Leprechaun 3 (1995)

*. Reviewers were quick and by my rough reckoning universal in panning this third instalment in the undistinguished Leprechaun franchise. Indeed, they really put the critical boots to it. But I wonder what they could have been expecting. The first two movies hadn’t been good. This was the first of the series to get a direct-to-video release, which was a pretty clear heads-up that they didn’t think they had anything special to offer. So as not-good as Leprechaun 3 is I don’t see how anyone could have been disappointed enough to hate it.
*. The alternative title, Leprechaun 3: In Vegas, tells you all you need to know about the plot. Yes, once again the little fellow is after his gold and willing to do anything to get it. Except for some reason he doesn’t talk about his gold this time. Instead he keeps referring to his shillings. Did they actually mint gold shillings? I don’t think these are British coins he’s after, but I still wonder.
*. There are other changes in store as well. I mentioned in my notes on Leprechaun 2 how the leprechaun folklore is kind of vague, allowing for a lot of freestyle improvisations that may not have any basis in whatever record is being kept of these things. In this movie a handy CD-ROM (go ’90s!) lets us in on some relevant background like the fact that leprechauns really like potatoes, which is odd since potatoes an Old World crop and the leprechauns in these movies are either 600 or 1,000 years old. Then there’s a medallion introduced that the Leprechaun is afraid of for some unspecified reason (in the first film it had been a four-leaf clover). And finally it also turns out that if you get bitten by a leprechaun you turn into one. Or at least some people do. Good to know.
*. Given the quality of the first two movies I think your expectations should be kept low, as mine definitely were. And so I wasn’t disappointed by Leprechaun 3 at all. In most respects I think it’s better than Leprechaun 2. I say this for two main reasons, one general the other specific.
*. To begin with the general: a lot more is made in this movie of one of the coins being able to grant whoever has it a single wish. Since we’re in Vegas here that’s perfectly fitting, as this is a town that’s all about dreaming big, and then having those dreams blow up in one’s face. So time and again people get what they wish for only to have the rug pulled out from under their feet. Except for the final victim, whose wish never seems to have been granted at all. Either I missed something there or the writer/director had just grown tired of the idea.
*. The more particular point follows from this. There are a few decent kills that are, though crudely produced, at least imaginative. A sleazy casino owner is electrocuted by a sexbot that comes out of his TV. A woman who wants a makeover gets an extreme version leading to explosive results. A magician falls victim to one of his own tricks gone wrong.
*. This is all to the good, and I’d add that the cast are above average for this tier of entertainment as well. Warwick Davis considered this to be his favourite of the Leprechaun films and he does look like he’s having fun. Caroline Williams does a nice turn as the player with low self-esteem. Lee Armstrong is easy to watch bouncing around in her sexy magician’s-assistant costume. John Gatins and John DeMita are expendable, but manage to stay just this side of being awkward and annoying.
*. So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I’d say it was quite a bit better. But of course it’s not a good movie. As you could say at pretty much any time with this franchise, this should have been the end. Alas, what happened in Vegas wasn’t going to stay in Vegas. Next stop: the final frontier!

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Leprechaun 2 (1994)

*. Not all bad. A step down from Leprechaun, to be sure, but not a complete piece of crap. There are actually a few interesting ideas here.
*. They wanted Jennifer Aniston back, and offered her the princely sum of $25,000, but she was already working on Friends so that ship had sailed. I guess Ken Olandt was busy too, so instead we have Shevonne Durkin as Bridget and Charlie Heath as Cody. They’re not A-listers, which means they fit in pretty well here.
*. Warwick Davis did come back, but is he the same leprechaun as in the original movie? He’d said there that he was 600 years old, but here he’s celebrating a wedding that apparently occurs only once every thousand years. So while he’s a leprechaun he may not be the leprechaun. If that even matters.
*. The plot is just a bit of stupidity about the Leprechaun (I’ll capitalize it here, as I don’t think he has a name) marrying a girl if she sneezes three times. I don’t know if that’s real leprechaun lore or if they just made it up. There seems to be a lot of leprechaun lore that’s new here. Instead of his weakness being four-leaf clovers he’s now undone by iron. But like I say, maybe this is a different leprechaun.
*. I mentioned some interesting ideas. Unfortunately they’re left underdeveloped. There’s a good kill when the jerky guy thinks he’s going to kiss Bridget but instead he’s kissing a pair of lawnmowers. Alas, we never actually get to see the big mulch, or even its aftermath. But the concept was neat. There’s also what seems to be a convention of little people in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day that nothing is done with. Again, it’s a good idea but it doesn’t pay off. The only thing it leads to is a shoehorned reference to Freaks.
*. Otherwise this is pretty much a dull second chapter, typical of most cheap horror franchises. It was the last of the series to get a theatrical release but still looks like a straight-to-video title. The Leprechaun’s home, for example, should have been more of a fun house. Instead it’s just a really boring set.
*. Given the Leprechaun’s character as a magical trickster it’s a shame that after two movies he had yet to crack a single good line (or rhyme), and there’d been almost none of the Nightmare on Elm Street-style surrealism you’d expect. A tiny hand coming out of a phone is the only example here, and that’s just stealing straight from Freddy.
*. So, as with the first film, not as bad as it might have been but still failing to live up to the character’s potential. As the luck of the Irish would have it though, he’d be given many more kicks at the can.

Leprechaun (1993)

*. I have one distinct recollection of seeing this movie on its theatrical release nearly 30 years ago. There’s a scene where the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) drives a tiny electric car into a pick-up truck and knocks it on its side so that it rolls all the way over and back up again. A guy sitting somewhere behind me in the cinema yelled in exasperation “Oh please! Be real!
*. I can understand what he was objecting to, but it’s a tricky point. I mean, this is a 600-year-old leprechaun with various supernatural powers, including teleportation and incredible strength (he tears the door off a police cruiser with his bare hands). So what does it mean for such a movie to “be real”?
*. I think it just meant that, while the Leprechaun has magical powers, the laws of physics still apply in most situations, and that if he’s going to use a mechanical tool, the toy car in this case, to achieve a certain result it has to be able to achieve that result on its own. Now obviously such a car would simply bounce off a truck, not send it into a roll, which was in turn offending these rules.
*. The bigger takeaway, however, is that by this point in the movie the audience had already given up on Leprechaun. It was obviously a Very Stupid Movie that was meant to be heckled. And coming out of the cineplex I think we all agreed it was just terrible. I wasn’t eager to renew my acquaintance with the little man in green. But, on this the first time I’ve been back to take a second look, to my surprise I rather sort of liked it. It’s still a terrible movie, to be sure, but it seemed like a harmless bit of fun.
*. It didn’t start out that way. Apparently writer-director Mark Jones had just wanted to do a horror film but Davis lobbied for more humour. Then some parts had to be re-shot to make it gorier for the target audience. The result is a bit of a tonal mess, but there were a number of movies occupying the same ground at the time. Jones admits being influenced by Critters and I was thinking of Arachnophobia while watching it. Not really funny or scary then, but at least something different than the usual slasher murder rally.
*. You can tell it’s not the usual slasher right away because these are all sympathetic characters. We don’t immediately want to see any of them get killed. And indeed all of the major characters will survive (the movie has a total body count of only four, which is a tally you’d expect Jason to hit in a pre-credit sequence). It’s harder than Disney, but it’s not hard.
*. After a long intro/credit sequence it’s ten years later and we kick things off with . . . an overhead/aerial car shot! I’ve wondered before about where this became obligatory in horror movies. I also wonder if directors are even conscious of borrowing it (from The Shining?), or if it’s just become a reflex.
*. Introducing Jennifer Aniston, who would be embarrassed by it in later years. I don’t know why. Everyone gets their start somewhere. Scarlett Johansson got her break in Eight Legged Freaks. Charlize Theron? Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Which is the same discount franchise that introduced us to Naomi  Watts in The Gathering. Leonardo DiCaprio’s debut was Critters 3. These things happen. I mean, Ken Olandt co-stars as Nathan here, a more buff version of Kevin Bacon wearing a wifebeater and a tool belt. I even thought he was Kevin Bacon the first time I saw him. And what was one of Kevin Bacon’s first roles? A soon-to-be-corpse in Friday the 13th. You see? Everyone starts somewhere.
*. OK, being critical I have to say there isn’t a single funny line or good kill in the entire movie. But Aniston is watchable and the evil little guy is amusing with his obsessions over his gold on the one hand and shining everyone’s shoes on the other. This was a character with a lot of potential: a trickster with a bag of gold and a heart of pitch. Unfortunately he doesn’t get a lot of help here from the script, relegated to repeating the same dull catch phrases, and not sounding terribly Irish either. What’s even more depressing is that his potential would largely continue to go unrealized for another seven movies (as of this counting). And all he ever wanted was his gold!

Elysium (2013)

*. I don’t think I need to spend too much time on this one. Let’s just listen to writer-director Neill Blomkamp telling us how he felt about it: “It’s not bad, but it’s pretty much a run-of-the-mill dystopian SF film, with a tired political premise, poor effects, humdrum action sequences, unremarkable design elements, and a clumsy, somewhat ridiculous story.”
*. Clumsy, ridiculous, and old. The “tired political premise” was said to have been borrowed from an old Star Trek episode (“The Cloud Minders”) but it’s been around even longer than that in SF circles. I usually refer to it as the myth of the Morlocks, borrowing from H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. In the future there’s a wealthy uberclass of supercitizens who live in some technoparadise floating above the sweltering proles in their crowded favelas (Mexico City here). Rebellion threatens.
*. Needless to say, this is a social vision that’s been getting a lot of play recently. Snowpiercer, another big-budget dystopic SF film, came out the same year as Elysium and was nearly identical in this regard. And indeed it’s not so different from Blomkamp’s previous film, the superior District 9.
*. The myth is dressed up here to address more topical concerns. There are, for example, refugee boat people risking their lives to make it to Elysium. I’m not sure why, as there’s clearly no work for them to do there. Robots have completely taken over so it’s not like they’re going to make better lives for themselves. The only real plus is the advanced health care, which can fix everything (and I mean everything) that’s wrong with you just by lying down in a tube and being painlessly scanned for a few seconds.
*. I don’t think it’s all that well thought out. The Elysians are the usual villainous types, but one still doesn’t feel optimistic when the Earthers take over. The tragedy of the commons is coming, we can be sure.
*. I wonder what attracted Jodie Foster to such a role. The politics? The chance to speak a bit of French? The paycheque? It’s certainly not a very demanding or original part. Defense Secretary Delacourt is just a stereotypical authoritarian CEO (and the part was originally written for a man). Even Blomkamp seems uncertain what he wanted from her, as she makes a hasty exit so that a semi-articulate beast man (Sharlto Copley) can take over sole duties as the heavy. I was expecting something a little more interesting.
*. But then Blomkamp doesn’t appear to be much interested in anything other than blowing things up. It’s very much a Michael Bay aesthetic, with lots of fancy machinery and explosions. Our hero Max (Matt Damon) is even turned into a battlebot courtesy of an exoskelton that’s surgically attached to his body. Man and machine are one. Get a load of your rapture.
*. Rapture isn’t a word I use loosely either. Max is a Christ figure, sacrificing himself so that the poor can enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, this is nothing new. In fact, it’s a cliché.
*. Because what is Christ in the twenty-first century but a semi-mechanical superhero? Elysium is basically another instalment of MarvelCrap. The story arc is exactly the same: lowly Everyman figure gets a dose of radiation and is transformed into a superhuman fighter for justice. Meanwhile he has a girlfriend he has to win over while saving the world along the way. Etc. Rinse and repeat.
*. Well, I suppose I could go through it, picking apart inconsistencies and improbabilities in the plot, but there’s not much point. I mean, I didn’t even grasp the basics of exactly what all information Max had in his head, or what Delacourt wants to do with it. In the end, I suspect it was just a throwaway plot device.
*. I’ve already said more here than I wanted to. What makes Elysium so typical of the productions of this period isn’t the stale and half-baked politics or its superhero plot so much as the basic fact that this is a movie that looks great but doesn’t have a brain in its metal head.

Quick Picks 2020

Back again for a very tricky third instalment of my annual awards show. Why tricky? Well, as you know, the rules are that I can only give out prizes to movies released in the past year that I saw in the past year. And guess what happened? There was a pandemic. A lot of movies ended up being released directly to streaming platforms, and I don’t subscribe to any of those. Which means that I really had my work cut out for me. In 2018 I only had a slate of 13 movies to choose from. Last year I upped that to 20 titles. But this year I dropped down to 10. That doesn’t give me a lot of wiggle room. But in some cases that only made the competition more intense!

Here is the list of movies that qualified in 2020:

Bad Boys for Life
Bill & Ted Face the Music
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Brahms: The Boy II
Fantasy Island
The Grudge
The Invisible Man
The Social Dilemma

Whew! Not very pretty, is it? Well, let’s get started.

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Jigsaw (2017)

*. I took a break from the Saw franchise (as in fact the series itself did) before Jigsaw. I think this helped, though I’d grown fuzzy on the details of the Saw mythology, and had forgotten a lot of key plot points. Was it possible John Kramer was still alive? What about the last inheritor of his grisly mantle? Was s/he still around? Whatever the answers to these questions, the formula was like an old sweater, and I was sure everything was going to play out in a way that would bring it all back.
*. It does. Though billed as a reboot of the franchise, Jigsaw (originally titled Saw: Legacy) plays more like a direct sequel. That is, a direct sequel to Saw: The Final Chapter (a joke we’ve all heard before). As many critics observed, it’s yet another attempt to write an origin story for John Kramer, even though there have already been a couple of these and, as I’ve previously remarked, Kramer isn’t that interesting a guy to get to know in the first place.
*. The formula, however, has proven to be a winner. Much like the Final Destination movies (which, on the whole, I prefer) there’s that old sweater of essential elements that get repeated. The rules for these movies are as strict as those for Jigsaw’s puzzles.
*. So there’s the forbidding invitation — a bogus “choice” that cannot be refused — to play a game. This is followed by more of the same tired traps: chains, collars, needles, and (naturally) saws. More narrative trickery playing with our sense of time, and more red herrings. But by this point we’ve been trained to expect the unexpected, so the herrings scarcely even register. We know exactly who the killer isn’t, and we can be damn sure that Jigsaw is about a hundred steps (or half-a-dozen movies) ahead of everyone else.

*. I’m not sure there’s much that sets Jigsaw apart. Matthew Lucas: “The Saw movies were never a great franchise (although the series did have its highlights), and Jigsaw neither pushes the series in any new direction nor does it do a disservice to what came before. It’s simply another Saw movie.” The victims seem a bit duller on the uptake, no good at solving puzzles and slow to take instructions or hints. And for some reason Jigsaw has developed even more of a spiritual bent. As the movie begins he’s lecturing the bucketheads on atonement, confession, salvation, and how the truth will set them free. As if. Is this meant as mockery? I recall the earlier films being more existential in their morality.
*. There was some hope among critics that directors Michael and Peter Spierig (credited as The Spierig Brothers), who had enjoyed some success with Predestination, would inject some new blood (as opposed to just more blood) into the franchise. This didn’t happen. I think Jesse Hassenger nicely captures all they brought to the table: “They favor blues, grays, and, at one point, the oddly warm lighting of a grain silo over the sludge tones and frantic shot-stuttering of the earlier films (originated by a still-learning James Wan, and passed along to the first film’s art director and editor). It mostly looks slickly professional, as opposed to slick with liquefied grime.”
*. On the DVD commentary the producers give their own take on what sets this film apart but I found it a lot less convincing than Hassenger’s. They do, however, address what has to be the key dilemma in any franchise entry: “one of our goals was to make it a Saw movie and not a Saw movie at the same time.” And later: “we wanted to make a Saw movie but not just Saw 8.” But the differences they point to are mainly cosmetic. There are more exteriors, but still not a lot. The “Hello Zepp” theme is tweaked. The Billy puppet has glowing eyes. They also mention how they wanted to go back to the original Saw with more puzzle-solving and less gore, but I didn’t see this at all.
*. Not the best movie in the franchise, and not the worst. I thought the gore quite well handled, climaxing in a wonderful slice-and-dice shot at the end. The traps are unimaginative though, and the twist predictable. If you’re feeling despair or disgust at the human race and just want to turn your brain off for 90 minutes it will do the trick. It does seem though that it’s become a franchise in a box.

Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

*. At the end of Neil LaBute’s first film a man is shouting at a woman but she (and we) can’t hear anything because she’s deaf and the soundtrack has gone blank. At the beginning of Your Friends & Neighbors, LaBute’s next movie, this is reversed: we hear a man’s voice talking (we think) to a woman but we can’t see anything because there’s just a black screen.
*. As it turns out, the dirty talk we’re hearing is a man talking to himself. This nicely introduces one of the themes that dominates Your Friends & Neighbours: verbose isolation.
*. We’re used to this going the other way. A strong relationship, the cliché goes, is built on good communication. And on balance I think that’s true. But LaBute puts forward a contrary position. People, especially people in relationships, shouldn’t talk so much, and they should probably avoid being too truthful. Openness and communication really aren’t in anyone’s best interest.
*. And this isn’t just the usual case of men not understanding women, and vice versa. LaBute’s reputation as a misogynist is overblown. His male characters are his most loathsome, as Cary (Jason Patric) demonstrates for us here. But even Terri and Cherri (Catherine Keener and Nastassja Kinski) fall into a silence that, while unhappy, is possibly sustaining. I like the touch of Terri’s mask at the end. She’s blocked out everything.
*. LaBute began as a playwright, something you’d know just a few minutes into Your Friends & Neighbours. It has that sort of shape and talkiness to it. The same sets are returned to again and again and none of the characters seem to do any kind of work (the two female leads are both writers . . . of something). What people do when they get together is have scenes.
*. A sort of Carnal Knowledge 2.0, except I doubt it will age as well. Or perhaps, now that it’s just over twenty years old, we can say that it hasn’t aged as well. I still find something interesting in Carnal Knowledge while much of this movie seems entirely outside my experience and understanding.
*. But I don’t know if it’s the talk itself that has dated as much as the tone. Take Ben Stiller playing Jerry (all the names rhyme, but they’re never used in the film itself so that’s just a joke for the end credits). This was before Stiller was well known as a comic and watching the movie today you expect him to start playing it up. But even without hindsight, and despite being marketed as a comedy, it feels strange that there’s nothing very funny going on, even when Jerry gets dressed up in Restoration fashion.
*. It’s a very quiet movie. I had to turn the volume up just to realize that people were talking . . .  and I was watching with subtitles! The only character who loses his shit and starts to yell is Patric’s Cary, and he’s a psychopath. When Jerry asks Terri to “please be quiet” in the restaurant she’s hardly raised her voice.
*. It’s a hard movie to enjoy, being about a bunch of unlikeable people engaging in various forms of self-destructive behaviour. In so far as there is a message it may be that nice guys finish last. Poor Barry (Aaron Eckhart) is left masturbating, unsuccessfully, after his wife leaves him for Cary. Though in this she is the even bigger loser. Terri is the only character I found all that interesting, though not sympathetic.
*. Well, no one said you have to like the characters in a movie. But Your Friends & Neighbors, being so script-driven, needed to be livelier in this department, and/or go somewhere unexpected. I didn’t think it was either, and since it’s too long for a sketch it ends up as a big shrug.

The Silent (2015)

*. Vague. Suggestive. A mood piece that’s only seven minutes long with no dialogue, which may have some relation to the title. A title that I can’t explain otherwise.
*. But as with any movie like this you can only attempt partial explanations. As writer-director Toni Tikkanen puts it: “The main goal was not to make a mystery which needs to be solved but just to take the viewer into this nightmarish world which is kind of being like inside the sleep paralysis or night terror episode and experience it through the child’s perspective. There is a story underneath but I don’t think it’s relevant to understand it.”
*. Well, I’d say it’s relevant, if not necessary. As I see it, and I think this appears to be the general consensus, the little girl has just died. This makes the question of “her perspective” a bit challenging. Does she know she’s dead? Is she upset? The Sixth Sense had something to say about this but I don’t know how much of it applies here.
*. And what about the adults? The movie seems structured around three reaction shots. First the mother seems to see the girl enter a room and is happy, then fearful. Which seems the right sort of response to seeing your daughter’s ghost (I’m assuming here that the woman is the girl’s mother). Then another man gives the girl a look of surprise, made all the more surprising by being rendered in a jump cut so we don’t see his head turning toward her. She is as startled as we are and runs away. Which is actually very nice, because it seems clear that it is the man who is startled by her. But does he see her, or only sense her presence?
*. Finally there’s a man, perhaps the girl’s father. He looks at her (us, the camera, this is “her perspective”) and seems to acknowledge her presence. But he may just be thinking of something else entirely. In the progression of these three reaction shots: from the first where it seems clear the mother sees the girl, to the last where it’s not clear the man sees anything at all, we can see the girl starting to fade even from memory. I think most people who have experienced the death of someone close to them know the feeling of still sensing their presence in the accustomed places. But these feelings fade.
*. Tikkanen: “So I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘answers,’ because the film is more about the tone and emotions and trying to affect the viewer’s subconscious mind.” Fair enough. But I felt my own worrying about answers to be the most intriguing way into the film. The more purely surreal stuff, like the people appearing with drawings over their faces or the nods to Don’t Look Now didn’t mean as much to me. I’m not sure trying to be creepy here helped. And I don’t think the creepiness is all projection. Those faces are creepy, and the music nudges us in the same direction. But is this a horror story? Or a story of loss?

The Wages of Fear (1953)

*. I thought it a bit sad to go back and read Pauline Kael’s review of The Wages of Fear, where she describes the film as “an existential thriller.” How long has it been since “existential” has had that meaning? Over the course of the last ten years (I think I’m right on the timeframe) it has come, exclusively and quite reductively, to only mean a threat to one’s existence. Kael’s readers, however, would have been thrown back on their readings of Sartre and Camus.
*. Is this a (properly) existential film? My own definition of existentialism — eschewing such stuff as existence preceding essence, whatever that means — is that it’s a vision of life that sees the individual as utterly alone. Which, in turn, leads to the freedom to take ultimate responsibility for your life. The four men transporting the nitro have made their choice and have no one to blame but themselves for the situation they are in.
*. Or is money the new God in this world? It is what makes the world go ’round, the unmoved mover of this ruthless capitalist universe. The men are trapped because of lack of money; with money they would have freedom. That seems a point worth entertaining too. Money precedes essence. Life is cheap.
*. You could even push such conjectures further back in trying to understand just what the hell these scourings of postwar Europe are doing in this town anyway. Dennis Lehane speculates: “While we’ll never discover what has driven them there [the town of Las Piedras], we know it must have been sins of a particularly unforgivable nature, because no one opts to live in hell unless the alternative is demonstrably worse.” I don’t agree. One assumes they came, like one of Joseph Conrad’s European losers holding down some forlorn outpost of “progress,” to get rich, or to at least lord it over the natives. Then they found themselves at the end of the line. I’ve heard such things still happen today in some parts of the world.

*. It’s not often you find yourself wondering about such things in an action or suspense thriller. But they order these things differently, or at least they used to, in France. But I wouldn’t want to go all the way and call this a philosophical film. It takes a long time to get going, but the opening scenes of life in the village seem kind of pointless to me. Roger Ebert thought they were only meant to evoke a sense of “aimless ennui.” Which sounds French, but isn’t deep.
*. Then (and we’re an hour into the picture) the trucks roll out of the yard and we’re into the good stuff. This is where critics usually go into raptures over how Henri-George Clouzot provides a master class in suspense. Which I think he does. The problem watching The Wages of Fear today though is that it’s a class that subsequent generations of filmmakers took and learned only too well. Put another way, I think the best directors make this kind of movie just as well today.
*. Now that’s a long way from saying that today’s filmmakers always do this stuff better. William Friedkin even remade The Wages of Fear as Sorcerer, to mixed results. But in general I think audiences are more familiar with how a good suspense sequence is created, and it’s a process that has tightened up over the years. To the point where I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by The Wages of Fear the first time I saw it. I’d been expecting something more of a revelation. I appreciate it more today, but it doesn’t thrill me as I’m sure it thrilled audiences at the time.

*. Another point relating to this is the unsympathetic protagonists. Do we really care all that much if Mario and Jo make it? They aren’t very likeable people. Credit to Clouzot for that, but I wonder what his point was, or if he had one. That they aren’t worthy of redemption? That no one can achieve redemption? That in taking the job they were putting a price on their lives anyway and once you’ve done that there’s nothing else left that defines you? What would Mario do if he got back to Paris? Just hang out at a different café or bistro, with another pretty girl hanging off him.
*. I do like the way the lead truck with Luigi and Bimba makes an offscreen exit in a flash of light and puff of smoke like a magic trick. Now you see them, now you don’t. They’ve been vaporized. And for what sin, or mistake? Who knows? They probably didn’t.
*. There are other things I don’t like. I’ve mentioned the scene-setting at the beginning, which seems to me to go on far too long. Then there is the ending, which strikes me as false and silly. Silly because I don’t believe for a moment that Mario would be careening down that mountain road like a total idiot. False because his crash is intercut with shots of Linda at the café, and what is she to him? Little more than a dog. Ebert found her character “inexplicable” with “no apparent purpose” and I’m afraid he’s right. Mario isn’t going back to be with her. Clouzot should have made a movie of men without women. Linda is an unnecessary romantic foil.
*. In short, this is a good movie but not (or no longer) exceptional. Important, but not one I enjoy all that much. I think Clouzot was trying to make an American-style blockbuster, and mostly succeeded. But America took umbrage, cutting from its release version what it took to be anti-American slurs. And even in France, while successful, it wasn’t a huge hit. The fourth highest earning film of the year in that country doesn’t strike me as being wildly successful. The top three, in case you’re interested, were The Greatest Show on Earth, The Return of Don Camillo, and Peter Pan.