Twelve Shorts for the Shortest Month #10: Pitch Black Heist (2011)

UK / 14 minutes / bw / DMC, UK Film Council, Film4 Dir & Scr: John Maclean Pr: Gerardine O’Flynn Cine: Robbie Ryan Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Alex Macqueen

Shot in glorious black-and-white—and for a chunk of its running time in just glorious black—this enigmatic UK short won a 2012 BAFTA as Best Short Film and was nominated as Best Narrative Short at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.

The opening credits play the 1955 Roger Williams version of the classic French song Les Feuilles Mortes (1945) over a scene of stacked boxes in a vault. The song, with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by Jacques Prévert, was first used onscreen in Marcel Carné’s Les PORTES DE LA NUIT (1946; vt Gates of the Night). With English-language lyrics by Johnny Mercer, the song reappeared in the Joan Crawford vehicle AUTUMN LEAVES (1956) dir Robert Aldrich. The Roger Williams version is apparently the only piano instrumental to reach #1 in the US Billboard charts, which it did in 1955, remaining there for four weeks.

Ahem. Apologies for the digression.

 

Alex Mcqueen as Isaac briefs Michael (Fassbender, left) and Liam (Cunningham)

The use of the piece here has, thanks to the tune’s countless cinematic and other incarnations, the effect of gearing us emotionally to anticipate a UK noir of the 1940s/1950s, which is more or less—despite the numerous uses of the f-word (you’d not catch upright, pipe-smoking Ronald Howard saying that in public!)—what’s being homaged in Pitch Black Heist.

Two thieves, Liam (Cunningham) and the far more taciturn Michael (Fassbender), are brought together to pull off a bank job in the City of London. The significant problem they face is Continue reading

It Couldn’t Have Happened (But It Did) (1936)

US / 70 minutes / bw / Invincible, Chesterfield, First Division Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Maury M. Cohen Scr: Arthur T. Horman Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Reginald Denny, Evelyn Brent, Jack La Rue, Inez Courtney, John Marlowe (i.e., Hugh Marlowe), Claude King, Bryant Washburn, Robert Homans, Crauford Kent, Robert Frazer, Miki Morita, Emily La Rue.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 0 opener

Rehearsals are underway for the new play by Gregory Stone (Denny), a mystery called The Pointing Finger with fabled Beverley Drake (Brent) in the leading role. Beverley is married to the much older Ellis Holden (King), half of Holden–Carter Productions, which is producing the play—the other half being Norman Carter (Washburn), with whom Beverley’s having an affair. This is no great triumph for Carter to chalk up, because Beverley’s having an affair also with young actor Edward Forrest (Marlowe), another cast member, and the list very likely doesn’t stop there.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 1 Bev and Edwards

Beverley (Evelyn Brent) makes googoo eyes at Edward (Hugh Marlowe).

Local gangster Smiley Clark (Jack La Rue) is keen that Holden hire his latest babe, Lisa De Lane (Emily La Rue, about whom I’ve been able to find out nothing), in a starring role. The two producers try to fob him off but, Continue reading

Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading