Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anna Karina and Band of Outsiders (1964)

Anna Karina in Band of Outsiders (1964)

Band of Outsiders, known in French as Bande à part, is a Jean-Luc Godard film from 1964 starring  Godard muse Anna Karina. She plays Odile, a naive young woman studying English with fellow students Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur). Odile becomes the object of fascination for both Franz and Arthur. They lust after her and when she reveals a crucial bit of information about a store of money in her aunt’s home, they use her as a means to an end. Arthur owes his uncle some serious cash to his uncle so he needs to get his hands on this money right away. Things spiral out of control as the urgency grows and things don’t go according to plan. There are some lighthearted moments in the film including the iconic scene of Karina, Frey & Brasseur dancing in a nightclub. That scene inspired Uma Thurman and John Travolta's dance in Pulp Fiction and the film as a whole made a mark on director Quentin Tarantino.

I first saw this film at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. It was a very special event because the film’s star Anna Karina was in attendance and the audience was treated to an interview with her by Ben Mankiewicz of TCM. This event had been buzzed about for months before the festival, especially by me and other fans of French cinema and Karina herself. Mankiewicz kicked off the interview by saying “we're celebrating a movie that's over 50 years old and... the buzz at this festival from the moment we announced you were here was palpable." French New Wave films like Band of Outsiders still resonate today because of actresses like Anna Karina. She was a major influence on culture and is mesmerizing to watch on screen. Karina remains modest about her influence saying "I'm very excited to see that so many people still like the film".

Anna Karina and Ben Mannkiewicz at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

From a young age, Karina loved the movies. She started off singing and dancing in her native country of Denmark. She was an extra in Danish films as a young teen. Karina remembers, "One day someone saw me in the street and he said would you like to be in my film?" She said why not but had to ask her mother because she was 14 years old. She got her mother's permission and made the film The Girl with the Shoes, aka Pigen Og Skoene (1959)  . Four years later the short got a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. By that time she was already an established actress in France.

Karina moved to Paris while still a teen. She didn't have much money so she did some work in TV commercials including one for Palmolive soap. Godard saw the commercial and offered Karina a part in his upcoming film Breathless (1960) and he said "but you have to take your clothes off." Karina’s response was direct, "I'm not talking my clothes off." She later reminisced about turning that iconic film down:

"I didn't want to do it so I didn't do it. [Godard] didn't understand because he thought I was nude in the soap film. But you only saw a bit of shoulder... It was in his imagination.” - Anna Karina

Anna Karina at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Three months later she got an offer for a lead part in a Godard film. By that time she had forgotten all about him. She consulted her friends who pointed out that Godard had made an amazing film called Breathless with Jean Paul Belmondo. She went to meet Godard and asked him if she had to take her clothes off. His response was, "no it's a political film". Karina was concerned because she was so young and still learning how to speak French. How would she make a political film? Godard responded "Don't you worry about it, you just do what I tell you to do". There was a bit of a snafu because Karina was still underage and needed permission. Her father wasn't in her life anymore and her mother was living in Copenhagen. Godard offered to bring her mother to Paris. Karina hadn't seen her mother in 8 months and called her up saying "Mommy I'm doing a political film in Paris with a great director called Jean Luc-Godard. You have to come to sign the contract.” Her mother didn't believe her and hung up the phone. She finally convinced her mother to come to sign the contract and the rest is history.

Ben Mankiewicz asked if Karina had ever auditioned for Godard. She hadn’t. She signed the contract and that was it. There was a test where Godard filmed a sort of interview with Karina to see how she’d do on screen. One of the questions he asked her was how many boys she had been with and she told him it was none of his business.

Karina eventually let her guard down and she and Godard fell in love. He was a romantic and she was his muse but they still had to work together. Mankiewicz asked Karina if Godard was a difficult director. "In a way yes", replied Karina. For Band of Outsiders, they had no script and had to learn their dialogue every morning. The dynamic between the actors and director meant that they knew what to do and what Godard wanted even without a script. Godard said that if he had a script in the end he wouldn't have wanted to do the film. He made a kind of script for the producer so they knew what to do.  Karina remembers that Godard didn't direct very much because he trusted the actors. Karina likened the acting to music. You just felt it and it made sense.

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina

And about that famous dance scene Karina remembered that they had to rehearse for three weeks. Every night after shooting, they would go to a night club and practice for an hour before the night club opened to patrons.

Note: this piece was transcribed from the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival interview with Ben Mankiewicz and Anna Karina. Quotes and paraphrasing are used.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) has a plot so taut with tension that I watched it wide-eyed at the edge of my seat in wonder and a bit of terror. Based on an original story by director Andrew L. Stone, this fantastic Film Noir from MGM benefits from a brilliant cast, a fast-moving storyline, great editing, excellent build up of suspense and a MacGuffin. A term made famous by director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is something in the story that drives the characters to action. What's interesting about a MacGuffin it's only purpose is to drive the plot but ends up being of little importance in the overall scheme of the story. For Cry Terror! the MacGuffin is a bomb on a airplane with the threat to plant more. The real story however is about the kidnapping of the bomb's inventor and his family by terrorists.

Paul Hoglin (Rod Steiger) hires his old army buddy Jim Nolner (James Mason) to develop a bomb.
Jim thought he was working on a government project. Much to his surprise Paul is the head of a terrorist group and the bomb winds up in a commercial airplane. At first no one is hurt but the threat mobilizes FBI into action. Just as Jim was about to report his friend to the FBI, Paul shows up to the Nolner home and kidnaps Jim, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  The kidnapping gives the terrorists time to put their plan into action which includes extorting the FBI for $50,000 which Joan must pick up and deliver to them.

Paul's terrorist group is made up of a bunch of misfit characters including Neville Brand as the Benzadrine addicted Steve, Angie Dickinson as Paul's girlfriend Eileen and Jack Klugman as Vince the thug. The FBI team led by Kenneth Tobey as Agent Frank Cole still believe Jim was part of this original group of terrorist. Once they learn that Jim was merely a pawn in the terrorist group's game they work to help save the kidnapped family. Little do Paul Hoglin and his co-horts know that they messed with the wrong family. The Nolners are never complacent and constantly scheme to fight back against the terrorists and protect their young daughter.

James Mason gets top billing but the two real stars of this movie are Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens who both deliver powerful performances. Steiger is truly terrifying and delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance as the lead villain. Stevens plays Mason's wife and while she is in a constant state of terror, she rises above being just a victim and proves to be a strong character. She fights tooth and nail to protect her family and never allows herself to be paralyzed with fear. The Nolners are a true power couple. When they're first kidnapped, the terrorists threaten to separate them from their daughter. This is simply unacceptable to the parents. They decide to walk out the door together to their certain death than to bear a separation. Such a move forces the terrorists to regroup and modify their plans. This is the first of many brave acts.

Steiger and Stevens dominate the film but James Mason has his moments to shine. There is a wonderful scene when Mason makes a daring escape through an elevator shaft.

Jack Klugman, Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)

I'm a big fan of Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman so I was delighted to see them both in this film. Neither of them though are truly effective as villains but Neville Brand makes up for it in spades. Brand's Steve is a serial rapist and murderer and we fear for Joan (Stevens) when they are left together. Those scenes are unsettling and add to the growing tension in the film.

Inger Stevens and Neville Brand

A few points in the film, the inner monologue of Joan (Inger Stevens) or Jim (James Mason) takes over as narrator. In most movies this sort of narration is not always effective. In this film it worked beautifully. Their thought processes help audiences understand their fear and gave us insight into their scheming.

The film was shot on location in New York City and Hoboken, NJ. There is an extended sequence where Stevens travels from NYC to NJ to deliver money and there are lots of great views of the drive. Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when they filmed a scene in a real subway tunnel. They were given oxygen and suicidal Inger Stevens at first refused the help because she wanted to die. Stevens committed suicide 12 years later at the age of 35.

Provocative and effective and with excellent pacing, Cry Terror! (1958) is a must-see for Film Noir fans.

Cry Terror! (1958) is an MGM film available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me this title for review!

Monday, September 19, 2016

2016 Summer Reading Challenge - Final Round-Up and Winners

That's a wrap! The 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is officially over. A big thank you to everyone who participated. I'm impressed at the variety of books read and reviewed. And a special shout out to those who were inspired to read more books this summer even if they didn't participate in the challenge. I love that you took the time out to participate in your own way!

Danny of
Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and The Birth of the Modern Man by Mick LaSalle

Grezilda of Doesn't She Ramble

Joan Crawford by Anna Raeburn

Strangers May Kiss by Ursula Parrott
Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams
Star-Crossed: The Story of Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker by Beverly Linet
Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life In And Out Of Hollywood by Evelyn Keyes
Virginia Bruce: Under My Skin by Scott O’Brien
The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Times of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste

Kate Gabrielle of Silents and Talkies
Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis
Truffaut: A Biography by Serge Toubiana and Antoine de Baecque
The Cinema of Cruelty by Andre Bazin
The Films in My Life by Francois Truffaut

Kristen of Journey
Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door by David Kauffman
Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood by Greg Merritt

Le of Critica Retro

Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum

'Tis Herself by Maureen O'Hara

Star Style: Hollywood Legends as Fashion Icons by Patty Fox

The finalists who completed the challenge having read and reviewed a total of 6 books (or more!) include:

Danny of
Karen of Shadows and Satin
Java of Java's Journey
Lindsey of The Motion Pictures
Marya on Instagram
Raquel of Out of the Past
Vanessa on Goodreads

I don't qualify for the prizes and Danny graciously bowed out of this portion so that leaves 5 possible winners. Chosen by here they are!

Grand prize winner is Java of Java's Journey! She wins a copy of Conversations with Classic Film Stars, Helen Twelvetrees: Perfect Ingenue by Cliff Aliperti and a Warner Archive DVD.

Runner-up Marya on Instagram! Marya wins a copy of Conversations with Classic Film Stars.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. Any suggestions for changes to the challenge are welcome and will help me in planning for 2017!

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