Quick quiz: in 1934’s MGM classic The Thin Man, what is the key piece of evidence that leads Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) to convene the dinner party at which the killer of Claude Wynant (Edward Ellis), Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead), and the stool pigeon Nunheim (Harold Huber) is revealed?More
In a rather hilarious reflection on Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress, the sixth of his seven films starring Marlene Dietrich, historian Alex von Tunzelmann is unimpressed with the history on display.
The reign of Empress Elizabeth (1741-1762) didn’t include nearly so much torture as the first few frames of The Scarlet Empress would indicate, and the Iron Maiden wasn’t even invented for another 100 years!More
The opening sequence of L’Atalante depicts a wedding procession through a provincial village. The natural environment is austere, and so are the spectators’ clothes and demeanor, more suited to a funeral than a wedding — all of which make the bride’s ornate gown, pale face, and blonde hair that much more otherworldly and out of place.More
At a crucial moment in Ritwak Ghatak’s Ajantrik (frequently translated as The Pathetic Fallacy), our hero Bimal strokes the most important person in his life and says, “Never mind, Jaggadal. You and I … we’re together.”
It’s a poignant moment, this Bengali portrait of devotion and erotic desire in the face of widespread mockery and community derision.More
“I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.” So says Groucho at one point in Duck Soup, in a pun that doubles as a summary of the film’s approach.
Duck Soup was the final film the brothers made for Paramount, a bridge-burning coda to their time there.More
“You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood,” director Merian Cooper allegedly promised the B-movie actress and future scream queen Fay Wray. She assumed he meant Clark Gable; he meant King Kong.
King Kong, both 1933 classic and imaginative figure, retains one of the more central places in the cultural subconscious.More
Nominating the bawdiest dialog from a pre-Code film is a fool’s errand — it’s a crowded field — but this exchange, from Ernst Lubitsch‘s sparkling, smirkingly amoral Trouble In Paradise, has got to be a contender:
If I were your father, which fortunately I am not, and you made any attempt to handle your own business affairs, I would give you a good spanking – in a business way, of course.
It’s almost a cliche to focus on opening or closing shots of a movie, as though these bookends hold within them all the mysteries the “middle section” (i.e. the film) will explore. But in the case of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M, that virtuoso opening really does clue us in to the kind of film we’ll be encountering, its aesthetic and concerns.More
Choosing a favorite Charlie Chaplin film is a bit like deciding which of your kids you prefer. It feels intrinsically wrong. Still, general critical consensus has elevated City Lights above the rest, routinely placing the 1931 masterpiece on lists of the greatest movies of all time.More
There has perhaps never been a time when so many of us have uncomfortably pondered, or angrily debated, the relationship between art and artist in mainstream cultural production. Polanski and Allen loom large, but recent events have brought us Parker and Affleck, and an ever-growing menagerie of alleged (and almost certainly guilty) shitheels besides.More