Sisters of the Gion – Outstanding 1936 film from Kenji Mizoguchi involves a pair of Geisha sisters – Sensitive, caring Umekicki and cold, calculating Omacha. Umekicki has had her now bankrupt patron move in with them. Omacha schemes to get the poor man out of the way. Problem is, Umekikci still loves him and feels indebted to him. Omacha also double-crosses a young man who is attracted to her in order to make a move on his wealthy boss. Mizoguchi’s films often concerned themselves with the way Japanese society locked women into rigid and harsh roles, and this one is one of his true masterpieces. Recommended.
This Gun For Hire – Spy noir from 1942 stars Alan Ladd as a hit man hired to kill a blackmailer, but gets stiffed by his bosses and goes after them. Veronica Lake is a nightclub singer hired by the feds to dig up info on the blackmailed men (who are selling secrets to the Japanese) Robert Preston stars as Lakes’ cop boyfriend. This one is a bit hard to follow in some spots, but it is enjoyable overall. Ladd’s killer is icy cold in the same manner as Alain Delon is in Le Samurai, and I wondered if the Ladd character influenced the Melville film in any way. (Where Delon’s Jef had a pet bird, Ladd’s Raven has a kitten)
Paisan – The second film of Roberto Rosselini’s War trilogy consists of six chapters, each representing an area of Italy, and each concerning themselves with war-time interaction between Italians and Americans. A group of GIs take an Italian girl along as a guide. A black military police officer goes on a drunken adventure with a young boy. A group of American clergy visit a monastery. All the stories are noteworthy, but best of all for me was a tale of an American soldier hooking up with an Italian prostitute that he doesn’t realize he has met before. The bit is only a few minutes long, but it is exquisitely sad and poignant. Very highly recommended.
Butterflies Are Free – This one surprised me. I was expecting a light little comedy, but got quite a bit more. Edward Albert plays a young blind man embarking out on his own for the first time. Goldie Hawn plays his free-spirited next door neighbour, and Eileen Heckart his domineering mother. Butterflies is adapted from a play, and feels a bit stage-bound at times, but the dialogue is first-rate, and I admired the way the film seems to set up stereotypical characters, then gradually pulls the rug out from under us. Recommended.
The Big Trees – Kirk Douglas as an arrogant timber baron who gets involved with a righteous woman with the intent of getting his hands on her family’s forest. That plot line is somewhat reminiscent of Elmer Gantry, without that story’s inherent sourness. This is not a bad film, but at the end I was asking myself if the two lovers could realistically stay together. I don’t think so.