Older films seen in 2024, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 editions. Most of these are really quick comments - typically scribbled down in 10-15 minutes without benefit of notes - and any resulting wit or insight should be viewed as an accidental by-product. Slightly more thoughtful capsules may be found on the now-defunct old reviews page.

All films, both from this year and the 21 previous ones, can be accessed alphabetically. Most can be viewed ranked by rating as well, though I'm still not sure what that's all about.

[Addendum, February 2009: I've now stopped doing reviews of new movies, but I'll continue to update this page; however, this is purely for my own benefit - since I can't always remember when I watched an oldie, so it's handy being able to find them here - and I won't be going any deeper or writing any more than I used to (probably the opposite). I am not reinventing this as a classic-movie site, nor do I set myself up as an expert on oldies. Or anything, really...]

PIG ACROSS PARIS (58) (Claude Autant-Lara, 1956): A comedy of the Occupation - ration coupons, food lines, German patrols - which must've been very vivid for 1956 audiences (the film was a huge hit); but the morality of the Occupation may also be relevant, esp. whether black-marketeers were viewed as scummy and reprehensible. The plot isn't very well motivated (Bourvil befriending Gabin to keep him away from his wife is a little weak, and doesn't explain why he takes him - a stranger - along on the mission in any case), but the film finds some good momentum once the two are traversing Paris at night, strikingly lit by street lamps and lugging the pig (in pieces) - but then morality is also relevant, because the black-marketeers come off (to this 2024 viewer) as working men with a side-hustle (which also involves dodging the Nazis, lest we forget) so it's not very pleasant watching Gabin shake them down and bully them. Minor character who opines that if nobody washed their hands (with black-market soap) France "would be a cleaner place" seems to be the authorial voice - and admittedly Gabin isn't just a bully, he's a Heine-reciting intellectual ranting against weak and venal people (like the couple who keep a Jew as a maid, exploiting her), the proverbial angel with a sword; still, Bourvil is right when he points out that he (Gabin) is a rich man with nothing to lose, and the film gets really odd in the final stretch when the Nazis appear and Gabin turns out to be a famous artist, treated with respect by the commandant. What kind of snobbery wants us to root for the celeb against the ordinary people trying to get by (albeit in a slightly shady way) in wartime? Final scene has the potential to redeem things - and add a feelgood note - but merely doubles down, the worker battered with age while the artist has clearly had a 'good war'. An odd movie.

JUNE 1, 2024

NAIL IN THE BOOT (74) (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1931): Cinema! Quite remarkable how the addition of a small source of tension - a nail in the boot, slowing down the messenger even as the enemy approaches - totally transforms all the spectacular war action and Bolshevik slogans of the early scenes. Surely by design, a case of the Revolution - and the great armoured train known as the 'Guardian of the Revolution' - eclipsed by the smallest human weakness in any one of its faithful foot-soldiers, just as movies ultimately hinge on human drama, not form or politics. All that said, Kalatozov's visual and compositional brio is already dazzling, though he can't presumably have known how intensely his mad courtroom climax would resonate thanks to (fellow Georgian) Stalin six years later; that climax is surreal in its nightmarish quality - even the Young Pioneers turn up! - though our hero gets a right of reply, ending in a fine collective message. The show-trial defendants weren't so lucky.

INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE (68) (Anthony Page, 1968): A white-collar sequel of sorts to LOOK BACK IN ANGER, another toxic man who succeeds (the mot juste) "in inflicting more pain than pleasure" - and a rarely-viewed movie that feels like a masterpiece and is almost a masterpiece, it's just (a) too stagy, despite the attempts at jagged style, and (b) too aware of itself as being a masterpiece. Nicol Williamson is magnetically angry and sardonic, alienating everyone from office to dinner party then finding some brief solace with mistress Jill Bennett who opines that she's always managed to avoid guilt, "it's a real peasant's pleasure" - a line that suggests the (intellectual) snobbery the film is suffused with, despite being explicitly against snobbery. On the one hand, a one-note neurotic screed with way too much ranting and soul-searching; on the other - looking only at films from the same year - if FACES is considered a classic, why not this one?

THE BROKEN JUG (60) (Gustav Ucicky, 1937): Not much of 1930s Germany, though the girl being briefly scared about her beau being conscripted and sent to the Indies (only one in three come back alive, she says) and being reassured that there's nothing to worry about is an odd, loaded detail. The good judge does the reassuring, the one whose role in the comedy is to be the voice of stern-but-fair authority - as opposed to Emil Jannings as the bad judge, corrupt, pig-like and devoted to fleshly pleasures. Then again, Jannings is enjoying himself so immensely and visibly - preening, sighing, hamming it up - as the buffoonish burgher that he single-handedly makes the film also very enjoyable, starting with a long wordless sequence where he gets up moaning and groaning, feels his bald pate for bruises, waddles around the room, takes a long slug of booze and burps loudly, etc. The rest is mostly courtroom comedy around the titular jug, based on a play (by Heinrich von Kleist, of MARQUISE OF O fame) yet thinly plotted - there's just one slow-burning 'twist', flustered Jannings trying to avoid an increasingly obvious revelation. Also 'Nazi art', fwiw, though actually just 19th-century stage comedy; I suppose the strong central government rooting out weakness and corruption is somewhat on-brand.

THE QUIET MAN (62) (John Ford, 1952): Second viewing, but might as well be the first; I don't think I had more than 100 films under my belt the first time I watched it. Only now realising how romantic it is, both in passionate flourishes like the choreographed grab-twirl-and-kiss on a windy night (the whole film is very much like a musical; our heroine sings at the piano to express her joy), and in the sense that John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara are obviously hot for each other. ("Impetuous! Homeric!" marvels Barry Fitzgerald, gazing upon the demolished marital bed.) The dynamic is complex, passion being there but not enough - she needs her dowry too, for her self-respect as a woman - just as our hero's American individualism (and money) is engaged in a delicate dance with village traditions; the film isn't the rowdy macho romp it may appear as, it's doing some intricate things - it's just not doing them very well. Wayne has three different reasons not to confront McLaglen about the money - because he's afraid he'll kill him like he killed that guy in the ring, because that unfortunate accident was also motivated by money (the script spells this out), and because he simply believes in the modern idea that romantic love should trump all else in a relationship; the film can't decide which one to follow, and finally takes the easy route of his male ego exploding when Maureen says she's ashamed of him (hence the big donnybrook, even though it could still end in tragedy; it might've been funnier if Wayne were forced to engage in this endless brawl while also trying not to hurt his opponent too badly). A mixed bag, with rich Technicolor but also a fair few cutesy touches, easy affirmations (it lacks the undertow of loss in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) and "It's a bold sinful man ye are, Sean Thornton"-isms; also, though the fight bringing everyone together is Ford's ultimate expression of Community, the sight of the church - of all denominations - cheering on ritualised violence is a bit more accurate than he'd probably like, or intend.

GLEN AND RANDA (72) (Jim McBride, 1971): Glen is curious - "Don't you wonder about things?" - and too idealistic for his own good, heading off to an imagined comic-book city; Randa (played by Martha Plimpton's mother!) is more literal-minded, and more likeable. He's obsessed with the past, how things used to be (our setting is a devastated world, after a nuclear holocaust and Biblical flood), she seems to exist in an eternal present, happily wasting their valuable matches because it's fun to light them all at once; "Keep your eye on the future," says the fast-talking hustler, capitalism making the most of whatever it's offered. ("Time is on my side," add the Rolling Stones on a broken-down record, adding their own ironic commentary.) A one-off - call it 'pastoral-dystopian' - a landscape movie with echoes of Westerns that's also a quietly horrified series of sketches built around a central emptiness and desolation. (Randa, cheerfully, at the end of one short sketch: "Is this the end of the world?".) McBride's touch is light, losing something in immediacy but gaining in resonance. Favourite bit: Randa, dressed in a dead woman's clothes, artlessly asks the old widower: "Do I look like Arlene?" - and he gapes, torn between shock, embarrassment and secret delight.

GREEN SNAKE (63) (Tsui Hark, 1993): Fans go on about the religious-intolerance message - Sean Gilman: "this pointed denunciation of the hypocrisies both sexual and racial of China's religious traditions, the backward superstitional blindness of Taoism and the calcification of Buddhism into a rules-based organizational structure" - but the trade-off in Hark's frenzied style, where each new shot is its own eye-popping thing, is that plot is less impactful, let alone the message. Not just razzle-dazzle, the flying monk with the rigid moral worldview - "Evil is always evil" - comes just a few minutes after the opening-credits song that's all about ambiguity and fluidity, and we also have the two female snakes forever shifting between human form and their true (evil?) form, so it does have something on its mind - but it's fair to say mischievous Maggie Cheung (sporting a snake tail that looks more like a mermaid's fin) is by far the bigger attraction. Note to self: should rewatch ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, may have overrated it just because it was my first exposure to these blithely scrappy HK fantasies.

MAY 1, 2024

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (49) (Herbert Ross, 1969): Watched the full version, with four-minute Overture and Intermission; someone was obviously trying to make a rip-roaring, Broadway-style entertainment for young and old - but if so they forgot to tell Peter O'Toole, whose Chips (a brave performance) is dry, taciturn, emotionally unavailable and frankly grumpy. (They also forgot to tell Leslie Bricusse, whose songs are terrible.) Doesn't help at all that the structure's been changed, leaving out the first act with Chips as a hapless young teacher - a useful way to gain audience sympathy, whereas now he's middle-aged and settled (and a little pompous) from the start, forcing the film to throw in contrivances like his friendship with the German teacher or his stray acts of kindness to pupils. "I think you're the nicest man I've ever met in my life," says the future Mrs. Chips, which is probably true but not exactly a basis for a passionate romance (he's so uptight he's shocked by a peck on the cheek: "Really, Miss Bridges!"); can't exactly recall Donat in the 1939 version, but I'm pretty sure he was more human (just painfully shy). Ross's idea of bohemian life - campy gay people, basically - also a bit embarrassing, but props for having the nerve to give so little (esp. in a wannabe crowd-pleaser), placing all its (ahem) chips on the famous "Hundreds of children... All boys" finale. Also wondering if Wooderson's mantra actually originated here, in Chips' wry take on his aforementioned boys: "As we get older, they stay the same age".

1944 REVISITED: Second or third viewings:

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (75) (Preston Sturges, 1944): Second or third viewing, first in >30 years. The relative weakness of Woodrow getting one of the Marines to lie for him is so uncharacteristic I wonder if there might be a deleted scene somewhere (it's not even the one who's been established as a reckless gambler). The writing and staging is otherwise peerless, not just a case of high-speed dialogue but hitting all kinds of unexpected notes amid the small-town tomfoolery: the Marine's cold-eyed mother psychosis, of course, but also e.g. the bruised undercurrent in the street scene with Woodrow and Libby, both parties trying to swallow what they're desperate to say (and avoid the fact that they love each other), Forrest's frustrated attempts to escape his father's shadow, Woodrow's self-loathing, the awkward presence of the actual war going on in real life; also, no idea if Walter Matthau in THE FORTUNE COOKIE was actually thinking of Al Bridge here, but the sardonic sangfroid is very similar. Not quite as perfect as I recalled - stuff like the cacophony at the train station falls a bit flat - but the same is probably true of most of the 40s classics I watched in childhood and adolescence; thanks to Mike for prompting this re-viewing, but no cause for alarm imo.

KISS THEM FOR ME (54) (Stanley Donen, 1957): Given the breezy (if rather stale) tone of the early scenes, one would think Donen got this gig due to having made ON THE TOWN, while Cary Grant is rehearsing for OPERATION PETTICOAT - but in fact this is serious stuff, based on the kind of Broadway play where characters call each other 'sophomoric', and the three sailors on leave (it turns out) have a bad case of PTSD. The tonal clash isn't fatal per se (Donen and Grant mixed tones masterfully in CHARADE a few years later), but Grant is horribly miscast here: the hero as written is like a character from THE LAST FLIGHT - getting wasted on Stingers and flouting authority so as not to think about all the terrible things he's witnessed - but middle-aged Grant just seems grumpy and obnoxious, treating people badly, speaking of which the treatment of Jayne Mansfield's character (and Jayne Mansfield) is the film's greatest sin; Donen mocks her, which would already be unattractive if she were playing a dumb blonde (she does say that her hair is "natural, except for the colour") - but in fact she's an interesting character, knowing and relaxed about the way the world works, totally honest and upfront about sex. She also carries around a copy of Fortune magazine to look respectable, money and capitalism being constant motifs (the soldiers are relieved to find an America where "everybody's still selling things"); in many ways a continuation of IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER - but the bid at sophisticated cynicism curdles when you also have our hero getting the shakes from chronic malaria and an old comrade turning up in a wheelchair. A fascinating mess in many ways, with the necessary caveat that it doesn't work at all.

GOLDFINGER (63) (Guy Hamilton, 1964): M and Q patronise Bond, but he knows more about fine brandies than either of them. Second viewing, first since childhood, and the class-snobbery angle really leapt out this time; this is Bond the polished British toff moulded by the 'playing fields of Eton', Goldfinger's problem - apart from being a fat Teutonic maniac bent on world domination - being that he's a cheat and a bad loser. Made in the year of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, Bond's remark about the impossibility of "listening to The Beatles without earmuffs" marking him out as behind the times, which may be why the film is almost irreverent: 007 is introduced as a duck (!) - he's wearing it on his head as underwater camouflage, albeit with a white dinner jacket underneath - and it's also a movie where he does almost nothing, doesn't even manage to turn off the inevitable bomb with two (actually seven) seconds to go. The only thing he does do - apart from being good at games, and judo - is to be such an incredible lover to Pussy Galore that she saves the world out of gratitude, making this (on one level) a very dry comedy about a macho stud whose only superpower is his sex drive (to quote the man himself: "Something big's come up"). Also of course, on another level, a classic Bond with a cool car, gadgets, production design, etc - though the second half sputters, and only the song remains truly iconic imo.

ALFIE (70) (Lewis Gilbert, 1966): Second viewing, first in >20 years. Slightly bothered by the shape of the frame this time, the whole film seems to be shot with wide (or I guess anamorphic?) lenses and it feels wrong for what's quite an intimate drama. Also wondered if Alfie's callous view of women might be too much this time (I'd forgotten he refers to them as "it") - but in fact it remains a miraculous balancing act, partly because Michael Caine is so charismatic (he doesn't just break the fourth wall, he also rolls his eyes at the camera and invites it to check out the ceiling mirror in Shelley Winters' bathroom) but also because it makes clear that Alfie's love of freedom is not hypocritical. "Nobody in this world has any right to stop you doing what you want to," he tells the pregnant girl, refusing to dictate whether she should keep the baby - though of course telling her "It's yours, innit?" is part of the problem (it's not just hers), in refusing to speak for another human being he also refuses connection, and in fact considers it a sham; he's the Lothario as alienated, stunted, cast-adrift modern man, even more relevant now than it was 60 years ago. Carefully scripted (e.g. Alfie's warning to Harry that his kids will forget him after his death later backfiring on Alfie himself), reaching a peak when Jane Asher weeps about her "secret thoughts" then departs with dignity - immediately after the absolute nadir of the bar brawl, then again that's like the pie-eating contest in STAND BY ME, it seems to come from a whole other movie. Cool and convincingly heartless, unlike the forgettable remake.

APRIL 1, 2024

1985 REVISITED: Repeat viewings:

RENDEZVOUS IN JULY (65) (Jacques Becker, 1949): Pure coincidence that I watched two Beckers in a row (with two weeks in between), but the way he treats the character of Christine echoes the treatment of Tonkin in GOUPI, an unsympathetic character allowed their richness instead of being simply condemned; she's a weak girl, weak even in success (she turns out to be a terrible actress), an inveterate schemer - but the film offers glimpses of her inner life, introduces her in a two-shot with her similarly sly (but smarter) mother so we know where she's coming from, and she also gets that astonishing close-up after our hero gets wise to her scheming and slaps her face, a cool defiance shading into sadness as if to say 'What can I do? This is how I am'. Otherwise a case of Youth on the March, a full decade before the Nouvelle Vague, early-20-somethings nursing big dreams, going to jazz clubs and other noisy places (just as long as it's "good noise"), looking west to black music and American cigarettes, a new post-war world that encourages their youthful exuberance and separates them from their bourgeois parents: "Your folks are half-dead, and don't even know it!". The boys seem a bit overage, esp. the pipe-smoking beatniks in plaid shirts (the girls are fresher, esp. Brigitte Auber) - but Becker observes them at the club, grinning madly and dancing like dervishes, then later plays a slow song and pans across the whole group as they listen intently, lending them grandeur; a breathtaking moment. Very chatty and slangy (the subtitles couldn't keep up), also rather charmless, a case of actors constantly acting 'high spirits' and coming off bumptious, an occupational hazard with young people (it's unclear how much Daniel Gelin as idealistic Lucien is intended to be charmless); also a peek at post-war Paris, a barter economy - a steak gets you three gallons of petrol - and airlines "just beginning" to make money as the new world (literally) takes off. One of those almost-but-not-quite experiences that may well end up clicking (even) more on second viewing.

GOUPI MAINS ROUGES (60) (Jacques Becker, 1943): Suddenly gets very interesting in the last 20 minutes, the theme unfolding in two opposite-but-related ways - the "loot" turned into a symbol of Goupi continuity (the hidden riches of the French way of life) hard on the heels of the character of Tonkin, driven mad by dreams of the outside world and the provincial narrowness of it all. Before that, not as special as Becker's later films - the rhythm is a bit unvarying, and the plot doesn't even make much sense for a while - though his camera is mobile and the way he moves the large ensemble (plus a cute black cat) around is exemplary. Seesaws from echoes of COLD COMFORT FARM (esp. the scene where Mains Rouges claims to be performing voodoo on his village enemies, much to the Parisian's alarm) to a more mordant Pagnol. Worth it for Fernand Ledoux as the title character - a rustic 1940s Nick Nolte, with a bit of Michel Simon - and a certain harsh wartime vibe; unsympathetic Tonkin prefers the colonies to France, unpatriotically - then again he's not entirely unsympathetic, as aforementioned, he has his reasons. Becker's years with Jean Renoir obviously paid off.

HAIL MARY (68) (Jean-Luc Godard, 1985): Only seen this and PASSION from Godard's 80s output (plus SAUVE QUI PEUT, which seems more transitional), but it's easy to forget - given his rep as a man of ideas - how visually lush they are. Nature (around Lake Geneva, presumably) glistens here, but the colours and compositions - e.g. the way the little girl pops into frame, completing the shot, in the gas-station scene - are also lovely. Godard seems to be using the mystery of immaculate conception (transposed to a modern setting, with disbelieving Joseph assuming that Mary has been sleeping around) to reflect the mystery of existence, the mystery of spiritual dimensions ("Does the soul have a body?") and the mystery of capital-W Woman, incl. in bits that may seem leering or exploitative; "Let the soul be body..." pleads the line (or quote?) on the soundtrack over an extended shot of Mary undressing, the film not oblivious to its own carnal side. God sits beside other possible higher forces and external intelligences, notably extraterrestrials and the nascent power of computers (their intelligence "stuns me") or indeed Nature itself, completing Mary's conversion. The combination of fragmented staccato and visual beauty is hypnotic, but Godard - as ever - is frustratingly opaque (or, more accurately, unspecific) about what he's saying, the film losing steam even at 72 minutes. May be underrating, def. want to see more 80s stuff; also with 20-year-old Juliette Binoche, looking heartbreakingly earnest in the opening scene.

THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH (48) (Eric Idle & Gary Weis, 1978): Handsomely mounted, low on inspiration. Most of the creative energy seems to have gone on making footage look like found footage - and making the songs sound like Beatles songs, though the spoofery is mostly on the basic level of riffing on specific, recognisable songs with slight variations (thus e.g. 'With a Girl Like You' basically is 'If I Fell'). The jokes are equally basic ('Shabby Road', 'Tragical History Tour', taking tea instead of LSD) or else sound like Monty Python rejects, thus e.g. the potted bio of someone whose father "had invented WW2" (feels like Idle must've been responsible for much of the logorrheic verbal humour in Python, only with the others to tighten his conceits and provide some quality control); worst of all, despite the title, there's no hint of savage satire or giving the Beatles - all still alive at that point - some mercenary side, quite the reverse, nor do the Four seem distinct individuals like the Spinal Tap boys. Disappointing, though - as in many disappointing zany comedies - individual bits can seem cherishable. 'Yellow Submarine Sandwich' animation surprisingly fun, ditto Mick Jagger in parody mode.

THE OYSTER PRINCESS (68) (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919)

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (70) (Victor Sjostrom, 1921): Watched with the electronic KTL score, a doomy wall-of-sound affair tying the whole thing together - and disguising e.g. how it's a boring tract on the evils of drink, or how the supernatural elements don't entirely make sense. (David is apparently dead, but apparently brought back to life once he redeems himself?) Nested narrative structure is bold for the time - it turns out to be a movie in the style of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - though it's even bolder (and modern) how e.g. the opening scene shows the shocked reactions to David Holm's name (and a glimpse of the sad, zombie-like Mrs. Holm) before we've got our bearings or know anything about the relationships. Shaky story but good understated performances, some cross-cutting for tension (David hacking at the door with an axe while the wife and kids try to escape, very Jack Torrance) - and, though the saintly Salvation Army girl is indeed annoying, note that she fails almost entirely in her virtuous quest. Bleakly powerful.

MARCH 1, 2024

THE FAN (72) (Eckhart Schmidt, 1982): In the year of E.T., another alien! Desiree Nosbusch's dreamy teenage ardour makes this rather basic drama unforgettable, esp. in combination with the Kraftwerk-ish synth score - but she's inhuman too, lost in her inchoate fixation, and essentially solipsistic, passionately kissing her own reflection in the mirror. The object of her fandom is just that, an object, and it seems at first a mistake to grant her wish so extravagantly (I'd have easily watched 90 minutes of her mooning dreamily around West Germany, with double exposures and extreme close-ups of eyes and lips), but as the film spirals into cheap exploitation it achieves a new, vivid dissonance, the girl both angelic and monstrous, her passion literally all-consuming. (The last lines of 'Ziggy Stardust' also come to mind.) (*) As with DECODER, not much to say, the early-80s vibe hits me for personal reasons; that it couldn't be made today (for other reasons) only adds to the time-travel.

(*) Also apparently... a Nazi allegory? Didn't get that at all.

CROSS OF IRON (57) (Sam Peckinpah, 1977)

ARTISTS UNDER THE BIG TOP: PERPLEXED (60) (Alexander Kluge, 1968): Proto-Herzogian but mostly Godardian, a jumble of aphorisms and vaguely political snippets in the larky style that was everywhere in the late 60s (from Oshima to Zelimir Zilnik, and beyond). The collage is eye-catching but a little static, the only momentum supplied by Leni Peickert (our heroine, always referred to by her full name, 'Leni Peickert') trying to start a circus but scuppered by capitalism. Utopia vs. cold hard reality is one dichotomy, the romance of the circus vs. TV (where Leni ends up) is another; the general sense of resignation is very strong - and peculiar to the period, because it also has to do with being a German artist "after Auschwitz", wondering if anything can be morally justified anymore. The anarchism (it's too chirpy to be called nihilism) is a governing philosophy, but also tends to lead to random imaginative bits for their own sake. A man eats cake messily (intercut with Leni Peickert reading in the bathtub). An elephant balances on its front paws. A group perform the execution of the Emperor Maximilien, wearing animal masks. We open with footage of the Nazis, to the strains of 'Yesterday'. Repeated truism: "Hard work is useless in itself".


THE YEARLING (74) (Clarence Brown, 1946): Like THE HUMAN COMEDY, a case where the overall vibe is so stylised, the dialogue so ornate and artificial, that the self-important MGM house style - a music score "utilizing themes from Frederick Delius", etc - can't find much purchase. A 'boy becomes a man' story, though Gregory Peck as the dad (not unlike his dad in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) offers a surprising model of masculinity: he has a girl's name (Penny), wears a dress at one point - and is almost too embarrassed about it - and acts submissive both to his macho neighbours and (especially) his wife, whose sad angry energy casts a constant shadow, though it ultimately does turn out to be just an act. The titular fawn is also surprisingly dark, despite a few Disney-type frolicking shots; it's found amid death (when our heroes murder its mother), later christened amid death, and is also quite a passive, inexpressive 'character', mostly a repository for the boy's feelings; it's a wild (and destructive) animal, can't be trained or tamed or do tricks, it reflects Jody's last boyish freedom and precipitates his shift to manhood. Claude Jarman Jr is miraculous, a case of an actor who doesn't even fit the role (he's too young, surely) and never did anything of note again, but is so full of joy and excitement here (Jane Wyman is a little one-note, but gets a pass for the bit where she tells a shaggy-dog story; per Pauline Kael, "she's so pleased at her dumb joke that you find yourself staring in disbelief - and laughing"). Yes it's a tearjerker with bits of old-movie phoniness, and an MGM prestige picture and a family film - but it goes to some very bleak places and would surely upset today's families, belonging very much to the post-war moment of gritty sobriety: "Ain't much of a world left for us, but it's all we got. Let's be thankful we got any world at all".

STATE SECRET (53) (Sidney Gilliat, 1950): Hitchcock without the spark, basically. A fair premise - similar to CRISIS from exactly the same year, oddly enough - a fair bit of politics, taking a dig behind the Iron Curtain, and scrupulously fair about our fugitive-abroad hero not finding anyone he can communicate with. The way he discovers practically the one person who can speak English (he ducks into a music hall, and hears her singing) is clever, in fact a lot of things are clever - if also implausible, like getting out of a car without being noticed by the driver - yet they all seem to lack that extra touch, the sense of inspired inevitability in e.g. (the Gilliat-scripted) THE LADY VANISHES; the subjective-camera sequence early on seems superfluous, the furtive glances over surgery are a neat idea but not done brilliantly, the deus ex machina at the end feels unlikely, the rock-climbing climax is exciting but mountain climbing is so dangerous in itself it overshadows the narrative. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood, though I did appreciate Herbert Lom as a venal sleazeball, scoffing when our hero says it's not a question of money: "Don't tell me it's the principle of the thing. That always turns out to be so much more expensive".

FEBRUARY 1, 2024

JANUARY 1, 2024