Sunday, 15 April 2012

'The Big Sleep' is still film noir at its very best!

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir directed by Howard Hawks and based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. The film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe who is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to resolve the the gambling debts of his daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) but he soon becomes involved in a murder and blackmail.

Famous for its convoluted plot, The Big Sleep is an entertaining mystery, with the usual snappy dialogue as you would expect from a Hawks picture and a worthy addition to the film noir genre. Bogart plays Marlowe with the degree of toughness and humour that is typical of many of Bogart's best performances. There are many other excellent performances too such as the excellent Lauren Bacall as Vivian, the sulky older sister to the thumb sucking Vickers and the scene stealing John Ridgely as the small-time gangster Eddie Mars.

The fact that Hawks tried to be careful on how to suggest the use of pornography and drugs in a period of censorship only provides the film with a unique air of mystery.  As in many films in the film noir genre, the settings uses the most of the night time with additional sequences set in rain and fog. The whole thing works. The film is quite stylishly directed by Hawks, full of sharp dialogue (script by William Faulkner) and beautifully shot by Sidney Hickox. Despite having a plot so complex that Raymond Chandler himself could not tell who committed the murders, this is all very enjoyable stuff.
RATING *****

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Streetcar Named Desire - still a powerful film!

Tennessee Williams' controversial play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway in December 3rd, 1947. Directed by Elia Kazan, the play starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. The London production was directed by Laurence Olivier and opened in 1948 starred Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh and Renee Asherton. The 1951 film version distributed by Warner Bros starred three members of the Broadway cast: Brando, Hunter, Malden and one lead from the London production: Vivien Leigh.

Set in New Orleans, the film as the play tells the story of  Blanche (Vivien Leigh) who comes to visit her naive sister (Kim Hunter), who is pregnant and living with an aggressive brute named Stanley (Marlon Brando). At first, Blanche comes across as a refined person but we learn that things are not right with her, that she appears to have a type of mental breakdown and we learn that she is a disgraced teacher who was run out of her home town for seducing a pupil.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a widely regarded as a landmark film because it was deemed extremely controversial. Although some parts of the film were changed or cut to please the censor, the film still feels more adult than Hollywood had been making. 

Like many filmed versions of plays, A Streetcar Named Desire can feel very theatrical at times despite a screenplay by playwright Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul. There are many compensations though such as the direction (Elia Kazan), the photography (Harry Stradling) and the performances. However, there is only one real reason why anybody should watch this film: Marlon Brando. There is no question that his powerhouse performance as Stanley steals the show, making Brando a world star. Overall, A Streetcar Named Desire has lost little of its power despite the passing of the years. It works well, is entertaining and is rightfully regarded as a classic.
RATING *****

How well will 'The Wolf of Wall Street' do at this weekend at the Oscars?

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