Bloggers, reviewers and other online writers about movies were on a roll in February, giving us a collection of first-rate pieces that were heavy on film history and high in reader interest.

TCM “morlock” David Kalat began an absorbing and entertaining serialized think piece on silent film comedy that avoided a lot of the usual suspects – part one here, offering a sharp take on the roots of classic silent slapstick gags, part two here, with a well-written rumination on the flaws in the way we look back on those classic films, and part three here, with an appreciative eye for the accomplishments of Charlie Chaplin’s unjustly forgotten brother Syd.

Starting in January, the “Myfilmviews” blog kicked off an ongoing feature detailing the history of Hollywood studio logos. The February Warner Brothers entry included a handy set of links to the entire series, each of which is well worth a look.

New York Post writer Lou Lumenick recapped the long deterioration and triumphal restoration of Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front in his review of that classic film’s new Blu-Ray release.

In a guest post on the always-interesting “Edward Copeland on Film” blog, Ivan G. Shreve celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart “adult Western” Bend of the River.

Bilge Ebiri discussed the take-no-prisoners world view of director Hideo Gosha, as exemplified in his impressive debut film Three Outlaw Samurai, via the “Criterion Collection” site.

Uni-monickered “Mark” of the “Where Danger Lives” blog offered one of the month’s most effective pieces with a beautifully written appreciation of Hollywood tough guy Alan Ladd.

Cinch up your chaps and high-tail it over to these entertaining links.

February 28, 2012 · Posted in Uncategorized  

The Shadow Cabaret was flattered recently by a request for permission to reprint our 2010 multi-part opus on the Three Mesquiteers movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

That reprint has just appeared on the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention’s site, a bright and entertaining slice of the Net which you can check out here.

Click the “Articles” heading to see what a nice job the Mid-Atlantic folks did with our sagebrush saga – then poke around a bit and enjoy the other stories and celebrity profiles. It’s a smart site and a good-looking one, too, and new material is added frequently.

February 24, 2012 · Posted in Uncategorized  

Alain Resnais’ 1977 drama Providence rarely comes up when movie buffs meet, but it’s a fascinating piece of work that deserves to remain part of the ongoing conversation.

Critics were unkind when it was released,a number of them dismissing it as an art film overly impressed with its own complexity and cleverness – but a recent second look reaffirmed my own positive take on the material when I first viewed it 30-plus years ago. It’s certainly smarter and more complicated than, say, Transformers, but it really requires no more careful attention than following the convolutions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Providence was, and remains, a gorgeously constructed piece of work. Mirroring the obsessions of its characters, it often resembles a control freak’s dream with its beautifully sterile sets and geometric staging, that sense of control extending to a Miklos Rosza score so subtle that it’s nearly subliminal. The screenplay by David Mercer is equally meticulous and positively dripping with bile, delivered by a first-class cast of sharp-tongued performers.

John Gielgud, at the beginning of a remarkable late-career renaissance that would run for nearly another quarter of a century, is brilliantly acerbic as a famous but second-rank novelist near the end of his days, a man whose nights are consumed by vicious drunken ramblings and searing bowel problems. The bulk of those ramblings are given over to spinning a narrative about the loveless marriage of his philandering mean-spirited son, an attorney who’s currently defending a soldier accused of a mercy killing.

Dirk Bogarde is dagger-sharp as the supercilious son, chilly as an iceberg and an even match for Gielgud in his delivery of Mercer’s nasty and highly literate dialogue. As his unhappy wife, Ellen Burstyn provides effective contrast with a hypnotically underplayed performance. Elaine Stritch, though uncharacteristically muted, retains an intensity as unnerving in its own quiet way as Bogarde’s. And David Warner as the accused soldier combines a performance of mounting dread with an air of otherworldliness that ties into the film’s more bizarre passages.

As the story progresses, we realize that there’s more than a domestic drama underway. There are unsettling moments that take place behind barbed wire in a concentration camp setting. And most unexpected at all is the gradual insertion of a subplot involving werewolves, with various characters succumbing to a kind of lycanthropy plague that’s often viewed as a background detail.

In the end, we realize that much of what we’ve been told about these characters is untrue, but we’ve hardly been cheated. Thanks to the remarkably adroit sleight of hand performed by Mercer and Resnais, we’ve been privy to an ingenious meditation on the creative process as communicated by the discipline and impressive versatility of Gielgud and his fellow actors.

Any film lover with a taste for intelligent and unconventional drama should give Providence a look…which for many will surely lead to a second look, as well.

February 23, 2012 · Posted in Legends