The Maltese Falcon & Citizen Kane (1941)

There was a time before I started my crazy journey where I couldn’t sit through a black and white movie. Now, I’m starting to almost like them more than colour. Maybe it gives my mind something to work for by trying to fill in the colour blanks… maybe it’s simply the style of film that happened to be around during the black and white period. Who can really say for sure? Regardless, I took a double dip into 1941 today and watched 2 black and white classics.

the_maltese_falcon

The first is The Maltese Falcon, a film-noir about a private detective who gets caught up in the middle of some murders and a statue of a bird. I’d say I’ve really enjoyed about 50% of the film-noir’s I’ve seen. This movie fits right in because I enjoyed about 50% of it. I liked the beginning up to about half way then I started to lose interest. I’m not a huge fan of the film-noirs that in the last 10 minutes have the main character figure out the entire mystery. It’s kind of like most of the movie is just to entertain then at the end they go “Ok, so here’s what happened if you were still interested.” It just seems like lazy writing to me that they feel the need to explain everything at the very end, instead of giving us pieces of information throughout the movie so that maybe we could piece it together ourselves. Or, they could’ve had Spade talk more about his theory a little earlier. The bottom line is that this was just alright for me and that’s really all I have to say about it… it’s time to move on to something a little different.

Orson Welles standing on stacks of newspapers in a scene from the film 'Citizen Kane', 1941. (Photo by RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images)

The second movie I watched is what some consider the greatest movie ever made. Yeah, you know the one… Citizen Kane. How can I even go about discussing a movie with this kind of reputation? Well, I’m reminded of a post I read where someone mentioned how they never met anyone who legitimately liked this movie and could answer the question “What did you like about it?” without regurgitating lines about cinematography from articles or reviews. So that is exactly what I’ll do. Here is why I liked Citizen Kane, regurgitating only lines from my own brain.

The pacing and execution of the story was, for the lack of a better word, rhythmic. It was like being caught in wave after wave of exquisite storytelling. The movie starts off (after the whole Rosebud scene of course) with a really broad summary of Kane’s life–this is the bottom of the wave. The reporters read from his father’s memoirs which gives them a run down of his life from when he was a child. We get more details that flesh out the initial summary that was given, like how Kane got his wealth and how he got started in the newspaper–this is the top of the wave. As the memoirs go on, the details start becoming more vague–bottom of the wave again. The reporters then go talk to his friend who knew him at the paper and we find out some of the details behind the headlines we saw while we were on the last wave–back to the top of the wave. Near the end of this one, we get some vague details about Kane and his opera theater–brought down once again. Finally, the reporters go and talk to Kane’s ex-wife who fills us in on the details about the opera theater–brought right back up. After her story, we are suddenly thrown from the top of the wave when we hear the reported at Kane’s house say that we may never know just what Rosebud means. Just as suddenly, we’re picked up and taken to the top of the final wave in the very last shot of the sleigh on fire. Any movie that manages to leave me at the top of a wave will keep my brain thinking after the credits have rolled and that’s usually a very good thing.

However, story alone does not make a movie great… so it’s a good thing this one also had some pretty good dialogue, acting and camera work. My favorite line is from Kane’s father, “He thinks it’d be fun to run a newspaper…” Why is that my favorite? I guess because I wasn’t expecting it and it made me laugh. When he delivers it, he breaks the fourth wall and stares right into the camera at me. My favorite moment of acting is after Kane’s speech when he is talking to Emily in the car. She asks him if he will come with her to see his “mistress” and he doesn’t say anything right away, but you can see it in his face. You know how they say acting is about action and reaction? This is a great reaction… you can read the scene right off their faces, no words are even needed. He’s thinking “Oh shit,  the jig is up.” and she’s thinking “You asshole, get in this car right now… I know what you did.” Finally, my favorite shot will have to be when the camera starts on the roof of the El Rancho and zooms in through the sign then looks down through the glass roof and transitions into the interior of the building all in one mostly fluid shot. It was one of the shots that stood out for me and was pretty nice for 1941.

I can’t lie and say I was exactly looking forward to watching this movie, but I have to say it more than lived up to it’s reputation and some day in the future I think I will watch it again. The Maltese Falcon, not so much.

The Maltese Falcon Verdict: 7/10

Citizen Kane Verdict: 9/10

Notorious (1946)

notorious

Notorious is a movie by the great Alfred Hitchcock that centers on a love triangle between a Nazi, a government agent and a somewhat alcohol dependent woman. As far as Hitchcock movies go, this wasn’t my favourite. It wasn’t bad but I just wasn’t feeling it. The romance developed between Alicia and Devlin felt rushed and half way through the movie I couldn’t really remember why they loved each other in the first place. I find with older movies they tend to rush the romances and sometimes it works while other times it doesn’t make any sense… this falls into the latter for me.

Alicia wasn’t the typical movie woman of the 40s with her drinking and sleeping around so I enjoyed watching her, but Devlin fell flat as a character. I feel like his only use in this movie was to be Alicia’s love interest; there was no development of his character. He is almost like the secondary character, while the movie was actually focused on Alicia and how she was playing Alex to get information. At the end though, they flipped it around and had the man rescue the poor woman. I would have liked it better if they cut out Devlin altogether and at the end Alicia just saves herself.

As far as the plot goes, the movie was solid. Girl seduces old boyfriend to get information on the Nazi’s then he finds out and tries to kill her. It was a good idea and aside from the problems I had with the characters and romance I liked what I saw. In particular, I liked the wine cellar scenes with the bottle smashing and Alex using the dates to find out that someone was in there. However, the fact that he only realized something was up because of the missing key kind of bothers me. I feel like having that clay key copying gadget would’ve been so useful for Alicia to just make a copy of the key instead of taking what appears to be the only one. How did she think he wouldn’t notice that? If he loves wine so much that he has a room devoted to it and meticulously organizes it by year, it’s reasonable to assume that he would visit it often enough to know his key was missing.

All in all, this movie was just average for me. I’m noticing a trend where my least favourite Hitchcock movies always seem to star Cary Grant, hopefully this will change in the future.

Verdict: 7/10 Needs more character romance development

The Third Man (1949)

source: http://silberius.deviantart.com/
http://silberius.deviantart.com/

I put a lot of effort into trying to enjoy this movie; sadly, it didn’t happen. The Third Man is currently in at least 31 official top movie lists including the top 100 British films, the top 50 film-noir, the best of rotten tomatoes and various others. Sometimes you watch a movie you don’t enjoy but you can see why other people would and why it’s held in such high regard. I didn’t feel that way towards this movie, so much so that I’m considering adding it to my grossly overrated movie list. The only moments I enjoyed were when Anna started talking about how she felt about Harry Lime and the scene on the Ferris wheel. These were the only moments where I felt any connection to the characters. For the rest of the movie, I honestly couldn’t have cared any less for what happened to any of the characters. I don’t need to know a character’s entire life story, but give me something more to work with here.

Another problem I had with getting into this movie was the story and how it was presented. People praise this movie for the cinematography and I can see why, since some shots were fantastic. Most of the scenes, however, were really short and the movie felt very fragmented. A new scene would start and last maybe 20 seconds then change to a completely different setting and you have to keep readjusting. I’m not saying that a movie has to stay in the same place so that my tiny brain can follow along, but I felt like I wasn’t given a lot of time to take everything in. I had such a hard time figuring out what was supposed to be happening in the beginning that I went back 10 minutes to try and catch up. An hour into the movie I was still unsure so I looked up a synopsis for the plot up to that point. Even that wasn’t enough to get me interested in what was happening.

Combining the lack of character development, the jumping around from scene to scene, and the muddy plot made for a rather unenjoyable movie. I don’t have much more to say about this one. Maybe in a few years I’ll give it another watch, but for now I’m just going to stay disappointed.

Verdict: 6/10 Needs more character investment