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Monday, August 31, 2009

SVOLOCHI / BASTARDS (2006)


Here’s the pitch: With WWII raging, a ragtag group of amoral, hardened criminals are rounded up and condemned to death. There’s just one way out, serve your country on a suicide mission and hope to beat the odds & survive. Sure, it’s THE DIRTY DOZEN/’67, but with a Russian twist; the cons are all kids! It’s THE JUVENILE DELINQUENT DIRTY DOZEN, an idea both appalling and irresistible. Megger Aleksandr Atanesyan starts up in lively fashion with some seriously violent gang action, but he never bothers to explain why the army specifically needs kids for the big mission, the kids’ well-honed felonious skills barely come into play. The expected tropes of feuds & bonding make their appearance, but we only get to know about five or six characters so our emotional investment is limited. Worse yet, we never get the sort of technical detail on the climactic mission to properly understand the hellish logistics. We watch, but don’t participate. What does come across is a breathtaking level of callous indifference toward the fate of these young kids that may be closer to the mark than the filmmakers intended. But the ghastly idea, as noted, really is irresistible and the film is intensely watchable.


SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Can someone explain the kiddie-porn poster for the film?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

D. W. GRIFFITH: Father of Film (1993)


Those exceptional film documentarians, Kevin Brownlow & David Gill of HOLLYWOOD fame*, hit all the expected notes in their three-part series on the great American director . . . and that’s the problem. Part One concentrates on how Griffith built up a syntax of film grammar by organizing and taking dramatic advantage of new film techniques. Part Two covers his brief reign as an independent titan and Part Three the loss of independence & his rapid decline as an out-of-fashion studio director. The problem is that Griffith’s best work was achieved in the creative incubator that percolated between the dawn of cinema (1895-1910) and the remarkably rich final flowering of silents (1924-1930), and even a three-part film can’t provide enough examples from Griffith’s foreign & domestic competitors to give proper context to Griffith’s output. But kudos for ending with the lovely fade-out shot from Griffith’s enchanting pastoral dramedy, TRUE HEART SUSIE/’19. Just the sort of ‘found’ masterwork that needs more attention in a film like this.


*Apparently, clearance rights on certain clips are keeping this magnificent Brownlow/Gill production from appearing on DVD. Good grief. There is no better advertisement available for the entire silent cinema than this wonderful multi-part documentary. It’s bound to come out eventually, so keep your eyes open and hope that the materials are given an upgrade for the inevitable DVD edition.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935)


This is the lesser of two classic melodramas helmed by John M. Stahl (IMITATION OF LIFE/’34 came first) that were famously remade in high TechniColor style by cult director Douglas Sirk.* Robert Taylor became a major star as the rich playboy who unintentionally causes Irene Dunne to lose both a husband & her vision. (In the Tayor role, Sirk’s remake pushed Rock Hudson to major stardom in 1954.) Chastened by the consequences of his flip lifestyle and guided by a spiritual protegée of Dunne’s late spouse, Taylor turns over his life to financially supporting, loving and curing the injured lady. Stahl’s work is less fluid then expected, and he seems unable or unwilling to bring out the charm needed to balance the arrogance in the disconcertingly pretty Mr. Taylor. And there’s something downright creepy in the story’s philosophy of making anonymous gifts in the expectation that such acts will further one’s personal ambitions; treating God as a sort of good deeds/good works vending machine. Ever the pro, Irene Dunne manages her role without a trace of bathos, especially when compared to Jane Wyman in the Sirk remake, but this famous film has dated poorly. A particular shame as so many superior films by Stahl are so hard to get a hold of.

NOTE: Stick with the original mono audio track as the stereo mix whipped up for the DVD is a foggy mess.

*Stahl earned his own TechniColor stripes in stupendous fashion with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN/’45.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS (1944)


At the height of WWII, even this famously idiotic B'way musical, with a sub-par Cole Porter score (‘He’s A Right Guy,’ ‘By The Mississinewa’) could be a smash hit. Especially with Mike Todd’s showmanship & Ethel Merman in her prime. The film version drops the Porter score & Merman, but adds even more idiocy. Three cousins (Vivian Blaine, Phil Silvers & Carmen Miranda are the unlikely DNA sharers) inherit a dilapidated Southern mansion near a big army base and turn it into a hotel for army wives. Naturally, there’s a crisis to solve which is accomplished when Miranda’s tooth fillings start acting as a radio receiver & transmitter. Believe it or not, this comes straight out of the original show! A couple of relaxed numbers, one with debuting Perry Como, aren’t too awful and Phil Silvers does what he can (until they put him into modified blackface), but this one’s more like something for the birds.


NOTE: On the Extras, look for an excellent, and rather touching, bio of Carmen Miranda.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TINI ZABUTYKH PRESKIV / SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS (1964)


Russian helmer Sergei Paradzhanov sidestepped Soviet Realism and plunged into the world of Ukrainian folklore in this award-winning movie fable. His style of filmmaking was sui generis with a cornucopia of brightly colored visual effects and italicized acting used to recreate the feeling of an initial encounter with a beloved National myth. Naturally, there’s a boy & a girl who shouldn’t be together, but cannot live apart. Only fate can test them and only death can bring them back together. Thru Paradzhanov’s eyes, the experience is, at first, ravishing just to look at, but as the story plays out, visual fatigue sets in with his relentless inventiveness. He’s like an almost great painter whose reputation is diminished rather than enhanced by a large retrospective.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW (1933)

In 1932, John Barrymore co-starred with Greta Garbo in GRAND HOTEL, with his sister Ethel in the undervalued RASPUTIN & THE EMPRESS and with Katherine Hepburn in her debut pic, A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT. The experience seems to have jarred him into rethinking his position on film acing and, over the next two years, until his constitution gave way, he turned out a series of virtuoso acting lessons in the art he had so long disdained. Vanity & disintegration in DINNER AT EIGHT, so raw people thought he was simply being himself; high comedy in REUNION IN VIENNA, a B’way hit of dubious quality; top-notch light boulevard comedy in TOPAZE; ham acting in Howard Hawks classic TWENTIETH CENTURY; and, best of all, this stunning dramatic perf in William Wyler’s masterly adaptation of Elmer Rice’s B’way smash. In COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW and MEN IN WHITE, Rice created the sturdy templates for all the classic film & tv legal dramas & doctor shows to follow. But only LAW still feels thrillingly immediate with its blistering pace and indelible supporting roles. Barrymore plays NYC’s top criminal lawyer, a non-religious, assimilated Jew (with a rich, WASP wife) who neither forgets, regrets or is ashamed of his Lower East Side past. The multiple story arcs have him defending rich & poor clients, his own hollow marriage & his personal reputation amidst a mix of ethnic NYC types who constantly move thru the office. Wyler’s staging and camera moves are brilliantly handled, a continuous ear-to-ear grinning pleasure to watch. It would be foolish to single out any of the great supporting performances (nowadays the whole cast would sweep the acting awards), but Bebe Daniels deserves special knokkis as Barrymore’s loyal, love-struck secretary. Alcohol would soon rob us of Barrymore’s best efforts, and the enduring appeal of DINNER AT EIGHT and TWENTIETH CENTURY would skew our view of his talents (in his prime he only played drunks & hams), but seen whole his work from 1932-34 is enough to keep the legend alive.

CONTEST: Two future Hollywood directors have acting roles in this film. Without resorting to IMdB or Search engines, name the players & their parts to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up on any NetFlix film of your choice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET (1936)


Art director Gordon Wiles got promoted to megger for this Warner Oland Charlie Chan pic, but he didn’t exactly freshen things up. The script has all the elements for Chan to ring the changes and cleverly solve the crime: a rich old lady with a new will, the return of a long lost relative, a phony psychic running a seance in a haunted house, a couple of murders, and a gaggle of aphorisms for Charlie to spout. But it sure feels tired. Maybe if Number One son were around instead of poor Herbert Mundin’s comic relief servant. A better idea was in portraying the easy friendship between grand dame stage actress Henrietta Crossman (THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY/’31; PILGRIMAGE/’33) and Oland. There’s something endearing in the way she calls him ‘Charlie’ and their close ties set up a neat trick ending. When they’re not on screen, entertain yourself by noting how much Egon Brecher’s caretaker looks like the great British character actor Wilfrid Lawson. There’s a mystery worthy of the great Charlie Chan.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

LADY KILLER (1933)


Inane, but entertaining James Cagney vehicle is like a Warner Bros. Pilgrim’s Progress in 74 snappy minutes. In New York, Jimmy is a wise-ass movie usher who’s fired, and then ‘taken’ by some crooked card sharps. He turns tables on these mugs and soon has them all working for him, running a fancy gambling den. But a murder screws up his quick success and he goes on the lam to Chicago with moll Mae Clarke. (Yep, the doll who got the grapefruit in the kisser in PUBLIC ENEMY/’31.) Cagney’s old pals set him up for the murder rap and he flees to L.A. Deserted and ‘on-the-bum,’ he’s spotted by a studio man who’s cruising local dives for movie extras with ‘character.’ Cagney’s a natural on camera and he’s soon being groomed for stardom when . . . his old crooked pals come to pull him back in. Helmer Roy Del Ruth manages the first two acts smoothly, but we seem to be watching an entirely different film after Chicago. It’s fun to see how untamable Cagney’s character is, even when he hits the big time in Hollywood, but sad to see his fine rapport with Clarke scuttled for nice gal Margaret Lindsay who does little for Jimmy. Production Code junkies should note that Cagney gets off scot-free even though he’s an accessory to two (count ‘em, 2) murders; including a cop!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT (1928)


When a ‘lost’ film as prominent as BARDELYS turns up, cineasts hope for the best and expect the worst. But this last collaboration between John Gilbert & helmer King Vidor (a Rafael Sabatini swashbuckler like his SCARAMOUCHE/’52, CAPTAIN BLOOD/’35 & THE SEA HAWK/’24*) is really something to cheer about. (There’s a bit of missing footage in the third reel, but it’s nicely covered with production stills.) Gilbert plays a ne’er-do-well Count in the French aristocracy who is tricked into waging his fortune against an unlikely marriage to lovely Eleanor Boardman. And it’s only when Gilbert shows up at her country estate that Vidor drops the forced comic tone that suits neither him nor his star and lets the film find its proper dramatic balance. It hits a remarkable peak when Vidor pulls off one of his grand romantic interludes as the lovers glide thru willow branches on a boat and, after this, even Gilbert’s derring-do has just enough gravitas attached to it so it never feels like second-best Doug Fairbanks. The production is large, but not bloated, and lenser William Daniels turns in some exceptional trick shots. (Watch for a stunning balcony fall that Hitchcock must have studied.) As ‘lost’ films go, this one’s a keeper.


*The famous Errol Flynn SEA HAWK from 1940 uses little of the original Sabatini story.

Friday, August 21, 2009

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948)


Dante forgot to include a Circle in Hell for all the Hollywood adaptors who turn solid Broadway musicals into films so bad they permanently spoil the reputations of the original well-received shows. The outstanding original creative team of Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, S. J. Perelman, Elia Kazan & Agnes De Mille (working off a Ferenc Molnar story about a statue of Venus who comes to life and causes romantic havoc) must have wondered what hit ‘em when this film came out. The basic plot is more or less intact and the Hollywood cast seems eager (and even able) to handle the witty script, sophisticated lyrics & gorgeous score as heard on B’way. But they never got the chance. Everything’s been dumbed-down & bowdlerized while the stunning Weill score has been reduced from over a dozen numbers and a couple of ballet suites to a bare three songs. One of the survivors, ‘That’s Him,’ about knowing when you’ve found the perfect ‘him,’ shows what might have been as Eve Arden, Olga San Juan and the blissfully beautiful Ava Gardner toss it around. ("He’s like a plumber when you need a plumber. That’s him.’) On the boys’ side, Robert Walker, Dick Haymes & Tom Conway do what little they can in a hopeless cause. A few years back, NYC ENCORES! did a concert version that showed what all the fuss had been about, but a charmer like VENUS is probably too gentle to survive a full stage transfer/revival. Still, there’s something sad about a world that doesn’t get to know a song as enchanting & sexy as ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself.’ Naturally, it’s not in this film.

KANZASHI / ORNAMENTAL HAIRPIN (1941)

Another outing from Japanese helmer Hiroshi Shimizu, whose rediscovered riches come in deceptively modest packages, but this time without the magic. Once again, a motley group of vacationers meet in an over-crowded lodge. There’s a single woman looking for romance, a wounded soldier, a couple of wise-ass kids from a dysfunctional family, an overbearing professor, et al. Romance is in the air, but time & tide don’t always favor the deserving. Dramatically, everything’s in place, but here the small events and commonalities Shimizu favors have a slightly forced quality and nothing seems as natural & flowing as in his earlier work. (At least, as seen in Criterion’s magnificent series of 4 DVDs.) Was Shimizu losing his touch or was it the exigencies of war that made the difference?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

THE GOOSE WOMAN (1925)

Louise Dresser holds nothing back in a great characterization as the Goose Woman, a faded prima donna who lost it all to booze & the child she resents giving birth to. Jack Pickford (Mary’s kid brother) gives an intriguing low-key perf as her son, a young man trying to better himself and hoping to win the hand of stage actress Constance Bennett. But when an older, richer admirer is found murdered near the Goose Woman’s dilapidated home, she can’t resist embellishing what little she knows about the crime to gain a bit of long sought public attention. Her extravagant lies implicate her estranged son, and though the ties of mother-love prove stronger than the pull of renewed fame, who will believe her now? It’s a perfect set up for a melodramatic weepie, and it’s atmospherically handled by helmer Clarence Brown and lenser Milton Moore (though you have to squint through a horrendous print & tone-deaf music cues on the miserable TeleVista DVD), but the plot mechanics fall to pieces halfway thru the pic, spoiling much of the fun. It’s just the sort of story construction problem that made Irving Thalberg so valuable as head-of-production @ Universal. But he was now ensconced, for better & for worse, @ M-G-M.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MONATO NO NIHON MUSUME / JAPANESE GIRLS AT THE HARBOR (1933)

A late silent film from the remarkable Hiroshi Shimizu on the impermanency of friendship told in the form of a women’s pic. Two gal pals from school find their relationship strained when a boyfriend enters the picture. Worse, he’s two-timing the girl with another relationship. Things come to a head when an act of jealous violence pushes all the relationships off a cliff: there’s an ill-considered marriage, a break up of bosom buddies, a new boyfriend with mob connections, a descent past respectability with a job as a dance hall hostess, a neighbor’s slow death from TB, et al. Yet, Shimizu manages this within a 72 minute running time that neither shortchanges character nor feels rushed. It should reek of melodrama, yet it comes off as believably melancholy and, finally, hopeful. You’ll fall for everyone, especially a marvelously drawn bohemian artist who fears to stir the waters when he falls too hard for the dance hostess. Technically, the film is immaculately handled with unexpected jump cuts (in 1933!) used as dramatic punctuation.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The leading actress looks like an Asian edition of Hollywood silent screen star Colleen Moore. Check out that nose.

Friday, August 14, 2009

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944)

While Fritz Lang never regained the clout he held @ UFA Studios before fleeing Nazi Germany, this ultra-logical noir, from a script that’s a couple of sizes too tight by its producer Nunnally Johnson, is near the top of his Stateside output. Edward G. Robinson plays a University Prof who is batch’ing it while the wife & kids are out of town, and Joan Bennett is ‘the woman in the window,’ a portrait turned flesh. A couple of drinks later they’re at her apartment (to view some sketches!), but the night ends in murder when her rich lover shows up in a jealous rage. Raymond Massey plays Eddie G’s pal, an intuitive D.A. on the case and the incomparably slimy Dan Duryea is indelible as a blackmailer. It’s like a sly mix of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and the not yet written THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH/’55. Lang knew he was on to something here, Robinson, Bennett, Duryea & lenser Milton Krasner would reteam for next year’s SCARLET STREET. That’s a far more extreme (and greater) film and in it, just the once, Lang reformulated the very essence of German expressionism into something home grown & American.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

JULIUS CAESAR (1953)


M-G-M got a lot of publicity when they ‘daringly’ cast Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, so you might as well start with the nauseating ‘Ode to Marlon’ in the Extras section on this Warners DVD. Sycophancy on this scale earns its own comeuppance which soon comes via Brando’s intro shot where Louis Calhern’s Caesar towers over a shockingly short Brando. Take that! Similarly, producer John Houseman worked up a smart edit, deftly cutting the second half of the play, but he couldn’t turn helmer Joe Mankiewicz into his old partner, Orson Welles. Mank hasn’t the visual flair to make this posterboard Rome come to life and his crowd scenes are frankly hopeless. Happily, the starry cast makes up for much. Brutus is an impossible role, but James Mason almost makes sense of him. John Gielgud is tremendous as Cassius and even pulls off that extravagant hairpiece. Edmund O’Brien is a surprise as Casca, who knew? And Marlon, though vocally taxed (too much shouting), shows what he might have done in the field in the scene right after the assassination; the one where he begs the conspirators for their favor. But then go back to Gielgud for a lesson in Shakespearean acting. Watch & listen toward the end of the play when he tosses aside a line like, ‘this hill is far enough.’ It’s quite devastating.

CESAR (1936)


Four years after MARIUS/’31 & FANNY/’32 (see below), writer Marcel Pagnol finally took up the megaphone to make the last (and least) of his classic trilogy on life, love, philosophy and the juvenile games men play on the Marseilles waterfront. It’s twenty years since Marius ran off to sea, leaving a pregnant Fanny to marry rich old Panisse, and Pagnol can still manage the various plot strands in talky, but entertaining fashion. Yet, the film only comes to life in the second half which is about how long it takes Pagnol to figure out just what a director of film is supposed to do. Watch for a scene where Fanny waits on a boat for her son Cesariot; suddenly Pagnol begins to think like a director. (On the other hand, the almost primitive technique adds a sort of artisanal charm.) The scenes between Pierre Fresnay & André Fouché, father & son who have never met, are particularly fine; Raimu is the Earth itself as César; and you’ll want to know how it all turns out. Just be aware that everything here, even the washed out look of the DVD transfer, is a step or two down from the first two outings.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ANMA TO ONNA / THE MASSEURS AND A WOMAN (1938)

Don’t be misled by the short running time & chamber-sized story, this DVD release, part of a series from Criterion on Japanese helmer Hiroshi Shimizu, is a major discovery. A small resort town plays host to businessmen, students, families with kids & even single woman. They all have access to a unique Japanese perk: blind male masseurs who collectively serve all the lodges. They’re an assertive bunch, and, what with the slightly sadistic teasing they put up with, they need to be. But they know how to get a bit of their own back . . . and they do. Shimizu focuses on a mysterious female guest who turns many heads, including a bachelor Uncle who’s raising his orphaned nephew, and a romantically susceptible masseur. The characterizations are delightfully drawn and surprisingly modern; the directing technique all but flawless, with surpassingly elegant long, serpentine tracking shots; the sentiment held firmly in check, often with a blast of appalling political incorrectness toward the handicapped masseurs; and there’s special pleasure in watching the immense surface charm blossom into real emotion. Something of a quiet miracle here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

JOE KIDD (1972)


Modestly scaled, largely unheralded Clint Eastwood Western (about a Southwest land grab by the new white elite) has a tight script from Elmore Leonard and crystal-clear action sequences from vet helmer John Sturges. Eastwood’s role has less mythic elements than usual, which allows for a pleasingly anarchic, even loosey-goosey spirit that turns the sadistic touches of violence into literal punchlines. John Saxon may seem an unlikely choice to lead the downtrodden Mexican victims, but not when you recall that his real name was Carmen Orrico! On the other hand, chief villain Robert Duvall misjudges his effects, delivering an honest piece of naturalistic acting that doesn’t fit the tone or scale of the pic. Even so, once you get a handle on its off-plumb angle, not always so easy with the over-active Lalo Schifrin score, the film is filled with little pleasures served up by pros.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

AU BONHEUR DES DAMES (1930)


Julien Duvivier’s updated adaptation of Emile Zola’s 1883 novel is paradoxically a tale of modernization (how the rise of the great Paris department stores killed the small family-owned specialty shops) and a final flowering of silent cinema technical bravura. (And how! Duvivier grabs from the Soviets, UFA and Abel Gance with mad, and thrilling, abandon. All those made-in-the-camera montages & effects.) Dita Parlo (the bride in L’ATALANTE/’34 and the farm wife in GRAND ILLUSION/’37) stars as an orphan who comes to Paris to work at her Uncle’s ancient fabric store, unaware he’s going out of business thanks to Au Bonheur Des Dames, the fabulous new department store. (With interiors shot in the actual Galeries Lafayette, it truly is a jaw-dropping place.) The girl gets a job there and soon catches the eye of its young, debt-laden owner. Can love bloom under the shadow of tragedy? Duvivier never quite pulls the story together (the role of the girl’s sponging kid brother has been dropped which seems to unbalance everything), so the film becomes a series of set pieces . . . spectacular ones. There’s a young man’s excitement behind all the cinematic legerdemain which Duvivier would leave behind for a more poetic cinema. But this is so exciting to watch, you won’t want to miss it. Especially in the beautifully produced Lobster-DVD which includes a fine newly commissioned score and a fascinating short that shows the inner workings of an employees’ dining hall from this era.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: I know it's neither imaginative nor exciting to just say 'read the book,' but . . . read the book! The Penguin edition is fine, but with the usual odd Brit slant in translation, so you might want to try the Barnes & Noble edition (they've got their own classics line & you'll save six bucks) which goes by the title LADIES' PARADISE. The usual Zola realism & tragedy are wonderfully tempered here by what amounts to his very own Cinderella story. It makes a tremendous read, and the details on the retail world of the 1880s, especially dormitory life for the salesgirls, are real eye openers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (2007)

Depending on how highly you rate Francis Coppola, its either ironic or tragic that the man who helmed the great narrative epic of his generation has such disdain for his own true gifts as a popular storyteller. Ten years after his last pic (THE RAINMAKER/’97), he returns with this woebegone Faust knock-off about an aging philosopher/professor/scientist who finds his youth renewed after being struck by lightning, and then meets the beautiful girl whose trance-like spells may allow him to complete his life’s work. Alas, his good fortune may be the death of his new love. Beginning in Romania during the Nazi era and branching out for thirty years in picturesque European settings, there’s not a memorable shot or moment to be had. Coppola once aimed for ‘mere’ entertainment and found art , now he aims for art and delivers arty. There’s a razor’s edge between wisdom & windbag and this film is for everyone who loved APOCALYPSE NOW/’79 because of Marlon Brando. With a Stateside gross of $250,000, it’s a dwindling crew.

Monday, August 3, 2009

FROST/NIXON (2008)

Over-hyped pic about the similarly over-hyped interviews David Frost conducted with Richard Nixon after his resignation. There’s a bit of fun here as Tricky Dick begins the interviews playing rope-a-dope with Frost, and some guffaws can be had at Nixon’s appalling transparency when his id gets the best of him, but what’s the point of it all? The filmmakers seriously underestimated the voyeuristic thrill of illusion you got on-stage where the actors seemed to really be their characters. And director Ron Howard makes it worse by opening his film with documentary footage. Once Michael Sheen & Frank Langella step in as Frost & Nixon, we can only watch & wait for the dramatic material that will make up for what they ain’t . . . the real thing. (The best scripter Peter Morgan can come up with is that wheeziest of devices, the drunken midnight phone call.) Howard, who likes to coax audience response with multiple reactions shots (he uses them just as a sit-com uses a laugh track), goes one better here (make that one worse) by having faux interviews where the cast tells us just how we are supposed to respond. It’s maddening. For the record, Toby Jones does a fine & lightly vicious Swifty Lazar, while poor Sam Rockwell is pushed into the first bad perf of his otherwise immaculate career.

ARIGATO-SAN / MR. THANK YOU (1936)

‘Talkies’ came late to Japan and this modest, but charming ‘road movie’ is actually all dubbed, made before synch-sound was used on location in Japan. The story follows some locals as they take the bus over a rural mountain road driven by Japan’s most congenial driver, the eponymous Mr. Thank You. Without making much fuss about it, helmer Hiroshi Shimizu keeps us largely inside the bus, gathering bits of information on what turns out to be a microcosm of depression-era Japanese society. There’s camaraderie and a bittersweet tone to all the little story fragments, with pleasurable comeuppances for some & lots of serendipitous connections for the worthy. (The film must be as nostalgic for Japanese film-goers as Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT/’34 is in the States.) But the most intriguing character is a remarkably modern & assertive young woman, who finds no place within this little community. She’s a natural outsider who daydreams of joining these common-folk, but knows she would never stay put. One oddity for a Western audience is the use of a light jazz band for underscoring. The music rarely seems to fit the action; especially one memorable tune that’s all but lifted from George Gershwin’s ‘OH, GEE!-OH JOY!’/’28.