Blog Directory CineVerse: January 2022

How "Fellowship" set the new template for fantasy films

Friday, January 28, 2022

What makes The Fellowship of the Ring—the first part in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, which celebrated a 20th anniversary last month—the fantasy film to rule them all? Read on for compelling evidence substantiating why Fellowship was a complete game-changer for the fantasy-adventure subgenre as well as the movie business (and click here to listen to the latest Cineversary podcast episode celebrating this film's 20th birthday).

Why is The Fellowship of the Ring film worth celebrating 20 years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • Even though special effects have significantly improved over the last 20 years, and despite the fact that we’ve been bombarded as viewers with a glut of films of the fantastical kind over that span, the Fellowship of the Ring and the movie trilogy as a whole stands as the piece de resistance, the magnum opus in this fantasy adventure subgenre.
  • Many believe it’s better than any other such film released in the 21st century, including any of the new Star Wars episodes, Harry Potter pictures, DC or Marvel movies, Narnia features, or, for that matter, Hobbit adaptations.
    • Some contend that the Rings trilogy is the greatest film trilogy of any genre. Of the first three Star Wars movies and three Godfather films, the third installment has some weaker moments, the man with no name Dollars trilogy has one chapter three masterpiece although two very good predecessors, and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is a marvelous achievement in intimate filmmaking filled with wonderful surprises but the scope and the stakes involved were much smaller.
  • It has stood the test of time, as well, because Fellowship doesn’t feel like a soulless tentpole production designed to pad the pocketbooks and portfolios of its creators and bankrollers. The extreme attention to detail and respect for the epic nature of this story is clearly evident in every frame.
    • Cases in point: It’s amazing to think that the production team consisted of over 2,400 people and 26,000 extras participated in this trilogy, more than 40 seamstresses fashioned 19,000 costumes for the three movies, the principal actors engaged in weeks-long training for sword fighting, horseback riding, boating, and Tolkien-speak, and Minas Tirith was the biggest set ever built in the Southern Hemisphere.
    • You can tell that Peter Jackson and his collaborators went to extreme lengths to build this world and rely heavily on old-school effects and techniques wherever possible, using CGI as but one of the many tools in their arsenal alongside tricks like forced perspective, miniatures and bigatures, and matte paintings.
    • So many fantasy films today are preoccupied with perfect visuals that heavily accentuate snazzy but overblown computer graphics, which discerning viewers can quickly grow tired of and numb to.
    • The Fellowship of the Ring never forgets that its most valuable components are the characters in the conflicts motivating them. The filmmakers are to be commended for prioritizing personalities and story over eye candy, although they don’t shirk their duties in that department, either.
    • This movie is replete with showstopping creatures, awe-inspiring battle sequences, and jaw-dropping visuals that required plenty of digital tools to come to life. While a few examples of the CG may appear a bit dated in 2022, the vast majority hold up very well and fail to break the spell of suspended disbelief cast on the audience.
  • Fellowship also still matters because the acting is a cut above what you’d probably expect from a fantastical film featuring wizards, elves, dwarves, trolls, goblin-like creatures, and other figures that some contingent of the audience may not take seriously due to the trappings involved with this Dungeons and Dragons-like domain of geekdom.
    • The characters are well cast, all the more impressive considering that most of these actors were unknown or at least underappreciated at the time.
    • Remember that this is the film that announced the arrival of thespians we cherish more dearly today, especially Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and Orlando Bloom.

In what ways was this film influential on cinema and popular culture?

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including Fellowship of the Ring, made audiences more accepting of live-action fantasy films featuring magic, wizards, and mythological creatures like elves, trolls, and dragons, which were previously not taken as seriously by critics and moviegoers alike.
    • Prior to Fellowship, except for a handful of fantasy-adjacent pictures like The Wizard of Oz and the Star Wars movies, fantasy was a genre that didn’t get as much attention or respect as, say, sci-fi or superhero films.
    • But in the wake of the Rings trilogy, we saw plenty of imitators and close cousins like Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, Shadow and Bone, Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, The Golden Compass, the Percy Jackson films, Beowulf, King Arthur, etcetera.
    • Today, The Fellowship of the Ring ranks as the fourth most popular film ever on IMDb based on IMDb rating.
  • Remember, too, that this trilogy proved that fantasy films could capture the attention of cinema elites.
    • Fellowship all by itself earned 13 Academy Award nominations, which at that time was a record for a genre film, winning for Best cinematography, original score, makeup, and visual effects.
    • Among all the awards across the world for which it was nominated, the trilogy received 475 awards out of 800 nominations, earning The Lord of the Rings the title of the most awarded film series in movie history.
    • Fellowship scores a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
    • Also, most recently, The Fellowship of the Ring was officially included in the National Film Registry, only two decades after its theatrical debut.
  • Certainly Fellowship raised the bar in the visual effects department.
    • Weta Digital, responsible for the CGI, created MASSIVE (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment), a cutting-edge computer animation and artificial intelligence software employed in Fellowship and the subsequent two movies to create crowd-related visual imagery, making sequences like the second age war against Sauron and the Battle of Helms Deep possible and realistic.
    • Weta also famously used special motion capture technology to bring characters like Gollum to life. These digital tools have since been used in plenty of big-name flicks, from the 2005 King Kong and 300 to Wall-E and Avengers: Endgame.
  • The way this trilogy was authorized by New Line Cinema demonstrated that committing to several movies in a series at the same time was the right decision.
    • In other words, they didn’t wait to green-light The Two Towers until after The Fellowship of the Ring proved to be a box-office hit. They gave Jackson the go-ahead to film all three movies at the same time, which hadn’t been done in Hollywood up to that point.
    • This was one of the greatest gambles and highest risks ever taken by a studio, and it paid off.
    • Nowadays, studios are more eager to follow suit on approving multi-film projects and bestowing them with budgets and the hundreds of millions, whether it be Disney or Amazon Studios.
  • The Fellowship filmmakers also weren’t afraid to end with an unresolved conclusion as opposed to a self-contained story with an upbeat dénouement.
    • The success of this picture showed that, if you make a quality fantasy adventure movie and get the audience fully vested in the story and characters, they will come back in droves for successive chapters.
  • This trilogy, particularly Fellowship, also made extended editions cool, even though they expanded an already elongated runtime.
    • The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition clocks in at 208 minutes versus 178 minutes for the theatrical version, and most fans prefer the longer cut.
    • Likewise, the home-video releases of Fellowship and the trilogy set the standard for box sets, offering up to 26 hours of extra footage and bonus features in the three-movie package.
    • Think about all of the extended cuts and loaded box sets we’ve seen over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to the Rings films.

Why and how was Peter Jackson the ideal director for this movie and the trilogy? What special qualities does he bring to the film?

  • Jackson and his team weren’t afraid to condense the story so that its primary focus was Frodo and the quest to destroy the ring.
    • That meant they had to eliminate unnecessary characters, subplots, and events and streamline some of the timelines and sequences to produce a more cinematic narrative that could fit within three films.
    • So even though Fellowship dispenses with or pares back interesting characters from the book like Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, Glorfindel, Barliman Butterbur, and Gwaihir the Windlord, the key narrative drive and essential figures are not sacrificed or diluted in any way.
    • This task alone, of deciding what to keep and what to discard from the text as well as the reworking of some of the characters, dialogue, and actions without disrespecting Tolkien’s vision, demonstrates why Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens were the right artists for this project.
  • Jackson’s ability to shoot all three films consecutively and manage all the countless details involved, overlapping storylines, and technical and logistical challenges, is no small movie miracle. The man sacrificed sleep, family time, and probably long-term health over many years to bring this trilogy to fruition, and the stunning on-screen results speak for themselves.
  • Jackson often relies on many extreme close-ups of the actors to give the viewer a more intimate look and feel for these characters and to emphasize the personal conflicts and emotional challenges faced by each.
    • With so many picturesque vistas, majestic landscapes, impressive architecture, and unique planes of battle to showcase, it’s easy to focus on the dazzling longshots and high-angle camerawork that immersed the spectator in this marvelous middle earth universe.
    • But it’s these medium and extreme close-ups that make us care about the people involved and reinforce the human element at work, even if some of these figures aren’t humans.
  • Rafael Motamayor with Rotten Tomatoes wrote: “What makes Lord of the Rings so special is the fact that, despite the big production effort, it still feels like a Peter Jackson film through and through. For one, Jackson infuses the trilogy with moments of sheer horror that reflect the filmmaker’s roots, whether it’s a fight against a giant spider or the grotesque designs of the orcs and Uruk-hai. In The Fellowship of the Ring alone, Jackson puts the audience in a constant state of terror in the first half, making viewers identify with the hobbits who venture out into a dangerous world for the first time and encounter unspeakable horrors like the Nazgûl, who are shot mostly in extreme closeups like the most iconic horror monsters, and the giant Watcher in the Water creature outside of the Mines of Moria.”

What themes, messages, or morals are explored in The Fellowship of the Ring?

  • The corrupting nature of power, and the fallibility and vulnerability of mortals.
    • The potency of the ring infects, taints, and undermines everyone who comes in contact with it, even a humble and altruistic soul like Frodo. Time and again we are shown how men, women, wizards, elves, dwarves, and hobbits alike are tempted by the allure of this seemingly insignificant trinket.
  • Even the smallest person can change the course of history, as Galadriel says.
    • The fact that a diminutive, relatively powerless figure like Frodo can bear the ring for so long without completely succumbing to its persuasion underscores a meaningful moral: Selflessness, courage, willingness to sacrifice, and empathy are among the most incorruptible virtues and mighty traits an individual can possess.
    • It is these qualities that made the rest of the Fellowship appoint and trust in Frodo as the leader of their quest and their ultimate hope for salvation from Sauron. They know that Frodo doesn’t seek glory, rulership, or revenge. It is his humility, decency, and compassion, and the fact that the enemy would underestimate Frodo, that make this hobbit the best candidate for this impossible job.
  • All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us, in the words of Gandalf.
    • These words remind us that life and our time in it are precious, and each of us can make a difference in this world depending on the actions we choose to take, which can be for good or evil.
    • Frodo wishes the ring had never come to him and none of this had happened, but Gandalf suggests that Frodo was meant to have the ring, due to factors beyond his control. But what is in Frodo’s control is what he chooses to do with this responsibility.

What is this movie’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • Perhaps The Fellowship of the Ring’s greatest gift is that it helped make the fantasy adventure subgenre respectable and legitimate.
    • Consider those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when these types of movies were relatively popular among the young demographic but they weren’t widely accepted by the masses or made with lasting quality.
    • Back then, you had films like the Conan movies, Dragonslayer, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Heavy Metal, Clash of the Titans, Krull, Legend, and other similar fare. But many adults downgraded and dismissed this material, and the majority of these were empty-calorie entertainments without cinematic sustenance. Most of these films lacked the necessary budget, believable special effects, impressive cast, effective filmmaking talents, and marketing push to appeal beyond the teenage and comic book crowd.
    • But Fellowship and its follow-up chapters completely reset the template for fantasy adventure and forever changed the paradigm by raising the bar quite high.
    • Unlike 1977, when Star Wars: A New Hope was released, there was a lot more clutter and competition to break through in 2001, an era when CGI was already widely accepted and film franchises like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, X-Men, and Harry Potter dominated or were coming into their own. There was no guarantee that Fellowship would become a game-changer just because of all the publicized hype and anticipation, the kind of picture that would sell a lot of tickets, please the critics, and be fondly remembered.
    • But of all those series, and many that came later, including the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the Rings trilogy today stands as a collective work of consistent excellence in which each of its chapters is consistently first-rate throughout. The filmmakers don’t slack off in The Two Towers and deliver a subpar outing, nor for that matter is any sequence, storyline, or subplot in Fellowship a letdown.
    • For fans, it’s a joy to revisit this movie every few years, and the adventure is always enthralling, the tension is ever palpable, the epic scale envisioned is unfailingly breathtaking.
  • Another greatest gift is that it introduced Tolkien and his mythology to a much wider audience and new generations of fans.
    • To date, more than 150 million copies of The Lord of the Rings books have been sold. Whether packaged as a single novel or three individual books, the text had already been one of the world’s all-time bestsellers between 1954 and 2001. But the films made the story a worldwide pop culture phenomenon all over again.


Say hello to this 90-year-old "Farewell"

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a popular, highly acclaimed, and semi-autobiographical story set during World War I, was adapted to the big screen in 1932. Often, a film of this vintage can’t hide its creakiness, but Frank Borzage’s take on the tale holds up fairly well for a 90-year-old movie. Such was the conclusion of our CineVerse group, which examined this picture last week and discussed the following points (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What were the most interesting, memorable, unexpected, or surprising aspects of A Farewell To Arms?

  • Helen Hayes was actually a bigger box-office star at this time in Hollywood than Gary Cooper, and she gets first billing. Dubbed the "First Lady of the American Theatre", she is one of only 13 individuals to win all four main American entertainment awards – Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy.
  • The film features an unforgettable subjective camera sequence in which the POV is Frederic’s, shown as a patient in the hospital. The scene ends with Catherine converging on the camera lens, embracing Frederick and us.
  • This is a pre-code Hollywood film, meaning the production code/censorship rules were not enforced at this time. Hence, there are elements at play in this 1932 film that would’ve been considered controversial for its day, including the notion of premarital sex, pregnancy out of wedlock, a nurse engaging in an intimate affair with her patient, a soldier going AWOL and abandoning his responsibilities, soldiers visiting a brothel, and relatively candid discussions about sex and sin. Recall Catherine’s line: “I wish we could do something really sinful; everything we do feels so innocent and right.”
    • Some things, however, were off-limits, including nudity and the showing of a late-stage pregnant woman; Catherine’s presumably large belly is cleverly hidden throughout the later part of the movie.
  • The filmmakers impressively employ expressionistic and symbolic visuals to represent the shock of combat and horrors of war, using, for example, shadow and darkness juxtaposed with eruptions of light to depict the explosions of bombs and mortar rounds. Creative montages are also used two depict various battles and the passage of time.
  • Likewise, Borzage and company invoke a highly romanticized and symbolic visual style in the concluding shot, in which we see Frederick lift the dead body of Catherine to the window as the frame grows increasingly brighter, fading to white as we hear the peal of church bells and observe the fluttering of doves taking wing.
  • This was the first of many cinematic takes on Hemingway tales, although the famous author did not like the finished cinematic product by Borzage.

Major themes

  • The power of true love can trump country, honor, or creed.
  • Star-crossed lovers and tragic romance.
  • The dichotomies of life: Union and separation, life and death, love and hate, war and peace. These pairing opposites are suggested throughout the film.
    • wrote: “In a war that’s focused on cleaving, on separating the strength and unity of nations (think the line, think the fronts, think the social mores), this couple fights to stay whole. And just like the nation they are aiding in an ugly war, they are too forced into chaos and pain, witnessing a great unraveling as hope becomes scarce.”
  • The cruel, savage, and unfair nature of war and the suffering it causes everyone involved.

Similar works

  • The remake in 1957 starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • The English Patient
  • Paths of Glory
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • Birdsong
  • The Shopworn Angel
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Gone With the Wind

Other film adaptations of Hemingway stories

  • The Old Man and the Sea
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro
  • The Sun Also Rises
  • The Killers
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Gun Runners

Other works by Frank Borzage

  • 7th Heaven (1927)
  • Street Angel (1928)
  • Bad Girl (1931)
  • History Is Made at Night (1937)
  • The Mortal Storm (1940)
  • Moonrise (1948)


Do you love talking about movies? Here's a rare chance to join our CineVerse group

Monday, January 24, 2022

Do you enjoy watching and talking about classic films, foreign movies, modern masterworks, silents, independent features and other conversation-worthy motion pictures? We're looking to add a new member to our private CineVerse film discussion group that meets weekly on Zoom, and this could be your chance to join our exclusive member community, which is normally closed to the general public.

Interested in being considered for inclusion in our Zoom group? Here's what you need to do:

  1. Have the necessary technology. You need access to Zoom (on your phone, computer or tablet), and you need high-speed internet. More importantly, most of the movies we view and discuss are available on Kanopy, so you will need a free Kanopy account, which many public libraries provide. (Unfortunately, many libraries do not partner with Kanopy, which is out of our control.) Note that if you don't have access to Kanopy, you would be responsible for finding each week's movie on your own (e.g., via YouTube, Netflix, local library, etc.)
  2. Be available Wednesday nights. We meet every Wednesday from 8 pm to 9:15 pm Central on Zoom. We don't require you to participate every week, but this is our designated time slot and we encourage you to attend as regularly as you possibly can. If you join us any given Wednesday, you'll be expected to engage in the discussion and share your opinions about that week's scheduled film.
  3. Tell us why we should pick you. Email us (at a carefully crafted message that demonstrates your passion for the cinema, explains why you love talking about movies, and convinces us that you would be a worthy addition to our group. Extra points if your message is articulate, moving, and/or funny. Conclude your message with a list of your 5 favorite films of all time, followed by a written confirmation that you meet our tech and time conditions (as detailed in #1 and #2 above).
We'll evaluate all messages sent to us and choose one lucky respondent to join our CineVerse Zoom group. Your deadline to email us your message is noon Central Tuesday, February 8, 2022. Good luck!


Cineversary host appears as guest on Retro Movie Roundtable podcast

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Erik Martin, host of the Cineversary podcast, recently made a guest appearance on the Retro Movie Roundtable podcast to discuss the film Easy Rider with hosts Chad Robinson and Bryan Frye. 

To listen to the episode, click here or visit


A movie where style and substance mesh

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Columbus, a 2017 feature film by then-first-time director Kogonada, would on the surface appear to be a movie that explores the man-made magic and artistry of architecture and the way buildings can inspire us or make us think differently about the world. But at its core, Columbus is actually more of a film about emotional architecture, which our CineVerse group discovered last week upon further examination of this distinctive and thought-provoking picture (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here). Our collective thoughts on Columbus are summarized below.

What did you find unexpected, surprising, offbeat, or curious about Columbus?

  • This is a very different approach for a coming-of-age/relationship film. Casey and Jin seem attracted to each other, but they refrain from physically expressing any mutual interest and keep things on a platonic level. Meanwhile, the supporting characters Gabriel and Eleanor serve as possible love interests, but Jin’s longing for the latter and Gabriel’s crush on Casey remain unrequited. The movie sidesteps predictable and formulaic narrative approaches, including plot twists, sex scenes, melodramatic subplots, and speechifying.
  • This film forces us to pay attention to the compositions – the way the characters inhabit the frame and are juxtaposed to the structures around them. Despite being static creations, these architectural works offer an interesting emotional backdrop to the characters we care about.
  • The filmmakers often use long-unbroken shots and let the actors and their dialogue keep our interest as opposed to frequent cutting and reframing of various shots.
  • Often, either the physical architecture around or behind the characters in the frame appears symmetrical while the human beings are asymmetrically placed in the composition, or two characters are symmetrically aligned to balance the shot while an object like a building off in the distance is not symmetrically balanced (recall the shot where the two are standing outside the car and resting on opposite sides of the car’s roof looking at each other).

Major themes

  • Emotional architecture, or the symmetry and asymmetry between human beings as well as the objects they inhabit. The film’s characters frequently discuss architecture, and we see how many buildings as well as compositions in this movie are symmetrically framed and in balance, yet one or more objects within the frame tend to skew that balance.
    • Casey and Jin are similar in some ways but very different in others. They both are being held back in some way by a parent who has failed them, they are both intellectuals, and they each admire modern architecture. Yet there is a major age gap, they are ethnically and physically different, and Casey is relatively warm and compassionate while Jin is often cold and reserved.
    • Casey remarks of one building: “It’s asymmetrical, but it’s also still balanced.”
    • Slant Magazine critic Chuck Bowen wrote: “Kogonada offers, to use a phrase coined by Casey’s co-worker, a “critique of a critique,” as the rapturous clarity of his own images is the very source of his interrogation. In the context of this film, symmetry can mean a balance of life and art or refer to order that’s imposed on life, draining it of vitality. Meanwhile, asymmetry can evoke the wonderful chaos of life, or connote a lack of balance, as artists and aficionados retreat definitively into their own obsessions. Balance is tricky, in other words, and these anxious riddles inform the surpassingly beautiful Columbus with probing human thorniness, as it’s an art object gripped by the possibility that art, in the right light, can insidiously launder alienation. Though life without art, for people such as Casey and Jin, is akin to life without life.”
  • Coming-of-age. This is a story about a girl’s maturation and acceptance that she has the right to decide her own destiny and follow her own artistic ambitions. Actually, both Casey and Jin assumedly realize by the end of the story that they have to love and accept their parents and move on with their lives without letting the baggage of the past hold them back.
  • Looking deeper and beyond the obvious to understand what moves us. Jin challenges Casey to stop merely describing architectural details and spitting out facts. He asks her: “Do you like this building intellectually, because of all the facts?” She responds: “No, it moves me.” This pair is demonstrating that we need to more deeply explore the motivations behind what inspires us so that we can better understand ourselves, not just inanimate objects of art.
  • Perfection versus imperfection. Many of the buildings and edifices that Casey and Jin admire appear architecturally flawless and as perfect works of art, yet we see how the human beings who create and inhabit these structures are quite imperfect.

Similar works

  • Films by Ozu Yasujiro, including Tokyo Story
  • The Before trilogy, including Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight
  • The Florida Project
  • Short Term 12

Other films by Kogonada

  • After Yang
  • Pachinko
  • Various video essays for the Criterion Collection and other outlets


One podcast to rule them all

Thursday, January 13, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #43, host Erik Martin celebrates the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson, by interviewing Brian Sibley, the author of Jackson's biography who is also renowned for writing the famous BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and other works, including The Lord of the Rings: Official Movie Guide. Erik and Brian take the scenic route through Middle Earth to explore Fellowship's legacy and cultural impact, why it's worth honoring two decades later, what we can learn from the movie in 2022, and more.
Brian Sibley

To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to


Confidentially, Kansas City isn't even the main setting of this noir classic

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

When you think of Kansas City, you probably think of barbecue, jazz, and Patrick Mahomes leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl win. But those two words might also conjure up an association with film noir. That’s because one of the most memorable noir works is Kansas City Confidential, a 1952 crime thriller directed by Phil Karlson and starring John Payne (most famous from Miracle on 34th Street) but more importantly featuring Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, and Neville Brand in unforgettable supporting roles. Our CineVerse crew pulled out the files on this caper last week and discussed several key points, as summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What stuck with you as interesting, remarkable, distinctive, unexpected, or otherwise about Kansas City Confidential?

  • It’s firmly in noir territory, but it lacks some of the traits and conventions of classic noir, including a femme fatale who leads men to danger, a story that primarily takes place in a dark urban jungle, and a downbeat/pessimistic ending. Instead, the prime female in this narrative is a law-abiding love interest for Joe, most of the tale occurs in a Mexican vacation town, and the conclusion sees Joe and Helen igniting a romantic “happily ever after” spark.
  • Interestingly, only the first few scenes occur in Kansas City, despite the title hinting that the town plays a major role in the entire story.
  • It’s filmed in a semi-documentary style and introduced via title card as if it were a true-crime recreation or police procedural. Yet this is a fictional yarn that plays out like a conventional crime thriller.
  • The movie was popular enough to usher in a series of "confidential" films from its producer Edward Small: New York Confidential, Chicago Confidential, and Hong Kong Confidential.
  • Put in proper context, there’s a lot of violence on display here for a 1952 film. We see plenty of bitch-slapping among the males, pistol-whipping, jaw-socking, and even groin-kicking. The fight choreography may not be exemplary, but you truly get the feeling that Joe has the proverbial snot kicked out of him during the hotel room interrogation scene.
  • Likewise, there is racy prurient insinuation between Romano and Teresa, whom we see tuck money between her cleavage and saunter sexily next to men, implying that she is a sex worker of sorts and that Latinas are hot-blooded.
  • This movie was controversial at the time for suggesting that police officers can be bad apples working against law and order. The director said in an interview, referring to himself in the third person: “This was so far ahead of itself that I say these pictures have been copied and recopied so many times. Unfortunately, Phil Karlson never got the credit for it because I've never been a publicity hound.”
  • Debatably, the biggest misstep in this film is the writing of the Helen character; she hasn’t given much to do, it’s an unrewarding role, and her romantic chemistry with Joe isn’t very believable or constructive to the plot.

Major themes

  • The wrong man, a theme often used in Hitchcock pictures in which an innocent protagonist is accused of a crime and in danger and must try to clear his name and overcome the villains.
  • The impossibility of the “perfect” crime. Despite Foster’s careful planning and clever prerequisite that none of the other collaborators know their identities, his scheme is bound to fail; that’s partially because films made in this period and during the censorship era must punish criminals by the end of the story and demonstrate that crime does not pay so as not to send the wrong message to audiences. But the scheme is also destined to go south because it is hubristic in its design and because Foster didn’t count on Joe, the framed patsy, demonstrating agency and ingenuity.
  • The forming and fellowship of a rogues gallery. Harris, Romano, and Kane are all intriguing characters most notably because the character actors portraying them are among the most memorable in cinema, having appeared in many other noirs, westerns, and genre pictures – each with an idiosyncratic appearance, physique, and mannerism.
  • Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. The key to Joe clearing his name and staying alive amid a den of snakes is to flush out all the criminals and keep close tabs on them. He’s not always successful and pays the price for dropping his guard or underestimating the cunning and ruthlessness of these villains. But rounding up the suspects and inhabiting their intimate world will prove crucial to his success.

Similar works

  • Asphalt Jungle
  • The Killing
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • The Thomas Crown Affair
  • The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3
  • The Dark Knight

Other films by Phil Karlson

  • Walking Tall
  • Scandal Sheet
  • The Phenix City Story
  • 99 River Street


Rain song

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The French are renowned for their wines, pastries, sauces, painters, and architecture. They can also craft a colorful and memorable movie musical, as evidenced by Jacques Demy’s bittersweet cinematic confection The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which our CineVerse band watched and conversed about last week. Our conclusions are summed up below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has been called a great musical experiment. Howe is it innovative, different, or unique from Hollywood musicals you’ve seen?

  • There is no normal spoken dialogue—all the dialogue is sung, even the mundane bits of talking.
  • The film is quite melancholy and poignant, especially the ending, which is not a tacked-on happy Hollywood-type ending.
  • There are no show-stoppers or big production numbers—the picture has no dancing, chorus, or duets.
  • The acting style, body movements, characters, and situations are naturalistic in contrast to the sometimes exaggerated esthetics and colors around them.

What is interesting about the visuals, music, and temporal rhythm of the film?

  • It’s a tribute to as well as a rejection of the cloying, unrealistic tendencies of American musicals.
  • It imitates the artificiality and heavily exaggerated stylization of studio-bound musicals in its bold, bright colors, yet the dialogue and situations are commonplace, ordinary, and credible.
  • The colors are meant to either complement or clash with the mundane conversations, characters, and situations.

Other films by Jacques Demy

  • The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
  • Lola
  • Une Chambre en Ville


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