Films: Drama/Romance

BARRICADE. 20th Century Fox, 1939. Alice Faye, Warner Baxter, Charles Winninger, Arthur Treacher, Keye Luke, Willie Fung, Philip Ahn. Directed by Gregory Ratoff.

   In the midst of war-torn China, an isolated, almost forgotten American consulate is besieged by Mongolian bandits, Trapped inside, among others, are a beautiful American woman (traveling incognito without a passport as the Russian wife of a dead American) and a reporter who is “temporarily” between jobs, fired for having concocted an interview with a Chinese general who (unbeknownst to him) was dead at the time.

   On the surface this is nothing more than a love story, taking place against a background of history’s making, filled with suspense and brave deeds, but once again the real hero is neither of the two leading stars. As the consul who is all but forgotten by his country, Charles Winninger turns in an outstanding performance as a patriot who has not forgotten his country a fraction of an inch. Seemingly bumbling and naive, Winninger shows that his character knows exactly what is going on, and that trampling on the rights of Americans is not an action that should be taken lightly.

   In other words, an old-fashioned movie that’s as timely as last month’s headlines.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991.




● W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM – The Narrow Corner. William Heinemann Ltd., UK, hardcover, 1932.

● THE NARROW CORNER. Warners, 1933. Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Patricia Ellis, Ralph Bellamy, Dudley Digges, Artur Hohl, Reginald Owen, Willie Fung, and Sidney Toler. Screenplay by Robert Presnell. Directed by Alfred E. Green.

● ISLE OF FURY. Warners, 1936. Humphrey Bogart, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Woods, E.E. Clive, Paul Graetz, George Regas, Tetsu Komai, Miki Morita, and Frank Lackteen. Screenplay by Robert Hardy Andrews and William Jacobs. Directed by Frank McDonald.

   The Narrow Corner finds Maugham striding confidently through Joseph Conrad territory, with a Marlow-like narrator recalling his encounter with a young wastrel out cruising the south seas to evade a murder rap in Australia. With the ship laid up for repairs on a remote island, the young man meets a family of simple, decent Dutch traders and finds love (or does he?) when it’s too late (or is it?)

   Maugham does a splendid job with the locations, the simple plot and the complex characterizations, but it sometimes seems he’s trying too hard to write a Serious Novel when he could be telling a Good Story. I should also add, in case you’re bothered by it, that this is the homosexiest straight novel I’ve seen in some time: the women are generally predatory or self-absorbed, and Maugham spends a lot of time contrasting the physical beauty and innocence of the young men with the saggy, baggy dissipation of their elders.

   Despite the subtext, The Narrow Corner was snapped up by Warners and filmed just a year after publication. In those heady, pre-code days, Hollywood could still exploit the steamy exoticism of the thing, and director Alfred E. Green and writer Robert Presnell did rather well by it, Presnell excising Maugham’s pretensions, and Green slapping the story on screen with pace and style.

   Corner offers one of the best storm-at-sea scenes ever in the Movies, plus a cast of able thespians (including Doug Fairbanks Jr. as the wastrel, Patricia Ellis as the love-starved island girl, Dudley Digges and Arthur Hohl as dope-addict doctor and crooked captain, and Sidney Toler as a tough “fixer.”) delivering some sharp lines. The film falls down only in the casting of Ralph Bellamy, the mere appearance of whom gives away the ending immediately.

   A few years later, Warners went to the well again, and to their credit, they made an enjoyable “B” picture out of the thing. True, they tossed out most of Maugham’s novel (He got screen credit anyway, which he may or may not have welcomed.) but they filled it up with crackerjack ideas of their own invention: shifty natives planning robbery and fomenting unrest; a larcenous skipper prone to murder; undersea mayhem, and even a hokey octopus!

   Humphrey Bogart, sporting an unflattering mustache, stars as a husband balanced precariously on the edge of cuckoldry when mysterious castaway Donald Woods turns up on his remote tropical island. Wise old Doctor E.E. Clive is quick to intuit the attraction between Woods and Bogey’s bride (lovely Margaret Lindsay, whose star burned steadily in Hollywood but somehow never caught fire) but writers Andrews and Jacobs cut away to the action scenes before things get too syrupy.

   They also do a good job of fleshing out the characters to more than B-movie dimensions. Director McDonald lets his actors expand to fit the parts, as his camera moves gracefully through the studio tropics. As for Bogart, well, this was the point in his career when Warners was still wondering what to do with him, the years he spent playing second-leads, vampires and Mexican bandits. He looks a bit as if at any moment the writers might decide to kill off his character, and the uncertainty works well in this context. It’s not Maugham’s novel, but it’s a dandy bit of entertainment in the Warners style.


THE BARBARIAN. MGM, 1933. Ramon Navarro, Myrna Loy, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Edward Arnold, Hedda Hopper.  Screenwriters: Anita Loos & Elmer Harris. Directed by
Sam Wood.

   Myrna Loy is the only reason that anyone would watch this movie today. (And whatever became of Ramon Navarro?) It’s a strange mixture of comedy and strong melodrama, and maybe all the more fascinating (and “keepable”) because of it. (Or maybe not, since I’ve already reused the tape and recorded over it after watching it only once.)

   Here’s the story line. Besides being a guide, Navarro is a romantic gigolo who spends his time watching the Cairo train station for the arrival of rich foreign tourist women – rich, lonesome, and easy prey for men such as this. When Myrna Loy’s train comes in, however, he immediately drops everything (and everyone) else, and from that time on, she is the object of his never-ending attention and affection.

   This causes some problems, mostly amusing, at the beginning. She is already engaged to be married. (Reginald Denny is a stuffed shirt, true, but she loves him.) She also has the unfortunate ability to see through Navarro’s “charms.” She is flattered, but she spurns his advances – and this is a bad mistake. Suddenly the movie isn’t quite so funny any more. In fact, in a wedding scene that comes soon after, the atmosphere is extremely tense indeed.

   From here, this slightly risque, crazy-quilt tale muddles its way through to a conclusion that could only be described as “totally expected,” but through it all, Myrna Loy somehow still manages to hold her own. This maybe the only movie in which she is seen taking (and leaving) a bubble bath, and now that I am thinking about it, maybe I shouldn’t have erased it after all.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991, in slightly revised form.




● WEDDING PRESENT. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, George Bancroft, Conrad Nagel, William Demarest, Gene Lockhart, Edward Brophy. Screenplay: Joseph Anthony, based on a story by Paul Gallico. Directed by Richard Wallace.

● BIG BROWN EYES. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, Walter Pidgeon, Lloyd Nolan, Alan Baxter, Marjorie Gateson, Isabel Jewel, Douglas Fowley, Henry Brandon, Joe Sawyer. Screenplay by Raoul Walsh, Bert Hanlon, based on the stories “Big Brown Eyes” and “Hahsit Babe” by James Edward Grant. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   These two early Cary Grant starring vehicles are both bright genre films mixing screwball comedy, crime, and adventure and both co-starring Joan Bennett still a blonde, just before dying her hair dark in Tay Garnett’s Trade Winds would change her career forever.

   Wedding Present is a screwball comedy about Chicago reporters Charlie Mason and Monica “Rusty” Fleming who as the film opens are flirting with marriage, but cold feet on both their parts as well as an addiction to elaborate practical jokes are the bane of their long suffering City Editor George Bancroft, who would fire them if they weren’t such good reporters.

   Which they prove in short order by angling an interview with a visiting Archduke (Gene Lockhart), taking him on a monumental toot where they end up at the lake house of aviator George Meeker. Not only do they get an exclusive interview with the Archduke, they rescue New York gangster Smiley Benson from drowning earning his eternal gratitude, and learning a ship is lost in a storm on the lake hijack Meeker and his plane managing to find the missing ship and get a double headline before the noon edition.

   When Bancroft can no longer put up with either of them he retires and Grant finds himself promoted to City Editor which infuriates Bennett when she comes back from a vacation. She heads off to New York where she meets obnoxiously obvious self-help author Roger Dodacker (Conrad Nagel) and gets engaged to him so Grant quits and heads to New York to win her back with the help of Smiley and a bit of kidnapping, false fire alarms, and a renewed sense of insanity.

   Appropriately the films ends as they are carried away on top of a firetruck headed for Hillview Sanitarium.

   It’s almost, but not quite a prequel to His Girl Friday as you can easily see Charlie and Rusty maturing to become Walter and Hildy.

   Crime is central rather than incidental to Big Brown Eyes.

   In this one Bennett is Eve Fallon, a manicurist who becomes a hot shot reporter and teams with her cop boyfriend Danny Barr (Grant) to solve the murder of a child after their bickering gets her fired from her job as a manicurist.

   Walter Pidgeon is Richard Morey a slick lawyer who gets Lloyd Nolan’s gangster Russ Cortig off when a stray shot results in the death of a woman’s baby (Marjorie Gateson). The bickering Eve and Danny reunite when a disgusted Danny quits the force to get Nolan and crooked lawyer Pidgeon and the result is a fast moving, fast talking, surprisingly tough little film in a minor hard-boiled key — the kind of thing George Harmon Coxe, Dwight Babcock, and Richard Sale used to write — with Grant surprisingly good as a tough smart cop operating mostly like a private eye.

   Raoul Walsh was one of the most capable action directors of all time and no mean hand at comedy, so this one moves hardly pausing for a breath as the action gallops by. Maybe it wouldn’t make the pages of Black Mask, but I can imagine it in Dime Detective  or Detective Fiction Weekly.

   The interest here is in seeing two major stars both on the cusp of breaking big in a pair of fast acting genre films and backed with first rate co-stars in the kind of thing the studios used to turn out seemingly effortlessly.

   Wedding Present recently showed up streaming on Classic Reels and Big Brown Eyes can still be found on DVD from its 2014 release. Neither movie is a classic by any means, but both stars are well represented in these films that are fast, funny, and smart full of bright dialogue, wit, and movement.



ANGEL FACE. RKO, 1953. Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Herbert Marshall and Kenneth Tobey. Written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Millard and Frank Erskine. Directed by Otto Preminger.

   One of those movies like Woman on the Beach that puts me at a loss. It’s compelling, dull, forceful, meandering, ordinary and dreamlike all at the same time. I couldn’t call it a really successful film, but once I start watching it I have to finish.

   The plot has Robert Mitchum involved with a potential murderess, as in Out of the Past, but without that film’s lush romanticism. Everyone in Angel Face is worried about conventional things like jobs and living expenses, which mitigates against the interest of the whole thing but adds considerably to the realism. The story moves at a snail’s pace as working-stiff Mitchum tries to figure out whether or not he loves wealthy neurotic Jean Simmons, while she tries to get around to murdering her stepmother.

   So things just sort of drift along until we suddenly realize, about the same time Mitchum does, that he has somehow moved too far away from his workaday life to return to it, and that his old friends don’t want him back anyway. About this time, the story shifts into Heavy Melodrama from which, like its hero, it tries to draw back but never quite gets there.

   The ending, with another working stiff calling to a man who will never answer, somehow sums the whole thing up with a poetic terseness that lingers in the mind…. as I say, not an easy film to like, but one that stays with you.



THE TOWN. Warner Bros., 2010. Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite. Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s 2004 novel Prince of Thieves. Director: Ben Affleck. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

   It begins with a bank heist in Boston. Well-choreographed, with director Ben Affleck in full control of a fluid situation, The Town starts off with unbridled action. It sparks and sizzles with furious electricity, reminiscent of other bank robbery/heist films, most notably Michael Mann’s Heat (1995). And with a few exchanged glances between robber and captive, the plot becomes clear. This is primarily to be a movie about the relationship between a bank robber and the female assistant bank manager whom he forced into opening the vault at gunpoint. That will form the core of the tale yet to unfold.

   Ben Affleck, who stars as well directs, portrays “Doug” MacRay, a long-term resident of the Charlestown section of north Boston, with the city almost becoming a fundamental character in the list of players. He, along with his friend Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), were raised in near poverty in the townie Irish neighborhood and now lead a crew of thieves. Reporting to local kingpin Fergie Colm (Pete Postlethwaite), they are skilled professionals who are willing to use threats of violence to achieve their objectives.

   All this begins to change when Doug begins to fall for his former hostage Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Although he initially follows her around to see what she knows about the bank robbery he took part in, Doug slowly begins to imagine getting out of his life of crime and creating a new one with her. Complicating matters is Doug’s former flame, oxycontin addict Kris Coughlin (an underutilized Blake Lively), who also happens to be Jem’s sister. Not to mention the two persistent local FBI agents on his trail.

   Overall, this is a solid crime drama – with the emphasis on drama. Although there are action sequences, including a suspenseful third act robbery sequence filmed on location near Fenway Park, the film’s primary focus is on the relationships between the characters. While the complicated relationship between Doug and Claire is the central focus of the story, Doug’s decidedly mixed feelings toward his father also plays a prominent role in the narrative.

   Unfortunately, what prevents this heist film from being anything overly exceptional is the film’s reliance on too many outworn tropes. The forced sentimentalism designed to make the viewer feel sympathy for Doug occasionally feels cheap.

   Without giving anything away, let’s just say that the final ten minutes or so of the movie in particular feels artificial. It’s not that what you see couldn’t have happened; rather, it’s the way that it’s visually presented that could feel grating, especially to crime film aficionados. The ending feels at once tragically inevitable and completely out of left field. Similarly, it’s somehow off-putting to have such an ambiguously tidy ending to an emotionally messy and nuanced film.

   Affleck is a skillful director who gets the most out of his exceptionally talented cast, including Victor Garber (Alias), who has a brief cameo as a hostage, and veteran character actor Chris Cooper who portrays his incarcerated father. There are some flourishes that I found distracting, such as his tendency to repeatedly use drone footage of Boston to remind the viewer where the film was set (as if anyone would forget?) and his decision to employ grimy black and white cinematography for flashbacks.

   But don’t let that stop you from watching this one. Affleck’s immersion in his character, Boston accent and all, is near complete. Directing oneself is not always the humblest of tasks. He pulls it off with sincerity.


HARD EIGHT. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1996. Philip Baker Hall (Sydney), John C. Reilly (John Finnegan), Gwyneth Paltrow (Clementine), Samuel L. Jackson (Jimmy), Philip Seymour Hoffman. Screenwriter-director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   I watched this one late last year, and if I actually rated movies and kept lists of such rankings, this one would have come out close to the top. (Please note that if I were to put together such non-existent lists, they would be for the year that I watched them, not the year they were released.)

   It was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson in his feature film debut, and cinematically speaking it’s a dazzler. Or it is if you like movies set in casinos (in Reno), with lots and lots of neon lights, cheap diners and even cheaper hotels and drab apartment buildings. Anderson also wrote the screenplay, and it’s a dazzler, too, wordwise. Not in a David Mamet sense, but in the sense that the words the characters in this movie are exactly the words the characters would say, if they were in the real world.

   Plotwise? That’s something of another matter. It is thin, I admit, and it seems thinner than it really is since it is so slow to develop. An elderly man named Sidney whose face looks like it’s seen all of the woes of the world (Philip Baker Hall) takes a young man named John (John C. Reilly) whom he finds slumped outside the door of a diner, the money he needs to bury his mother all gambled away, under his wing.

   The young man, not the most sophisticated young man in any part of the world, but especially not in Reno, becomes the older man’s protégé, the latter obviously knowing his way around a gambling hall very well. Why he does so we do not know, but we are forced by the script (I do not know how) to assume (hope) it is for a good reason. And do we keep watching, although nothing really is happening? Indeed we do.

   There are two more players: Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) as a casino waitress who moonlights as a hooker and if anything is less sophisticated than John. What we do know is that he is attracted to her. Then there is Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson), whose brashness Sidney dislikes immediately but whom John considers his new best friend. At this point we still do not know what is really happening, but this is also the point at which the plot finally does kick in.

   And it is also the point at which I ironically will stop talking about the plot of this movie. Suffice it to say that from this point on, some of players will do some stupid things, and we are not surprised because these are some of the stupid things people like this would do.

   We also learn a good many things that we did not know before, and although we did not know them before, everything all of sudden falls into place exactly as they would have all along, if we had known what they were.

   I’d call this neo-noir, even though it ends on what I consider a good note, but shakily so, as people such as those in this movie are not exempt from the realization on the part of the viewer that it is not guaranteed that people such as these will only do one stupid thing in each of their lives.



DESERT FURY. Paramount Pictures, 1947. Lizbeth Scott, John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey (debut), Mary Astor, James Flavin. Screenplay by Robert Rossen, based on the novel Desert Town by Ramona Stewart (Morrow, 1946), previously serialized as “Bitter Harvest” in Collier’s from November 24 to December 8, 1945. Director: Lewis Allen. Available on DVD.

   Paula (Lizbeth Scott) is the spoiled daughter (she’s supposed to be nineteen but seems much older) of controlling casino (The Purple Sage) owner Fritzi (Mary Astor) who tries to run her the way she does the little desert town of Chuckawalla, Nevada. She’s just run away from another boarding school tired of being looked down on because of what her Mother does, yet defiant enough to want to be part of the business.

Deputy Tom Hansen (Burt Lancaster walking into Fritiz’s office): The wages of sin.

Fritzi (counting money): Are very high.

   Complicating things are the arrival of handsome gambler Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) whose wife died in a mysterious accident years earlier and his dangerous too devoted stooge Johnny (Wendell Corey in his film debut), and washed up rodeo star turned local deputy Tom Hansen (Burt Lancaster) who is attracted to Paula too and still suspicious of the way Bendix wife died.

   When Fritzi’s meddling and Tom’s suspicions drives Paula into Eddie’s arms complications ensue.

   You couldn’t have much better Film Noir bona fides than this cast, screenwriter Robert Rossen, or director Lewis Allen, and the film is handsomely shot on location and set in color. But despite that, despite the mystery and the broken characters, Desert Fury is more soap opera than Film Noir, Gothic fiction in rancheros and with cactus instead of brooding castles on crumbling cliffs, but Gothic romance for all that.

   The film is attractive, and entertaining, but it never quite evolves into the promise of genuine noir. Maybe it’s because Hodiak’s Bendix is so obviously a bad ’un (no Maxim de Winter he, “He’s no good … you think I brought you up for the likes of Eddie Bendix … I’d rather see you dead first.”) and Lancaster’s Tom so obviously the wounded hero of a thousand Gothic novels from Jane Eyre to Rebecca.

   Corey’s Johnny, with his sinister slightly perverse devotion to Eddie and his threat of violence to anyone who might cross Eddie or come between them, is the most noirish element in the film, and Corey, self assured in his debut, cannily underplays it avoiding any temptation to compete with Van Heflin’s Oscar winning debut in the similar role opposite Robert Taylor in Johnny Eager. The undercurrents here are just that, undercurrents.

Johnny: People think they’ve been seeing Eddie, and they’ve really been seeing me. I’m Eddie Bendix.

   If a single character was enough to make a film noir, Corey’s Johnny would qualify.

   When Eddie chooses Paula over Johnny it brings things to a head and we learn the real secret of Eddie’s wife’s accident and what Eddie has been hiding.

Paula: I hope you never get finished with me.

Eddie: Why?

Paula: I’d hate to be left on a desert road at night with my luggage.

Eddie: Keep it in mind.

   Gorgeously shot in Technicolor and well written with a lush Miklos Rosza score, Desert Fury is an entertaining Gothic, but it isn’t the Film Noir it wants to be. Its dark secrets are those of romantic fiction and not Noir, its perversions those of soap opera and not existential angst. The big revelation that Eddie and Paula’s mother were once an item is still more soap than noir.

   Even the tough guy stuff between Hodiak and Lancaster is half-hearted at best.

   As Paula starts to find out who Eddie is and the truth pours out of Johnny when Eddie abandons him the tension rises (“.. he’s never been able to take the rap.”). It builds to a suspenseful finale, and if taken as the Gothic fiction decked out as Film Noir it is the film does not disappoint, but it really isn’t quite Noir however much it tries to wear the look and feel.

Paula: There was no Eddie Bendix. Everything that people thought was Eddie Bendix was Johnny.

   You could almost say the same of Desert Fury. It really isn’t Film Noir. Everything you think is Film Noir isn’t, but accept it for what it is, and it more than does the job.


CAFÉ METROPOLE. 20th Century Fox, 1937 Loretta Young, Tyrone Power, Adolphe Menjou, Charles Winninger, Helen Westley, Gregory Ratoff, Christian Rub. Screenpla: Jacques Deval. Story: Gregory Ratoff Directed by Edward H. Griffith.

   This Hollywood take on French farce written by character actor Gregory Ratoff could use a bit less romance and a bit more farce, but thanks to the cast and an intelligent screenplay has more than enough charm to get by.

   There are no real crimes here, though the police are certainly involved. It’s the sort of film where everyone is conning everyone else, sometimes even themselves.

   Monsieur Victor (Adolphe Menjou) owns the Café Metropole and his accountant Maxl (Christain Rub) has just informed him he is in the red and the auditors are coming. He needs to think and act fast, but luckily for Victor things are already falling in place in the person of an American millionaire Joseph Ridgeway (Charles Winninger), his sister Margaret (Helen Westley) and his daughter Laura (Loretta Young) who are arriving soon and hoping to meet celebrities and royalty. If Victor can arrange a royal romance, he might get the money he needs from Winninger.

   All he needs to arrange that is the right man, and who should show up but flat broke American heir Alexander Brown (Tyrone Power), who manages to fall in debt at the gaming tables to Victor with a rubber check bouncing around signed by him.

   But everything will be just fine if Alexander Brown becomes the Russian Prince Alexi Paneiev and charms the beautiful Laura.

   And almost immediately things get complicated. Alexander and Laura meet before they know who the other is (or is supposed to be) and actually start to fall in love, Daddy Ridgeway smells a rat (though the wrong one), and Paul the waiter (Gregory Ratoff) proves to be the real Prince Alexi more than a little incensed by the impostor.

   Power and Young, who were virtually a screen team, play their parts with effortless charm, their combined beauty and screen presence, even as male and female ingenues, enough to carry any film, but this one doesn’t have to rely on that alone, with Menjou as the suave continental con man Victor, Winninger the slightly befuddled comical American millionaire, Westley his sharp witted sister and advocate for Laura, and Ratoff a proud, haughty, but for sale Russian prince.

   Menjou specialized in variations on this jaded but still romantic charmer no more honest than was required by the circumstances. What energy the film has comes mostly from him, Ratoff, and Westley, though Young gets her turn at the end.

   Power bridled at these sort of roles eventually and welcomed a chance after the War to play something with a bit more depth.

   Young proves smarter and tougher than anyone expects when Alexander wants out of the con game and gets framed by Victor to get money from Ridgeway, and this being American and not quite French farce, there is little edge and no sex considering the model here is known for both.

   This isn’t Lubitch, Billy Wlder, Preston Sturges, or Mitchell Leisen, and their deft hand at this sort of material is sorely missed, but it is still fun in a low key, all white tie and tails, elegant settings, good food, great wine, beautiful young people in beautiful clothes quoting François Villon in charming cafes and gorgeous suites, and charming con artists.

   The best way to describe how this material is done in the grand Hollywood style is effortless. Café Metropole is a souffle and not a meal, light, charming, romantic, and with just enough spice to keep it from being boring. Of course it is almost impossible to make this kind of film today, which may or may not be a good thing, but we will always have Paris, at least the Hollywood one.

   The sharpest bite is saved for the great last line with Westley and Ratoff getting the fade out and the laugh.

         â€œGet your checkbook out. Here we go again.”

   It’s almost enough to redeem the whole film on its own.




BLACK ORPHEUS. Dispat/Tupin, Brazil, 1959. Original title:  Orfeu Negro. Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliviera, and Ademar da Silva. Written by Marcel Camus & Jacques Viot, based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes, which is itself an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. Directed by Marcel Camus. Winner of Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1960.

   Costumes, celebration, death and voodoo — could any film be more fitting for Halloween?

   Yes, I know it’s paternalistic, simplistic, and slowed down by too many overlong dance scenes, but the sheer vibrant energy and romantic urgency of the thing sweeps me along with the uncluttered story-line: A beautiful young Eurydice comes to Rio at Carnaval, fleeing Death. She is temporarily rescued by Orpheus, but in the end, he must seek his love in the next world.

   The simple story is conveyed with memorable visuals. The shanty-towns of the city seem to hang on cliffsides as precarious as the pursuing death, the costumes glitter and shimmer in the sun, and Death itself (athletically portrayed by Ademar da Silva) moves with a coiled grace that makes me wonder if the creators of Spider-Man (whoever they may be) were inspired by his lithe and lethal acting.

   Just as striking is Orpheus’s descent into the underworld, wandering empty corridors until a benign Janitor — Charon, with a broom instead of a barge pole —  guides him down a staircase of infinite emptiness to a hellish voodoo world where the myth must play itself out once again.

   Like me, you may be used to thinking of Halloween movies in terms of Karloff, Lugosi, Universal and Lewton. Or you may be of a generation that equates Horror Movies with serial slashings and CGI monsters. But I found Black Orpheus the equal of these, and in its own way, better than most.

   Need more? Actors Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, the star-crossed lovers of the film, died within weeks of each other, and Ademar da Silva died on the same day as the composer of the film’s justly-celebrated score:

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