Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994). And so I finish the Three Colors Trilogy. I suppose I liked this one the best, but “liked” is the operative word here. I didn’t love it. The two leads (Irène Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant) are good, and while the various plots are confusing at the beginning, it’s rather charming the way they come together in the end (and also charming the way Kieslowski brings together the main characters from all the films in the trilogy at the end). I said after the first film, Blue, that I reserved the right to raise my grade if I ever saw it again … I definitely feel like I’m missing something. #471 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.
The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940). The movie is so entrenched in the film canon that it’s become difficult over time to remember any differences between it and the equally-praised Steinbeck novel. John Ford’s reputation is probably better than Steinbeck’s at the moment, but that kind of thing is always subject to change. Tom Joad is one of the great characters of American culture, and Henry Fonda does a perfect job with the part, even if, like his daughter Jane, you can sometimes see him figuring out how to best play the character … he’s not a method actor. John Carradine is the surprise here; his hammy acting usually draws attention to itself in bad ways, but he’s much more subtle and moving as Preacher Casy. (Carradine has always fascinated me, due mostly to his claim that he was in more movies than any other actor. Early in his career, he was in A-pictures like this one and Ford’s Stagecoach, but by the 1960s, he appeared in one crappy horror movie after another. While he was still a favorite of Ford’s, turning up in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Cheyenne Autumn, other titles from the 60s include Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Hillbillys in a Haunted House, Las Vampiras, The Astro-Zombies, and Blood of Dracula’s Castle.) Jane Darwell won the acting Oscar as Ma Joad, and she’s not nearly as awful as Pauline Kael claimed (“impossibly fraudulent” was her phrase), but Judith Anderson in Rebecca should have won that award. There is so much to like about The Grapes of Wrath (Gregg Toland needs to be mentioned), and I can’t argue with those who would call it one of the greats, but I’m hesitant to go that far. #124 on the TSPDT list. 9/10.
Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947). The stylized look of the film is striking, and the atmosphere of repressed eroticism is extremely intense. It’s all in the service of a story about trying to remake the world by separating yourself from it. The separation doesn’t work, and the contrasting acting styles of Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron show how different people react to their failures. Byron gets the more showy role, and she makes the most of it, but, as with the film as a whole, the lighting, camerawork, and directing do a lot to make the actors’ performances so good (Byron said that Powell “gave me half of my performance with the lighting”). Not everything works; Jean Simmons as a dark-skinned native looks weird, and her subplot isn’t much, either. But once you’ve seen Byron applying lipstick in close-up, you’ll forgive everything else. #145 on the TSPDT list. 9/10.
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973). 9/10.