Herman (Walbrook) is a German captain in the Russian army who is frustrated when he loses his entire year's salary in a card game. So when he hears the legend that an ageing local countess (Evans) traded her soul for the secret for winning at cards, he plots to learn the trick. To get into her house, he woos her ward Liza (Mitchell), who is also the object of affection for another officer (Howard). And when Herman confronts the countess, her reaction is seriously haunting, in every sense of the word.
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The title of Michael Powell's WWII propaganda actioner refers to the boundary separating the United States and Canada. A suitably righteous narrator tells us it's the world's only undefended national border and, as such, befits the values of peace and democracy shared by the two countries. 49th Parallel isn't a strident call to arms meant to guilt-trip Americans into re-thinking their neutrality, but rather a tribute to the Canadian (and to all free-thinking) people who were already involved in the anti-Nazi effort. By praising democratic values and warning of the Nazi threat looming over the free world, 49th Parallel was director Michael Powell's roundabout exhortation to the American people to join the good fight.
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The film is told in flashback and covers the time period from 1902, well before World War I, to 1943, near the end of World War II. In that time the world went through major changes most specifically in the way wars were fought. Clive Candy (played by the hoarse-voiced actor Roger Livesey) is a relic of the past. He is a soldier who defines war by a 19th century paradigm in which war was considered a gentleman's game - an old-fashioned way of thinking about modern combat.
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