Tag Archives: Marlene Dietrich

Stream It!: Witness for the Prosecution

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

Stream on Netflix: Witness for the Prosecution

si-witness_for_the_prosecutionI really want to start doing these more often, since a ton of great stuff is dropping onto on demand subscription services all the time. This is one that’s actually been on Netflix Instant for quite a while, but it’s a great movie, I’ve got Billy Wilder on the mind right now, and it has a great double feature combination that’s also on Netflix Instant. Win all around.

Witness for the Prosecution is a late film in three acting careers – Charles Laughton, as experienced but physically ailing barrister Sir Wilfred; Tyrone Power (this is his final credited film), as the murder suspect Leonard Vole whom Laughton defends; and Marlene Dietrich, as Power’s beautiful and devoted wife. It may be late in their careers, but they are all at the top of their game, and so is Wilder, delivering a consistently witty and surprising courtroom drama with a dose of mystery. Laughton’s delightful wife Elsa Lanchester also plays his nurse, who emphatically thinks he is not ready to take on a case after recently suffering a heart attack.

Laughton is always great to watch, from his early villain-type roles like Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty to his imposing girth as King Henry VIII a few times to his witty charm in movies like this one. He’s got a reputation as a scenery-chewer, and that’s not entirely wrong, but he’s one of the absolute best scenery-chewers ever in the movies, and comes across more as a scene-stealer here. Dietrich has her share of meaty roles, but this may be one of her absolute best, as her duplicity (or is it?) comes to light. The script will keep you guessing, all the way up to the delicious ending.

Double Feature: Anatomy of a Murder

si-anatomy_of_a_murder_ver2In some ways, Anatomy of a Murder is a more traditional courtroom drama than Witness for the Prosecution, with more courtroom scenes (and American ones, which feel a bit more familiar to us on this side of the pond) and a battle of lawyers front and center as James Stewart defends and George C. Scott prosecutes a man (Ben Gazzara) claiming a temporary insanity defense for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There’s a mystery at the heart of this one, too, as Stewart digs into the evidence to find out what really happened, but it’s not as whimsical or twisty as Witness for the Prosecution.

In 1959, a film touching on the subject of rape was fairly rare and pretty controversial. Director Otto Preminger was no stranger to controversy, having pushed the limits of the Production Code already, notably in 1953 when his film The Moon is Blue included the word “virgin.” Here Remick’s character is known to be something of a flirt or worse, and Gazzara’s is known to be violent and possessive, which brings his plea of temporary insanity into question. The film is also well-remembered for its brilliant Duke Ellington jazz score (also unusual at the time) and the focus on Stewart as a character rather than simply focusing on the plot. That said, his courtroom scenes opposite Scott are electric.

Besides both being courtroom films about a dubious murder case, the films have another connection in terms of the surprising outcomes of each case – which I obviously can’t talk about in any detail without spoiling stuff. I’ve probably said too much already. Both films are streaming on Netflix for the low low price of “included in your $8 a month subscription,” so just watch them. You’ll have a delightful time.

2014 TCM Film Festival: Touch of Evil

Touch-of-Evil-01

I knew this TCM Film Festival was going to be a brief one for me, as having a one-year-old daughter lessens ones flexibility considerably, even with a very considerate husband. My major goal was to find one thing that he and I could go to together since he was going to spend a lot of the rest of the time alone with our daughter while I galavanted off to watch movies. As soon as I looked at the schedule, it was clear which film that would be. We both name Touch of Evil as likely our favorite Orson Welles film (yes, over Citizen Kane), and have done so long before we even knew each other. The chance to see it at the TCL Chinese (no, I’m still not used to calling it that) in the version cut according to Orson Welles’ notes – it was just meant to be.

Going to a movie at the TCM Film Festival when one of you has a pass and the other is depending on the standby line is something of a stressful situation, but thankfully we got there early and he got in fine. It was the first time I had been in the Chinese theatre since TCL bought and remodeled it, and I’m a bit ambivalent on the new look. The decor is as resplendent as ever, but it’s all stadium seating now, which results in some 230 fewer seats (though 900 seats is still a lot) and generally makes it feel much less communal than it did before. It’s still a great way to see a movie, but it didn’t feel as much like a classic movie palace experience. But I’m being nostalgic for a time I never knew.

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FBTop100 #93: The Blue Angel

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films.

blueangel

Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)
Germany 1931; dir: Josef von Sternberg
starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich
screened 7/5/08; New Beverly Cinema

Previous Viewing Experience: Never seen it, nor anything else directed by von Sternberg or starring Jannings, though I’ve seen several later Dietrich films.

Knowledge Before Viewing: In a meta sense, I’m aware that von Sternberg and Dietrich are a well-known actress-director team, and that Dietrich made waves for her masculin costuming in this and/or her other films with him. More specifically, I know the basic story has something to do with a straight-laced professor who gets angry at his students for lusting after a sexy showgirl, but then he feels a bit differently once he actually sees said showgirl. I’m not looking forward to this one too terribly much. It sounds like an offputting combination of dirty old man lechery and moralizing. Add in early sound era awkwardness, and yeah. Sorta ambivalent. Hopefully seeing it in a theatre (fortuitous timing on the New Beverly’s part!) will help.

Brief Synopsis: My pre-viewing synopsis is fairly close, actually. The Professor (Jannings) finds his students sneaking off to the local cabaret, but when he goes there to catch them at it, he ends up falling for Lola Lola (Dietrich) himself. She encourages him and eventually they marry. But when the show goes back on the road, he’s reduced to performing clown parts to earn his keep and stay with her.

Response: I wound up liking this a lot more than I initially expected to. One of my favorite films it probably won’t ever be, but it was definitely worthwhile at least seeing once to experience such a young Marlene Dietrich. She’s absolutely delightful from start to finish (outside of, perhaps, a few scenes near the end where she gets to be quite the little bitch). The story is far more focused on the Professor, though, and his fall from esteemed academic and community leader to pathetic joke after he marries Lola. And this being to some degree a Gemran Expressionist film, his decline gets a little on the overwrought side at times. I did particularly like the recurring bird imagery – both the Professor and Lola keep birds, linking them before they’re, um, linked, and an early shot of a dead bird provides a foreshadowing glimpse of how this is all going to work out. In terms of moralizing, the message is apparently “don’t marry flighty showgirls much younger than you because it’ll ruin your life.” Which, actually, is probably good advice.

Overall Rating: Above Average