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January 10, 2015
David Kalat
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The Ministry of Fear

So what do we find here? Two different fortune tellers, neither one genuine. A dead man who isn’t dead—or, put another way, a man who is killed twice. Two different characters who kill a loved one, a set of secret microfilm that is stolen twice, a fake blind man, fake cops, a fake delivery of some fake books to a fake address. Is Mr. Travers the same man as Dr. Forester, or is Mr. Travers the same man as Mr. Costa? Which Mrs. Bellane is the real one—or is neither one of them a real person?

OK, slow down. Take this one step at a time.

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KEYWORDS: Dan Duryea, Fritz Lang, Ministry of Fear, Ray Milland
COMMENTS: 9
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Man Hunt (1941)

Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt, also known as “the other 1941 movie with Walter Pidgeon and Roddy McDowall,” starts as a tense “what if” story, becomes a taut thriller and ends up a rallying cry for England’s war effort, and through it all it never stops entertaining, never stops thrilling.  It couldn’t have been easy directing propaganda efforts in the war years, knowing that no matter what artistry you injected into the movie, its main intent would be to rally support and bolster morale while the bombs fell but some directors handled it with aplomb.  Fritz Lang was one such director and Man Hunt is one of the best propaganda efforts to emerge from the early war years.

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April 19, 2014
David Kalat
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Occupy Fritz Lang

There is a secret conspiracy that rules the world.

This hidden power can make or break a fortune at a moment’s whim.  It decrees the rise and fall of nations.  It chooses who lives, and who dies.

There are some—like the heroic British spy with a number for a name, or the alluring Mata Hari-like international woman of mystery he keeps running into—who think they can use the tools of surveillance, cryptography, and overall spookcraft to expose this obscure force and save the world.

Wanna know a secret?  This secret power—he’s a banker.  You can Occupy Wall Street all you want: the Great Banker is the spider at the heart of this massive web, and he will outlast you all.

So, yeah, for a silent movie made in Germany in 1928, there’s a lot going on here.  You can play along at home if you want when TCM runs this later tonight.

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KEYWORDS: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, spies
COMMENTS: 4
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March 1, 2014
David Kalat
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While the City Sleeps: Hell, Yeah!

Last week’s post on Jean Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal brought to light a pocket of fans of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps—and so in honor of that long-suffering cohort, this week I figured I’d properly pay tribute to one of Lang’s unsung classics.

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KEYWORDS: Dana Andrews, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, M, Vincent Price, While the City Sleeps
COMMENTS: 8
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Precipageddon is upon us!

The Rains of Ranchipur

It’s raining in Los Angeles and we’re afraid. Rain does that to us, occurring as it does here so infrequently. Our terra firma is too sun-baked to properly absorb precipitation and there is too much concrete; our storm drains are clogged with leaves and fast food detritus and the rain water pools when it comes down, forming lakes at every intersection and making sluiceways (yes, sluiceways) of the gutters. The natural response of Angelenos to rain is to drive very, very fast, cutting yellow lights in the red and not using turn signals. We can only hope this helps. I am high and dry at the moment and thinking of some of my favorite rain scenes in movies because, as film lovers do, when real life intrudes I go to the movies…  [...MORE]

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December 14, 2013
David Kalat
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A girl and a gun

For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the career of Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker who took pride in repeatedly remaking the same basic film endlessly.  We’re finally done with Chabrol—which means it’s time to skip back in time to one of Chabrol’s idols, Fritz Lang.

If you want to play along at home, TCM will be screening The Big Heat on Friday December 20th.  It’s as hard-hitting and bold as any American film noir—which is appropriate, for a film that found Lang updating his Dr. Mabuse franchise for American audiences.

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KEYWORDS: Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, The Big Heat (1953)
COMMENTS: 5
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Daliwood

Salvador Dali’s surrealist career was bookended by his experiences in the movies.

I have to couch that statement with the limiter “surrealist career” because Dali was a prolific and prodigious talent whose larger artistic career in toto is almost incomprehensibly vast—he was painting like a pro when he was a small child, and kept at it until 1989.  That’s right, Dali was around to witness the first Internet virus.  Just wrap your head around that.

But… he is known and celebrated primarily as a surrealist, and it is that phase of his career which intersects the world of movies.  And therein lies our tale.

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Hate Binges: The Big Heat and The Lawless

The post-WWII economic expansion exploded in 1950, as the GI Bill’s low mortgage rates stoked a housing boom and pent-up consumer demand propped up retail. Success was there for the taking, but not for all. Two early 50s films that are hitting home video in impressive transfers,  Joseph Losey’s The Lawless (1950, on DVD 5/29 from Olive Films) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953, now out on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time), documented some of the anxieties caused by this enormous upheaval in American life, what would be the start of the greatest stretch of economic growth in U.S. history. More money meant more crime, and The Big Heat is a nightmare rendering of the American Dream, as good cop  Glenn Ford loses his nuclear family and just goes nuclear. The Lawless is an earnest morality play about the plight of migrant fruit pickers in Southern California, doing the work Americans left for office gigs (by 1956 a majority of U.S. workers held white rather than blue collar jobs).

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Remaking Metropolis

Complete but not definitive

Last year I had the privilege of participating in the Blu-Ray restoration of the restored version of Metropolis (the UK Blu-Ray edition at least, from Masters of Cinema), recording an audio commentary alongside Jonathan Rosenbaum.  It was a tremendous thrill to see this once-lost footage brought back into circulation—it makes you think that maybe anything is possible.  But for all that was positive about the experience, there was one point of frustration, centered on how the restored edition was marketed.  And to explain my contrarian position, we need to back up over eight decades and tell the convoluted story of multiple Metropoli.

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Re: Creeps

These are challenging times for the horror movie fan. The dominance of digital technology has larded the genre with tons o’titles no one in their right mind could ever get around to seeing; meanwhile, plenty of big studio and mid-sized horror continues to gush through the locks… and I find myself propelled ever more backwards, backwards, backwards. I’ve developed a fetish for early sound and silent horror… the primitive, the chalky, the chiaroscuro, the unforgettable. Awaiting delivery of Jonathan Rigby’s Studies in Terror: Landmarks in Horror Cinema  (Signum Books, 2012), I reread his earlier American Gothic: Sixty Years of Horror Cinema (Reynolds & Hearn, Ltd., 2007), which details the employment of grotesque, arabesque and evermore curioso themes in American films from the first nickelodeon flickerings through to the horror-science fiction hybrids that were all the rage before the United Kingdom’s Hammer Studios rebooted Gothic shocks with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). If ever a print book demanded hyperlinks, it would be American Gothic, particularly for its early chapters on silent horrors. While I read the book cover-to-cover the first time, this time I paused to research interesting titles on the Internet to see if any might be viewable in any form. Most weren’t but some were and it was very gratifying to augment my reading with parallel studies of my own. In so doing, I began to think about the use of creeps in old horror movies… shadow figures who haunt the periphery, either to frighten or kill off the normals or to be used for some occult purpose. Think The Bat in THE BAT (1926) or The Cat in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) or even Cesare the Somnombulist in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919)… you know, skulking characters of questionable motive and infernal design. Those guys.  [...MORE]

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