26th Hall of Fame

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Thanks, I'll rewatch that bit tomorrow, I have to go bed like real soon!




The video quality is bad here as well, but here's when the movie goes over the rules.



The second time I watched Marienbad I spent like two hours watching you tube videos of the game afterwards. I know I would be terrible at it. I donít see things a few steps ahead like others. My mind just doesnít work that way. Wish it did. Thatís why Iím an awful and defensive chess player.
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Yeah, I tried doing the online version of the game, but I lost every single time. I'll have to look up what the trick towards winning that game is as I noticed a few videos on the match game on youtube.




Last Year At Marienbad (1960, Resnais)

I knew this would be a challenging film. So instead of going into it blind and expecting conventionalism, I read about the film beforehand and knew that it had an enigmatic narrative with a shifting and undefined point of view.

I was surprised to see that the opening title credits were Twilight Zone inspired. Anyone familiar with TV's original Twilight Zone would spot a few elements being used from the original TV series famous opening. That then clues the viewer into what they are seeing is, other than reality. Is it a dream? a delusion by the man? or the woman? Is it a dark secret that can't be brought into the light? That's all up to the viewer to decide.

The cinematography was both innovative and refined...it beautifully aided the altered reality feeling of the film. So many beautiful shots and camera movements were used that I wondered how many were developed just for this film. And of course the resort hotel setting was stunning in it's gilded decadence.

I'd like to say I was enamored with the film, but truth be told it lost me at the start and like the staunch characters that inhabit the hotel, I was adrift with no anchor to keep me in the film's world. As a result I disconnected, actually I was never connected and that's not a good thing for me.

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Sweet Smell of Success - 1957

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick

Written by Clifford Odets
Based on a novelette by Ernest Lehman

Starring Tony Curtis & Burt Lancaster

Sweet Smell of Success languished at the box office, and Walter Winchell celebrated. "...Hecht, Hill & Lancaster, the sponsers, will lose a half million dollars on it..." he wrote in his column with obvious relish. He was giddy when he made a correction that : "...it will lose over $2,000,000. Well, leddit be a lesson. Never fool aroun' wid da press." What he didn't know was that this film wouldn't be forgotten, as he was. Not only that, but Sweet Smell of Success would go on to define Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist whose approval was needed to gain entry to the world of fame and fortune many years ago. In 1950 former publicity writer (and great screenwriter) Ernest Lehman wrote a story that was published in Cosmopolitan called "Tell Me About It Tomorrow" about a ruthless, twisted gossip columnist called J.J. Hunsecker which was based on Winchell and the power he wielded. Unflattering, it was adapted for the screen as the aforementioned film and is what Winchell is remembered as. Hunsecker. Somewhat corrupt, incestuous and power-hungry - a contemptable man. The quality of this film kept it alive, despite it not finding an audience in it's day.

We follow Tony Curtis as press agent Sidney Falco, constantly on the move and making moves. His attempts to get a client mentioned in J.J. Hunsecker's gossip column have failed, as he's been unsuccessful in doing a favour for Hunsecker (who is played by Burt Lancaster) that he promised to do, that of breaking up a romance between Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). The film explores the murky waters of this kind of journalism, and the lies, dirty tricks and lack of morality at it's heart. Falco is willing to do almost anything to succeed in this business, perhaps even sell his soul, and Hunsecker outdoes even him in his lack of scruples. Susan is a good person, but not strong and forthright - she wants to marry Steve, but finds herself a pawn in a game played between Falco and Hunsecker. Steve is proud and honest, but will prove himself to be just as self-righteous and pig-headed as Hunsecker, and lacks the clout to play the game as he does - for J.J. has the police in his pocket, and the likes of senators who want to stay in his good grace. From Hunsecker's almost incestuous obsession with his sister to Falco's career and Susan's potential marriage and happiness, there's a lot on the line. People's love, livelihoods and their very beings.

This film and it's greatness comes from a confluence of talent in front of and behind the camera. Production company Hecht, Hill and Lancaster seem to have been just independent enough to hire the right people and adapt a script that larger studios might have seen as too risky. In the end, the larger studios would have been right and wrong. They didn't have much to fear from Walter Winchell, but the film didn't find an audience, despite it's quality. People seem to have wanted to see Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster as handsome heroes rather than the slimy people they are in this film. However, Curtis appears to be relishing his role as the underhanded Falco, contrasting his soft good looks with lies, deception and a lack of morals. There's something about him though, that puts us on his side a little bit, and that's probably his contrast with Lancaster's Hudsecker. Lancaster oozes contempt for anyone that isn't his sister, and his love for Susan comes out in an uncomfortable manner in their major scenes alone together. The two leads nearly blot out most of the other actors in the film, such are their magnetic presence on the screen. Lancaster gets the added edge of his character being built up for the first 20 minutes of the film. We see his picture over his column in the newspaper, and hear all manner of things about him, before we finally meet him - Sidney Falco biting his fingernails at the prospect of locking horns with this media titan.

Ernest Lehman had introduced the characters of Sidney Falco and J.J. Hudsecker in two short stories for Collier's and Cosmopolitan before getting the inspiration to use them in the much larger "Sweet Smell of Success" (retitled by Cosmipolitan to "Tell Me About it Tomorrow" before the film shifted the title back.) Hecht, Hill and Lancaster wanted Lehman to adapt the screenplay after they optioned the film, and Lehman enthusiastically agreed, enthused after the production company had great success with Marty. The stress of facing Winchell's wrath again, not to mention working for the demanding Burt Lancaster (HHL wanted Lehman to also direct) grew to such proportions though, that Lehman fell ill, and scriptwriting duties were taken over by screenwriter and playwright Clifford Odets. Odets rewrote the script a dozen times, adding interesting lingo, enjoyable phrases (just count how many different animals Falco is compared to - and the self-referential remark Falco/Odets makes about animals and writers) and crafting a fascinating film, full of jazz, New York and Broadway style. The script is dynamic, keeping us moving at a frantic pace but never losing us. It was worked on and improved as the film was shot - and it bites like words of true belief and inspiration coming at moments of epiphany.

Director Alexander Mackendrick meanwhile, U.S. born but raised in Scotland where he'd built a career around directing Ealing Studios films, was brought onto the film replacing Lehman's second role as director. Mackendrick had never before made a film in the United States, but this didn't stop him creating what is probably his greatest film - even surpassing that of The Ladykillers which he directed two years prior to this in the U.K. His thoughtful and intelligent direction was perfectly matched to a very thoughtful and intelligent script and he works well with Curtis, Lancaster, Harrison and scriptwriter Odets. He makes an impact immediately in the film by accurately capturing New York streets in a way nobody had prior to this. Credit also has to go to venerated cinematographer James Wong Howe here. A veteran with work going back to cinema's silent era, Howe had been a trailblazer who had solved vexing problems, such as showing eyes in a more natural darker tone by reflecting large black surfaces off of them. Howe's work on Sweet Smell of Success is often noted, especially with respect to the darker shadowed noir aspects to some scenes, but also various dolly shots in Jazz night-spots, restaurants and theatres. He'd also pioneered deep focus camera techniques, and taking the film as a whole you can appreciate all of the outdoor work he did, not to mention his coordination with Mackendrick's blocking while four or five characters vie for attention in busy, frantic scenes.

The somewhat Jazz-influenced aspects to the film are helped by an excellent score from Elmer Bernstein - his Jazz work a few years previously on The Man With the Golden Arm held him in great stead. It's one of the most impressive and exciting I've heard, and was the origin of one of my favourite end-credits musical numbers - that for Lipstick on Your Collar. Here he ramps it up, which really propels us through what is already a blistering story, making most things sound urgent and portentous. Bernstein is on the verge of some of his most well-known scores here, for example those for The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape - and his work on Sweet Smell of Success paved the way for a film that truly excels in all areas. Help is provided by Chico Hamilton's quartet, giving an on-screen veneer to the Jazz feel of the entire film and providing a little of the music themselves. If you look closely, you can see where a stage-hand is cleverly giving Martin Milner a hand (literally) with fret-work as he plays guitar in his music scenes. Certain Jazz riffs accompany characters in their own way, and correspond with the mood of the character at the time in a most enjoyable manner.

Walter Winchell's possessive relationship with his daughter, and his way of dealing with one of her suitors by ruining him and running him out of the country provides a snapshot of how this film focuses on the way JJ. Hunsecker abuses his power and claims ownership over his sister. One other nice corresponding link involves the amount of talent who were caught up in McCarthy's Red Scare from the late 1940s through the 1950s (Clifford Odets and Elmer Bernstein to name just a few) and the fact that Winchell had a hand in that affair also. Yet despite all of this existing outside of the film as it is, it has to be strongly noted that the film by itself is a brilliant work of art without all of the tangential connections and corresponding meaning in the real world. If there had been no Walter Winchell, this would still be an important, meaningful and great film. The performances, (especially from the two towering leads) direction, camera-work, score and script all combine at a high point for all involved, and mesh perfectly. It was the film that Mackendrick used when teaching at the California Institute of the Arts to future hopefuls (some of whom have gone on to have huge careers in film) and one that gathers more prestige and note as the years go by. Nowadays, this film is the reason people become aware of Walter Winchell, which means it has had the last laugh after all.

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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.

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@Citizen Rules - I'd never seen your nomination, Sweet Smell of Success, before - and it really blew me away. In fact, it's made the voting for this Hall of Fame that much harder as far as I'm concerned.