India, Czechoslovakia, London, Argentina: Around the World in Movies (#SFWApro)

CHARULATA (1964) was a disappointing film from Satyajit Ray in which the wife of a 19th century Indian newspaper publisher finds herself strongly attracted to his ne’er do well intellectual brother. The best moments are between the husband and wife, so the focus on the wife/brother connection didn’t work for me. “Have you ever seen actors play dead soldiers on stage?”

HANGMEN ALSO DIE (1943) was made a year after the Nazi officer “Hangman” Heydrich was assassinated (though as the film notes, “executed” for his crimes would be a fairer term) in Czechoslovakia, showing the resistance struggle to shield gunman Brian Donlevy in the belief his escape makes him a symbol of the Czech spirit. But can they keep it together when the Germans start shooting random hostages and weasel Gene Lockhart is ratting out the resistance from within? Well made by Fritz Lang, who co-wrote the script with Bertold Brecht, and while uplifting, also grimly realistic about the price of defiance — parts of the plot concerns the efforts to get kindly professor Walter Brennan off the hostage list before he’s shot and they don’t work. “I happen to remember another Hitler joke.”

STORY OF A HANGMAN (2014) was a documentary special feature by the author of a Heydrich biography, revealing that unsurprisingly things did not go as well in the real world as in the movie. Not only was the Nazi retaliation horrifyingly brutal, but the execution was arranged by the Czech government-in-exile, not by the resistance. And depressingly much of the operation was given up by informers, resulting in the killers committing suicide rather than being taken alive. As all I know of Heydrich was watching films (e.g. Hitler’s Madman), this was a welcome addition.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) has George Zucco’s Moriarty inform Basil Rathbone’s Holmes that to pay the detective back for almost sending him to the gallows, Moriarty will destroy his reputation by pulling off the crime of the century under Holmes nose. Holmes is supposed to be helping with security at the Tower of London, but Moriarty knows a routine job will bore him compared to the spectacular mystery the Professor arranges to distract him (the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a fake clubfoot, Incan death music — it all makes sense!). This is an excellent film (nominally based on a successful stage play, but nothing of the play remains), though Nigel Bruce’s Watson remains an appallingly dim bulb. Zucco and Rathbone are both great though (though Rathbone is too high energy — he never does capture those moments when Holmes relaxes into uneasy calm) with great dialog between Holmes and Moriarty (“I admire your brain so much I’d like to donate it, picked in alcohol, to the Royal Medical Society!”) and Moriarty and his butler (“All that’s left of him is one boot.”). With EE Clive as a Scotland Yard boob and Ida Lupino as a damsel in distress. The commentary by a mystery-magazine editor was interesting too, pointing out the usual trivia along with comparisons to the stories (he’s quite right, stories of avengers rising from the client’s past to kill are quite common in Doyle). “This is no childish game, Miss Brandon, but a cryptic warning of avenging death!”

GILDA (1946) has gambler Glenn Ford become the right hand and kept man of George Macready (they don’t come out and say it but the subtext is pretty much text here), who gets knocked for a loop to discover his boss has not only married, but it’s Ford’s old flame, Rita Hayworth. What follows is a really twisted romantic triangle (as one of the special features says, it probably makes more sense if we think of Macready, not Hayworth, as the apex of the triangle) which is far more interesting than the crime plot involving a tungsten syndicate. Very good. “A man who makes his own luck, as I do, recognizes it in another.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Movies, Sherlock Holmes

2 responses to “India, Czechoslovakia, London, Argentina: Around the World in Movies (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Is Sherlock Holmes — Powerless? Movie/TV reviews (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: “It was the footprint of a gigantic hound!” The Hound of the Baskervilles (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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