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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Le jour se lève (1939)

“A killer! Now there’s something to gossip about! Sure, I’m a killer, but killers are a dime a dozen! They’re everywhere! Everyone kills! They just do it quietly, so you don’t see. It’s like sand. It gets deep inside you.”

So exclaims Jean Gabin’s famous proletarian hero from his apartment balcony to the curious masses below in Marcel Carné’s 1939 masterpiece, Le jour se lève.

Many critics, when asked which movie acts as the quintessential example of film noir, would say The Maltese Falcon. When asked which film most exemplifies the precepts of the screwball comedy, many experts would likely tag It Happened One Night.  When it comes to the American Western, they likely cite Stagecoach.  Well, in my opinion, if you were to ask which film most embodies the general characteristics, images, and ideas of French Poetic Realism, the answer would be  Le jour se lève. Continue reading

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

In my family, the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving (or, some years, the day before).  Growing up, it meant going to grandma and grandpa’s house in Idaho and cutting down a Christmas tree.  The perpetual wafting of sage, thyme, garlic, and rosemary would accompany the two Als (Roker and Michaels), as parades, football, and good family conversation would culminate in the feast of feasts.  Continue reading

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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The holiday season doesn’t stop at Christmas.  It continues on through New Year’s Day…at least in our neck of the woods.  And, when it comes to New Year’s movies, there is none better than the great Frank Capra’s masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life. Continue reading

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Sullivan’s Travels is both screwball comedy and socially conscious melodrama — as well as a satire of socially conscious melodrama, and a serious apologetic for crowd-pleasing comedy.”

So says film critic Steven D. Greydanus.  The hilarious opening sequence of Sullivan’s Travels is the evidence supporting Greydanus’ claims, when, after watching the first edit of an upcoming action picture, actor Joel McCrea—playing a film director by the name of John L. Sullivan—bemoans the sell-out of corporate Hollywood and the way it is effecting his artistic abilities.  Speaking with his studio boss, Sullivan tells of his desire to film a new movie, called Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?.   Continue reading

It Happened One Night (1934)

Of all the screwball/romantic comedies of the 1930s, few stand as tall as It Happened One Night.  When the movie was released to secondary movie houses in 1934 after mixed success with its initial release, it started a popular wave across the United States as people everywhere swarmed theaters to see Clark Gable—“The King of Hollywood”—and silent-film golden girl Claudette Colbert fall in love.  What at first appeared to be a flop turned out to be the biggest success in the history of Columbia Pictures up to that date. Continue reading