Having been slightly underwhelmed by so many classics in the past few months, I was reserved about revisiting a film that I hadn’t seen since I was 16 years old and of which I expected so much. Boy how I misjudged that one: Films just don’t get much better than this. Humphrey Bogart is the king of cool and he is chasing one of the most attractive and alluring film stars of all time in Ingrid Bergman. The screenplay is spot on with witty banter and quick paced dialogue (justly winning the ‘Best Writing’ Oscar), particularly between Bogie and Bergman and Bogie and Claude Rains – in fact, between Bogie and anyone he talks to. It is no wonder that this film has coined no less than six of the AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes. The storyline too, keeps you guessing, with twists and turns aplenty – right down to the final line. There are many truly memorable scenes, but of particular note is when ‘Marseillaise’ is sung drowning out the German’s bullish, insensitive and antagonistic rendition of ‘Watch on the Rhine’: stirring, impassioned and extremely powerful. This is bloody good cinema, a true classic. Thank God that for film that 'We’ll always have Casablanca'.
More twists and turns than a rollercoaster, this keeps you guessing and immersed till the very end. This man Nolan really does have an impressive string of hits to his name. Inception and the two Batman pictures (to date) may be the huge box office hits, but Memento, Insomnia and this, really are all first rate cinema too. Nolan may look disturbingly like Harry Enfield’s ‘Tim Tim Nice But Dim’, and his career may very much be in the limelight now, but it is one well worth following. This film elicits grade A performances from Bale, Caine and (perhaps more impressively) Jackson too, but can’t quite stretch as far as to get too much out of Johansson – but then that might be asking as much as one of Borden’s more spectacular magic tricks.
It is no wonder than Capra was dubbed making ‘Capracorn’ as the accusation of making smaltzy films is there to see. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Not if it is done well – and Capra does it well. His use of James Stewart is spot on as we readily identify with the injustices served him and we get to enjoy one of the best performances from an actor, who unjustly lost the Best Actor Oscar to Robert Donat in Goodbye Mr Chips (which leads me on to an interesting observation: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is one of the biggest Oscar losers ever having been nominated 11 times and only winning one (for writing)), the tension of the final scenes, the enchanting Jean Arthur, the bubbling injustice as Jim Taylor manipulates everyone against our lone hero – all of these elements build up a great and involving story. If I have one criticism it is that it ends too fast – I would have liked to see just 5 minutes of the aftermath of climactic filibuster, Taylor getting his comeuppance, the Boy Rangers’ triumphs, a kiss with Clarissa etc. Apparently, some such scenes were shot, but test audiences said they were unnecessary. It may be corny cinema, but it is good cinema and it is just as worth seeing now, 72 years after it was made, as it was then.
I just can’t seem to get my head around Bergman. I often find his films hard to engage with, as they involve bleak studies into human conscience and their inner turmoils, offering no light reprieve. Not that all films should be simple walks in the park, but I often feel tired and fatigued after his work. I found no-one to identify with in Cries and Whispers, no redeeming characters to support and this was its biggest drawback as it stopped me being able to emotionally involve myself with anyone’s disquiet. Whilst the plot and the characters gave me little, I can appreciate the art of the filmmaker here – his control of the lens is masterful (Nykvist deservedly winning a Oscar for cinematography), he adeptly uses both space and setting to say much more than dialogue can (no words are said in the first 9 minutes, so you know you are going to be ‘spoken to’ in other ways) and his use of colour intriguing and meaningful. This is not easy watching (Karin’s genital mutilation scene was Von Trier-esque!) but it is worth seeing, as long as you are in the mood to think.
Another lonely voice on the internet.