6.05.2017

The Fixer (1968)



"Luck I was always short of. I'm the kind of man who finds it perilous just to be alive."

It's time for the 24th installment in my Discovering Dirk Bogarde series, where I share my first impressions after watching a new-to-me Dirk Bogarde film.

In The Fixer (1968) Alan Bates stars as an innocent, apolitical Jewish handyman who finds himself charged with committing a ritual murder in turn-of-the-century Russia. The film is loosely based on a true story, and much of the movie follows Bates' character as he tries to survive the brutal Russian penal system with his dignity intact. As much as I adore Dirk, The Fixer is definitely Alan Bates' movie. Bates was so amazing in this role that I immediately checked to make sure he had been nominated for an Oscar (he was, but lost to Cliff Robertson for Charly.)  His performance here is stunning in so many ways. He handles the lighter moments at the beginning of the film with a gentle finesse, but then once his character is arrested he plunges deep into the type of acting where it seems impossible that the performer could have walked away unscarred by the performance. It's a raw, painful, deep portrayal that possesses Bates completely.

Dirk Bogarde plays Bates' Christian lawyer, one of the only decent men that Bates meets after he's been arrested. It's a supporting role -- he doesn't even appear for at least the first 30-40 minutes, and then isn't in the last 30-40 either -- but, as usual, he shines whenever he's onscreen and his sympathetic, well-meaning character is definitely a highlight of the film. There are a few scenes where the Jew and the Christian connect  -- over asthma or a shared love of the philosopher Spinoza -- and those moments are almost more painful than all of the scenes of suffering. They acknowledge the truth that we are all human and we have the same interests and ailments. Here are two men who seem to understand the thread that ties us all together, and yet they are the only two men in the whole film to see it. It brings to mind Shakespeare's verse from The Merchant of Venice:

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"

I always worry when I'm exhausting an actor's filmography that at a certain point I'll run out of the really good movies and I'll only be left with their lesser works. But with Dirk Bogarde that certainly hasn't been the case. With each new movie that I watch I find another masterpiece, proving once and again that he had impeccable taste in choosing his roles. In 1968 Dirk was still starring in movies -- Sebastian was released the same year, and he still had some six years to go before The Night Porter -- but here he chose to accept a minimal role in an exceptional film. And The Fixer was all the better for it.



This was a very serious review, but I wouldn't be me if I didn't at least mention the mustache. While his King and Country 'stache was definitely unfortunate, I'm not actually opposed to this one. I think it's actually rather becoming! So the answer to my perpetual question -- "Is that mustache really necessary?" -- is yes, I think this one is. Or at the very least, it's not unnecessary.

6.04.2016

Despair (1978)



I'm still determined to blog about every new-to-me Dirk Bogarde movie that I see, so after watching Despair for the first time last night I felt compelled to write something up today. The only problem is that I actually don't want to do a full post until I've seen it again, and that won't be for another couple months.

In 2009 when my obsession with Dirk was in full swing, very few of his movies had commercial releases so I had to resort to watching really horrible probably-recorded-from-a-tv-program-in-the-1980's copies to get my fix. So my copy of Despair was so bad it would likely throw any honest to goodness movie lover into a fit of.... despair.

I mean, I missed at least 1/4 of the dialogue because it kept cutting out or the sound was just that bad. From what I could see/hear/grasp I really enjoyed the movie, though, and as soon as it was over I whipped out my iphone to see it if had had a proper release in the intervening years. It turns out that it was fully restored and released on dvd (AND BLU RAY, MIND YOU) a couple years ago. I'm currently on a pretty strict self-imposed budget of one new DVD per month and June is already claimed by Criterion's upcoming release of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, so it'll be about another two months before I can get a crystal clear copy of Despair into my eager hands. But as soon as that day comes, I will be reporting back with a much better review. I just wanted to kind of log this on the blog to record that it had, indeed, been watched.

It's a funny thing, though, to think that if I had been on the ball and watched this when I bought it in 2009 I probably would have written a full review right off the bat. Sometimes I feel spoiled by things like Criterion and official DVD releases. I grew up on shoddy VHS recordings with terrible tracking, pan and scan movies with commercial interruptions, public domain tapes of Hitchcock movies so grainy and foggy that you could barely make out the image. Even now sometimes a lot of my foreign film purchases are horrible quality because good transfers with English subtitles just aren't available anywhere, and I make do. It's only when I know for a fact that a better alternative exists that I just literally can't even with these mediocre, substandard offerings.

5.17.2016

The Damned (1969)



In 2009 I started this blog so that I could document each new-to-me Bogarde film that I watched. The last entry was in July of 2011. Did I simply slack off in the post-writing-department and consume the remainder of his filmography without chronicling my thoughts on this blog? No. Sadly, I haven't watched a single new-to-me Bogarde movie since 2010. I have no idea how that's possible, but here I am, SIX YEARS LATER, still discovering Dirk Bogarde.

I wish I could say that I loved The Damned, but I honestly still have no idea how I feel about it. It confused the HECK out of me, for one thing. I felt like a complete idiot -- I couldn't figure out who was who or how anybody was related. My ego was comforted a bit when I read some reviews afterwards, though --

"..so many characters introduced so quickly that one part of your mind will spend the rest of the movie just trying to sort them out." - The New York Times

"Characters and plots keep slipping away from us, as in a frustrating dream. We are never quite sure where we are." - Roger Ebert

I want to revisit the movie at some point (not right away though, it's an experience that nobody should subject themselves to more than twice in the span of a few months) and I think I'll grasp the plot a lot better with this handy dandy family tree that I whipped up today:

the damned family tree 1969

It took me hours sifting through reviews and synopses to break this down, and even then it was still puzzling. Some articles cite Konstantin as Joachim's son, while others refer to him as "an unscrupulous relative" and make reference to Sophie's ex-husband as Joachim's "only son." Who knows.

War-and-Peace-level character confusion aside, it's a... strange film. I think it's probably best known today for all of the shocking elements that made it a cult classic, including (but not limited to!) a gay Nazi orgy, pedophilia, incest, rape, child suicide, and drug abuse. Fetch my smelling salts! While I tend to prefer my movies pedophilia-free, I can understand things like that being included when they're essential to the plot. This didn't feel necessary though, it seemed like it was intended to shock, and that's it. The only truly outrageous deed that felt like it was crucial to the plot was the incest (now THERE is a sentence I never thought I'd type!) but honestly even that could have been replaced with an equally horrendous but less gag-inducing act and still been effective.



The acting was occasionally too dramatic (mostly Reinhard Kolldehof, who I've seen likened to George C. Scott but I felt like he was much more Lee J. Cobb) but overall any issues I have with the movie fall squarely on Luchino Visconti's shoulders. While a lot of the lighting is beautiful, especially a few scenes shot with an eerie green pallor reminiscent of early two-strip technicolor horror films, the camera movements remind me of home videos when my parents would hand the camera over to me or my brother. Zooming in on a face, then quickly zooming out, panning over to the side and then back up to someone else.. while I get that the intended effect is a kind of operatic level of drama (sort of like the exaggerated zoom-to-close-up of a soap opera) it just struck me as too erratic. Visconti would also be responsible for the fractured script --originally 4 hours, then cut down to 2.5. Somehow it's simultaneously too long to enjoy but not long enough to fully spell out anything that's happening in the story.

I'll give him points though, for two things -- the cast and the lush visuals (despite my annoyance at how exactly those two things were filmed.) Even Reinhard Kolldehof, in all his overacting pompous glory, was perfectly cast. Dirk Bogarde's character is a mild-mannered employee that's thrust into a number of unsavory predicaments, constantly working that meek mouse/conniving genius balance that Bogarde pulls off so well in so many films (I'm looking at you, The Servant!) And despite my opinion that most of the shocking elements were unessential, Helmut Berger indulges in pretty much all of them with a finesse that's as mesmerizing as it is unsettling.

I definitely want to give this one another shot, I just need some time to recover first...

7.26.2011

We Joined the Navy cameo (video clip)



Here is the scene in which Dirk appears in "We Joined the Navy!" It's only about a 2 minute long scene, and he only appears in the last 30 seconds, but it's fantastic nonetheless! I'll have screencaps coming up later today, too :)

We Joined the Navy


FANTASTIC news! I finally tracked down a copy of that elusive "We Joined the Navy" (1963)! Dirk Bogarde's cameo is very brief, only about one minute tops, but it's great and if you're as big a fan as I am, it's quite exciting! :D

I just got it in the mail this afternoon & checked to make sure it was the right movie (I've been searching fruitlessly for so long that I wasn't sure I really had it until I saw it with my own eyes!) but tomorrow I'll get some screen caps to share here!

If you're interested in getting a copy yourself, I've added it here!

This means the only remaining films I've yet to find are Upon This Rock, Blackmailed, Power Without Glory and Rope. And I'd also love to track down the "This is Your Life" episode starring Kenneth More, which Dirk made an appearance on. I'm so excited to finally have We Joined the Navy, though.. I've been searching for almost two years now, so I had almost given up hope that I'd ever find it! :)

3.28.2011

1.31.2011

TCM Programming Alert!


So Long at the Fair is playing at 12:00PM EST on Turner Classic Movies! Don't miss it!

1.28.2011

More information on new and upcoming DVD releases

Olivia de Havilland, Robert Morley and Dirk Bogarde in Libel


Dirk Bogarde and Eral Cameron in Simba

Simba (1955) Release date: March 14, 2011

Dirk Bogarde, Joseph Tomelty and John Mills in The Gentle Gunman

The Gentle Gunman (1952) Release date: March 7, 2011

Dirk Bogarde in The Singer Not the Song

The Singer Not the Song (1961) Release date: March 14, 2011

Dirk Bogarde in Victim

Victim (1961) Available now as part of the box-set

Dirk Bogarde & John Whiteley (The Spanish Gardener)

The Spanish Gardener (1956) Release date: February 14, 2011

Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde in So Long at the Fair

So Long at the Fair (1950) Release date: February 14, 2011

Dirk Bogarde, Lelage Lewis and Kathleen Ryan in Esther Waters

Esther Waters (1948) Release date: February 14, 2011

Dirk Bogarde and Dudley Jones in Once a Jolly Swagman

Once a Jolly Swagman (1948) Available now through Amazon UK