Friday, September 24, 2010

A Third Death Note, Nazi Resistance, Alice Creed, Alice Reed and Olivia de Havilland Times Two

Over the three day Labor Day Weekend, I caught a trio of double features. I previously wrote about the Death Note films. By the way, there is a third Death Note film called Death Note: L, Change the World (2008). Ken'ichi Matsuyama reprises his role but the plot is largely independent of the events in the other Death Note films.

I saw Death Note on Saturday. On Sunday, I went to the Balboa and saw

Army of Crime; French & German with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
The Disappearance of Alice Creed starring Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan and Gemma Arterton; (2009) - Official Website

On Monday, I drove to Palo Alto and went to the Stanford Theater to see

The Woman in the Window starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett; directed by Fritz Lang; (1944)
The Dark Mirror starring Olivia de Havilland and Lew Ayres; directed by Robert Siodmak; (1946)


Army of Crime played at this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It was well received. The film is based on the real events involving a Nazi resistance cell led by French Armenian poet Missak Manouchian. The cast is large as several of the resistance fighers and their families are profiled. The very beginning of the film consists of a voice over roll call of the individuals with the declaration that they died for their country. Off the bat, you know thing won't end well for Manouchian and his group.

The film was a taut thriller but I didn't find it particularly memorable. Virginie Ledoyen who played Manouchian's wife stood out. I also found it ironic that the teenage Jewish girl informed on the cell. Actually, that part of the plot was the most interesting. Marcel Rayman (played by Robinson Stevenin) is a young man who is the most ardent of resisters. His girlfriend, Monique (Lola Naymark), escapes the roundup of the Jews but has to provide sexual favors from a French police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) to survive.


The Disappearance of Alice Creed was memorable in the extreme. One of the best films I've seen this year, Alice Creed is lean thriller in which only three people appear on screen - Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) are two well-prepared kidnappers and their victim is Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton). The film chronicles the preparation of the crime, the period Creed is held hostage and the resolution of the events. On first impression, Danny is a little nervous, Vic is rock steady and possible sociopathic and Alice Creed is terrified. As the film unfolds, the backstory is revealed and there are several surprises which I won't reveal. The relationship between the three changes as the film progresses and there are enough twists to keep one guessing as to how the film will end. The three actors and director J Blakeson do an excellent job in prolonging the heightened sense of anxiety.

I've seen quite a bit of Marsan in the past couple years. Recent credits which I've enjoyed include a small role in the Red Riding Trilogy, a supporting role in The Illusionist and the unhinged driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky. I think he is quite a talented actor and his character in Alice Creed shows his range.


The Woman in the Window was tremendously entertaining. Edward G. Robinson plays a bored college psychology professor whose family is away for the summer. Professor Richard Wanley dines nightly at his private gentlemen's club with his best friends: Frank Lalor, the District Attorney and Dr. Michael Barkstane, his physician. Next to the club, Wanley notices a painting of a beautiful woman. One night, while gazing at the painting, the woman appears behind him as she likes to admire her own image. Her name is Alice Reed (Joan Bennett). She and Wanley strike up a conversation which leads to Wanley having a nightcap at her apartment. Suddenly a man bursts in and starts attacking Wanley. In self-defense, Wanley kills the man. Alice informs him that he is a man she has dallied with. The only point of disbelief was at this moment. Instead of calling the police, Wanley & Reed decide to dispose of the body. I can half-way believe it since it would have been a scandal for the married Wanley to be involved in the death of a beautiful woman's acquaintance. Less believable is why Reed would go along with it.

Once we move past that sticking point, the film moves into high gear. Wanley is fed information about the case in the form of gossip from Lalor. Repeatedly Wanley reveals information which only the killer would know but it is dismissed as coincident since Lalor would never expect his old friend of such a crime. Slowly, the investigation closes in on Wanley but a real monkey wrench is thrown into the works when Dan Duryea shows up to blackmail Wanley & Reed. Watching Robinson sink while desperately trying to keep his head above the fray was immensely enjoyable. The ending was a huge disappointment which would only be tolerated in Hollywood during the Production Code. However, Lang infuses the scene without enough tongue-in-cheek to make it barely palatable. Despite that, the film is one of the best suspense and even noir films I've seen.


The least fulfilling of the four films was The Dark Mirror which stars Olivia de Havilland in dual roles. She plays identical twins - one good and one evil (and a killer). Fortunately for the audience, they wear monogrammed accessories to help distinguish them. That is until the decide to fool the psychiatrist (Lew Ayres) who is interviewing them for his research...and falls in love with one of them. But does he know which one is which? You get the gist of the plot. De Havilland wasn't bad but the plot was so contrived that it was difficult to appreciate the film for its merits. Thomas Mitchell, who I've recently seen in Stage Coach, High Noon and Dark Waters, shows up as the befuddled police detective. He provides some comic relief.

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