Sunday, July 31, 2016


Rigorous classicism.

Author: FilmSnobby from San Diego
1 April 2004
Pauline Kael famously called this movie "hysterical" (she was contrasting it to Bertolucci's *The Conformist*, which was supposed to be more "lyrical".) Well, a movie about decadent Nazis is bound to be a little hysterical -- what, were you expecting something tasteful? Hysteria is probably the best mode with which to treat the Third Reich. What's astounding is that director Luchino Visconti forced his sweaty, hysterical visuals into a rigid classical structure. The set-up is pure clockwork: one betrayal leading to another; one devastation opening up an even deeper abyss for another perpetrator.

Basically, Visconti is taking on *Macbeth*, here. Dirk Bogarde plays the Macbeth figure, an up-and-coming industrialist who's sleeping with an evil Grande Dame of Nazi finance, Sophie von Essenbeck (Ingrid Thulin, having an absolute ball), heiress to a munitions conglomerate. (The von Essenbecks are loosely based on the Krupps, but don't take this as any sort of literal historiography.) Thulin eggs on her lover Bogarde to commit a few politic murders and a frame-up or two so that he can take over the family business, with herself as the power behind the throne. But she doesn't count on the pathology of her grown son from a previous marriage, the hideous little monster Martin (Helmut Berger, acting terribly but it sort of fits in an Udo Kier-sort of way). Martin is your typical Nazi: a closet pedophile, a drug addict, a transvestite, a momma's-boy, a you-name-it. The scenes involving his seduction of a 9- or 10-year-old girl who lives in a shabby apartment complex are some of the most disturbing that you'll ever see in cinema . . . and along those lines, I seriously wonder about the state of mind of some of the commentators here who find this movie to be high camp, to be watched with drinking buddies. If you think molestation is funny, you'd better see a shrink, pal.

Anyway. The plot is so Byzantine that it finally defeats a brief summary. Let it suffice to say that Visconti manages to cram his complicated story neatly within the historical context of the period between the Reichstag Fire and the Night of the Long Knives, thereby maintaining a nutty observance of Classical Unities. All the while, he films the thing in Hammer-horror Pop color, with intense contrast between shadow and light. The first scene, by the way, is a shot of the blasting furnaces of the munitions factory -- a fitting intro to the horrendous vision of depravity which soon follows. Everyone's sweating in this movie: drops of perspiration trickle down temples, and beads of sweat glisten on upper lips throughout, as if the flames of Hell are licking up at the soles of their collective feet. *The Damned* is a feverish masterpiece. You'll never forget it. Highest recommendation.

(A tip for viewing of the DVD: I recommend that you watch the movie with the English subtitles ON. While everyone speaks English in the film, only Bogarde is clearly intelligible. Owing to the complicated plot, you'll need to know what's going on in order to fully appreciate Visconti's thematic design.)

This movie opens on a most impressive intro. Flames and smoke come up from a furnace, and as the titles jump on and off the screen, we hear a harrowing music theme by Maurice Jarre (the melody is close to Dr Zhivago's, but played with a frantic rhythm). The English/French title, "The Damned ", is far more appropriate than the Italian/German one which is "The Fall of the Gods". As the intro suggests, we are entering an inferno, and the characters we are going to see are the sort who will not hesitate sell out their soul to the devil in exchange of power and glory. "The Damned" is certainly a horrific movie, but as artfully made as can be.

Action takes place in the Ruhr industrial region of Germany, just after Hitler's rise to power. The aristocratic family von Essenbeck is the country's leading steelwork owner, a fictional equivalent of Krupps or Thyssens. Now, this movie is not trying to denounce the fact that big German industrials financed Hitler, but instead, it focuses on the internal struggle for power inside the family. Therefore,"The Damned" is not really a movie about nazism, even if it is often regarded as such. It a movie about power. Nazism is only used as an extreme context where the mechanisms of power are made more evident than anywhere else, because it is a system that openly legitimates the absolute domination of the strongest. 

Baroness Sophie (Ingrid Thulin) is the daughter in law of an aging steel baron. Her husband is apparently dead during WW1, but he left her with a son, Martin (Helmut Berger) who is immediately presented as immature and perverse. Baroness Sophie has an official lover, Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde), and both are acquainted with an influent member of the nazi party called Aschenbach (Helmut Griem). Sophie is a modern incarnation of Lady Macbeth. Her schemes are to take control of the Essenbeck steelworks by any means, determined to crush anyone who might stand in her way.

Sophie doesn't care for anybody. Her lover Friedrich is anything but an angel, but he appears as a weaker character whom she adroitly manipulates. She has an obvious contempt for her son Martin, which gets obvious right away, as she is seen laughing behind a curtain while he is performing a transvestite number at his grandfather's birthday party...The only one who seems to have her esteem is Aschenbach the nazi, who is just as devoid of scruples as she is. 

The steel lady gets both her father-in-law and one of her brothers-in-law murdered, while her other brother-in-law is forced to exile, and her timid nephew to silence. Her son Martin becomes therefore the legitimate heir of the steelworks, but she only intends to use him as a puppet as she plans an official marriage with her lover Friedrich, through which she hopes to take control of the family's fortune. The wedding will take place, but not the way she expected...

The only enemy she did't think about (and does she think about enemies!) is her own son, whom everybody regards as incapable and degenerate. Indeed, Martin, by the way a pedophile, is not interested in power or money. But the blemished love of the boy for his mother has reverted into an infernal hate. Hate is going to be Martin's driving force to become the much unexpected winner of the game, as he is really capable of ANYTHING, even beyond what his merciless mother ever would have imagined. 

Ingrid Thulin's performance is stunning, probably her best one ever, and though Helmut Berger tends to overact, you couldn't find a better choice for the satanic role of Martin. The evil figures appear much more intense than the few innocent ones, among them a barely recognizable Charlotte Rampling in one of her early appearances. The baroque lavishness of the scenery makes a striking contrast with the ghastly minds of the characters (hard to speak of heroes) and their equally ghastly deeds. The film makes you wonder if the the already renowned Luchino Visconti deliberately intended to shock by all means, since all his other movies, before and after this one, were by far tamer.

THE DAMNEDBut indeed, in 1969, all ingredients were there to make it a perfect bomb. Two episodes of nazism are spectacularly rendered : first the public burning of books on the streets, then the Night of the Long Knives, which is depicted in a very long and shocking scene. A beer drinking party turns into a homosexual orgy, and eventually ends in a bloodbath. But even worse is still to come...

It can be established that "the Damned" was the first screenwork to deal with nazism so openly, and as such, it abruptly broke a long-lasting taboo. This film has been a trend-setter in many ways, and opened the path to a series of others that hinted to nazism as darkly erotic and fascinating, a trend that some called "nazi sexploitation of the seventies". True, the influence of "the Damned" can be traced in many vile under-products, but also in leading works such as "Cabaret" or "The Night Porter". A reaction to that trend came with the ensuing wave of holocaust movies, which made a point in reminding that nazism was above all sheerly destructive.

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here".

Author: Galina from Virginia, USA
14 July 2006
The first chapter in Lucino Visconti's trilogy of "German Decadence", "The Damned" ("Götterdämmerung"), 1969 is a deep and heavy drama; or rather tragedy with many references to Shakespearean and ancient tragedies themes. The film follows a German rich industrialist family, the munitions manufacturers (possibly modeled after Germany's Krupp family) who attempts to keep their power during the rise of Nazism regime. It takes place from the night of the Reichstag fire when the Von Essenbecks have gathered in celebration of the patriarch Joachim's birthday to their eventual downfall ("The Fall of Gods" is the film's Italian title) shortly after the Night of Long Knives.

A Marxist and an aristocrat, Visconti was both repelled by and drawn to the decaying society that he depicts in impressive and loving details and often in a flamboyant style - the examples are the scene with Helmut Berger impersonating Marlene Dietrich's Lola-Lola "Blue Angel", the beer party, the orgy and following them massacre during the "Night of Long Knives".

Both film's titles, "The Damned" and "The Fall of the Gods" prepare us for entering the gates of Inferno - "Abandon hope all ye who enter here". The characters we met, the members of the respected and famous family are "Fallen Gods" and they are ready to take the eternal damnation of their souls in the exchange for Power which is above money, love or any human feelings. The weakest and tender will vanish; the most unscrupulous, merciless, backstabbing, hating and cruel will celebrate on this feast during the time of plague.

The acting is very impressive by all members of a fine international cast that includes Ingrid Thulin, Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Renaud Verley, Umberto Orsini and Helmut Berger. I just want to say couple of words about Ingrid Thulin (Baroness Sophie, the widowed daughter in law of a steel baron Joachim) and Helmut Berger as her son, Martin. I've never seen Ingrid Thulin as beautiful, desirable yet wicked and evil as the German Lady Macbeth/Queen Gertrude/Agrippina the Younger. I dare say that I like her in Visconti's film better than in Bergman's films that made her world famous. Helmut Berger was born to play Martin - immoral, corrupted, and bad to the bone playboy-pedophile Hamlet/Nero in Nazi uniform yet at some point strangely sympathetic. And was he pretty as Lola-Lola :). 

Published: December 19, 1969
Luchino Visconti's The Damned may be the chef d'oeuvre  of the great Italian director (La Terra Trema, Rocco and His Brothers, Sandra)—a spectacle of such greedy passion, such uncompromising sensation, and such obscene shock that it makes you realize how small and safe and ordinary most movies are. Experiencing it is like taking a whiff of ammonia—it's not conventionally pleasant, but it makes you see the outlines of everything around you with just a little more clarity.
The Damned, called Gštterdämmerung in Europe, opens  like Buddenbrooks—with so many characters introduced so quickly that one part of your mind will spend the rest of the movie just trying to sort them out, which is a rare treat since the decline of the novel-as-genealogy. It also draws on Hamlet, Macbeth, the legend of the Nibelungen, on recent history (as it might be fabricated in something like True Detective) and on Visconti's love for the grand cinematic gesture.
Its story is that of a Krupp-like German steel dynasty in the first two years (1933-1934) of Hitler's struggle to consolidate his power. It's not so much that the von Essenbecks symbolize Germany—they are Germany. The film does occasionally record events in real Germany—the burning of the books, assignations in squalid rooming houses, and (for almost a quarter of an hour and with such loving detail that it almost wrecks the balance of the film) the "night of the long knives," when Ernst Ršhm and most of his SA (Storm Troops) were assassinated by the SS (Elite Guard).
Most of The Damned, however, takes place within the huge, dark drawing rooms, the bedrooms, corridors, baths, and banquet halls of the Ruhr Valhalla where the von Essenbecks, surrounded by silent servants and as isolated as gods, struggle for control of "the factory," the power of the universe.
There's the old Baron, an aristocrat who has made no commitments to Hitler, but only because he regards Hitler with the distaste of a snob. There are also his son, Konstantin (René Kolldehoff), a follower of Ršhm in matters sexual as well as political; a young cousin, Aschenbach (Helmut Griem), an SS man scheming to keep von Essenbeck arms from the SA; the Baroness Sophie (Ingrid Thulin), the widowed daughter-in-law who likes to see her son, Martin (Helmut Berger), the Baron's heir, dress up in extraordinarily convincing Marlene Dietrich drag; and Friedrich Bruckmann (Dirk Bogarde), a mortal who, with Sophie, plots to acquire the von Essenbeck fortune, power, and name.
If the film can be said to have a protagonist, I suppose it would be Bogarde who, after murdering the old Baron in  his bed, finds himself finally destroyed in a bizarre reworking of classic consequences. Visconti, however, keeps the melodrama at such a distance and plays it at such a high pitch that there can't be much thought about protagonists and antagonists.
The Damned, while having validity as a political and social parable, is mind-blinding as a spectacle of fabulous corruption, detailed within the family organism that so fascinates Visconti. Like La Terra Trema and Rocco and His Brothers, Visconti's new film keeps the audience outside the spectacle, but the von Essenbecks, unlike the families in the earlier works, are not only a family—they create their own social milieu. Nothing that happens outside seems to matter much because despite our knowledge of history, we know that Germany's fate is the von Essenbecks'.
The film triumphs over a number of bothersome things, including too-quick transformations of characters, dialogue of epic flatness ("Complicity grows. I've accepted a ruthless logic and I shall never get away from it"), inconsistency of language (most of it is in English, but some is in German for no apparent reason), self-conscious references to great moments in history (the Reichstag fire), and scenes of melodrama that would strain even Wagner (as when Martin decides to "destroy" his mother by raping her).
All of the performances are excellent, but at least two are superb, that of Miss Thulin and Berger, a young Austrian actor who gives, I think, the performance of the year.
The Damned, however, is not a film that depends on dialogue or performance, but on Visconti's vision that capitalizes on what would be theatrical excesses in anyone else's work. He likes to begin scenes in close-up with one character talking to another, who may remain unseen, unknown, for minutes at a time. The entire film evokes a sense of makeup and masquerade, both physical and emotional. Color also is important. The first shot of the movie is a close-up of the orange flames of a blast furnace, after which the light seems to dim progressively to a twilight, set off by splotches of red, first a flower in a buttonhole, then Nazi armbands and flags and, finally, blood.
The Damned is a movie of great perversity—so intransigent that I think even von Stroheim would have liked it. It opened yesterday at the Festival Theater.
Directed by Luchino Visconti; written (in Italian, with English subtitles) by Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli, and Mr. Visconti; directors of photography, Armando Nannuzzi and Pasquale De Santis; edited by Ruggero Mastroianni; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by Alfredo Levy and Ever Hagglag; released by Warner Brothers-Seven Arts. Running time: 155 minutes.
With: Dirk Bogarde (Friederich Bruckmann), Ingrid Thulin (Baroness Sophie von Essenbeck), Helmut Griem (Aschenbach), Helmut Berger (Martin von Essenbeck), Charlotte Rampling (Elisabeth Thallman), Florinda Bolkan (Olga), and René Kolldehoff (Baron Konstantine von Essenbeck).

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Way to the Stars

The Way to the Stars is a 1945 British war drama film made by Two Cities Films. In the United States it was known as Johnny in the Clouds and distributed by United Artists.[2] It was produced by Anatole de Grunwald and directed by Anthony Asquith. The screenplay was co-written by noted dramatist, Terence Rattigan, as a significant reworking of his 1942 play Flare Path, which incorporated his Royal Air Force (RAF) experiences as a Flight Lieutenant. The film stars Michael RedgraveJohn MillsRosamund John andStanley Holloway.
The title, The Way to the Stars, is often assumed to have been taken from theLatin motto of the RAF, Per ardua ad astra. However, the literal translation of the RAF motto is "Through adversity to the stars". The alternative title, Johnny in the Clouds, is derived from the poem recited in the film as tribute to a dead aviator.

Pilot Officer Peter Penrose (John Mills) is posted in the summer of 1940 as a pilot to (the fictional) No. 720 Squadron,[N 1] at a new airfield, RAF Station Halfpenny Field. He is a very green "15-hour sprog" Bristol Blenheim pilot and is assigned to B Flight, under Flight Lieutenant David Archdale (Michael Redgrave).
When No. 720 Squadron's commanding officer, Squadron Leader Carter (Trevor Howard, in his second but first credited film role), is shot down, Archdale takes over. While Penrose develops into a first-class pilot, he meets Iris Winterton (Renee Asherson), a young woman staying with her domineering aunt at the Golden Lion pub in the nearby village. Archdale marries Miss Todd (Rosamund John), the popular manageress of the hotel, who is known to everyone as Toddy. The Archdales later have a son, Peter.

The action flashes forward to May 1942. The squadron is now flying Douglas Boston bombers. When Penrose shows signs of strain from extensive combat, Archdale has him posted to controller school, but is himself shot down and killed over France on Penrose's last mission. Penrose had been courting Iris, despite her aunt's disapproval, but Archdale's fate weighs heavily on his mind. Not wanting Iris to suffer if the same happened to him, he stops seeing her.

No. 720 Squadron is sent to the Middle East, but Penrose remains behind as a ground controller for a United States Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortress bombardment group, which takes over the airfield. He befriends USAAF Captain Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery) and Lieutenant Joe Friselli (Bonar Colleano). On 17 August 1942, the American airmen participate in the first attack by the USAAF on Occupied France, later ruefully acknowledging that they underestimated the difficulties involved. Afterwards, Penrose is posted to flying duties with an RAF Avro Lancaster bomber unit.
In 1944, Penrose, now a squadron leader and pathfinder pilot, makes an emergency landing at Halfpenny Field, where he meets Iris again. Iris had decided to leave her aunt for good and join up. Toddy persuades a still-reluctant Penrose to propose to Iris, saying that she did not regret her own marriage in spite of her husband's death. Hollis, who has formed a platonic relationship with Toddy, is killed while crash-landing a damaged returning bomber rather than bail out and risk it crashing into the village.


  • Michael Redgrave as David Archdale
  • John Mills as Peter Penrose
  • Rosamund John as Miss Todd
  • Douglass Montgomery as Johnny Hollis
  • Stanley Holloway as Mr Palmer
  • Renée Asherson as Iris Winterton
  • Felix Aylmer as Reverend Charles Moss
  • Basil Radford as "Tiny" Williams
  • Bonar Colleano as Joe Friselli
  • Joyce Carey as Miss Winterton
  • Trevor Howard as Squadron Leader Carter
  • David Tomlinson as "Prune" Parsons
  • Nicholas Stuart as Colonel Rogers (credited as Tryon Nichol)
  • Bill Owen as "Nobby" Clarke (credited as Bill Rowbotham)
  • Grant Miller as Lieutenant Wally Becker
  • Jean Simmons as a singer
  • Poem[edit]

    The following poetry, supposedly written by Archdale, was penned by John Pudney, as one of two poems written specifically for the film.[4] It is found on a piece of paper and given by Penrose to Toddy after her husband's death. Later, she gives it to Hollis's friend to read after he is killed.
    For Johnny
    Do not despair ... for Johnny-head-in-air;
    He sleeps as sound. ... as Johnny underground.
    Fetch out no shroud ... for Johnny-in-the-cloud;
    And keep your tears ... for him in after years.
    Better by far ... for Johnny-the-bright-star,
    To keep your head ... and see his children fed.


The Way to the Stars was one of Terence Rattigan's early works. During the war, Rattigan had served in the Royal Air Force as a tail gunner, and used his wartime experiences to help inspire his earlier stage play, Flare Path. In 1945, he was released from the service to help rewrite it with Anatole De Grunwald as a film screenplay of The Way to the Stars. Although Michael Redgrave and John Mills were the leads, the film offers very early performances from two actors who would themselves become international film stars in later years: Jean Simmons and Trevor Howard.[3]


On initial release, the film was popular in Britain, but performed poorly in the U.S. where it was released postwar as Johnny in the Clouds with a prologue added.[1] [5]
According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.[6]
Later reviews considered the film "... one of the more thoughtful of British war movies ..."[7] and an "excellent drama about a British airfield and the men stationed there, focusing mainly on personal relationships in wartime."[8]


D: Anthony Asquith. John Mills, Michael Redgrave, Douglass Montgomery, Rosamund John, Stanley Holloway, Trevor Howard, Felix Aylmer, Bonar Colleano. Excellent drama about a British airfield and the men stationed there, focusing mainly on personal relationships in wartime. Jean Simmons appears briefly as a singer. Script by Terence Rattigan and Anatole de Grunwald. Originally released in U.S. as JOHNNY IN THE CLOUDS, with a prologue set after the end of WW2.
The Way to the Stars VideoCover.jpeg
British DVD cover
Directed byAnthony AsquithVIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY



  The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965) Director
  An Evening With The Royal Ballet (1965) Dir of "Les Sylphides" and "Aurora's Wedding"
  Two Living, One Dead (1964) Director
  The V.I.P.s (1963) Director
  Guns of Darkness (1962) Director
  The Millionairess (1961) Director
  Libel (1959) Director
  The Doctor's Dilemma (1959) Director
  Orders to Kill (1958) Director
  On Such a Night (1955) Direct
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
Written byTerence Rattigan
Anatole de Grunwald
Richard Sherman
John Pudney (poems)
StarringMichael Redgrave
John Mills
Rosamund John
Stanley Holloway
Music byNicholas Brodszky
Charles Williams
CinematographyDerrick Williams
Edited byFergus McDonell
Distributed byRank Organisation (UK)
United Artists (U.S.)
Release dates
16 June 1945 (UK)
15 November 1945(U.S.)
Running time
109 minutes (UK)
87 minutes (U.S.)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$63,434 (U.S. rentals)[1]


With H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and others, Asquith founded London's Film Society in 1925, and after a filmmaking apprenticeship in Hollywood, returned to England as a director in 1928. Along with Alfred Hitchcock, he was considered a major force in the British cinema during the 1930s and 40s. Beginning with his directing debut, "Shooting Stars" (co-directed with A.V. Bramble; 1928) which utilized experimental visual effects and "A Cottage on Dartmoor" (1929), a portrait of British life notable for its use of sound, Asquith became recognized for his tasteful, restrained and civilized quasi-documentary portraits of British life and manners.
With his superb film version of Shaw's "Pygmalion" (1938; co-directed with Leslie Howard), Asquith also began turning out expertly crafted theatrical adaptations, one of the finest of which is the delicious "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1952). From 1938 he began a profitable collaboration with playwright-screenwriter Terrence Rattigan, creating emotional studies of people under stress including, perhaps their finest joint work, "The Way to the Stars" (1945) as well as "The Winslow Boy" (1948), and "The Browning Version" (1950), and continuing through Asquith's last film, "The Yellow Rolls Royce" (1964). Son of liberal prime minister Lord Herbert Asquith.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

. The Pawnbroker (1965)


Jesus Ortiz: Say, how come you people come to business so naturally?
Sol Nazerman: You people? Oh, let's see. Yeah. I see. I see, you... you want to learn the secret of our success, is that right? Alright I'll teach you. First of all you start off with a period of several thousand years, during which you have nothing to sustain you but a great bearded legend. Oh my friend you have no land to call your own, to grow food on or to hunt. You have nothing. You're never in one place long enough to have a geography or an army or a land myth. All you have is a little brain. A little brain and a great bearded legend to sustain you and convince you that you are special, even in poverty. But this little brain, that's the real key you see. With this little brain you go out and you buy a piece of cloth and you cut that cloth in two and you go and sell it for a penny more than you paid for it. Then you run right out and buy another piece of cloth, cut it into three pieces and sell it for three pennies profit. But, my friend, during that time you must never succumb to buying an extra piece of bread for the table or a toy for a child, no. You must immediately run out and get yourself a still larger piece cloth and so you repeat this process over and over and suddenly you discover something. You have no longer any desire, any temptation to dig into the Earth to grow food or to gaze at a limitless land and call it your own, no, no. You just go on and on and on repeating this process over the centuries over and over and suddenly you make a grand discovery. You have a mercantile heritage! You are a merchant. You are known as a usurer, a man with secret resources, a witch, a pawnbroker, a sheenie, a makie and a kike!

Sol Nazerman: I do not believe in God, or art, or science, or newspapers, or politics, or philosophy.
Jesus Ortiz: Then, Mr. Teacher, ain't there nothing you do believe in?
Sol Nazerman: Money.

Sol Nazerman: I do not believe in God, or art, or science, or newspapers, or politics, or philosophy.
Jesus Ortiz: Then, Mr. Teacher, ain't there nothing you do believe in?
Sol Nazerman: Money.

Marilyn Birchfield: What makes you so bitter?
Sol Nazerman: Bitter? [chuckles] No, no, Miss Birchfield, I am not bitter. No, that passed me by a million years ago. I'm a man of no anger. I have no desire for vengeance for what was done to me. I have escaped from the emotions. I am safe within myself. All I ask and want is peace and quiet.
Marilyn Birchfield: Why haven't you found them?
Sol Nazerman: Because people like you will not let me. Miss Birchfield, you have made the afternoon very tedious with your constant search for an answer. And one more thing: please, stay out of my life.

[Jesus Ortiz points to the tattooed numbers on Sol Nazerman's arm]
Jesus Ortiz: You want to tell me something, Mr. Nazerman? What is that? That... is that a secret society or something?
Sol Nazerman[hesitates] Yeah.
Jesus Ortiz: Well... what do I do to join?
Sol Nazerman: What do you do to join? You learn to walk on water.

Jesus Ortiz: That's all life is about?
Sol Nazerman: That's all life is about!
Jesus Ortiz: You mean... money is the whole thing?
Sol Nazerman: Money is the whole thing!


Rod Steiger: Memoirs of a Friendship by Tom Hutchinson). 

Published: April 21, 1965
Although the tragic character that Rod Steiger powerfully plays in the solemn new film, The Pawnbroker, is very much a person of today—a survivor of Nazi persecution who has become detached and remote in the modern world—he casts, as it were, the somber shadow of the legendary, ageless Wandering Jew. That is the mythical Judean who taunted Jesus on the way to Calvary and was condemned to roam the world a lonely outcast until Jesus should come again.
For this is a dark and haunting drama of a man who has reasonably eschewed a role of involvement and compassion in a brutal and bitter world and has found his life barren and rootless as a consequence. It is further a drama of discovery of the need of man to try to do something for his fellow human sufferers in the troubled world of today.
To view this remarkable picture, which opened yesterday at the Cinema Rendezvous, the Beekman, and the RKO 23d Street, as merely a mordant melodrama of a displaced European Jew who runs a pawnshop in New York's Harlem and is caught up in some evil doings there is to miss the profound dilemma and melancholy of its central character and the broader significance of his detachment and inability to adjust.This man, played by Mr. Steiger with a mounting intensity that carries from a state of listless ennui to a point of passion where it seems he's bound to burst, has good enough reason for detachment. He has been through the horror of the concentration camps, has lost his immediate family, has seen his best friend tortured and killed. This terrible traumatic experience has left him intellectually drained and emotionally numb. He has a fitful affair with his friend's widow but looks on people as "rejects, scum."A strange accumulation of events on an anniversary stirs him to painful recollections and causes old words to flash through his mind. An attempt by a woman welfare worker to strike up a friendship with him agitates his resentment with memories of a happier life. The wish of a Puerto Rican Negro assistant to get his help in learning the trade fires him to a violent outburst against the meaninglessness of everything—everything, that is, except money. And an effort by an anguished prostitute to offer her body to him causes him to recall the horrible experience of seeing his wife stripped and raped by prison guards.

It is a shattering excess of mental torment and deep self-pity this man must endure, and it shifts him to a level of awareness that lets him see his present life in previous terms. He sees the people on New York's crowded subways as lost souls headed for the concentration camps, the vicious gangsters who actually own his pawnshop as counterparts of Nazi racketeers.
But it is not until he sees his young assistant—Jesus Ortiz is significantly his name—shot dead by holdup hoodlums during a courageous attempt to protect him that he senses the shame of his detachment. Then he slams his hand down on a paper spike to inflict upon himself the stigmata and acknowledge his burden of grief and guilt.
It is not an ennobling picture that Roger H. Lewis and Philip Langner have produced and Sidney Lumet has directed. It is a picture of the shabbiness of man—of the misused, debilitated hero, as well as those among whom he lives. And the whole thing is staged and presented to convey and emphasize the meanness of those environments that would breed such shabbiness.

With the seasoned camera of Boris Kaufman, Mr. Lumet has ruthlessly searched some of the most hideous aspects of Harlem and middle-class life around New York. He has brilliantly intercut flashes of the horrors of the concentration camps with equally shocking visualizations of imprisonment in a free society. And he has clearly implied in terms of picture the irony of resemblances.In certain respects, the suppurant screenplay of David Friedkin and Morton Fine departs from the feverish novel of the late Edward Lewis Wallant on which it is based. The detail of medical experiments upon the hero by the Nazis has been removed, thus freeing Mr. Steiger from the onus of playing the character as a sort of golem, as in the book. Now he can make the sad survivor a solid man in command of his own fate, driven with acerbity and cynicism but compelling an eventual sympathy.
Others of the cast are likewise striking—Geraldine Fitzgerald as the woman who tries in a wistful and clumsy fashion to draw the poor man from his obvious loneliness; Jaime Sanchez as the spry Negro assistant who teeters lightly on the fringes of crime; Thelma Oliver as the latter's loyal sweetheart who makes her living as a tawny prostitute; Brock Peters as a brutal Harlem crime boss; and many more, including fine old Juano Hernandez in one of the several good small roles.

In his zeal to make sure the point is carried, Mr. Lumet lets his picture run too long. He might have cut out or held down some grim stretches that make for redundancy. But he and his sponsor, Ely Landau, are to be honored for even attempting this most uncommon film, which projects a disagreeable subject with power and cogency.
The Pawnbroker (1965)
In New York City's Spanish Harlem, Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) manages a pawnshop owned by Rodriguez (Brock Peters), the neighborhood pimp. A concentration camp survivor, Sol lives an emotionally detached existence, appearing callous and insensitive to his customers and co-worker Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez). What they don't know is that Sol witnessed the rape of his wife by Nazi officers and the deportment of his two children to death camps where they died. Yet when Ortiz repeatedly tries to break through Sol's icy veneer and bring him out of his shell, he is treated with disdain. In anger, the assistant plots a store robbery that backfires in tragedy for both men. 
The Pawnbroker (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet, was one of the first American films to address the Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor after the events. Highly influenced by the French New Wave of the early sixties, particularly its use of quick flashback cuts to reveal Sol's personal tragedy, the film explores the effect of memory and emotion on the human psyche while also recalling life-changing events from the objective present. In this, The Pawnbroker shares some stylistic and thematic similarities to the work of Alain Resnais, particularly Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) and his highly influential documentary, Night and Fog (1955). Aside from this, however, Lumet's film is uniquely American, with its harsh, unforgiving depiction of New York City, all of it brought to vivid life by Boris Kaufman's black and white cinematography and a dynamic cast highlighted by Rod Steiger's searing portrayal of the title role.
Although Steiger was already recognized as a highly gifted "Method" actor (he was Oscar® nominated for Best Supporting Actor in On the Waterfront, 1954), The Pawnbroker was the film which earned him international critical acclaim and launched his career as an A-list actor in major films. Yet, at the time, he agreed to do the movie for a reduced fee (he was paid $50,000 - a much lower figure than his normal rate) because he trusted the director (they had worked together previously on the TV series, You Are There). 
Steiger was barely forty when he played Sol Nazerman but immersed himself so deeply in the character that it's hard to believe he's not a sixty year old man. His tendency toward dramatic excess though was effectively curtailed by Lumet who later said, "Sure Rod has weaknesses of rhetoric, but you can talk them through with him. I explained that this solitary Jew could not rise to heights of emotion; he had been hammered by life and by people. The faith he had to find was in other people, because God had betrayed him" (from Rod Steiger: Memoirs of a Friendship by Tom Hutchinson). 
Steiger would later state, "I think my best work is in The Pawnbroker. The last scene, where I find the boy dead on the street. I think that's the highest moment, whatever it may be, with my talent." The actor's inspiration for this climactic moment, where his grief is expressed as a silent scream, was Picasso's famous painting of "Guernica" with its depiction of the war ravaged villagers. Even more difficult to film was Steiger's final scene when Sol's anguish finally erupts, causing him to drive his hand through the pointed metal spoke for shop receipts. 

Not surprisingly, The Pawnbroker had a difficult time finding a major U.S. distributor due to its grim and challenging subject matter. Producer Ely Landau shopped it around to every studio but was told it would never earn back its costs. He didn't have any better luck in England until he arranged for a booking of the film at a West End cinema in London where it had an enormously successful run. As a result, Landau was able to arrange a distribution deal with the Rank organization and open it theatrically in the U.S. where it was critically acclaimed by most major film critics. 
The Pawnbroker also generated considerable controversy in several communities. Some Jewish organizations urged a boycott of the film due to its uncompromising presentation of the Jewish pawnbroker which they felt encouraged anti-Semitism. Black groups also accused the film of encouraging racial stereotypes of the inner city where everyone seemed to be a pimp, prostitute or drug addict. Even the Legion of Decency objected to the film for a scene in which Ortiz's girlfriend (Thelma Oliver) bares her breasts in an effort to get more money for a pawn item. All of these charges, however, seem unjustified when one views the film. What emerges is a realistic and devastating portrait of urban alienation. 

Pauline Kael was one of the few critics to find fault with the movie, proclaiming the film "trite", but she also saw its merits, "You can see the big pushes for powerful effects, yet it isn't negligible. It wrenches audiences, making them fear that they, too, could become like this man. And when events strip off his armor, he doesn't discover a new, warm humanity, he discovers sharper suffering - just what his armor had protected him from. Most of the intensity comes from Steiger's performance."
Despite the many accolades The Pawnbroker received - the New York Film Critics award for Best Film and Director, the Golden Globe for Best Actor, the Silver Bear (Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival), among others - it only garnered one Oscar® nomination - for Best Actor. Steiger was practically certain he was going to win the Academy Award when he arrived at the Oscar ceremony. Right before the award was announced, the actor began to button his jacket in anticipation of leaving his seat and walking down the aisle. Instead he heard the name "Lee Marvin!" "I was absolutely shocked," said Steiger. "And Lee Marvin walked up and got a prize he probably and justly deserved, and I got a spanking from the forces of nature which said, 'Listen, jackass, never take happiness, never take your talent, for granted. Never, in any walk of life, take for granted your capabilities. Each minute a second of life is a challenge - so sit still, schmuck, and let this be a lesson to you. Happiness has to be earned and respected. Rewards must never be taken for granted.' I never forgot that moment" (from Rod Steiger: Memoirs of a Friendship by Tom Hutchinson). 

Producer: Ely A. Landau, Philip Langner, Roger Lewis, Herbert R. Steinmann, Joseph Manduke, Worthington Miner
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Morton S. Fine, David Friedkin, Edward Lewis Wallant (novel)
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Film Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Rod Steiger (Sol Nazerman), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Marilyn Birchfield), Brock Peters (Rodriguez), Jaime Sanchez (Jesus Ortiz), Thelma Oliver (Ortiz's Girl), Marketa Kimbrell (Tessie). 
BW-116m. Letterboxed.

Tiger Bay (1959)


Full Cast & Crew

Directed by 

J. Lee Thompson

Writing Credits  

Noël Calef...(short story "Rodolphe et le Revolver") (as Noel Calef)
John Hawkesworth...(screenplay) &
Shelley Smith...(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified as complete  

John Mills...
Superintendent Graham
Horst Buchholz...
Hayley Mills...
Yvonne Mitchell...
Megs Jenkins...
Mrs. Phillips
Anthony Dawson...
George Selway...
Det. Sgt. Harvey
George Pastell...
'POLOMA' Captain
Paul Stassino...
'POLOMA' 1st. Officer
Marne Maitland...
Dr. Das
Meredith Edwards...
P.C. Williams
Marianne Stone...
Mrs. Williams
Rachel Thomas...
Mrs. Parry
Brian Hammond...
Dal Parry
Kenneth Griffith...
Eynon Evans...
Mr. Morgan
Christopher Rhodes...
Insp. Bridges
Edward Cast...
Det. Con. Thomas
David Davies...
Desk Sgt.

A Polish sailor and a young British tomboy become unlikely allies after she witnesses him commit a crime of passion. With its location shooting and scenes of port city street culture, Tiger Bay presaged the cinema of the British New Wave, while Hayley Mills' starring performance won the 12 year-old a special prize at the Berlin Film Festival and launched her career.

SPOILER ALERT: Although I do disclose much of the plot, it is NOT the case that I reveal the surprise ending.

TIGER BAY is a black and white movie, starring America's former heart-throb, Hayley Mills, that is, during the 1960s. Most of the film takes place at a seaside city in Wales, and the viewer is occasionally treated to the distant sounds of horns emanating from cargo ships. In a nutshell, Hayley Mills witnesses a murder while looking through the mailslot in a tenement apartment. She is pursued by the murderer, who is a handsome young merchant marine. They quickly become close friends, where Hayley's motivation stems from her lack of any father figure. Eventually, both of them escape on a cargo ship, the POLOMA CARACAS. The viewer is treated to great cinematography, bringing to mind the gritty black and white photography of Helen Levitt, who photographed street urchins amidst tenement buildings in New York City. The film is 1 hour and 42 minutes long.

THE TOM-BOY. The initial scenes are of a shipyard in Cardiff, a city in Wales. We see lower class tenement buildings. The protagonist is played by HORST BUCHHOLZ, a handsome man. He plays a Polish seaman, who left his Polish girlfriend behind at their apartment in Cardiff. We see Horst coming ashore, and he is presented as a likeable character. He strides through his neighborhood, expecting to find his Polish girlfriend (Anya) at their apartment. He toussels the hair of an Anglo-African boy, and helps another Anglo-African child on his swing. At 7 minutes, Hayley Mills makes her entrance. She is playing with some boys, and she establishes herself as a tom-boy. She sticks out her leg and trips one of the boys. She gets into a fist fight with the boys, and exclaims, "I'm not a lady!" She likes playing with firecrackers, which her auntie calls "bombs."

FINDING ANYA. Horst discovers that the girlfriend (Anya) had moved away from their apartment. But at the ten minute point in this fast-moving film, he succeeds in finding her in another apartment building. He embraces her, and speaks lovingly in Polish. But Anya rejects him. Horst spots evidence of another man, in Anya's dingy apartment, such as a small table with two plates and two sets of silverware. Horst promises to quit his job at sea, and to find a land-based job. But Anya complains that Horst will always love the sea more than her, and she complains that he will always return to sea for a job on a ship.THE AUNTIE. At 12 minutes into the movie, there is a little scene of Hayley and her auntie, a laundry-lady. She greets Hayley with, "You're late you bad girl, where have you been?" (Hayley had been on a shopping errand.) "Put the change on the table," she tells Hayley. "There wasn't no change," Haley replies. "Sausages, my girl, are nine and a half. I gave you two and six. Now what did you do with the nine," demands the auntie. "I dropped it, it wasn't my fault," replies Haley, which is the first of her many lies that are told in this movie. "All my life is spent struggling to skrimp together a few pennies to bring you up decent, and this is how you repay me. A thief at your age . . . little girls wanting to play with guns and bombs and dressing up like gangsters," complains the auntie. Hayley's job is to deliver the auntie's laundry to customers, and to collect the fee. She brings the freshly ironed pants to the customer (Mr. Williams). When Mrs. Williams opens the door, Hayley hides to the side of the door, and then jumps out, and gives Mrs. Williams a scare. "It's two bob," announces Hayley, requesting payment for the ironed pants. "WHERE'S YOUR MANNERS, DIDN'T ANYBODY TELL YOU TO SAY PLEASE," angrily asks Mrs. Williams. Then, Mrs. Williams requests permission to pay the money a week late. Hayley replies, "Okay," and Mrs. Williams turns to enter her apartment. But immediately, Hayley exclaims, "NO ONE EVER TELL YOU TO SAY THANK YOU?" To add to her mischief, Hayley immediately sets off a firecracker, causing Mr. Williams to cut himself while shaving. "Cut yourself bad!!!" teases Hayley, taunting the man who stand before his shaving mirror, bleeding.
LOVER'S SPAT. Then, in the same apartment building, Haley witnesses an escalating lover's spat between Horst and Anya. The cinematography provides periodic close-ups of Hayley's eyes, as they peek through the mail slot. She sees Horst strike Anya, and she sees Horst kill Anya with a gun. Horst realizes that Hayley had seen the murder, and he goes after her, and she hides in a closet. In the closet, Hayley finds the gun, and she tucks the gun into her apartment, and she escapes from Horst and returns to her auntie.

HAYLEY-THE-LIAR. At 20 minutes in this brisk-moving film, the landlady discovers Anya's dead body. As part of the police inquiry, the police interrogate the auntie and also Hayley. Hayley pretends that she knows nothing, and just states that the suspect is fat, is tall, dresses ordinarily, and has fair skin. The auntie insist that the police leave, because Hayley is scheduled to sing in the church choir.

MORE CAT-AND-MOUSE IN THE CHURCH. And so, Hayley rushes off to the church, quickly dons her white gown, and joins the choir to sing. She brings along the gun, and shows it to a choir boy next to her. In one hand, she displays a bullet. During her singing solo, Hayley notices that the murderer is in the audience in the church. The event is actually a wedding ceremony for an Anglo-African couple, and other people in the audience seated in the pews are also Anglo-Africans. During the solo, Hayley breaks off, because she is shocked by the sight of the murderer. After the ceremony, Hayley dashes up to the attic of the church to hide. The murder follows her, and grabs Hayley, and takes away the gun. But the murderer has a change of heart. He falls to his knees, and starts praying. He calmly explains to Hayley why he killed Anya ("because she said she doesn't want me any more"). Hayley agrees to join the murderer on a cargo ship, because she wants to be employed on a cargo ship. (I told you that the plot moves along rapidly.)

THE MOTLEY PAIR. In the next scene, the police interrogate the choir boy who has the bullet. The boy's mother had discovered the bullet in the boy's pocket. The boy tells the police that Hayley has the gun. (The purpose of this part of the plot, is to depict the fact that several confusing clues are disclosed to the police.) The murderer enters a tavern, with the goal of viewing a schedule of cargo ships. In the bar, the radio announces the fact that Haley is missing, and that she is armed with a gun. The murderer dashes out of the tavern, and is re-united with Hayley, who had agreed to wait outside the bar while he was making his inquiry about the cargo ship schedule. The fact that Hayley is also a "wanted person" makes the plot more dangerous, because now the police are after the murderer (they still have no idea what he looks like) and because the police are also after Hayley. At this point, it is evident that the storyline has taken an improbable turn. The plot is now like a Mark Twain story, where a child befriends an escapee. Haley and the murderer spend the night in a broken-down house, in the nearby countryside. The pair tell happy stories to each other. Hayley rides a white pony, with the murderer walking at her side. (The viewer has no choice but to subject himself to this improbable plot twist, aside from switching off the movie.)

MORE SLEUTHING. The police inquire at the apartment formerly occupied by Anya, now occupied by a different woman (Christine). This woman hands over a cloth bag containing the murderer's belongings, which contains evidence in the form of a photograph of the murderer standing next to Anya. At the time that the police drop by Christine's apartment, it was by coincidence the case that the murderer was also at Christine's apartment, because he wanted to retrieve his cloth bag. Christine lets him hid behind a curtain, and he escapes. Meanwhile, the newspapers have a headline showing Hayley's photograph, proclaiming that she is a runaway who needs to be captured. There is a manhunt, and in short order, Hayley is captured. The police determined that she had not been telling the truth, regarding her earlier pretense of not knowing the physical appearance of the murderer. This further establishes Hayley as a pathological liar.
THE POLOMA CARACAS. Meanwhile, there is a brief scene were the murderer bribes his way onto passage on the ship, Poloma Caracas, where he is to find employment as a seaman.

THE WRONG SUSPECT. At one hour and 14 minutes into the movie, there is a police lineup, where one of the men in the lineup is the primary suspect. The primary suspect is a boyfriend of Anya, who happens to be an older married British man. Hayley is forced to review all of the men in the lineup. She points out that the older British man is the person she saw at Anya's apartment, and she implicates him as the murderer. But the police are able to determine that Hayley is a liar. In recounting what she saw through the mail slot, she states that the couple were Polish and were speaking Polish with each other. This enables the police to establish that their primary suspect (the older British man) is not a suspect at all (because he is not Polish). Meanwhile, the Poloma Caracas is about a mile out to sea, and is headed to the 3-mile boundary that will enable the murderer to be free of British control.
THE CHASE. The police realize that the true murderer is the seaman, and they jump into their police car, and zoom to the docks, with Hayley in tow. The police car is momentarily blocked on a narrow road, by a clunky-looking steam roller. Hayley is in the back seat, and she smiles broadly because the police car is blocked, thereby increasing the probability that the murderer will make good his escape. At any rate, the police with Hayley jump into a small boat, and catch up with the Poloma Caracas, climb aboard, and directly confront the murderer. Hayley repeatedly insists that she never saw the murderer, even though the murderer stands directly in front of her (the murderer tries very hard to remain calm, but he is shown clenching his fists).

SURPRISE ENDING. Don't worry, I will NOT give away the surprise ending. The last few minutes of the movie contain a few surprising about-faces. There is a clever surprise ending. Despite the cleverness of the last few minutes, the ending is somewhat forced, improbable, and not really satisfying. But the fact that the last minute of this fine movie is improbable, should not stop customers from enjoying this rapid-paced, finely-acted adventure. As I mentioned before, the cinematography is extremely good, and at least as good as that as in any Alfred Hitchcock movie. What I have in mind, is Alfred Hitchcock's black and white classic murder mystery, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.