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Dave Clayton "Wereaardvark" (San Diego, CA USA)

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Inspiration [Import]
Inspiration [Import]
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 21.00

3.0 étoiles sur 5 High Life in Paris MGM Style, March 10 2001
This review is from: Inspiration [Import] (VHS Tape)
Following her first sound film, the box office hit Anna Christie, Greta Garbo made six films for MGM in a period of 24 months. But in the words of John Bainbridge in his still readable study of Garbo's career (1955), "None added much to her reputation. Only 'the greatest living actress' could have survived the banality of most." Inspiration, one of the lesser items in the series, deals with the rising and falling fortunes of Yvonne (Greta Garbo), the "inspiration" for a circle of affluent Parisian artists. But when she encounters the young Andre (Robert Montgomery), she recognizes true love and abandons the demimonde. Sadly, however, Andre, a contemptible twit who comes from a respectable bourgeois family, is being groomed for the foreign service and abandons Yvonne when he learns of her past. At the conclusion, just as he is on the verge of marriage, Andre returns to her, but Yvonne, far nobler than he, renounces him and while he sleeps steals off with a former lover who has just come out of prison.
Inspiration was adapted by Gene Markey from the short novel Sappho by Alphonse Daudet--uncredited--written in 1884, which has more than passing similarities to Camille by Dumas fils. But Markey updated the story to the present time, with the unintended effect of making these bohemian antics seem wildly anachronistic--after all, this was the Paris of James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and the surrealists, not to mention Getrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, and not the playground of superannuated roues posing as bohemians. But if the film would have seemed ludicrous to anyone familiar with the contemporary European art scene, it is even harder to fathom what audiences here would have made out of it at a moment when most American males were more worried about where their next meal was coming from rather than about where they could latch onto a poule de luxe.
Inspiration is emphatically a pre-Code production, and anyone still suffering from the false impression that MGM was a goody-goody studio in the early 1930s may find the picture an eye-opener. (In an early scene a cab driver brags about one of his lady fares granting him her favors after he takes her to her house.) But the main reason for watching Inspiration today is not to peek at a salacious curiosity but to worship at the shrine of the most unique leading lady in American cinema history. Garbo did not so much transcend a movie like this as she transformed it altogether, and the emotional intensity she brought to a role like this rivaled the fabled skill of any alchemist in changing dreck into gold. At the end, after she has penned her farewell letter to Andre, she silently pauses for a moment before parting, and the gamut of emotions that plays over her face has the electric force of a revelation.
A vehicle for a great star was as much of a genre as the western or the musical, and Metro lavished its resources on Garbo with the same abandon that Yvonne's admirers lavish their bank accounts on her. William Daniels photographed the picture, Cedric Gibbons designed the sets, and Gilbert Adrian contributed the costumes. Sadly, Garbo did not get as much of an assist from her fellow performers, especially the men. Although Lewis Stone is appropriately villainous as the cruel Delval--whose discarded mistress commits suicide by jumpimg out a window and falling at his feet--but the indefatigably stuffy Robert Montgomery takes a rather unsympathetic character and succeeds in making him even more obnoxious.
Although the video is not a digital transfer, MGM/UA has done a reasonable job of manufacturing. Nevertheless, the materials used for the video do not seem to have been very well preserved, and the optical quality is often disappointing--scratches and cinch marks show up throughout the picture, which often has quite a washed-out look in comparison to Mata Hari or Grand Hotel, both from the same period as Inspiration.

Madame Satan [Import]
Madame Satan [Import]
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 22.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 The Twenties Never Roared Quite Like This--Thank Heavens!, Jan. 14 2001
This review is from: Madame Satan [Import] (VHS Tape)
Cecil B. DeMille had a difficult time making the transition to sound, commencing with a series of three flops in a row at MGM--Dynamite in 1929, this film in 1930, and a remake of The Squaw Man in 1931. Afterwards he shrewdly returned to historical spectacle, his real forte, and made the hugely successful Sign of the Cross at Paramount. For Madame Satan, DeMille, trying to keep pace with current trends, went back to the bedroom dramas he had made in the early 1920s, castigating the debauched lifestyle of the upper classes while making it look lusciously appealing. In those steamy pre-Code days this might have seemed a good idea, but unfortunately, he had been away from this kind of material for far too long and appears to have lost his aptitude for it altogether, since Madame Satan has none of the fast pace, breezy humor, or racy dialogue of typical pre-Code hits like Night Nurse, Red Dust, or Platinum Blonde. Even worse, DeMille made an ill-advised venture into the musical genre with this picture--a mistake he wisely never repeated. For the first two thirds of Madame Satan the viewer has to wade through what resembles a ploddingly inept screen imitation of a second-rate bedroom farce loosely based upon Die Fledermaus, about a wealthy woman who tries to win back her philandering husband by attending a costume ball in disguise, before the movie begins to heat up with the notorious party aboard a dirigible--a sequence Leonard Maltin rightly calls an "eye-popper." But DeMille, true to form, cannot resist portentiously staging this silly bash as if it were God's warning to repent now before the Day of Judgment--read: the market crash of 1929--arrives to punish sinning America. The whole affair more resembles a palace orgy preceding the fall of Babylon than any party, however wild, that had taken place in the decade just ended--it's surprising that "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" does not appear in flashing lights over the heads of the revellers before an electrical storm intervenes to bring things back down to earth. The result is terribly ponderous if morbidly fascinating, a camp curiosity rather than an entertaining one. But there is one good reason for putting up with the film: the appearance of Lillian Roth, then at the height of her career, as the seductress Trixie. For anyone like myself who was born in the 1940s long after stars like Roth had vanished from the screen, it was always a question of whether they were genuine legends or just silver screen folklore, a question that could only be answered once studios began selling their libraries en bloc to television in the late 1950s. (Although quite a few early sound films were still in theatrical release at the beginning of the 1950s, pre-Code pictures always had to be resubmitted to the PCA for a new certificate when they were reissued, which simply eliminated productions like this one ab initio.) But Roth reveals herself as one of the memorably electric personalities of the early sound era and the moments when she shows up on screen are precious ones indeed. I should also add in conclusion that this video is part of the remarkable series of pre-Code movies called "Forbidden Hollywood" assembled by Leonard Maltin, and the picture quality, like that of most titles in the series, is excellent.

The Most Dangerous Game (Criterion Collection)
The Most Dangerous Game (Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Joel McCrea
Prix : CDN$ 27.09
26 used & new from CDN$ 14.96

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Survival of the Fittest, Jan. 7 2001
Richard Connell's famous short story that dates back to 1924 about a deranged Russian nobleman who shipwrecks vessels passing by his remote island and hunts down the survivors is still anthologized today. Like many works of naturalistic fiction, Connell's tale is a disquisition on the thin line separating civilization and the state of nature. When the sportsman Sanger Rainsford--the latest victim to arrive at Zaroff's front door--realizes what the madman is up to, he reacts in horror, rejecting the General's invitation to join the latter in his favorite pastime, and the hunter soons finds himself the hunted. At the conclusion, however, Rainsford not only defeats Zaroff but takes his place in the latter's bed. In effect, the two men have exchanged not just places but roles--the struggle for survival has transformed Rainsford himself into another Zaroff. The 1932 screen adaptation, directed by Ernest Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, eliminates the bitterly ironic reversal of the original story and turns the grim fable into a straightforward survivalist sermon. In addition, the movie dubiously improves on Connell's mano a mano conflict between Rainsford and Zaroff by introducing a love interest, another shipwrecked refugee played by the all-purpose virginal heroine Fay Wray, who becomes the principal stake in the contest between the two men. There seems to be some uncertainty about the circumstances of the film's production. Professor Bruce Kawin, who wrote the notes accompanying the DVD, says that The Most Dangerous Game was made to induce RKO into shooting King Kong, while Carlos Clarens in An Illustrated History of Horror and Science fiction Films states that the two films were made simultaneously. Whatever the truth might be, there are such striking similarities between them that The Most Dangerous Game almost resembles an extended trailer for King Kong, especially in its use of a jungle setting like that of Skull Island for much of the action. But if The Most Dangerous Game anticipates King Kong it also seems to be making a nod in the direction of a horror hit from the previous year, Tod Browning's Dracula. In the Schoedsack production, Zaroff, who is always called "General" in the story becomes a count, and the main hall of his residence has interesting similarities to that of Dracula's castle, although it is opulent rather than derelict. As the sadistic Zaroff, the gifted British actor Leslie Banks makes a stylish villain although his enunciation of Russian sounds as convincing as W.C. Fields doing Vogul. In the role of Rainsford, however, Joel McCrae, who played a similar part in King Vidor's Bird of Paradise--also produced at RKO for David Selznick in the same year--is a classically handsome leading man and gives a far better performance saving the hapless Fay than the rather inert Bruce Cabot gives executing the same office for her in King Kong.

Vampyr
Vampyr
DVD ~ Julian West
Prix : CDN$ 41.98
7 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the great horror films, March 10 1999
This review is from: Vampyr (DVD)
Directed in France by the legendary Danish director Carl Dreyer,Vampyr is not only one of the best horror films but also probably one of the greatest films ever made. Unlike the American horror pictures like Frankenstein that were being made at the same time, Vampyr has relatively little action but a sustained atmosphere of strangeness like that of few other movies. The action takes place during one night and the entire film has a slow, trance-like quality. The picture quality of the DVD is vastly superior to that of the older videotapes--the film was photographed by the great Rudolph Mate--but the sound recording is shaky at the best, and the dialogue is hard to follow even for someone who understands German. The music comes across more effectively but is boomy in some passages--it's a good idea to reduce the bass before viewing. The DVD like an earlier video has quite large subtitles in Gothic type--designed I think to eliminate Danish subtitles--which unfortunately mask a third or so of the picture in some shots.

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