“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Paul Newman’s 1st Movie: “The Silver Chalice” (1954)

A young Greek artist, Basil (Paul Newman), is commissioned to cast the cup of Jesus in silver, and sculpt around its rim, the faces of the disciples and Jesus. He travels to Jerusalem, then eventually, to Rome to complete the task. Meanwhile, a magician, Simon (Jack Palance), is trying to convince Caesar and the Romans that he is the new Messiah. James Dean was offered the role of Basil, but he and his agent thought the script was poor. Newman, who was a finalist for the role of Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) that eventually was played by Dean, and made him a star, took the role, which Newman later regretted. While shooting East of Eden, Dean went over to visit Newman on the set of this film, where he met the love of his short life, a young Italian actress- Pier Angeli (Deborra, a Jewish merchant’s daughter/convert to Christianity).

I had a cocktail dress. Nero had a cocktail gown. -Newman (joking re: costumes in this movie)

Let’s begin with the good points; it got 2 Oscar noms- one for William Skall’s color cinematography and the other for Franz Waxman’s musical score. A teen Natalie Wood makes a brief appearance. That’s it- sorry to say! The story is boring, it drags b/c of its long running time, and the dialogue is bad (which caused some viewers to laugh). There are some sad-looking (minimalist) sets which were obviously built on a soundstage. No one can call a movie “epic” w/ sets like that! Newman is looking gorgeous (as usual); his legs aren’t “too skinny for a toga,” as he later commented. You can tell he had no direction; he doesn’t seem to know where to turn or how to say a line! As a young actor, Newman said that he was “cerebral, rather than intuitive.” I’ve never heard of this director, Victor Saville, so maybe he left Hollywood? Mayo seems to be sleepwalking, while Palance is SO campy at times (that some viewers admitted they were entertained). Of course there are worse movies than this, BUT you don’t need to watch!


[1] The Silver Chalice is best remembered for a Variety ad that Paul Newman took out after he got famous and apologized for, not only his performance in this film, but also the film itself. Of course, doing something like this is only going to get people interested in the film, so I’m sure many people have watched this because of Newman’s plea for you not to.

[2] They [actors] are hindered by very sketchily written characters and as dreary and stilted a script as you can get… Victor Saville’s direction never comes to life and the story feels overlong, stodgy and over-stretched with scenes that are either stagey, superfluous or unintentionally funny…

[3] Mayo looks as though she just left the chorus line of The Goldwyn Girls and had the artists paint her eyebrows in what someone must have assumed would resemble women of antiquity. She saunters around in her veiled costumes as though she is about to break out into a burlesque queen’s rendition of a bump and grind song number.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

In My Ear (June 2022): Podcast Episodes for Cinephiles

The Feminist Frequency (hosted by Anita Sarkeesian):

1950s Hollywood with Alonso Duralde, author & podcaster (Breakfast All Day)
Femme Fatale: 1940s Hollywood & Film Noir w/ Julie Grossman, literature & film studies professor
30s Hollywood: Did the Hays code actually create opportunities for queer subtext? w/ Patricia White, professor

You Must Remember This (created/hosted by Karina Longworth):

For Fans of the Erotic Thriller Genre (my “guilty pleasure” in pandemic life):

1988: KEVIN COSTNER, SEAN YOUNG, NO WAY OUT & BULL DURHAM (EROTIC 80S PART 11) /JUNE 13, 2022

1987: FATAL ATTRACTION AND DIRTY DANCING (EROTIC 80S PART 10) / JUNE 6, 2022

1986: 9 ½ WEEKS, MICKEY ROURKE & ZALMAN KING (EROTIC 80S PART 9) / MAY 30, 2022

1985: FEAR SEX. JAGGED EDGE & AIDS (EROTIC 80S PART 8) / MAY 23, 2022

For Fans of Classic Films:

SIX DEGREES OF JOAN CRAWFORD: THE MIDDLE YEARS (MILDRED PIERCE TO JOHNNY GUITAR) /AUGUST 29, 2016

HE RAN ALL THE WAY: JOHN GARFIELD (THE BLACKLIST EPISODE #6) /MARCH 14, 2016

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, & Lena Olin

Tereza: I know I’m supposed to help you, but I can’t. Instead of being your support I’m your weight. Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can’t bear this lightness, this freedom… I’m not strong enough.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young/apolitical/doctor in 1960s Czechoslovakia; he lives the life of a Casanova, working his charm on many women. He is involved w/ a sophisticated artist (“friends w/ benefits” would be the term today), Sabina (Lena Olin). On a trip to operate on a patient in a rural town, he meets/falls hard for a shy waitress, Tereza (Juliette Binoche). In time, Tomas asks Sabina to help find a job for Tereza. The two women (opposites in many ways) meet, share an interest in photography, and become close friends. These three characters are are caught up in the events of the Prague Spring of 1968, until Soviet tanks crush the (non-violent) rebels, and change their lives forever.

Tomas: Some people never change. Some people are always scoundrels.

This is the type of film to recommend to anyone who thinks they can’t be “wowed” by movies anymore! DDL was just 30 y.o. when this film was shot- wow! This is his 1st big movie; he played a quirky/supporting role in A Room with a View (1985). DDL at first turned down the role, feeling the script made Tomas too nice. The script was revised and things from the book (by Milan Kundera) were added, making the character less “perfect.” Speaking of perfection… Roger Ebert wrote that Binoche was “almost ethereal in her beauty and innocence” after watching 23 y.o. French woman’s performance. As the French say: Vive La Binoche! Swedish-born Olin (32 y.o.) has her American film debut; some of today’s single/childfree/independent-minded women may relate to her character. Speaking of Swedes… Stellan Skarsgard (mid-30s) has a small, BUT pivotal role in the 3rd act.

To me, thoughts are fun and art is fun. The strength of our society should not be idle entertainments, but the joy of pursuing ideas. -Philip Kaufman, director

If you want fame, and a beautiful statue made of yourself, don’t be a screenwriter. The writer disappears. He works in the shade. -Jean-Claude Carriere, screenwriter

I was surprised to learn that the director, Philip Kaufman, is an American (NOT European, as I’d assumed). The cinematographer (a respected veteran in his field) is Swedish; Sven Nykvist was know for giving the films he worked on the simplest and most natural look imaginable. Milos Forman personally offered Kaufman the opportunity to direct the movie. Forman had to pass the chance to direct b/c he still had family in Czechoslovakia; he feared for them in case of a negative reaction from the Soviet government (occupying the country at the time). The sequence depicting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia incorporates real documentary footage of the era shot by students of Prague Film School.

[1] Romanticism originally doesn’t mean romance. The 19th century romantic hero was always a doomed one. The romantic characters long for something larger than life. The frailness, lightness of things is unbearable to those sensitive beings. This is why romantic stories typically end with the death of their heroes. Romanticism is the opposite of Hollywood, as there is no happy end. The epitome of a romantic story is for example “Romeo and Juliet”, where death is preferred to an impossible love story.

Because such intense feelings are a threat, some people try to escape them by taking nothing seriously.

[2] There has been many threesomes in cinematic history. The acting power in these three is one of best. Daniel is able to make the charismatic cad likable. Lena is sexual dynamite. Juliette is pure magic in this one. It is a great threesome against the backdrop of compelling political turmoil.

[3] Highlighting this impeccable picture are three sensational performances, a masterfully adapted screenplay full of beautiful and intriguing dialogue and quite possible the finest cinematography of the ’80s. Day-Lewis perfectly encompasses the charm of Tomas with a subtle charisma that keeps my eyes glued to him every time he appears on screen. The young Juliette Binoche is adorable, shy and emotionally powerful, but also plays it off very subtly. Lena Olin is overwhelmingly seductive and crafts a sense of freedom unlike any I’ve ever seen. These characters are all very human which means they have their fair share of flaws and the performances capture every essence of them so perfectly.

[4] …the film itself has stayed in my mind like few others. Yes, it’s very long, but the characters are so memorable that the length didn’t bother me at all – I loved the time spent in their company. In particular, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin are each astonishing in their own way. Olin is ferociously sensual and mesmerizing, while Binoche is superlatively sympathetic and sensitive. Two of the best female performances I can remember. By the end of the film I was totally wrapped up in these people’s lives. This film is deeply erotic but in an intelligent and adult way…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Lost in La Mancha” (2002)

They’ve got a story… but have lost the plot. -Tagline for the film

You may’ve heard that some movies languish in “production hell” for years. This is a documentary film from directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe; they’d intended to shoot the development and pre-production of Terry Gilliam’s (long-awaited) movie- The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. After the movie had to shutdown, Fulton and Pepe were wary of finishing their film, but Gilliam commented: “someone has to get a film out of this. I guess it’s going to be you.” The narrator of the doc is Jeff Bridges, one of Gilliam’s favorite actors.

I think he’s a little bit the Quixote. He’s the dreamer, the idealist. The one who sees things that the rest of us humans can’t see. -Benjamin Fernandez, Production Designer

Before filming begins, Gilliam had to move from Hollywood studio to European financing. The budget was cut from $40M to $32M (V high by European standards). Gilliam is a dreamer (like Quixote), so his vision is uncompromising. His department heads will have to do a LOT w/ what little they’ve been given. During pre-production and filming in Spain, what the director can’t foresee ALL the problems that will arise!

Terry, as we all well know, has the tendency of overloading everything. I mean, there is nothing ever simple and plain. -Nicola Pecorini, Director of Photography (D.P.)

I learned that Orson Welles tried to make his own version of this tale, BUT he failed several times! We’re taken through the pre-production, as we learn about what Gilliam and his co-writer (Tony Grisoni) changed around with the classic Cervantes story. A commercial director named Toby (Johnny Depp) gets sent back in time to where Don Quixote (French actor Jean Rochefort) mistakes him for Sancho Panza, his peasant sidekick; they go on adventures through the book’s stories. There is a brief animated sequence where we learn that Gilliam’s films (aside from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) have been risks taken by Hollywood studios, but they made money and received critical acclaim.

[As a storm comes in, disrupting filming] Which is it, King Lear or Wizard of Oz? -Gilliam

There are humorous scenes w/ the (V large/jolly) men auditioning to play giants. We see a young/optimistic Johnny Depp giving input to Gilliam and rehearsing a few scenes; he looks gorgeous! Depp’s former wife, French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis, is mentioned a few times, though NOT seen much in the doc. She was cast as the female lead and did some costume tests. The extras didn’t have time to rehearse. It turns out that the main location (a nature preserve) is where planes make a LOT of noise up above. There is a powerful thunderstorm that pauses filming; the equipment has to be protected and the people race for cover! We hear that 70 y.o. old Rochefort (who’d been learning English for 6+ mos.) has a prostate infection (so it’s TOO painful for him to ride a horse).

Making a film with Terry is like riding a bareback pony. Just grab onto the mane, dig in the heels and the knees, and hang on, ’cause you’re in for the ride of your life. -Phil Patterson, First Assistant Director

The production company (French) is V worried, an insurance company (American) becomes involved, and Gilliam is losing control (and he knows it). Someone has to be let go, so Phil Patterson (who as First A.D. is to handle the other matters while the director works w/ actors) decides to quit instead of being fired. The crew had a good sense of humor and were V committed, BUT the movie had to shutdown. D.P. Nicola Pecorini (Italian) ended up working on the final film- which came out in 2017. He did an impressive job (b/c the cinematography is V beautiful)!

“Lost in La Mancha” is an enjoyable celebration of those who tilt at windmills. -Excerpt from IMDB review