Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs: A Brief Defense of Melodrama

"You will get me to defend to the death a good melodrama any day of the week," Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films once said here. "It's an unfairly maligned form that I happen to love."

The Siren's been thinking about this most excellent observation (made on behalf of Million Dollar Baby, for the record) for the past few days, as the film blogosphere has one of its periodic kerfuffles. Remember when the Siren got rather worked up over the Oscar writer who dissed Sunrise right before the cinematography award? That was nothing compared to what Tom O'Neil of the Los Angeles Times dished out last week.


"Sunrise" is paper-thin, hilariously schmaltzy. All three primary characters are cartoonish clichés and their performances 3-inch slices of honeyed ham.

Mind you, I'm the kinda guy who'd normally side with the weepie. On my top 10 list of fave pix of all time are "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Titanic." But I just can't shed a real tear when the farmer in "Sunrise" decides that he just — by golly! — can't off his sweet, dimpled wifey-pooh, after all. Nor could I cheer the scenes of the couple back together, all giddy smiles and kisses, posing for photos like newlyweds, dancing a happy peasant dance, joyous once he decided not to wring her scrawny little neck and hurl her over the side of the row boat.

What corn pone! Smothered in Cheez Whiz! "Wings" ain't Shakespeare or Scorsese, mind you, but it's better than that!


If hearing this gleeful philistinism from the paper of record in the world's movie capital depresses you, the comments section will cheer you up. This silent classic has far more fans than the Oscars may have led us to expect. The Siren isn't taking on Mr. O'Neil, not when he's been filleted for frying by the best, including Filmbrain and Glenn Kenny. At this point, as Molly Ivins used to say, it's called piling on, and there's a fifteen-yard penalty for it. No, instead the Siren wants to talk with her esteemed readers about melodrama, a word Mr. O'Neil's commenters use several times. Films labeled melodrama are too often maligned, but have a fine pedigree in the American cinema. And Sunrise is not schmaltzy (overly sentimental) nor is it purely a melodrama.

When the Siren's mother dispensed nasty-tasting medicine, she always gave a chaser, so here's our chaser, from The Parade's Gone By. Kevin Brownlow called this chapter "The Golden Path; or, The Curse of Melodrama":


Reassured by the belief that their prime duty was to entertain, film makers bought material of great potential and intelligence, stripped it of motivation and complex overtones, and reduced the action to basic, easy-to-follow melodrama.

Even the dictionary defines melodrama with a certain distaste: "Drama marked by crude appeals to emotion."

The purveyors of entertainment find melodrama an invaluable asset. It requires not the slightest effort on the part of the audience. They are not required to think, they merely watch. They will not miss any subtlety because there will not BE any subtlety. The values are simple, the threat is clear and
the resolution action-filled and straightforward. There is seldom any characterization in pure melodrama, never any complex motivation. Life is reduced to the infantile level of an adventure strip.

Brownlow was writing about the silent cinema, where what he called "the lashed-to-the-tracks, saved-by-the-dog pieces of unabashed nonsense" of the early days eventually gave way to more sophisticated plot drivers. The early silents gave us melodrama on its most basic level. But does anything Brownlow says make you think of Sunrise? No motivation or complex overtones, crude appeals to emotion, no effort required and no subtlety?

Melodrama relies heavily on plot, but Sunrise does nothing of the sort. It's the characters who tug at your heart, if you've a heart to tug. Janet Gaynor cringing away from the husband she loves might strike some as melodramatic in the worst sense. But the mere presence of strong emotion, conveyed in the most nakedly apparent way, doesn't add up to melodrama. Where Mr. O'Neil saw schmaltz, the Siren saw primitive fear, Gaynor showing us the physical terror women have felt down through the ages from certain men, even men they loved. And George O'Brien's torment shows how that violence cuts men off from the love and comfort they crave. You may call it melodrama, but the Siren calls it a conflict more ancient than the Greeks.

Pulling out the stops to draw strong emotions from your audience doesn't make something a melodrama in the Brownlow sense. If, however, you want to expand the definition to include plot-driven pictures, that still have strong motivations and well-drawn characters, and are designed chiefly to give us a good, cathartic burst of emotion, then you get something closer to what Marilyn Ferdinand defends. And the Siren thinks you also run into some of the finest pictures classic Hollywood has to offer. Check out this fine article on Greencine, which lovingly details what the Siren is talking about although it uses the perjorative "weepie," a term the Siren loathes from the depths of her movie-loving soul. Filmsite.org also has a good article on melodrama, where you'll find a list that includes a lot of masterpieces.

In fact, just skimming the list on Filmsite--Caught, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Bad and the Beautiful, Greed, Some Came Running, Imitation of Life, Stella Dallas, Camille, The Old Maid--makes the Siren wonder if there is some stealthy prejudice at work in the very fact that these are labeled melodramas at all. The appeals to emotion in these films are not crude, unless you consider any appeal to romance or sentiment to be crude. If you want blood-pumping appeals to emotion, without complex motivations or nuanced character development, then the genre that frequently offers that isn't the women's picture or a fable (a term the Siren is borrowing from Todd Holmes) like Sunrise.

You should look right here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

John and Hedy



Let's try an experiment. Find the most precious object in your life, the light of your eyes. Place him/her/it in the middle of the room. Get the most fake-nice person you know to circle your precious, take notes, simper a lot, and make little enigmatic remarks like "Of course, they all do things at different times." While this is going on, bring your upper right arm across your face and try to French kiss your elbow. Do this every morning for several hours, for about two weeks.

You have now replicated the experience of trying to get your kid into a good kindergarten in New York City.

Anyway, between this and a youngest who thinks 3 am to 5 am is, by god, the best time of the day, the Siren is not up to anything cohesive. She has, however, spent what free time she has sacked out in front of the television set, glued to her Netflix choices and TCM, so here are some loose-knit thoughts on John Garfield and Hedy Lamarr.

About a month ago Blonde Venus Kim Morgan wrote a wonderful birthday tribute to John Garfield. The more the Siren watches, re-watches and reflects upon Garfield, the more she thinks that he--not the inarguably magnificent Brando--was the definitive American screen actor, the one who divides it all into Before and After. The Siren just saw him in two movies, the excellent He Ran All the Way and the dreary Tortilla Flat, and damn but the man was wondrous in anything. He Ran All the Way, Garfield's swan song, makes you weep for what could have been had he lived past 39. The actor was years too old for the part but that didn't occur to the Siren until J. Hoberman pointed it out. His character is a mess of sweaty jitters, doom stamped on him as clear as the marks on a UPS parcel. He's an armed robber on the run, but he's no John Dillinger. Garfield's character can't keep it together for more than a quarter-hour at a time, flipping out first on Shelley Winters in a public pool, then again at her house when he reveals to her family that he's on the lam. The suspense comes from wondering what his next ghastly burst of paranoia will bring. Garfield's line deliveries are a joy--never just a straightforward tough-guy reading, always something coming from a different angle. When he tells the family, "all I wanted was a place to hole up for a couple of days. Something you'd give an alley cat," it has the force of both accusation and elegy. Garfield gives so many different aspects to a man who could have been played far more simply. You see his yearning for a real family life in his scenes with the mother (Selena Royle) and his instinctive resentment of authority, even as he craves direction, in his frightening confrontations with Winters' father (Wallace Ford). Winters, for her part, gives Garfield someone worth playing against, with her own achingly sad performance. Genius James Wong Howe's cinematography makes the broiling hot summer days look even more menacing than the nights, until the inevitably tragic fadeout--but with a twist that the Siren hadn't seen coming. No wonder Morgan cites this as her favorite Garfield film. Give it a few more viewings and it may yet be the Siren's.

Then the Siren watched Tortilla Flat, and ay yi yi, as the characters are made to say whenever you are in danger of forgetting how Very Ethnic They Are. Garfield made this movie on loan to MGM. It's based on a John Steinbeck novel, and neither Garfield nor Steinbeck were at all suited to the MGM attitude which was, generally, "realism be damned." Spencer Tracy, one of Garfield's acting heros, has the main part. Tracy is a Mexican with a bit of his godawful Portuguese accent from Captains Courageous but, gracias a Dios, not too much. Garfield plays his best friend, and they're both in love with Hedy Lamarr. Garfield wisely doesn't try the accent, he just gives his speech some vaguely Spanish cadences. (The Siren finds that actors using accents frequently get the sounds right, but step all over the rhythm of a dialect.) Anyway, the movie is dishwater dull, providing interest only in a rather sweet sequence concerning a baby, and when Garfield is fighting with Lamarr. Despite being miscast the actor gives real believability to his love for Lamarr and strikes sparks off the frosty beauty.

TCM's article on Tortilla Flat has a funny story from filming:


Garfield recalls shooting his first scene with Fleming at the helm: "The director called a halt and shouted: 'For Christ's sake, Garfield, you have to do better than that. I fought like hell to get you in this picture, so don't make me look like a fool.'" As Tracy snickered in the background, Fleming railed at Garfield some more and they shot the scene again. "Take it easy, Garfield, don't get too good. A lot of your scenes are with Hedy Lamarr. She's not what you'd call unoutclassable, and we can't let that happen. Let's take it again. Be better than you were the first time, but worse than the second."


Ah, Hedy. It's hard to feel sorry for one of the most beautiful women in film history, but sometimes the Siren does. Shirley Temple got more respect as an actress. In one of life's glaring inequities Lamarr was a beauty and an intellect, so she probably knew her colleagues thought she couldn't act her way out of a lipstick tube. Her "autobiography," Ecstasy and Me, indicates an ego the size of Guam but it also reeks of tall-tale ghostwriting more than any star memoir the Siren has ever read (and as we all know, I've read too many). Lamarr later sued the ghostwriter for embellishing the book and was mocked for her pains. People snickered that she hadn't realized it would make her look like a mix of Baby Jane and Messalina and so, they said, Hedy decided to pretend it was all made up. Well, the Siren thinks that if Hedy could invent frequency-hopping (do you understand how that works? because I sure don't) she could read a manuscript and know how it would sound. There probably was some fabricated stuff, maybe even a lot. It was the lurid sex passages that caused a sensation in 1967--"Hollywood is prudish," shrugged David Shipman. And it's the sex scenes that sound a lot more like a male writer's fantasies than a woman's reminiscences. Of far more concern to the Siren was how Lamarr lovingly details her adoption of a son and her fight to keep him after her divorce--then barely mentions him after she has biological children with a second husband.*

Hedy is TCM's star of the month for April and the Siren has made a discovery: one reason for Lamarr's reputation as a dreadful actress is that her most famous films contain her worst performances. Ziegfeld Girl? Judy Garland blows her off the screen; hell, Lana Turner does too. Samson and Delilah? Her midriff does most of the acting. Algiers? She doesn't have that much screen time and what she does have is excruciatingly self-conscious. And then there's White Cargo, probably her second-most-famous role after the Philistine woman. Man, this is a dreadful movie. Just re-viewing the first hour last night put the Siren in such a grumpy frame of mind she didn't have energy to figure out how to record Experiment Perilous. Lamarr sports hideous brown body makeup, although the Production Code's repulsive miscegenation clause meant she's half-breed but not really half-breed and even though they're in Africa she's certainly not THAT kind of African, my goodness no, here's this letter about her parents. Hedy's pidgin syntax, her sarongs, the way she conveys evil intent by narrowing her eyes, seductiveness by parting her lips and tilting her head back--is this where Claudia Cardinale picked up her technique? The only fun parts are the violent tantrums from Walter Pidgeon when one character complains again about how it's "beastly hot." "STOP SAYING THAT!" shrieks Pidgeon. It's like an early colonial version of Office Space.



But Hedy wasn't always terrible. The Siren has seen two movies in which Lamarr's quite fun, although she does benefit from low expectations. In Edgar Ulmer's Strange Woman, a movie she produced herself, she Vivien-Leighs all over the place, adopting every one of that actress's gestures and movements as Scarlett. But Lamarr is still most enjoyable as a Maine belle with an unexplained accent who uses her sexual allure in an unexpectedly explicit manner, including an implied S&M scene that you truly don't want to miss. Plus, you get Ulmer's direction. Who knew Down East was this erotic?

The second movie is Come Live With Me, a romantic comedy that seemed to owe quite a bit to the previous year's Remember the Night, from Paramount, not to mention It Happened One Night. While not nearly as good as either of those two Come Live With Me has its own points, including excellent performances from James Stewart as a frustrated, then lovelorn writer and Ian Hunter and Verree Teasdale as a posh publishing couple with an open marriage. Lamarr's part as a European refugee is potentially unsympathetic. She starts out as a kept woman breaking up a marriage, then proceeds to a green-card marriage with Stewart. But for once her essentially cool persona serves her well, as you don't know precisely how her feelings tend, and the script keeps offering good reasons for her behavior. Stewart also helps, as he was a premiere romantic actor, able to inject tenderness into scenes with even the least promising leading ladies. Here, a year past The Philadelphia Story, he's another average Joe teasing an ice princess down off her mountain top. Lamarr fares less well when he takes her home to the farm--she's walking around all delighted at the decor when you just know she wouldn't have been caught dead in the place. But she regains her footing with the farcical denouement.

The Siren recorded King Vidor's H.M. Pulham, Esq., which Lamarr frequently cited in Ecstasy and Me as the sort of role she wished she'd had more often. After viewing it, if inspired, the Siren will let you know whether Hedy knew what she was talking about, or was exhibiting the critical facilities that made her say sarongs and hip-swinging would make her a "memorable nymphomaniac" in White Cargo.



*Biographer Patrick Agan claims here that her treatment of that son wasn't as bad as it sounds.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, 1923-2008



He isn't often mentioned in the same breath with great male heartthrobs such as Gary Cooper or his contemporaries Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck, but Charlton Heston was one of the most breathtakingly handsome men in the annals of American cinema. To get his first major role in a big-budget movie, all he had to do was walk across the Paramount lot--Cecil B. DeMille spotted him and presto, Heston was the lead in The Greatest Show on Earth. Heston's was a beauty uniquely suited to epics, so striking, symmetrical and sculpted that no matter how wide you made the screen, how much period paraphernalia you hung around the set or how many good-looking extras you had milling around, he held the gaze.

But if general gorgeousness were all it took to make a memorable performance in an epic, Jeffrey Hunter would have hit King of Kings out of the park. Heston could take a character like Judah Ben-Hur, almost literally a plaster saint, and give him life. Not real life, mind you, but if you wanted reality you didn't seek it at a roadshow engagement. What Heston gave his historical characters was the power of his own belief in them, no matter how improbable the setting. His finely detailed memoirs reveal a man who never wanted for self-respect, and it translated into a screen persona that absolutely demanded your credulity. Heston believed he was Moses, El Cid, a heterosexual Michelangelo, believed it with such burning intensity he swept the audience along. You may question the setting, the special effects, the dialogue, the dialect, the leading lady's eyeliner, but never Heston's absolute conviction in his character.

Several Heston performances outshine the movie itself, such as his George "Chinese" Gordon in Khartoum--a shaky accent but an enjoyable performance that got better notices at the time than did costar Laurence Olivier. He's also the Siren's favorite thing in The Big Country, a movie she loves and has seen many times. Heston's character, the unfortunately named Steve Leech, is often described as a heavy but he's no such thing, just a strong silent type eaten up with love for Carroll Baker and determined not to lose her. Heston often had a lack of chemistry with his leading ladies, perhaps because the diva-esque prerogatives of stars like Sophia Loren and Ava Gardner drove the punctual, meticulous Heston round the bend. But in The Big Country his scenes with Baker smolder, and his longing for her is so nakedly sexual and apparent that you sympathize with Leech long before the character starts to do anything sympathetic.

In his science fiction movies, particularly Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, Heston's presence gives the viewer something to hang onto amid the dystopia. The world has gone to hell, we're overrun with ragged, starving masses or damned dirty apes, but you pin your hopes on his sheer Charlton Heston-ness. Those shoulders won't bow down no matter how bad things get.

Heston's best work, however, came in his smaller-scale roles. In Will Penny, he reins in all the bigness and toughness and gives a gentle, nuanced portrayal of a hard-up cowhand, falling slowly and fearfully in love with Joan Hackett. When they finally kiss, the Siren's heart turns over. Heston always cited it as his favorite role.

Give Heston credit for something else: the man knew talent when he saw it, and had the courage to back new or underrated directors, as with Will Penny's Tom Gries. Another instance produced another one of his best films, Major Dundee. It's usually described as an interesting failure but the Siren likes this movie a lot, and likes Heston in it, too. When Sam Peckinpah ran into trouble with Columbia, Heston personally intervened, as David Shipman relates, "even offering to return his salary in an attempt to get things right (the studio, to his chagrin, accepted)." Heston was fine indeed as the Major whose harsh drive remains a mystery, unable to enjoy victory or accept defeat, slogging through fight after brutal, senseless fight.



If Charlton Heston had done nothing more in his professional life than to use his influence with Universal to help get Orson Welles the directing job on Touch of Evil, any cinephile worthy of the name would have reason to remember him fondly. The movie is without a doubt the best that Heston ever made, and the Siren wishes people would lay off his accent in it. No, it doesn't sound authentic , but what is important to the film is the way Heston's Mexican police officer counterbalances Welles' corrupt captain in every way. His character is courageous and virtuous, but Heston also plays Mike Vargas as stiff-necked, pompous and a trifle obtuse, the kind of man who would vibrate with righteous indignation if overcharged for the starch in his shirts. Vargas loves his wife and is fighting the good fight against racism and corruption. Yet Heston's performance, with its hint of priggishness, gives us room to see Hank Quinlan as human, with a touch of evil that makes him ultimately more sympathetic.

This week will undoubtedly witness a great deal of back and forth and back again about Heston's politics, given that most people last saw him not in character but at the podium of NRA rallies. But during his career Heston was an actor who approached each role with deep seriousness, repeatedly returning to the stage in between films until the lines would no longer stay in his memory. As the right- and left-wing comments sections runneth over, the Siren recuses herself. Whether you find his late-period activism admirable or appalling, what does it matter what you say about people? He was some kind of a man, but it's the work that endures.

(Cross-posted at Newcritics.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Three Strangers (1946)


There's a sparkling discussion of the very notion of auteurism going on at Girish's place, the Internet coffee house for some of the best cinephile minds around. The Siren has been lurking, reluctant to weigh in since her feelings about auteurism tend to waffle. In a sense the driving creative force behind old Hollywood classics was the studio system itself, the way it could gather together an extraordinary amount of talent in all aspects of production. On the other hand, when discussing the career of someone like Lubitsch or Lang (to name two particular Siren favorites) it would be absurd not to acknowledge the common themes and personal vision behind each movie. Midst all the to-and-fro, the Siren is partial to Girish's conclusion: "Auteurism is not an account of how films are made. It is instead one among many ways we, as viewers, choose to read a film. In other words, it is one particular lens through which films can be viewed: by foregrounding the 'marks' of expression belonging to one person, the auteur, most frequently the director."

Is auteurism useful, then, for discussing Jean Negulesco? After watching two excellent films in a row, the Siren says yes. She once described him as a guilty pleasure, but no more. The more she sees of Negulesco's movies, the more the Siren thinks she should trust her taste on this one.

David Thomson says Jean Negulesco "bloomed in that Indian summer" of Warner Brothers' 1940s style. Thomson describes that style deliciously, as it was epitomized by Casablanca: "narrative pace and density--an old hallmark of the gangster pictures--low-key black-and-white photography, and the glamour of cynical worldly people exchanging off-hand, knowing dialogue." Thomson cites The Mask of Dimitrios and Three Strangers, both of which the Siren saw recently, as exemplifying Negulesco's "entrancing, velvety quality of a dream world brought to life." But Thomson's final, withering line on the director's later work was that he "illustrates the power of the studios over a minor talent." Andrew Sarris went further: "Everything after Cinemascope is completely worthless." Well, the Siren happens to like Negulesco's Cinemascope movies and regrets having long thought of them as eye candy, despite her unabashed love for his "three girls" cycle. That's for another day, when Three Coins in the Fountain sifts to the top of the Netflix queue.

Three Strangers (1946) (one girl and two men this time) screened one morning last month on TCM. (It's unavailable on DVD at the moment, but TCM shows it from time to time. You can watch almost all the movie in pieces on Youtube, but the online format does an already murky print no favors.) Three Strangers--screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch, cinematography by Arthur Edeson--was a delight. It's suspenseful, well-acted and has a great deal of subtle depth. Plus it starred the greatest screen team of the 1940s, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet.

This clip, which begins just after the credits, shows how the Siren got hooked.


video

So here we have Fitzgerald (John Huston's original choice for Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon) picking up a strange man on a street and bringing him back to her apartment, in a case of apparent streetwalking that's quite amazingly blatant for the period. The Siren loves how Negulesco shows you only Fitzgerald's face and none of her marks, as she's searching, searching, until the moment when she turns on the full come-hither. Even then, you don't get to see the mark's initial reaction, you just get her continuing to walk, confident of being followed, and then the man's face when he turns.

And you see, good grief, it's Sydney Greenstreet, far from the first man the Siren would pull off the sidewalk, despite her love for his acting. You realize he doesn't make a habit of this sort of thing when he starts to introduce himself, but you also know what the character wanted (if there was any doubt) when they reach Fitzgerald's flat. A very drunk Peter Lorre pops up from the sofa, and Greenstreet starts to leave in a huff. A threesome? No thank you.

A moody, atmospheric sequence that's still prurient as all hell. Isn't that what we all want in a noir?

Fitzgerald has pulled the two men off the street to fulfill a legend about the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin, whose statue has a place of honor in the apartment. Kwan Yin will grant a wish on Chinese New Year, but it must be the wish of three strangers, and it must be the same wish. In the very practical way common to Negulesco, money is immediately chosen as the one life-improving thing they all could wish for.

Lorre produces a sweepstakes ticket, bought with his last few pennies because the girl selling it was cute. The three strangers attach their wish to the ticket, and agree to put the money on a horse. Fitzgerald wants money to lure back her husband, Greenstreet wants money to become a judge. Lorre, the black sheep of a good family, has slid to the very bottom of the social heap and just wants survival and a better class of liquor.

The plot is intricate and has surprises from the beginning, so the Siren won't summarize any more than that. None of the three strangers are precisely what they seem to be at the outset--fakery as a means of social-climbing is a recurring aspect of Negulesco movies as well. Lorre's character was originally to be played by (get this) Humphrey Bogart, but Negulesco cast him in the belief that the actor could do anything. All three actors are indeed excellent, but for the Siren, Greenstreet gives the truly outstanding performance.

The Siren remarked recently that Lorre and Greenstreet usually played like a couple (see Dan Callahan's piece on Lorre for a wickedly funny take on The Maltese Falcon). Here, however, we get a subplot that deals with an associate of Lorre's character, a thief called Gabby who's in love with Lorre. It was startling to see this played as forthrightly as the Production Code could allow--it is all in actor Peter Whitney's reaction shots, and played to the poignant hilt. Gabby's last scene is as four-hanky as anything Negulesco ever filmed.

(Above, Negulesco with John Garfield and Joan Crawford during the filming of Humoresque.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jules Dassin, 1911-2008



The Siren has a friend who is a film editor, and over the years this gentleman has corrected her more than once when she pronounced Dassin "Das-SAHN," in the French way. "He's American," the editor would say. "Don't forget." Dassin would have approved. "I'm American, and that I will stay," he said, in this excellent interview over at the WGA site.

The Siren has been thinking about her editor friend's reminder this morning. Because along with the Sunrise jokester from the Oscars, here's another writer the Siren would like to nominate for permanent hiatus: whoever wrote Jules Dassin's obituary for the Associated Press.

Dassin, a leftist activist whose more than 20 films also included "Topkapi," abandoned Hollywood in 1950 during the Communist blacklisting era.

[snip]

Dassin, who was active in leftist political causes, was denounced by Hollywood contemporaries as being a Communist enough to be placed on the era's infamous blacklists.

He moved to London in 1950 to shoot his next film, "Night and the City." Dassin then lived in Italy and France before returning to the cinema with "Rififi."


Did you get the part where he was a leftist? Are you sure? Should we mention it again? Lefty-left-left-leftist, got that? How about the fact that Dassin left the Communist party in 1939? Oops, no space for that. He moved to London to do Night and the City, who knows why. Then Dassin "abandoned" the U.S. after being denounced by vaguely plural "contemporaries" and put on the blacklist. They wouldn't let on just anybody, you know, you had to be "Communist enough." Then Dassin lived in Italy and France and after soaking up the Euroscene he returned with Rififi.

That's what these leftists do, you know. Just up and leave us with nary a backward glance:

He could not find work in Europe for five years, as producers felt American distributors would automatically ban any film with his signature. When Rififi opened, critics wrote about Dassin as if he were European. The New York Herald Tribune reported in 1961, 'At one ceremony, when the award to Rififi was announced, [Dassin] was called to the dais, and a French flag was raised above him: "It should have been a moment of triumph but I felt awful. They were honoring my work and I'm an American. It should have been the American flag raised in honor."'


The Siren knows she sounds grumpy. Well, it's bad enough to lose Richard Widmark and Abby Mann in the same week. It is worse to hear that an American director of exceptional talent, the maker of at least three excellent movies (Brute Force, The Naked City and Thieves' Highway) and two great ones (Night and the City, Rififi) has died at the ripe old age of 96, and then see that the obituary flashing across the newswires is a slanted piece of crap.

It's been sixty years, people. You can stop pretending that protecting us all from Jules Dassin movies was essential for national security.

All right, the Siren feels better now. Surely the day will bring good posts from good bloggers to wash the taste of the AP out of her mouth. The Siren has spent a lot of time reading farewells to the great Richard Widmark. Meanwhile there's the WGA interview. And, there is always Youtube.

P.S. Speaking of Richard Widmark--please check out this post over at Scanners, where Jim Emerson meticulously reconstructs the oft-retold Andrei Tarkovsky incident at Telluride. Glenn Kenny, meanwhile, pays his respects to Dassin's "inspired" run from Brute Force to Rififi. And Steve-O at Film Noir of the Week pays tribute by analyzing the pitch-dark Brute Force.