue reading

Michael Curtiz – White Christmas [+Extras] (1954)

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The Charge
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in a song and dance extravaganza.

Opening Statement
The 1954 musical White Christmas had the advantage of the biggest selling song of the time for its title, and adding the huge fame of stars like Bing Crosby made it one of the biggest films of the year and a Christmas tradition in many households ever since. The thin romantic comedy plot is overshadowed by the numerous song and dance numbers, making for a sentimental spectacle. Paramount has done an excellent job of bringing this classic to DVD in time for Christmas, and fans of the big Hollywood musicals can rejoice. Continue reading

Ernst Lubitsch – The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

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The Budapest department store run by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is a happy little society of salesclerks, where assistant manager Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and salesgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) don’t at all see eye to eye. But in secret pen-pal letters they’re madly in love with one another, each hardly guessing who their mysterious secret admirer might be.

The Shop Around the Corner
Ernst Lubitsch is offering some attractive screen merchandise in “The Shop Around the Corner” which opened at the Music Hall yesterday. “Ninotchka” appears to have used up his supply of hearty comedy for the time at least, but his sense of humor is inexhaustible. He has employed it to brighten the shelves where his tidy Continental romance is stored and, among the bric-à-brac, there are several fragile scenes which he is handling with his usual delicacy and charm, assisted by a friendly staff of sales-people who are going under resoundingly Hungarian names, but remind us strangely of Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut. All told, they make “The Shop Around the Corner” a pleasant place to browse in. Continue reading

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