1950s Oldies

Le Plaisir (1952)

I have to be honest, I had never heard of Max Ophüls until February during TCM’s 30 Days of Oscar. I watched La Ronde as part of my March Around the World this year and was not a fan. From now watching Le Plaisir, they’re very clearly made by the same filmmaker, but the ideas and views expressed in Le Plaisir are less shallow. There is still plenty of cynicism to go around, but there is a touch of optimism in Le Plaisir. Regardless of how I felt about La Ronde, one thing I can say is the two films I’ve watched had me thinking about his ideas.

Ophüls clearly has an obsession with infidelity and I’m unsure if it’s related to French culture around the time of the stories or just his perception of the world and/or monogamy. Just like La Ronde, cheating on your wife or significant other is presented in such a casual manner you would think it was an every day occurrence outside of his films. There’s a comedic undertone Ophüls expresses as well particularly during the second vignette that is rather interesting because of its joyous nature.

Films made up of vignettes can be a recipe for disaster because some may be good and others may be bad. As a result, a film can come off disjointed. All of the stories need to be engaging enough to keep the story going along smoothly. Story One and Three are interesting enough, but Le Plaisir‘s second, “La Maison Tellier,” is where the film truly shines.

Before the second vignette begins, the narrator describes it as a fairy tale and it’s absolutely true. The way the camera shoots the brothel is the way you might shoot a castle. Even though the camera is voyeuristic, it never feels obtrusive and the audience never sees anything private that the parties involved wouldn’t want you to see (except their wives). The countryside is absolutely beautiful. The countryside scenes have a classical Hollywood feel and look.

I have to admit, I wouldn’t normally say this, but I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful the second vignette would have been in color. The whole vignette, particularly the scenes in the countryside, feel like they’re begging to be colorized. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” Oscar nomination the film received was very well-deserved.

I love the way “La Maison Tellier” is constructed. When I was watching it I was unsure what the story was going to be and who it was going to focus on. Once the film centers on the main characters, it really hits its stride. The story flows so well and is fascinating enough that it doesn’t matter how free the story feels. The story could have gone anywhere and I would have followed it without hesitation.

“La Maison Tellier” is where Le Plaisir truly shines.

1950s Oldies

Terror is a Man (1959)

I don’t remember how exactly how I stumbled upon Terror is a Man, but I do recall how the story behind the making of it intrigued me. Filipino directors Gerardo de León and Eddie Romero teamed up with American producer Kane Lynn to create one of the first Filipino horror movies: Terror is a Man. This movie was a success and gave birth to the Blood Islandseries and changed the Filipino film industry forever. I’ve loved horror films for a long time, so when I caught wind of a 50s horror like this, I knew I had to check it out. Unfortunately, the background of Terror is a Man is the only interesting part of it.

Maybe I expected too much going into it. I thought that Terror is a Man was going to be a bold horror with plenty of gore, but ultimately it’s derivative of the other campy monster films that were coming out around the 50s and 60s. It’s not as good as The Fly (1958) or Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). It’s fairly generic and the only part that is remotely exciting happens during the final act. However, I was so bored by the rest of the movie that the ending of the film made virtually no impact on me.

This apathy could be attributed to the fact that you can see what’s going to happen from a mile away. A soldier, William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr), washes upon the shore of a small island. He is discovered by Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer), who conducts experiments that many people would not agree with. Obviously, Mr. Fitzgerald is going to be one of those people and spends the whole movie trying to find out more about Dr. Girard’s experiments. It felt like every scene between Fitzgerald and Dr. Girard was the same. They talked about Dr. Girard’s experiments and Dr. Girard danced around specific questions we already knew the answers to in order to extend the film’s runtime. The only difference is that sometimes the filmmakers might change the location of the conversation and the phrasing of the questions

The logistics of Dr. Girard’s experiments aren’t as sophisticated as Fitzgerald makes them out to be. William Fitzgerald is a very frustrating character. He seems to want every minute detail of what’s going on before he makes a move. Even when it seems like Fitzgerald knows everything he keeps prying Dr. Girard for answers, all while trying to steal his wife. Fitzgerald is the type of bland leading man you might expect from a monster movie from the 50s. It doesn’t help that the rest of the characters are about as exciting as a slice of rye bread. Gerardo de León and Eddie Romero could have reduced the damage of their uninteresting characters with a more engaging story, but they are two peas in a pod.

Terror is a Man is a movie with a plot so thin and blandly executed that it probably shouldn’t have been more than 70 minutes.

1950s Oldies

La Ronde (1950)

I’m going to be participating in the Letterboxd March Around the World 2020 Challenge this year so you may see some reviews posted on here. Click here for a link to my list.

On paper this seemed to be right up my alley, but it missed the mark for me. I think it’s intriguing that it draws attention to itself through the existence of Raconteur (Anton Walbrook) and the carousel. I think Anton Walbrook makes La Ronde more entertaining, but his character’s appearance can be off-putting at times. I think Raconteur works best when he’s interacting with the characters in the stories. When the film cuts away to him at the carousel La Ronde loses momentum sometimes. Nevertheless, I would have liked this movie much less if Anton Walbrook wasn’t so good in it.

Eventually the repetitiveness of the film wore me out. One person cheats on someone with another person. I acknowledge there is a gray area with some of these stories (The Prostitute and the Soldier), but essentially each tale is about one person not being faithful to another and/or using someone else for his or her own benefit, uncaring of the other person’s feelings.

The characters are hypocritical, morally dishonest, and lacking of any substance. The characters are bland and unlikable, so I did not care about them. The only character that seemed to have more depth than the others was The Count (Gérard Philipe), but he doesn’t come in until the last tale. The Count’s story also seemed shorter than the rest, but it may just feel that way because he was the only character I wanted to see more from.

The whole story feels fabricated and this makes total sense due to the nature of La Ronde, but the characters’ motivations feel more guided by the plot than their actual desires. The characters are cheating on one another because they’re supposed to, not because they profoundly want to.

I really thought I would like La Ronde, but unfortunately it did not connect with me this morning.