#366- Tabu: A Story of the South Pacific

Quick recap: Matahi and Reri are lovers who live in paradise. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that Reri has been chosen as a Forever Virgin as sacrifice to the gods. Oops.

Finally sinking in how messed up this whole thing is

Fun (?) fact: I assumed ‘Tabu’ to either be a lost island in the South Pacific, or some very complicated ritual a select group of natives followed. Turns out, it literally means ‘taboo’, as in, Reri becomes off-limits, or tabu, to other men. What a let down.

look at that………scenery!

 

My thoughts: Do you remember when you first discovered National Geographic magazine? You were probably in 5th grade or maybe middle school and the first time you opened one up you told yourself it was just for the articles since you wanted to be an archeologist, after all. But inevitably there was always, ALWAYS some photo shoot about an Amazonian tribe who had never heard of the concept of clothes and that, unfortunately, would be the exact second your teacher chose to walk by. That, my friends, is how this movie felt to watch. I tried my best to pay attention to the plot as best as I could but like that very first National Geographic photo spread many years ago, the tribe….aesthetic…..was hard to ignore.

Despite this movie being made in 1931, it’s not the worst when it comes to representing an indigenous tribe. Director FW Murnau filmed in the South Pacific and hired mostly locals. The beginning of Tabu is about as stereotypical as you can get with youths running around naked and just enjoying nature. But at the same time, it just didn’t feel exploitative . It surprised me how a silent film about a non-white group of people could come off as so humane. For example, there is a huge feast for Reri before she heads out to be a Forever Virgin (meaning no man can ever look or touch her again) and of course the girl is absolutely devastated. I loved how fed up the elder was that he had to deal with such drama, but it felt realistic. And so did Reri and Matahi’s relationship. They really seemed to care for each other, even though both were super naive when it came to being an adult.

As I went over the basic facts with my nine year old the next morning, as I sometimes do, I realized that this is actually a very tragic film. Almost 90 year old spoiler alert: Matahi and Reri run away to a different island only to be tracked down by the elder rather quickly. He threatens to kill Matahi if the girl doesn’t give in to her fate and she finally agrees because she loves him so much. Matahi refuses to give up however and follows her ship as far as he can until he finally succumbs to exhaustion and drowns. So basically the movies ends on a downer, except for the gods, who finally got their Forever Virgin.

Final review: 3/5. The nudity is pretty good too.

Up next: Cairo Station

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#361- Trouble in Paradise

Quick recap: Gaston is one of the best con artists out there. He falls in love with Lily, who is just as cunning as he is. When they join forces to rob a rich woman, however, the plan goes off the rails.

two women in love with the same man? That’s trouble in paradise for sure!

Fun (?) fact: Trouble in Paradise was banned from public viewing once the Hayes Code took effect in 1935. It wouldn’t be until 1958 when people were allowed to watch it again.

So saucy to show a woman’s garter!

My thoughts: Is it possible to name your child Gaston and he not grow up to be a huge jerk? I feel like that name just seals his future somehow. Anyway, This was a fun movie to watch, especially since it was made in the pre-code era. Obviously there have been monumental films made during the Hayes Code but there is something about watching a director have fun with the story and not worry about getting in trouble. I think it also helped Trouble in Paradise feel much more natural than if it had been made just a few years later.

I think I was most surprised by how funny much of this movie was. Many times I’ll watch something and be able to tell that something is meant as a joke but it never makes me laugh. This movie definitely did, many times. My favorite scene is in the beginning when Lily and Gaston have dinner together. At one point she announces to him that she knows he is really a con artist, and he announces that he also knows she is one. They then take turns giving back various objects stolen from one another when the other wasn’t looking. It’s funny but it’s also ridiculously cute to watch these two criminals fall in love. I really liked their chemistry and when Gaston started falling for Mariette, the rich woman he wanted to rob, it made me angry that he picked the wrong woman.

As is also the stereotype in these early films, everything works out in the end. The solution was complicated and I’m still not sure who conned who,  but Lily and Gaston ended back together so that’s what matters. Apparently, director Ernst Lubitsch had what was called the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ which meant adding sophistication and wit to his movies. It’s very clear that Mariette and Gaston just want to have sex with each other but the audience has to read through the lines to figure out what is really said. In a time when raunchiness was starting to show through in many films (and the reason why the Hayes Code was created), it was nice to have a director trust his audience to really get what was going on without having to spell it out.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Anatomy of a Murder

#321- The Black Cat

Quick recap: Young lovers, Brad and Janet Peter and Joan, get caught in a horrible rainstorm and take refuge in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s mansion Hjalmar Poelzig’s ultra modern fortress.

pretty sure this guy would break his neck trying to do the Time Warp

Fun (?) fact: Despite Edgar Allen Poe being credited as a writer for The Black Cat, this movie has nothing to do with his story.

The absolute opposite of terrifying for me

My thoughts: So, here we are, once again, at the end of Horrorfest. I’d say it’s been a wild ride but that’s not true at all. Having given up on scaring myself, I chose The Black Cat because one of my favorite podcasts, You Must Remember This, is devoting several episodes to Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Seeing as how both of them star in this film, it seemed the perfect choice to close out October.

I’m going to go ahead and spoil an 80 year old movie by telling you it wasn’t the cat behind all the evil. I mean, that’s what they want you to think, but it’s totally the creepy guy everyone suspected all along. Then again, it’s hard to tell what is going on most of the time. Poelzig is some sort of sorcerer but also an ultra modern architect. He claims Dr. Vitus Werdegast’s wife died naturally but then he suspended her body and married her daughter so………….. yeah. Totally natural. Poelzig also has his sights set on Joan, the newlywed who wanders into his house. There’s a ceremony at the end when I think he tries to marry a whole harem of women, but then there’s also this scene which reminded me of Rocky and Dr. Frank-N-Furter:

Is this movie creepy? Totally. The accents alone paint an ominous picture but then you add in the score and weird house and you end up with a film that sticks with you longer than it should. On the other hand, the cat only appeared for less than 2 minutes and for a movie that bills itself as The Black Cat, I expected more.

Final review: This would’ve been a complete classic had it featured more cat. Because of this, I’m dropping it to a 2/5

Up next: Rear Window

#309- Destry Rides Again

Quick recap: Destry, played by James Stewart, plans to whip a Wild West town into shape without the use of guns or regular beatings.

Who could say no to someone with such sharp fashion sense?

Fun (?) fact: In a continuation of me not always being able to tell Gary Cooper from James Stewart, Cooper was originally offered the role but turned it down because he wanted more money. Even movie executives were aware that the two actors are basically interchangeable.

Seriously, James Stewart is adorable and I kind of love him now.

My thoughts: We’ve got another Western! This one is different because it apparently parodies the classic Western, although I didn’t really see that. Most of the movie, especially the beginning with everyone shooting their guns in the air and punching random people, reminded me of a few weird trips to Six Flags. I guess the characteristic of Destry not owning guns was different, but he seemed to threaten with them a lot or just make his other deputies do it for him. I thoroughly enjoyed myself,don’t get me wrong, and I was glad to see this was much more lighthearted than the spaghetti Westerns I’ve been watching as of late. But it’s the plot holes that eventually got to me, as they always do.

The main lesson in Destry Rides Again, if there is one, is that violence isn’t always the answer. Destry’s father was a sheriff with a huge reputation of whipping towns into shape and here comes his son who doesn’t carry guns, always has a story about someone who learned a lesson and prefers milk over alcohol. But the thing is, the audience never really sees  Destry’s plan come into action so it’s hard to tell whether violence would’ve worked just as well. The villain, Kent, bullies everyone from the beginning and Destry always throws him off somehow, like conceding Kent has won a ranch in an obviously fixed poker game. It made me think there was a huge complicated plan to win the ranch back but there really wasn’t. Destry decided to focus on finding the body of the previous sheriff to indict Kent but even that continued to backfire. The only thing he had a hand in was wooing Frenchy, the town’s loose woman and causing her to rally the women to put a stop to the madness. It was a great twist and I loved how pissed off the wives were, but that wasn’t Destry’s plan. He couldn’t have known that would happen. And yet, at the end of the movie he is considered a hero and loved by all.

I really loved James Stewart’s portrayal of Destry. I thought the ‘aw,shucks’ personality would grate on me, but it never did. Marlene Dietrich, who played Frenchy was also great, although the musical numbers didn’t do much for me. She really played up her accent so the songs were hard to understand sometimes. Still, the performances were entertaining and I enjoyed watching something a little light for once.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The General