Movie Review: SF Chron’s Mick LaSalle’s ‘Masterpiece Film Festival,’ Part 2

By David Romano

Continuing on with the list of Mick LaSalle’s 10 masterpieces, (see last month’s column), I tried in vain to find “After Midnight” on Roku. I searched on Norma Shearer and they had a dozen of her films available but “After Midnight” was not one of them. It will remain an unknown silent masterpiece, at least to me.  

“Queen Christina,” starring Greta Garbo, was similarly unavailable except for a few excerpts. The clips reminded me that I had seen Queen Christina about 50 years ago. It is a good movie, and worth watching, but it doesn’t rise to the level of “Grand Hotel.”  If you love Greta Garbo, and I do, you will get to see a lot of her in “Queen Christina”; I think she’s in almost every frame. The film is loosely based on the real-life 17th-century Queen Christina of Sweden.

“Sullivan’s Travels” from 1941 is not available on Roku, except to buy or rent. And since there are, no doubt, not less than 200 movies of equal or greater quality available for free (Kanopy, Hoopla, Tubi, YouTube, etc.), I will keep my $3.99 for now. I saw a trailer and a few excerpts and was not impressed. 

“Sullivan’s Travels” has some stiff competition. The year 1941 saw the release of the Orson Welles classic, “Citizen Kane,” John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon” with indelible performances by Humphrey Bogart (as Sam Spade), Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook. Also, a 1941 standout is Liilian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” with a make-your-hair-stand-on-end performance from Bette Davis.

“To Be or Not to Be” (1942) was not available on Roku but did appear on my computer, courtesy of Vimeo. It is lame. I don’t know what Mick LaSalle was thinking of. Perhaps he was being deliberately perverse. A comedy about Nazis just isn’t funny even if directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Jack Benny as a Nazi doesn’t work except as propaganda to make Nazi’s look silly. That may have had some currency in 1942 but it has none today. Lubitsch directed a true masterpiece in “Design for Living” (1933). It is timeless.

If you want to go back to 1942, there are a number of movies that really are masterpieces: Casablanca, perhaps the greatest Hollywood movie of the 1940s and perhaps of all time, where American movies are concerned. Almost every line of the dialog of Casablanca, as well as the way it is delivered, has become part of the vernacular. “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss” – Dooley Wilson’s performance of “As Time Goes By” is the most powerful and poignant musical accompaniment in all of filmdom. 

1942 also saw the release of “Now Voyager,” the Bette Davis classic and Orson Welles’s “The Magnificent Ambersons.”  Thinking about it, 1940s and ’50s Hollywood is the foundation of all film making since, here or overseas, and that golden age of cinema has never been surpassed. 

“The Mother and the Whore” (1973) and “The Role of Her Life” (2004), are the last two on Mick’s Iist.  I will talk about them next time. Good luck finding them.

David Romano is a graduate of San Francisco State University and has lived in the Outer Richmond since 1992. When he is not watching films, he likes to attend the San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Symphony, go for walks around the Richmond and practice Tai Chi in Golden Gate Park.

Movie Review: SF Chron’s Mick LaSalle’s ‘Masterpiece Film Festival,’ Part 1.

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