Sight and Sound Top 250 #246 – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Once again we continue our journey through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #246 Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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From the silent era on, Fritz Lang has been one of Germany’s most celebrated and interesting film makers. Most film fans likely know him for his ingenious silent science fiction epic Metropolis, or from his classic Peter Lorre-starring noir M.

One of Lang’s lesser known, but no less ingenious works is his second sound film (M being his first), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

The movie is actually a direct sequel to an earlier silent film of Lang’s, 1922’s Dr. Mabuse the  Gambler. Running a total of roughly four and a half hours an released in two parts,the earlier film introduces the character of Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind, doctor of psychology, and master of disguise, who has powers of hypnosis and mind control and is in control of the counterfeiting and gambling rackets of the Berlin underworld. The character was taken from a series of novels written by Norbert Jacques.

At the end of the earlier movie, Mabuse was confronted by the ghosts of his victims, and driven insane. As Testament opens, the evil doctor is still locked away in the insane asylum to which he was taken.

The film opens in a noisy print shop where we find disgraced police detective Hofmeister attempting to uncover a criminal conspiracy. After a shoot out with the criminal gang, Hofmeister escapes and calls his former boss, Inspector Lohmann. While he is attempting to explain what he has discovered, Hofmeister’s home is broken into and after shots are exchanged, the detective disappears, only to later turn up in the same asylum as Mabuse, somehow driven inexplicably insane.

We then cut to a lecture hall where Professor Baum is teaching his class about the case of Dr. Mabuse, thus giving us, the audience a quick recap of previous events and a succinct introduction to the character. Ten years have passed since the events of The Gambler, and Mabuse has spent most of that time in a near catatonic state sitting bolt upright upon his be. At first, Mabuse didn’t move at all, but then the doctors noticed his hands beginning to twitch and eventually they noticed he seemed to be writing in mid air. Finally given  pencil and paper, Mabuse began scribbling, until words began to form, then sentences, then eventually entire treatises, mostly having to do with ways to continue his criminal empire to eventually institute what he comes to call “The Reign of Crime”.

Interestingly, it seems that despite the mad doctor’s incarceration, his criminal gang is still active and is still carrying out crimes just as outlined in Mabuse’s writings, a fact noticed by Baum’s colleague, Dr. Kramm when he stumbles upon pages of Mabuse’s writing which he inadvertently knocks from Baum’s desk.

We eventually find that not only is Mabuse’s criminal gang still active, they appear to still be receiving orders from the criminal mastermind. From behind a curtain in their hideout, Mabuse’s voice instructs them in each step of his evil scene. Unfortunately for Dr. Kramm, part of those instructions include his murder.

Meanwhile, Inspector Lohmann has become suspicious that Mabuse may somehow be connected to the crime which is running rampant through the city, so he goes to the asylum to see what he can perhaps learn from the doctors or even from Mabuse himself. However, upon arriving, Lohmann is informed that Mabuse died earlier that very morning. Lohmann is shown the body and is assured that Mabuse is not only certainly dead but that there is no way that the body can be any other than that of the doctor.

Still, the crimes continue, and the criminals still seem to be receiving their orders from the unseen doctor. Moreover, as Dr. Baum seems to become more and more obsessed with Mabuse’s writings, he suddenly sees a horrifying  apparition of the dead man who sits across the desk from him and explains his theory of, and plan for, the reign of crime. We then see Maabuse’s spirit rise from the chair, give the psychologist more papers, then seemingly inhabit his body.

From this point on, all bets are off as the crime spree continues and the increasingly harried police inspector does his best to figure out exactly what is going on and who can possibly be the master of the criminal gang.

There are many aspects of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse that keep it from being simply a run of the mill crime thriller. The first, and obviously most important is Lang himself and the German film making sensibilities he brought to the work. No, this is not the Expressionism of something like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but there is still a certain atmosphere to the movie that speaks of a similar flavor.

Also, there is the possible supernatural aspect that suffuses the film. I say “possible”, because even though we see what seems to be Mabuse’s ghost confronting Dr. Baum and perhaps even possessing him, the option is also there that these events are taking place only in Baum’s increasingly fevered imagination. As a matter of fact, Lang later stated that one thing he wished he had left out of the film was that touch of the supernatural. Without that, however, the film would be missing a touch of genius.

Lang would return to the world of Dr. Mabuse one more time in his career, for his final film, 1960’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. I’ve yet to see that film, but considering Lang and the skill and imagination he brings to all of his films, it’s one I’m very much looking forward to catching up with.

I couln’t find a properly embeddable English-language trailer, so instead here’s a short clip of Baum studying Mabuse’s notes which gives an excellent feel for the atmosphere and tension of the film.

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Sight and Sound Top 250 #135 – L’Argent (1984)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #135, Rober Bresson’s L.Argent. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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Robert Bresson is one of those film makers I’ve hear a lot of praise for, but I’ve never actually seen any of his movies.

I suppose it’s interesting, then, that I’m actually beginning my look at Bresson’s work with what would turn out to be his last film.

L’Argent claims to be based on a story by Tolstoy, though like many such adaptations, the final result bears little resemblance to its predecessor.

The story opens with a young boy, Norbert, entering his father’s study in order to receive his monthly allowance. When he asks for more money on top of what he is already getting in order to pay back a debt to a friend, his father rebuffs him, as does his mother on a subsequent appeal. Finally Norbert goes to a friend, Martial, for aid.

Martial pulls out a five hundred franc note and hands it to Norbert for inspection. Norbert notices nothing odd about the bill, but Martial tell him it is a fake, and that they will purchase something with it in order to turn it into legitimate currency.

The pair proceed to a local frame shop, where, despite the clerk’s initial hesitance, she takes the bill and gives them change. When the store’s owner arrives, he immediately recognizes the bill as fake and takes her to task for accepting it, whereupon she immediately reminds him that earlier in the week he had also accepted two counterfeit bills. The owner decides that rather then report the incidents to the police he will simply pass all three bills along to some unsuspecting soul.

That “unsuspecting soul” turns out to be Yvon Targe, a young man who presents the shop owner with a bill for delivering heating oil. Unfortunately for Yvon, the bill is recognized as fake by a waiter at a restaurant, and Yvon is arrested for trying to pass counterfeit bills.

When Yvon, accompanied by the police, returns to the photo shop to confront the owner, the employees of the shop lie, stating that they have never seen him before.Nonetheless, when he is brought to trial, Yvon manages to escape jail time, but as a result loses both his job and his reputation.

Finally, out of desperation, Yvon agrees to be the getaway driver for a bank robbery. The police manage to thwart the robbery, and while he is trying to make his own escape, Yvon is arrested. He is sentenced to three years in prison. During his time in jail, Yvon learns of the death of his daughter, and eventually receives a letter from his wife informing him that she is leaving him and moving on with her life

Now you might expect that the film would eventually lead to Yvon’s redemption, but that is not what Bresson has in mind here. I don’t want to give away much more, but I’ll simply say that the end of the film is both shocking and abrupt.

Bresson has a very interesting visual style that at first can seem a bit off-putting. There are times when he seems to focus more on objects than people, such as the scene where a group of four women in the prison are inspecting letters being sent to he prisoners. Instead of making the faces of the women the focal point of the scene as one might expect, Bresson centers his camera on the plastic bins in which the letters are delivered with the women seated in a circle around it.

There are other times also when objects become the focus of Bresson’s eye, such as when a woman carrying a cup of coffee is slapped by her father, and rather than showing us either of the two participants, the camera instead focuses on the cup and shows the coffee sloshing out of it as the act of violence occurs.

Another interesting feature of the film is Bresson’s tendency toward off- screen action. This is especially apparent in the bank robbery scene where the focus throughout remains almost entirely on Yvon waiting in the car as opposed to what is happening inside or outside of the bank. We get just enough of the proceedings to follow what is going on, but the emphasis is on Yvon and his reactions.

This emphasis is even more marked in the climax of the film where for the most pert we are shown the aftermath of events rather than the events themselves, though that doesn’t mitigate the horror of what is happening.

One final note I’ like to make about Bresson’s style is his emphasis on doorways and portals. Quite often throughout the film we are shown characters either standing in a doorway or even hidden by closed doors. Often Bresson will hold his camera’s eye on the doorway even after the portal has been closed or vacated just long enough to draw the viewer’s eye to it.

I said in the opening of this feature that L’Argent is my first encounter with Bresson’s work, and I think it serves as a very good one, as I am now definitely looking forward to exploring the director’s other films on this list.

Instead of the official trailer for the movie (which can be found on YouTube but is really just a rather abstract sequence of ATM doors closing (again showing Bresson’s penchant for focusing on objects) here’s a short clip from the film showing the bank robbery:

Sight and Sound Top 250 #248 – The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #248, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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*** SPOILER WARNING*** I’m going to go ahead and throw a great big spoiler warning up here at the head of the review, because there are certain aspects of this film which are definitely meant to be surprises for the first time viewer, but without revealing them it would be impossible to properly write about it. So, if you want an untainted viewing experience, it might be best to go watch the movie first, then come back to read this. You have been warned. ***SPOILER WARNING***

Who are we in the world when we are not ourselves? In many ways this is the essential (and existential) question that is at the heart of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1991 film The Double Life of Veronique.

The film opens with two short scenes of young girls being taught about nature by their mothers. One, the Polish Weronika, is shown the stars in the night sky, while the other, the French Veronique, is shown the veins on the back of a leaf. Both are taught that there is more to life than that which appears in front of them :Just as there are more stars in the sky, some of them not easily seen as individual by the naked eye, there will also soon be trees full of leaves which will hide their uniqueness.

After the credits we pick up with the life of a now grown Weronika (played by the always-stunning Irene Jacob) who is singing at an outdoor concert with a choir. A sudden downpour ends the concert – though Weronika embraces the rain and holds on through the end of the last note -and the choir disperses. Weronika runs off and meets up with her boyfriend  Antek. The next day she leaves for Krakow to see her sick aunt, though not before telling her father that recently she has had a strange feeling that she is “not alone in the world”.

While in Krakow, Weronika visits a friend at a rehearsal for a male choir and finds herself unable to keep from adding a soprano accompaniment to the voices. She is noticed by the director who asks her to audition for a part in an upcoming concert. Unsurprisingly, Weronika wins the part, but on the night of her debut, mid-solo, she collapses onstage and dies, and we are then given a perspective shot of her spirit as it flies above the audience and out of the auditorium.

Cut to an also now-grown-up Veronique (also Jacob) who is living in Paris, and at the time we meet her is making love to her boyfriend.Suddenly she finds herself filled with an inexplicable sadness which she likens to grieving, though she is unable to account for the reason behind the emotion.

Veronique, we come to find, is a music teacher, and after an interlude in which she take her students to see a marionette performance, we see her teaching them a passage from the same piece of music that Weronika was singing when she died.

The lives of Veronique and the puppeteer who performed the marionette show then begin to intertwine in ways that are at first mysterious then later are at least somewhat explained.

I say somewhat explained because Kieślowski is not so much about explaining the mysteries of life or of death – of solving them. Instead, he is much more interested in embracing the questions and following where ever they might lead. He is also curious about the ways in which his characters (and by that I mean not just the main characters, but also those on the periphery) are, or at least may be, connected. This is a theme he will return to again an again, finally making perhaps his most compelling statement on the subject in the conclusion to his epic Three Colors trilogy, Red.

The Double Life of Veronique is a film that is also very much a song about life and longing, and about the connections between us all. Music obviously plays a huge role in the film, not only in Weronika’s singing and Veronique’s music teaching, but in setting the tone and mood of the entire movie an the lives of his protagonists. This is yet another conceit that Kieślowski would return to often in his films, most notably in Three Colors: Blue..

The passion that Jacob brings to her performance – in both roles – cannot be overstated. Kieślowski’s camera adores her and it is easy to see why. Whether singing, making love, or simply reading a book, Jacob is fully invested in every moment of each character. As a matter of fact, she won the Best Actress Award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991.

So does The Double Life of Veronique earn its spot on the list? Well, as I suspect you can tell from my reactions above my personal answer is an unqualifie “yes”. As a matter of fact, I’d probably place it even higher. This is one to seek out, folks, and definitely one time you won’t mind seeing double.

Here’s your trailer:

Sight and Sound Top 250 #185 – Paris, Texas (1984)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #185, Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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ptp01Paris, Texas isn’t a place on a map, it’s a place in the soul.

Yeah, I know, sounds like a bit of advertising copy, doesn’t it? For all I know, it could very well be. (Hey, anyone out there looking for blurbage for your film? Drop me a quick message.)

There are some actors who I love seeing in the cast list for a movie because I know that no matter how bad the movie itself may be, at least that actor is going to give me an enjoyable performance. One of those actors is Harry Dean Stanton. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it is that I have that reaction, but there it is, And hey, there’s HDS’s name right a the top of the billing for Wim Wenders’s 1984 outing Paris, Texas. Okay, I tell myself, at least I know I’m in for something I’m going to like about this film.

And the truth is that there’s actually quite a lot to like about it.

Paris, Texas is the story of Stanton’s Travis Henderson who disappeared from his family’s life four years earlier. When he turns up on the edge of a south Texas desert, dehydrated and either unable or unwilling to talk, he is taken in by a doctor who contacts his brother, Walt (played by another favorite character actor, Dean Stockwell), who agrees to come pick him up. Since Travis refuses to travel by plane, the two brothers drive back to Walt’s home in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife Anne and Travis’s son Hunter. Walt and Anne have been raising Hunter as their own since Travis and his wife Jane disappeared.

pt003Along the road, Travis slowly begins to open up to Walt, and we find out a lot about what has happened to him in the time he has been missing. Upon arriving at Walt and Anne’s house, the relationship between Travis and Hunter is at first strained, but eventually begins to thaw as the two learn to trust each other, and they begin to bond. Eventually Anne reveals to Travis that though they’ve had no contact with Jane since she left, she has been making regular deposits in a bank account for Hunter and that those deposits have been made on the same day each month at a bank in Houston. When Travis decides to go to Houston to try to track her down, Hunter declares that he is coming along too.

pt004I think that’s about as far as I want to go with a plot synopsis, because to go any further, I’d have to give away too many of the twists that lie further along the road.

As I said at the top, I expected from the beginning to be entertained by the performances of both Stanton and Stockwell, and I definitely was. As Travis, Stanton puts in a near-perfect performance as a lost soul slowly regaining both his memories of and his connections to his past. For his part, Stockwell displays just the right combination of love for and exasperation with his brother. Of course, much of the credit for both of these performances must go to director Winders who gives this relationship just the right amount of room to breathe.

pt001Probably the most surprisingly good performance in the film comes from young Hunter Carson who plays Travis’s son Hunter. In a role that could have come off as mawkish or annoying, the young actor instead shows just the right amount of self-confidence to be neither.

As far as the look of the movie, one of the most striking aspects of the film is Wenders’ use of color. From the striking blue skies of the outdoor scenes to his palate choices for the various characters to his lighting choices which highlight each, this is a tour-de-force example of what can happen when a director is in sync with his cinematographer, as Winders obviously was with long time collaborator, Robby Mueller.

pt006If there is any nit to be picked with this film, it might be the ending which I can see some as finding too ambiguous for their taste, but in my book strikes just the right note of both hopefulness and loss. Interestingly, according to Wenders, he actually started shooting with only half of a script, with screenwriter Sam Shepherd wanting to see how the main characters played off of each other before he finished the writing.

One other aspect of the film that I have to make note of is the completely fitting score which was recorded by blues guitarist Ry Cooder and works perfectly to set the mood for the film and is completely in place for the atmosphere the director is trying to achieve.

It’s often said that for many people on a long trip it’s not so much the destination, but the journey. Whichever is your preference, I highly recommend this Texas road trip.

Here’s your trailer (which, I feel I should point out, really doesn’t do all that good a job of giving you a true feel for the actual movie, as is all too often the case.):

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #003 Tokyo Story (1953)

As we continue our more-liesurely-than-intended stroll through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #003, Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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ts1aWhen I wrote about Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (which stands at #015 on the list), I noted that Ozu’s films were one of those holes in my film watching experience that I had hoped to fill b exploring the movies on this list. I think it was obvious then that I found he was a director that I was glad to have uncovered, and that I was definitely looking forward to seeing more from the master director. Thus it was with a great sense of anticipation that I approached Tokyo Story, the film that is considered to be his greatest work.

I’m extremely happy to say that the movie rewarded every bit of that anticipation.

Once again, Ozu takes a very simple plot – an aging couple who live in the country decide to go to Tokyo to visit their children and grandchildren – and turns it into a masterpiece of the cinema.

Both written (along with Kogo Noda) and directed by Ozu, the story becomes a slow exploration of the relationship of family and friends and though it often explores the disappointment that can be felt by both the younger and older generations when it comes to those relationships, it always comes across as honest and heartfelt and never delves too far into the possibly more maudlin aspects of these relationships. One feels that in the hands of a less talented or less assured film maker Tokyo Story could easily have become much more confrontational than it is – Cat On a Hot Tin Roof with all of its shouting and it always-underlying sense of heat and desperation this is not. Instead Ozu turns his focus inward instead of outward and lets the characters be still and contemplative rather than forcing them to blaze and boil.

ts3As proved true with Late Spring, Ozu takes his time with the story and brings a stillness to the work that allows it to become almost meditative. There is very little motion to his camera work, and indeed he allows the camera at times to linger and continue to focus on a location even after the characters and action have left it, thus allowing his audience time to contemplate the actions and scenes that they have just seen along with the words that have been said in a way that I suppose could be extremely off-putting to more modern audiences who are used to being rushed from one scene to another by directors who seem to be hoping that their audiences not think about what they have just witnessed for fear that they might find that the film maker has in some way come up short of his intentions.

ts4Ozu also shows a sense of confidence in his actors by never forcing them to go over the top with either their voices or their actions, instead letting their performances match the moment in the film. This is not to say that their are never harsh words said, nor strong emotions expressed, but they are done so in a way that fits each of the characters and there is a sencse that both types of moments, the quiet and the loud, are there to serve the purpose of the film and in truth it feels like there is rarely an extraneous word spoken nor an undeserved or unearned tear shed.

Of course, much of the credit for this must also be shared with the cast, especially Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama who play the elderly couple with a sense both of foreboding, as though they know from the start that this will be the last time that they will get to see all of their family but also with a sense of tenderness and love towards each other which shines through even the darkest moments of the film.

Summed up, Tokyo Story is one of those rarities in cinema – a realistic seeming portrayal of the heart of a family that is incredibly full of heart and respects its characters, actors, and audience in a way that truly earns it one of the top spots in the list of all-time greats.

Here’s your trailer:

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #054 North By Northwest (1959)

And here we are, back again with another look at one of the world’s best movies as designated by the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list. This time around, it’s #054 on the list, Alfred Hithcock’s North By Northwest. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.

nw1No one is going to dispute, I think, that Alfred Hitchcock deserves at least one, if not many places on this list. As a matter of fact the problem that most of those who filled out ballots likely had, considering the continued quality and the volume of the master craftsman’s work was limiting the number of Hitch’s films that they voted for.

Obviously, considering that it took the number one spot in this particular poll, the majority of them ranked Vertigo the highest of all of Hitchcock’s films. But even if you take that as the consensus (which I feel certain not everyone would. For my own part I’ve noted before that while I may not consider it his best movie, my favorite of the director’s films is Rear Window.

So what is it that puts North By Northwest in the position it obtained on the Sight and Sound list this time around?

I suppose it comes down to the fact that it is very much a compilation of a number of the director’s favorite themes.

First, you have the everyman accidentally caught up, through a case of mistaken identity into a plot which he at first not only has no control over, but has no idea what is going on, why strange things seem to be going on around him, nor even why people whom he has no awareness of seem to think they know him.

nbnw01Second you have the spy vs spy theme which allows Hitchcock to interweave characters and plots and slowly reveal the various layers of machination that are going on to the point that although the audience does have those moments of suspense which are a Hitchcock trademark where the audience knows more than the protagonist, there are still more reveals to come which can easily alter not only our perception of current events, but past ones, and make us question just who the true “good guys” (if there even are any) are and just who is loyal to whom and who we should truly be rooting for.

Third, there is that of the femme fatale, taken directly from the best films noir; the beautiful woman who may or may not actually be in distress, or who could just as easily be a part of the manipulations drawing our “hero” further and further into the ever tightening web which is surrounding him.

Tnbnw04hen, once you take those themes and add to them the incredible set pieces and action scenes such as the infamous crop-duster scene and the climactic fight on Mount Rushmore along with a number of smaller scenes such as the confrontation at the Rushmore Visitor Center and the escape from Vandamm’s house, and you have that mix of the grandiose and the small moments which make up the best of Hitchcock’s thrillers.

Oh, and let’s not forget to note the incredible performances. Cary Grant is, as almost always, pitch perfect in his depiction of advertising executive Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken, or at least seemingly so, for master spy George Kaplan, and Eve Marie Saint plays her role of perhaps innocent, perhaps not Eve Kindall to the hilt. Nor are they alone. Supporting characters, such as James Mason as Phillip Vandamm, Leo G. Carroll as The Professor, and Martin Landau as Leonard are all spot-on, as one would expect not only from such veteran actors, but from the way that Hitchcock always seems to be able to pull even from lesser actors than these.

nbnw02Finally, one has to consider the score by Hitchcock regular Bernard Herman, which, while it may not be one of his most stand-out efforts still works incredibly well within the film and helps both to support the ongoing action when needed and to contrast it when that is what is called for. Nor can one fail to note Robert Burks’s cinematography which plays such an important role in capturing just the right moment in just the right way that it allows the master to truly make the most of the script. There is a reason that Burks was Hitchcock’s cinematographer on twelve of the director’s films, beginning with 1951’s Strangers on a Train right through until 1964’s Marnie. The only Hitchcock film he was not part of during that period was Psycho.

In the end, what we have in North By Northwest may simply be the height of the master director’s action-thriller films. It is a film that combines and highlights so much of what he tried to accomplish throughout his career that it definitely deserves a high place not only on a list of his best, but, as it obviously has achieved, of the best films of all time.

Here’s your trailer:

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #156 The Shining (1980)

Yep, it’s been awhile, but it’s finally time to renew our voyage through the most recent Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, this time around, it’s #156 on the list, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

sh1There’s been so much written and said about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s possible interpretations and influences  – there’s even been a documentary, Room 237, exploring it’s different possible (though more than a little outlandish) meanings – that it’s tough to really know where to begin with it.

Therefore I’ll simply start with this declaration: for many, including me, The Shining is very possibly THE horror movie.

This film, the tale of a man – Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance – gone quite mad, very simply has it all. From the Stephen King book from which the story comes, through Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s screenplay, John Alcott’s cinematography, Kubrick’s direction, Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s score, and the rest of the cast and crew, this movie stands as one of the true masterpieces of horror cinema, very much deserves its place on this list.

One of the reasons this movie is so hard to write about is that it feels like one of those that pretty much everyone has seen and already has their own opinion about. I know that there are many – including Stephen King himself – who do not share my point of view on it. As a matter of fact, in the afterword of his sequel novel Doctor Sleep, King professed continued dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film writing”…of course there was Stanley Kubrick’s movie which many seem to remember — for reasons I have never quite understood — as one of the scariest films they have ever seen.”

sh2At the same time, I know that there are going to be many out there who, though they may have seen images and clips from the movie, have never actually sat and watched the whole thing. After all, it was made in 1980, which means that an entire generation of movie-goers have been born and come of age since its release, and though foe a long time it seems as though one couldn’t turn on the television without it popping up on one cable channel or another, however, those days, I suspect are long past.

So, for those of you who haven’t seen it, rather than re-invent an already well-made wheel, here’s the plot summary from Wikipedia. It’s quite long and obviously spoiler filled, so I’m going to set it off as a blockquote. For those of you who don’t want to read the whole thing, or want to avoid the spoilers, simply meet me further down, below the indentation.

Jack Torrance arrives at the mountain isolated Overlook Hotel, 25 miles from the closest town, Sidewinder, Colorado, interviewing for the position of winter caretaker, planning to use the hotel’s solitude to write. The hotel, built on the site of a Native American burial ground, becomes snowed-in during the winter; it is closed from October to May. Manager Stuart Ullman warns Jack that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, developed cabin fever and killed his family and himself. In Boulder, Jack’s son, Danny Torrance, while brushing his teeth, has a terrifying premonition about the hotel, viewing a cascade of blood emerging from an elevator door, before falling into a trance. Jack’s wife, Wendy, tells a doctor that Danny has an imaginary friend named Tony, and that Jack has given up drinking because he dislocated Danny’s shoulder following a binge.

sh3The family arrives at the hotel on closing day and is given a tour. The chef, Dick Hallorann, surprises Danny by telepathically offering him ice cream. To Danny, Dick explains that he and his grandmother shared this telepathic ability, which he calls “shining.” Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, particularly room 237. Hallorann tells Danny that the hotel has a “shine” to it along with many memories, not all of which are good. He also tells Danny to stay out of room 237.

A month passes; while Jack’s writing goes nowhere, Danny and Wendy explore the hotel’s hedge maze. Wendy becomes concerned about the phone lines being out due to the heavy snowfall and Danny has frightening visions. Jack, increasingly frustrated, starts acting strangely and becomes prone to violent outbursts.

Danny’s curiosity about room 237 overcomes him when he sees the room’s door open. Later, Wendy finds Jack, asleep at his typewriter, screaming in his sleep. After she awakens him, Jack says he dreamed that he killed her and Danny. Danny arrives with a bruise on his neck and traumatized, causing Wendy to accuse Jack of abusing him. Jack wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room and meets a ghostly bartender named Lloyd. Lloyd serves him bourbon while Jack complains about his marriage.

sh4Wendy later tells Jack that Danny told her a “crazy woman in one of the rooms” tried strangling him. Jack investigates room 237, encountering the ghost of a dead woman, but tells Wendy he saw nothing. Wendy and Jack argue over whether Danny should be removed from the hotel and a furious Jack returns to the Gold Room, filled with ghosts attending a ball. He meets the ghost of Grady who tells Jack that he must “correct” his wife and child and that Danny has reached out to Hallorann using his “talent.” In Florida, Hallorann has a premonition that something is wrong at the hotel and flies back to Colorado. Danny starts calling out “redrum” and goes into a trance, referring to himself as “Tony”.

While searching for Jack, Wendy discovers he has been typing pages of manuscript repeating “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” She begs Jack to leave the hotel with Danny, but he confronts her, and threatens her before she knocks him unconscious with a baseball bat. She drags him into the kitchen and locks him in the pantry, but she and Danny are trapped at the hotel; Jack has sabotaged the hotel’s two-way radio and snowcat. Later, Jack converses through the pantry door with Grady, who unlocks the door…

Actually, I think I’m going to cut the plot synopsis short there, because I really want to encourage you to watch the movie yourself. SO if you want to know how it all ends, well, you know what to do.

Ultimately, The Shining (and I suppose I should make it clear that I am only talking from here on about the movie, and not the book or the later TV adaptation) is an ambiguous movie. Is it a ghost story? Is it a haunted house movie? Is it a movie about possession? Is it perhaps a story about spiritual if not physical reincarnation? Is it the tale of one man’s descent into madness or is Jack Torrance already slightly mad even before hr and his family move onto the Overlook? Perhaps what happens is simply the fulfillment of his destiny. Or perhaps he has been another ghost all along.

sh5And in the end, do any of the above possibilities matter? No, not really. Because it is this ambiguity that largely gives the movie it’s power. It is, in large part the not knowing, the continuous pulling the rug out from under the viewer that makes the movie not just frightening but unsettling in a way that so few horror (or actually I would call this a terror movie) movies old or new really seek to be and even fewer actually accomplish. What Kubrick pulls off here is a spot-on definition of the term “masterwork” in that it exemplifies a master of his craft bringing every bit of his skill and everything that he has learned about the art of filmmaking to bear in the telling of what could otherwise have been – as we have seen in so many other films that have come before and since – merely another mundane film about a family (or any other group of people) trapped in a lone place with a killer (or at least potential killer) on the loose.

And, like most of the best stories, be they told in film or otherwise, the end result for each viewer is as dependent upon what they bring to and invest in the movie itself. That’s why, once again, I’m going to refrain from much more commentary and simply recommend that you watch the movie for yourself. If you’re a first time viewer, I think you’ll find that you’ve uncovered a gem, and even if you’ve seen it before, I think you’ll find that it rewards repeated viewings.

Here’s your trailer: