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Thursday, October 30, 2008


Anthony Asquith is best known for straightforward filmmaking in the so-called British literary tradition which served him particularly well in stage-to-screen adaptations of G. B. Shaw & Terrence Rattigan. Letting the writer function as auteur doesn’t win you critical kudos, but films as fine as PYGMALION/’38 and THE BROWNING VERSION/’51 don’t just ‘happen.’ Even so, it’s fun to watch the young Asquith show off, even needlessly, on late silents like this & UNDERGROUND/’28, also out on DVD. You can all but hear him parsing the latest Russian or German import just screened at his CineClub. There’s some strikingly fast montage work and psychological P.O.V. stuff (even a shock flash of red tinting like in the original prints of Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND/’45), but the main influence is UFA studios with their posh camera moves, rich visual texture, expressionist acting, shadowy lighting & diagonal slashes. The opening works best as Swedish actor Uno Henning (in his only British role, he’s an intriguing mix of Buster Keaton & Conrad Veidt) breaks out of prison in search of revenge. The story flashes back to detail a rather commonplace love triangle that gives Asquith plenty of space for his set pieces (a visit to the cinema, a very close shave, et al.) which tend to run on a bit too long. But no matter, it’s all ravishing to watch and if the characterizations never quite add up, the visual touches are worth the stretch.

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