#328- Umberto D

Quick recap: A sad old man makes sad choices about his dog.

This movie is sad.

Fun (?) fact: Most of the actors in the film weren’t professional. The main character, Umberto, was played by a professor of Linguistics and the maid was played by a woman who had shown up to the audition to support her friend.

PSA: Don’t watch this movie if you have a heart

My thoughts: I’m starting to catch on to the idea that if an old Italian movie is on my list, it’s going to be sad. Even movies like 8 1/2, which are supposed to have comedic elements end up leaving me in a state of depression I can’t shake. And don’t even get me started on Rome, Open City. Good lord, that movie should come with a warning.  So, when you look at films like Umberto D from this perspective, it’s downright pleasant considering what it could’ve been.

The movie starts with a protest by old men whose pensions aren’t enough to sustain them. One of those men is of course, Umberto. His story is especially sad because his only companion is a dog who loves and trusts him unconditionally. There’s a bigger story here about how the elderly are treated and the lengths some of them go to in order to survive, but, let’s be real, all I cared about was the dog. At one point, Umberto is going to be evicted from his apartment and knowing that he can’t support his companion, looks to find a caretaker. The only one in his price range refuses to take the animals out for walks and keeps them in deplorable conditions. The poor dog shivers at the sight of the bigger dogs and it broke my heart to see Umberto have to make such a hard decision. In the end, he decided to look for another solution. I was relieved but that scene showed me that there were no easy answers.

Some other solutions  Umberto tries: checking himself into a hospital until his pension check arrives and he can pay his rent, giving his dog away to a little girl who played with him and the most heartbreaking- trying to take his and the dog’s life on the railroad tracks. Luckily, the dog freaked out and ran away at the last second because I wouldn’t have been able to endure the other result. The movie ends with Umberto and the dog walking through the park. Nothing is resolved- neither of them have a shelter or food, but they are both still alive and they are both together, which is I guess the moral of the story? Honestly, I’d just rather not think about this movie anymore if I don’t have to.

Final review: 4/5 But good luck being able to sit through this without calling your doctor and being prescribed an anti-depressant.

Up next: The Right Stuff

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#323- Sunset Boulevard

Quick recap: Joe Gillis is hired by an aging film star to help her get back into show business. As with most things in life, it goes horribly wrong.

me, moving closer to Thanksgiving break

Fun (?) fact: This will probably seem more ‘basic fact than ‘fun fact’, but Gloria Swanson, who played Norma Desmond was an actual silent film star back in the day and her servant Max was an actual director. All those pictures Norma has in her mansion are real life photos of Swanson.

My thoughts: How in the WORLD did Gloria Swanson not win a Best Actress award for her role in this film? People love to hate on the Academy, and although I’m mostly ambivalent about what a group of people seems worthy, this is a true outrage. There was a lot to love about this movie and believe me, there will be gushing later on, but it is Swanson who makes Sunset Boulevard into the classic that it is. Everything about Norma Desmond is so wonderfully over the top that it makes every scene pure gold. I was lucky enough to watch this movie on the big screen and every time Swanson appeared, a group of guys behind me cheered. When she said something sassy, I could hear them gasp audibly and say out loud,’ oh NO!’. Anyone who can invoke such a response 67 years later deserves all the awards and praise.

I LOVED this movie. Oh my god, did I love this movie. I loved it in the way that after it was over, I was sad for awhile because I can’t imagine how I was able to function in life up to this point having not seen Sunset Boulevard before.  It was just that good. The story, the characters, the shocking twists and turns, all of it. And not only that, but it really brought to life how traumatizing it was for the film industry to switch to sound. We see it ( or maybe mostly I see it) as a merciful thing to move to talking, but it really was an art form in its own right. It reminds me of the silent actor Raymond Griffith  in All Quiet on the Western Front. He lost his voice due to illness as a child and sound coming to film meant the end of his career, even though he was a considerably popular star. Several silent film era stars were asked to star as Norma Desmond but a few had mental issues and others had turned into recluses. For all the glamour we see, Hollywood can be a really sad scene.

Final review: 5/5. Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Up next: the Big Chill

#322- Vertigo

Quick recap: reasonable behavior- developing a fear of heights after seeing a guy fall off a roof. Unreasonable behavior- falling madly in love with the woman you are supposed to be following because her husband thinks she’s crazy. Even more unreasonable behavior- causing more people to jump to their deaths from a roof.

Another reference I now understand!

Fun (?) fact: Vertigo bombed at the box office and Alfred Hitchcock put the sole blame on James Stewart for being too old, despite having collaborated with him several times. They never worked together again 😦

All hail James Stewart!

My thoughts: This is either my 7th or 8th Hitchcock film and they just keep getting better. Hitchcock is best when he goes dark-whether it’s the macabre dialogue in Strangers on a Train or the serial killer plot of Frenzy. Vertigo is no exception. This was my first time watching it and about the only thing I knew was the fear of heights. There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and when everything is revealed at the end of the film, I audibly gasped. It’s so rare these days to not be spoiled.

Vertigo’s strong points are its visuals, a very Hitckcockian thing to focus on anyway. Every scene looked like danger was just around the corner and it kept me on my toes to figure out what was going to happen next. The shots of John Ferguson freaking out while climbing stairs are iconic but I gravitated more towards the little scenes, such as John watching Madeline at the art gallery or him watching her drive off in her car. It was a wonderfully creepy feeling to not know whom to be more concerned about.

Knowing what I know about Hitchcock, it’s really not much of a surprise how he chose to portray the women in the film. There’s Midge, possibly still in love with John, and jumping at every chance she can to be near him. And then there’s Madeline, who thinks she is the reincarnation of Carlotta Valdes, a woman who died a hundred years ago. Neither woman gives off a strong independent vibe and it’s a little frustrating to watch a whole movie about women fighting over men and needing them to survive. On the other hand, it makes for a compelling movie where you don’t really root for anyone.

always a Midge, never a Madeline

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Sunset boulevard

 

 

 

 

#308- Pickup on South Street

Quick recap: A pickpocket unknowingly intercepts some microfilm that was about to be given to the Communists. Now he must decide whether he is going to stay a two-bit felon or move on up to full traitor status.

it’s a film-noir so expect plenty of sass from this dame

Fun (?) fact: In the French and German versions of the film, the dialog is changed completely and turns into a story about drug dealing.

My thoughts:Apparently, pickpocketing was one of the worst crimes one could commit in New York City in the early 50s. Skip McCoy, the thief with the heart of gold (or something) had already been convicted of stealing 3 times before and one more time would send him to the chair. When my mom’s wallet was stolen in Chicago a few weeks ago, we dutifully reported it even though we knew that sucker was long gone.

Pickup on South Street was a wild ride but overall a weak addition to the film-noir genre. There were several thrilling scenes and violence galore but a spying ring just felt like a letdown. The Communists were bad news but by the end this felt more like a propaganda film for the Red scare than a true film-noir. Part of my issue is that I never really bought into Skip McCoy as a hero. Not only was he a pickpocket but he was violent towards the girl he stole from and then made out with her too, which was I guess a thing back then. Candy, the love interest, had her own issues and I found myself internally screaming on her behalf for continuing to choose such bad guys to fall in love with. In the end, Skip and Candy end up together and we are made to believe this is a good thing but realistically we know there is no good way this relationship will go.

My favorite part of the film and the reason I liked the movie so much was because of Moe, the stool pigeon. I really wish they had cut out all of the Commie BS and mystery and focused on this woman. Moe spent her life selling ties as a front and keeping tabs on all the crooks and criminals. When the police needed help, they called her in and she set a price to give info. I loved the symbiotic relationship she had with the crooks and especially Skip. Neither were happy with the other’s life choices but both understood the need to make a living. For all this, Moe was saving up for a nice burial plot when she died. When of the Commies offed her, Skip paid for a funeral so she wouldn’t be sent to Potter’s field.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Destry Rides Again