After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

The last time I had a Thin Man marathon–which must have been five years ago, maybe more (I had the LaserDisc set, so I’m trying to remember when I started concentrating more on DVD), I thought After the Thin Man, the second film in the series, was disappointing. Now I’m not having a marathon, just watching the film, and that opinion was wrong. It seems to have come from comparing it to the first film too much (specifically, the first film’s brevity). After the Thin Man is excellent and establishes a lot of good sequel mechanisms… ones I don’t think the other Thin Man sequels employed (as they became closer in pacing to MGM’s other film series).

Coming into the second film, the audience has a few expectations–the banter and the mystery. After the Thin Man concentrates on the banter first, dedicating almost the entire first act to catching up with Nick and Nora. Dashiell Hammett actually wrote the story for After the Thin Man, they weren’t just being nice and putting his name on it–I have a copy somewhere, but never read it. Hammett started the story differently, with a dying man showing up on their doorstep. The film’s measured pacing, however, reminds the audience just why they liked the first film so much.

Today, past being one of the Thin Man films, it gets no notice. Even the Thin Man series has fallen away (and I remember in the 1980s, when it was such a big deal when all the films came out on VHS). I suppose it’s worthy of a footnote in James Stewart’s filmography, but James Stewart’s not really popular anymore, is he? Films made before 1983, it seems, offer nothing to moviegoers today (that snide remark is based on George Lucas’s “rejiggering” of the original Star Wars films and Peter Jackson remaking King Kong because he didn’t think audiences today should have to watch black and white films). Home video companies dedication to releasing their classic product is probably the best, unexpected benefit of the DVD format (as I type, The Complete Thin Man collection is #69 on Amazon’s DVD sales chart). The format’s introducing new audiences (I hope) to good films.

As a Thin Man film, After the Thin Man has a lot of the classic set pieces–Nick and Nora sleeping all day, after some late night scrambled eggs, is the one I’m recalling most. I was also surprised how funny some of the scenes get… I laughed at a couple as much as I laughed at the last episode of “American Dad.”

I can’t say much else, since I don’t want to spoil anything, but the killer’s unveiling is some damn great acting….



Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from a story by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Robert Kern; music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora), James Stewart (David), Elissa Landi (Selma), Joseph Calleia (“Dancer”), Jessie Ralph (Aunt Katherine), Alan Marshall (Robert), Teddy Hart (Casper), Sam Levene (Abrams), Penny Singleton (Polly), William Law (Lum Kee), George Zucco (Dr. Kammer) and Paul Fix (Phil).



Conversation Piece (1974, Luchino Visconti)

I adore broad, sweeping statements. Here goes: I do not think any film, of all the films I have seen (conservatively, a couple thousand, maybe three), has had a worst last thirty seconds than Conversation Piece. It’s so incredible, so incredibly bad, I can’t believe the cast and crew didn’t start giggling when a) reading the script, b) shooting the scene, c) editing the scene, and d) seeing the scene. It’s really that bad.

I could make some comment about Conversation Piece being worth seeing just for that ending, but that’s unfair to the rest of the film. Conversation Piece is really long. It’s only two hours, but it’s all people talking–and as a continuous scene, instead Visconti breaks it up with no transition, which disorientates the viewer for a bit at the beginning, but then he or she gets ready for these cuts. For a while, the pace of the film is fine, probably the first hour, but the second crawls by, since it’s not just the events that take place off screen, it’s the changes in the characters.

I’ve never seen Burt Lancaster and Visconti’s more famous collaboration, The Leopard (out of laziness, I have it somewhere), and I rented this film because of Lancaster. He’s reliable, if rarely exciting. Unfortunately, that reliability plays through in his character in Conversation Piece. Besides the bad flashback scenes, much of the film–except when Lancaster is alone with his de facto ward, played by Helmut Berger (who was in The Godfather, Part III and “Dynasty”!)–is Lancaster reacting to what’s going on around him. When he announces his personal revelation to the audience in the last ten minutes, the audience has known it the whole time–because, otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a story.

It’s not a bad film and–perplexingly–it couldn’t be any different, but I knew everything it was going to be about in the first fifteen minutes. Except the stupid last shot… no one could have guessed that one.



Directed by Luchino Visconti; screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli and Visconti, based on a story by Medioli; director of photography, Pasqalino de Santis; edited by Ruggero Mastroianni; music by Franco Mannino; produced by Giovanni Bertolucci; released by Gaumont.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Professor), Silvana Mangano (Bianca Brumonti), Helmut Berger (Konrad), Claudia Marsani (Lietta), Stefano Patrizi (Stefano), Elvira Cortese (Erminia), Dominique Sanda (Mother) and Claudia Cardinale (Wife).


Some (2004, Chang Yoon-hyun)

I love genre-breaking. It doesn’t happen much in film. Something like Blade Runner mixes genre, but little ever really breaks the genre mold anymore. I mean, the American romantic comedy has been around since in 1938 with The Cowboy and the Lady. I’ve seen strict genre films from Korea and I’ve seen loose ones (comedies with severe dramatic turns, for example), but Some sticks out. It’s kind of cute and light-hearted, but never comedic, but still violent and dark. I suppose it’s like an early color Hitchcock, which were still fun, but somebody could, conceivably, die.

More surprising is that Some has a huge gimmick. A huge precognition gimmick. I don’t know how well the film would have worked without the gimmick, because by the time it was fully defined, I was already wrapped up in it. The two leads are great and elicit concern early on–through extreme peril, another Hitchcock method–and I was already committed to the film, so I just let the gimmick pass. I’m not advocating such gimmicks, but the gimmick doesn’t run Some, even though it… kind of does. The film’s focus is on its characters and their immediate danger, not the gimmick, which makes the film an example of a gimmick working (to some degree, the film still only gets a one, I mean, it’s a cute, light-hearted cop movie set in twenty hours).

Not surprisingly, however, Some is from the writer of Il Mare, which failed because it got too wrapped up in gimmick. I guess she’s gotten better. I mean, I support this film even in light of its stupid teenager gangster subplot… but that’s probably just because the acting is so good.



Directed by Chang Yoon-hyun; written by Kim Eun-jeong and Kim Eun-shil; director of photography, Kim Seong-bok; edited by Nam Na-yeong; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Kim Hye-suk; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Go Soo (Kang Seong-ju), Song Ji-hyo (Seo Yu-jin), Lee Dong-kyu (Min Jae-il), Kang Shin-il (Chief Oh), Kang Seong-jin (Officer Lee), Jo Kyeong-hun (Officer Chu), Jeong Myeong-jun (Chief Kim), Park Cheol-Ho (Kwon Cheol-woo), Kwon Min (Jong Chan) and Jo Mun-hong (Black King).


The Game (1997, David Fincher)

I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Game again, probably my access to the DVD, but even so, I don’t know what possessed me to finish watching it. It’s fairly atrocious early on, once it becomes obvious that no reasonable human being could identify with Michael Douglas’s character. He’s playing a lonely, depressed multimillionaire who lives in a big house and is good for absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even have fun. I was opined–and still do–that the rich cannot produce good art because there’s no real conflict in their lives. Similarly, the rich make difficult subjects for fiction. Something like Sabrina notwithstanding….

But, really, I was trying to figure out–as The Game went from mediocre to bad to mediocre again to worse than ever (the only good moment comes in the last few scenes, not surprisingly, it’s all Sean Penn)–I was trying to figure out why I used to love David Fincher. I saw The Game in the theater and I can’t believe it didn’t cure me. Fincher is shockingly incapable of recognizing good material and not just the script. I mean, Douglas turns in what must be his worst performance, since all it does is rehash his previous stuff (Wall Street and maybe Disclosure specifically). When Douglas does show some humanity, it comes across like someone else wrote the scene and Fincher stuck it in.

The Game also–and I hate to gripe about this one, because I usually advise against it–has logic holes the size of the Grand Canyon. I advise against surveying such holes because they aren’t the piece’s point and when you interact with a work, you have to give it some leeway. There’s nothing to interact with in The Game, so all that’s left is to point out how incredibly stupid it is. Still, Fincher’s composition isn’t bad–though it’s poorly edited and the cinematography begs for someone better–and a lot of the supporting cast is fun… James Rebhorn in particular, love the Rebhorn.

For some reason, I thought I had something else to say about this film, some other way to close it–besides that it’s a piece of horrendous shit. Oh, I remember: Howard Shore’s score is good.



Directed by David Fincher; written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by James Haygood; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Steve Golin and Cean Chaffin; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Michael Douglas (Nicholas Van Orton), Sean Penn (Conrad), James Rebhorn (Jim Feingold), Deborah Kara Unger (Christine), Peter Donat (Samuel Sutherland), Carroll Baker (Ilsa) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Anson Baer).


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