The Earrings of Madame de . . . is one of the four films – all made in the 1950s shortly before his death—that constitute the highest expression of Max Ophüls's personal style. Along with La ronde, Le plaisir, and Lola Montès, the film combines all the technical ingredients and thematic concerns that had preoccupied Ophüls throughout his rather "up and down" career. Foremost among these interests, of course, was the intricate blending of complex, dazzling camera work with the themes of mankind's obsession with material objects – and a kind of poignant romanticism usually misconstrued by critics attempting to pigeonhole him as a director of women's films much like Douglas Sirk.
In Madame de there is a notion of mutability: the earrings, being material, remain constant, but the changing emotional circumstances of their possessors increase their symbolic value until they become the emblems of a domestic catastrophe. To some extent, however, the characters also remain static: they are unchanging in surface demeanour, yet the rush of time alters each one's status and effects a transition in their personalities. Madame de, for example, matures from a supercilious young girl into a truly passionate woman betrayed by the depth of her emotion, while, at the same time, her husband and lover evolve correspondingly but somewhat less noticeably because they are more reluctant than Madame de to deviate from their sense of propriety.
One element in the clash between relentless time and the seeming intransigence of objects and events is Ophüls's tenacious tracking camera and its unrelenting interchange of shots and episodes. Another is the brisk unfolding of the narrative, which delicately balances a lush, rich atmosphere with lean camera technique. This interplay is particularly evident in the film's opening scene: the camera follows a...Read More
Although James M. Cain's memorable novel of crime and passion, The Postman Always Rings Twice, predated his equally potent, similarly themed Double Indemnity by almost a decade, it is Indemnity that has proven the more influential, due largely to the uncompromising and suspenseful film writer-director Billy Wilder made from it. Wilder's film remains the model for just about every film noir of this type (Born to Kill, The...Read More
It Happened One Night is the film generally credited with launching the "screwball comedy" genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s. A difficult genre to define, the screwball comedy revolves around the characters' contradictory desires for individual identity and complete union in heterosexual romance. The films pit the couple's erotic moments of courtship against their verbal combats, battles of wit spiced with rapid-fire, brilliant repartee. Because of the...Read More
Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wanted to write the definitive Hitchcock movie. The assignment Hitchcock chose for him, an adaptation of Hammond Innes' novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare, was not it; in Lehman's opinion the novel, about a Marie Celeste-type sea mystery, began with an intriguing premise but concluded with a let-down of a denouement the writer felt was impossible to lick. He turned the master of suspense...Read More
The film West Side Story is based on the 1950s Broadway stage play, from an idea inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The idea of taking one of the most famous and tragic love stories of all time and translating it to modern America, focusing it around the racial and inner city problems arising at that time (and which still exist today) was a radical one.
In his article on "Film Production" for the 1968 Encyclopaedia Britannica Alfred Hitchcock gave the following example of "pure cinema:" "Show a man looking at something, say a baby. Then show him smiling. By placing these shots in sequence – man looking, object seen, reaction to object – the director characterizes the man as a kindly person. Retain shot one (the look) and shot three (the smile) and...Read More
Few films can compete with the longevity of King Kong. The film is as popular today, on television and in revival theaters, as it first was in its initial release in 1933. Ironically, the film's contemporary setting of 1933 has now made it a period piece, though the ideas and themes have never aged.
The story was conceived by producer/director Merian C. Cooper and inspired by...Read More
Ingmar Bergman has said that he made Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander) as his final film. It is an ingratiating and expansive film, ultimately a festive comedy, with its bleakest moments embedded between two extended family celebrations, the Christmas during which the father of Fanny and Alexander dies, and the christenings of the sister their mother had from her second husband and the cousin a maid conceived...Read More
"More than any picture before it, it made moviegoing a middle class activity," writes Joan L. Silverman of The Birth of a Nation (French, ed., The South in Film). "Soon movie palaces were built in fashionable neighborhoods all over the United States." More than that, the film remains one of the most controversial of the medium's first century. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)...Read More
Partisans of America's Broadway stage, the "fabulous invalid" of 1920s, when pessimists feared that talking pictures would lure new generations away from live theatre, were greatly heartened when after the early successes of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (1945), and Arthur Miller's All My Sons (1947), the promising newcomers followed up their success with A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949). World War II...Read More