1947: 4 movies

(Last updated 30 April 2014)

The Lady from Shanghai
Written by, directed by, and produced by Orson Welles
Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.
Editing by Viola Lawrence
Art Direction by Sturges Carne and Stephen Goosson
Set Decoration by Wilbur Menefee and Herman N. Schoenbrun
Costume Design by Jean Louis
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Starring Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth,
Everett Sloane, and Glenn Anders

   This year is a highlight in cinematic history, with 4 masterpieces, all emphasizing dark, darker, and darkest moods, and interestingly all featuring women as the main catalysts of story.
   A lot of people make such a big to-do about Orson Welles' first big movie "Citizen Kane" (1940) that this one doesn't seem to get enough respect. While Welles was, from the start, looking to revolutionize Hollywood, it took him a few tries to fully learn the craft and Hollywood grammar. By 1947, however, he had mastered movie-making so well that he could brilliantly mock and subvert Hollywood conventions, simultaneously showcasing the inventive energy that he had already made such a great impact with on stage and radio. Luckily for movie-watchers, that's just what the movie-industry needed at the time: a movie to shake things up, to shock, and prove that art isn't about copying a format, it's about delivering the hope of newness and exposing the trickiness of deceit. It's about the perils of a lazy mind and spirit.
  The sound editing, the image editing, the story, the acting, and soundtrack all swirl dizzily, lazily, like sharks in search of blood, until finally the movie picks up steam and becomes a frenzied thriller, making this not only one of the strangest and fantastic movies of the year, but of all time. At the same time, it feels like a rich novel touching powerfully on various social themes of class, employees versus employers, on the definition of a man, on love versus marriage, on the search for truth, and on how we might never know what is true.
   All of this is engaging stuff, but it's the ever-shifting settings that keep the motor running, as if we were taking a safari deeper and deeper into some dark and undiscovered psychological jungle. It's also the comedic fluorishes, which are not relieving at all, but instead each so subtly and surprisingly placed, that they heighten the macabre nightmare and make the situation feel more real unto itself. It's such an eccentric movie that I bet even the story of its making would be an interesting story!

Black Narcissus
Written, directed, and produced by
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography by Jack Cardiff
Editing by Reginald Mills
Production Design by Alfred Junge
Costume Design by Hein Heckroth
Makeup by George Blackler
Hairstyles by Biddy Chrystal
Starring Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron,
Jean Simmons, Sabu, and Eddie Whaley Jr.

   An elaborate British set production which begins like it's going to be inspiring entertainment about a group of women who convert a Himalayan village to Christianity. Instead, it gradually reveals itself to be a psychological x-ray of a woman who is reconsidering her life's path, her sexual and love life, her spirituality, her location and work, as well as questioning her sanity and reflecting on age. We see playing out around her all the paths that she could take which is where all the color, sound, and fury comes in. Then we see her retreat into loneliness. Does anyone win here? Well, our senses do, for sure, and so do our emotions! As for the characters, maybe only youth wins.
   The photography and choreography are beyond compare. The flashback scenes are tremendously filmed, Deborah Kerr is easy to sympathize with, and Kathleen Byron is a mad genius actor! Only a couple actors seem to be miscast, most obviously: David Farrar as Mr. Dean.
   What makes this movie immortal is the camera angles, or more specifically, how the camera sometimes catches its subjects so closely as to be inside them and other times so far as if they are falling out of orbit. The lighting, colors, music, art direction, and acting all come together at times to feel like a splendid fairytale, and at others like a contemporary slasher horror-flick! Cumulatively, it feels like a breath-taking Himalayan vacation amongst the most diverse and interesting characters on the planet!

Desire Me
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Written by Zoe Akins, Marguerite Roberts,
and Casey Robinson
Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing by Joseph Dervin
Art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Urie McCleary
Starring Robert Mitchum, Greer Garson,
and Richard Hart

   The structure of the movie is fascinating as is the foggy setting. Friendship, loyalty, and evil self-gain, are all at play here as a woman struggles to find her path when her soldier husband is reported dead. Starting life anew, she faces judgement from her neighbors, and that's when things really start to get intense! It feels like a mesh of "Ossessione" and Ilsa's story in "Casablanca". Almost every scene is great, with a few stand-out scenes being the escape from the prisoner camp and the climax in the fog!
   Starts with a woman's meeting with a psychologist, then turns into a war movie, then to a romantic drama, and finally to a thriller, before reverting back to the psychologist's prescription. It's this blatant disregard for the convential boundaries of genre that makes it such a daring movie. It's also the fact that there aren't any loose ends left hanging. Instead, we are shown that happy endings are not simple affairs but rather take time, emotional healing, therapy, and a lot of reflection.
   The production of this movie was famously difficult resulting in multiple directors, injuries, and ultimately, box-office failure. Most injustly, the movie still receives poor reviews by a majority of critics, most likely this is an example of negative hype of the long-lasting kind. Thankfully, we're talking about movies, and the nature of movies is that, theoretically, they are always available for re-viewing and re-evaluation.


Out of the Past
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Daniel Mainwaring
Produced by Warren Duff
Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca
Art direction by Albert S. D'Agostino and Jack Okey
Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer,
Kirk Douglas, Dickie Moore, Rhonda Fleming,
and Virginia Huston

   Sensual beyond compare! Once it gets going, the razor-sharp dialogue, luscious photography, and its theme of how to define love, all fit together tightly and attractively over the complex actors. The sure, confident direction, the sultry cinematography, and well-lived-in acting help keep us through the wordy and technical plot. Director Tourneur takes advantage of every scene to orchestrate a gorgeous but ominous three-dimensional canvas. The movie is edited in a gripping way, half-flashback, half-real-time, to keep us always in the realm of the unpredictable. There is no one more seductively sinister than Jane Greer in this role, and no one so suavely sympathetic as Robert Mitchum. It's a classic spin on the good girl versus bad girl story with Mitchum stuck at the crossroads between. The endless fascination with the movie is due in large part to the allegorical or dream-like nature of the narrative, which calls into question whether Mitchum's character, Jeff Bailey, ever really becomes free of the femme fatale, Greer's Kathie Moffat, and whether Jeff Bailey should really be trusted as our narrator.
   The diverse settings, the colorful supporting characters, and the high-strung mood helps flesh out the movie's realism and entertainment value.

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