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Poisonous Pictures

July 27, 2010

by John Farr

John Farr ponders poisonous pictures to play after this week’s Reel 13 Classic, Arsenic and Old Lace.


The Court Jester (1956)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

In merrie old medieval England, an obscure entertainer named Hawkins (Danny Kaye) ends up masquerading as the King’s new jester, and in this influential position, finds himself mixed up in the intrigues of one Sir Ravenheart (Basil Rathbone), a trusted court adviser who has designs on the throne. The plot only gets more comically intricate from there, but who cares when you’re laughing so hard?

WHY I LOVE IT:

The irrepressible Danny Kaye was gifted comic actor who not only touched and entertained millions of children, but at his best, brought out the child in all of us. A hilarious spoof on the swashbuckler picture, “Jester” is widely regarded as his finest hour on-screen. Rathbone does his usual villainous turn to perfection, and the young Johns makes a bewitching love interest. And who can forget that justifiably famous “Vessel with the Pestle” routine? With lots of color, action and excitement framing. A hilarious spoof on the swashbuckler picture, “The Court Jester” is widely regarded as his finest screen hour. With lots of color, action and excitement framing the immortal gags, this is family entertainment at its best.


Romeo and Juliet (1968)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Shot on location in Verona, Italy, this vivid, unconventional retelling of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy is the story of two young people, Romeo and Juliet (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey), who discover a powerful love for each other, but whose union is rendered impossible by a bitter, long-running feud between their two families.

WHY I LOVE IT:

My favorite version of this oft-filmed classic is Zeffirelli’s Oscar-nominated version. Starring two unknowns in the title roles (17-year-old Whiting and 15-year-old Hussey), the movie remains true to Shakespeare, while making the language more accessible to modern audiences. Both Michael York (as Romeo’s nemesis, Tybalt) and Milo O’Shea (as Mercutio) lend strong support, while Zeffirelli’s unabashed romanticism is enhanced by magnificent period detail and a sweeping score from Nino Rota. The story of youthful rebellion also spoke to basic issues arising in the restive sixties. A top-notch rendering of an eternal classic.


Downfall (2004)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

This shattering entry chronicles the last days of World War II in a shattered and encircled Berlin, from the vantage point of the ever-tightening circle around a broken down, delusional Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz). Seen mainly through the eyes of his young secretary Traudl Junge (Maria Lara), the film faithfully recreates events leading to Germany’s unconditional surrender, while painting a vivid character study of Hitler and his small but faithful retinue. A palpable sense of dread and claustrophobia builds throughout the film, as the day of reckoning approaches when the once proud Fuhrer must admit to the utter failure of his twisted vision.

WHY I LOVE IT:

The film’s intense yet intimate portrayal of Hitler’s demise has the crazy, nightmarish feel of a Bosch painting, with a pervasive sense of unreality. Ganz renders Hitler so expertly that the effect is spooky, as if the dead had been brought back to life. Other searing performances come from Juliane Kohler as a curiously cheery, detached Eva Braun, and both Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch make your blood run cold playing the twisted, ever loyal Josef and Magda Goebbels. Finally, the delicate, wide-eyed Lara beguiles as Traudl, a mostly innocent lamb placed by fate right in the center of the wolf’s lair. “Downfall” was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and with good reason.


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  • comments (0)
  • Nikki

    The Court Jester is one of Kaye’s best! “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!” “Get it? Got it. Good.”

    LOVE IT!!!

  • rayban

    My favorite “poisonous picture” is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious”. That final scene in which Ingrid Bergman is rescued from certain death is a totally stunning sequence. Although the text of “Romeo and Juliet” is greatly edited for very young and inexperienced actors, the emotional excess of the film has always drawn me into it.