Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 July 2017

Visions from 1964: Part Three

Some of these 1964 films have been weird, but some have also been brilliantly good. Here are some of the excellent ones.

Mario Monicelli's I Compagni (The Organizer) is a gorgeous movie about striking textile-factory workers in 19th century Turin. This film has been added to The Criterion Collection, and with good reason. It stars Marcello Mastroianni (also in 1964's Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage Italian Style) as a labor organizer who inspires the town's workers to strike against the factory owners. But the film isn't really about Mastroianni's organizer as its focus (the title in Italian translates to something more like Comrades than The Organizer); it's about the workers in the town and the actual struggle of their labor and their strike.

This film follows a strike in the 19th century, but it felt completely relevant to today, and it was easy to see how the movie would have felt relevant to Italians in 1963 and Americans in 1964. But more than that, this is also just a superbly made, beautifully acted, deeply satisfying movie.

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Another movie I loved is Fate Is the Hunter by director Ralph Nelson. Fate Is the Hunter is an ensemble picture but stars Glenn Ford (for whom I fell so hard in Dear Heart). The premise of this film is a plane crash and then an investigation into that plane crash and what caused it. There seems to be no real explanation for the crash, or rather too many explanations for the crash, but our main character is determined to get to the real cause, which everyone keeps saying "must just be fate". Glenn Ford refuses to accept this explanation and keeps digging. This is a bit of a strange movie, I guess, mostly because of its time scheme. At the beginning of the movie we watch a really terrifically filmed plane crash, but then the film totally switches gears and the majority of the movie is a kind of detective story filled with flashbacks to the life of the pilot, who has died in the crash.

But Fate Is the Hunter is so compelling, the story so good, and the acting so very well done (with performances by Nancy Kwan, Rod Taylor, and an especially good turn by character actor Mark Stevens) that its quirky dramaturgy felt justified, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. The script is excellent, and especially when compared to Clint Eastwood's boring Sully, which tries to do much of what Fate Is the Hunter does with nowhere near as much success, it felt really special.

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Philippe de Broca's action-adventure-tourism film L'Homme de Rio (That Man from Rio) is an absurd, delightful gem starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. The plot is this – there are these three idols which have been taken from the Brazilian rainforest and then, like, divided up between three different people (one in Paris, two in Brazil), and there is a treasure to which they hold the key. OK, honestly, I've forgotten the entirety of the completely absurd premise. The point of the movie is that Jean-Paul Belmondo is a soldier who has a week of leave in Paris ends up following his drugged girlfriend to Rio and chasing around bad guys and trying to solve a mystery. It's intended as a mockery of James Bond seriousness, approaching a typical Bond plot with a carefree attitude and a silly tone.

This is a delightful, ridiculous, completely fun movie from which many, many action-adventure movies could learn a ton. Belmondo is comic, handsome perfection (he was obviously at his sexiest in 1964), and the script is perfectly absurd with just enough hilarious twists and turns to be enjoyable without crossing over into stupidity. I loved this movie.

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And then there is Bo Widerberg's Kvarteret Korpen (Raven's End). I actually had never seen anything by this Swedish director, surprisingly, and I thought this movie was perfect. Raven's End is about a young man growing up in an impoverished housing project in Sweden. His father is an alcoholic, and the family has landed on very hard times. But the young man is determined to get out of his housing project by writing. He is also a part-time political activist, and the film, for some of its length wonders about how one actually might improve one's situation by staying in the housing project and working to make it better.

But Raven's End is also a portrait of the people in the housing project, of the intriguing characters who have come to make it their home, of some who have grown up there and never gotten out, of children living in poverty, of silly pie-in-the-sky dreams. This is a masterfully told story, and the film itself looks at its characters without sentiment and puts the hard questions to them. I adored this film.

Raven's End, however, is not available on DVD in the U.S. (I got my bootleg copy with questionable subtitles through the Movie Detective.) How it is possible that this excellent movie is not widely available, I really don't know, but the Criterion Collection needs to pick this one up.