Thursday, March 4, 2010

1955: Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer)

1955: Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
I've only seen this once, but it finds its way on the list for the same reason as my final three picks (L'enfant, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Tulpan), Ordet is an absolute technical marvel.  Here it comes in the form of perfectly choreographed, incredibly long takes. And like Tulpan, I'm not referring to fixed frame long takes like we find in the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien.  Dreyer's camera and characters are almost always moving with the director hardly ever cutting to break up the action.  It's one of these films I watch and almost every five minutes can hear myself say, "I can't believe he just did that!"  The lack of cuts definitely gives this a pace that will make it not for everyone.  But, for me, it's cinema of the highest order, and one of the five or so most perfectly made movies I've ever seen.  The acting and cinematography are also in another stratosphere.  But, it's the direction that makes this one most humbling, and most impressive.  The other thing that struck me is that although a good amount of the action takes place inside one location, Dreyer never makes us feel like we're at the theater.  There's no mistaking, his approach is cinematic and his talent mastery.  Lastly, as an incredibly tiny tribute to Dreyer and his extraordinary accomplishment here, I've decided to refrain from any paragraph breaks in my short post. 

Other contenders for 1955: A year where I have quite a few gaps. These include: Raoul Walsh's The Tall Men, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, Jean Rouch's Les Maitres Fous, Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, Vincente Minnelli's The Cobweb, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog, John Ford's The Long Gray Line, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Lady Without Camelias, Frank Tashlin's Artists and Models, Max Ophuls' Lola Montes, Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel, Kenji Mizoguchi's New Tales of the Taira Clan, Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, and Jacques Tourneur's Wichita. I need to revisit the following three films as it's simply been too long since I've seen them to know where they would place on this list: Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without A Cause, and Elia Kazan's East of Eden.  Even with all these gaps though, there are still a number of favorites from this year.  I really like Anthony Mann's The Far Country and The Man from Laramie, Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, Fritz Lang's Moonfleet, and Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm.  I love Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin and Jules Dassin's Rififi.  My closest runner-up though is Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.

2/7/11 I watched John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock.  A wonderful cast in what feels like a very artificial, overly talky, and static film. Some interesting framing, but other than that, just all fell flat for me.  

2/9/11 I watched Raoul Walsh's The Tall Men.  Messy, pedestrian, and far from top-tier Walsh.  Some nice work on the theme of brotherhood but otherwise pretty uninspired stuff.  

2/10/111 I watched Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows.  As one would expect, the colors are extraordinary, the control and restraint masterful, with a few incredible moments of melodrama.  Doesn't reach near the heights for me of Written on the Wind, but still a very good work.  

2/19/11 I watched Alain Resnais' Night and Fog.  Absolutely chilling and masterful doc.  Resnais keeps a slight distance and never goes for the sentimental or the easy effect.  He just documents the horrors of the concentration camps, never really forcing anything on us.  However, he somehow makes us receive it all in a gut-wrenching and incredibly visceral way.  

2/23/11 I watched John Ford's The Long Gray Line.  There is a depth and humanity to Ford and this film that I really like.  But it also has a mawkish way about it that I find grating after awhile.  Ultimately, I'm left a little lukewarm.  

3/3/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry.  Might go down as my least favorite Hitch film I've seen thus far.  All felt very tedious and repetitive to me.  Aside from an early Shirley MacLaine appearance, little grabbed my attention.

3/30/11 I watched Jacques Tourneur's Wichita.  Tourneur proves that he definitely was an A-level director, ofter working on B-level budgets.  Nothing flashy here, but just the great taste of Tourneur that guides everything from the cast (Vera Miles is exceptionally easy on the eyes) and the locations to the script and the camerawork.  A very solid western from the great director. 

10/9/11 I watched Max Ophuls' Lola Montes.  Though I'm unsure I understood all of Ophuls' implications, this unconventional work is obviously full of great passion and conviction.  The most formally daring of all the great filmmaker's films, it's not the warmest, most inviting work but one that would be interesting to study from time to time.  

5/22/13 I watched Frank Tashlin's Artists and Models.  I have long known the Nouvelle Vague's appreciation for Tashlin but have not fully connected to anything I have seen yet from him.  This one bears great influences on Une femme est une femme and even Pierrot and Tashlin's playfulness and visual gags impress at times, but he also overplays certain moments like Lewis going up and down the stairs to answer the phone.  I will continue to dig around to see more Tashlin work, but I remain lukewarm on this one and his work as a whole.  

11/23/13 I watched Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali.  A world of truth and heft that rivals any I know on film but quite unlike anyone else's world as well.  Warmer than Ozu, closer to a documentary-like realism than Renoir, and probably a little more alive than either, Ray does not shy away from death or difficulty and captures the buoyant feelings of innocence and happiness masterfully.  A humanist film containing so much life and truth, Ray offers a spirituality so often lacking in cinema and a poetic approach to the world and the medium both rewarding and renewing.  

2/5/17 I watched William Wyler's The Desperate Hours.  I had already seen Cimino's remake.  Wyler films at times in a theatrical way, using the interior of the home more as a stage than a typical film frame.  But he proves adept at the action scenes (the milkman's demise, Hal's final moments, etc.) creating memorable, brisk moments filmed with a bit of gusto.

2/12/17 I watched Mikio Naruse's Floating Clouds.  I have very little experience with Naruse's work, this being either only the first or second film I have ever seen from him.  I'm not a fan of his almost wall-to-wall music and I wish he were more similar to Mizoguchi and Ozu in his sense of restraint.  But I admire his ability to go the distance with the material, never becoming sentimental even when it would have more palatable and more commercial to do so.  He is gifted with time, effortlessly gliding back and forth between the past and the present, and emotionally he is more engaged with reality than the cerebral Mizouchi and the distant Ozu.  

3/19/19 I watched Edgar G. Ulmer's The Naked Dawn.  It never quite grabbed me, even as powerful as Kennedy's performance was.

9/26/21 I watched Luis Bunuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.  Cold and I never really cared about any of the characters but was fascinating to see Bunuel's stylistic boldness.  Particularly the surrealistic touches and the false narratives.  

2/3/23 I watched Vincente Minnelli's The Cobweb.  A melodrama that finds its way on Rosenbaum's list of 1000 essential films that I could never quite grasp intellectually or emotionally.  

8/27/23 I watched King Vidor's Man Without a Star.  An interesting use of "wire" to discuss the closing of the frontier and some great scenes but often times a bit broad in its performances and overall approach.  


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1955:

    Lola Montes (Ophuls; France)


    Pather Panchali (S. Ray; India)
    The Red Balloon (Lamorisee; France)
    Night and Fog (Resnais; France)
    Ordet (Dreyer; Denmark)
    Bob le Flambeur (Melville; France)
    Death of a Cyclist (Bardem; Spain)
    Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
    East of Eden (Kazan)
    All That Heaven Allows (Sirk)
    Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman; Sweden)
    The Man From Laramie (Mann)
    Rififi (Dassin; France)
    Rebel With A Cause (N. Ray)
    Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich)
    The Big Combo (Lewis)

    Note: I included BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK and DIABOLIQUE for the previous year.

    PATHER PANCHALI came within a hair of my final #1, one of the true glories of world cinema.

    Your choice of ORDET is a towering one for sure. I had it amongst last year's masterwork's and although I may slightly prefer THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and DAY OF WRATH, this is still a Dreyer masterwork, and one of cinema's high watermarks.

  2. Sam, thanks so much for the great comments! I need to revisit THE RED BALLOON. I haven't seen it since I was a little kid in French class. I also still need to see DAY OF WRATH. It's one I've never seen, unfortunately.

    Glad we share an affinity for this one. It really blew my circuits when I saw it.

    I like THE BIG COMBO, although a little less than my other picks. And same for BOB LE FLAMBEUR. It's one that's never worked for me quite as well as some later Melville or RIFIFI and GRISBI.

    Always great to hear from you. Thanks for the incredible perspective, Sam!

  3. Jeffrey – I have to go with “Rififi” for this year, though there are some other great picks that would make it close.

    # 1 Rififi

    My other top picks are….

    The Night of the Hunter
    Rebel without a Cause
    East of Eden
    Kiss Me Deadly
    The Big Combo
    The Man from Laramie
    Mr. Roberts

    I still need to see “Ordet”, “Bob Le Flambleur”, “Night and Fog” and a few other mentioned..

  4. John, great to hear from you! I think RIFIFI is an incredible movie so I'm completely with you on that pick. After GRISBI, it's probably my second favorite French crime film of all time. I haven't seen MISTER ROBERTS or MARTY so I still need to fill in those gaps.

    I'll be curious to hear what you think of ORDET. It's way up there in my book.

    Thanks, John. Always tremendous to have you here!

  5. I'm sticking with Kiss Me Deadly, which is going to be a leading contender for the top spot in my noir countdown. I think it's incredible... right from the start, with that great opening sequence, and then it just never lets up. Ordet is outstanding too, as is Rififi, but it's Kiss Me Deadly in a landslide. Runners up, roughly in order, would be:

    The Big Combo
    East of Eden
    The Man From Laramie
    The Night of the Hunter

  6. Dave, you're right, that opening of KISS ME DEADLY is incredible! One of my favorite of all time. I would say we have exactly the same top three this year, all really great stuff.

    Thanks, Dave. Always awesome to have you here!