Author: Leo Racicot

June 16, 2008 / / Film Notes

topkapiTopkapi – dir. Jules Dassin – 1964 – Original Theatrical Trailer

From the fizz of the bouzouki music that begins it to the sad but happy ending which of course, I won’t give away, Topkapi takes us on a great caper carpet ride. For a 48 year old movie, it is as fresh and as taut as the day it was made.

Typical of Sixties’ films: the fluorescent Technicolor, the mod look in fashion, the continental locales, the now vintage cars, it sparkles like the emerald-encrusted dagger the thieves mean to steal. The cast is hand-picked by cinematic heaven: handsome Maximillian Schell, Melina Mercouri with her crazy, dangerous eyes, that mad, Magnani-like laugh. And don’t forget the nonesuch Robert Morley’s eyebrows. If all he had to act with were those eyebrows, he would still sail through his work on a breeze. Peter Ustinov here more than deserves the Oscar he won for Best Supporting Actor; watch for the rat-a-tat frenzied energy of his voice, his face, his walk; the wedgie he shakes from his ample bottom getting out of an automobile. The film is filled with such flourishes and touches: the pistol slipped into the door handle of a car, as if into a holster; the slow, upside-down descent of limber Gilles Segal towards the real Topkapidagger, the fake one glistening on his sweaty chest; Morley turning and turning around and saying, when asked what he is doing, “I’m being a lighthouse”; Ustinov being wrapped in a brassiere of rope. And this has to be one of the first pictures to show two, young, gay men strolling, post-coitus, across a Turkish square; groundbreaking, indeed, for 1964!

June 16, 2008 / / Film Notes

pickup on south street 2Pickup on South Street – dir. Samuel Fuller – 1953

Samuel Fuller didn’t fool around; he was not out to prettify film and once said being restricted to little or no budget was a blessing: “The cheaper the budget, the grittier the film”. And boy, are his films gritty! From the start of his career, Fuller fine-tuned a technique that was taut and raw, a bald tire style that makes you think everything and everyone in his films is going to explode at any moment. He did not embrace and had no patience for the lush, velour shades of a Lubitsch or a Capra; he didn’t give a damn if his pictures fell easily on the eye. He was concerned that they depict accurately that slice of the world he grew up in and knew, a world where you could as easily be kissed as killed,where one minute, you are being romanced by a handsome thug and being rubbed out by him like a half-smoked cigarette the next. Fuller celebrated low-life and the denizens of New York the way children celebrate birthdays — with noisemakers, pop guns and glee, and he made no apologies for accusations that he glorified crime – being Sam Fuller meant never having to say you’re sorry. His films were not blockbusters in their day; Time has turned them into lasting gems for now we see the honest tales they told; time capsule artifacts of a period in our history that truly was unique.