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Name: Dan Sallitt
Location: New York, New York, United States

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The First Legion: Walter Reade, May 26 and 27, 2008

The First Legion is the high point of the driest period of Douglas Sirk's career, the stretch between his adventurous independent American films of the 40s and the full-bodied Universal melodramas upon which his reputation stands today. Transitioning between Columbia and Universal in the early 50s, and stuck with a series of unpromising projects at both studios, Sirk went indie one last time to film Emmet Lavery's script (based on Lavery's own play) about the wave of enthusiasm that sweeps a monastery after an alleged miracle. Starting to move away from the distanced compositions and deliberate pacing of his 40s work, Sirk hints at the visual style that would flourish in his late films, deploying his actors as destabilizing foreground masses against the well-observed background of monastic life. The First Legion even culminates in one of the feverish plot twists that Sirk had to learn to master in order to ascend to power at Universal - but at this point in his career, for better or worse, he is still unwilling to abandon restraint and intelligence in the pursuit of melodrama. Almost never screened, the film plays twice in the Walter Reade's Charles Boyer series: on Monday, May 26 at 2 pm and Tuesday, May 27 at 4:40 pm.

(I'm presuming that most readers of this blog don't need to be hipped to the glories of Frank Borzage's History Is Made at Night and Ernst Lubitsch's Cluny Brown, which are also screening in the Boyer series.)



Blogger Eric M. said...

Actually went to see Cluny Brown earlier tonight based on your recommendation and thought it was pretty terrific. Intend on seeing History Is Made at Night and Earrings of Madame De. . . on Monday.

Caught Gone to Earth last week, but that didn't thrill me all that much. That's all I've been able to reach for the series.

May 24, 2008 10:22 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Eric - glad you liked Cluny. It's a really smart satire of the English aristocracy, and yet completely loving. The title of my first movie, Polly Perverse Strikes Again!, was an homage to Cluny's last shot. Not that anyone was supposed to get it, or needed to.

As a side note, the Margery Sharp novel that the Lubitsch movie is based on is surprisingly good, though almost nothing like the movie.

I'm actually really fond of Gone to Earth. How do you feel about other Powell-Pressburger films?

May 26, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger Eric M. said...

My only other experience with Powell/Pressburger is THE RED SHOES, which I extremely liked-it was one of the reasons why I made it a point to see GONE TO EARTH. I've owned a copy of COLONIAL BLIMP for a few months now, but haven't gotten around to watching it yet.

I did see Madame De. . . and History Is Made At Night. I absolutely loved History-although some of the crowd didn't like it as much as I did based on what I overheard on the way out, and thought Madame De. .. was worthy to see as well. so the three I saw in the Boyer series were all real winners. I'm glad I got to see them all.

May 27, 2008 2:22 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Oh know, in my post-Cannes daze I wrote this off in favor of SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL! Will I ever get to see it again?

May 27, 2008 11:07 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Danny - A good Sirk retrospective might come around within our lifetimes. But if you get desperate, there are used VHS copies of the movie available online.

June 2, 2008 12:36 AM  

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