Chambre Ardente, La (1962)

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An ancient curse, a modern crime!

vt The Burning Court; vt Das Brennende Gericht; vt I Peccatori della Foresta Nera
France, Italy, West Germany / 109 minutes / bw / International, UFA-Comacico, Taurus Dir: Julien Duvivier Pr: Julien Duvivier, Yvon Guézel Scr: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak Story: The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr Cine: Roger Fellous Cast: Nadja Tiller, Jean-Claude Brialy, Perrette Pradier, Édith Scob, Walter Giller, Duvallès, Héléna Manson, René Génin, Claude Piéplu, Dany Jacquet, Gabriel Jabour (i.e., Gabriel Jabbour), Laurence Belval, Antoine Balpêtré, Claude Rich, Carl Brake.

Chambre Ardente - 0a opener 1

Chambre Ardente - 0b opener 2

The celebrated John Dickson Carr mystery novel upon which this is based was at the time somewhat controversial, because its solution more than hinted that the supernatural was involved; for obvious reasons, this was regarded by mystery buffs as breaking the rules. (I remember reading the novel many years ago, and I’m surprised that this element didn’t trouble me. In my mystery reading I’m usually pretty prim about such infractions.) The conclusion to the movie, too, breaks the rules of straightforward mystery plotting, albeit in a different way—one that may well infuriate some viewers.

The movie starts with a scrolled and spoken preamble:

“On July 17, 1676, Marie d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, accused of witchcraft practice[s] and convicted of having poisoned her father, her two brothers and numerous other persons, was burnt at the stake on a Paris square, after having had her head cut off. Her ashes were thrown to the wind. Before her death she cursed the lover that betrayed her and all his descendants. The following tells the story of that curse.”

Today (i.e., in the early 1960s) Mathias Desgrez (Duvallès), the last direct descendant of Emile Desgrez—the cop who disguised himself as a priest to infiltrate the convent where Marie was hiding, became her lover and then turned her over to the authorities—is living near-eremitically in the grand chateau he built in the Black Forest for his wife, who alas died young. The only people he sees with any regularity are his nurse, Myra Schneider (Tiller), his housemaid, Frieda Schiller (Jacquet), his married housekeeper and gardener, Augusta Henderson (Manson) and Frédéric Henderson (Génin), and a neighbor, Dr. Hermann (Balpêtré), a genial doctor stripped of his license some years ago for performing an abortion. The two old men have fun exploring the occult together, although 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

Bad and the Beautiful, The (1952)

US / 118 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: Charles Schnee Story: “Memorial to a Bad Man” (1951; Ladies’ Home Journal) by George Bradshaw Cine: Robert Surtees Cast: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault.

A love letter to Hollywood—or, at least, a letter expressing a love/hate relationship—with a very noirish cast and some noirish flourishes; it’s occasionally listed as a film noir, although that’s a classification that seems hard to justify.

Shields (left) and Fred find Georgia sloshed at the Crow’s Nest.

Movie mogul Harry Pebbel (Pidgeon) gathers together three major figures in the industry in an attempt to persuade them to participate in a new project that the producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas) is trying to float. All three of them have good reasons to tell Shields to get lost because of the way he treated them in the past, and in three extended flashbacks we learn what those reasons were: Continue reading