Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)

Notorious

Sure it is debatable whether or not Hitchcock’s Notorious is a war movie. Let’s say it has a war theme, although a very faint one. I’m fond of Hitchcock movies and since I have a big collection, I thought I’ll re-watch this one.

Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) German father has been convicted for treason which leads to Alicia’s heavy drinking and affairs with various men. FBI agent Devlin (Cary Grant) is sent to recruit her for a delicate job. She’s to fly to Brazil and get access to the house of Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) who seems to be the head of a group of suspicious Nazis. Since Sebastian has always been in love with Alicia it should be easy for her to approach him.

At first it isn’t clear how far she will have to go. Not  even Devlin knows that his boss wants Alicia to become Sebastian’s mistress. From the first moment when they meet each other, there is something between Devlin and Alicia and if he trusted her he would fall in love with her. Alicia on her side falls in love with Devlin and tries to convince him that she has changed. No more alcohol, no more affairs. For Devlin the assignment to become Sebastian’s mistress is like a test which Alicia fails.

There are two story lines in this movie. One centers on the classic romance theme of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle between two people, the other story line concerns their spying activities.

When Devlin and Alicia discover  something in Sebastian’s house, it puts her in great danger.

I know I’ve seen this movie before but I could hardly remember it. I thought it wasn’t one of my favourite Hitchcock movies but this second time around, I liked it very much. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant are absolutely great in this. I wouldn’t know of many contemporary actresses who can fill a screen with their faces only. It’s captivating to watch all those conflicting emotions on her face. But Cary Grant who tries to fight his attraction and plays in a much more understated way is equally good.

I’m glad I watched it again, I think it’s become one of my favourite Hitchcock movies now. Why it’s on the History Magazine’s 100 Best war movies isn’t entirely clear. Kevin (The War Movie Buff) and I had been discussing this when he reviewed it here. Without his review, I wouldn’t even have considered it as a war movie.  Be it as it may, it’s one of the great black and white movies of the 40s.

Have you seen it? Which are your favourite Hitchcock movies?

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Whatever Happened to “Animal Mother”?

Animal Mother

I’m in a Joss Whedon phase since last year and last week I finally got a chance to watch his movie Serenity, a sequel to his early terminated series Firefly which I haven’t watched yet.

I’m not going to review the movie here, I just wanted to write about something that surprised me.

I don’t think that anyone who has ever seen Full Metal Jacket is likely to forget   Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin). It’s a controversial character and an iconic one at the same time.

Adam Baldwin

Even those only slightly familiar with Whedon’s work, be it Buffy, Angel or The Cabin in the Woods, know that he loves to cite, quote and allude. When I watched Serenity one of the crew looked uncannily familiar but I couldn’t say at first why. Only after half an hour it dawned on me “That’s Animal Mother” – and sure it was, or rather it’s Adam Baldwin, starring as Jayne Cobb. 18 older but still very recognizable. Cobb doesn’t only look like Animal Mother, he also talks like him.

It’s so typical for Whedon to take a character like this and to use him in a series like Firefly which is some sort of sci-fi/western blend. Just one of the many reasons why I’ve come to love what he does.

Mephisto (1981)

I wonder what took me so long to watch Mephisto for the first time. István Szabó‘s movie is an absolutely riveting and chilling tale of one man’s betrayal of everything he once believed in and all the many self-deceiving lies he tells himself.  I have always been fond of Klaus Maria Brandauer but this must be one of his very best roles. He is simply astounding.

Mephisto is loosely based on Klaus Mann’s eponymous novel. The story is quickly summarized. Henrik Hoefgen is a famous actor in Hamburg in the early 30s. Hamburg is provincial compared to Berlin and Hoefgen has dreams and hopes and sees himself already as Germany’s most famous actor in the future. While he is most certainly very talented he is equally narcissistic. On the other hand he is full of idealism and flirts with communism. When he plays Mephisto in Goethe’s Faust, he is discovered and receives an invitation to Berlin. Finally his dreams come true. He will be an actor at Germany’s leading theater. In Berlin, as well, it is the role of Mephisto which brings him a lot of admirers, some of which are prominent Nazis. It doesn’t take long and the Nazis try to instrumentalize him. In love with himself and his success he doesn’t see this at first. Soon he becomes the governments pet actor, speaks in its name at openings and supports the government.

While he may be oblivious of the consequences at first, when he starts to realize he has sold out, he begins to lie to himself and pretends it isn’t the artist’s duty to be political. He even goes so far as to pretend that an artist lives outside of everything.

Mephisto is a riveting character portrait and an in-depth analysis of what can become of someone whose conformity and lust for success make him forget that he has a responsibility. The movie looks especially into the responsibility of the artists. While many chose to leave the country as soon as possible, those who stayed often pretended it was their duty not to abandon the country in its hour of need and that those who left were cowards. It’s obvious that the famous actor Gustaf Gründgens, who also worked with Klaus Mann, has served as a model for Hoefgen.

Mephisto is certainly one of the best movies I have seen this year; it’s intelligent and entertaining and the acting is amazing.  So far this is my favourite of István Szabó’s movies. I haven’t seen Colonel Redl yet, – equally starring Klaus Maria Brandauer – but I’m very keen now.

Laurel & Hardy at War – Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)

Pack up your Troubles is only one of many Laurel & Hardy movies showing them at war. There are better examples but it still has a few iconic and quite hilarious scenes. I grew up with Laurel & Hardy, during my childhood they were always on Sunday TV and so, no matter how silly, I’m fond of them.

The US are entering WWI. In his typical boasting way Hardy pretends he would join up if only he was given a chance. The chance is given soon enough in form of a conscription officer but the moment Hardy sees him, he tries to escape and weasel out. To no avail. They are drafted and end up in the trenches of France where they go about their own business pretty oblivious of the mess around them. Food, warmth and a few other things are more important for them. While this was certainly essential for all the soldiers, in Laurel and Hardy’s case it’s center stage. They behave in the trench like an old couple at home. The shelling and bombing is perceived as a major nuisance but not as the real danger it is. Sent to make a few prisoners, they turn a dangerous mission into a hilarious adventure that ends with a surprising success.

Edie Smith, a fellow soldier, tells them about his little daughter. He had to leave her behind with a couple of really abusive folk. When he goes missing, our two heroes decide that after the war they will bring the girl to her rightful grandparents.

The second part of the movie takes place after the Armistice and shows their adventures with the little girl and all their troubles and mishaps until they finally find the grand parents.

Pack Up Your Troubles is one hour long. It’s amusing, not one of my favourites, but still entertaining. They pack all the elements of WWI movies into a film –  the trenches, the barbed wire, the mud, the bombings – and add a humorous twist. Laurel & Hardy’s humour is slapstick, it’s not satirical, nor very profound. If you like it, you will enjoy this as well.

Do you have a favourite Laurel & Hardy at war? Or another favourite Laurel & Hardy?

My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind (2011)

The central theme of the Austrian movie My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind is art robbery and expropriation of Jews during WWII. It starts in 1943 with a plane crash. Two SS officers and a Jew are on board of that plane. They must be found. Especially the Jew. We don’t know why but the movie rewinds to the year 1938 and the back story will be told.

Vienna, 1938. The rich Jewish gallery owner Jakob Kaufmann just recently arrived with his family in Vienna. They have left Germany, fearing Hitler’s rise may bring difficulties. The Kaufmann’s have only one child, Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), who grew up together with Rudi (Georg Friedrich), the son of their housekeeper. For the Kaufmann’s Rudi is like a son and the two young men are close friends. At least that’s how Victor sees it. Rudi’s point of view is slightly different. He is bitter and jealous and resents all the good things the Kaufmann’s did for him. Fact is, they are rich and he is poor. Victor will be a rich heir, while he will have to work hard. On top of that Lena, the girl Rudi fancies, is in love with Victor.

When the SS give him the opportunity to lead a better life, he takes it and joins them. He doesn’t even care that the price is high. He will have to spy on his former friends and benefactors and find out where one of Michelangelo’s original drawings is hidden. The drawing which has been stolen centuries ago from the Pope, is meant for the Führer Adolf Hitler who wants to offer it to his ally Mussolini.

It is easy for Rudi to find out where the painting is as Victor trusts his friend. Not long after he showed him where it is hidden, the villa is stormed, the drawing confiscated and the Kaufmann’s sent to labour camps.

If the drawing they have confiscated had been the original, the movie would have ended here but as it is a fake, this is just the beginning. Rudi is threatened and has to try to find the original at any cost. He goes and fetches Victor in the labour camp and together they fly to Berlin. On their way their plane crashes.

What follows is more humorous than dramatic and the roles of the parties involved are reversed more than once. Hunter becomes hunted and vice versa. Every time when we think: that’s it, this is the end, something happens and the hunt and qui pro quo starts again.

I didn’t know anything about this movie but I like Moritz Bleibtreu and Marthe Keller (she plays Victor’s mother)  and I knew the producers of The Counterfeiters have produced this movie too. I expected something more tragic so was slightly puzzled at first. This isn’t a drama, it’s much more a comedy. While it isn’t hilarious, it is amusing and I enjoyed watching it, especially the end. This is surprising as from a purely psychological point of view it isn’t very believable. Rudi’s change from friend to foe is more than abrupt. And as much as I like Bleibtreu, he is rather on the chubby side and most certainly doesn’t look like someone who spent years in a labour camp.

I’m not sure how Jewish people feel about a movie like this. Is it OK for them to see their trials and tribulations – in this case expropriation and art robbery by the Nazis – told in form of a comedy? I cannot answer this question. There were a few moments at the beginning of the movie when I felt uneasy but on the other hand, using this lighthearted tone, the movie gets our full attention and it is still explicit about the horrible things that happened.

I have a hard time to put into words why I liked My Best Enemy but I really did. It’s well done, glossy, entertaining, with a nice pace and a really appealing energy. If they had told this story like all the other similar movies it would have been just one more Holocaust movie. Like this it’s a movie that will stay in your mind.

The War Movies of Mel Gibson: A List

There are several actors who have returned more than once to the war movie genre, Mel Gibson is one of them.

While I didn’t always like his characters or had a problem to forget the obnoxious man behind them, some of them are very good. Watching them all you can go chronologically through almost every major war. That’s why I didn’t order them according to the year they were filmed in but according to the year they were set in.

Two of my favourite war movies star Mel Gibson, one is the WWI movie Gallipoli, the other one the Vietnam movie We Were Soldiers. The latter, as good as it is, is also a problematic movie but I will look into that in a future post. I haven’t seen all of those mentioned below and am afraid that some, like Attack Force Z, aren’t exactly memorable. I tried to give them a star rating which is, of course, purely personal.

Braveheart (1995) 13th century Scotland. Inspired by the true story of William Wallace a Scottish rebel. 4*****

The Patriot (2000) American Revolution. An epic drama. A farmer leads the Colonial Militia after his son has been murdered by a British officer. 3.5***

Gallipoli (1981) WWI. Story of two Australian friends who volunteer and fight in the trenches of Gallipoli. 5*****

Attack Force Z (1982) WWII. Secret mission against the Japanese. Not seen probably 2**

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) Indonesia. Story of a reporter and a photographer. Not seen. Probably 3***

Air America (1990) Laos during the Vietnam war. A pilot is recruited by a corrupt CIA organization. Not seen. Probably 2**

We Were Soldiers (2002)  Gritty infantry combat and portrayal of home front. A bit glorifying but overall too gruesome to not be called anti-war. 5*****

Which ones have I forgotten? Which are the ones you like? Should The Bounty be included?