#340- The Maltese Falcon

Quick recap: Detective Sam Spade gets caught in a web of criminals and murder and at the center of it all is a stupid bird statue.

smoke in front of the bird to show it who’s boss

Fun (?) fact: This one is an original! During the finale Joel Cairo is enraged and yells out, ‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head, you’. The voice sounded familiar to me and I realized it was Ren from Ren and Stimpy. As it turns out, the voice of Ren, John Kricfalusi, was attempting a Peter Lorre impression (the actor who played Joel Cairo). Cairo’s explosion was a direct influence on the character and personality of Ren.

My thoughts: It was a sweltering June night and my dogs were worn out. I needed something nice and easy like a jorum of skee. I was behind the 8-ball on my reviews so what better way to kick off summer than with the greatest of film-noirs, The Maltese Falcon? This movie was no chippy, I’ll tell you that now. After watching it, I knew I would need someone to bump gums with, someone to check the facts with me. This cat, the guy I married, watched the movie with me as well as three literal cats. And seeing as I have run out of detective jargon, let’s get started. I’m not a dame who will make you wait.

So of course, I really enjoyed the movie. It’s been a hard few months and although I’ve looked forward to summer, the transition was a little rough. Film-noir is the chicken soup of movie genres to me. It hits the spot in all the right places. What stands out for me in the Maltese Falcon are the characters more than the mystery. Same Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, was dashingly wonderful, although I could’ve done without all the forced kissing. Yes, it’s a trope, and a very odd one at that. This was my first taste of Peter Lorre, who was my favorite. He played the part of Generic Foreign Gangster so well, a man always on the brink of sanity. Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy took awhile to grow on me, seeing as how most damsels in distress are young and blonde, but I warmed up quickly once Spade was on to her.

As for the mystery, I almost think it’s put there as an afterthought. When a director has to fit in all the tropes for this type of genre as well as fill a larger than life cast of characters, the actual murders just get shoved in. Let’s face it, I was mostly in it for the classic Sam Spade wisecracks, not for the puzzling clues. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ that the bird was a fake and the gangsters had fought and killed for nothing. It was like a wink from director John Huston, or actually from the writer of The Maltese Falcon-Dashiell Hammett.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The 400 Blows

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#333- Le Samouraï

Quick recap: Jef Costello is either a great hitman or a really terrible one. After completing a job he almost immediately gets picked up by the police and questioned. He manages to weasel his way out, only to find himself in trouble with the guys who hired him. What’s a hitman to do?

maybe start by wearing different clothes than the ones that literally EVERYONE identifies you in.

Fun (?) fact: The quotation about samurai at the beginning of the film is entirely fictional. This movie actually has nothing to do with samurai.

and everything to do with looking cool

My thoughts:  Crime movies are a dime a dozen on this list, but very few of them come from France. And of those, this is the only one where I could’ve kept watching for several more hours and at the same time almost lost my sanity because of the incessant bird chirping.

Director Jean-Pierre Melville borrows much of the aesthetic for Le Samouraï from America at the time- slinky jazz clubs, dapper people running around everywhere. And yet, this is very much a French arthouse film. The first 10 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever and yet, the scene is so enthralling. I also loved that there is a mystery about who this hitman is and who hired him but I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be getting any answers. Le Samouraï exists within himself. It’s even impossible to figure out whether or not he is a ‘bad guy’. I mean, he killed someone, yes, but that guy could’ve been evil or something. So I ended up dividing my time between wanting the guy to come out on top but also wanting him to get caught and pay for his crimes. It was a rare feeling to not know how I’m supposed to feel about characters.

One reason the characters are so confusing is because the audience is just thrust into the story. We don’t know how many years the hitman has operated or what business the people who hired him have. In the first few scenes, the hitman sets out creating an alibi for himself before he commits the murder. He visits a woman, Jane, and expects her to lie for him, which she does, when the police call her into question. It is assumed that these two have some sort of relationship but it could also just be that she works for him specifically for this purpose. And the police themselves make this plot even more complicated. I could never figure out whether the hitman was really bad at his job and that’s why he was caught so quickly or if the police were really good at their job and it was only a matter of time. Once again, it was hard to know who to trust.

But above all, there is that stupid bird. God, I hated that bird. I recently lost some of my hearing due to sickness and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. But watching this movie, I heard every single chirp. EVERY. SINGLE. CHIRP. I’m sure there is a fancy French reason to put that in so many scenes but I don’t have the patience to find out. I’m not a fan of hurting or killing any animal but when the guys broke into the hitman’s apartment to leave a recording device, I half hoped they would put that poor bird out of its misery. I’m sure he hated his life as much as I hated hearing him but enough is enough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Night and Fog

 

#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

 

 

 

 

#317- Audition

Quick recap: A director uses the audition process to find an actor for his film as well as a wife. What he gets instead is a big ball of crazy.

Crazy, yes, but also really talented at torture, so points for that

Fun(?) fact: That was totally actress Eihi Shiina’s (Asami’s) throw up given to the prisoner. IMDb says she’s a method actress but I’m going to double down on ‘big ball of crazy’.

My thoughts: As with every Horrorfest, my goal is always to find the movie that scares me most. Being an adult, it’s hard to latch on to anything creepy these days. I’m more likely to freak out about whether I paid a bill on time than if there is a ghost haunting my house. Then again, the other day I walked into my bedroom to find my cat meowing at the wall and it scared me so much I just walked back downstairs. So, where does Audition fall on Mary’s Spectrum of Horrors? I’d say it’s scarier than a wind turbine (seriously, those things are so unnerving) but not as scary as my child silently walking down the stairs with an astronaut helmet on at 6 in the morning.

There were definitely parts of Audition that stuck with me and I thought the film itself was gorgeous, in that ‘someone’s about to get murdered’ way, but I can’t say it was enough to keep my interest for long. I was really surprised by how normal everything seemed in the beginning and I admit to be lulled into a false since of security. But then unnerving information started coming to the surface and soon it was just all out crazy. I don’t want to reveal much because I think that’s the film’s best quality: surprise.

Two elements of the film keep me from giving it a higher rating- the over the top torture, and the explanation as to why the woman turned out the way she did. For some people, these elements are what make the movie so fascinating and scary but personally, it detracted from what I was looking for.

Final review:3/5. Not a strong start to Horrorfest but there are several days left in the month! The search continues.

Up next: more Horrorfest!