Well, an inaugural viewing of Shanghai Express was a helluva way to kick off the new filmic year (particularly since I capped off 2020 with the abysmal King of Jazz, easily the worst Criterion release I've seen). Was pleasantly surprised to discover that Morbs and I gave it the same Letterboxd rating (he'd be so proud!). I've been enjoying the box set (Dietrich is a beguiling delight throughout, Sahara was lightweight but similarly sumptuous, and Dishonored was a better version of Garbo's overly-melodramatic Mata Hari from later that same year) but this is where things really clicked for me. I've been watching so many films from this particular era lately and I haven't encountered anything else that's as visually/compositionally dazzling but in such an understated way. As if I was watching a less tits-out Berkeley production, if that makes sense. It felt truly lived-in and immersive, like Altman's production design. The story was...well, it didn't get in the way.
― Telly Salivas (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 5 January 2021 00:49 (two years ago) link
Now streaming on Criterion
― The Ballad of Mel Cooley (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 6 March 2021 03:26 (one year ago) link
Blonde Venus was also spectacular, by the way!
― Stefan Twerkelle (Old Lunch), Saturday, 6 March 2021 05:25 (one year ago) link
Really? It drags in spots. It's weird to see Cary Grant playing a passive hunk.
― So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 6 March 2021 10:35 (one year ago) link
I've been running through Grant's filmography from the start so I'm used to seeing him in a variety of weird roles at this point (the Mock Turtle being the strangest, but watching him savagely whip the tar out of a dude in The Woman Accused was certainly up there).
― Stefan Twerkelle (Old Lunch), Saturday, 6 March 2021 12:32 (one year ago) link
Blonde Venus isn't a touch on the 4 (but really 3) masterpieces of the world that preceded it, but it's alright. Too much of a copout to moral groups and vice leagues that didn't like everything ambiguous and "loose" about Morocco, Shanghai Express, etc.
― flappy bird, Sunday, 7 March 2021 05:52 (one year ago) link
It's filled to the brim with ambiguity and looseness! Marlene undertakes a seemingly noble act (returning to work in order to pay for her dying husband's travel expenses) and then shacks up with Cary the second he's gone. And then flees with her son when her husband returns. And rather than paint any of her actions as inherently wrong or selfish, the film allows her to be fairly sympathetic throughout while the males pursuing her are given the role of moral scolds. And that ending! Two people who clearly know that their relationship is over sticking together for love of the child, while the kid swaddles himself in warm folds of nostalgia to ignore the wrongness he feels in the room. The very final scene near killed me. Great lush Von Sternbergian setpieces (the cafe where she runs into the detective, the women's flophouse, the utterly bizarre yet strangely beguiling gorilla suit number). And Dietrich was mesmerizing throughout. Yeah, I pretty much loved it.
― Stefan Twerkelle (Old Lunch), Sunday, 7 March 2021 12:53 (one year ago) link
Booming post, Old Lunch.
I don't recall viewing the ending as ambiguously as you did, but I find it easy to ignore a most post-Code 30s and 40s films' endings (e.g., Lang's Ministry of Fear which I just watched and ends with an absurdly cheerful wedding preparation joke between two people who should be psychologically shattered by their recent experiences).
I'd add the opening segment where Marshall and friends stumble on the bathing women to the setpiece list. Totally dreamy, which seems like a purely aesthetic choice at first but then makes works perfectly as that meeting story becomes the child's bedtime myth version of his parents.
― rob, Sunday, 7 March 2021 14:59 (one year ago) link
Indeed, OL. Now I'm going to rewatch it.
― So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 7 March 2021 15:05 (one year ago) link
Very good point about the opening sequence, rob. It feels even more dreamlike given that the movie shifts hard into another gear just afterwards.Also flappy, although technically post-Code it's still very pre-Code in spirit (but how many films were really affected by Hays before the studios' self-enforcement in '34?). See the skin on display in that opening scene, por ejemplo.
― Stefan Twerkelle (Old Lunch), Sunday, 7 March 2021 17:18 (one year ago) link