Striking-looking square, b/w western with loads of great close-ups. Gary Cooper plays a cop on his last day on the job before retirement… and just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in! Years earlier the town had come together to defeat an outlaw and his gang – today, the gang returns, rides through town to meet the outlaw, who has been released from jail and is obviously aiming for revenge. But now that the town has been peaceful for a while, nobody feels compelled to fight. Anyone with a personal stake in the matter (sentencing judge Otto Kruger and love interest/hotelier Katy Jurado) skips town and everyone else backs down from helping Gary, leaving him to face the killers alone. Actually, Gary’s anti-violence quaker wife Grace Kelly (married to him earlier that day) helps out. Gary and Grace finish off the bastards then drive away from the ungrateful town.

IMDB: “This film was intended as an allegory .. for the failure of Hollywood people to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.”

A character named Sam Fuller who’s a huge coward, has his wife pretend he’s not home when the sheriff comes to the door. Wonder how the real Fuller felt about this. The only interview I can find where he mentions the film, he just complains about the ending, “where the heavy grabs the girl and holds her in front of him, putting the hero in a hell of an embarrassing situation. Always, at the last minute, she pushes him away, and the hero kills him. I don’t like that in any Western. It doesn’t make sense.” Fuller would correct this ending in his Forty Guns a few years later, where given the same situation the hero shoots the girl.

Written by Carl Foreman, blacklisted by the time the movie came out. Being one of the most beloved westerns, it earned a 2000 Tom Skerritt/Michael Madsen remake and a couple of 1980 TV sequels with Henry Fonda and David Carradine. Gary Cooper won an oscar, lost best picture to The Greatest Show On Earth and director to John Ford. The movie has a nice opening credits theme song, but it didn’t keep “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” from remaining stuck in my head.

“Filmstudio 1929 presents its first experiment: People On Sunday, a film without actors.”

Like Natalie Portman in Garden State, I like to do things nobody else has ever done before, hence I watched the German silent film People On Sunday on my laptop whilst listening to John Zorn’s manic, screechy, pounding “Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman.” Once my Portmanic originality had been established, I switched to Zorn’s more pleasing “Filmworks Anthology” disc.

Things the movie proved to me:
– All germans eat are sausages, and all they drink is beer.
– In the 1920’s/30’s, young men held spanking parties.

The movie suffered from the fact that I’d just watched Lonesome, a much more exciting movie from the same era with the same working-people-on-vacation vibe. This one has less urgency and romanticism, just taking it easy on a lazy Sunday, some friends out for a picnic and paddleboat ride, trying to score with women in the park. My favorite plot point was the girl from the original group who never makes it to the park, stays in bed and sleeps through the whole movie.

Nicely-shot and well-paced, a fine way to spend 80 minutes. It’d probably be a forgotten footnote if not for the amazing combination of soon-to-be-famous filmmakers who worked on it – co-directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, cowritten with Billy Wilder, shot by Eugen Sch├╝fftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows), all just starting out in the movies. An IMDB commenter: “Within a few years most of these people were in Hollywood, and Hitler had destroyed both the wonderful film industry they had helped build and the joyous Berlin that this film depicts . . . the film allows us a glimpse of Berlin between the wars and it is sad to watch it with the knowledge of what was soon to be.”

N. Isenberg:

Shot in Berlin on the eve of the Great Depression with almost no budget, an equally modest cast of amateur actors, a relatively untested, unknown crew, and no major studio backing . . . a remarkably straightforward depiction, by turns affectionate and comical, of courting rituals, leisure activity, and mass entertainment circa 1930

In the first act the sleepy model and her man tear up each other’s movie star pictures – recognized Greta Garbo and Harold Lloyd:

Stylishly scrawled end titles: “4 million people waiting for next sunday,” one word at a time.

Some fun editing, including one weird bit with rapid cutting between a man in the park and various statues. Lots of close-ups and few intertitles. A different kind of movie, free-spirited and outdoorsy, can see why they labeled it an experiment.

Sweet record advertisement (from the same songwriter as “Jollity Farm”):

Watched one of the most romantic films of all time, recommended by TCM Essentials, on valentine’s day, only to find it neither romantic nor essential. In fact, I didn’t like it much at all, and am dismayed that Zinnemann won a directing oscar over Wilder, Wyler and Stevens. Adapted from an extremely popular, gritty and pessimistic James Jones novel (I found his Thin Red Line tedious and overlong), the adaptation is from a weird time in film history when movies wanted to be gritty and pessimistic themselves but weren’t allowed to by the censors. So the message is muddled, beloved characters from the book brought to life only to behave against their nature, which may explain why I got so little out of it.

But it doesn’t explain the lack of romance, and here I’m not blaming the film but its reputation. One shot of Lancaster and Kerr clinching on the beach as a wave hits has become shorthand for eroticism in pre-60’s cinema – but it’s a shot, not a scene. Immediately after that shot, they stand up and bicker. Kerr hates her husband, is cheating with Burt, who leaves her because he’s “married to the army,” while a drunken Monty Clift falls for prostitute Donna Reed (that’s from the book – in the film she’s a chaste hostess paid to smile politely, talking and dancing with soldiers, a career I’m not convinced has ever existed) then dies stupidly, so after the harbor is bombed Reed sails home alone and Kerr stays with her now-disgraced husband whom she still hates. Some great romance.

The dialogue was generally unmemorable, the cinematography nothing special and the editing sometimes distracting. The actors all seemed decent, not award-winningly spectacular. Clift was more energized than his surroundings, an early Method proponent who’d get drunk to play drunk (then again, I hear he also got drunk to play sober). And I wouldn’t be such a valentine humbug, attacking every facet of the movie, if Katy had at least enjoyed it, which she did not.

Some CAST:
Lancaster: a few years before Sweet Smell of Success
First movie I’ve seen with Monty Clift: he did Hitchcock’s I Confess the same year.
Deborah Kerr: six years after Black Narcissus and looking quite different, almost anonymous without the nun’s habit
Donna Reed: the year after Scandal Sheet
Earliest movie I’ve seen with Frank Sinatra, who was wiry and good in this
Philip Ober acted with Burt again in Elmer Gantry
early film for Ernest Borgnine, who played another bad guy in Johnny Guitar the next year.

Remade as a massive miniseries in 1979 with Kim Basinger as Reed, Natalie Wood as Kerr, William “Who?” Devane as Lancaster, and Peter Boyle (the monster in Young Frankenstein) in the Borgnine role.