M -1951-

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Directed by Joseph Losey. 88 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre)

Booyah!

I’ve been trying to see this re-make of Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece ever since I first learned of its existence about seven years ago. Screenings of this version are extremely few and far in between – until last year, the only known remaining print was in possession of the British Film Archives and seldom circulated. The screening that I saw (for the closing night of the Egyptian Theatre’s Noir City Festival) was a new 35mm print, hopefully a sign that the film will become more widely available. Are you listening, Criterion?

Even if the movie sucked (it doesn’t), I would consider it worth my time for its rarity alone, just as it would be worthwhile to talk to a bitterly racist unicorn. The film can’t reach the heights of the original, mainly because of the change of setting. Weimar-era urban Germany is soaked with dread and lends itself to a tale as chilling as M. Conversely, post-WWII Los Angeles is a whole lot brighter and much less scary. Losey fortunately understood that emulating German expressionism would be futile, and so he reimagined the plot to be much closer to a gangster movie than its source material. This shift in tone isn’t a complete loss by any means. For example, a sense of humor is present in the film that would have fallen flat if it were in Lang’s version.

All sorts of great character actors make up the cast (including, but not limited to, a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr). David Wayne (not to be confused with the Stella guy) makes a great killer, crafting a mania that stands completely on its own and without imitating Peter Lorre’s performance. The film on the whole stands up though I wouldn’t put it on the list of all-time great noirs.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-06)

The Servant -1963-

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Directed by Joseph Losey. 116 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Laemmle’s Royal Theater, West LA)

Holy smokes, was this movie all sorts of tense, tingly fun. The Servant is the first Losey film I’ve seen – I was vaguely aware of the guy, but he’s been under a lot of peoples’ radars since he was blacklisted some fifty-odd years ago. Now I gotta make up for lost time and gobble up the rest of his filmography.

The Servant is hearty stew of genres – it’s written like a melodrama (Harold Pinter is responsible for the wonderfully misanthropic screenplay), paced like a thriller, and shot like a noir (Losey did lots of noirs during the American part of his career, including an English-language re-make of Fritz Lang’s M). The entire cast has an amazing chemistry between them – maybe the purest concoction of sex and passive aggression I’ve ever seen. The titular Servant (Dirk Bogarde) is a world-class schemer, and I couldn’t look away as he played the other characters (Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, James Fox) like old accordions.

Well, I probably looked away once or twice. The film could stand to be fifteen minutes shorter, but it didn’t damper the viewing experience much.

Aside: In the best possible way, this is the gayest film I’ve seen all year.

(Seen on 2013-09-01, written on 2013-09-04)