The 1001 Movies Podcast

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From Garrett Chaffin-Quiray, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"Rene Clair's The Million opens on a Parisian rooftop.  Two lovers flirt and retire to their respective apartments, after which the camera dollies along the skyline to a one-shot sequence using forced perspective, miniatures, and matte paintings.  Such a tricky sequence demonstrates a profoundly advanced cinematic style while also revealing how Clair's film is no throwaway musical comedy.

"A poor artist named Michel (Rene Lefevre) owes money to various creditors.  Engaged to the pure-hearted Beatrice (Annabella), he disregards her to chase after the floozy Wanda (Vanda Greville) and otherwise keeps up with his friends Prosper (Louis Allibert).  When the gangster Grandpa Tulip (Paul Ollivier) races into the apartment building to avoid the police, Beatrice gives him an old jacket of Michel's out of spite.  Afterwards, Michel and Prosper realize that a lottery ticket they purchased is a millionaire's prize - but the ticket is in the jacket Beatrice gave Grandpa Tulip, who in turned pawned it to the tenor Sopranelli (Constantin Siroesco), who will soon travel to America.  Thus the caper comedy of The Million is set in motion.  Mix-ups, misidentification, disguises, upsets, reconcilliation, and musical numbers follow, all of it to bring Michel and Beatrice together and restore the lottery ticket to its rightful owner.  Along the way a thug in tuxedo tails cries for a love song, a race for the jacket is scored to the sounds of a rugby match, and the opportunistic demands of Michel's creditors and neighbor weigh in on his perceived riches.

"Perhaps most remarkable among its virtues is the film's integration of synch-sound recording.  Expository dialogue is offered to still camera setups whereas lesser remarks, often viewed as whispers between characters, are left in silence.  To cover these gaps in the spoken record, Ambient music stitches together each set piece with occasional bursts of song.  More fluid and visually dynamic than many early sound films, The Million is also more entertaining than many subsequent talkies.  In large part this is a credit to Clair's screenplay and deft direction, but it is also due to a willing cast carrying through the demands of a gentle fantasy."

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Direct download: Episode_89_Le_Million_1931.mp3
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From Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"A lot of walking occurs in this engaging Argentinian crime lark.  The on-foot journey of two swindlers, Marcos (Ricardo Darin) and Juan (Gaston Pauls) offers, in passing, an understated documentary on Buenos Aries in the 21st century.  But as these characters imagine the scams they might pull, their steps propel them into the charged space of a fiction.

"Debut director Fabian Bielinsky maintains a firm balance between the mundane and the thrilling.  Much of the film eschews a musical score, giving extra weight to the passing seconds.  But when music is finally allowed in, the effect carries a more energetic wallop than in most bigger-budget caper movies.

"Bielinsky clearly adores the Hollywood classics by directors such as Billy Wilder and Joseph Mankiewicz concerning elaborate, double-crossing deceits.  Juan learns early on not to take at face value whatever misfortune occurs around him, because it could so easily be a con engineered by the shifty Marcos.  Such a tricky narrative courts the risk, inherent in this type of story, of creating an ever-escalating spiral of one-upmanship.  But Bielinsky has a special trump card up his sleeve, and that is the reality factor.  The moment in which Argentina's dire economic crisis intervenes is a real highlight."

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Direct download: Episode_88_Nine_Queens_2000.mp3
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From Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), an unemployed worker in postwar Rome, finds a job putting up movie posters after his wife pawns the family's bedsheets to get his bicycle out of hock.  But right after he starts work the bike is stolen, and with his little boy Bruno (Enzo Staiola) in tow he crisscrosses the city trying to retrieve it, encountering various aspects of Roman society, including some of the more active class differences, in the process.

"This masterpiece - the Italian title translates as 'bicycle thieves' - is one of the key works of Italian Neorealism.  French critic Andre Bazin also recognized it as one of the great communist films.  The fact that it received the 1949 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film suggests that it wasn't perceived that way in the United States at the time.  Ironically, the only thing American censors cared about was a scene in which the little boy urinates on the street.  For some followers of auteur theory the film lost some of its power because it didn't derive from a single creative intelligence.  A collaboration between screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, nonprofessional actors, and many others, the production is so charged with a common purpose that there is little point in even trying to separate achievements.

"The Bicycle Thief contains what is possibly the greatest depiction of a relationship between a father and son in the history of cinema, full of subtle fluctuations and evolving gradations between the two characters in terms of respect and trust, and it's an awesome heartbreaker.  It also has its moments of Chaplinesque comedy - the contrasting behavior of two little boys having lunch at the same restaurant.  Set alongside a film like Life is Beautiful (1997), it provides some notion of how much mainstream world cinema and its relation to reality has been infantilized over the past half century."

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Direct download: Episode_87_Bicycle_Thieves_1948.mp3
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From Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"The Reckless Moment is an unusual film noir in that it reverses the sexes in a replay of the familiar story (as in Double Indemnity [1944] and Scarlet Street [1945]) of an innocent who gets involved with a seductive no-good and is embroiled in crime.  Here, class and respectability assume the status usually accorded to sex and money as housewife Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) loses her grip on suburbia when the sleazy specimen (Shepperd Studwick) who has been seeing her daughter (Geraldine Brooks) is semiaccidentally killed under suspicious circumstances, and she moves his corpse to make things look better.

"Lucia's nemesis is played by James Mason, oddly but effectively cast as an Irish lowlife, who starts out blackmailing her but begins, disturbingly, to make sincere romantic overtures.  The focus of the film then changes as the criminal is driven to make a sacrifice that will restore the heroine's life but also suggests that Bennett - who, after all, was the tramp in Scarlet Street - may have unwittingly been manipulating him to her advantage all along.  Viennese director Max Ophuls is more interested in irony and emotion than crime and drama, which gives this a uniquely nerve-flaying feel, and he nudges the lead actors into revelatory unusual performances"

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Direct download: Episode_86_The_Reckless_Moment_1949.mp3
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From Garrett Chaffin-Quiray, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"Genre can be used to read history and interpret moments in time.  Accordingly, Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar helped to define the gangster movie while serving as an allegory of production circumstances because it was produced during the Great Depression.  Within the film is inscribed a wholesale paranoia about individual achievement in the face of economic  devastation.  Leavening this theme alongside the demands of social conformity during the early 1930s means that LeRoy's screen classic is far more than the simple sum of its parts.

"Caesar 'Rico' Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) is a small-stakes thief with a partner named Joe (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.).  Recognizing a dead-end future, they move to the heart of Chicago where Joe becomes an entertainer and falls in love with a dancer named Olga (Glenda Farrell).  In contrast, Rico gets a taste of the 'life' and enjoys it.  Possessing a psychotic ruthlessness, he gradually looms as the new power on-scene before finally succumbing to an ill-tempered ego and the police.  Gut shot and dying beneath an ad for Joe and Olga's dinner act, Rico sputters some final words of self-determination, underlining how he won't ever be caught because he lived according to the terms of his own ambition.

"For audiences, Rico's killer was undoubtedly a clear call of recent tensions about the state of the world at the time.  Limited by the feature film's structure, but not dulled by censorial practice in the days before the Production Code Administration, Little Caesar offers a scornful look at free enterprise taken to an extreme.  Seen through the long view of history and the focus on ill-gotten gains, it's a perfect corollary for Wall Street's collapse, itself the result of poor regulation, mass speculation, and hysteria manipulated to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

"Acting out to get a bigger piece of the pie, Rico expresses the wish for acceptance and the drive toward success in an otherwise indifferent world.  Simultaneously terrorizing innocents and devastating the society he desires to control, he ends up illuminating the demands of power with homicidal shadows in this, a seminal film of the early sound era."

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Direct download: Episode_85_Little_Caesar_1931.mp3
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Based on the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

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From Michael Tapper, 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die:

"The Phantom Carriage not only cemented the fame of director-screenwriter-actor Victor Sjostrom and Swedish silent cinema, but also had a well-documented, artistic influence on many great directors and producers.  The best-known element of the film is the representation of the spiritual world as a tormented limbo between heaven and earth.  The scene in which the protagonist - the hateful and self-destructive alcoholic David Holm (Sjostrom)  - wakes up at the chime of midnight on New Year's Eve only to stare at his own corpse, knowing that he is condemned to hell, is one of the most quoted scenes in cinema history.

"Made in a simple but time-consuming and methodically staged series of double exposures, the filmmaker, his photographer, and a lab manager created a three-dimensional illusion of a ghostly world that went beyond anything previously seen at the cinema.  More important, perhaps, was the film's complex but readily accessible narration via a series of flashbacks - and even flashbacks within flashbacks - that elevated this gritty tale of poverty and degradation to poetic excellence.

"Looking back at Sjostrom's career, The Phantom Carriage is a theological and philosophical extension of the social themes introduced in his controversial breakthrough Ingeborg Holm (1913).  Both films depict the step-by-step destruction of human dignity in a cold and heartless society, driving its victims into brutality and insanity.  The connection is stressed by the presence of Hilda Borgstrom, unforgettable as Ingeborg Holm and now in the role of the tortured wife - another desperate Mrs. Holm.  She is yet again playing a compassionate but poor mother on her way to suicide or a life in the mental asylum.

"The religious naivete at the heart of Selma Lagerlof's faithfully adapted novel might draw occasional laughter from a secular audience some eighty years later, but the subdued, 'realist' acting and the dark fate of the main characters - which almost comes to its logical conclusion, save for a melodramatic finale - never fails to impress."

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Direct download: Episode_84_The_Phantom_Carriage_1921.mp3
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From Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"In Michael Mann's telemovie L.A. Takedown (1987), there is a scene in which a cop and the criminal he has been obsessively tracking bump into each other while shopping.  There is a tense pause, and then the criminal breaks the ice with a classic invitation: 'Coffee?'

"That scene reappears in Mann's Heat, a film whose richly deserved cult following has steadily grown since 1995.  Set in Los Angeles, it takes a well-worked theme - the symbiotic relationship between cop Vincent (Al Pacino) and criminal Neil (Robert De Niro) - and meditates moodily upon it.  Mann combines a flamboyant, epic style with a manic attention to realistic detail - resulting in indelible set pieces like the street shoot-out.

"In its exploration of family and intimacy, Heat meets a founding theme of noir fiction: the danger of bonding with another person.  Agonizing scenes dramatize Neil's assertion that a 'professional' should be able to walk away from everything in his life within thirty seconds.  These professional are almost automatons: hard-driven, single-minded, and married to their unsavory work (rather than their teary long-suffering companions).  But they are also proud, stoic men, and in their determination lies a lofty splendor to which Mann pays immortal tribute."

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Direct download: Episode_83_Heat_1995.mp3
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From Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the keystone of a strain of bizarre, fantastical cinema that flourished in Germany in the 1920s and was linked, somewhat spuriously, with the Expressionist art movement.  If much of the development of the movies in the medium's first two decades was directed toward the Lumiere-style 'window to the world', with fictional or documentary stories presented in an emotionally stirring manner designed to make audiences forget they were watching a film, Caligari returns to the mode of Georges Melies by presting magical, theatrical effects that exaggerate or caricature reality.  Officials perch on ridiculously high stools, shadows are painted on walls and faces, and unrealistic backdrops and performances are stylized to the point of hysteria.

"Writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz conceived the film as taking place in its own out-of-joint world, and director Robert Wiene and set designers Hermann Warm, Walter Roehrig, and Walter Reimann put a twist on every scene and even intertitle to insist on this.  Controversially, Fritz Lang - at an early stage attached as director -  suggested that Caligari's radical style would be too much for audiences to take without 'explanation'.  Lang devised a frame story in which the hero Francis (Friedrich Feher) recounts the story - of sinister mesmerist charlatan Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), his zombielike somnambulist slave Cesare (Conrad Veidt), and a series of murders in the rickety small town of Holstenwall - and is finally revealed to be an asylum inmate who, in The Wizard of Oz (1939) style, has imagined a narrative that incorporates various people in his daily life.  This undercuts the antiauthoritarian tone of the film as Dr. Caligari, in the main story an asylum director who has become demented, is revealed as a decent man out to help the hero.  However, the asylum set in the frame story is the same 'unreal' one seen in the flashback, making the whole film and not just Francis's bracketed story somehow unreliable.  Indeed, by revealing its expressionist vision to be that of a madman, the film could even appeal to conservatives who deemed all modernist art as demented.

"Wiene, less innovative than most of his collaborators, makes little use of cinematic technique, with the exception of the flashback-within-a-flashback as Krauss is driven mad by superimposed instructions that he 'must become Caligari.'  The film relies on theatrical devices, the camera fixed center stage as the sets are displayed and the actors (especially Veidt) providing any movement or impact.  Lang's input served to make the movie a strange species of amphibian: It plays as an art movie to the high-class crowds who appreciate its innovations, but it's also a horror movie with a gimmick.  With its sideshow ambience, hypnotic mad scientist villain, and leotard-clad, heroine-abducting monster, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a major early entry in the horror genre, introducing images, themes, and characters that became fundamental to the likes of Tod Browning's Dracula and James Whale's Frankenstein (both 1931)."

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Direct download: Episode_82_The_Cabinet_of_Dr._Caligari_1920.mp3
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From Ernest Mathijs in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"Paul Verhoeven's most elaborate Dutch film - and the most spectacular and expensive film from Holland at the time - announced themes that the director would return to later when he was working in Hollywood (notably in 2006's Black Books).

"Soldier of Orange sketches the experiences of a group of Dutch students during World War II, initially reacting with a shrugging 'a bit of war would be nice,' they soon find themselves forced to make choices - joining the Germans, the resistance movement, or going underground.  Throughout the film, Erik Lanshof (Rutger Hauer) is at the center of things.  While others around him are compelled to choose between different paths, Erik enjoy the freedom of letting chance make his decisions for him, jumping from one adventure to another.

"The movie is at its best when it addresses, in minute detail, the social issues dominating wartime Holland.  Each character is a microcosm of Dutch society during the war.  They are made human by connecting them to real people (among the film's characters is Dutch monarch Queen Wilhelmina), but also used as a detailed reflection on how war changes people and their opinions - as if the film is asking us not to judge but to understand the motives of friend and foe."

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Direct download: Episode_81_Soldier_of_Orange_1977.mp3
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From Garrett Chaffin-Quiray in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die:

"Short on brains, long on brawn - and heart, John G. Avildsen's Rocky catapulted the floundering career of Sylvester Stallone into the stratosphere.  At the same time, it reaped unprecedented box-office sales, established a movie franchise, and landed a one-two punch of jock stereotypes as rich with caricature [sic] today as they were riveting performances in 1976.

"The story centers on Rocky Balboa (Stallone), a boxer beyond his prime.  He falls in love with Adrian (Talia Shire), the sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young), and then works to earn the respect of his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith).  On the receiving end of a publicity stunt, he eventually gets a chance to unset Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

"Scored with Bill Conti's pulsing trumpet blasts and percussive rumble, Rocky is an immensely entertaining drama about struggling for satisfaction in an indifferent world.  As the combined story work of former Muhammad Ali opponent Chuck Wepner and 'Italian Stallion' Sylvester Stallone, the now famous actor-writer proved versatile and tenacious.  Writing the script, he connected its sale to his participation in the lead role, despite being virtually unknown at the time.  Desperate or inspired bid, he hit a grand slam and become one of Hollywood's biggest superstars.

"The film is often overlooked as schmaltz, especially considering Stallone's subsequent career, yet Rocky lovingly details the white working class.  Rocky, Paulie, Adrian, and Mickey respectively work as a debt collector, meat packer, pet store clerk, and gym proprietor; the only upward mobility each has are wishes and dreams.  This 'biopic' returns to a world of folklore where underdogs get their well-deserved chance after working hard.

"Important in Rocky are the values of honor and courage, so often questioned in movies throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Such reassurance was well received, if gross receipts are any indication, and Avildsen's film walked off with Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards to make it one for the record books."

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Direct download: Episode_80_Rocky_1976.mp3
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