Saturday, February 13, 2010

1937: You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang)

1937: You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang)

I know exactly where I saw this one for the first time.  It was the exact same theater where I first saw The Blue Angel.   That one located on Rue Mouffetard.

Why don't we ever hear the term "homme fatale"?  Surely there 's a whole group of films where the term would apply -- where it's the man that's destructive, that brings the woman down, rather than the other way around.  I mean I can think of at least a few of these films: Scarface (either version), White Heat, Bonnie and Clyde, and this early Lang noir, You Only Live Once.  

Way I see it is this, in order for a noir with a femme fatale to reach its full potential, you have to have a somewhat naive and innocent male counterpart.  Same goes for noir with an homme fatale.  If that's true, I can't think of anyone better to play the part than Sylvia Sidney.  She had those eyes for days and a face that always seemed a frame away from breaking into tears.  

It's downright painful, right, watching MacMurray in Double Indemnity and Mitchum in Out of the Past as their respective women bring 'em down.  That's how I feel watching this early Lang, too.  I can almost hear myself now, "Damn it Fonda, stop it already, can't you see what you're doing to her?  Don't you know how she's going to end up?" 

I'm fully along for the ride on this one.  It's one of my favorite noirs.   

Other contenders for 1937: I have gaps here, too.  These include notably:  Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons, Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth, Mitchell Leisen's Easy Living, Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent, William Wellman's A Star Is Born (I love Cukor's version.  I need to see this!), and Frank Capra's Lost Horizon.  I only have two real contenders for runner-up at this point.  Garbo's performance in George Cukor's Camille absolutely devastates me.  And, of course, I'm a huge fan of Jean Renoir's La grande illusion.  Finally though, in a very close decision between Lang and Renoir, I probably chose the Lang because it's a little less perfect, a little less classic, and in situations like this, I feel I have to give the tie to the underdog.  

7/10/10 I watched Mitchell Leisen's Easy Living.  Let me preface any other comments by saying that screwball comedy is probably my least favorite of all genres.   It just wears on me after a short while.  But there are fine moments in here and overall I would rate it as pretty enjoyable. Even though Preston Sturges penned the script, it really doesn't ever reach the heights of his best work.  

7/11/10 I watched Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow.  One of the best depictions of aging I have ever seen in film and full of many gut-wrenching and poignant moments.  I didn't fully connect with the character of the aging woman.  But otherwise, I found it to be an utterly bold, unique, and powerful work.  

7/14/10 I watched Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth.  I had seen this one about 15 years ago in a Parisian theater and had a mediocre reaction to it but man was I wrong.  This has some of the greatest moments and exchanges of this entire period, particularly the final scene and almost every scene with Mr. Smith, the dog.  I still may slightly prefer His Girl Friday, but this is undeniably a great work.  

7/15/10 I watched David Hand's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Animation has never really been my thing so I'm not the best judge here.  But all in all, it was entertaining, charming, with a couple of very memorable songs.  

7/22/10 I watched Frank Capra's Lost Horizon.  A movie full of ideas and quite brave for its time.  I've never read the original novel, but I certainly felt this to be both the most aesthetically and intellectually daring movie I've seen from Capra.  One to certainly revisit as it feels positively dense and fresh.  

7/25/10 I watched William Wellman's A Star Is Born.  It is at once an extremely tender and tragic love story.  Cukor's version is one of my favorite films of all time, but Wellman's original certainly doesn't disappoint.  It's a wonderfully felt film, full of unforgettable moments and sincere connections.  Highly recommended.

7/29/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent.  Probably the least involving film I've seen from the master.  He proves to be adept at giving you the inner psychology of his characters, but otherwise everything feels thin and uninspired.  

4/21/12 I watched Gregory La Cava's Stage Door.  Although at times a little consistent, a very moving tale about the world of theater.  Typically strong performances from Rogers and Hepburn, but the real standout is the subplot of Kay and the heartwrenching performance of Andrea Leeds.  

8/25/12 I watched Michael Powell's The Edge of the World.  Perhaps the greatest of all films are those haunted by either life or death.  In this case, there's a cloud hovering over every moment that suggests the latter but a vitality in every frame that leans more towards the former.  Either way, this earthy, hefty work is among Powell's very best.

12/29/12 I watched King Vidor's Stella Dallas.  I'll admit I'm a sucker for these types of weepies and this one was no exception.  It doesn't hurt that Vidor was a real master and unafraid to linger in some very dark, uncomfortable places like the scene in the soda shop.  Melodrama like we really don't see anymore and one of the better of its kind.

2/26/17 I watched Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons.  I know nothing at all about the filmmaker and it was the first of his films I have seen.  What impressed most was the film's study of class and the way it examines the idea that there are other things in life of far greater value than money.  Yamanaka also infuses the film with a similar strain of poetry that seems to exist in the other great works of Japanese cinema.  

12/25/20 I watched Ernst Lubitsch's Angel.  Lubitsch's sophisticated touch is on full display in almost every second of the final thirty minutes.  It is a sophistication that is sexy, leaving the viewer on edge unsure how the characters will work out the knots that their lives have become.  Although it is the only time Lubitsch worked with Dietrich, he taps into her elusiveness, her allure, her power.  And I can't recall Herbert Marshall ever being in fuller command of the screen.  


  1. Thanks so much, Aleata! If you haven't seen this one, I look forward to you checking it out.

  2. Well Jeffrey, it's my turn now to annoint a Renoir film with the top spot! Ha! (But it won't be the last time in this countdown!) LA GRANDE ILLUSION is one of the greatest of all anti-war films, and by any barometer of measurement it's one of the master's greatest films, for me on par with LE REGLE DE JEU and UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE. There are a number of unforgettable set pieces - the celebrated rose sequence is unforgettable - but the performances are just as distinguished. Your own choice of the Lang is a formidable one as well, and that one would certainly rank among my honor roll for 1937. As you note in your must-see list there are several essentials here, including a venerated Capra, British comic icon Will Hay's greatest film, the debut Disney masterpiece, Yamanaka's shattering HUMANITY AND PAPER BALLOONS, and this classic McCarey film, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, which is coming next month on a Criterion DVD!

    My Own #1 Film of 1937:

    La Grande Illusion (Renoir)


    Oh Mr. Porter (Varnal/Hay)
    Lost Horizon (Capra)
    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Hand)
    Humanity and Paper Balloons (Yamanaka)
    Make Way For Tomorrow (McCarey)
    A Star is Born (Wellman)
    Children in the Wind (Shimizu)
    Drole de Drame (Carne)
    The Old Mill (Jackson)
    The Prisoner of Zenda (Cromwell)
    They Won't Forget (Le Roy)
    You Only Live Once (Lang)
    Straights of Love and Hate (Mizoguchi)
    The Good Earth (Franklin)

    It's amazing how many great films you watched in such hallowed halls!!!

  3. Sam, I couldn't agree with you more on the Renoir. I love the film and particularly the way that it deals with human relationship and friendship.

    I haven't seen OH MR. PORTER. I'll add that to the list. And I haven't watched SNOW WHITE since I was a tiny little kid. I just added it to my queue, too.

    I lived in France for a little over two years and was very fortunate to have a good amount of free time during my time there. It definitely got the obsession started!

    Thanks again, Sam! So many here that I still need to track down but great to have the guidance.

  4. I'll have to stay with my original selection -- William Wellman's A Star is Born. It's a wonderful Hollywood drama with great lead performances.

    Oddly, even with my love of noir and Fritz Lang, You Only Live Once has never been a favorite of mine.

  5. Dave, I can't wait to see your top pick! As I said in my post above, the Cukor version is one of my absolute favorites. To be honest, I didn't know this Wellman existed before your list. I'll let you know how it hits me after I've seen it.

    Thanks for all the great comments!