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Archive for the ‘BOULEVARD THRILLER’ Category

Sherlock Holmes: The Game Of Shadows

18 Dec

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Boulevard Thriller. 129 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Better than the first one by a long shot. Firstly because it is more witty, and secondly and thirdly because it is more witty. By that I mean that while it is also more spectacular, the spectacle is witty. I am not going to spoil the jests by describing them; let them come upon you unawares. Then too, the story swans around Europe with uncommon velocity and the picture simply expects you to go along for the ride, which is essentially Dr. Watson’s ride, since that is who we have to be, since none of us can ever be Holmes, can we. When a director or storyteller takes wit for granted in his audience he has done the wittiest thing he could do. And always the director lets us in on the joke, by which is meant that he expects us to finish the punch line for him, Alà Lubitsch. And it also means that the dialogue is witty, and dialogue can only be witty in a film if there is really a lot of it, so that we can sink our ears into it and live with the flavor of it as things unfold. There are mistakes, or rather one mistake, which is that, again, the fight scenes fall prey to scrambled editing so that there is no knowing what is going on or what is doing by whom to whom. But these are over early, and the story opens out into its drolleries and detours amply. The décor, the costumes, the carriages, and the protocols are all Teutonic, the jammed living rooms, the opulent restaurants, the creamy excesses of dress and manner, the expression, the repression – all are Germanic. It is 1891 and Victoria is on the throne and she was a German. Victorianism everywhere always has a German accent. And the designers have made the most of this and played off against it in the person and personality of Robert Downey Junior, who is the most romantic in appearance and affect of any Sherlock Holmes before. He never wears a high collar or a tie. His shirts are always Byronically open at the neck. He never does the prim Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett thing of the pinched genius with the long condescending nose. Instead he is all close-up and personal and tousled and Peck’s Bad Boy. Of course, like those others, he is dreadfully neurotic. He also speaks a lot more clearly here than in the first installment. In all this he is ably mated by Jude Law, again as Watson, who almost equals Holmes in magical prestidigitations. Stephen Fry makes an astounding appearance as Mycroft Holmes, Sherry’s brother, and a welcome presence he is indeed. Can we follow all this? We are not meant to. All we are meant is to feel privileged to tag along. I liked doing that. It is a sumptuous ride.

 

 

 

Night Train To Munich

17 Dec

Night Train To Munich — Directed by Carol Reed. Boulevard Thriller. The daring rescue of an important Czech scientist brings his daughter and their rescuer into close shaves. 95 minutes Black and white 1940.

* * *

Carol Reed directed four great films, all fairly early on in his career, and so I saw this to see if this early film of his would add itself to this category. It does not. The great films are The Fallen Idol, The Third Man, Odd Man Out, and the greatest of them all: The Outcast Of The Islands, a film that I have watched many times, each time adding to its mystery and power. Later on Reed directed big Hollywood films of no particular distinction of content, such as Oliver, which is a lot of fun, and Mutiny On The Bounty, which is an albatross. But this piece is a War Film. War Films tend to fall between two stools: propaganda to raise one’s spirits and a story to harrow them. This divided energy is apparent here, and is understandable. But Reed, who even here is a great technician, stalls the story with Basel Radford and Naunton Wayne, popular from The Lady Vanishes by the same screenwriters, in flat comic interludes whose pauses drain them of humor and dampen the momentum. And Reed also offers us a gunshot finale that beggars credulity. It stars the pretty and accessible Margaret Lockwood, and the mercilessly highfalutin Rex Harrison, who brings his mastery of querulous irritability to play three separate parts, none of them convincingly but all of them entertainingly. He’s not what we would call a responsive actor. Feed him a line and he will wait it out for the next opportunity to attack someone, at which he is a genius. He’s gin and bitters every time. He tips the picture into being a Boulevard Thriller, such as we later so enjoyed being led through by James Bond. Felix Aylmer and Roland Culver make us happy, as do all the British character actors on display. Brilliantly acerbic as a light comedian, Harrison is overshadowed in all his scenes by Paul Henried, who is really good as the antagonist. Watch Henried; look at his attention, his emotional foundation, and his carving of the character he plays into a believable human being, which Harrison, for all his personality, never is. Harrison was not a great actor but a great entertainer, and as such earns a high place in our admiration of human sacrifice. (The exposition by the biographers of Reed and the screenwriters is helpful, kind, and delightful.)

 

 
 
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