Grand Illusion (1937)

Where Jean Gabin portrayed a doomed working class hero in Le jour se lève, in Grand Illusion (La grande illusion), he played perhaps the most hopeful symbol of the victorious proletariat that French Poetic Realism would ever come to offer.  Grand Illusion uses his character as but one of several others showing the disintegration of the old world, and the rebuilding of a new one after the earth-shattering imbalance of World War I.  It tells the story of humanity, divided vertically by borders and divided horizontally by social class.  It tells the story of the war that shattered these distinctions: gone were the days of gentleman’s battles, glorious deaths, and the rules of the game.  A new world order, one more unified in both suffering and success was being born.  Out of this carnage and pain could come a new type of freedom, one both symbolic and practical, one that would elevate the lower class and destroy the arbitrary divisions that threatened humankind. Continue reading

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

1948 was an important year for the Western.  Movies like 3 Godfathers and Fort Apache were contributing to the overwhelming continuation to the genre by the team of John Ford and John Wayne.  Movies like Silver River with Erroll Flynn and Yellow Sky with Gregory Peck were headlining other great team-ups with superstar actors and directors (Raoul Walsh directed the former; William Wellman, the latter).  The second World War was drifting into the past, but its ripples were still freshly informing the new artistic psyche, and these team-ups were beginning to integrate a far more human arrangement into the Western to supplant what was originally a mythological archetype.  Method acting and human dilemma were rising to an important position in the way that Westerns were written.  While these aforementioned films, and others, were making their dramatic (or, at times, comedic) impact on what was, before the war, a simple formula, two films really made waves in 1948.  These two Westerns were The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Red River.   Continue reading