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

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the subsequent entry into World War II by the United States of America, James Maitland Stewart joined the US Air Corps.  Before the war, Stewart was a talented pilot in the private sector, amassing hundreds of hours of flight time and even participating in a cross-country race as a co-pilot.  He had invested (and recruited more investments) in a pilot-training program hosted by Southwest Airways.  He was an immensely popular actor on the home-front, starring in such films as The Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn and You Can’t Take it With You with Jean Arthur.  He was well-publicized, well-known, and was an interesting character, who loved flying, loved his country, and respected his family’s military tradition. Continue reading

Rashomon (1950)

Seven Samurai and The Samurai Trilogy catapulted the rest of the world into the newest craze in international cinema in 1954.  But, before they were winning Academy Awards in the United States and filling up art house theaters in New York and London, a movie called Rashomon had lifted the veil off the eyes of the world and onto Japanese cinema.  At no point in history had a film from Japan sent such waves worldwide, asking pertinent questions that bridged cultures and borders while simultaneously embracing elements of cinema that touched all who watched.  If there ever was movie, other than Citizen Kane, that demanded study, it was Rashomon. Continue reading

Holiday Inn (1942)

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Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were in a lot of movies together, the best of which were Swing Time and Top Hat.  It was on the set of Top Hat that Astaire first heard the melody that would become “White Christmas.”  The tune was hummed to him by one of the great songwriting masters of the 1930s and 1940s, Irving Berlin, who was the chief songwriter for the film.  Astaire was instantly smitten by the melody.  The song, however, didn’t make the final cut for Top Hat. Continue reading