I could have warned host Ben Mankiewicz that his notes would be worthless when interviewing Mel Brooks. I had the pleasure just a couple of months ago of watching Brooks participate in a presentation of Blazing Saddles. The man is a force of nature that cannot be controlled. The twenty or so minutes that Brooks was given was filled with laughter and applause. He repeated some of the same stories he told two months ago, but he added some new ones. I especially enjoyed hearing about his revenge on Harry Cohn and the pleading that was done on his behalf to keep his job.
High Anxiety is a pastiche of Hitchcock films that touches on several more than a dozen of the master’s works or characters. I’ve heard it said that it is one of his lesser accomplishments, but since the story and jokes have to borrow from so many well known sources to begin with, it is a real achievement that it feels like a regular film and not a parody like one of the Airplane! or Naked Gun films.
The cast of this movie was packed with the funniest of actors from the 1970s. Madeline Kahn should have a statute somewhere to commemorate the day she entered our motion picture world. Her rendition of Hitch’s icy blonde is spot on. Cloris Leachman has no vanity to serve when it comes to getting the laughs. He marble mouthed mustached nurse, is a nightmare version of the nightmare that was Mrs. Danvers seventy years ago. Harvey Korman was funny in almost everything he did and his fussy, emasculated psychiatrist is a character that can safely sit next to his role in Blazing Saddles.
Finally, Mel Brooks turns in a wonderful comedic performance as a psychiatrist with a major hang up that probably accounts for why he chose the profession in the first place. Brooks looks great in 1977, and could pull off a leading man role without having a matinee star like face. The two high points of the film for him are the shower scene where he effectively stands in for Janet leigh, and a musical turn at the piano bar. Brooks sells the title song as if it were part of the Great American Songbook, but also as a comic tune that sets the stage for events in the movie. The theme of this years Festival was Comedy, and this was one of the many films I saw that had the audience reeling. Of course they did get a big appitiezer to start the meal off with.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
One of my on-line friends , in answer to a poll question concerning what movies are best on the big screen, answered “None”. He believes that a movie isn’t very good if it has to be experienced in a theater. Here is exhibit A in the case against this ridiculous claim. Movies were made for theaters not for TV screens, and the framing, cinematography, and spectacle can sometimes best be appreciated when it is thirty feet tall and seventy feet wide. “David Lean” is the answer to any of your friends who have a similar opinion.
I’ve seen The Bridge on the River Kwai maybe a dozen times in my life. I own a beautiful Laserdisc edition. This however was the first time I think I have seen it on a big screen, and this was in the main theater at the famed home of Grauman’s (now TCL). The expansiveness of the jungle can be appreciated more on the big screen. The Bridge itself, both as it is being completed and destroyed is much more impressive on the giant screen in this theater. The climax of the film looks more impressive and the madness of the characters involved is more completely noticeable as two of the principles lie in the foreground of the destruction.
It was the 60th anniversary of the films release and our host was Alex Trebeck, the quiz master of “Jeopardy”. He shared the familiar story of how two blacklisted screenwriters were deprived of their credits for the film, which won the award for screenplay. The Award was given in 1958 to the author of the book, of whom one of the screenwriters said, “At least he had the good grace to not appear at the Awards to accept.”.
William Holden manages to be even better in the film than I remembered, but it is Alec Guinness who really stands out and clear deserved to honor bestowed on him that year. The cast looks incredibly emaciated in the early parts of the film. It was probably as accurate as you could get without being accused of deliberately mistreating the actors. The battle of wills that dominates the first part of the movie is both tragic and comic. Col. Nichols remained dryly sardonic in spite of the hardships he had to endure. A Great Film in a great venue.
This was a restoration presentation of a film noir in French, made immediately after the war. It is based on a novel by a widely read and published Belgium author Georges Simenon. There is a combination of sadism, racism and voyeurism in the movie that makes it stand out. The actors seemed to be cast well and they were convincing in their roles.
Rather than being a procedural or a tradition femme fatale murder plot, the story opens with a crime having already been committed. A mysterious woman who does have the traditional markings of the dangerous woman, arrives in a provincial town and is immediately the subject of unwanted attention from a standoffish resident who others in the town dislike. She is just out of prison and is reconnecting with an old lover who she took the fall for. The loner knows more about the two of them then they are comfortable with and a cat and mouse game begins.
There is a slight hint of the paranormal, with a fortune teller at a traveling carnival indicating danger ahead. The loner turns out to have some pseudo scientific fortune telling skills of his own. The lover she has returned to is a complete cad and ultimately manages a betrayal of trust and the mob vengeance of the entire community. The stunning black and white composition, the clever plotting and the weirdness of the characters made this one of my favorites of the festival.
The son of Georges Simenon, an accomplished writer himself, came to the festival to discuss the film. His father had a wide group of friends and admirers and while some of his novels were turned into films. he was often opposed to the way that the stories had to be told. Once again, it was an interesting history lesson that included some international cinema.