Let it be known, for future historians, that this was my final film watched in the year 2020, and L’Ange was the first to be viewed completely in 2021, though some slow-burn TV series and a certain miniseries-movie-object might span across the years.

Groucho runs a hotel in Florida, and the opening song tells us Florida is a paradise, so the movie is already suspect. The musical numbers are far between and absolutely unmemorable – this early-sound movie has enough trouble keeping up with its own dialog scenes. It puts a lot of effort into the central romantic drama, wasting 20 long minutes before Chico and Harpo finally show up, priorities all outta whack. Then most of the remaining minutes are wasted too, but the movie does give us Chico’s immortal lines: “Right now I’d do anything for money. I’d kill someone for it. I’d kill you for money. No, you’re my friend, I kill you for nothing.”

Shot on zero mm film through a camera obscura. Irving Berlin’s “Monkey Doodle Doo” is maybe no “White Christmas,” but it’s catchy. I guess Mary Eaton wants to marry hotel clerk Oscar Shaw, but her mom (the great Margaret Dumont) prefers mustache man Cyril Ring until she finds out he’s a jewel thief (working with Kay Francis, future jewel thief of Trouble in Paradise). IMDB says Zeppo played “Jamison,” I don’t think he was even in the movie.

L-R: Kay, Cyril, Oscar, Mary (not pictured: Zeppo)

Three women are into one guy – I’m not sure if he loves and leaves each one of them in series, or if he flits between each in his suicidally fast car. Pearl is a rich socialite, Athalia a rich artist, and Lucie an ordinary city girl, and he affects different personas around each: a strong tyrant type, a weaker type, and a caring type – until his reckless driving finally catches up with him.

Our dude, carefree:

I’d forgotten most of the plot by the next day, rewatching scenes now to remind myself, was just paying attention to style – Epstein bringing his great flair for composition and editing and overlapping images to the kind of melodrama he was making earlier in the decade. It feels like he wanted the climactic speed-and-death montage to go on forever.

Athalia worrying aloud to a friend:

Based on a novel by white supremacist Paul Morand, who also adapted Don Quixote for GW Pabst… Lucie appeared in Renoir’s The Sad Sack, and our main dude starred in a possibly-lost 30’s version of Judex.

The 2020 post-election ceremonial final SHOCKtober movie of this extended season. Convoluted murder-mystery involving a pianist getting a hand transplant then being set up by a con man to believe his new hands are committing murders.

The movie is mostly Conrad Veidt (halfway between Somnambulist and Laughing Man) or his wife (Alexandra Sorina, also of Veidt’s Rasputin movie) standing very still, paralyzed with wide-eyed terror.

Fat-faced Fritz Kortner (Berlin Express, Pandora’s Box) is the con man. Veidt’s doomed father is Fritz Strassny, villain of The Man Who Laughs – but the 1921 version, of which Veidt’s was a remake. I must now see the Peter Lorre remake Mad Love.

Kortner, trapped:

Some good German words in the intertitles… making rubber gloves with the dead man’s fingerprints involves Gummihandschuhe mit den Fingerabdrücken.

Opens in flashback with our laughing boy’s rebel father being executed by the king, with the weirdly powerful court jester Barkilphedro (literary-horror regular Brandon Hurst) in attendance. The kid’s face was carved by the “Comprachico” clan headed by Dr. Hardquanonne (George Siegmann of the 1921 Three Musketeers, dead of anemia before this movie’s release). As they’re sailing away, banned from England for various crimes and/or xenophobia, the boy runs off, rescues a blind infant from the arms of her frozen mother, and stumbles into door of Ursus The Philosopher (Cesare Gravina, would appear in The Wedding March the same year and retire a few months later).

Years later, he is Laughing Man Conrad Veidt (practically a silent horror superstar, having starred in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac), on sideshow tours with the beautiful blind Dea (Phantom of the Opera star Mary Philbin) and their father-figure Ursus (this must’ve proven more lucrative than philosophy). But when they run into Hardquanonne, he uses the laughing man’s existence to blackmail a duchess who lives on the land that Conrad rightfully owns. I would’ve thought if you’re a rebel who is personally murdered by the king, your property is forfeited, but I guess not!

The plot gets silly here – Conrad gets an invitation from hot young party girl Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova, wicked star of Freaks), hopes she’ll be in love with him, because that would prove he’s worthy to marry his true love Dea, but as Josiana gets him alone, she receives a note from the queen saying she must marry the Laughing Man in order to keep her land and title, and Josiana reacts by laughing hysterically then hugging her monkey. Conrad is arrested, then instated in the House of Lords the next day – meanwhile his circus family is banished. I can’t tell if the royals are toying with Conrad or if they’re just dense, because everyone throws a fit that he won’t stop smiling, so he flees the castle and makes it to the boat to join Dea and Ursus.

Based on a Victor Hugo novel, remade by Sergio Corbucci in the 1960’s, and again this decade with Depardieu as Ursus. Leni was apparently a talent, followed this with The Last Warning then died of an infected tooth. Conrad, who spoke no english at the time of filming, is terrific. Watched in the dying days of SHOCKtober in honor of this year’s Golden Lion winner at Venice.

Barmaid Marie (Gina Manès, Josephine in Abel Gance’s Napoleon) is in love with waterfront man Jean (Léon Mathot, who became a director in the sound era) with good hair, but her parents have promised her to slimeball Small Paul (Edmond Van Daële, also of Napoleon, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room), a drunk who will destroy the lives of everyone he meets. The would-be couple’s only mode is wistful, staring blankly into the distance – seemingly content in their brief moments together before her foster parents marry her off to Small Paul, who gives her a sick baby and a life of impoverished misery until Jean, back from a year or two in prison for injuring a cop, starts hanging around again. He takes no action as usual, and they enjoy sitting silently near each other again, until Paul finds out, comes home and gets himself shot by bitter crippled neighbor Marie Epstein (the director’s sister and cowriter).

Only Epstein’s third feature – he gets away with some crazy (for 1923) techniques because the bulk of the movie is such straight melodrama. I’d been meaning to catch up with more Epstein after House of Usher a few years ago, and luckily, the Alloy Orchestra was touring with this one. It’s some of their finest work, if not Epstein’s (it’s good enough, but come on, Finis Terrae).

“Is he invisible,” Richard asked as Jean kept creeping unnoticed into small rooms:

A few of the most beautiful shadow-moments and one of the greatest monsters in all silent cinema hung around a flabby retelling of Dracula – it’s maybe my fifth-favorite Murnau film, but I was happy to watch it on the big screen with an excellent, tightly synchronized live band, Invincible Czars.

Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.

A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.

The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.

It turns out that it wasn’t watching the movie The Lost City of Z that satisfied me, so much as the quest to watch the movie The Lost City of Z, the confident hope that The Lost City of Z would be a great movie, based on the reviews of my James Gray-obsessed film critics. The movie itself – it’s okay, a quest picture where a determined Charlie Hunnam neglects his family to search repeatedly for Z, stopping only for WWI and to raise funds to return to his quest, eventually aging to the point where his oldest son can join him – then they both disappear forever, having either found their destination or been murdered by cannibals.

D. Kasman:

Fawcett … insists that this city, which he dubs “Zed,” not only exists, but that it represents a corrective to the very society whose recognition and acclaim he had once so passionately sought … Because Gray shows only the barest traces of what his protagonist discovers in the jungle, one is unable to precisely define how Z comes to assume such majestic proportions in Fawcett’s mind. Originating as a self-interested means to escape from the restrictive prejudices of English society, his search for Z increasingly comes to seem like a quixotic attempt to discover a greater, purer form of human dignity…

Rob Pattinson is very good as Hunnam’s loyal co-adventurer, Angus Macfadyen is irritating as an awful man who joins one mission then quits and sues, and barely in the movie are Hunnam wife Sienna Miller (upper-floor temptress of High-Rise) and son Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man). The forest and the river and the light are all lovely, and I loved a match-cut from colored liquid seeping in a line to a train moving in the same direction… and the final shot of Miller leaving the National Geographic Society having received mixed news about her lost husband and walking out into the jungle.

Gray: “How do you take the classical form and do something with it? The last twenty minutes, something starts to break down in the film.”

N. Bahadur:

Where Lost City of Z becomes truly special for me … is within its final thirty minutes, where he starts to free himself from narratological function and let his formal syntax do the work – it’s a big step for him I think, because I believe it allows him to drive even closer to something idiosyncratic and distinctive – for most of the runtime it is a decent film, with some ok ideas, just like any other film… but suddenly, if just for a few minutes, we enter the realm of a visionary.

Already one of my favorite movies from having seen it on TCM a couple times in the 1990’s, but watching in a theater (from DVD, tho) with live music (stayed atmospheric for the most part, with even the opera singer keeping to tones and drones) was sensational.

Dreyer:

I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life … Rudolf Maté, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism. But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call “the martyr’s reincarnation.”