Monday, March 1, 2010

1952: Casque d'or (Jacques Becker)

1952: Casque d'or (Jacques Becker)

What a treat to find a place on this list for Jacques Becker!  For almost the first ten years of his career, Becker worked as an Assistant Director to Jean Renoir, and it's not hard to see Renoir's influence on his work.  

Like Renoir, Becker was an extraordinary humanist, incredible with actors, and had a certain amount of interest in the crime film, too.  I haven't seen all of Becker's work, as some of it is still hard to find in the States.  But I can't recommend enough this one, Grisbi (very possibly my favorite French crime film of all time), Le Trou, and Modigliani.

Casque d'or absolutely swoons with romanticism, tragedy, and has as much feeling as any film I can think of from this period.  The relationship Becker creates between two of France's greatest actors (Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani) is so real, so painful, so right that he makes you feel every second of it.  This one easily has a place alongside my other favorite love stories -- Letter from an Unknown Woman, Splendor in the Grass, The Shop Around the Corner, Gertrud, Holiday, and A Place in the Sun.  

Feel like your film-watching has become too cerebral?  Need an emotional experience that doesn't feel like it cheats or cheaply manipulates?  Give this one a whirl.  It has a great feel for period but much more important, it has great feel for the human heart.  

Other contenders for 1952: As with other years, I still have some things I need to see.  These include:  John Ford's The Quiet Man, Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, Luis Bunuel's El, Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika, Howard Hawks' The Big Sky, Fritz Lang's Clash by Night, Frank Tashlin's Son of Paleface, Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu, Howard Hawks' Monkey Business, Samuel Fuller's Park Row, Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, Leo McCarey's My Son John, and Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential.  I need to re-visit both Max Ophuls' Madame De... (I think Scorsese was the one that said you had to have a certain maturity to really appreciate it. Maybe, I have it by now?) and Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D.  After first viewing, neither had the impact that I would have expected.  I do have a good number of films from this year though that I really like.  I'll break them into three tiers:  films that I really like, films that I love, and my closest runners-up.  The films that I really like are:  Max Ophuls' Le Plaisir, Rene Clement's Forbidden Games, Anthony Mann's Bend of the Riverand Fred Zinnemann's High Noon.  The films that I love are Roberto Rossellini's Europe '51 and Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru.  Meanwhile, my two closest runners-up are Nicholas Ray's The Lusty Men and Orson Welles' Othello.

8/30/10 I watched Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.  Tati's cinema can become a little tedious to me after awhile.  But I'm not sure anyone has done as much to explore sound in the medium, and there are several incredible moments in this one, including when Hulot takes to the tennis courts.

11/18/10 I watched Charles Chaplin's Limelight.  One of the more personal and wounded films we have by a great auteur.  Not always easy to like, but courageous, unusual, challenging, sentimental, deep, and smart.  Chaplin's Gertrud but perhaps even more prickly.   

11/19/10 I watched Fritz Lang's Clash by Night.  I found it to be pretty tedious and somewhat uninspired for a Lang work.  Not first, or even second tier Lang.  

11/22/10 I watched Howard Hawks' Monkey Business.  Hawks-lite with a couple of nice moments.  But overall one that felt like it overstayed its welcome more often than not.  

11/25/10 I watched Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D.  Perhaps the film if you want to understand the bond between a dog and its owner.  Moving, realistic, wise, and full of heart.  A movie with a huge reputation, and rightfully so.  

12/1/10 I watched Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential.  Seems to have been a major influence on Reservoir Dogs.  Some of the plotting is a little clunky, and not every subplot seems to be wholly satisfying.  But has some great moments, particularly Pete Harris in the Mexican airport.  

12/5/10 I watched John Ford's The Quiet Man.  In general, I struggle a little with Ford's cinema.  I find much of his work a bit mawkish for my liking and boisterous and rowdy in a way that wears on me after awhile.  This one has some very nice moments, including the masterful flashback of Wayne's days as an athlete, but I never entirely connected to it.  

2/14/11 I watched Frank Tashlin's Son of Paleface.  Tashlin was a major influence on Godard, and his unhinged playfulness is certainly on display here.  And Hope proves to be a pretty top-notch entertainer. But after awhile it all gets a little too zany and tedious for me.  

10/2/11 I watched Rene Clement's Forbidden Games.  A second time viewing for me after many years.  The ending is one of the strongest in the history of the medium, and Clement builds a great bond between Michel and Paulette.  The flamenco music grows tiresome after a little while.  But Clement keeps things moving and full of nice, little touches.  

7/14/12 I watched Samuel Fuller's Park Row.  Wound up and a wonderful example of the physical cinema we've come to associate with Fuller.  It's clear that this is a personal project for Sam as he uses his camera like a weapon thrusting it through spaces and spewing bile on all who stood in his way.  One of the truly great Fuller films that I have seen.

10/13/13 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Devastation of War and A New Movie Language.  Highpoints inlcude his discussion of Welles, Double Indemnity, Stanley Donen, and The Third Man.  

11/30/14 I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Machine That Kills Bad People.  Certainly not among my favorite of one of my favorite director's works.  But for any huge Rossellini fan, another film of interest and value, if nothing else simply as something that further proves Rossellini as one of the medium's greatest humanists.  


  1. Jeffrey - I believe that Ophul's Madame De... is a 1953 release, so that one will be considered next year for me.

    We're in completely agreement on this year too. I chose Casque d'Or in my own countdown and stick with it here. I often refer to directors as underrated (perhaps overusing the term) but I think it applies here. This Touchez pas au grisbi are incredible films.

  2. Dave, I couldn't agree more! I absolutely feel that Becker has been undervalued and hope at some point we'll see all his work available in the States. Along with Melville and Bresson, in this short period (post WWII until 1959), he is probably doing my favorite work of any French director.

    Thanks for recognizing him in your countdown and for the excellent comments!

  3. Another rough choice for me between “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Umberto D” of which both I consider brilliant works.
    Not feeling in a light mood the past few days, I am going with “Umberto D”, which is a switch from when I did this list over at Dave’s Goodfella’s blog. Have not seen any of Becker’s films and need to catch up on them. I was glad to see Tashlin’s “Son of Paleface” on your list, one of Hope’s best films.

    #1 Umberto D

    Singin in the Rain
    High Noon
    Summer with Monika
    The Bad and the Beautiful
    Viva Zapata
    Park Row
    The Narrow Margin
    Kansas City Confidential

    Also need to watch Europa '51, Ikiru and Welles Othello.

  4. John, great to hear from you! I think Dave and I both agree that we would start you on Becker by suggesting GRISBI. It's really a remarkable crime film and quite unlike anything else in the genre. If you think about it, let me know when you end up taking a look. That one, I can't recommend enough.

    I included SINGIN' IN THE RAIN on my 1951 list. I know that sometimes the date thing can be arbitrary.

    THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is one I need to re-watch at some point. I liked it the first time, although a little less than the ones I mentioned above. I guess I kinda feel the same about THE NARROW MARGIN, too. VIVA ZAPATA, however, is one I've never seen.

    Thanks so much, John. Great stuff!

  5. My #1 Film of 1952:

    Singin in the Rain (Donen, Kelly)


    Umberto D (De Sica; Italy)
    The Proud Princess (Zeman; Czechoslovakia)
    Forbidden Games (Clement; France)
    El (Bunuel; Mexico)
    Casque d'Or (Becker; France)
    Ikiru (Kurosawa; Japan)
    High Noon (Zinnemann)
    Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (Tati; France)
    Limelight (Chaplin)
    Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi; Japan)
    Mother (Naruse; Japan)
    The White Shiek (Fellini; Italy)
    Summer With Monika (Bergman; Sweden)

    Jeffrey, you have made an excellent choice there as far as I'm concerned, and it does for me push close to the top along with a few others. But I can't pick anything but what most consider to be the greatest film musical ever made. For me it ranks with two or three others for that designation, but it's a bonafide screen masterpiece. Again there are so many outstanding films this year, and I've noted them.

    The beat goes on here!

  6. Sam, great stuff! I included SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and THE WHITE SHEIK in my post on 1951. I know getting these dates straight can be a pain. And I might make a few errors when it comes to this (but I'm trying to avoid it as best I can).

    I've never seen THE PROUD PRINCESS. That's one I'll have to add to the list.

    Glad to hear of your affinity for this one. It's one that I hope more people will seek out.

    Thanks, Sam, as always, for the fantastic perspective! Yes, the addiction (on my end) and beat go on!