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Flick Clique: January 2-8

Holá, amigos — I’m starting a new tradition here. My Sunday “Flick Clique” posts will focus on the films we’ve watched over the past week. Writeups on books, music and other subjects will continue to be shared throughout the week.
still_eachdawnidieEach Dawn I Die (1939). Browsing the varied end title cards from Warner Bros. films at the Movie Title Stills Collection (warning: huge time suck) reminds me of how even the most mundane product from that studio’s golden age had a certain specialness that separated them from the rest. The James Cagney vehicle Each Dawn I Die is a typical prison flick, corny and straining credibility at times but watchable all the same. Cagney plays a news reporter who is framed a crime and sent to the slammer. While his co-workers (including sweet Jane Bryan) attempt to free him, he finds an unlikely ally in fellow prisoner George Raft. The two scheme an intricate break, which of course fails to come off as planned. George Raft is his usual typecast self, but what lifts this film above the average is Cagney himself. He was always a committed actor, but the way his character gradually evolves from scrappy do-gooder to a haunted, hollowed out shell of a man is a wonder to watch. Given the frenetic pace of classic era studio filmmaking, the work must have been tough to pull off. I also enjoyed Jane Bryan, the unpretentious young lady who seemed to be in every other circa 1937-41 W.B. production, then promptly disappeared (she married young, retired and never looked back). The pair have a good, easy going chemistry which makes up for a strictly OK script.
Inception (2010). We re-watched this on DVD; my original review is here. Mostly what stood out upon second viewing is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. He’s excellent, so much so that I’m surprised at the way he’s been largely bypassed in the plaudit/awards arena. And I still think the snowy fortress dream level was contrived “action movie” stuff that ultimately hurts the film’s momentum.
Ugetsu (1953). I tossed this one on my Netflix queue, not knowing much about it other than how it’s considered a landmark Japanese film. It’s actually a moving, at times profound anti-war domestic drama, beautifully acted and photographed. I’d compare it to Akira Kurosawa’s work of the same period. This was directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, who was apparently Kurosawa’s equal in the master filmmaking department. The story concerns the contrasting fates of two married couples as their small village is besieged by marauders in the 16th century. One man, a potter, escapes to a larger city where he is seduced by a wealthy lady with an ethereal glow. Despite having a wife and child at home, the two marry. The other male villager, an egotistical but none too bright sort, becomes so wrapped up in becoming a samurai soldier that he abandons his wife (who falls into prostitution) and all common sense for that one shot at fame. The film is very well done — from a technical standpoint, the sheer craftsmanship on display bests even the nicer Hollywood product of the time. The acting is also uniformly subtle and beautifully done, notable for having several good female roles (especially nice, since many Japanese female parts tend towards the passive). It also moves well and comes to a great conclusion with a “twist” ending. An achievement like this makes me curious to check out Mizoguchi’s other films.
Wild Boys of the Road (1933). I remember seeing this gritty Depression drama on TCM about 7 or 8 years ago and being blown away. I got a chance to enjoy it again as part of the William Wellman gems collection on the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3 DVD set. The film stars pint-sized actor Frankie Darro as a fun-loving teen whose life is turned upside down when pa Grant Withers gets laid off. As the cash-strapped family attempts to get by, Darro and best pal Edwin Booth decide to take to the rails and join thousands of other teens in a hobo lifestyle which seems glamorous on the surface, but turns out difficult and even deadly. The two befriend a spunky girl (Dorothy Coonan) and form a New York shanty town before the authorities clamp down. Potent film is sympathetic to the lead characters’ plight, but never romanticizes their way of life. It’s also quite funny and lighthearted at times, with an amazing lead by Darro (a Mickey Rooney type who should have been a bigger star). I also liked the appealing work done by unknowns Booth and Coonan (who promptly became Mrs. William Wellman and retired from the screen). I can’t vouch for the realism here, but the story is so potently told that the movie really ought to be required viewing in every high school history class.

One Thought on “Flick Clique: January 2-8

  1. Brad In Worcester on January 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm said:

    (Please forgive my grammatical obsessiveness, dearest Matt, but I believe the accent mark in “hola” is traditionally placed over the “o” and not the “a”.)

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