Monday, February 22, 2010

1945: Les dames du bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)

1945: Les dames du bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)
You will all have to excuse me a little with this one.  I'm completely writing from memory.  I've only seen this once, and it was probably ten years ago as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bresson retrospective.  

Here's what I remember though.  I have never seen a film from a director that I consider a master that felt so unlike the rest of their work. In fact, the film felt more like a long lost Renoir film or something Cukor would have done.  It was verbose, moving, funny (did I really use that adjective with Bresson?), and romantic.  I absolutely loved it.  If memory serves me right, it felt a bit like this unusual hybrid of The Rules of the Game and Letter from an Unknown Woman.

I'm not sure this one is terribly easy to find, but it's more than worth a look, even for those that think of Bresson as simply an austere bore.  

Other contenders for 1945: Here's another year where I still have quite a few things to see.  The major films are:  Jacques Becker's Falbalas, Vincente Minnelli's The Clock, John Ford's They Were Expendable, Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going!, Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, King Vidor's Duel in the Sun, Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher, and Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.  Since Jean Renoir's La Chienne is one of my favorite films of all time, I've always struggled a little with the Fritz Lang remake, Scarlet Street.  A film I once saw at Eddie Muller's annual Festival of Film Noir in Los Angeles has always stayed with me.  That film is John Brahm's Hangover Square, featuring a haunting performance by Laird Cregar and a wonderful score by Bernard Herrmann.  I don't absolutely love John Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven, but there are several things about it that I'll never be able to shake, and I feel similarly about Roberto Rossellini's important film Open City.  The only true runner-up for me this year would be Jean Renoir's The Southerner.  I wouldn't argue that it's a top-tier Renoir, but it does have a great deal of heart and definitely works nicely for me. 

10/4/10 I watched John Ford's They Were Expendable.  Some poetic moments, as always with the cinema of Ford.  But this one I could never completely connect to, perhaps due to some of the more overt propagandistic elements or the ambling nature of the storytelling.  

10/6/10 I watched Vincente Minnelli's The Clock.  Well-intentioned but never fully felt for me.  Most of this stems from the odd chemistry between Walker and Garland.  Whereas I found Garland as charming as ever, I couldn't ever quite shake my own relation to Walker from Hitch's Strangers on a Train.  He seems perfectly well suited to play the villain but a real stretch as a leading man.  

10/7/10 I watched King Vidor's Duel in the Sun.  Melodramatic and very much a Selznick production but also quite raw and effective at times.  Sure, it can be overblown, but Selznick goes for it and pulls out all the stops, and the movie stands out for its reckless abandon.  Of particular note are the final four or five minutes where Selznick takes the relationship between Peck and Jones to great extremes.  

10/9/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.  Ingrid Bergman is as beautiful as ever, and Dali's dream sequence delivers on the hype. But this one's a bit too heavy on the psychobabble, and I never found myself caring that much about the plot nor the characters.  Marnie, for me, is a far stronger Hitch exploration of some similar thematics.  

10/11/10 I watched Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going!  Powell's style is vital, loose, and whimsical, and it allows him to create a very unique tone.  I'm not always with him here, but all in all, I very much enjoyed the ride. 

12/30/12 I watched Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Kazan, of course, pulls some great performances, most admirably from young Peggy Ann Garner.  But the story creaks more than it could and suffocates more than enlightens.

8/1/13 I watched Raoul Walsh's The Horn Blows at Midnight.  Walsh proves, like Hawks, that he was very capable in a variety of different genres.  His visual gags perhaps lack timing, seeming on occasion to overstay their welcome, but he keeps everything tonally even, snappy, and makes an unusually fun farcical comedy.  And Benny is just absolutely wonderful.

6/9/14 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief.  Interesting that this was made in 1945.  I watched it not knowing its production date but would have placed it ten years later.  So perhaps it is innovative in its abstractness and its expressive use of Technicolor.  But from an emotional standpoint I struggled.  I never became all that invested in the Yolanda and Astaire's relationship and could never quite figure out how Minnelli wanted me to take it all.  As melodrama, camp or fantasy.  

6/4/17 I watched Edward Dmytryk's Cornered.  A pretty routine noir with a good Dick Powell but nothing super memorable.  


  1. My two favorite directors of all-time are Bresson and Bergman in no particular order, so I can certainly applaud any film from the austere Frenchman as the best of any year. And that includes this early film, which lukily has been made available to Region 1 audiences in a fine Criterion edition. However, what with the future annointments of DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, A MAN ESCAPED, AU HASARD BALTHAZAR and perhaps even PICKPOCKET, I will include this exquisite work, which you inform here with an equally exquisite capsule assessment, to the runners-up list, where it is still in very good company. David Lean's ravishing romance masterpiece BRIEF ENCOUNTER edges out LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS and Rossellini's neo-realist masterpiece OPEN CITY for my own top spot.

    My Own #1 Film of 1945:

    Brief Encounter (Lean)


    Les Enfants du Paradis (Carne)
    Open City (Rossellini)
    Dead of Night (Hamer)
    A Diary For Timothy (Jennings)
    Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl)
    And Then There Were None (Clair)
    Spellbound (Hitchcock)
    The Body Snatcher (Robson/Lewton)
    Mildred Pierce (Cutiz)
    Detour (Ulmer)
    Scarlet Street (Lang)

    I agree with you Jeffrey in that SCARLET STREET isn't in a league with Renoir's LA CHIENNE remotely, but it is still good enough to join the runners-ups here.

  2. Kazan's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN also belongs on the runner-up list. I forgot to include it.

  3. Sam, we're totally in the same place when it comes to Bresson! I would also have to say that he's one of my all time favorites, as is probably obvious by the fact that he's on my list four times. I unfortunately still need to do my homework when it comes to Bergman. I've seen a very small percentage of his films, but I plan on doing something about that in the near future.

    I haven't seen the Hamer, Jennings, or Clair films that you mention. But I will seek them out.

    I struggled a little with BRIEF ENCOUNTER the one time I saw it. But given our shared affinity for LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, I will have to revisit it at some point.

    I like MILDRED PIERCE quite a bit. It would certainly make a longer runners-up list of mine. I've never quite fallen though entirely for DETOUR, a film that I know has a major reputation and a rabid following.

    Thanks, Sam, as always for the wonderful comments!

  4. Have not seen this one Jeff, nor have I seen “Open City.” From what I have read, I would suspect both films would give my own #1 a run for its money. My own choice is “Scarlet Street” which I hold in high esteem. I should also add I have not seen the French original “La Chienne” which I have a copy of and have yet to watch.
    “Scarlet Street” was pretty “shocking” for its time, particularly the stabbing scene. The film ran into censorship problems and Lang was forced to cut the number of knife stabbings Robinson plunged in Joan Bennett. I love the fact that Rico Bandello (Robinson in Little Cesar) is a hen-pecked husband wearing an apron! Almost up there with Cagney sitting on his mother’s lap in “White Heat.”

    #1 Scarlet Street

    and the rest of the best……

    Leave Her to Heaven
    The Lost Weekend
    the Spiral Staircase
    Mildred Pierce
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    And Then There Were None
    Anchors Aweigh

  5. John, great stuff! If you think about it, let me know how LA CHIENNE strikes you. I saw it first, and it sort of diluted the Lang experience for me. But I'll be interested to know how it works for someone going in the opposite order.

    I have THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE in my next year, a film I really love and will certainly be mentioning.

    Thanks, John, for the excellent perspective!

  6. I had THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, which is one of favorite films of this period, and one I have promoted for my entire life as 1946. But thanks for bringing this great film up here John!