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The Natural

I’ve just about had it with directors who use the mythic mode as an alibi for unshaded characterizations, simpleminded plotting, and swells of artificial emotionality. Barry Levinson’s 1984 film preserves the Arthurian imagery of Bernard Malamud’s baseball novel while stripping away all its darkness and irony; what’s left is a sappy tale of youthful purity […]

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She Married Her Boss

Not as bright as the best of Gregory La Cava’s improvisational comedies (My Man Godfrey, Stage Door), this 1935 effort still features some memorable moments (in a department store window) and a moving, melancholic subtext. Claudette Colbert, livelier than usual, is an executive secretary who marries her employer (Melvyn Douglas), only to find their relationship […]

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The Lower Depths

Based on Gorky’s play, this is definitely not Jean Renoir’s greatest film; it seems cramped and tenuous (1936). Still, it carries some interest in its curious blend of tones and styles—it oscillates between vaudeville turns and stark tragedy. The cast, not distinguished, includes Jean Gabin, Louis Jouvet, and Vladimir Sokolov.

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The Human Comedy

Not the best example of director Clarence Brown’s work, this 1943 film is nevertheless faithful to William Saroyan’s achingly sentimental novel about a boy’s awakening maturity in the midst of war. If you can stand a teenage Mickey Rooney for nearly two hours, you’ll find it a solid piece of Americana. With Frank Morgan, Marsha […]

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Till the Clouds Roll By

Robert Walker makes a nervous Jerome Kern in this mediocre MGM musical biography, which has a large cameo cast and some uncredited direction by Vincente Minnelli (on wife Judy Garland’s numbers) in its favor. I wouldn’t want to be the MGM lawyer who let the copyright slip on this expensive Technicolor production—it’s now in the […]

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Marriage in the Shadows

Kurt Maetzig, an assistant in the German film industry, joined the communist underground to fight the Nazis, and after the war became one of the leading filmmakers in the newly created German Democratic Republic. His 1947 debut, a study of a “mixed marriage” under Hitler that becomes an indictment of the German intelligentsia’s refusal to […]