Monthly Archives: August 2016

La Strada (1954)

La Strada

La Strada – IMDB 231/250

The second Federico Fellini film in my IMDb list, La Strada is an Italian movie starring Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina, a naïve young woman who is bought from her mother by the brutish Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a travelling strongman looking for a new assistant after his last one, Rosa (Gelsomina’s sister), mysteriously died.

As the two travel together; with Gelsomina seeing the world outside her home for the first time, they build a complicated relationship, with Zampana abusive physically and mentally to Gelsomina, who seems to strive to win Zampano’s love and affection despite the abuse she receives.

Their relationship is what La Strada is built on. The plot is a simple one of following these two around Italy trying to make money off of Zampano’s strongman act, but it is the relationship of the strongman and his assistant that takes centre stage.

But things become more complicated when the character of the fool (Richard Baseheart) is introduced. A relatively kind and playful clown, The Fool is the opposite and nemesis of Zampano, and quickly builds a friendship with Gelsomina, questioning why she stays with such a cruel man. This rivalry between Zampano and The Fool soon turns to tragedy, having a lasting himpact on Zampano and Gelsomina’s difficult relationship.

In terms of the way La Strada is filmed, the action and the cinematography, I would say it is dated, or at the least very culture specific. The acting is largely over the top, (but does improve in the more dramatic moments), and if there is one thing I don’t want to see in a film it is circus acts, with Zampano’s breaking the chain act shown at least four times in the movie.

Gelsomina

Gelsomina was played by Giulietta Masina – who has been described as the female Charlie Chaplin

But Gelsomina and Zampano are very interesting characters.

She is a very kind and quirky if somewhat dim-witted woman. Absolutely reliant on Zampano for food, money and a home when she is bought by him, she tries to change him into a better, more compassionate man, but is constantly rebuffed for her efforts.

Zampano interestingly remains the same throughout the film. Tough, aggressive, quick to anger, and though the fool teases him for really no reason, his over the top reactions to his pranks soon turn very violent, which leads to the climax of the film.

And it is finally here where we see something that perhaps Gelsomina has seen in him, a man who doesn’t want to be alone. The end of the film ends with him in tears, lost and alone. and for the first time we see Zampano’s fragility.

La Strada poses the question do Zampano and Gelsomina love each other, or simply need each other?

La Strada poses the question do Zampano and Gelsomina love one another, or simply need each other?

Ultimately though La Strada will struggle to appeal with today’s modern audience. It’s rather tedious at times and hard to invest in, with Fellini’s style better illustrated in La Dolce Vita I believe than here, with its more romantic portrayal of Italy and cinema in general.

Reportedly Fellini almost suffered a nervous breakdown due to his emotional investment into this film, and the early reviews seemed to suggest it felt almost incomplete, and that is kind of how I felt after watching it. It seemed unpolished, messy, and like Zampano unwilling to let too much emotion shine through.

But my main problem was with the character of the Fool. Apparently he was a character we were supposed to sympathise with and like, but I just found him annoying and obnoxious, to the point where I was kind of rooting for Zampano to get him. Probably didn’t deserve what happens to him but still.

La Strada has gone down as a classic piece of Italian cinema and one of Fellini’s finest. And as the first official winner of the Best Foreign Language film at the academy awards, it is certainly deserving of its place on this list.

It just wouldn’t be in mine.

La Strada: 4/10

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August 20, 2016 · 7:05 pm

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Nightofthehunterposter

The Night of the Hunter – IMDB 232/250

We’re staying in the 1950s for the next film of my IMDb reviews, with Charles Loughton’s thriller The Night of the Hunter, starring film icon Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell, a greedy and sadistic preacher and serial killer who marries widow Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), in the hope of stealing a large sum of money left to the family by Willa’s former husband Ben (Peter Graves).

Based on real life serial killer Harry Powers, The Night of the Hunter is a very dark thriller lead by Mitchum, who gives a very strong performance as the main villain of the film.

Harry Powell is portrayed as an extremely evil man. Posing as a preacher, it is clear Powell is a very religious man, at least religious to a point to justify his own actions, with essentially his own take and beliefs on Christianity. And like many psychopath portrayals in film Powell is shown to be very charismatic and charming, with Mitchum handling his performance expertly to create a memorable film villain.

He allures Willa and the whole community with his religious sermons, promising to show Willa the road to salvation, and even when she sees Powell for who he truly is she still is utterly devoted to him and God, saying she doesn’t care he is after the money, he was sent down by God himself to save her from a life of sin.

Mitchum isn’t over the top in his portrayal. He is silently powerfully at times, (this film was heavily influenced by silent films), with his powerful voice giving purpose to his words, particularly in his sermon of right hand (LOVE) and left hand (hate), which means we can believe that the whole community would fall for his charm.

Mitchum's portrayal as Harry Powers has lead the character to go down as one of Hollywood's most memorable villains

Mitchum’s amazing performance as Harry Powell has lead the character to go down as one of Hollywood’s most memorable villains

This is also highlighted in his powerful and soulful singing voice, which seems to charm and beguile those around him (like Kaa in The Jungle Book – random reference but just came to me).

Laughton’s portrayal of humanity is quite a dark one as well. Like Powell, many of the films characters are shown to be greedy and very vengeful, as shown in the lynch mob for Powell towards the end of the film from people who were all to quick to praise him before. This rather bleak portrayal of society is in complete contrast to my previous film on this list Roman Holiday with its much lighter tone and cheerful look. Rome looked a lot nicer than West Virginia I have to say.

But other than Mitchum’s performance this film was a real chore to watch. The performances of Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce as the young kids John and Pearl Harper really gave light to the saying never work with children, as their rather uninterested performances really lacked the emotion that was needed for some of the films key moments.

The character of Icey Spoon was truly infuriating as well, and although that was probably the point of her character she really made the film hard to watch. But really I think I just found the film boring.

Hidden in the slow moving, dark pacing of the film was a really interesting story to be told, but The Night of the Hunter didn’t build any real hype, tension or sadness. Powell is eventually tamely defeated, and the deaths of John and Pearls parents seem to have little effect on the children. The whole film felt a little emotionless to me.

The film is shot to create this bleak atmosphere, highlighting the sinister and nightmarish character of Harry Powell. Yet the ending is very sweet – with the feeling of a wholesome Christian finality to it, which took away from the overall dark setting of the film which was one of the main strengths of the movie.

Shot in black and white - The Night of the Hunter creates a very bleak atmosphere

Shot in black and white The Night of the Hunter creates a very bleak atmosphere, a perfect setting for a serial killer movie – a shame it was so dull

Roger Ebert described this as ‘one of the most frightening of movies’ and many film magazines have it as one of the top films of all time, but I just thought it was all so flat, it didn’t really lead anywhere, with the pacing at times sluggish, (particularly when John and Pearl are floating away on the boat endlessly).

I can see why Mitchum’s performance is so fondly remembered, and I think Powell is a memorable villain, but this film just felt so very dated. I think if they remade it today with modern techniques this is a story I could really enjoy.

But until that day, The Night of the Hunter isn’t something I will be going back to watch in a hurry.

The Night of the Hunter: 2/10

Paul

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Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday – IMDb 233/250

The next film on my list can say it started the career of Audrey Hepburn, so for that reason alone it deserves its place in the top 250 films of all time. Roman Holiday is a charming and loveable romantic comedy starring Hepburn alongside one of my favourite actors, Gregory Peck.

And as the first film I’ve watched with Hepburn starring, I can see why she is such a legend of the cinema industry.

Hepburn plays Ann, a royal princess who is bored and frustrated with her tightly scheduled life in the public eye, finally escaping the restrictions her duty forces her to comply to, spending an amazing day in Rome with reporter Joe Bradley, (Gregory Peck).

At the beginning of the film Hepburn is exquisite at showing us the frustrations her character feels, highlighting the lack of freedom Ann experiences and her inability to ever do what she wants due to her social obligations as a princess.

The scene where Hepburn has to subtly take off her shoe to scratch an itch on her foot is very comical but also reveals to the audience the social restrictions Ann faces in her life, the performance she has to go through just to scratch her own foot.

But the real fun and charm begins in this film when we are introduced to Peck’s character Joe Bradley, and when Joe and Ann meet for their adventure through Rome.

Shot entirely on location in Rome, Roman Holiday is simply the definition of a charming film, lead perfectly by Hepburn (who won the Academy Award for her performance) and Peck, with bubbling chemistry between the two that is hard to find in modern cinema.

This iconic scene is famous for Gregory Peck's improvisation, managing to get a real scream out of Audrey Hepburn!

This iconic scene is famous for Peck’s improvisation, managing to get a real scream out of Hepburn! It also showcases their bubbling chemistry

Joe Bradley at first is just using Ann in the same way her parents, advisors and the general public use her. He thinks he can get a great story out of her for his newspaper, but as the film progresses he learns what a vibrant, enigmatic person Ann is.

Peck does a fantastic job of showing us that underneath his supposedly greedy exterior Bradley is a caring man, and this is shown by the films end as he refuses to sell the story he gets from Ann during their day out, turning down a large sum of money so that something in Ann’s life is finally private.

Roman Holiday is all about escapism and living life, and director William Wyler does a great job of capturing this. In the film Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) also manages to capture this feeling of freedom and excitement of life from Ann, with Eddie Albert providing many of the films funniest moments.

But unlike many Hollywood romantic comedies, this film has a very bittersweet ending. Ultimately, Ann and Joe cannot be together, instead they take solace in the fact they had one beautiful day together, and they know that is where their story ends.

You can say Roman Holiday is a bit too sweet, rather saccharine in its approach and view of life, but it’s just so wonderfully filmed and acted that you can’t help but enjoy it. It was never boring; with Wyler creating a film that has charm flowing through it, using the setting of Rome to create the perfect romantic atmosphere.

But really this film is all about our leads, Hepburn and Peck, who just have this aura which explains why they are still held in such high regard to this day, with this film setting them up perfectly for their incredible performances in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Hepburn) and To Kill A Mockingbird (Peck).

If you want something light and lovely or perhaps you’re planning a trip to Rome, (I can see them using this film on their tourist boards), then Roman Holiday is the film for you.

Roman Holiday: 7/10

Paul

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