Criterion Sunday 523: Night Train to Munich (1940)

This British film, made near the outset of World War II, certainly seems to aspire to that Lubitsch touch, and if it doesn’t quite succeed it still has a daffy charm. After all, I can’t fully take against any film that treats Nazis as quite this contemptible and foolish (there’s even a lovely moment where a guard has been gagged with a copy of Mein Kampf, a neat visual metaphor of sorts), even if apparently Rex Harrison did enjoy wearing the uniform a little bit too much. He has a dashing presence that makes up for Margaret Lockwood, who has that prim quality so beloved of wartime films, and the cast is rounded out by some fine turns, including a reappearance for the cricket-loving fuddy-duddies first seen in The Lady Vanishes (penned by the same writers). It’s very English in that way of the period, but ultimately its heart is in the right place and so it’s a fun ride.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Carol Reed; Writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (based on the short story “Report on a Fugitive” by Gordon Wellesley); Cinematographer Otto Kanturek; Starring Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison, Paul Henreid [as “Paul von Hernreid”]; Length 95 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Saturday 9 April 2022.

Criterion Sunday 357: The Fallen Idol (1948)

I mean, yes, the child in this film is annoying, but he’s a child, and it’s his point-of-view, however flawed and naive, that the film is built around. He is Philippe (Bobby Henrey), the son of an ambassador in London’s posh but boring Belgravia (there’s even a scene in the Star Tavern, making me already miss the place) whose parents are off away, so he’s in the care of the butler Baines (Ralph Richardson) and Mrs Baines (Sonia Dresdel), the latter of whom is best understood as a woman wronged, though she is a little bit one note. Which is to say that in his childish enthusiasm for the people around him, he happens onto some secrets and lies, and the rest of the film is about the way in which he tries to keep everything together, or at least the way that he thinks he does, while focusing on creating untruths that help precisely nobody in particular. It’s a film, then, about the corrupting influence of the adult world, with its tawdry affairs and its banal gossip alongside its grandiloquent storytelling (cue a bit of racist imperialism as Baines recounts his imagined stories of Africa). It all looks great, a bit noirish with the black-and-white and the shadows, with Richardson playing a fundamentally good man but whose face suggests a hint of threat at times, and if it feels in service of a moral lesson, it’s at least not hammered home too much.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Carol Reed; Writers William Templeton, Lesley Storm and Graham Greene (based on Greene’s short story “The Basement Room”); Cinematographer George Périnal; Starring Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel, Jack Hawkins; Length 96 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 27 September 2020.

Criterion Sunday 64: The Third Man (1949)

There’s a certain kind of ‘cinema of quality’ prestige big budget production, especially from the UK, that I am somewhat allergic towards, and for many years I’d lumped The Third Man in with that. However, rewatching it again recently I realise the problem is with me when it comes to this film, because it’s not only glorious — and it truly is spectacular, even if just for the depth of its shadows and the luminosity of the light in those sewer sequences, though it’s sustained throughout by canted framings and canny compositions — but it’s also rather less triumphalist and morally clear-cut than you might expect from its American-in-Europe plotline. The film’s world is one of moral grey areas, a position staked out by the Harry Lime character (Orson Welles, in what amounts to a brief but memorable cameo), and constantly questioned by its pulp novelist protagonist Holly (Joseph Cotten). He has come from the US to Vienna just after the end of World War II looking for a job with his friend Harry, only to find himself at Harry’s funeral wondering what happened. No one has a clear story, and the details seem to be being hidden by the various forces — the city is split between four occupying armies, with their own respective languages — as well as various shadowy characters who interact with them at an official or semi-official level. It’s a film about profiteering, which makes clear the moral equivalency between wartime acts and those same acts outside wartime. It also features some excellent performances by Cotten as well as Alida Valli as Lime’s girlfriend Anna, but primarily it’s a triumph of writing and direction, whatever snobby canards towards Carol Reed’s “non-auteur” status the critics might throw.

Criterion Extras: A packed reissue includes an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, retailing the Reed-as-non-auteur line pretty hard.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Carol Reed; Writer Graham Greene; Cinematographer Robert Krasker; Starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli [as “Valli”], Trevor Howard, Orson Welles; Length 104 minutes.

Seen at Paramount, Wellington, Saturday 2 May 1998 (and most recently on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Sunday 29 November 2015).