Jiri Menzel had just died, but instead of one of his movies on a Monday night I chose his countryman. I’ve seen some career-bookend works by Zeman, his early Prokouk shorts and late feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but not the heyday works, and this was spectacular. Real people against illustrated backgrounds, the Sin City of its time. Every kind of animation and visual trick seamlessly integrated, the thin striped pattern from the book illustrations appearing everywhere, overall amazing visual design… and to think his Baron Munchausen is supposed to be even better and I’ve been meaning to rent it for twenty years.

Our Narrator is assisting a scientist when the two are kidnapped (along with a pretty lady, of course) by pirates and taken to an evil mastermind inside a volcano who gets the scientist to help him unlock the secrets of the atom and conquer the world. The narrator is alarmed by all this but the scientist is happily distracted with a new lab and new problems to solve, until the very end, when he realizes what he’s doing and nukes the volcano. In the meantime we get submarines, a fighting octopus, parrots and fishes, of course a balloon or two, and a fantasy tour through all the inventions of the era, real and imagined (camels on rollerskates!), an alternate vision of what Tesla could’ve been.

Still filling in the gaps in my Buñuel viewing. A big year, with four of his movies released, and this was… certainly one of them. A couple of streetcar guys rescue a malfunctioning car but find out it’s still destined to be scrapped, so they get wasted and take it out on the town one last time, picking up passengers along the route.

Lupita, her brother Tarrajas, and Curls:

Everyone hashes out their societal problems on the bus – there’s a drunken lecture about how inflation causes poverty, and choice quotes like “too much of anything is detrimental – even efficiency.” It’s a madcap stolen-train adventure as an excuse for social commentary.

Fernando Soto (Curls) appeared in Gran Hotel (not Gran Casino), Carlos Navarro in Irving Rapper’s The Brave One, Lilia Prado in Buñuel’s Wuthering Heights. The retired company man who turns them in even though they saved his life (but the company doesn’t care) is Agustín Isunza, whose final film was Alucarda.

First movie watched on the New TV, and first time I’ve seen this in hi-def. The creature/typewriter effects hold up, as does the circular story blending the Burroughs stories with his own strange life, and the acting by Peter Weller and Judy Davis (same year as Barton Fink, wow).

“Rewriting is censorship.” Exterminator Bill is in trouble at work because his wife is shooting up his bug powder (“It’s a Kafka high; you feel like a bug”). “I am your case officer,” says the anus of the bug the cops leave him with, “Your wife is not really your wife.” After Bill catches writer Hank on top of his not-wife Joan, they do the ol’ William Tell act, then the bigger bug at the bar gives him a ticket to Interzone and says he’s to write a report.

Sands, Kiki, Eclectus:

Hitlery Hans (Cronenberg regular Robert Silverman) introduces him to Kiki, who introduces him to another Joan’s husband, typewriter aficionado Ian Holm (I forget how Julian Sands fits in, but he’s there, in a white suit of course). Sinister doctor Roy Scheider reappears as a lesbian mind-control druglord at the end, and the whole thing combines sex, drugs, death, literature and insects in ways that nothing else ever has.

Oops I’d been trying to avoid police brutality movies, then put this on without knowing what it’s about. Got what I deserved with the icky ending, a beaten wife pledging to wait for her new man, a crooked violent cop heading to jail for killing a man and framing her dad.

Cool trick shot, the two cops are the same guy:

Dana “Night of the Demon” Andrews is bad cop Dixon, busted down a rank by bignose lieutenant Karl Malden, determined to prove himself by busting chill sniffy gambler Gary Merrill (All About Eve the same year). While shaking down one of Gary’s players for info, Dana knocks the guy’s block off then spends the rest of the movie covering up his crime. Besides the trick shot above (seriously, I was glad for once that the characters begin every other line by saying each other’s name, since they all kinda look the same) there’s a neat bit where time passes via light-play on a miniature(?) of the city. The Girl is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir star Gene Tierney, separated wife of the newly-dead guy, who falls for her husband’s killer even as her sweetie dad Tom Tully is being held for the murder.

Totally Sci-Fi Adventures of the Moonrise Kingdom Kids. Refreshingly different little movie – okay, the showy long takes aren’t so different anymore, but twenty minutes in I was thinking “this isn’t how an indie film is supposed to be made,” and it ends up stealing as much from Pontypool as Super 8.

Everett is obsessed with a pulsing sound that interrupts his broadcast, investigates with help of Faye on the phones. They interview some locals, build up a Soviet conspiracy, finally put the pieces together in time to get abducted by aliens.

Having the film title appear in a 1950’s TV is cute, but using the same TV effect for scene transitions is maybe too cute – although the lead guy is a radio broadcaster, the lead girl has a shift as a phone operator, so it fits with the communication media theme. Really good string music. Star Sierra McCormick was in last year’s VFW, and Jake Horowitz in Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (and they’re remaking Castle Freak?).

Bogart is given the porn-star name Dix Steele, a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who happens to be the last guy to see murdered coat-check girl Martha Stewart (not the rich felon, the actress from Daisy Kenyon) – other than the murderer, of course, which the cops suspect Dix of being, since he gets so fired up about the details of the case.

Dix’s alibi is neighbor Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat). She’s hiding out from her violent ex, and as the pressure mounts, with the murder suspicion and Dix’s new screenplay and his general manic-depression, ex-soldier Dix begins to act paranoid and violent as well. He turns on Gloria at the end, and she leaves him for good. Between this and Bigger Than Life, Ray seems very good at portraying men with manias.

Art and Gloria:

Bogie’s old war buddy Brub (Frank Lovejoy, useless cop in House of Wax) is police, walks the line between friendship and suspicion (as does Gloria). He works for Captain Carl Reid (of the same year’s Fuller Brush Girl – a profession mentioned by Grahame in this movie), who has it in for Dix until the dead girl’s mustachey boyfriend confesses to the crime. Art Smith (of Ride The Pink Horse from the same novelist) is Dix’s agent, at least until he casually fires Dix for slapping him. And speaking of the source novel, it’s fun that this film, reportedly a very loose adaptation of the book, is about a screenwriter writing a very loose adaptation of a book. Also good: the coat-check girl in this black and white movie telling Dix “I do hope it’s gonna be in technicolor.”

Brub and his wife Jeff, re-enacting the murder:

The earliest Ray picture I’ve seen, unless you count my notes saying I watched They Live By Night a couple decades ago on TCM, which I do not recall. Good, dark movie, but most importantly it seems to be the inspiration for lyrics from the Versus song “Morning Glory.”

One more Criterion musical watched after last month‘s spree, and this one has the most interesting story. Envisioned as an On The Town sequel with Gene Kelly, but Sinatra and Munshin got replaced by Michael Kidd (choreographer of Seven Brides) as a short burger chef and Dan Dailey (Ethel Merman’s partner in There’s No Business) as a tall corporate sadsack. The three play war buddies who promise to reunite after ten years, and they come through but don’t like each other/themselves much anymore. Through Dan’s advertising job their story catches the attention of Cyd Charisse (her boxing-ring song is the best scene), who tricks them into appearing on live TV with overbearing host Dolores Gray (Kismet the same year). The show coincides with boxing promoter Gene Kelly’s ambush by some gangsters angry that he has messed up their fixed fights, the cameras catch the ensuing brawl and confession, and the guys realize that they still like each other/themselves as long as violence is involved. A drunken dance with trashcan-lid shoes goes on for hours, and Kelly shows up Melvin with a roller skate dance where you can tell the skates aren’t locked.

The opening abduction scene will make more sense eventually, and even then, it wasn’t until I started playing the commentary that I could say with any confidence what’s happening in the open. The household scene that follows quickly reminded that we’re in the hands of the Hard to be a God director – full of movement and talking, bustling activity in every corner of long roving camera takes.

Yuri is a military doctor in 1953, bald with a mustache, an important man who will be brought low by forces that we twenty-first-century non-Soviets can hardly fathom without audio explanation. It’s sure entertaining though, and practically as foul and brutish as God. Sound effects are good – dubbing is bad, but I’m constantly checking subtitles since the movie never shuts up for a second, so we’ll call it even.

Birdie!

Learned from the commentary: the movie is in two parts since they could get double budget if it was submitted as two films. One character with a cane umbrella would be seen as a hilarious foreigner by Russian audiences since he wears galoshes. There are major literature and poetry references throughout (I caught Viy and Sadko). German didn’t look through the camera viewfinder or select lenses, considered cinematographer Vladimir Ilin a co-author of the film, “the lighting cameraman has to be an artist too.”

The doctor gets home, but his son in voiceover says he never saw his father again… there was a double in the film, being trained what to say in case he was captured, and other doubles and siblings, so maybe I got some characters confused, and I only played the first hour of the commentary. It involves antisemitism, the death of Stalin, and a scandal called The Doctor’s Plot, which refuses to make sense no matter how much I read about it. To be clear though, the movie’s power comes through fine even not knowing what’s happening – in fact, I wonder if it’s the whole point not to know. “Poetry floats up in my memory like sailboats in the fog, along with salami.” The doctor ends up on a train, tormenting the abducted man from the opening scene, and looking intense:

German:

Another part of the population was starving in the gulag, but we ignored that reality; we only knew ours, and I can assure you that from that point of view, living in a totalitarian regime isn’t all bad. People who don’t want to know lead an adorable life. That’s why even today a lot of people in our country yearn for totalitarianism.

The MGM musicals on Criterion Channel are starting to blur together – musically, at least. This one has a memorable plot: a Broadway star walks out, and auditions narrow down her replacement to three girls, each the favorite of one of the casting men.

Producer Larry Keating talks show director Gower Champion into auditioning his former partner Marge Champion (the Champions had remade Ginger & Fred’s Roberta the year before) – she’s a established star and right for the role, but they’re both uneasy about it. Composer Kurt Kasznar (Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate) is hot for the extremely flexible Helen Wood (a future porn actress). Kurt is mostly terrible but surprisingly competent as a dance partner.

For some reason, these three give the time of day to the coffee boy (Bob Fosse!), who falls for Debbie Reynolds. I mean you can’t expect a girl to be excellent at everything, so the better the dancer, the worse the actress. Debbie Reynolds does tap, and is somehow in competition with super-flex girl and established star – but she’s Debbie freakin’ Reynolds so we’re rooting for her.

The dance sequences are fun – conveyor belts, dream sequences, a dance mostly in reverse featuring balloons unpopping. The poor composer does not get his girl, since she turns out to be married and pregnant, and the Champions decide to reunite romantically instead of working together, so Debbie’s dream comes true (plus she gets to date a coffee boy, but Fosse is cute and enthusiastic). From the screenwriting couple behind The Pirate, and IMDB says both movies bombed. Our seventh Stanley Donen movie!