Blog Directory CineVerse: March 2022

The Godfather turns golden

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

What can possibly be said or written about The Godfather that hasn’t already been expressed by countless film scholars, critics, and historians? Not much new, although it’s constructive to summarize what we already know and love about this ever-fresh cinematic treasure that marks a 50th anniversary this month. Here’s some food for thought to digest that, while it may not be as delicious as authentic Italian cuisine, may satiate your hunger for knowledge about Francis Ford Coppola’s supreme achievement, initially released in March 1972 (to listen to our Cineversary podcast spotlighting The Godfather, click here).

Why is this movie worth celebrating 50 years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • The Godfather is worth celebrating because it stands undiminished five decades on as a cinematic testament to the power of myth and the evergreen quality of compelling storytelling. The narrative here is never less than captivating. The people who inhabit this story and what they represent are endlessly intriguing. And the mythos behind the Corleone family and the satellite characters in this tale continue to fuel the imagination.
  • It also still matters because it provides a rare and detailed view of a private and privileged world that the vast majority of us will never encounter—a domain that is fabricated, sure, yet firmly grounded in reality and one that is intimate, personal, domestic, morally compromised, and, most fascinatingly, above the law.
    • Coppola said in an interview: “People love to read about an organization that’s really going to take care of us…When the courts fail you and the whole American system fails you, you can go to Don Corleone and get justice.”
  • It has stood the test of time because, despite their sins, we care about these characters and we’re invested in this underworld universe.
    • According to Roger Ebert: “The Godfather is told entirely within a closed world. That’s why we sympathize with characters who are essentially evil...Don Vito Corleone emerges as a sympathetic and even admirable character; during the entire film, this lifelong professional criminal does nothing of which we can really disapprove…During the movie we see not a single actual civilian victim of organized crime. No women trapped into prostitution. No lives wrecked by gambling. No victims of theft, fraud or protection rackets. The only police officer with a significant speaking role is corrupt…The story views the Mafia from the inside. That is its secret, its charm, its spell.”

How was The Godfather innovative or different, especially compared to previous Hollywood crime/gangster pictures?

  • Although some argue that The Godfather still romanticizes gangster culture and the wise guy way of life, it depicted the Italian American family and experience more realistically, in no small part because the studio selected an Italian American well versed in this culture to direct, and the film cast Italian Americans in crucial roles.
    • In classic Hollywood gangster movies, non-Italian Americans often played stereotypical gangster characters with Al Capone-like qualities and over-the-top bravado, including Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, and James Cagney.
    • Tom Santopietro, author of the book The Godfather effect, noted: “The vast majority of Italians have come to accept and actually embrace the film because I think the genius of the film, besides the fact that it is so beautifully shot and edited, is that these are mobsters doing terrible things, but permeating all of it is the sense of family and the sense of love… I think it squashed the idea that Italians were uneducated and that Italians all spoke with heavy accents… These were mobsters, but these were fully developed, real human beings. These were not the organ grinder with his monkey or a completely illiterate gangster…In films like Scarface [1932], the Italians are presented almost like creatures from another planet. They are so exotic and speak so terribly and wear such awful clothes. The Godfather showed that is not the case.”
  • Note that the Italian-American Civil Rights League gave its blessing to the screenplay.
  • Unlike gangster films made in the censorship era, the characters in The Godfather didn’t necessarily have to suffer a comeuppance or be brought to justice as a moral message. While many of these mobster personalities end up being killed or diminished, it is due to the actions of fellow gangsters who merit their own form of justice and retribution—not the criminal justice system.
  • Additionally, The Godfather’s goombahs are much more psychologically multifaceted and benefit from greater character development than many mobsters depicted in prior films, including two immediate predecessors, 1968’s The Brotherhood and 1969’s The Italian Job.
  • The Godfather also proved that mob movies could generate huge business and acclaim. It was the box office champ of 1972 and briefly was the largest grossing picture in history. It earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning three, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Marlon Brando. It also placed #2 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest films of all time.

In what ways was The Godfather influential on cinema or popular culture?

  • For better or worse, since the release of The Godfather in 1972, more than four in five Hollywood movies that have portrayed Italian Americans or Italian culture are “mob movies,” per the Italic Institute of America. Before The Godfather, that ratio was less than one in five.
  • A host of films about the mafia and gangsters came in its wake, among them Mean Streets, Scarface, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Gangs of New York, and The Irishman. And, of course, the TV show The Sopranos is a direct descendant of The Godfather (and Goodfellas).
  • Before The Exorcist, Jaws, or Star Wars, The Godfather was the first blockbuster of the New Hollywood era that would be dominated by young filmmakers like Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, raking in massive dollars and serving as one of the first must-see event movies, of which there were several in the 1970s and beyond.
  • With its cynical tone, pessimistic vibe, and violent imagery, The Godfather continued a trend in American cinema in the early 1970s of telling dark, unsettling stories that mirrored the negative emotional undercurrent of the times, when the American public was focused on the Vietnam War, the fall of the counterculture, the fresh news of Watergate, and mistrust in the government.
  • The violence in The Godfather, much of which is disturbing and grotesque, especially for 1972, would have been less acceptable in a lesser film. We are shown a bloody horse head, a beaten pregnant woman, two grotesque deaths by strangulation, a gunshot to the eye, point-blank killings of two men via gunshots to the head, and the gruesome murders of several mob bosses. Five years after Bonnie and Clyde and three years following The Wild Bunch, Coppola and his team take graphic violence in a mainstream movie to a new extreme.
  • The Godfather set a new template for quality in film franchises, creating high expectations for its follow-ups. The Godfather II knocked it out of the park and is debatably even better than the original, possibly standing as the greatest sequel ever made.
  • This picture jumpstarted the careers of Coppola, Pacino, Keaton, Cazale and gave a second life to Brando’s faltering career.
  • Before the Godfather, epic films with a long runtime had an intermission; this movie broke that trend.
  • Arguably, The Godfather made the mafia lifestyle look more appealing to the mainstream, possibly motivating some to get involved in organized crime.
  • One mark of its enduring popularity is the extent to which the film has been parodied and spoofed innumerable times in movies and TV shows, from Saturday Nite Live and SCTV to The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy to The Freshman co-starring Brando.

What themes, messages, or morals are explored in The Godfather?

  • The corrupting nature of power and how clout, control, and influence are more important than family.
  • The death of the American dream at the hands of capitalistic ambition. Recall the opening words of the film: “I believe in America.” But…
    • In his excellent recent writeup published at, Brian Eggert wrote: “The Godfather dramatizes how the American Dream has failed, leaving only raw capitalism, epitomized by the brutality of the Corleones under Michael. If the family under Don Vito represents the fantasy of having the power to enforce the American Dream, criminally achieved though it may be, the family under Michael sacrifices familial solidarity for corporate greed and stability. Don Vito understood the criminal enterprise served the family, which must be protected and appreciated. Michael turns the family business from a mom-and-pop shop to a corporation bent on mergers and acquisitions—not unlike Gulf+Western, the conglomerate that purchased Paramount in 1966. The film in Coppola’s hands, then, reveals that the dog-eat-dog nature of American capitalism has literally closed the door on the family. Coppola shows this twice: first when Michael shuts the phone booth door on Kay, who must stand in the cold outside while he learns of the attempted assassination on his father; second, in the famous final shot, when Michael’s office door shuts on Kay, creating a permanent barrier between the two. The film shows that not even the Corleone family can survive capitalist greed. The family unit endures, to be sure. But it’s at the cost of love, trust, and everything that made the family so appealing under the rule of Don Vito.”
  • Familial succession. Like King Lear, this is a tale about a patriarch with three sons, one of whom will fill his father’s shoes when he steps down.
  • The outsider becomes the insider. Early in the film, Michael tells Kay how he is different from his family. He has served in World War II and gone to college and appears to be on a path that will diverge from his father and brothers. He is not part of Vito’s inner circle nor as close to his parents or siblings as you would expect the youngest son to be. But that all changes once he learns of Vito’s near-killing, at which point Michael rushes to his father’s side and embraces the darkness and vices surrounding the Corleone family business. He quickly becomes an insider and earns the trust of his dad, who ultimately bequeaths his power to Michael.
  • Old World ways vs. New World tactics. Vito exemplifies the former, Michael the latter. In being forced to hide in Sicily, his father’s birthplace, Michael comes to embrace Old World ways and thinking, even marrying a native girl. But when she is violently killed and his bodyguard betrays him, he returns to America a further changed man. Now in command, he abandons his father’s Old World approach to running the family business and adopts his own cold, ruthless, and efficient American methodology, which will involve violating the old school mobster code of conduct by killing family members and wiping out his business enemies—even though Vito had attempted to make peace with the other four mob families. Michael famously tells Sonny, “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.” But the truth is that, for Michael, it's both: By privately taking these matters personally, Michael can destroy his adversaries who abide by Old World mafia ethics and become more powerful and successful.
  • Selling your soul for success and sway. The genius baptism scene, with crosscutting lines of action in which Michael’s henchmen wipe out his rivals and betrayers while Michael stands before a priest in a church and verbally agrees to renounce Satan and all his works and promises, underscores an important message: that each of us faces a constant choice between the sacred and the profane, between fidelity and treachery, between love and hate.
  • The importance of allegiance and reliability. Ebert wrote: “Much is said in the movie about trusting a man’s word, but honesty is nothing compared to loyalty.”
  • Appearances can be deceiving.
    • Even though he looks weakened after the assassination attempt on his life, Vito Corleone demonstrates his cunning and powers of perception by choosing Michael as his successor and advising him on who to trust and not trust.
    • At first glance, Michael appears to be a laid-back, introverted, laconic, and deferential individual; he’s younger and more diminutive than his brothers and even shorter than Kay. But we learn how strong-willed, devious, commanding, and explosive he can be, regardless of his physical stature or younger age.
    • As the eldest, most verbose, tallest, and debatably most handsome son, Sonny would seem to be the ideal heir to his father’s throne, but we soon see how his volatile nature handicaps his judgment and leads to his demise.
    • We discover, as Michael does, that many characters we didn’t necessarily suspect end up betraying the Corleone family, including Tessio, Carlo, Barzini, Paulie, and one of Michael’s bodyguards in Sicily.
    • Even the movie’s title is deceptive because one would think the story is named after Vito when it could instead be a reference to the other godfather, Michael, who dominates the second half of the tale.

Why was Francis Ford Coppola the ideal director for The Godfather? What special qualities does he bring to the film?

  • Coppola deserves substantial credit for his uncompromising vision and stalwart belief in the actors, setting, story. He insisted on casting Pacino and Brando and keeping the setting consistent with the novel: the 1940s through 1950s.
  • He knew and lived the Italian American experience and understood the family dynamics.
    • Coppola brilliantly weaves themes of the corrupting influence of power and money at the expense of family unity, paring back many other subplots and situations found in Mario Puzo’s novel and focusing more on family ties and ancestral rites of passage in the movie. Consider that the pivotal events in the picture center around a handful of key family gatherings and religious rituals: there are two weddings, a baptism, and a funeral.
    • The way Coppola introduces these players and sets up the interrelationships and familial power structure within the first 30 minutes, during the wedding extended sequence, is like a masterclass in filmmaking, cutting between the dark internal shots of Vito in his office and the multitude of relatives and friends celebrating in the sun-drenched yard outside.
  • Interestingly, Coppola consistently utilizes slow dissolves between scenes to create a dreamlike quality.

What is The Godfather’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • One of The Godfather’s greatest gifts is that, like the concept of a perpetual motion machine that defies the laws of physics and logic, it never ages. Fifty years have only elevated the stature of what long ago was already considered an exceptional and eternally memorable motion picture thanks to two particular facets: unforgettable scenes and set pieces as well as infinitely quotable lines that have become sacrosanct in pop culture. Brando’s recitation of the film’s most famous line, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” forever brings nostalgic joy to the repeat viewer, regardless of its nefarious true meaning; we can never unsee that decapitated horse head or unhear the screams of Jack Woltz discovering that head; wrapped fish have taken on a whole new connotation since 1972; Michael’s tense meeting with Sollozzo and the police captain will always enthrall; after witnessing how meticulous Clemenza is with culinary matters, as he is with the minutia required of a well-planned murder, we can appreciate why cannoli is worth saving, even if we’ve never actually tasted this Italian confection; and the film’s concluding baptism montage juxtaposing a holy rite with shrewdly orchestrated acts of carnage, set to some downright eerie church organ music and superbly edited, is legend-making stuff that continues to demonstrate why Coppola was probably the finest American filmmaker of the 1970s.
  • Another greatest gift is the scintillating cinematography of Gordon Willis. He immediately establishes the dark emotional milieu of this Cosa Nostra epic with his dimly lit, darkly furnished Corleone office, the perfect lair for backroom dirty-dealing and king-making. He contrasts the deep browns and engulfing blacks of Vito’s restricted sanctum with the sun-saturated outdoor shots of the wedding to create a visually and emotionally contrasting lighting palette. And Willis shows throughout the film, with moderately to predominantly dark compositions, how shades of doubt, fear, anger, and weariness can engulf one or more characters.


French filmmaking that will take your breath away

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The year 1960 proved a pivotal one in film history, seeing the release of two seminal works that forever changed the landscape of cinema with their revolutionary approaches to narrative storytelling and stylistic editing choices: Psycho and Breathless. Our CineVerse group explored the latter last week, sharing many opinions, perceptions, and truisms, as summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

How would this film have been groundbreaking, daring, unexpected, and innovative upon its 1960 release?

  • It is one of the seminal works of the French new wave, which started with François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. This wave sought to reinvent film as an auteurist movement that broke with standard filmmaking conventions, including the typical rules of editing.
  • Breathless is primarily remembered for its revolutionary jump cuts. The edits between shots are not done seamlessly or following continuity; shots are juxtaposed abruptly, with brief ellipses in time occurring between the cuts.
  • Godard’s film is also characterized by its extremely long shots, numerous close-ups (comprising around one-fifth of the shots), and a tireless mobile/tracking camera through the streets of Paris and into various interiors that employ a “you-are-there,” cinema verite, documentary-like aesthetic and approach.
  • As at the end of The 400 Blows, a major character breaks the fourth wall and looks directly into the camera (Patricia, in the last shot).
  • Perhaps what is most memorable about Breathless is its tone and style.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “what is most revolutionary about the movie is its headlong pacing, its cool detachment, its dismissal of authority, and the way its narcissistic young heroes are obsessed with themselves and oblivious to the larger society… Modern movies begin here, with Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" in 1960. No debut film since "Citizen Kane" in 1942 has been as influential… There is a direct line through "Breathless" to "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands" and the youth upheaval of the late 1960s. The movie was a crucial influence during Hollywood's 1967-1974 golden age. You cannot even begin to count the characters played by Pacino, Beatty, Nicholson, Penn, who are directly descended from Jean-Paul Belmondo's insouciant killer Michel.”
    • Per Criterion Collection essayist Dudley Andrew: “Breathless is indeed a hallmark of modernist cinema…Godard forced the kind of confrontation between high and popular culture that energized the art world. Ingeniously, he scripted a chiasmus where an American girl is left to guard traditional artistic values (Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Faulkner) while the Frenchman, a reader only of newspapers, is a connoisseur of cars, particularly American ones. Cinematic modernism reaches a plateau when, while a crowd cheers Eisenhower and de Gaulle along the Champs-Élysées, the characters give the slip to the cops by hiding out in a movie theater that is playing Budd Boetticher’s Westbound…The dramatic heat produced when distinct national cultures (both high and low) rub up against each other energized not just this corrosive movie but an entire movement, vigorous and critical: the nouvelle vague.”
    • Critic Nathan Heller of Slate wrote: “Breathless is an orchestrated dialogue between two worlds—a world of stylized Hollywood romanticism and the everyday world of banal, uncinematic life. It’s Godard’s careful counterpoint between these two styles that helped him tease out a “French attitude” and gave the movie its relentless drive… The result was new and striking not so much for its documentary flavor—the vérité approach was amply fleshed out by the time Godard began—but for its dissonance: the conflict between what Breathless purported to be (an exotic Sin City flick) and what it delivered (scenes from commonplace Paris)… He was trying to make a film that, at each turn, broke with his culture’s notion of what French movies were supposed to be. Where the dominant screen style had moral overtones, Breathless is breezily amoral, at least until its final moments.”


  • Carpe diem (live for today with little regard for the future) and “live life dangerously to the end,” which is the tagline to the poster shown for the movie Ten Seconds to Hell.
  • Lovers on the run.
  • Betrayal: Patricia secretly turns in Michel.
  • Existential angst. Consider Patricia’s wavering about Michel and her choices. She asks if she is unhappy because she isn’t free or is she not free because she is unhappy. She can’t decide whether or not she wants to be with Michel. Her conundrum embodies a central tenet: Love can have a push-pull force that attracts and repels. Consider that her betrayal of Michel is apparently a self-test to decide if she truly loves him or not, not a moral decision based on ethics.
  • A search for identity. Who is Michel really, other than a wannabe movie gangster who tries to pattern himself after Bogart but demonstrates how bad he is as a criminal evading the police and trying to collect money. And who is Patricia? An American in Paris trapped between two worlds: the allure of romantic love tethered to danger and excitement and an otherwise ordinary exchange student trying to make a living.
  • Contradictions in character. Michel says, "Being afraid is the worst sin there is." However, he runs away from the authorities at the end of the film and, earlier, when asked why he killed a cop, he says he was scared.

Similar works

  • The 1983 remake of the same name
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • The 400 Blows
  • In a Lonely Place
  • Pierrot le Fou
  • Vivre Sa Vie
  • Jules and Jim
  • Camus’ The Stranger

Other films by Jean-Luc Godard

  1. Masculine-Feminine
  2. Contempt
  3. Pierrot le Fou
  4. My Life to Live
  5. Sympathy for the Devil


There's a sucker born every minute

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Like vaudeville and sideshow exhibits, freak shows became an extinct form of entertainment decades ago (circuses may not be far behind), and for good reason: They commonly exploited differently-abled, physically deformed, psychologically disturbed, and substance-dependent individuals along with a naïve public eager for cheap thrills. The 1932 horror cult film Freaks stands as perhaps the most authentic and shocking of the Hollywood thrillers to depict this subculture, but 1947’s Nightmare Alley comes awfully close. Our CineVerse crew took a gander at this picture last week and arrived at several observations and opinions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):

What about Nightmare Alley did you find different, surprising, or memorable?

  • It pulls its punches, which would have been understandable during the Production Code Administration censorship era.
    • It’s not going to show you the geek biting the head off a chicken or tangible sexual tension between Stanton and the three females in his life. And it’s not going to leave Stanton to a hopelessly irredeemable conclusion. This suggests that he has learned his lesson and can be rehabilitated now that Molly has found him or, more negatively, implies that he and Molly are bound to become the new Zeena and Pete, with Stanton eventually succumbing to his alcoholism as Pete did.
    • It’s an interesting dénouement, considering that Stanton has performed criminal acts, including money-fleecing and possibly manslaughter.

Nightmare Alley is regarded as one of the finest films noir in the genre. What classic noir characteristics does it possess, and what noir attributes does it lack?

  • There is a femme fatale character, or spider woman, who leads men into danger and doom, in this case, Lilith – although she isn’t a typical seductress who is sexually and romantically involved with the male lead, a la Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.
  • The setting isn’t consistently an urban jungle represented by a large city; yes, Chicago is the town where Stanton eventually sets up shop as a master hustler, but roughly half of the film occurs in rural areas where the carnival travels.
  • As in countless noir pictures, the anti-hero/villain is predestined to failure, suffering, and/or death because the message and credo of noir are almost always fatalistic. Yet, while this film’s ending is downbeat and unresolved, it insinuates possible hope with the down-and-out Stanton discovered by his wife Molly – although the two seem destined to become the new Zeena and Pete, her alcoholic husband. In the original novel, the story ends with Stanton accepting the job of geek, insinuating that he is fated to live out the rest of his life as a helpless drunk enslaved by carnies.
  • The tone and vibe of Nightmare Alley are unswervingly pessimistic, foreboding, and dark, which is in keeping with most noir movies.
  • It’s a somewhat rare instance of an A-list noir that benefits from a bigger budget, ample studio resources, and known stars. Many noirs were B-picture affairs that suffered from lower production values.

Major themes

  • Hubris: Like Apollo, Stanton flies too close to the sun and falls back to earth.
  • Blasphemy and sacrilege: Stanton attempts to play God in trying to fleece victims based on their spiritual beliefs.
  • Dark destiny and inescapable fate: Zeena tries to warn Stanton with her tarot cards that he is headed for a bad if not deadly outcome, but he refuses to give these superstitions credence, to his downfall.
  • The fooler becomes the fooled: Stanton prides himself on his persuasive talents and ability to trick the gullible, but he is eventually hustled by an even more cunning con artist in Lilith.
  • Pride cometh before a fall.

Similar works

  • Freaks
  • The Lost Weekend
  • Ace in the Hole
  • Strangers on a Train
  • The Prestige

Other films directed by Edmund Goulding

  • Grand Hotel
  • The Razor’s Edge
  • Dark Victory
  • The Dawn Patrol
  • The Great Lie


When life hands you a raw deal, just watch The Apartment

Friday, March 18, 2022

Receiving mixed reviews during its initial run in 1960, The Apartment, perhaps Billy Wilder’s finest moment in motion pictures and a darling at the 1961 Academy Awards (winning Best Picture), has grown in stature and popularity over the past six decades, serving as one of the finest examples of a finely tuned black comedy that ever came out of Hollywood. Our task as CineVerse members last week was to figure out what made this picture tick, and here’s what we concluded (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):

What about The Apartment impressed, intrigued, entertained, or disappointed you in any way?

  • The widescreen compositions were superbly arranged, featuring great depth of field and brilliant framing that often symbolically singles Baxter out from his surrounding environment. Consider, for example, how he is center stage in a massive office with neatly lined rows of automaton-like minions that stretch as far back as the eye can see; or how pathetic a solitary figure he cuts sitting along a ridiculously long row of park benches; or how empty the dark New York City street appears behind him as he walks or paces the block.
  • Billy Wilder again demonstrates his genius command of delicate and intricate multi-tonality, balancing scenes that teeter-totter between funny and melancholy, light and dark, farce and pathos. Cases in point: the sequence where Baxter comically tries to rush Mrs. Margie MacDougal out of his apartment so that he can tend to a suicidal Fran in his back bedroom; or the earlier scene where Baxter has to abscond to the shadows beyond his apartment building doorway so that Dobisch and his intoxicated paramour floozy can enter his home without noticing him.
    • Scott Tobias, a film critic for The Guardian, wrote: “The tonal wizardry of The Apartment is often miraculous, like the Christmas party where Fran’s heartbreak over hearing of Sheldrake’s past dalliances contrasts directly with Bud goofing around in a new bowler hat like Charlie Chaplin. Most films define themselves as one genre or another, but this one can be several of them at once. But that sort of high-level plate-spinning is true of the screenplay in general, which is immensely satisfying in the way it keeps planting and paying off turns of the plot.”
  • The ending of the picture is a masterclass in sublime screenwriting. A less talented filmmaker might choose to close the film showing Fran running back to Baxter and the two embracing, scored with soul-stirring strings, followed immediately by the end credits. But Wilder and company interrupt her blissful trot up the staircase to Baxter with a jarring noise that implies a gunshot-- harkening back to his earlier mention to Fran about a failed suicide attempt by handgun. We are quickly shown that the noise was merely a champagne bottle uncorking. And when Fran sits down with Baxter and he professes his romantic feelings for her, instead of reciprocating she insists that they return to the game of gin rummy they played a week earlier.

Major themes

  • Some people take, and some people get took. This story sympathizes with the latter but depicts a painfully realistic dynamic among those with power and those willing to be exploited in the hope of happiness or a better life. While funny on its surface, the movie is making a wider social commentary about the way the business world is run and how those with clout and money can manipulate those below them on the corporate ladder.
  • Toxic masculinity and the dark underbelly of “the boys club.” Baxter caters to a quintet of privileged upper management white men who each have a key to the executive washroom and can exert pressure and influence on employees, particularly attractive females, to abide by their selfish wishes. They’re willing to lie, cheat on their spouses, and take advantage of human beings in lower stations to get what they want. Sadly, the only member of the boys club who gets his comeuppance by the end of the story is Sheldrake.
  • Be careful what you wish for. The Apartment is a cautionary morality tale that teaches us that sacrificing self-respect for an opportunity to advance isn’t worth it. Baxter is willing to be continually inconvenienced and put upon for a chance at promotion, just as Fran is yearning to start a new life with a wealthier older man and lie to herself that he’s not lying to her. But both come to realize that this debasement isn’t sustainable or acceptable.
  • The irony of being lonely and alienated in a bustling metropolis and crowded workplace. Time and again, we see Baxter as a solitary, sad figure—often alone in a wide and deep shot devoid of other human beings. Baxter could benefit from companionship or a romantic relationship, which would seem easy to achieve working for the Consolidated Life of New York insurance company, where a culture of office flings, womanizing, and employee camaraderie is evident. We see how others can show interest in him, such as Margie. But eventually, his heart is set on Fran, whom he believes is unattainable once he realizes that she is Sheldrake’s mistress and suicidal over her feelings for Sheldrake.
  • Well-rounded positive relationships require nurturing. Baxter compassionately nurses Fran as she recovers from her suicide attempt, even though this is a platonic effort—unlike Dobisch, Kirkeby, and Sheldrake, who don’t put any real work into the trysts they have with female coworkers who are thought of as mere sex objects. It’s fitting that, once Fran returns to Baxter with romantic inclinations, she tells him to “Shut up and deal” after he confesses his love and adoration for her; she’s sending the message that she’s going to take it slow with Baxter and require more nurturing and assurance.
  • When life deals you a lousy hand, ask for a fresh round of cards. Baxter’s insistence that Fran play gin rummy with him is an attempt to distract her from her depression, but the fact that he keeps beating her with every hand suggests that her bad luck in life hasn’t changed. Later, when she rushes back to Baxter and tells him to “Shut up and deal,” we can have more confidence that he’s taught her how to play the game of love more effectively and that starting over with a new hand of cards should yield better results for her.
  • Becoming a mensch—a human being who looks out for his fellow human beings.
  • The importance of having a work/life balance. Baxter essentially brings his work home with him every day by agreeing to pimp out his apartment, and he brings his home life to work regularly by furtively scheduling apartment-lending slots and door key exchanges with his higher-ups.
    • Slant Magazine reviewer Jake Cole wrote: “Wilder and co-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond sketch a bleak vision of corporate servitude where a work-life balance hasn’t been upended so much as irrevocably perverted.”

Similar works

  • Brief Encounter
  • The Graduate
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Barefoot in the Park
  • Annie Hall
  • Wicker Park
  • Mad Men

Other films directed by Billy Wilder

  • Double Indemnity
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Stalag 17
  • Sabrina
  • Ace in the Hole
  • Some Like it Hot
  • Witness for the Prosecution


A podcast that makes you an offer you can't refuse

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #45, host 
Erik Martin commemorates the 50th anniversary of perhaps the best American film of the 20th Century, The Godfatherdirected by Francis Ford Coppola, by talking with Harlan Lebo, author of The Godfather Legacy and a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg. Erik and Harlan investigate why this movie still matters, ways it has stood the test of time, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the film today, and more.

Harlan Lebo
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 wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

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Hot and sour Asian sauce

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Long before Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, there was City on Fire, a 1987 Hong Kong flick directed by Ringo Lam and starring Chow Yun-Fat that impressed many fans of action films and expanded the “heroic bloodshed” genre. Our CineVerse club watched and conversed about this film last week and shared several key observations, summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

How was City on Fire different from your expectations or memorable in any way?

  • City on Fire belongs to the “heroic bloodshed” genre; per Wikipedia, this genre was “invented by Hong Kong action cinema revolving around stylized action sequences and dramatic themes such as brotherhood, duty, honor, redemption, and violence that has become a popular genre used by different directors worldwide.”
  • Examples include Hong Kong movies like A Better Tomorrow, Long Arm of the Law, and The Brothers, as well as Hollywood pictures such as Lethal Weapon, Face/Off, Bad Boys, and The Replacement Killers.
  • Here, the focus is primarily on action, violence, carnage, stunts, and thrills. Consequently, other elements of a Hong Kong heroic bloodshed work may suffer, resulting in, for instance, a weak plot or poor character development; in City on Fire, the girlfriend character (Hung) seems one-dimensional, as does Inspector Chan.
  • The movie becomes increasingly visually claustrophobic as we near the conclusion, suggesting that the walls are closing in on Ko Chow and the criminals.
  • Interestingly, there are no major martial arts or fight scenes that you would associate with an Asian action movie, and we aren’t shown any nudity, as audiences might expect of an R-rated crime film.
  • Although it is often cited as a significant influence on Reservoir Dogs, City on Fire actually has less in common with that film than many assume. The two works share similar themes, both feature main characters who serve as undercover cop infiltrators who hide out with the criminals after a heist, and each film depicts a Mexican standoff; but Tarantino’s movie has characters, dialogue, and interrelationships that are significantly more interesting and colorful.

Major themes

  • Conflicting loyalties, or “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” per The Umlaut Reviews. Ko Chow must ultimately decide between staying faithful to his uncle and the law or having Fu’s back. He opts for the latter.
  • The risks and rewards of bonding with a bad guy. Ko Chow develops a kind of Stockholm syndrome after spending extra time with the criminal Fu; after being shot, he confesses to Fu that he is an undercover cop.
  • The dangers of work/life imbalance. Ko Chow is constantly torn between committing to his undercover job and his fiancée. She leaves him for another man because he prioritizes his profession above her.

Similar works

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Point Break
  • The Departed

Other films directed by Ringo Lam

  • Full Alert
  • Full Contact
  • Wild City
  • Prison on Fire
  • School on Fire


The redhead meets the red herrings

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Filmmaker Douglas Sirk made his bones helming sometimes soapy melodramas geared to female audiences. But before he settled into that mode he worked as a journeyman director helming dramas and noirs like Lured, an underestimated entertainment that flaunts a remarkable cast and a solid script. Our CineVerse mission last week was to perform a film-forensic examination of this pulse-quickener and determine its merits (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here). Here’s a recap of our conversation.

What is memorable, different, and unexpected about Lured?

  • It’s a mashup of several different genres and subgenres: it’s partially a noir, a touch of mystery/thriller, a sprinkle of police procedural, and a fraction romantic comedy. This amalgamation has caused it to be criticized unless appreciated by many critics and movie watchers, who perhaps expect a film more tonally consistent in the noir or Hitchcockian mode.
    • Blogger Kevin Jones wrote: “Though its plot, characters, and pacing, are all very much in line with the genre, Lured is a studio noir. It is Sirkian noir, if ever such a thing were to be defined. These murderers do not hide in shadows and lurk in the cover of night (with the exception of the beginning of the film). Instead, they lurk in places of extravagances. From mansions to symphonies to butler chambers of a wealthy and influential man. Murder happens while flush in the light of every available lamp in the room. Detectives do not lurk in the shadows of a private detective office. Instead, they work at Scotland Yard with the full budget of the British police force at their disposal.”
  • Lucille Ball is intriguing as a dramatic actress. While she is overwhelmingly remembered as a sitcom comedienne, she made her bones as a Hollywood thespian in many B-films, including romance, comedy, and drama films. In fact, Lured marked her 73rd appearance in the movies. Ball commands our attention as Sandra Carpenter thanks to her pluck, sarcastic wit, and attractive presence.
  • The film is refreshingly feminist for a 1940s potboiler in which you would expect the alluring female lead to the objectified subject of the “male gaze” of the audience and to possess less agency. Although Sandra needs to be rescued on more than one occasion, she holds her own against one male predator after another in most scenes.
    • Jones continued: “Thematically, Lured feels as though it is a film that is quite ahead of its time. Akin to The Silence of the Lambs, which used the male gaze in a way that was almost feminine in how it removed the rose-colored glasses of males and showed just how disgusting gawking and scopophilia can be from the perspective of a woman. In line with the rest of its anti-noir yet noir elements, Lured’s usage of the anti-male gaze feels like practically the antithesis to films such as Gilda in which Rita Hayworth is bathed in white light and fawned over the characters and the camera like. Here, however, we see the looks of men at Lucille Ball from her perspective, stripping back any disconnection men feel when gawking at a woman and instead forcing us to see just how demeaning and objectifying it can feel.”
  • This is a praiseworthy troupe for a B-movie, boasting George Sanders portraying a likable leading man, Boris Karloff playing off his horror heavy status and practically stealing the movie, Charles Coburn as the intrepid chief inspector, Alan Napier long before serving as Batman’s butler, and two Universal horror contract players: Cedric Hardwick as the serial killer and George Zucco as Sandra’s bodyguard.
  • The movie delights in dishing out as many red herrings and misdirections as it possibly can, forcing you to suspect virtually every male character in this film who doesn’t wear a badge. And like Hitchcock would do, it reveals the real killer long before the conclusion; by giving the audience more information than the protagonist investigators, the suspense increases.

Major theme

  • Don’t underestimate the savvy and intelligence of females, who can prove to be more resourceful and clever than men. Consider, for example, how Sandra can sniff out clues like her missing friend’s photograph and bracelet and how she inspires her guardian angel Barrett to solve crossword puzzles

Similar works

  • Films that fall within the working girl investigator subgenre of noir, including The 7th Victim, Woman on the Run, Notorious, Stranger on the Third Floor, Deadline at Dawn, The Big Steal, and Two O’Clock Courage.

Other films by Douglas Sirk

  • Magnificent Obsession
  • All That Heaven Allows
  • Written on the Wind
  • Imitation of Life


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