Monday, February 8, 2010

1932: La Nuit du Carrefour (Jean Renoir)

1932: La Nuit du Carrefour (Jean Renoir)

I have only seen this once, and it was fifteen years ago.  But it struck me at the time and has stayed with me ever since as perhaps the most atmospheric noir film I've ever seen.  I don't mean to frustrate with this choice, as I know most people haven't seen it.  I hope though that people will seek it out and that eventually as the years pass it will no longer be one of these undiscovered Renoir gems.  

The movie's an adaptation of a book by famed Belgian crime novelist, Georges Simenon.  I remember the story not making too much sense, but I don't think it's Simenon's fault.  There are stories about one reel from the movie being definitively lost.

The movie is visually very dark (maybe the darkest I've ever seen), opaque, foggy, and almost dream-like.  If you like your noirs less plot-driven than sensory-driven, I can't think of a more effective film.  

Other contenders for 1932: Let me start by saying I've only seen Trouble in Paradise once, and for one reason or another, it did not impact me.  That said, I have already put it on my queue and plan to revisit it very soon.  As a huge fan of The Shop Around the Corner and of Lubitsch in general, it's very possible that I took it in on an off day. Like every other year, I definitely have gaps from 1932.  They are: Tod Browning's Freaks, Raoul Walsh's Me and My Gal, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr, James Whale's The Old Dark House, Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight, Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But..., Alfred Hitchcock's Rich and Strange, Howard Hawks' The Crowd Roars, Paul Fejos' Marie, a Hungarian Legend, Howard Hawks' Tiger Shark, Ernst Lubitsch's The Man I Killed, James Parrott's The Music Box, Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack's The Most Dangerous Game, and Norman McLeod's Horse Feathers.  Of the films I have seen, I like Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct, although it did not affect me near as much as L'atalante.  I found Ernst Lubitsch's One Hour With You quite entertaining and charming, but I can't remember it for much more than that.  Scarface, the Shame of the Nation is a film I really admire, but emotionally it doesn't affect near the way that some of the later Hawks' films do.  Probably my closest runner-up would be Luis Bunuel's Land Without Bread.  I remember it as being a very powerful and disturbing film, and it still somewhat haunts me, more than fifteen years after I saw it.  But, ultimately, I have to make this little seen Renoir film my top choice.  I remember it as one of the moodiest and atmospheric of any film I've ever seen.    

3/13/10 I re-watched Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise.  Although it wouldn't contend for my top spot, I certainly had a much better experience with it this time around.  There's an effervescence in the air that Lubitsch is able to maintain with the writing, acting, and spirited camera movements.  I find myself moved much more by his later The Shop Around the Corner, but this is certainly one of my favorite films I've seen by him.  

4/17/10 I watched Ernst Lubitsch's One Hour with You.  Although I liked it more than Monte Carlo and The Love Parade, it wouldn't contend for my top spot.  It's the earliest film, however, that I've seen where actors directly address the audience.  May have been a major influence on some of Belmondo's actions in Godard's Pierrot Le Fou.  A very playful, fun movie.  

4/22/10 I watched Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus.  It felt somewhat patchy and wouldn't contend for my top spot, but it did have some great moments.  I particularly liked the moment right after Dietrich lets Johnny leave on the train with Herbert Marshall. Dietrich's face at this point is devastating.  Overall, the film is complex, runs through a deep gamut of emotions, and features some beautiful tracking shots that remind me of Morocco.

4/30/10 I watched Tod Browning's Freaks.  It's an incredible film, no doubt, and unlike anything I've ever seen.  "Gooble gobble.  One of us. We accept her" is simply one of the more incredible and powerful moments I've seen in a very long time.  Has to be one of David Lynch's favorites.  

5/12/10 I watched Norman McLeod's Horse Feathers.  This was only my second ever experience with a Marx Brothers film, and I did struggle a little with it.  However, occasionally I will admit to finding a few of the lines pretty witty.  

5/14/10 I watched Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms.  Some nice moments, but I never fully felt Catherine and Frederic's relationship. But full of Borzage's wonderful expressionism and a painful tale of forbidden love.

5/16/10 I watched Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack's The Most Dangerous Game.  I liked how tight the film was, and the execution is quite clean and effective.  A very original movie and pretty entertaining for its time.  

5/19/10 I watched James Whale's The Old Dark House.  There's a certain lunacy to it all, and I particularly liked the scenes when Saul emerges from his room.  A little slow at times for me, but it feels like an important (creates and solidifies certain archetypes), early genre film.

5/20/10 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But...  Wow, what deep emotions Ozu is able to explore.  Particularly the idea of young kids having to come to terms with their father's rank in society.  Ozu goes deep, takes it slow, but explores characters and themes that are incredibly universal and real.  

5/23/10 I watched Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight.  It's definitely an interesting film, much different at times formally than the Lubitsch collaborations with Chevalier and MacDonald.  Some real heart and full of the playfulness that I would later associate with Godard's early work.  

5/29/10 I watched Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. A little preachy and heavy-handed, perhaps, at times.  But admirable in how uncompromising it is.  The scenes on the chain gang are powerful, and Muni turns in an extremely strong performance.  

6/2/10 I watched Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr.  Granted vampire movies are not really my thing, but I'm a HUGE fan of Dreyer's work. But this one, whether it's because much of the original negative was lost or some other explanation altogether, left me cold and pretty uninterested.  All that said, some impressive visuals at times and Dreyer certainly in a very inventive space.

7/5/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Rich and Strange.  A very unconventional film from Hitch and perhaps the one I like the least. The shipwreck is a nice moment, but otherwise I found it pretty uninspired and unengaging.  

11/18/12 I watched Howard Hawks' The Crowd Roars.  An early Hawks film I have been wanting to see for the longest time, I was able to catch up with it finally on TCM.  Already in 1932, Hawks proves himself unusually adept at filming action, and there is a scene or two I would rank with the very greatest of any ever filmed by Hawks.  The long sequence that begins with Cagney arriving at Indianapolis and ends with him at the diner illustrates the unique greatness Hawks possessed as storyteller.  With just simple, direct, and fluid brush strokes, Hawks was able to arrive at a truth - profound, very  human, and with all that was immaterial left behind.  

11/18/12 I watched Victor Fleming's Red Dust.  Some people prefer this version over Ford's Mogambo.  The pre-code timing does allow it to show a little more of its sexy subject matter.  But Gardner and Kelly in the latter version bring a beauty that for me dwarfs Astor and Harlow. Of course Ford at the helm also works in its favor.   

9/8/13 I watched Edward Sedgwick's The Passionate Plumber.  There must be a story behind this one, something I am missing because what's left on screen for now is among my least favorite outings from a great director-actor team.  It all seems a mess with maybe one or two moderately enjoyable gags. 

12/14/13 I watched George Cukor's What Price Hollywood?  Interesting as an early Cukor pic and opportunity to see a first run at the A Star Is Born story.  Bennett has some impressive scenes, and she has a look of real style and beauty.  I much prefer though the Wellman and Cukor later versions. 

1/4/14 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Number Seventeen.  An early working out of The 39 Steps, perhaps, and as a primer has some historical interest but as a film it is rough and hard to follow.  I admire the scope of the final major set piece but the rest left me distant and unmoved.  

1/3/18 I watched Leslie Pearce's The Dentist.  Fields is somewhat funny in this underwhelming short in which he stars.  

1/7/18 I watched Edward F. Cline's Million Dollar Legs.  As a precursor to the outlandish sensibility that Preston Strurges would later brand, this WC Fields feature is worth a look.  Being pre-code works in its favor and there are a number of memorable sight gags including the sped-up runner or the scan of different buttons Fields has at his disposal inside his Klopstokia home.

5/28/18 I watched Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?  The first time I am back to working my way through Ozu in chronological order since March of 2017.

It is one of his films I have never heard about and it comes immediately after one of his more famous works, I Was Born, But....  Like its predecessor, what is noticeable is Ozu's development into a very complex emotional filmmaker.  The final fifteen or so minutes, in particular, show Ozu's range as an unflinchingly brutal realist and a deeply searching humanist.  In fact, I cannot recall a more emotionally uncompromising scene to date in Ozu's cinema than Tetsuo and Saiki's final encounter. 

Some formal elements that I noticed are Ozu's reliance on tatami shots but not entirely, some tracking shots and a predominance of shorter takes compared to where his cinema would eventually end up in the latter part of his career.  It would take a second viewing for me to confirm, but I think I noticed Ozu shifting to longer takes during a couple of the more emotionally important moments. 

A few other small observations.  Again, there is a scene that features an American film poster which was surprising to me, as I thought by this point in his career that Ozu had let go of any Western influence on his work.  There were also a couple of exterior shots as Tetsuo rode in a car.  I cannot recall a previous shot of this type in Ozu's cinema.  And, like I Was Born, But..., there is an underlying playfulness and almost silliness that exists that seems to disappear from most of Ozu's later work.

Interesting to note that it would not be until 1936 that Ozu would make his first talkie, possibly the latest of all adopters.  Also, of note, it dawned on me that unlike Mizoguchi I am not sure Ozu ever made a film that was period or not set in present day.

For films about the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood or even for films about the meaning of friendship, Where Now Are the Dreams Of Youth? deserves to be a part of the discussion.

9/12/19 I rewatched Norman Z. McLeod's Horse Feathers.  At about fifteen minutes in or so, the slapstick starts in full gear and McLeod does a tremendous job of maintaining its breakneck pace for nearly the next 75 minutes.  

5/30/20 I watched Howard Hawks' Tiger Shark.  A minor yet very interesting early Hawks film.  What impressed me the most was the time Hawks allows for capturing the details of the fishing industry at the time.  I also admired the amount of darkness Hawks permitted to color certain scenes and moments.

12/9/20 I watched Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express.  The film is hard to pinpoint.  It keeps you on your toes, never quite clear whether it is happy or tragic, deep or superficial, art or entertainment.  It is not easy to enter emotionally either but it is always interesting to look at and listen to.  I have had far easier times with other von Sternberg works like Morocco or The Blue Angel.  

5/15/21 I watched Raoul Walsh's Me and My Gal.  Tracy and Bennett are excellent, as are the few moments that hint at what American cinema would have looked like in the late thirties had the Hays Code never happened.  But the character work never went as deep or became as affecting as in my favorite work by Walsh such as Gentleman Jim and The Strawberry Blonde.


  1. This one is an absolute slam dunk for me - Lubtisch's Trouble in Paradise. I think it's a masterpiece and among the best 3-4 comedies that I have ever seen. In fact, this would be either my #1 or #2 film (we'll get to what would the other contender soon) for the entire decade of the 1930s. My second favorite for the year would probably be Hawks' Scarface. I agree that it's not quite as good as some of the other classic-era gangster films, but Hawks is just so impressive at times with his direction that it's irresistible for me.

    I haven't seen this Renoir, but then again I haven't seen a whole lot of Renoir in general. I'll have to see about fixing that soon!

  2. Dave, I can't wait to re-watch TROUBLE IN PARADISE. It's very possible that I simply caught it at the wrong time for my first viewing of it. I'll definitely let you know how it strikes me after I watch it again.

    I look forward to you seeing some of this Renoir, too. Particularly his stuff that's more noirish. I have a feeling that you might really dig some of it.

  3. Well Jeffrey you got me on this Renoir. I never saw it. But I'm mighty impressed that you thought enough to give Renoir the top spot two years in a row, much as I think him one of the greatest of directors. My colleague, Allan Fish, probably did see it, so I'll e mail him later. But considering what you list as runners-up, this is quite an annointment. For me I am in Dave's camp on this year, as Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE is the best film of this year, and quite possibly the best film from the man with the famed 'touch' though I do love SHOP AROUND THE CORNER as you do! I am with you on many of the year's best films, though there are a few others. Coincidentally, another renoir, BONDU, rates with the musical LOVE ME TONIGHT, the anti-war film LES CROIX DE BOIS, the perfect L & H short, THE MUSIC BOX and Ozu's powerful I WAS BORN...BUt as masterworks.

    My #1 Film of 1932:

    Trouble in Paradise


    I Was Born....But (Ozu)
    Les Croix de Bois (Bernard)
    The Music Box (Parrot; Laurel and Hardy)
    Bondu sauve des Eaux (Renoir)
    Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian)
    Poil de Carotte (Duvuvier)
    The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Lang)
    Scarface (Hawks)
    I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (Le Roy)
    Land Without Bread (Bunuel)
    Horse Feathers (McLeod/Marx Brothers)
    Grand Hotel (Goulding)
    The Mummy (Freund)

    Another brilliant addition to the series Jeffrey!

  4. Sam, please let me know if it turns out that Allan has seen this Renoir. I'd love to hear his thoughts. It's one of the few films I've never been able to talk to anyone else about. The only time I've ever seen it pop us is on Jonathan Rosenbaum's list of his 1,000 favorite films (he actually had it in his top 100). But I've never actually met anyone else that has seen it. I would love for you to see it at some point, too.

    It's very possible that I caught TROUBLE IN PARADISE on an off day. I plan to re-watch it in the next few weeks and will post about it as an addendum to this entry. I'm very much looking forward to it!

    Of your other top runners-up, the only one I've seen is BOUDU. I don't know why, but it's one of the few revered Renoirs that I struggle with. At some point though I'll have to give it another shot.

    The others on your list I am seeking out now and will post comments on as an addendum here.

    Thanks so much, Sam! Your guidance is awesome to have.

  5. Jeffrey, looking at these lists it's clear that 1932 was a really spectacular year, but I have to go with Freaks, one of the most complex horror movies ever to come out of the studio system, and, it goes without saying, one of the best. With that said, I LOVE Scarface (probably my favorite of the thirties gangster films) and Trouble In Paradise and (one that no one has mentioned) Borzage's adaptation of A Farewell To Arms.

  6. Doniphon, doing these lists I'm definitely becoming aware of some serious gaps I have, two of which you expose: FREAKS and A FAREWELL TO ARMS. The nice thing though is I'm putting all of these high up on my queue and now have some things I'm really looking forward to watching. I'll post addendums to these entries as I catch up on these films.

    Thanks so much for the heads-up on the Borzage. I'm really looking forward to seeing it!

  7. I also like FREAKS and A FAREWELL TO ARMS, though they barely missed my runnersup list. FREAKS is actually Browning's best film.

  8. Jeffrey, I tracked this film down entirely because of your high esteem for it here, and what you had to say about it, and just recently got to watch it (and reviewed it over at my site). Well, it was as amazing as you say. The description of a noir that was more about atmosphere than plot drew me in, and it very much lived up to that rep. It's a beautiful, moody film, so dark and foggy, so utterly strange (there's one entirely random shot with a turtle crawling around in bed with a girl) that it's almost surreal. I love the roughness and darkness of Renoir's vision. This is definitely a film that deserves to be rescued from obscurity and acclaimed for the sublimely weird noir it is.

  9. Ed, incredibly nice of you to write me and seek this film out because of my esteem for it. Your write-up makes me want to see it again. As I mention above, I've only seen it once, and it was over fifteen years ago.

    So glad to hear that you had a positive experience with it. I would love for this one to find its way more into the conversation.

    Thanks, Ed, for all the excellent work, as always!