Category Archives: Foreign Film

A Movie for Springtime: “Enchanted April” (1991)

enchanted april 2

Caroline, Mrs. Fisher, Lottie, and Rose enjoying a repast at their beloved Mediterranean castle.

Who among us has not looked out the window above our work desk (that is, if we’re lucky enough to have a window) and dreamed of a lovely vacation at some wondrous spot on earth?  Well, Enchanted April is about four women who have such dreams and also the determination to make them come true.

The story begins on a gray and rainy day in England, circa 1922.  Lottie (Josie Lawrence) sees an advertisement for an April rental at a small medieval castle on the shores of the Mediterranean.  Desperate to have some time away from her pretentious, social-climbing husband (a very funny Alfred Molina), Lottie convinces Rose (Miranda Richardson), another unhappy housewife,  to travel with her and chip in on the expenses.  Eventually, Lottie and Rose bring in two others:  Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), an testy matron who loves to talk about the famous writers she has personally known; and Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), a stunningly lovely party girl whose aloofness masks a secret sadness in her past.

All four of the women have unhappiness in their lives which they seek to address through their shared vacation.  Each of them achieves a measure of healing during their time together.

Enchanted April features top-notch performances from a stellar cast of British actors.  It is lovely to look at in terms of costuming and photography.  The film was shot at Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy; and anyone who sees the sumptuous greenery and stunning seascapes in this movie will probably be running to their nearest travel agent as soon as the closing credits have finished rolling.  Finally, Richard Rodney Bennett’s score, featuring cool and soothing flute and oboe themes, adds to the dreaminess and charm of the women’s little Italian paradise.

I should add that when I asked my husband to watch Enchanted April with me, he winced at what he perceived would be a “chic flick” experience.  He ended up really liking this film.  Truly, a good date night movie!

Some movie trivia:  Enchanted April is an adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel.  The book spawned a 1925 stage play and a 1935 film version starring Ann Harding and Frank Morgan.

You can download a copy of the 1991 film by clicking onto the following link:

You can purchase a DVD copy by clicking onto the following link:


Pluses:   Fine performances by a stellar cast of British actors.  Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent, who plays Rose’s philandering husband, are standouts.  A feast for the eye in terms of costuming and locale.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  If you feel like watching an action film, run away!  This is a gentle, leisurely dramedy about the inner lives of 1920’s English women.

Cast:  Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Polly Walker, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen, Jim Broadbent.

Director:  Mike Newell

Rating:  PG (some mild language)

In Color.

Length:  95 minutes


A Story for Passover: “Rabbit Proof Fence” (2002)


rabbit proof fence

Molly, Daisy, and Gracie walking home across the Australian desert

Passover begins in a few days.  Soon, Jews all over the world will celebrate and remember the ancient Hebrews’ escape from Egyptian bondage as they made their way across the Sinai desert towards the Promised Land, now present-day Israel.

This week’s movie offering is also a story about escape from bondage, and it involves a long trek across an inhospitable desert.  But the events in this film occur far, far away from the Middle East.

Rabbit Proof Fence, adapted from Doris Pilkington’s book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, is loosely based on the childhood experiences of the author’s mother Molly Craig.  Craig, a mixed race Aborigine, was forcibly removed from her family during the early 1930’s as part of Australia’s program to re-educate and absorb half-caste children into the white community.  The program was created and championed by Commissioner of Native Affairs A. O. Neville, whose stated intention was to “uplift” the Aboriginal people.   Here is a segment where Neville, played by Kenneth Branaugh, explains his intentions to a group of Australian women.  Warning:  This is quite chilling:

As a result of Neville’s program, Craig and two of her young relatives were placed in a detention center 990 miles away from their home in Jigalong, Western Australia.  The girls escaped from their jailors and made their way back to Jigalong by following a pest-exclusion fence erected to keep rabbits and other vermin out of farming areas.  In the film, one of the girls is captured.  However, Molly and her sister Daisy successfully complete the trek and escape detection by the officials who pursue them across the Australian wilderness.

Rabbit Proof Fence primarily plays as a suspense film, pitting the authorities and an experienced Aborigine tracker (veteran Australian actor David Gulpilil) against the resourcefulness and determination of 14 year old Molly, who acts as the “Moses” of the little group fighting to make their way across the desert.  As portrayed by child actor Everlyn Sampi, Molly is calm, confident and wise beyond her years.  She turns out to be a formidable opponent, using her knowledge of the Australian outback to outfox the authorities every step of the way.

Note:  The practice of separating half-caste children from their families continued well into the second half of the 20th century.

On February 13, 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology for the forced removal of generations of Aboriginal children from their families.


You can download Rabbit Proof Fence by clicking onto the following link:

In addition, you can purchase a DVD of this film by clicking onto the following link:

Finally, you can purchase the Pilkington book by clicking onto the following link:



Pluses:   Great performances by all involved in this project.  David Gulpilil’s expressive face speaks volumes about the mistreatment of the Aborigines depicted in this film.  Peter Gabriel’s film score, an ambient soundscape which includes Aboriginal percussion, didgeridoo, and bird song, is beautiful and haunting.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  Warning:  Ready your four handkerchiefs for the conclusion of this movie.  It’s a tear-jerker.

Cast:  Kenneth Branaugh, David Gulpilil, Everlyn Sampi, Laura Monaghan, Tianna Sansbury, Ningali Lawford.

Director:  Philip Noyce

Rating:  PG (for emotional thematic material)

In Color

English, West Australian Aborigine dialect (subtitled)

Length:  94 minutes


“Rabbit Proof Fence (film).”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   7 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   7 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“A. O. Neville.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   27 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“Stolen Generations.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   5 April 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.





Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Lady Macbeth and Kurasawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957)

Throne of Blood 1

General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), who has just committed regicide at the bidding of his evil wife, Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined how disreputable women have been portrayed in American cinema ( 1944’s Murder, My Sweet) and Irish cinema (1998’s Waking Ned Devine).  In this article, we’re going to take a look at how a great master of Japanese film did a unique take on Shakespeare’s evil villainess, Lady Macbeth.


Akira Kurasawa (1910-1998) was one of the most influential film makers of all time.  Although many American moviegoers are not acquainted with this director’s work, they are probably familiar with the following American remakes based on Kurasawa films:

1960’s The Magnificent Seven (about gunslingers who rescue a Mexican village from bandits) is a remake of 1954’s The Seven Samurai.  The Magnificent Seven was remade a second time in 2016.

1964’s For a Fistful of Dollars (a gunslinger takes advantage of two feuding families in the old West) is based on 1961’s Yojimbo, about a samurai who does the same to a Japanese village.

1964’s The Outrage (various witnesses tell conflicting stories regarding a rape-murder) is based on 1950’s Rashomon.

1977’s Star Wars (about a group of misfits who rescue an intergalactic princess and save the galaxy from evil forces) was strongly influenced by 1958’s The Hidden Fortress, about another group of misfits who rescue a Japanese princess.

Conversely, Kurasawa was inspired by the classics of Gorki, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare and made films based on their works.  His greatest interpretation of the latter is 1957’s Throne of Blood (AKA Spider Web Castle), based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


Throne of Blood, which is set in 16th century feudal Japan, essentially follows the plot of the earlier play:  General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) is told by a sinister forest spirit (Chieko Naniwa) that he is destined to replace the current reigning lord of Spider Web Castle.  Spurred on by his ambitious wife (Isuzu Yamada), Washizu murders Lord Tsuzuki (Takamaru Sasaki) and his own best friend, General Miki (Minoru Chiaki).  As a result of his actions General Washizu does in fact become lord of the castle.  But just like Macbeth, Washizu dies as violently as he has lived.

Instead of falling back on Shakespeare’s written language, Kurasawa tells the story cinematically through exciting battle sequences and exquisite black and white cinematography.  In addition, Kurasawa uses elements of Japanese Noh theatre in order to dramatize interactions among main characters.

Noh is an ancient art form using pantomime, exaggerated gesture, and masks in order to communicate emotion and characterization.  In Throne of Blood, Kurasawa directs his actors to maintain fixed expressions corresponding to Noh masks.  Below, we see Lord Washizu, his wife, his friend Miki, the forest spirit, and their corresponding masks:

Noh 1

In the case of Washizu’s wife, the technique is used to chilling effect.  Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth is often played as a bit of a nag as she incites her husband to action.  In contrast, Lady Asaji quietly and insidiously makes suggestions to her husband while remaining almost completely still in face and body.  Thus, Asaji acts more like an inner voice to Washizu than a separate character.  The scene below is typical of the physical relationship between the two characters:  Asiji is seated while Washizu restlessly paces back and forth in response to his wife’s comments.

Throne of Blood 5

The use of ancient Japanese theatrical techniques in a film may sound a bit esoteric, but in fact it is most helpful to viewers who do not know the Japanese language.  Even without subtitles, one can understand a great deal by watching the movement and pantomime in this film.  It also helps to be familiar with the Shakespeare play.

I would strongly encourage you to watch this unsettling, weird and wonderful movie.  It’s Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before.  In my opinion, it’s as great in its own way as the original.

You can download Throne of Blood through by clicking onto the following link:

You can buy a Blu-Ray DVD of Throne of Blood by clicking onto the following link:


Pluses:   Great performances by Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada.  Several elements of Macbeth, including the witch scene, Banquo’s ghost scene, and the moving forests of Dunsinane are wonderfully rendered.  Exciting battle sequences.  Climactic death scene.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  If you are a serious student of film, this is a must-see!

Cast:  Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Minoru Chiaki, Takamaru Sasaki, Chieko Naniwa

Director:  Akira Kurosawa

Unrated (not for little kids.  The final death scene is gruesome.)

In Black and White.

Subtitled in English (originally in Japanese)

Length:  110 minutes


“Throne of Blood.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   1 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

“Noh.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

Crucianelli, Guy.  “The Chilling Effect of Noh Theater on Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.”  26 March 2014.  Web.



Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: “Waking Ned Devine” (1998)


Waking Ned DevineBuddies Michael (David Kelly) and Jackie (Ian Bannen) make the best of a “grave” situation

Friday is St. Paddy’s Day, and my goal this week has been to review an Irish movie with a vixen, vamp, or tramp.  I found a “twofer”(two questionable women) in writer/director Kirk Jones’ delightful 1998 comedy, Waking Ned Devine.


The tiny Irish hamlet of Tully More has received an enormous windfall.  One of their own, Ned Devine, has won the Irish Lottery.  There’s just one problem……

Ned is dead.

You heard it right.  As soon as he got the good news on TV, the elderly gentleman passed away from pure shock.  So it looks like nobody wins any money this year.  Or……. maybe someone will, because pals Michael (David Kelly) and Jackie (Ian Bannen) are determined to grab that jackpot come hell or high water.

The remainder of this story involves the scheming pair’s attempts to finagle their way into Ned’s millions, and the problems they encounter in doing so.  For example, they have to convince the lotto officials that Ned is still alive.  And how will the rest of the villagers react when they hear the truth of the matter?

Aside from hilarious scenes involving Michael and Jackie’s efforts in securing the lotto money, there are small pleasures as we encounter various supporting characters in the village.  For example, there’s the village priest, Father Patrick (Dermont Kerrigan), who spends his time trying to explain religion to a rather doubtful little tyke named Maurice (played by Robert Hickey).  Maurice is the illegitimate son of the town dish, lovely Maggie O’Toole (Susan Lynch), who spends her time enticing Pig (James Nesbitt) and Pat (Fintan McKeown).  Are either of these men the father of Maurice?  Is it someone else?  All is revealed at the end of the story.

The second questionable female in Tully More is a most irascible curmudgeon by the name of Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey).  “Lizzy the Witch” is so mean that she delights in trying to run over people with her geriatric scooter.  Although a minor player, Lizzy is an important element in the plot.  Why?  Can’t tell you that.  You’ll just have to draw yourself a pint of Guinness and wait it out until end of show.

You can download the digital version of Waking Ned Devine or purchase the DVD by clicking onto the following link:

Pluses:   Funny performances from veteran actors Kelly and Bannon, who provide several laugh-out-loud moments.  Well-written story with clever denouement.  Gorgeous location shots filmed in Cregneash, Isle of Man, Ireland.

Minus:  Takes a bit of effort getting used to the Irish brogue.

Cast:  David Kelly, Ian Bannan, Fionnula Flanagan, James Nesbitt, Susan Lynch, Fintan McKeown, Jimmy Keogh, Brendan Dempsey, Eileen Dromey.

Director:  Kirk Jones

Rating:  PG (nudity, language, thematic elements)

In color

Length:  91 minutes





Movies and the Jews: Der Dybbuk (1937)


Leah the Bride’s pas de deux with Death

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”  – From the Song of Songs

In celebration of Hanukkah, I will be writing this month about classics of Jewish cinema.

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” is one of the most celebrated statements of love from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs, also known as Songs of Solomon in the Christian Old Testament.  However, the phrase takes on a sinister meaning in this 1937 Yiddish film, whose subject is a young bride possessed by the soul of her dead lover.

Der Dybbuk is a film from Poland based on S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk.  Ansky’s play, originally written in 1914, was the result of years of research concerning folktales of the Russian and Ukrainian Hassidic Jews.  The play has long been considered a seminal work of the Yiddish theatre.

Storyline:  Two friends (Nisan and Sender) pledge that their children will marry each other.  Years later, when Nisan’s son Chanan shows up at Sender’s doorstep, Sender reneges on the promise and arranges to have his daughter Leah marry a rich suitor.  In desperation,  Chanan calls upon Satan to ensure that he will have the young maiden as his own, and he dies.  During the wedding ceremony, Leah is suddenly possessed by Chanan’s spirit (the dybbuk).  The situation is mitigated by a Jewish exorcist, who successfully expels the dybbuk.  However, Leah ends up choosing to die in order to be with her soulmate, Chanan, in the next world.

As a horror/fantasy offering, the 1937 film of the play is rather long and somewhat static, with all actors using old-fashioned silent movie acting technique.  However, it’s worth everything to see the wedding scene, which is a set piece that plays as a parody of the dance sequences in The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky.  Here we see a strange, Expressionistic ballet presented by peasants, poor people, and the wedding party.  The most chilling scene features a variation on the medieval Dance of Death, where Leah the Bride performs a pas de deux with an anonymous person wearing a death mask.


This film offers an invaluable time capsule concerning Jewish Chassidic life as it existed prior to the Holocaust.  For example, we get to hear Nigunim, Jewish songs without words, throughout the film, as well as lovely dance melodies.  Who knows how much of this music was lost in the tragedy that was to follow just a few years after The Dybbuk was filmed.

One happy outcome to this story:  The actors who played Leah (Lili Liliana) and Chanan (Leon Liebgold) actually fell in love and remained married for more than fifty years.

You can purchase a DVD of The Dybbuk at through the following link:


I would strongly recommend reading Kenneth Turan’s Not to be Missed:  Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film for more information on The Dybbuk’s history.  In case you’re not familiar with Turan:  He is the chief film critic for the L.A. Times, and a fine writer.  I am indebted to him for introducing me to this film.  You can purchase a hard copy or Kindle version of Turan’s book through the following link:


Pluses:  Evocative expressionistic cinematography; great wedding scene; fascinating story

Minus:  Silent movie-style acting; some sections not subtitled.

Cast:  Abraham Morewski, Ajzyk Samberg, Mojzesz Lipman, Lili Liliana, Leon Liebgold

Director:  Michal Waszynski

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

Country of origin:  Poland

Language:  Yiddish, with English subtitles

Length:  125 minutes (some versions are shorter)


“The Dybbuk (film)”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  813 November 2016.  Web.  6 December 2016.

Turan, Kenneth.  Not to be Missed:  Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film.  PublicAffairs New York (Copyright 2014)












Movies About Food: Babette’s Feast (1987)

“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the artist:  Give me leave to do my utmost.”  -“Babette’s Feast”


This is my final offering regarding Thanksgiving films about food, and by far my favorite.

Babette’s Feast, adapted from Danish writer Isak Dinesen’s novelette of the same name, is a warm and witty period piece about a culinary artist who, through her skills, binds the wounds of a small community in 19th century Denmark.

Martine and Philippa are the children of a charismatic minister who established a religious sect many years before in rural Jutland.  The minister has passed on;  however,  the sisters continue to lead their father’s congregation through piety, good works, and prayer.  The community members lead austere lives, dressing and eating very plainly.  For example, a typical meal consists of dried codfish and ale-and-bread soup.

Into the lives of this community comes a mysterious stranger, Babette.  Babette is a homeless refugee from France, and she begs for assistance from the two sisters.  They agree to take on the Frenchwoman, who will cook and keep house for them in exchange for room and board.

After a time, Martine and Philippa decide to host a dinner in celebration of their late father.  This will be something of a challenge, because infighting and gossip has compromised relationships among the congregants.  Babette responds by making a simple request:  Out of gratitude for what the sisters have done, she would like to prepare a French meal for the congregation.

Little do the sisters know that Babette is hiding a huge secret about her cooking skills.  I couldn’t possibly let you know what that secret is; or how the French meal is financed; or why Babette ended up in Denmark in the first place.  You’ll just have to stay for dessert!

Babette’s Feast won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  You can purchase a DVD of this film at the following link:



Karen Blixen (1885-1962), whose pen name was Isak Dinesen, is probably best known to movie-goers as the main character in director Sydney Pollock’s 1985 film Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.  During her youth, Blixen led an adventurous life, moving to Kenya with her husband to start a coffee plantation, and dallying with the famous big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton.  The plantation and the marriage failed, Hatton was killed in a plane crash, and Blixen was forced to return to Denmark.

It was at that point that Blixen began her writing career, completing Seven Gothic Tales in 1933.  This work was followed by Winter’s Tales and Out of Africa, a biography about Blixen’s life in Kenya.  “Babette’s Feast” was part of a final collection of short stories, Anecdotes of Destiny, completed a few years before Blixen’s death.

Although Blixen was a 20th century writer, her stories were usually set in the 19th century.  They can be intricate and often include tales within tales, with one revelation after another.  (By the way, backstory and revelation are integral to “Babette’s Feast.”)  Meanwhile, the reader cannot help but follow each fascinating story strand.


Pluses:  Burnished cinematography matches the tone and period of the movie; intricate, entertaining plot with transcendent finale; great performances by all players; and that decadent French meal!

Minus:  Yes, once again I’m recommending a foreign film with subtitles.  Stay with it and you’ll be rewarded

Cast:  Stephanie Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Vibeke Hastrup, Ghita Norby

Director:  Gabriel Axel

Rating:  G

Country:  Denmark

Language:  French-Danish with English subtitles

In color

Length:  102 minutes


“Karen Blixen”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  23 October 2016.  Web.  21 November 2016.




Movies About Food: Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

“Eat, drink, man, woman, food and sex:  Basic human desires.  Can’t avoid them.”  –A character speaks in “Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Image result for eat drink man woman

Master Chu (Sihung Lung), a chef who works in Taipei, lives through food.  At the beginning of this film, we see him slaughtering chickens, cleaning fish, frying, boiling and steaming delicacies for the Sunday dinner that he always prepares for his three daughters.  It’s the only way he knows how to show affection.  And when his restive progeny begin to move towards marriage and independence and away from Dad, Master Chu starts lavishing his attention on a family friend’s child, showering her with gourmet lunchbox delights.  He just can’t help himself.

Food is the focus of this comedy/drama about an aging widower and his three grown daughters.  Intertwined with the noodles, the crab dumplings, shark fin soup, and roasted claypot pork, are the complicated lives of each principle character.  The eldest daughter (Kuei-Mei Yang) is a school teacher who is receiving mysterious love letters.  The youngest daughter (Yu-Wen Wang), a college student, is involved with her friend’s boyfriend.  The middle daughter (Chien-lien Wu), who inherited her father’s culinary talent, has abandoned her heritage for a career as an airline executive.  Meanwhile, the family friend’s mother (Gua Ah-leh) is throwing herself at Master Chu.

There are surprises revealed in each of these character’s storylines, including the father’s.  Follow through with each “course” of this tale, and you will enjoy a fulfilling “dessert” at story’s end.

You can find this film on instant download or DVD at


Note:  Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee began his career making films based on Taiwanese subjects (Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet).  He has since become renowned as a versatile story-teller in terms of subject matter:

  • Sense and Sensibility (1995).  Period drama based on Jane Austin’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility.
  • The Ice Storm (1997).  A drama about two American families trying to deal with social changes in the 1970’s.
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005).  A heartbreaking love story about two gay cowboys, based on the equally heartbreaking short story by Annie Proulx.
  • Life of Pi (2012).  An inventive yarn about a young boy shipwrecked on a raft with a Bengal tiger.  Based on the novel by Yann Martel.

Pluses:  Enjoyable performances by all actors, incredible food scenes, surprising and enjoyable denouement.

Minus:  Plot a little slow…but the story’s ultimately worth it.

Cast:  Sihung Lung, Kuei-Mei Yang, Chien-lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang, Gua Ah-leh

Director:  Ang Lee

Rating:  Not Rated

In Color

Country:  Taiwan

Language:  Mandarin, with subtitles

Length:  123 minutes






The Golem (1920, silent film)


Long before author Mary Shelley thought up the infamous Frankenstein monster, there existed a legend in Jewish folklore concerning an inanimate lump of clay brought to life in order to save the Jews.  This was the legend of the Golem.

The most famous version of this tale comes from medieval Prague:  The Jewish population is in danger of banishment by local Christian authorities.  In response, the head rabbi of Prague creates the Golem for protection against the oppressors.  The plan works, and the Jews are safe…for a while.  Unfortunately, the rabbi loses control of his creation, and the Golem goes on a murderous rampage.

The story of the Golem was first brought to the screen in 1915 by German director Paul Wegener, who also played the title role.  Although the 1915 film was lost, Wegener made another Golem film in 1920 which survives today.

The Golem essentially follows the old Prague legend, and is photographed in German expressionist style.  All of the scenes, especially the interiors, emphasize sharp angles and exaggerated form.  For example, in an early scene we see a spiral staircase descending within what looks like a cutaway of a conch shell.  Buildings and towers are vertically elongated to the point of surrealism.  The lighting in each scene is done in chiaroscuro, thus heightening the eeriness of the tale.  Even without subtitles or plot, each section in this film is fascinating to look at.

For those interested in early examples of cinematographer Karl Freund’s work, as well as examples of German expressionist film style, I would strongly recommend this picture.  Although I found a free copy on, I must say that the print looked somewhat worn.  I checked out and found that there is a restored version of the film on DVD.  Either way, it’s worth a view.

Note:  Karl Freund, who shot The Golem, was also known for photographing director Fritz Lang’s science fiction movie Metropolis (1927) and Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931).  He left Europe for America in 1929.  Freund, who was Jewish, returned to Germany in 1937 and brought his daughter Gerda back to the U.S.  By doing so, he almost certainly saved her from death in the Nazi concentration camps.

Pluses:  Magnificent cinematography, unique plot

Minus:  YouTube version not good.  Look for DVD on

Cast:  Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck, Lyda Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch, Lothar Muthel

Director:  Paul Wegener

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

Length:  91 minutes


“Karl Freund”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  8 October 2016.  Web.  28 October 2016.

“Golem” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  28 October 2016.  Web.  28 October 2016.

Image obtained through Bing Public Domain.






A Fairy Tale for Adults: Cocteau’s 1946 “La Belle et la Bete” (Beauty and the Beast)

“…Love can turn a man into a beast.  But love can also make an ugly man handsome.”  From La Belle et la Bete, 1946


“Beauty and the Beast” is one of those timeless stories which, like “The Three Muskateers” or “Dracula,” routinely gets a remake in TV or movie form at least once every decade.  We’re familiar, of course, with the delightful 1991 Disney animated version of the tale; and Disney has put out trailers for a new live action film to be issued in March of 2017.

But for those of you who love classic movies, and who would like an adult take on the story, please do not overlook the magnificent 1946 film La Belle et la Bete by director Jean Cocteau.

I know what some of you are thinking:  French…..subtitles…..oh no!  It is true that the version in current release (you can download it from Amazon Instant) is subtitled and not dubbed.  However, this film primarily communicates itself through gorgeous visuals which are supported by composer George Auric’s haunting score.  The dialog in this film is relatively unimportant.  Just watch and enjoy.

For example, observe Belle’s initial entrance into the magic castle.  Prior scenes are filmed in live time.  But upon entering the Beast’s enchanted realm, Belle moves in slow motion as if she were walking through a dream.  When she passes through the main hallway, arms holding candelabra move and track her.  No fancy special effects here; these appear to be live people standing behind the set, with only their arms showing on camera.  The effect is stunning.

la belle et la bête1945réal : Jean CocteauJosette Daycollection christophel

La Belle et la Bete engages us at the adult level through commentary on love, sex, and the relationships between men and women.  Two males vie for Belle’s hand, the Beast and a local ne’er-do-well, Avenant.  It is significant that both characters are played by the same actor, Jean Marais.  As the story unwinds, we see that the Beast and Avenant seem to be aspects of the same personality.  Avenant the rogue has a certain amount of compassion for Belle’s Cinderella-like role as servant to her selfish sisters….but he also tries to grope her.  On the other hand, the Beast truly loves Belle, but at one point must fight himself to stay away from her as she lies unconscious on a bed in the magic castle.  Is he about to kill her….or do something else?

Belle is drawn to both individuals.  She obviously likes Avenant’s looks.  And although she tells the Beast that he is hideous, she sometimes seems sexually excited when he magically appears in the castle.

Cocteau’s tale ends a bit wryly.  Most of us already know what happens at the conclusion of the original fairy tale–through Belle’s devotion, the Beast is transformed into a handsome prince.  In Cocteau’s version, there’s an epilogue.  During the transformation, actor Jean Marais magically appears as the Prince!  Belle seems disappointed.  She admits to the Prince that he looks like Avenant, that she loved Avenant, but that he didn’t know this.  However, she admits that she definitely loved the Beast.  A confused Prince replies, “You’re a strange girl, Belle.”

Perhaps not so strange.  Just human….like the rest of us.


La Belle et la Bette, Dir. Jean Cocteau.  Perf. Jean Marais, Josette Day.  Lopert Pictures Corporation.  1946.  Film.

All images obtained through Bing Public Domain.