Sunday, 27 April 2008

Scarface (Howard Hawks 1932)

'Johnny' Lovo: Hey, stop him somebody!
Tony Camonte: Get out of my way Johnny, I'm gonna spit!

Violence is a ever-present element in this Hawks masterpiece. The film, made in the early thirties, is a gangster movie with some noir elements: Though most critics agree that “true” noir starts in the early forties the treatment of light and shadow is very special in some of the scenes. Scarface would provide the tone for many movies made later.

This portrait of the gangster Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) had some problems with the censorship – it was accused of glorifying gangsters; a long disclaimer had to be added at the beginning of the movie: …the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: 'What are you going to do about it?' The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?. Besides the subtitle “Shame of a Nation” was also added to the original title.

Camonte is portrayed as a ruthless gangster who stops at nothing to reach his goals: bootlegging, murders (“x” marks the spot in some memorable cuts – as in the bowling scene). As Tony says: “Listen, l'il Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble. (He pats his gun in his coat pocket and cocks his thumb and finger - and fires.) Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doin' it.”

Therefore the film has a grim, raw mood with only some funny moments with Camonte’s secretary Angelo (Vince Barnett).

Camonte’s story is one of a rise and fall; Tony’s insane jealousy of his sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak) – there is a Borgia quality in the treatment of these two characters - will lead him to his own destruction. After killing his sister’s husband, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft), he is surrounded by the police and finally killed under the sign: The World is Yours – something which reminds of Cody Jarrett’s (James Cagney) final words: “top of the world” in White Heat.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954)

Viki Buckley: When I first came to live here I thought I’d never get used to the trains…”

The sound of passing trains, a maze of railroad tracks (entwining, separating… just like people’s lives), steam coming out from engines.. (the heat of desire…) are always present in this bleak movie.

The cold, gloomy railway stations are the setting for this destructive love story.

Human desire - a melodrama with noir aesthetics and pessimism - is based on a novel by Émile Zola which had already been made into a film by Jean Renoir.

Viki (Gloria Grahame) is a femme fatale who drags Corea war veteran Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) to a passionate love affair. She plans the murder of her violent jealous husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) – a fact that may remind us of Double Indemnity.

In this movie Columbia was taking advantage of the success of the couple Ford-Grahame in “The Big Heat” (also directed by Lang); the chemistry between the two stars is still there but not as thrilling as it was in the former film.

All in all Human desire is a good Lang film in a period when the German director made a series of remarkable films.