Tom and I like to have variety on our movie weekend. We only view movies once a month. We’re busy writing new material and creating sculpture and art on other days of the month. Tom found all of these films at our lovely local library (for free, due back in three weeks).
First off,
Sabrina” with a very cute, smiley-face Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden. A 1954 romantic comedy we’d never seen (it’s before my time, but I never saw the film on late-night TV or on campus in film festivals), it’s a Cinderella tale (much like “Pretty Woman” with a wealthy industrialist falling in love with a prostitute). Hepburn plays the daughter of the chauffeur employed by a stupendously wealthy family on Long Island who attracts the interest of two brothers in the family, an accomplished workaholic who runs the family businesses, Linus (Bogart) and a rakish playboy, David (Holden).
I usually wouldn’t be interested in the story, but the film is written by Billy Wilder with Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman, from a play by Samuel Taylor, and directed and produced by Billy Wilder (he of the inspired, hilarious “Some Like It Hot”) Wilder keeps the humor, wit, and action going nonstop but also has trenchant observations about the rich and the poor. (Sabrina’s disapproving chauffeur father, who drives Linus to New York City in a classic Rolls Royce, likes to say, “There’s a front seat and a back seat and a window in between.”
There are some story gaps that bothered me but I won’t go into them–I don’t give away any plot spoilers. Overall, the film follows the classic romantic comedy plot, with twists and turns and a downturn will-they-won’t-they at the end resolved in the very last scene. Rom-com screenwriters might like to study this film. Recommended for all viewers but especially romance-comedy fans.
By the way, the rich family owns eight classic cars, including the Rolls, and rakish David has his own sleek convertible sports car. We couldn’t identify the car and Tom got out his classic car book. There it was, newly released by Chevrolet in 1953—a Corvette.
Next, two noir crime films:
“The Asphalt Jungle” (great title) directed by John Huston in 1950 and starring, among others, Sam Jaffe as Doc (he played the Einstein-like physicist in “The Day The Earth Stood Still”) and Marilyn Monroe in her first speaking part as the mistress of a wealthy criminal lawyer Emmerich who says, “Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.” Huston also co-wrote the screenplay, from a novel by W.R. Burnett. A newly released mastermind, Doc, plans a spectacular jewel heist, knowing that if he fails, he’ll go back to prison for life. Huston broke new ground by portraying the criminals involved in the heist sympathetically and the viewer roots for them to get away with it. A lot of smoking and drinking. Recommended for fans of noir crime films.
“A Frightened City” is a British film featuring Sean Connery’s first appearance that reputedly got him the part of James Bond. He’s very Bond-like in this film (womanizing, an expert in judo, he even climbs up a drain pipe as he did in (I believe) “Thunderball”) except that here he’s on the wrong side of the law. He’s a Mob enforcer in London, 1961 (who knew Sixties London had so many mobsters?). A ruthless accountant organizes the major racketeers in town into a syndicate. But the arrangement doesn’t work out (to say the least). Filmed in cooperation with Scotland Yard. A lot of smoking and drinking. Recommended for fans of noir crime films.
Next we come to the foreign fantasy crime film:
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, billed as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” meets “Sherlock Holmes.”  The film is in Chinese with subtitles but the subtitles are so clear, concise, and readable, the viewer can absorb them in a second and turn her eyes back to the action on the screen. (Chinese is a pretty-sounding language much like French and unlike Japanese and German which sound harsh and militaristic)
The action is colorful, imaginative, and action-packed (people fly through the air, undertaking martial arts), inspired by the true story of the one of the Tang Dynasty’s most celebrated officials. Empress-to-be Wu Zetian has commissioned a towering statue of the Buddha before the Imperial Palace to commemorate her coronation as the first female ruler of China. But architects and builders mysteriously spontaneously combust and burn to death.  Wu summons Dee from prison and appoints him in charge of the investigation.
The characters are nuanced and sympathetic. Even the Empress-to-be (whose favorite saying is, “When you get into power, everyone is expendable”) is a sympathetic character. Two dynamic characters have mixed motivations and intentions but we were sad when they got killed. Recommended for fans of an exotic, fantasy crime story who don’t mind subtitles.
And two films about British artists whom Tom was familiar with but I was not.
“A Harlot’s Progress” is a British film with the same title as William Hogarth’s famous series of narrative paintings (much like today’s graphic novels) featuring the seedy and brutal underworld of a young prostitute in 1730 London. The film states at the end that Hogarth never said whether the prostitute was a real person but the film suggests that he was intimately involved with her life.
The camera “enters” Hogarth’s paintings into real life, a technique I’ve seen before, but particularly effective here.
The film starts with a scene of a child lying dead in the street and the statement, “One out of 20 people died of starvation in 1730 London.”  Hogarth was deeply sympathetic toward the poor (two pedestrians step right over the dead child) and especially sympathetic toward poor girls who were forced into prostitution.
Hogarth was a talented painter and a skilled engraver. He made engravings of “A Harlot’s Progress,” which were financially successful due to the condemnation of brothels by government and church officials. But Hogarth was making a wry statement of society’s conditions that engendered brothels. He founded an orphanage for abandoned children of prostitutes.
Make no mistake, this is a brutal film with depictions of violence toward women but an astute depiction of one artist’s life and a moving tribute to William Hogarth’s work and aspirations. Recommended for those interested in artists and only those with a strong stomach.
“Mr. Turner” a British film by Mike Leigh, director of the excellent film, “Topsy Turvy”. The story is a little slow and not as compelling as “Harlot”, covering the last twenty-five years in Joseph Mallord William Turner’s life, but shows his evolution as one of the most beloved painters in Britain a little after Hogarth’s time. He worked in oils and watercolors and painted seascapes, ships at sea, locomotives, and historical subjects, finally experimenting with painting “light”. Queen Victoria hated his light paintings; he overhears at an exhibition her exclaiming over “that ugly yellow.” But his light paintings were a later inspiration for the Impressionists, especially Monet and Pissarro.
Once again, a fascinating look at an artist’s life in the late 1700s, from him shopping Winsor and Newton’s new shop for chrome yellow pigment to sailors tying him with rope to the high mast of a ship during a storm so he could get a good look at the sea.
Recommended for those viewers interested in artists.
So there you have it, my friends.
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