Craig J. Clark Watches a Lot of Movies
May 2007

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
See what happens when greatness is demanded of you?

In the spring on 1998, it was discovered that Stephen Glass, an associate editor for The New Republic and a contributing writer for magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Rolling Stone had fabricated a large number of his articles, creating fictional subjects and setting up phony voice mails and websites when he was asked for his sources. In 2003, writer/director Billy Ray made Shattered Glass, based on the article by Buzz Bissinger about the scandal. It stars Hayden Christensen -- between Star Wars prequels and out to prove he has some range -- as the fast-thinking teller of tall tales that his editors and fellow writers find irresistible and the magazine's fact-checkers let pass without sufficient scrutiny.

The film co-stars Peter Sarsgaard as The New Republic's new editor who has a hard time getting the staff on his side since the editor he replaced (Hank Azaria) was practically a father figure to them. Even fellow writer Chloë Sevigny, who is frustrated by Glass's evasiveness and over-apologetic nature, can't believe that he made up all of his stories. And star-struck writer Melanie Lynskey tries to emulate his writing style since Glass's brand of "color" is becoming all the rage in journalistic circles. It isn't until Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson, working at online magazine Forbes Digital Tool, start looking into one of his more outlandish stories (about a hackers convention), that his elaborate network of lies starts to unravel.

The story is framed by a memory Glass has of speaking to an eager class of students about his work. One of the things he tells them is that "journalism is just the art of capturing behavior." In many ways, the same could be said of filmmaking. Glass's constant need for approval and his defensiveness whenever he's confronted ("Are you mad at me?" is a repeated refrain) may stem from any of a number of factors -- his domineering (but absent) parents, the expectations of his colleagues, the fact that he's probably coasted in this fashion throughout his entire life -- but Ray is wise enough not to ascribe them to any one thing. He's just interested in capturing some fascinating behavior.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
I've made a mess of being Dickie Greenleaf, haven't I?

In 1960, Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was made into a film by French director René Clément and retitled Purple Noon. The film was a huge success and made an instant star out of Alain Delon. Four decades later, director Anthony Minghella adapted the novel afresh, not only restoring its original title, but also exploring certain areas -- like Ripley's latent homosexuality -- that were simply too taboo when the earlier film was made.

Matt Damon stars as Ripley, whose talents (which include playing the piano in addition to forgery and impersonating other people) aren't exactly setting the world on fire when he takes advantage of a rich shipping magnate's offer to send him to Italy to coax the man's wayward son Dickie (Jude Law) into returning home to New York. When he gets to the village where Dickie is staying, though, Ripley becomes enamored of both his lifestyle and his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) and quickly ingratiates himself into their lives. When the notoriously fickle Dickie tries to break things off with him, though, Ripley takes drastic measures and assumes his identity to ensure his continued comfort.

Complicating matters are socialite Meredith (Cate Blanchett), who already thinks Ripley is Dickie since that's how he first introduced himself to her, and playboy Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who sees through his charade, but things really come to a head when Dickie's father (James Rebhorn) arrives with a no-nonsense private detective (Philip Baker Hall) in tow. (This is on top of having the Italian police constantly breathing down his neck.) In the end, Clément wasn't allowed to let his protagonist get away scot-free, but Minghella makes it clear that while his Ripley may not get caught by the authorities, he's still going to be punished for his transgressions.

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007
Take off one uniform, there's always another one underneath.

No one could ever accuse Sam Peckinpah of being a softy. He was unabashedly a man's director, making films for and about men engaging in manly behavior. So why did it take him so long to attack what is arguably the manliest of genres, the war film? Well, maybe it's because he was looking for just the right war film -- the usual John Wayne heroics just wouldn't cut it for him.

Cross of Iron, which was made in 1977, is set in the waning days of World War II on the Eastern front, where the Germans are being beaten back after disastrously underestimating the Russian enemy. The film follows battle-worn corporal James Coburn, whose platoon is a decidedly wild bunch and who is in direct opposition with newly arrived captain Maximilian Schell, who requested a transfer from France so he can see some action and earn an Iron Cross. The contrast couldn't be more striking: Coburn is a soldier whose only concern is for the safety of his men, Schell is a Prussian aristocrat who wants some tangible evidence of his trumped-up heroism. How it must irk Schell when Coburn is injured in battle, thus earning himself one of the coveted medals.

The film also stars James Mason as the colonel who puts up with Coburn's insolence because he gets the job done and David Warner as Mason's less than enthusiastic right-hand man. His attitude of resignation isn't too surprising under the circumstances. As Mason tells Schell soon after his arrival, "Low morale goes hand in hand with defeat after defeat, followed by impending defeat." What makes all the difference is how one chooses to act in the face of such defeat. Late in the film, when Coburn's platoon has been left behind enemy lines and he has to lead them back to the relative safety of the German front, we see why they trust him with their lives -- and why he leaves the hospital early to be with them. Loyalty to your fellow men -- that's what makes or breaks a Peckinpah hero.

Saturday, May 5th, 2007
Forget it, Nicholas. It's Sanford.

The absolute worst thing about seeing Hot Fuzz today was sitting through the trailers for Delta Farce and Balls of Fury. The best thing about it was the film itself, which was cracking good from top to bottom. Writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-actor Simon Pegg took their time coming up with a follow-up to 2004's Shaun of the Dead and with Hot Fuzz they have produced a real winner.

Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a driven, by-the-books officer whose superhuman crime-fighting efforts are overshadowing the rest of the London Metropolitan police force, so his superiors engineer a transfer for him to the sleepy hamlet of Sanford where the most pressing police action appears to be rounding up the local swan. Angel is reluctantly partnered up with Nick Frost's Danny Butterman, underachieving son of Sanford police inspector Jim Broadbent, whose primary motivation appears to be preserving "the greater good" at the expense of actually enforcing the laws. All is decidedly not what it seems, though, as Angel stumbles upon a series of bizarre "accidents" that lead him to uncover the secret behind why the local murder rate is low, yet the accident rate so high.

Hot Fuzz is a densely written and deftly directed action comedy, the kind that is fully aware of the conventions of the buddy cop genre and turns them on their head as much as it fulfills them. It also features some delicious cameos by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy (as Angel's superiors in London who can't wait to get him out of their hair), an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett (as his fed-up ex-girlfriend) and Stephen Merchant (as the owner of the aforementioned swan), as well as a marvelous turn by Timothy Dalton as one of Sanford's most upstanding citizens, who has a way of saying the most cryptic (and seemingly incriminating) things before and after his fellow citizens' accidents. And for those who worry about missing Shaun's gleefully over-the-top violence, this film has plenty of that as well.

Between this film, Shaun and Don't, one of the pitch-perfect fake trailers in the middle of Grindhouse, Wright has carved out quite a niche as a director of clever, fast-paced and occasionally gruesome comedies. I'll take them over the likes of Balls of Fury any day.

Sunday, May 6th, 2007
I wish I didn't have to believe in prophecy.

In a career teeming with films full of startling originality, 1973's Don't Look Now stands as Nicolas Roeg's crowning achievement. Performance and Walkabout -- both of which Roeg shot himself -- definitely look like the films of a cinematographer turned director. They're full of startling images that sometimes stand apart from the story and, it must be said, occasionally distract from it. Don't Look Now (which was photographed by Anthony Richmond) is a film made by a director ready to harness images to serve the story and not the other way around. (Incidentally, Roeg must have liked Richmond's work here because he brought him back for his next two films and had previously used him as a special photographer on Walkabout and a focus puller on Far from the Madding Crowd.)

Don't Look Now stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as grieving parents whose young daughter drowned on their country estate and who are in Venice while Sutherland is restoring a crumbling church. (The project goes under the heading of "Venice in Peril," which would be an apt alternate title for the film itself.) It isn't stated in the film how long it's been since the girl's death, but it hangs like a cloud over their marriage, which seems to need as much work as the church does. Things take a turn for the supernatural, though, when they run into a pair of sisters, one of whom (Hilary Mason) has second sight and claims to have seen their daughter. Christie is eager to believe, but Sutherland is highly skeptical despite the fact that he has shown some latent psychic talents himself.

Compared to some of his other films, the chronology in Don't Look Now is fairly straightforward, although there are numerous flash-forwards and flashbacks, but these are to individual shots that we're meant to sort out the connections between as opposed to entire scenes. Roeg maintains a sense of foreboding throughout, with its scenes of Venice closing down at the end of the tourist season and Pino Donaggio's melancholy score (the composer's first). And the shots from the opening sequence that keep cropping back -- the breaking glass, the ball landing in the water, the photographic slide getting smeared with red -- slowly build up a resonance and point the way toward the film's tragic conclusion.

The most justly celebrated scene in the film, though, comes when Sutherland and Christie make love, tentatively at first and then passionately -- and perhaps for the first time since the loss of their daughter. What's most eye-opening about the scene is the way it's cross-cut with the two of them getting dressed afterwards -- a strategy that Steven Soderbergh co-opted 25 years later to similar effect for the hotel liaison between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. The end result in both cases is we've learned more about the characters than just the simple fact that they enjoy going to bed with each other. In Don't Look Now, we get the impression that Sutherland and Christie really are a married couple (as opposed to two movie stars going through the motions on a movie set) and that at one point they had an extremely healthy sex life. It's erotic and heartbreaking at the same time. I can't think of any director who does that quite like Roeg.

Thursday, May 10th, 2007
Who knows what it's like to be me?

Not all film pioneers made the transition from silents to sound as smoothly as Fritz Lang did. By the time he made M in 1931, he was an established director with a dozen films under his belt, including such celebrated classics as Destiny, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, Die Nibelungen and Metropolis. That would be enough for anyone to get set in their ways, but Lang took to sound in a way that many of his contemporaries were either unwilling or unable to.

Of course, just because he's making a sound film, that doesn't mean Lang is stagebound. Far from it, in fact. The camerawork on display in M is as dynamic and fluid as ever and some of the tracking shots are quite complicated. There's one that starts on a close-up of a beggar's cigarette collection, then moves around the room, past other beggars picking through sandwiches, smoking and playing cards, before winding up at a counter where the store owner adjusts his prices. Then we dissolve to a shot outside the upstairs window and push in, going through the pane of glass and entering the room where the beggars are being given their assignments (prefiguring a similar transition in Citizen Kane by a whole decade).

Lang also makes sound central to the plot, giving Peter Lorre's pathetic child murderer a theme song of sorts ("In the Hall of the Mountain King," which he whistles whenever he is seized with the urge to kill), and uses dialogue to bridge scenes taking place in different locations. This is most evident in the sequence that crosscuts between a meeting of the criminal leadership and a similar gathering of police officials as they plot out how to put an end to Lorre's reign of terror. Lang's use of sound would become even more sophisticated in his next film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, which was the last one he completed before fleeing Germany in 1933. Take a guess what's next on my pile.

Saturday, May 12th, 2007
What does reasonable mean when a man is going under?

In 1933, a full decade after bringing Norbert Jacques's Dr. Mabuse to the screen in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, director Fritz Lang brought the character back in a big way in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Not only did he get Rudolf Klein-Rogge to reprise the role of Mabuse, but he also brought Otto Wernicke's Inspector Lohmann from M on board as well. The timing couldn't have been more apt. While the first film was made during the economic crisis that followed World War I, Testament was made while Germany was in the grip of the Great Depression, a time of turmoil that lead to the rise of the Nazi state. In fact, Lang went so far as to take some of Hitler's speeches and slogans and put them in the mouth of Mabuse as he lays out the framework for his "empire of crime." No wonder Joseph Goebbels banned the film on sight.

I first encountered Testament when Criterion put it out in the spring of 2004. The video manager at Tower was free to open and play anything in the store as long as it didn't have too much gratuitous language, violence or nudity. When Testament came in, he asked me if I wanted to open it. I had seen M and Metropolis by that time, so I knew Lang's German period was a fertile one and we weren't disappointed. Playing it in the store, however, didn't give me much of a chance to watch it carefully, so at my earliest convenience I rented it and gave it the attention it deserved. Ever since then, I've longed to add it to my own collection. I have to wonder how the 1962 remake stacks up, though. I should check that out -- after I reacquaint myself with Lang's swan song, The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, his third and final Mabuse film.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007
You look the way I feel, lonely and small.

After leaving Germany in 1933, Fritz Lang stopped off briefly in France to make the fanciful (and uncharacteristic) Liliom with Charles Boyer before emigrating to Hollywood, where he set up shop along with a great many other greats of the German film industry who were fleeing the Nazis. Lang immediately signed up with MGM, but took some time to settle on a project with which to make his American debut. The end result was 1936's Fury, which tells the story of an innocent man who is nearly lynched by a mob, but survives and works behind the scenes to have them put on trial for his murder.

Gritty and down-to-earth in the same way that M is, Fury stars Sylvia Sidney (who liked Lang and headlined his next two films) and Spencer Tracy (who loathed Lang and never wanted to work with him again) as young lovers separated, first by economic necessity, and then by social injustice. Prefiguring his performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by five years, Tracy practically plays two different characters in the film. The pre-lynching Joe Wilson is kind and warm and very much in love with Sidney's Katherine. The post-lynching Joe only wants to see the townspeople pay for what they did to him, no matter what the cost, even if it means alienating his beloved Katherine (who believes she saw him burn to death) or his brothers (who agree to help him bring the mob to justice, but balk at sending 22 people to the gallows).

As the film opens, Lang shows Sidney and Tracy window shopping, which is also how The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street begin (and where some of M's pivotal scenes play out). She's going halfway across the country to a better-paying job and he's struggling to save enough money so they can get married. When he's finally ready to make the trip, though, he gets waylaid in a small town where a kidnapping has taken place and the local populace is already pretty keyed up. Once the sheriff puts Tracy in the jail, it doesn't take long for the gossip mill to go to work and for a restless mob to form. Lang is at his best in the scenes of the townspeople gathering, getting riled up and marching on the jail, where the sheriff and his deputies attempt to hold them off. He also exposes the political machinations that result in the National Guard being delayed and which threaten to shut down the district attorney's case during the resulting trial.

Along with Tracy's "dual" role, the film abounds with doubles and echoes in scenes and dialogue. The sheriff points out several people in the crowd at the jail by name, but clams up when he's asked to identify anybody in court. There is much derisive talk about how Tracy supposedly called his lawyer in Chicago, but when the townspeople are on trial, they spare no expense in hiring one out of New York. Early on, there's a scene where Sidney goes to the radio and literally switches off the orchestral score and then goes to the window to listen to a black woman singing outside. Later on, when Tracy is out on the town, he walks into a bar where he believes a raucous party is going on, but it's only the radio, which the black bartender was listening to, but duly turns off when Tracy enters.* After having a drink, he then winds up wistfully looking in another store window -- reminding him of the life he was intending to lead with Sidney before everything happened. Cue the studio-mandated happy ending, which Lang always hated, but at least he got to make a strong statement about capital punishment along the way.

*Regarding the racial politics of the film, it's also worth pointing out the moment where a black man who was peering into the bar where the townspeople are getting riled up scampers out of the way when they exit en masse to confront the sheriff at the jail. When a crowd is in a lynching mood, you don't want to go and give them an extra target.

Saturday, May 19th, 2007
What's a suicide attempt without a wedding?

Whew, what a day. Drove four and a half hours to Chicago to see a special screening of the new Guy Maddin film Brand Upon the Brain! with a live, 11-piece orchestra, a team of top-notch foley artists and "special guest interlocutor" Crispin Glover. (The version of the film with the recorded soundtrack has narration by Isabella Rossellini and I'm sure she's fine, but I simply can't imagine anyone crying "Rumania!" quite like Glover.)

Like a lot of Maddin's work, the film's plot defies description, but it is presented as the memories of a Guy Maddin surrogate who returns to the island where he grew up under the thumb of his possessive mother in a lighthouse which also served as an orphanage for children whose nectar -- which has rejuvenating properties -- is extracted from their heads every night by his constantly working inventor father. If that's not insane enough, there's also a harp-playing teen detective who arrives on the island, poses as her twin brother to investigate its secrets, and becomes the object of desire of both the young Guy and his older Sis. And then there's the Aerophone, an invention of the father which allows people to communicate over long distances and is powered by love and rage. Heck, I haven't even mentioned the Kissing Gloves (which later become the Undressing Gloves -- it just wouldn't be a Maddin film without plenty of undressing).

Maddin loves melodramatic flourishes and this film is rife with them. Characters faint, sleepwalk, develop mysterious ailments and are driven to extremes of violence. His use of silent-film techniques is also in full effect as he crafts indelible images that burrow into the viewer's subconscious and stay there. This shouldn't be a problem for anyone who is already a Maddin devotee (as I am). Newcomers may come away more than a little bewildered, though (even without interjections by the author of such works as
Oak Mot and Rat Catching, selections of which he read on his CD The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be).

Sunday, May 20th, 2007
I'm not a bad person. I've just had bad luck.

Spider-Man 3 has finally been overtaken at the box office by Shrek the Third (which will itself be shoved aside by the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie this weekend), so I decided to catch up with what the webbed wonder has been up to since I last saw him. I was also curious to see what direction Sam Raimi took the series in since this is the first time he's received a writing credit (alongside his brother Ivan, who also co-wrote Army of Darkness). As it turns out, he wanted to remake Superman III.

In Superman III, Supes turns evil when he's exposed to synthetic Kryptonite that has been laced with tar. In Spider-Man 3, Spidey turns evil when he's exposed to a malevolent symbiote from space. Moreover, Peter Parker starts wearing black and combing his hair down like some pouty emo kid. The personality change in Superman III is resolved by having his good half, as embodied by Clark Kent, square off against the dark half in a junkyard. The change in this film is resolved by having the symbiote latch onto another host -- Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), Parker's rival photographer at the Daily Bugle, who becomes Venom.

The main problem with the film is that it's an hour and three quarters in by the time this happens. In the meantime, Mary Jane Watson has had a less than glowing Broadway debut, Harry Osborn has developed a convenient case of amnesia, thus giving his vendetta against Peter a break, and Spider-Man has become the beloved costumed hero of New York. Then there's the matter of petty crook Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who breaks out of prison to see his sick daughter and gets caught in a particle accelerator, whereupon he becomes the Sandman. It also comes out that Marko was the actual person who killed Peter's Uncle Ben, thus motivating him to give into his darker impulses.

Pretty much all of the supporting characters from the first two films return, with the addition of Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy, the daughter of police captain James Cromwell and a point on two love triangles (Mary Jane-Peter-Gwen and Eddie-Gwen-Peter), Theresa Russell as Marko's less than understanding wife, and the incomparable Bruce Campbell as the snooty maitre dí at the French restaurant where Peter intends to propose to Mary Jane. ("I love romance. I am French," he assures our nervous hero.) For pure comedy, though, that scene is rivaled by the first one at the Daily Bugle where editor J. Jonah Jameson's secretary reminds him to take his stress pill.

As befits the third part of a movie trilogy (although there are murmurs that a fourth entry is in the offing), Spider-Man 3 suffers from multiple ending disorder. (I counted at least three.) Even with Spider-Man 2 scribe Alvin Sargent helping the Brothers Raimi pare down their massive script (apparently making it as two separate films was considered at one point), they couldn't find a single ending to settle on. Ah, well.

Thursday, May 24th, 2007
Throughout the world... strange events transpire.

Fritz Lang's earliest surviving film is 1919's The Spiders, an adventure story in two parts about a criminal organization and the do-gooder sportsman determined to stop them. Nine years later, with Ufa reeling from the exorbitant cost of Metropolis, Lang returned to his roots with Spies, a thriller about a nefarious spy ring and the do-gooder secret service agent determined to stop them. This time, however, he had to content himself with making just one film out of the material.

Co-written by Lang's then-wife Thea von Harbou, the film stars Rudolph Klein-Rogge as the Mabuse-like Haghi, who operates his spy network behind the front of a respected bank. His specialty is government secrets, which his underlings procure for him by various underhanded means. One of his top operatives, Sonja (Greda Marius), begins to have doubts about her loyalty, though, when she falls for dashing government agent No. 326 (Willy Fritsch). When Sonja proves less then pliable, Haghi dispatches second stringer Kitty (Lien Deyers) to infiltrate the home of Dr. Matsumoto (Lupu Pick), a Japanese official overseeing a sensitive treaty.

Restored from a severely truncated 90 minutes to 2:23, the Kino release of Spies is a major work of cultural archeology. Lang's penultimate silent film, it's filled with all kinds of camera tricks and set pieces that will take your breath away. One of my favorites is when Dr. Matsumoto is confronted by the three couriers he unwittingly sent to their deaths. And you'd have to search far and wide to find a film from the era with a more spectacular train crash. It's a shame that once Lang left Germany in the early '30s, he was never able to make films on this kind of scale again. With the right resources behind him, he could work wonders.

Friday, May 25th, 2007
Isn't it worth the loss of a hand to have created the man of the future, the Machine-Man?!

Thirty years ago today, Star Wars was released in theaters and became the fantasy film of the modern era. Fifty years before that, Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis was released and became the standard by which all science fiction and fantasy films are judged. I was fortunate enough to see the restored version of Metropolis when it was released in theaters in 2002. Overnight I became a Fritz Lang fan and haven't looked back.

So much has been written about Metropolis over the past 80 years, it seems silly to believe that one has anything new to say about the film. Its vision of a futuristic society has been picked over by countless critics, academics and film buffs. I'm just a guy who watches a lot of movies -- and this is one that I will never tire of. Now that I have added it to my personal collection, I can see myself throwing it in periodically to bask in its sumptuous visuals. This is Lang at the absolute apex of his creative powers.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
When a policeman kills himself, the department gets worried.

1953's The Big Heat came near the end of Fritz Lang's career in America, a period when he almost never had the kind of control over his films that he did in Germany. If films like Metropolis, Spies and M show what he can do with a large budget and an expansive canvas, The Big Heat sees Lang reconciled himself to using his limited resources to their utmost capacity. Even if it doesn't quite scale the same heights as other classic films noir of the period like The Big Combo, Kiss Me Deadly or The Killing, it's still a solid piece of work.

Glenn Ford's homicide detective Dave Bannion is a piece of work himself, playing hard as nails on the beat and switching it off in his domestic scenes. It isn't until his family is taken out of the picture -- and he has fulfilled the genre requirement of being taken off the case by his superiors -- that he really comes into his own. Even then, he has all the subtlety of Mike Hammer on an off day. Luckily he's matched up with Gloria Grahame as Debby Marsh, the ditzy gangster's moll who antagonizes her boyfriend one too many times, and Lee Marvin as Vince Stone, the hotheaded underling who makes a mean pot of coffee.

Lang reteamed with Ford and Grahame (but not Marvin) the following year for Human Desire, which I covered back in January. Watching The Big Heat again, I can see why some critics think so highly of it, even if I find it to be merely average. It's Lang in his element and employing some of the fluid camera movements that defined his work in Germany (where, incidentally, he would return at the end of the decade to close out his illustrious career).

Thursday, May 31st, 2007
It's not a word that people use among the swells, the Who's Who's.

Sometimes it takes me years to catch up with films that the average cinephile would have seen before they were out of short pants. So it is with Jules Dassin's 1955 caper film Rififi, which would have been Jean-Pierre Melville's Rififi if the producer hadn't pulled a fast one. (No matter; the following year Melville made his own classic heist film, Bob le flambeur, and made the definitive statement on the genre 15 years later with 1970's Le Cercle Rouge.)

The film stars Jean Servais as Tony, a career criminal recently released from prison, in poor health (he coughs throughout the film) and unable to support his gambling habit. The only person he can depend on is Jo the Swede (Carl Möhner), a young crook who dreams of hitting it big, but still thinks in terms of small-time scores. When he and his associate Mario (Robert Manuel) try to interest Tony in a quick smash and grab, Tony counters with a more ambitious job: a daring nighttime jewel heist that requires precision timing and the services of an expert safe-cracker. Luckily, Mario knows just the guy, fellow Italian Cesar (played by Dassin himself under the pseudonym Perlo Vita).

The centerpiece of the film is the heist itself, which takes place in near-total silence and takes a half-hour to play out. It was a bold choice and one that paid off in spades. The film revived Dassin's career (he was an American in exile after being blacklisted during the HUAC witch hunts of the '50s) and earned him Best Director at Cannes. If that isn't vindication, I don't know what is.

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