Tuesday, November 22, 2022

LANCELOT DU LAC (Robert Bresson, 1974, France)


Lancelot drowns in a lake of desire, a heroic man reduced to an empty vassal filled with the dark waters of forbidden desire. Robert Bresson eschews the Arthurian Legend and shows us a bloody world of betrayal and selfish ideals: Arthur’s knights are just flesh and bone, full of extremist beliefs that justify their brutality, and beneath their metal exoskeleton they shed the same viscous blood as any mortal man.

The first shot of the film is a violent beheading as the Grail Knights make their way back to their King, murdering all who stand in the path of their Holy Quest. The bombastic soundtrack marches with the drums of war, as galloping horses shake the earth like a blitzkrieg and violent steel cleaves through steel. The opening narration imparts the fact that Percival, the only knight of pure heart, is lost and shall never return but those who do return are consumed by frailty and jealousy. Bresson’s minimalistic style utilizes no establishing shots: instead, he focuses upon the characters in medium close-up compositions, unconcerned with the exterior world but intent on examining the interior. Lancelot returns wearing black armor, a sign of his betrayal and adultery, and Guinevere is depicted as seductress to this liaison. Bresson films their trysts in a hayloft; much like a corrupt manger that symbolizes the birthplace of the savior in whom they pledge piety. Lancelot prays for guidance at the altar, and Bresson’s expert mise-en-scene shows the character in full battle regalia in perfect focus…while the cross remains blurred and indistinct, revealing his damaged faith.

Bresson’s style is to drain the narrative of grand emotion and noble soliloquy, devices too often used in the fantasy genre, and breathe life into the soft clay of the characters, to show them as nothing more than human beings. The film’s mystical rhythm of bland dialogue and clanking armor, of neighing horses and whispering winds, is uninterrupted by any score…save the drumbeats of defeat that bookend the film. Bresson films the tournament scene, where the anonymous white knight appears, in medium shot and from the knees down, so we never identify the rider on the horse. He then cuts to a different knight being thrown to the ground and then returns to the galloping cadence of the horse.

Finally, the knights turn against one another, and Lancelot must give up Guinevere, as Camelot divided cannot stand. Mordred attempts to usurp the throne and Lancelot, his sacrifice complete, returns once again to the side of his King. All lay dying in the forest, and Lancelot falls beside Arthur muttering the name of his one true love. 

Final Grade: (B)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940, USA)

 

Alfred chases an elusive ink and paper fantasy, lost amid lofty ideals and imagination which are shrouded by the reality of his working-class life. Director Ernst Lubitsch’s gregarious film brings these characters together in a believably adversarial sales environment full of Eros and Thanatos.

Jimmy Stewart suffuses Alfred with just the right amount of lovable despair, his haunting eyes the mirror to a lonely soul, and Margaret Sullivan as Clara is sometimes a spiteful woman, but her beautiful visage belies the turmoil within. The supporting cast each fulfill an allotted role to carry the narrative tension and humor, but the acting is so good with taught pacing and scripting that all the pieces fit together creating a satisfying picture. The story reveals the pen-pal faux pas early in the final act and we feel the tension between Alfred who is testing Clara’s emotional depths: a women who is rather vicious in her condemnations of him. Lubitsch’s tender shot of Clara looking through the mail slot for a letter that we know isn’t there, her hopes and desires a vaporous dream, is a perfect reflection of cupid’s Cheshire grin. The film never becomes a humdrum melodrama and surprises with its honesty and pugnacious audacity, as lateral incidents include a cheating spouse, Alfred’s unjust firing, a suicide attempt, a nervous breakdown and a fistfight between “gentlemen”. Mr. Matuschek’s transformation is personably conceived: from cranky boss to humble man, whose heart melts during the frigid Hungarian winter. Finally, two disparate people reveal themselves truthfully, opening their hearts to one another to become victims of love’s fickle embrace.

FINAL GRADE: (A)

Friday, November 11, 2022

THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (Sidney J. Furie, 1978, USA)

 

Like Kubrick’s masterpiece FULL METAL JACKET, Director Sidney J. Furie is not concerned with reporting historical fact but instead depicts the nihilistic schism between soldier and civilian; the absolute destructive madness purchased wholesale at the cost of our moral identity. Exploiting the classic film noir voice-over, the story is told in retrospect through diary entries of the naïve and uncorrupted Private Alvin Foster whose fate, like Joe Gillis in SUNSET BOULEVARD, has already been decided. 

We follow a handful of civilians who, in only six weeks of basic training, are morally deconstructed and reborn as murderous objects, weapons of flesh, blood, and bone. Their Drill Instructor is SSGT. Loyce (R. Lee Ermey) who browbeats them into submission, who must prepare them for the brutality and unimaginable shocks of combat and erase their individuality: he must make them Marines. The characters begin as stereotypes: the athlete, the drug dealer, the journalist, the tough talking street kid from Brooklyn, the hippie, and the incompetent Commander. When we first meet our protagonists, they regurgitate inane and clichéd dialogue as they bid farewell to loved ones and spout patriotic jargon: these spoken beliefs will soon become ethical contradictions, which will exemplify their fiery baptism and the realization (and abandonment) of their naïve righteousness. But Furie doesn’t rely on our universal understanding of these characters, he subverts the paradigm and creates complex individuals who don’t react as we expect: this is antithetical to the Kubrickian convention of dehumanization. 

The scenes In Country are explosively detailed supporting the visual reality of Vietnam. The plot itself is a metaphor defining the absurdity of the Vietnam War: if the soldiers beat the Dragons (a South Vietnamese elite team) in a soccer match, they can spend the remainder of their tour in relative comfort, playing exhibition games all over southeast Asia. There is a caveat: they must lose every game for propaganda purposes, to instill a sense of national pride in the indigenous population. The soldiers must sacrifice pride and honor, not only their own but every American soldier who is fighting and dying in this awful conflict, or face assignment to the meat grinder at Khe Sanh. The choice is really no choice at all: they tame the Dragons. 

Final Grade: (A)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, 2005, USA)

 

Tom’s life stalls amid the routine and obliging sincerity of his rural existence, until the monsters creep murderously from the shadows and reveal his true face. His past is like his aged pickup truck, rusting away nearly forgotten in the barn as the years take their toll, but whose engine must sputter and spark into life one final time.

Director David Cronenberg shows us the real monsters that stalk our world, and in a child’s scream catapults us to Millbrook, Indiana: a Capra-esque fantasy that will soon be shattered by secrets and violence. The nefarious Joey Cusack has been subsumed by a new identity, and Tom Stall has erased his past and become this new persona. But can the past ever be laid to rest, or will it continue to haunt us, like fear of a malignant tumor once removed whose return means almost certain death. Tom’s Darwinian instincts imbue him with the skill to save innocent lives, but his past is quickly catching up with him. 

Cronenberg examines the familial bonds and questions its moral foundation when built upon deceit; is salvation and forgiveness possible? From father to son passes the virulent impulse of destruction, as the bloodshed escalates until there seems to be no other way out…except death. But Tom chooses to confront his past and put Joey to rest forever, to negotiate with his broheim, but water is thicker than blood. His final rampage leads to a baptism, as he turns his sword into a plowshare and washes away his sins: he is Tom once again. 

The final mise-en-scene as he enters the kitchen is sublime: the family is eating supper, Tom's traditional place empty, then his daughter sets his plate as his son passes the food while his wife looks down, unable to look upon this stranger. She gathers her strength and meets his tearful gaze as Cronenberg shoots extreme close-up of Tom’s eyes…and we feel the charge of this internal struggle expressed without a single word. 

Final Grade: (A) 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (Akira Kurosawa, 1944, Japan)

 

The indomitable spirit of Japanese culture is mirrored in the humble women of an optics factory: where one woman may die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. Akira Kurosawa’s second film is wartime propaganda, a manipulative composition that utilizes cinema as political dramaturgy; it demands the authority of a documentary but subtly conceals a fictional structure, using wonderful actresses and filming in controlled environments where movement and lighting can be completely controlled. Though Kurosawa does not extol the Emperor’s divinity, he imbues the story with the need for physical sacrifice while not surrendering individuality: a theme that would become commonplace in his oeuvre.

The Matriarchal structure of the film empowers this group of women but more importantly, shows that their leader Watanabe is of equal value to the elder men who command the factory: her credo of “keep on trying and do your best” is not a hollow motto…but an intrinsic value that will be tested and overcome at great expense. The opening title cards proclaim death to Japan’s enemies, and he cuts to children standing in line as a godlike voice, full of electric sympathy and remorse, tells them that emergency production must begin immediately: the men must increase their output by 100% and the women by 50%. Watanabe is taken aback by the effrontery and insists that their ration be increased to 75%! The women push themselves to their limits, hiding sickness and injury, even carrying the burden of those who have difficulty making their own ration.

Kurosawa uses Riefenstahl inspired close-ups to show teamwork and camaraderie during the volleyball games, skewed angles and smiling faces, but always focuses his own optics upon the lovely and bold women, portraying them as human beings and not brainwashed subjugates. There is no coincidence in the use of a seemingly minor optics factory as the setting for the story: it both reminds the viewer of the camera’s lens but also as a metaphor for the eyes of Japan; eyes that must be perfectly focused upon the enemy to ensure victory.

In retrospect, the opening scenes become haunting like Resnais’ NIGHT AND FOG, the wooden factory and stark living quarters like an abattoir full of victims, exploited by murderous theocratic dogma. Kurosawa hones the use of transitional swipes and dissolves, to project a specific stopping point or show the passage of time: all elements that would become a hallmark of his technique. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL is Watanabe, who works past the point of human endurance so that her minor error does not jeopardize one soldier’s life: she lives by the very creed she preaches.

FINAL GRADE: (B-)

Friday, October 21, 2022

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (Jeanott Szwarc, 1980, USA)

 

Richard Collier desperately bids for time’s return, his lost love reduced to an anachronistic penny worth only hopeless thoughts. Richard Matheson, better known for his novels I AM LEGEND and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, adapts his own prose into film with French director Jeanott Szwarc: the result is an emotionally powerful yet rather straightforward narrative that dilutes the horrific essence of the source material. But a few dark elements remain, and herein beat the heart of the story because romance and tragedy walk hand in hand, the joy of love contrasted by the eventual death shroud that parts us from our soul mate, as we then fear to walk the world alone.

Matheson redefines his character Richard Collier to accommodate Christopher Reeve’s strengths: he imbues the protagonist with a healthy dose of humor and kindness and removes the obsessive possessiveness and tumorous dread that haunts the novel. He also replaces Mahler with Rachmaninoff, amending the death theme that runs its poisonous course through BID TIME RETURN. Szwarc also replaces the Hotel del Coronado with the Grand Hotel, transposing the clean lines of modern architecture upon the magical towers and gables of the novel’s environment.  Jane Seymour as Elise McKenna is a beautifully rendered portrait of perfection, her diminutive stature incongruous with her fiery independence. She is also a victim of The Moirae as her love affair is cut short by Atropos’ fateful shears, her affair dwindling away into the recesses of future time: her only memento a lovely pocket-watch that will be a gift to the future Richard Collier, which will ensure that he will “come back to her”. 

Isidore Mankofsky’s lush color photography brings the past to life, making it more “real” by contrast with the modern timeframe which is infused with harsh and oblique lighting. The world of 1912 seems more alive and romantic with the vivid costumes (though Collier’s is at least ten years out-of-date!) and set designs, as Szwarc attempts to keep anachronism out-of-frame and is largely successful if one doesn’t look too closely. For me, suspension of disbelief came easily thanks to the wonderfully nuanced performances by not only Reeves and Seymour but the entire supporting cast! If one takes a darker view of the story that this is all a death-dream, the anachronisms then become keys to understanding Collier’s lack of detailed knowledge of the past his mind resides in. 

A flicker of doubt remains: did Richard actually transcend time, or did he starve to death, isolated in his own world of fantasy? The final scene could exist as a death dream, a wish fulfillment as his consciousness fades towards oblivion. But for romantics, it is the perfect ending. 

Final Grade: (B)

Saturday, October 15, 2022

NIGHT MOVES (Kelly Reichardt, 2013, USA)

 

Three Eco-terrorists play dam busters with little regard to the repercussions of their explosive act of violence. Kelly Reichardt explores the emotional and intellectual landscape of three radicals who are chillingly not far removed from ordinary peaceful protesters.

The plot concerns Josh, Dena and Harmon as they plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam because of its environmental impact. Their goal seems to be a purpose in and of itself: that is, the act is the purpose and not the outcome. They feel justified in destroying this artificial construct without considering the destructive fallout to the environment and the potential to harm other people. Thus, the characters fail to consider the irony of their actions. Director Kelly Reichardt tells an anti-action story: instead of relying on the typical conventions of the Action genre she brings the story into sharp focus, her lens peering into the dark silences and mundane routines of three lives about to change dramatically. From purchasing the titular boat named NIGHT MOVES to securing 500 pounds of fertilizer to build the bomb, Reichardt portrays how typical and rather easy this task becomes which makes the story all the more frightening! When it comes, the explosion is only heard off-screen, which allows a detachment between the act and its implications.

Director Kelly Reichardt also drains the story of melodrama by refusing to reveal or exacerbate the relationships between the characters. It’s never explicitly mentioned that Josh and Dena are a couple (or in the process of becoming one) though they are often shown together. Reichardt takes this implication and undermines this trope by keeping the information out of the story. We only learn that Dena comes from a rich family when they are talking about paying cash for the boat. So, is she just a hanger on or a romantic interest? When Josh discovers Dena and Harmon screwing, he seems a bit disappointed but again, this is only through subtle body language and not confrontation.

The final Act becomes incredibly tense as the three split and vow to have no contact with one another. The camera focuses tightly upon Josh who is afraid that Dena will succumb to her guilt and confess their crime. Turns out, an innocent man was killed by the flood waters and day by day the newspapers and newscasts are filled with stories of this man’s life and family. This drives Josh past the point of endurance as he is driven to one desperate fatal act. He becomes fueled by self-preservation and not idealism; Josh tracks Dena down and makes sure she remains quiet…forever.

Reichardt frames the murderous act in extreme close-up forcing the audience into a violent conspiracy: here, she does not give us the luxury of emotional detachment or objectivism. Dena’s gurgling sound as Josh strangles her to death is gruesome but strangely the killing seems rather mundane, like the earlier “gunpowder” plot. We are given clues that Dana probably told her friends (it led to Josh being kicked out of his commune). Josh takes off and is last seen in another part of the state, looking for work. But it seems he is destined for a mobile life of paranoid conspiracies…but it may be better than no life at all.

Final Grade: (A+)

Saturday, October 8, 2022

ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY (Akira Kurosawa, 1947, Japan)

 

Two lovers are an unfinished symphony in the ruins of post-war Japan, mired in the emotional fallout of despair and suffering, struggling to see the world not as it is…but as it should be. Director Akira Kurosawa attempts to imbue his film with the robust humanity of Frank Capra, as Yuzo and Masako are nitrate reflections of George and Mary Bailey, but instead of showing us a lifetime Kurosawa shows us a day in the life.

The story is set on a Sunday afternoon, the weekly meeting for this poor couple, where the day begins well but grows gradually darker both in spirit and weather. The opening shot is of Yuzo staring at a discarded cigarette butt, the pain of indignity upon his face, which mirrors the knowledge that he has been reduced to grubbing for trash. But along comes Masako, full of vibrant energy and life-affirming beauty, to temporarily quell his quiet desperation. The camera follows them throughout the day as they struggle with only a few yen: Yuzo feeling less than a man because they have to use her money and Masako wearing the mask of cheerfulness. Together they play husband and wife in a prototype house that they will never afford, visit the zoo where the animals seem more content than they, get ripped off by scalpers at a Schubert concert, and then can’t afford a tiny meal at a local café. Leaving his coat behind, they walk through a dreary night and into the ruins of a courtyard, where they dream of opening their own café, treating customers with respect and dignity.

Kurosawa doesn’t hide the darker elements of their relationship, as Yuzo invites her back to his room and makes a sexual pass: it is obvious that she is still a virgin, and their relationship has not yet been consummated. She runs tearfully from the room and Kurosawa holds the camera on Yuzo’s isolation for five minutes, as he listens to the rain drum its nervous rhythm upon the leaking tin roof. But Masako is the stronger of the two and returns…he doesn’t run after her! Wandering in the lower depths of despair, they meet a starving war orphan and Masako’s selfless sacrifice brings a tiny light of kindness to this child’s dirty face. 

Yuzo is a stark realist, knowing that dreams don’t fill an empty stomach, but Masako is his counterpoint, his hope, and his raison d’être. In the windswept night they find a deserted band shell and she sits attentively while he vainly attempts to imagine an orchestra playing Schubert, but the only sound is the rustle of dead leaves and the soft murmur of cold wind. Here, Kurosawa breaks the narrative’s fourth wall and like Wendy in PETER PAN, Masako speaks directly to the audience. But she doesn’t ask for complicity, she begs and pleads for help, their very lives depending upon the audience clapping so Yuzo can hear the imaginary orchestra. This device contradicts the film’s morality in that strength must be found within and together, not by some outside force: though heartfelt, it falls on a completely flat note. Finally, the string section swells, and they are happy once again, ready to face another Sunday together. 

Final Grade: (C)

Friday, September 30, 2022

SUNRISE (F.W. Murnau, 1927, USA)

 

A swan song of two humans, a final pronouncement of love: one whose spirit is divided by the aching lure of modernity, and another whose devotion is drowned in the cold depths of despair. Amidst the angry breaking waves and shrouded moonlit rendezvous’, one man almost sacrifices his integrity for a brief respite from patriarchal routine, his thick hands that once tilled the fields of his lovely wife now weapons of her demise until his senses return and they attempt to rediscover the ethereal spark that will once again ignite fiery passion.

F.W. Murnau’s mute homage to human nature is one of cinema’s crowning achievements, both in substance and style. His use of deep focus photography, detailed rear projection, and fantastic tracking shots were years ahead of their time, with modest set designs slightly skewed to impart a distorted perception and busy long shots establishing fragile humanity lost amid the steel and concrete jungle. SUNRISE was the template that imbued future directors with a melodramatic and creative vision, raising popular cinema above puerile standards and into the realm of artistic expression: though not the first to achieve this goal, it certainly was one of the best. George O’Brien’s masculine pathos and Janet Gaynor’s angelic visage haunt the silver screen, reflecting desperation and adoration through the subtly of mirrored eyes while Margaret Livingston’s sultry femme fatale exudes an ominous sexuality. The nameless protagonist, his hunched shoulders revealing his murderous intentions like a monster stalking its prey, rejects temptation at the last possible moment while his frightened wife cowers at the stern of a tiny boat. Together they travel to the big city, the metaphor concerning our humanity reduced to clacking machinery and noxious fumes, the individual lost amid crowded scenarios, but together they find salvation.

Murnau’s sparse use of Title Cards allows the narrative to focus upon the characters and grandiose cinematography, communicating on a basic emotional level, uninterrupted by blank screens and intrusive text. The tempestuous story is also spiked with moments of tenderness and humor, such as the frenetic dance sequence and drunken pig chase to the slippery spaghetti straps barely concealing a woman’s bosom. Murnau’s classic is a shining accomplishment of silent cinema, a creation whose horizon has set the standard for contemporary filmmakers.

Final Grade: (A+)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

MAN BITES DOG (Remy Belvaux, 1992, Belgium)

 

"When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news." John Bogart, Editor New York Sun.

This militant satire is a biting indictment of journalistic expression; of the fast-food media’s desire to report the esoteric as mundane; to canonize brutality for the sake of the public’s “need to know”. Rémy Belvaux’s film differs dramatically from Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS in cinematic philosophy though both films are thematically similar. Stone embraces Eisenstein’s intellectual montage principle and extracts meaning from disparate images with rapid-fire quick cut editing, whereas this film’s visual profundity relies on mise-en-scene decoupage. 

Belvaux achieves meaning through the relationship of objects (and people) within the frame; he utilizes long takes and real environments to sustain the illusion of reality. Benoit, the natural born killer, addresses the audience directly because this is his film; he’s the star in his heliocentric universe. This killer stalks the modern jungle, he hunts beneath the canopy of concrete and steel, and he is the innocuous tenant who lives next door. 

Absurdly, a film crew follows this depraved sociopath to document his every move, to glean some titular insight into his motives and psychology. His victims are ignored because they aren’t valuable news stories; they don’t garner high ratings because their lives are as disinteresting and repetitive as ours. Benoit’s ubiquitous narration doesn’t create intimacy; it’s a profane dialogue that separates the audience from his engorged persona. But the film crew soon becomes a part of the story and participates in the carnage, they cease to report the news and become the news, accomplices to murder. 

When a camera measures reality it automatically changes it, the composition of elements excludes and promotes information within the frame creating a new viewpoint in order to manipulate the audience. The illusion becomes more tangible that the solid world around us. Like “Reality” television and the media’s brainwashing concept of Doublethink, it encourages the propaganda of TruthLie. 

Final Grade: (B+)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charles Chaplin, 1940, USA)

 

Chaplin condemns the Fascist simulacra, machines in the shape men fueled by nationalism, and curses leadership founded on murder and hatred: the philosophy of the double-cross. A prescient call for humanity amid the infrastructure of isolationist denial, combining pathos and Thanatos into a delectable satire that provokes while it entertains, extruding desperation for a world on the brink of madness.

The film contrasts the protagonist, a Jewish barber and war hero, a man who loves his country, with his doppelganger the poisonous Dictator who has usurped his homeland, a megalomaniacal leader whose goal of world conquest is soon to be realized. Chaplin’s bombastic ballet begins on the eve of The Great War, as the unnamed barber loses his memory in a plane crash and ends with his impassioned speech on the morning of the Second World War, as Tomainia prepares to invade its peaceful neighbor. The story in between is contrived with Chaplin’s sublime artistry, finding humor in the humane, portraying his Jewish characters with complexity and dignity. In retrospect, it is frightening to consider his precognitive narrative as his protagonists are relegated to the poverty of the ghetto, stricken with fear of the concentration camps, denied the Rule of Law by goose-stepping thugs of the double-cross. His parody of Adenoid Hynkel (Adolf Hitler) and his Murder’s Row of Garbitsch (Joseph Goebbels), Herring (Hermann Goring), and cohort Benzino Napaloini (Benito Mussolini) is dead-on. Hynkel becomes intoxicated with power, balancing the world in the palm of his hand, and it’s not difficult to imagine Hitler doing the same.

The little barber stands up to the Stormtroopers, a voice of reason lost amid the inane babble of propaganda, and joins forces with Schultz, a soldier court-martialed for speaking against Hynkel, and together they are sentenced to a concentration camp. Their escape leads to the barber’s mistaken identity as the Dictator, and to save their lives he must deliver a speech as Hynkel: this impassioned plea transcends the confines of the story, it is a declaration of peace, of rediscovering free-will from the program of bigotry, a monologue for mankind to rise above machine morality, to think with the compassionate heart and not the deadly gun. Chaplin’s powerful voice is imbued with gentleness and humility, a stark contrast to the gibberish spouted by flamboyant Dictators who are full of nothing but hot air.

Final Grade: (A+)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (John Huston, 1967)

 

Captain Penderton fails to tame his wife’s wild horse, an apt metaphor concerning his impotence and weakness to ride his beautiful wife as their marriage disappears into an emotional crevasse.

Marlon Brando’s narcissistic portrayal of the respected Captain is marvelously multi-dimensional: revealing the love of his own manly physique while showing the inner gulf that separates him from his voluptuous wife Leonora. The Captain speaks of the bond between men that is stronger than death, and this repressed homosexuality exudes from his pores and leads to violence: it’s not the fact he’s attracted to another man…it’s the fact that he can’t come to grips with this sexual revelation that destroys him.

Director John Huston imbues the film in a golden aura, which consumes all primary colors and gives the film a feel of nostalgia…or psychosis. This is one of Huston’s most solemn films with little direct humor, a condemnation of the Army’s attitude towards homosexuality and society’s bleak judgment upon the characters. The subject of “male bonding” hasn’t been this prevalent since James Jones novel THE THIN RED LINE. Leonora is having an affair with Major Langdon to satisfy her physical needs while Penderton stalks a young Private, and Langdon’s wife is busy having a nervous breakdown as she suspects the illicit tryst. John Huston films Penderton’s wild horse ride through the thickets and woods in one continuous tracking shot, while he desperately holds on for his life. But the horse is too strong and throws him; he then spies the naked Private sunning himself and he beats the horse viciously with a stick. Later that night, Leonora returns the abuse with a riding crop slapping him across the face in disgust. The erotic image of Leonora excitingly depicted by Elizabeth Taylor, in a night gown holding a riding crop isn’t lost on the viewer, but Penderton is disinterested, thus further provoking her fury.

Finally, Penderton sees the Private sneak into his house late one night, and believing his obsession is about to be realized, watches in horror as this man silently enters his wife’s bedroom, fascinated by her sleeping beauty. Enraged, Penderton shoots the intruder and Huston’s camera arcs quickly from the dead man, to Leonora’s screams, and Penderton’s confused visage. The film ends with the destruction of the patriarchal family unit, as phantasmal as the golden beauty that resides in the eye of the beholder.

Final Grade: (B+)