I'll start by saying that of all my top picks, this is absolutely one of the most tenuous. I like this Lang film, but there are probably another seven or eight by him that I like even better (The Big Heat, Metropolis, M, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Moonfleet, The Woman in the Window, You Only Live Once, and Destiny). And I still have some Lang films to see.
My pick has a lot to do with 1933 being a slightly less stellar year, and admittedly I still have some major gaps to fill.
I first saw Mabuse at a great place that used to be in Paris called the "Videotheque de Paris". It was a film library that also had one fantastic theater. I'm not sure why it closed, but I had several very memorable nights there. I saw Claire Denis present a screening of her film J'ai pas sommeil, and it was there that I saw a favorite of mine, Rossellini's Germany Year Zero, for the first time.
Anyway, as I remember it, the thing that most impressed me with this film was Lang's extraordinary inventiveness. I remember watching it and being in awe of all that he was doing for such an early film. It has a fairly complex narrative for a film of this era and just felt formally years ahead of other films I had seen from this period. I believe I've only seen it once so it is a bit vague in my memory. But I remember it having a terrific finale, as well, if I'm not mistaken.
5/15/10 I watched Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack's King Kong. There are some tremendous moments, particularly the unveiling of Kong at the New York theater. But some of the action scenes in the jungle went on too long for me and didn't really maximize the suspense. An incredibly impressive accomplishment though for its time.
5/24/10 I watched Mervyn LeRoy's Gold Diggers of 1933. Some of the dance sequences are absolutely mind-blowing. But much of the story in between felt a little heavy-handed to me and didn't move me as much as I would like. Busby Berkeley's work though is really something to see.
9/13/10 I watched Howard Hawks' Air Force. Hawks definitely demonstrates a love and knowledge for the material, but I find this to be one of his more overlong pieces. Some wonderful moments, and an extraordinary performance from Harry Carey, but still a little underwhelming, relative to some of his better work.
2/25/12 I watched Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living. One of the very strongest of all the Lubitsch films that I've seen and probably the clearest display of the famous "Lubitsch touch". Lubitsch had this ability to go from mania to pathos almost within the same shot. Bold, sexy, and probably a major influence on Jules and Jim, as well as the entire French New Wave.
2/26/12 I watched Lloyd Bacon's 42nd Street. A loose, free-form musical with loads of energy and insight into the behind-the-scenes world of theater. Most memorable for its passion. The grace and personality of the best Astaire pics though resonate more with me.
5/19/12 I watched Rouben Mamoulian's Queen Christina. A strong Garbo performance although I'm partial to her work in The Mysterious Lady and Camille. The final shot though makes it all worthwhile.
9/3/12 I watched Archie Mayo's The Mayor of Hell. Some strong performances, particularly from a few of the kids, but screwy and often feels like it's throwing its plot implausibilities quickly into the closet before anyone notices. Mostly forgettable for me.
9/22/12 I watched Alfred E Green's Baby Face. A little too neat for me most of the time, but features yet another excellent Stanwyck performance and is interesting as a pre-code artifact.
9/23/12 I watched William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road. It has heart, I'll give it that, but I'm not sure the acting always pulls it through, and it ends up feeling more well-intentioned than affecting.
9/30/12 I watched A Edward Sutherland's International House. A sort of messy, slapstick pre-code trifle that gains great import those few times when WC Fields hits the screen.
10/27/12 I watched Lloyd Bacon's Picture Snatcher. Interesting for yet another great Cagney performance and a surprisingly violent shoot-out near the end. Otherwise though not terribly inventive or vital.
11/4/12 I watched Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen. An extremely interesting film, one where Capra couches some of his heftiest thoughts and most exquisite aesthetic flourishes into what might appear on the surface as something completely impersonal. Although less a moving experience for me than one of admiration, I can understand why this one has so many supporters.
11/11/12 I watched James Whale's The Invisible Man. Loony and locked in a perpetual hysteria, Whale never shies away from the material. And the movie is strongest because of Whale's commitment. Not really my thing though but glad I have now seen it.
8/4/13 I watched Frank Borzage's Man's Castle. Borzage proves once again he is one of cinema's rare great practitioners of melodrama. He is very comfortable toiling in the lower class, piling on detail upon detail about how those struggling must feel about money, freedom, and simple, daily survival. There is something very particular about Borzage's sensibility. It is unsettling, even creepy while always managing to maintain a connection to real, recognizable situations and emotions. He was an auteur (one feels a consistent, unique voice from film to film) and this is among the strongest of his w0rks I have seen so far.
10/6/13 I watched Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct. Very possibly the most visually gifted of all the French filmmakers, he was France's Welles, a genius of cinematic language who left the cinema far too early. Although I am a far bigger fan of his one feature, this film features some remarkable moments like the drawing that comes alive or the famous pillow fight. Vigo was a surrealist with a playful streak that influenced Carax, Lynch, and so many others.
7/31/14 I watched D'Abbadie D'Arrast's Topaze. A film that is at times slightly lethargic from a narrative standpoint more than redeems itself through visual inventiveness and an all-in performance by Barrymore. I have never seen Pagnol's version so cannot comment on how it stacks up. D'Arrast proves himself though a very strong director with a keen sense of camera movement and emotive framing. I was particularly struck by how he slowly pulled back the camera during Topaze's farewell speech to his classroom in the middle of the film.