Vintage Movies: “Room At The Top”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

Room At The Top (1959, 115 minutes)

Ray Davies, the most creative songwriter produced by the British Invasion of the mid-’60s, admits he was once a fan of the loose-knit English literary movement known as the “angry young men.” In an inspired couplet from his 1973 Kinks song “Where Are They Now?” Davies expresses hope that “Jimmy Porter’s learned to laugh and smile/And Joe Lampton’s learned to live a life of style.”

Porter was a furious wife-abuser in John Osborne’s 1956 play Look Back In Anger, portrayed on the big screen in 1959 by a strapping, young Richard Burton. Lampton was a young man on the make, determined to rise above his working-class roots in John Braine’s 1957 novel Room At The Top. The lean-and-hungry, Jack Clayton-directed 1959 film version features the unflappable Laurence Harvey as Lampton, newly arrived in the fictional Yorkshire town of Warnley to begin work as a civil-service accountant.

As Lampton ogles Susan Brown (Heather Sears) from an office window, co-worker Charles Soames (Donald Houston) warns him against undressing women in the streets. “Is that what you really want, the girl with a Riviera tan? She lives on ‘the top,’ where the money is,” he explains, pointing toward a posh estate on a distant hill. Cool as a pint of best bitter, Lampton replies, “That’s what I’m going to have.”

To get closer to Susan, Lampton enrolls in a local theater group where she’s a member. With uncommon good looks, he’s cast as the leading man in the company’s new production, opposite a woman 10 years his senior, Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret, who won the best-actress Oscar for her heartwrenching performance). During rehearsal, Joe stumbles over a line, “The only sign of light was the watchman sitting by his brassiere” (instead of “brazier”), which elicits a hearty guffaw at the back of the theater from Jack Wales (John Westbrook), Susan’s upper-crust fiancée. Wales, a former R.A.F. squadron leader, interrupts Lampton as he’s describing his wartime capture. “You must tell me about your P.O.W. experiences, sergeant, but some other time,” Wales smirks as he whisks Susan away in his expensive new roadster.

With Susan temporarily out of the picture, Lampton begins a torrid love affair with Alice, whose husband is both abusive and a womanizer. That doesn’t dampen Joe’s desire for Susan, equally matched by his hatred for Wales. “They make me mad,” he rages, “the boys with the big mouths with silver spoons stuck in them.”

During a cozy encounter on an abandoned mattress in a deserted boathouse, Susan tells Joe that his hands are “like warm muffins.” With a light breakfast under his belt, Lampton is now hungry for the full, four-course dinner. What Charles once mockingly described as “the clerk’s dream” is about to become reality.

Vintage Movies: “The Bicycle Thief”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

The Bicycle Thief (1948, in Italian with English subtitles, 93 minutes)

With the 1945 execution of repressive Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, hung upside-down afterward in front of a gas station as proof that he was truly dead, Italy was ripe for a ruggedly honest new direction in cinema. Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, along with early works by Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti, formed the foundation for a hard-hitting, anti-Hollywood movie style called neo-realism that accurately portrayed post-war poverty, was shot mostly on location in grainy black and white and employed many non-professional actors.

The Bicycle Thief (or Bicycle Thieves, as it’s now properly translated from the Italian) is just as touching a journey as the sad plight of immigrants riding the tops of boxcars north from Honduras through Mexico, sitting like stuffed animals in a shooting gallery in Cary Fukinaga’s chilling 2009 film Sin Nombre.

Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) can’t believe his good fortune when his application is chosen from a multitude of the unemployed, and he’s given a job plastering posters on the highways and back streets of Rome. The only pre-requisite is a bicycle, and Ricci’s has been pawned recently for cash to buy food for his family. But his wife, Maria (Lianella Carell) agrees to sell the cherished bed sheets from her dowry to redeem her husband’s two-wheeler. The next morning, after their young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) has meticulously cleaned his dad’s bike, Maria sends the two of them out the door with fritatas wrapped in paper (a big one and a little one) stuffed in their shirt pockets.

Perched high on a wooden ladder while applying paste to an Ava Gardner poster, Antonio is horrified to see someone steal his bicycle. He dashes after the thief through the crowded streets with the fleeting image of his precious job vanishing before his eyes just as surely as his bicycle is disappearing around the next corner. The following day, Antonio, as chiseled and grim as Gary Cooper, and Bruno, his worshipful eyes cast upward toward his father, finally catch a glimpse of the thief and chase him into a nearby brothel.

With time running out to keep his job, Antonio visits a santona, part fortune-teller/part religious adviser, who informs him he’d better find the bike today or it will be too late. A good man near the end of his rope, Antonio stares down temptation of Biblical proportions as he paces back and forth outside a football stadium where hundreds of bicycles are parked, ripe for the taking.

The bittersweet soundtrack of The Bicycle Thief by Alessandro Cicognini, much like the provocative music from Raging Bull, is indebted to the romantic strains of the arias of Giacomo Puccini. It’s the one vibrant color spot here in a deliciously oppressive garden of grey.

Vintage Movies: “Wild Strawberries”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

Wild Strawberries (1957, in Swedish with English subtitles, 91 minutes)

Even the great film director Ingmar Bergman was hesitant to ask his idol, Victor Sjöström, the father of Swedish cinema, to star in the role Bergman specifically created for him in Wild Strawberries. Then 78, Sjöström, whose film career began in 1912, insisted he was too old. But after Bergman agreed to get him home every evening in time for his daily glass of whiskey, Sjöström relented.

Sjöström, as Dr. Isak Borg, is about to travel to a university town to accept a prestigious, lifetime-achievement award. The night before he departs, he has an unsettling dream. Under brittle sunlight, he wanders a deserted part of old Stockholm where the street clock has no hands. Borg taps a faceless man on the shoulder only to have him fall into the gutter in a pool of blood. A driver-less, horse-drawn hearse loses a wheel, and the coffin inside slithers out the back to the cobbled pavement. Irresistibly drawn to the open casket, Borg bends over to discover that he is the dead man inside, now come back to life and clawing at his own arm.

With runaway daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) at the wheel of Borg’s vintage touring car, the pair journeys into the heavily wooded Swedish outback (“where the wild strawberries grow”), a land that awakens bittersweet memories of the summers Borg spent here in his youth. After stopping for gas (with an unexpectedly jaunty cameo by usually dour Bergman leading man Max Von Sydow as the station attendant), Borg offers to give a lift to Sara (Bibi Andersson), a carefree, curly-haired blond dressed in blue jeans, along with her two philosophy-spouting, guitar-strumming traveling companions.

A careless remark from Sara (“I can’t think of anything worse than growing old”) triggers yet another potent dream in the old man. He is ushered into a medical-theater classroom to take a final exam to determine if he’s fit to retain his doctor’s license. A flustered Borg is unable to read the gibberish printed on a blackboard or identify the specimen placed under a microscope. Finally, he’s asked to diagnose the condition of a young lady lying on a gurney in the middle of the room. “Why, the patient is dead,” declares a rattled Borg. At which the would-be corpse sits bolt upright and laughs hysterically.

Although parallels to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (or even Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life) might be drawn, the skillful hand of Bergman steers well clear of the rocky coast of melodrama. When Borg must face himself in an unforgiving mirror on the morning his life’s work is to be honored, it’s apparent he recognizes, instead of a hero, a lonely old man with a lifetime of moral baggage. And he wouldn’t change a thing.

Vintage Movies: “The World Of Henry Orient”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

The World Of Henry Orient (1964, 107 minutes)

As a shower of homework papers is blown into the Hudson River from the esplanade of Battery Park, two teenage girls meet while frantically trying to retrieve the runaway schoolwork. Both about 14, Valerie Boyd (Tippy Walker) is a fast-talking, extroverted brunette, and Marian Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth) is a soft-spoken, pigtailed blond who spouts epithets more appropriate to her grandmother, like “For gosh sakes!” and “Golly Moses!” Both are newly enrolled at an exclusive girls’ school in Manhattan and friendless. The bonding is complete when they compare their orthodontic hardware.

This delightful tale of blooming female adolescence, directed by George Roy Hill (The Sting, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid), is a loving snapshot of New York City in 1964, now also gone with the wind. “I’m unmanageable,” confesses Boyd as she tells Gilbert about her weekly visits to a psychiatrist. Laying low in Central Park on Saturday morning, pretending to be chased by Chinese bandits, the pair hears the sound of heavy breathing from just beyond their hiding place. It’s Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), a second-rate, pencil-mustached concert pianist, trying to put the make on Stella Dunnworthy (Paula Prentiss), a reluctant (and married) potential conquest.

Boyd immediately falls in love with the patent-leather-haired Lothario, whose fake Spanish accent can’t conceal his Brooklyn roots. “You can tell the whole world that Valerie Campbell Boyd loves and completely adores the great and beautiful Henry Orient, world without end, amen,” she tells Gilbert. The two prick their forefingers with a geometry protractor and swear a blood oath to follow the object of their newfound devotion, night and day.

Dressed in straw coolie hats and calling themselves Cherry Blossom and Golden Bells, Val and Gil spend all their spare time stalking a jumpy Orient, constantly on the lookout for jealous husbands. After eyeballing their man from the front window of a restaurant, Boyd falls into a mock love-sick swoon, attracting a crowd of passersby. A doctor (Fred Stewart) offering his services gets surly when the pair admits it was only a joke. “A joke, huh? You know what doctors do with people who make jokes like that? We take ’em to the hospital and have their stomachs pumped out.”

Fresh from his breakthrough American film role as Clare Quilty, the man who stole a teenage Lolita from obsessive, middle-aged professor Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, Sellers was an obvious choice as Orient. But the real scene-stealers here are the irresistible pairing of Walker and Spaeth. Like Elle Fanning in Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere, these two were caught at exactly the right age, down to the month. When you find adolescent talent like this, you’d better shoot fast, because these kids will grow up right before your eyes.

Vintage Movies: “Walkabout”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

Walkabout (1971, 100 minutes)

You may have seen Breaking Away, The Graduate, American Graffiti and Juno, and you may well have read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye or Carson McCullers’ The Member Of The Wedding. But if you’ve missed Nicolas Roeg’s enthralling 1971 directorial debut, Walkabout, you’ve never encountered a coming-of-age story quite like this one. It strips the concept down to its bare bones.

After work one day, a father drives his teenage daughter and young son deep into the rugged Australian outback for a picnic, then, without warning, opens fire on the kids with a pistol as they scramble to safety. “Come out now and bring him with you,” he bellows at the girl before setting fire to the car and shooting himself in the head.

The girl, played by 16-year-old Jenny Agutter, still dressed in her school uniform of short skirt and wide-brimmed hat, immediately takes charge as if she’d practiced for this event all her life. She scoops up the picnic supplies and sets off with her six-year-old brother (played by Luc Roeg, the director’s son) on the grueling trek back to their home in faraway Adelaide. “I tore my blazer,” confesses the boy after falling. “It doesn’t matter,” says the girl, comfortingly. By the third day, they stumble upon an oasis with a fruit tree and a pool of water. But that only prolongs the inevitable. A few days later, under the broiling sun, she accepts defeat and goes to sleep as the buzzards circle overhead.

The girl wakes up, blinking hard, to find a young aborigine (David Gulpilil, also 16) with two dead lizards hanging from the belt of his loin cloth, trying to spear a kangaroo. He’s on his “walkabout,” a tribal rite of passage that requires a teenage boy to survive in the wild for six months. Although he speaks no English, he shares his simple dinner with the girl and her brother and shows them how to suck water from the ground. He also offers to help them find their way home, never a sure thing. Just as uncertain is the changing relationship between the two teenagers as they wander this untamed land.

Roeg, who’d previously co-directed Mick Jagger in 1970’s Performance and was director of photography for Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 in 1966, made Walkabout on the fly. He got tips on wilderness shooting locations from locals and intercut menacing shots of wombats, spiked reptiles and frenzied insects as he found them. “No acting was required,” said Agutter, decades later, of the direction Roeg gave her. The soundtrack by the prolific John Barry (James Bond, Born Free, The Ipcress File) makes eerie use of the girl’s former schoolgirl chorale, which helps give Walkabout a melancholy rather than heroic veneer.

Vintage Movies: “It’s A Gift”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

It’s A Gift (1934, 68 minutes)

It’s A Gift is really little more than a series of hilarious set pieces from the brilliant comic mind of W.C. Fields. More measured in pace than the zany antics of the Marx Brothers, Fields’ best screen moments are slow-burners, featuring routines perfected in his early days as a vaudeville comedian/juggler. Unlike the self-inflicted predicaments of Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiam, Fields is seldom the author of his own misfortune. Instead, he’s trapped in a marriage to a shrewish wife (Amelia, played to the hilt here by Kathleen Howard) with rude children. Fields’ only defense is his understated, Midwestern monotone, martini-dry with sarcasm.

Fields as Harold Bissonette (pronounced “Beesonay,” insists Amelia) runs a corner grocery in New Jersey but dreams of owning an orange grove in sunny California. He’s constantly tripping over roller skates left on the stairs by his young son, Norman (Tom Bupp). “What’s the matter, Pop, don’t you love me anymore?” asks Norman over breakfast. Amelia is aghast when Harold attempts to smack the kid. “Well, he’s not gonna tell me I don’t love him,” mutters Harold.

In one of the great comic scenes ever, Bissonette screams at his oafish shop assistant, “Open the door for Mr. Muckle, the blind man!” Too late. Mr. Muckle (Charles Sellon) has already put his cane through the grocery store’s glass front door. “You got that door closed again, huh?” says Muckle as he teeters precariously, swinging his cane over a huge pile of unwrapped light bulbs.

Trying to escape his nagging wife in the wee hours to get some shut-eye, Bissonette takes refuge outside on a rickety, second-floor porch-swing. “Sweet repose,” he murmurs as the milkman arrives in squeaky shoes, rattling his bottles and dropping off a coconut at the apartment upstairs. The runaway Hawaiian delicacy then bounces noisily down the wooden steps, punctuated on each floor by crashing into a garbage can.

Next up is an insurance salesman (T. Ray Barnes) who shouts out at the drowsy Bissonette: “Do you know a man named Carl LaFong? Large L, small A, large F, small O, small N, small G. I hear he’s interested in an annuity policy.” The eager salesman climbs the stairs to peddle life insurance to Bissonette. “For five dollars a month, you can retire when you’re 90,” he says. An exasperated Bissonette chases the salesman downstairs with a meat cleaver, mumbling, “I suppose if I lived to be 200, I’d get a velocipede.”

Loaded down with their worldly possessions, the Bissonettes are soon motoring through Depression-era America to a new life on a California orange ranch, purchased sight-unseen by Harold with an inheritance from his Uncle Bean. What could possibly go wrong with such a carefully calculated change in lifestyle?

Vintage Movies: “Black Orpheus”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

Black Orpheus (1959, in Portuguese with English subtitles, 100 minutes)

Black Orpheus is that rare movie where the music is so infectious, it dances through your head for days afterward. Shot in gorgeous color during Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, director Marcel Camus’ groundbreaking film sports a soundtrack, written and played by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá, that introduced the world to Brazil’s bossa nova, a slippery-yet-melodic jazz/pop idiom with the samba as its aorta, pumping an irresistible rhythm to all parts of the body.

The picture broke important cultural barriers, too, with its all-black cast. Even though they weren’t filmed kissing onscreen, Breno Mello, with his Harry Belafonte-like good looks, and wholesome, girl-next-door beauty Marpessa Dawn helped the film gain traction in what had previously been a mostly lily-white, art-house movie crowd.

Anyone with an elementary knowledge of Greek mythology would know that when a shy country girl named Eurydice (Dawn) meets a carefree trolley driver named Orpheus (Mello) during the orchestrated chaos of Brazil’s version of Mardi Gras, there might be trouble brewing. A jumpy Eurydice has fled to Rio to stay with her cousin, Serafina (Léa Garcia, a rail-thin Venus Williams lookalike), to escape a spurned suitor from her hometown. Dressed as Death in a skeleton suit and skull mask, the stalker has also arrived in the big city to spy on his prey by mingling with the garishly costumed crowd, endlessly dancing to the throbbing strains of “O Nosso Amor.”

Benedito (Jorge Dos Santos) and Zeca (Aurino Cassiano) are two refreshing young kids who worship Orpheus for his guitar and vocal prowess. They believe that when he picks out a melancholy tune on his guitar (“Manha De Carnaval”), he makes the sun rise. Both pre-teens showcase gravity-defying dance moves that might have brought a smile to the face of the young Michael Jackson. Although the vibe of the city may have been sanitized somewhat for Black Orpheus, it’s still unsettling to see how the marauding gangs of machine-gun-wielding teenagers portrayed in 2002’s City Of God have changed Rio’s large-screen face in a mere 40 years.

Black Orpheus, too, has its violent moments. In a ballet-like confrontation high on the shantytown cliffs overlooking the city center, the masked man warns Orpheus over Eurydice’s unconscious body, “Take good care of her—I’m in no hurry,” before vanishing into the night. Next morning, Orpheus decides to conceal Eurydice’s identity by dressing her as the heavily veiled Sun Queen in his Babilonia neighborhood’s dance-troupe entry in the sprawling parade that highlights Carnaval. Clad in a flashy Roman gladiator’s outfit and brandishing a gold-tinfoil-covered cardboard sun, Orpheus and his newfound love dance off, down the steep hill, to meet their destiny.

Vintage Movies: “The 400 Blows”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

The 400 Blows (1959, in French with English subtitles, 99 minutes)

For a few fleeting seconds, the camera focuses through the bars of the back door of a moving police van and catches the pathetic young face of Antoine Doinel as tears, reflected in the Paris moonlight, stream down his face. Doinel (perfectly underplayed by a babyfaced 13-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud) has been caught with a typewriter he’s stolen from his father’s office building. Although he’s not old enough to shave, he’s about to become acquainted with the criminal-justice system, accompanied to his first police booking by a pair of weary prostitutes. The 400 Blows, François Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical 1959 directorial debut, is now considered a bulwark of French new-wave cinema.

For Antoine, it all starts at home, in a flat so tiny his mother (Claire Maurier) must step around his bed to get to the bathroom after arriving home late from a “year-end inventory” session with her boss. His father (Albert Rémy) is more concerned with his automobile club than raising a child born a year before he met Antoine’s mother. The boy’s school life is just as miserable. One dictatorial teacher (Guy Decomble)—dubbed “sourpuss” by his students—deals out stinging slaps to the face of anyone found delinquent.

There are occasional tender moments in Antoine’s life. He sits brushing his hair, peering into his mother’s mirror while a melancholy bossa-nova guitar gently weeps in the background. But it’s mostly Antoine clumsily forging an “illness” excuse in his mother’s handwriting, or the young boy turning pale at a bus stop while two old crones gossip about a bloody Caesarean section. Even Antoine’s finer impulses run aground. When the candle he’s lit in a shrine to Balzac ignites his bedroom wall in the middle of dinner, the boy gets his ears boxed by his dad.

Antoine and close pal René (Patrick Auffay) cut school frequently to play pinball at an arcade and spend long hours at the local cinema on money stolen from their parents. With home and school now becoming impossible, Antoine decides to run away and spends his first night solo sleeping in a local print shop. It’s so cold the next morning, he must crack the ice in a public fountain to wash his face before he steals a bottle of milk from a nearby doorstep.

The camera relentlessly follows the truant Antoine as he’s pinned by centrifugal force against the rotating wall of a circular amusement-park ride. As he stumbles to the ground afterward, barely able to walk and totally disoriented, it’s a harbinger of things to come. There are greater forces at work here that will soon spin Antoine’s young life totally out of control.

Vintage Movies: “Diabolique”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every Friday.

Diabolique (1955, in French with English subtitles, 116 minutes)

When the wife and the mistress of a misogynistic French schoolmaster retrieve a large wicker trunk from the attic, then stuff a waterproof tablecloth and a doctored bottle of liquor into it, you get the feeling they’re not just planning a picnic in the country. A harrowing thriller that borrows some of its best elements from Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 masterpiece Diabolique in turn influenced Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho. It’s obvious, too, that Diabolique must have been studied long and hard by the Coen brothers before they shot their first feature, Blood Simple, in 1984.

Resembling then-current U.S. TV star Jack Webb (Dragnet), arrogant school principal Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) believes in equal treatment for women: He bullies them all, even forcing himself on his fragile wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot, the director’s spouse), who has a heart condition and is contemplating divorce. The next morning, she has to carefully navigate around her snoring husband to locate a missing shoe before gaining her freedom. Delassalle’s bit on the side, the impulsive Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret, later to sizzle with Laurence Harvey in Room At The Top), has a plan for a more permanent solution to the ladies’ problems.

As an unofficial signpost to the end of the film-noir era, the black-and-white camera work here by Armand Thirard is exquisite, lots of crisscross shadows, eerily lit rooms and overloaded bookcases full of mysterious objects—some of it photographed from a bird’s-eye shooting angle.

“A man who runs after his wife looks ridiculous,” snaps Delassalle when he tracks down Christina in Nicole’s country flat after a 10-hour drive from the private school he rules with an iron fist. All she can do is clutch at her heart in fear and back away. When Delassalle goes missing, Alfred Fichet (Charles Vanel), a retired police inspector keeping his hand in, volunteers his services to the distraught wife. Much like the policeman in Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment, Fichet plays the good cop to get closer to a “person of interest.”

The kids at the school, like those in Laurent Cantet’s uber-realistic 2008 film The Class, are all but out of control. The best student athlete, however, volunteers to dive into a filthy swimming pool to retrieve Nicole’s keys and comes up, instead, with Delassalle’s cigarette lighter. The pool, Christina and Nicole decide, must be drained. Just like Janet Leigh did for motel shower-curtains, after squirming through Diabolique, you may never again feel the overpowering urge to take a bath late at night in a deserted house. Or jump into a murky, weed-infested pool, even in broad daylight.

Vintage Movies: “Mon Oncle”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost plans to share some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, will appear every Friday.

Mon Oncle (1958, in French with English subtitles, 116 minutes)

Anyone who recently fell under the spell of the charismatic, Oscar-nominated animated feature The Illusionist should spend a night with director Jacques Tati’s wonderful Oscar-winning French comedy Mon Oncle. A tall, middle-aged man with a stiff-legged gait, dressed in a thigh-length raincoat, rumpled hat and trousers that don’t quite reach his ankles, played by Tati himself, is the main character in both films. He’s Monsieur Hulot, back for a second appearance in Mon Oncle (in color this time) after 1953’s black-and-white gem Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a delightful send-up of summer days at the beach. Always puffing on a pipe with a bemused smile for anything that smacks of post-World War II modernism, Hulot, like British composer Ray Davies, has little use for the modern world. And Mon Oncle supplies him with plenty of easy targets.

Hulot’s brother-in-law, Charles Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola), manages a plastic-hose factory (called Plastac) and is the proud owner of a thoroughly sterile, mid-century modern home, painted concrete grey and full of labor-saving devices. Two large porthole-like, front-window eyes stare blankly at the remote-control-operated garage door. Arpel’s wife (Adrienne Servantie) greets guests by traipsing up a ludicrous, serpentine, concrete walkway that winds through a “garden” composed mostly of painted gravel. Whenever someone arrives (unless, of course, it’s only the plumber or a delivery man), she switches on a preposterous, upright, aluminum-fish fountain that spouts water heaven-ward.

Gerard (Alain Becort), Hulot’s nephew, dislikes his home and micro-managed lifestyle, but dearly loves his uncle, who picks him up at a school called Ecole and watches as the neighborhood kids whistle at passers-by next to a lamp post until one of them is distracted enough to walk into it. The Arpels are intent on getting Hulot a job anywhere, even in Arpel’s factory. But Hulot, a character who draws heavily on the carefree lifestyle of Stan Laurel, seems content in his cheery upstairs flat, a place where he can adjust a front window to reflect sunshine onto a nearby caged canary to provide music anytime he likes. A pack of carefree dogs roams throughout Hulot’s bustling neighborhood, symbolizing a lifestyle doomed to change.

Hulot has practically no dialog in the picture. Tati once worked in the theater as a mime, and his greatest contribution to film may be to permanently erase from memory the creaky stereotype of the French pantomime artist. There’s no one here with a face painted white, dressed in a black-and-white striped jersey and a beret trying to portray a man walking against the wind, or someone trapped in a glass phone booth. There’s only Tati as the loveable uncle you may have been lucky enough to have in your own family.