BY RICK JACKSON
Tonight at 6:30p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 1p.m., the Screening Room is presenting two classic films that deserve your special attention. They are The Seven Samurai (1954) and The Maltese Falcon (1941). I first saw them on the big screen in the early 1980s and the packed crowds who joined me shared in an experience you don't ever get on TV in your living room.
From Akira Kurosawa, the most well known Japanese director, The Seven Samurai remains his greatest work. From the moment Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Kurosawa built up a reputation that that helped other Japanese directors and their films, notably Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) saw their films appreciated in the western world.
The Seven Samurai focuses on seven unemployed samurai who help defend their village against bandits in 16th century Japan. The director's tracking shots and elaborate, fast-paced editing created a film that was far different from American movies. The montage sequence at the end rivals the Odessa Steps sequence in the silent classic, The Battleship Potemkin.
Remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven, Kurosawa continued to influence filmgoers and critics into the 1980s with Kagemusha and Ran.
Sturges wasn't the only filmmaker to borrow from him: Sergio Leone used Yojimbo for the basis of his Man With No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly), and George Lucas developed his Star Wars saga after watching The Hidden Fortress.
No matter what adjective you use to describe Kurosawa's films, there is always something to see and appreciate the way he made them.
The Maltese Falcon from 1941 marked the directorial debut of John Huston. In his autobiography, An Open Book, he says that the camera has a way of perceiving things the naked eye can't. He wanted to remake Dashiell Hammett's book because previous versions in 1931 and 1936 didn't do justice to the author's work. Hammett based it on his experiences as a Pinkerton detective.
He also said that he had no idea his version would be so successful and become a film classic.
Humphrey Bogart who plays Sam Spade had finished High Sierra for Warner Brothers. When you see him in the film today, there is an air of authority Bogart always brought to whatever role he was playing.
According to Michael B. Druxman, author of A Survey of Movie Remakes, Huston's Maltese Falcon became model for the new private eye film. Hollywood turned to other mystery/detective writers such as Raymond Chandler (Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, The Lady In The Lake), and James M.Cain (Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice). As for Hammett's other works, there were adaptations of The Thin Man and The Glass Key.
The Maltese Falcon features a definitive cast that has made the film worthy of being a classic to remember: Mary Astor is Brigid O'Shaunnessey, an amoral heroine; Peter Lorre (who played the child murderer in Fritz Lang's M is perfect as the innocent and slippery Joel Cairo, and Sydney Greenstreet is wonderfully sophisticated as The Fat Man aka Casper Gutman. He later became typecast but managed to overcome it all by just getting into each character superbly whether it was in Casablanca, The Mask of Dimitrios, Across The Pacific and The Hucksters.
The Maltese Falcon is showing Sunday, April 15 at 1:30 at The Screening Room in Kingston, Ontario.
April 11, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012