Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Two tragic love stories

Anytime Hal picks up something by Jean Renoir, I get all excited. This week's treat was Renoir's 1938 film La Bête Humaine.

In his introductory talk on this film, Renoir tells us that Gabin approached him to consider adapting the Zola novel. They'd worked together on a number of other films before and were very fond of each other. They also liked trains; La Bête Humaine would give them ample chance to play with trains.

Jean Gabin as Jacques Lantier, a man caught up in a love triangle between the Stationmaster's wife and his engine. Kind of like The General, only different.

Where to begin in talking about this - there's so much. What really struck me was Renoir's Social Realism compared to, say the Soviet or Chinese versions. Examples of the latter two seem to be more caricaturing of the Working Man they're trying to glorify. Renoir seems to genuinely feel for and love his characters.

Like with many 1930s French films, there's a prewar darkness in this story: a crime setup that seems a precursor to film noir. Also, Simone Simon has a jaw set, a toughness under her beauty that seems characteristic of French female stars of the time period. (Probably a pre war thing, as I've seen pictures of her in later years where she's softened up a fair bit). She makes an excellent femme fatale, but still a bit off-putting.

To me, the train scenes were the best. Gabin and LaCarrette are almost like one with each other and their locomotive. The off-track interactions are interesting to watch as well; there is a natural rapport between them that was no doubt fostered by previous work together. Beautiful.

The second film, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, absolutely screamed for MST3K treatment. Another adaptation, this time of the Flying Dutchman myth, but with the added benefit of Pandora and her crazy box thrown in.

"The Loves of Pandora in Flaming TECHNICOLOR!" Oh yeah, flaming's the right word for this one. Don't know about for the Technicolor, though, as this one's a Kino release and thus is muddier than all get out.

Ava Gardner was something to look at, though I don't really understand why she was wearing peignoirs practically all the time; guess that that just indicates glamour or something.

After seeing him in Georgy Girl and Lolita, I'm afraid that I can never envision James Mason as anything but creepy. Still, I did feel for his Flying Dutchman, as thanks to Pandora, I got a glimpse as to what an eternity in purgatory might feel like.

"Kill me now, for the love of God!"


Hal's been chuckling for days at one of the exchanges between Pandora Reynolds and Jan van der Zee:

JZ: "And what would you give up for me?"
PR: "My life. I would give up my life for you. And you?"
JZ: "My redemption."

(D'oh! Trumped!)

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