Faces and Fairyland,
and a few more films

The Face Behind the Mask (1941)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

#263  [archive]
MAR. 19, 2024

This opens as an amiable light comedy, with Peter Lorre as a new immigrant to America, stumbling over the English language, finding a room to rent, looking for a job, etc. Never seen Lorre go for laughs before, and he's good at it. 

But not for long, because this is no comedy. There's a fire, he's seriously burned, and in the next scene his head is wrapped in bandages. When the wrap comes off, the face behind the mask is hideous, and the film becomes a serious, melodramatic movie about a guy whose face is so repulsive nobody will hire him. So he turns to a life of crime.

The few glimpses we're shown of Lorre's burned face are mildly grotesque, but the film soon cops out on that aspect, by having Lorre wear a special mask that makes him look like, well, Peter Lorre. And yet, other characters keep asking, "What happened to your face?"

It's good, though. By 1940s standards, this is violent and dark, with a grim but still somehow upbeat ending.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Before he was the sheriff of Mayberry, Andy Griffith played Lonesome Rhodes, a good old boy with a guitar. Discovered by radio reporter Patricia Neal, she gets him a show of his own, and from there he sells himself to the highest bidder, and sells America whatever lies he spews. 

Nearly 70 years later, this isn't as shockingly cynical as it must've been way back when, but it gains back whatever's been lost because heck, it's Andy of Mayberry.

And the movie's message is still valid: Don't believe what the box tells you, whether the box is a radio, a TV, or the internet.

Written by Budd Schulberg, who also wrote On the Waterfront and The Harder They Fall, and directed by Elia Kazan, who famously named names. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Faces (1968)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This starts hilariously, with some prickish gray-haired high-power executive (John Marley) being grumpy with his staff. Soon the prick goes to an 'important business meeting', and after that to a party where there's alcohol, and it's done being funny.

You know what's likely to happen at a party where there's alcohol — people get rambunctious and obnoxious. There are arguments, followed by apologies and earnest moments and "I want a divorce," etc. Then the prick runs off with a hooker, and his wife goes to another party. 

This is an excellent film, and unlike any other I can remember. This must've been a breaking point, between the Hays Code and the films that ushered in a new era at the cinema.

Faces is so very well-written (John Cassavetes) and well-acted (Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel) that it feels like you're at the party, surrounded by pricks and drunks. It's a painfully bleak, loud, grim study of middle-aged white desperation. To add to the realism, it was shot on grainy stock, in black-and-white, with lots of hand-held camerawork, no music, and no hope of escape.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fairyland (1903)
a/k/a The Kingdom of Fairies
Streaming free at Internet Archive

An evil wizard summons his minions to kidnap a princess, and a prince rushes to her rescue.

What the film is actually about, though, is the invention of film technique, by Georges Méliès. He keeps everything moving at a frantic pace, with lots of prancing and dancing around and different sets and costumes every few minutes. Most startling is that the black-and-white photography is hand-tinted to make the entire film (16 minutes or so) colorful, with shades so dazzlingly unnatural they're literally a special effect. 

The underwater scenes are especially enchanting, the burning castle is all too real yet unreal, and sometimes, when a background image is superimposed just so, the film looks almost three-dimensional. Fairyland is decades ahead of its time.

To even fractionally understand how revolutionary this was, imagine yourself in nineteen-three. You've heard about electricity, but it's mostly for fancy stores; ordinary folks don't have lights at home. You might've seen 'auto-mobiles', but they're expensive, so you've probably never ridden in one. The Wright brothers are getting a few feet off the ground in North Carolina, and radio hasn't yet been invented, and one day you ride your horse into town and pay two pennies for a ticket, and watch this. Wow.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fallen Angel (1945)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This noir is a little sluggish about telling its story, but what's your hurry? 

Dana Andrews has a ball playing a scuzzy hustler, and you'll have a ball watching him. He tries his hand at spiritualism, and with the dame at the diner, and marries a different dame at the same time. Just about everyone in the film is unlikable, especially the cop who slips gloves on before beating suspects. 

I wasn't alive so this is just a guess, but I'd say Fallen Angel very well captures the underbelly of small town America in the '40s. Am I too late to get a burger at Pop's Diner?

Directed by Otto Preminger (Skidoo).

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Fallen Idol (1948)
Streaming free at Vimeo

Phillipe is a little boy who lives in a mansion surrounded by servants. The boy's father is always away, his mother is perpetually hospitalized, so he attaches himself to the butler, Mr Baines, because Baines tells exciting stories of killing black people in Africa.

Baines is having an affair, and his wife is presented as quite monstrous, but she won't allow a divorce. When she's fatally splattered, all suspicion falls on the butler. Even the boy thinks he done it. 

The Fallen Idol is a dead serious drama, though it has a few loud laughs when you least expect humor. Judging from the fanciful music as Phillipe prances through the mansion, we're supposed to simply adore the boy, but my sympathy for spoiled millionaire offspring is minimal. Baines' talk of killing black people is less than enthralling, and everything is very hoity toity British, but other than the annoying boy and the racism and being hoity toity British, it's rather damned good.

Written by Graham Greene, and directed by Carol Reed, who teamed up a year later to make The Third Man.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Fantasist (1986)
The Fantasticks
Fantasy Mission Force
Far From Home
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Fallen Angel has such a convoluted and implausible plot but Linda Darnell is just so wonderful in it. There's one scene, in the dancehall, when she smiles and stands up or sits down as Preminger's camera follows her and it makes me melt every time. I could watch the whole movie just to watch her.

    1. I added a few Darnells to my list after Fallen Angel. She has that movie magic that gets your attention, and just this once I don't even mean that in an icky way.

      Wikipedia says, "After her death, a man who said that he was Darnell's fiancé identified her body," a line written so nebulously that it makes me hope it was a ruse, someone else's body, and she instead made her escape from Hollywood and lived happily ever after as the waitress at Pop's Diner.

    2. It's one of those Wikipedia entries that you can feel was written by her #1 fan. A little bit of fanzine spirit that hasn't been totally flushed out yet!

    3. So... you wrote that Wikipedia entry?


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