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  • Five Scouts

    Five Scouts

    Five Scouts. Extremely visually dramatic: wild tracking shots, ominous closeups and pans, low angles on vast expanses of space, some use of telephoto compression. And the action scenes are grimly imaginative, like the one where enemy soldiers hidden in bushes drop into the water as corpses, in the foreground of the shot. But the propaganda purpose of the film made it feel false: every soldier is gentle, compassionate, and quivering with feelings; the whole platoon mourns when one guy doesn’t…

  • Please Don't Eat the Daisies

    Please Don't Eat the Daisies

    Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Slowly it built interest, and by the time it was over I wondered whether Walters might be a great director passing as a lightweight entertainer. Everything is so distinctive: he really stages well in long shot, often daringly; his musical numbers are unusual (the one-take milling-about choreography of the title song is rather beautiful); the annoying children are a mass to be deployed and arranged in long shot; the acting is great in a low-key…

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  • Back Street

    Back Street

    Back Street. From the beginning, total formal control, with icy tracking shots and closeups, scene transitions suspended in the emptiness of the last completed gesture, crowds, weather, everything one associates with mature Stahl. The story is classic Fannie Hurst, with a huge painful contrived coincidence ruining Dunne's life, and love as an immutable sentence condemning the heroine. Stahl and the writers push all of it to extremes: Boles in the middle section is hatefully selfish, and Stahl gazes at his…

  • The Marriage of Maria Braun

    The Marriage of Maria Braun

    The Marriage of Maria Braun. A masterpiece. The visual style is impressive but mostly dedicated to dramatic effect: the low-angle tracking shot of Maria finding Bill after Hermann is reported dead, for instance, seems essentially a dramatic device. The writing is spectacular, world-class: not just witty and striking, but always pulling us back to the broader characterization, and always combined with a Sternbergian sense of people’s mystery. Maria is of course a symbol of the spirit of amoral post-war capitalist…