Directed by Lewis Milestone and based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque, the film is one of the most famous and moving anti-war films ever made. Told from the perspective of the German experience in the war, the film gives a powerful message about war’s destruction and, more often than not, its futility.
In The Essentials book, author Jeremy Arnold states that the film’s battle scenes were “state-of-the-art for 1930.” Director Milestone used “tremendous movement, immediacy, and depth in every frame. Dramatic crane shots look astonishing for having been accomplished during a year in which most cameras were trapped in immobile, soundproof booths. Combined with the fluid camerawork are striking battlefield explosions, achieved by setting off dynamite remotely just before or after the actors ran by, with little room to spare.” Here’s an example.
Actor Lew Ayres, who was 20 years old when he made the film, leaves an indelible impression as Paul, a young soldier who enters the German World War I effort with youthful enthusiasm and who, after time in the trenches, learns of the true cost of the experience. Here’s a clip from the film where Paul returns during a leave to the place where he was recruited.
I found the film to be compelling, realistic, and tragic. It’s truly remarkable filmmaking about a truly devastating subject matter.
We are big fans of Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). A cool poster and teaser trailer for its sequel film, Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019), just dropped today. Consider us officially excited.
Next up in my 2019 TCM Essentials movie watching project is the romantic melodrama Now, Voyager (Warner Bros., 1942). (I’m going a little out of order, but when a movie on the list presents itself, I’m watching it.)
Directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, and Gladys Cooper, the film tells the story of a repressed and depressed spinster (Davis) who breaks free from her horribly controlling mother (Cooper) with the help of a kind psychiatrist (Rains) and then falls in love with a married man (Henreid).
Bette Davis undergoes quite a transformation in the film, with the help of her superior skills as an actress along with the outstanding makeup and wardrobe department at Warner Bros. When we first meet Charlotte (Bette’s character), she’s barely coping with having to live under the weight of her oppressive and icky mother (I’d dare say that this mother character is one of the worst mothers in all of moviedom).
After a compassionate family member helps Charlotte get out of the house and spend some time in a sanitarium under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith, she emerges from her shell.
Dr. Jaquith sends Charlotte on a cruise for a few weeks to continue her healing process, practice her new social skills, and relax before she has to return home and face her rotten mother (who, Dr. Jaquith reminds Charlotte, is still her mother).
On the cruise, Charlotte meets the charming architect Jerry Durrance, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. They end up spending a lot of time together and ultimately fall in love, but they both know that the relationship is not going to work since Jerry has decided to stay married for the sake of his one and only child, his beloved daughter Tina. What happens to Charlotte, and what Charlotte decides to do, is what makes Now, Voyager such a special film (I don’t want to spoil anything, so hope you’ll watch it).
Jeremy Arnold states in The Essentials, “Underneath the surface lies a potent statement—especially resonant for female audiences of the time—about a woman making her own choices in life, including those that go against a conformist society’s expectations. Its one thing for Charlotte simply to escape her mother’s dominance; it’s quite another for her to choose a path to fulfillment that doesn’t include getting married and having kids.”
Here’s a trailer for the film.
Now, Voyager is truly one of the great films from Warner Bros.’ golden age and should definitely be essential viewing on your movie watching list, too.
Made in Germany and directed by Fritz Lang, this remarkable and influential film is set in a segregated, dystopian future–one where wealthy citizens live a life of luxury above ground in an ultra-modern city and where a large group of hidden enslaved workers live underground to keep everything running. When one of the city’s rich kids learns about the plight of the underground workers, he and a woman from the underground plot a rebellion. However, the rich kid’s father and his employed evil scientist have something else in mind…
The film is revered for its themes, art direction, and special effects–all of which are stunning. There have been multiple cuts of the film. I watched the 2010 version that I rented on Apple iTunes which includes 25 extra minutes of footage that was found in 2008 and considered by film scholars to be one of “the most important film discoveries in history” according to The Essentials author Jeremy Arnold.
Here’s a trailer for the 2010 restored version.
And here’s a cool poster for the film, too.
Metropolis is definitely worthy of its reputation—a monumental and astounding film that stands the test of time.
It’s been fascinating to me to learn more about and to finally see Orson Welles’ final film The Other Side of the Wind (Netflix, 2018).
A biting satire of Hollywood and sort of a film-within-a-film itself, The Other Side of the Wind is about a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (played by the real-life legendary director John Huston) who is attempting to resuscitate his languishing career by making an avant-guard film called, well, The Other Side of The Wind. Hannaford needs an influx of cash to finish the project, so he throws a screening party at an expansive home in Arizona and invites potential investors and various members of the Hollywood media to show them parts of the unfinished film.
Orson Welles began shooting the film in 1970. Filming continued sporadically for six more years. From what I’ve read, it sounds like a combination of Welles’ temperament along with a series of complicated financial deals brought the work on the film to a standstill. Welles died in 1985 and the film remained in an unfinished state and became a “holy grail” of sorts for devotees of Welles’ work.
Multiple attempts have been made over the years to complete the film. Finally, the deep pockets of Netflix along with the work of director Peter Bogdanovich (who also stars in the film) and movie producer Frank Marshall (who was an assistant on the film) were able to get the job done.
While Welles supervised some of the editing himself when he was actively working on the film, what we have for our viewing pleasure now is an attempt by multiple filmmakers, artists, and technical experts to recreate a work by a notoriously fickle auteur. Writer and self-professed Orson Welles “obsessive” Alex Ross in a very interesting article in The New Yorker wrote:
“Welles buffs will long argue over their choices, but the film is a major addition to the director’s canon, offering a sometimes harrowingly personal vision. Hannaford is hardly a self-portrait, but his predicament is not unlike Welles’s own: he is a legend whose past overshadows his present. At the same time, ‘Wind’ is an exhilarating forward leap, its rapid-fire editing and pseudo-documentary format heralding modern styles. Ultimately, it has the Wellesian quality of not caring what you make of it. As one of Hannaford’s minions says, bringing out a stack of film cans, ‘Well, here it is, if anybody wants to see it.'”
Ross also details in his excellent piece about the physical and technical challenges of assembling the film. “[Sound supervisor Daniel] Saxlid, a wizardly Swede, spent more than three months cleaning up the dialogue, working seven days a week in a windowless room in Technicolor’s post-production facility on the Paramount lot. Multiple transfers of the soundtrack had caused a build-up of noise and distortion…Saxlid developed a…program, “a kind of forensics,” to expand microscopic portions of the track and reduce noise while preserving the voices. All this solitary activity gave him a curious sense of interaction with Welles himself. ‘So much of this we couldn’t have done even a few years ago. All these endless delays drove everyone crazy, but maybe the thing had to wait until we had all the right tools for it. I kept having a funny feeling that Welles had tossed all this to the future, for us to figure out.'”
They definitely figured things out technically. The film is fascinating to watch—almost as if Welles had come back from the grave to give us one last film. The imagery is sometimes a bit challenging and unplesant, but is also sometimes absolutely revelatory in its composition, style, and technical excellence. I wonder if we’ll ever figure out all of what Welles was trying to say. To me, it was like Welles taking his hands off the steering wheel of a speeding car, giving the middle finger to Hollywood, but then crashing and, sadly, losing his life in a rather self-consumed and futile way.
The film is currently available on Netflix. Also of interest is a behind-the-scenes documentary about the creation of the final cut called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which is currently on Netflix as well.
The plan is to watch one film a week from the list below (which is taken directly from Jeremy Arnold’s Essentials book), read Jeremy Arnold’s take on what makes the film “essential,” read any other pertinent writings and relevant information about the film, and then blog and/or podcast about my experience and learnings.