We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
Chemistry. It is often one of those intangible things that critics will praise a film for should it exist between cast members. No matter how accomplished the actors are it is hard to fake chemistry. For a masterclass in what this intangible looks like I would suggest you put on To Have and Have Not.
In many ways this film plays a lot like Casablanca, hell it even shares a few cast members and is primarily set in a bar of a French territory (at the time Vichy France). The main crux of the plot? The movement of revolutionaries without the authorities not getting wind of it. Therefore it is actually quite difficult to see this film as being entirely separate from the superior Casablanca.
Now, this is where the chemistry comes in. For a debut film Lauren Bacall is able to generate an amazing presence on screen. Then again looking like that and delivering the famous double entendre line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow…”. Not only is her character Slim sex on legs, but she also has a steely determination, deep voice and intelligence. Add to that the sizzling chemistry between her and future husband (then married), just how was Bacall not going to be a star after this?
The thing is, unless you are interested in film history you might as well just watch Casablanca. Don’t get me wrong To Have and Have Not is a good watch, it is just that Casablanca is better.
In the weekend just gone we had a good friend stay with us and I showed him my favourite film of all time: Sunset Boulevard. It got me to thinking that it was time again for me to watch a silent movie. After all, there is still a good number of these left for me to see and I don’t want to leave them all to the end. I mean, that would just be annoying.
The silent film that I chose was the 1924 release The Last Laugh (The Last Man in German). The director, F. W. Murnau, has the honor of having a film of his be one of the first winners of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1929. I thought a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and it has been an awfully long time since I last saw one of his pictures.
The Last Laugh is a very odd silent film as it features nearly no intertitles. In fact, aside from a letter being read by the main character there are only two intertitles in the entire film. If you’ve seen enough silent movies you will know just how unusual this is. This, however, was probably one of the great strengths of this film. It was only those three points where exposition was required. It shows a lot of trust in the audience to understand what’s going on and relies heavily on the actors being able to fully convey the required emotions and plot points.
The storyline of The Last Laugh appears to be as old as time itself. A man has spent his life working in a prestigious job for a prestigious company and, because of his increasing age, he is no longer able to fully do his job. It’s sad but the hotel has their hands tied behind their back when their tall man is no longer able to lift the luggage of their guests. Rather than forcing him to retire they created position as a bathroom attendant to make sure that he is still able to earn a wage.
It breaks your heart when you see him being told about his reassignment. It is also completely understandable that his pride is so wounded that he is able to tell anyone about his demotion. You can guess what happens next. That is why the English title makes more sense than the German title. In the end, when everyone has seemingly deserted and mocked him he is able to get the last laugh.
It is in this last laugh where the second of the two intertitles comes into play. The writer and/or director intervened to make sure that this old man does not lose all hope and seemingly rot away in this job he hates. They tell the audience that, unlike society, they will not abandon him and so give him a happy ending. It makes for a sweet, if unlikely, ending.
Like with all good silent movies The Last Laugh just shows how much can be conveyed without dialogue. I still unquestionably prefer talkies over silents, but it just reminds me to not doubt the power that they can still hold nearly 100 years later.