Les Films du Carrosse, 1973, Color, 116 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Francois Truffaut: "Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach ride in the Old West. At first you hope for a nice trip. Soon you just hope to reach your destination!"

Director Truffaut's Oscar-winning love letter to filmmaking is technically a bit dated, but some parts of the process are eternal- like the constant pressure, the emotional fragility of actors, the complex planning that turns into off-the-cuff improvisation, and, of course, the camaraderie of the crew- which can translate into plenty of sleeping around. In this story, Truffaut plays a version of himself, a director who is willing to put everything he's got into his picture.....and it takes everything he's got to make it through the project, what with the various crises that occur, all of which are based on real-life incidents. From the ill-fated romance of the male lead, Truffaut perennial Jean-Pierre Leaud, to leading lady Jacqueline Bisset's un-insurable mental state, to veteran actress Valentina Cortese's inability to remember her lines, to an uncooperative cat that stops things dead, it's a toss-up as to whether they'll be able to finish in time. Or retain their sanity if they do.

In both of his incarnations here, as the actual director and the film-within-a-film's "Director," Truffaut displays a non-judgmental view of the human follies that multiply when you make a movie. Along with the illumination of the personalities involved, this movie cleverly- and delightedly- reveals the artifice that is part and parcel of a film shoot. The creativity and affection shown make this one of the best movies about movies ever made. Disc extras include various interviews and a vintage featurette.

Columbia, 1950, B&W, 94 mins.- Columbia DVD

Humphrey Bogart: "Well, I've had a lot of experience in matters of this kind- I've killed dozens of people, in pictures."

Indeed he did, as any Bogey fan will tell you. But in no other picture did he delve into the dark side in quite the way he does in this one. His character, a slightly down-on-his-luck screenwriter, has artistic integrity, loyalty, and generosity as part of his makeup- along with a certain coldness which masks a violent, hair-trigger temper. This bad side has gotten him into trouble more than once, and now he finds himself suspected of the murder of a young lady who helped him out with some research for a script assignment. His new neighbor, Gloria Grahame, is able to provide him with something of an alibi, and the two strike some personal sparks. Soon, with her help, he's writing better than he has in years, and everything is looking rosy........except for that nagging unsolved murder. And when Grahame sees Bogart's bad side in action, it plants a seed of doubt that could poison their relationship.

This cult item from director Nicholas Ray raises some interesting questions about the good and bad in all of us, takes a few swipes at the Hollywood system, and lets Bogart shine in a role which wasn't one of his favorites- possibly because it came uncomfortably close to the darker aspects of his real-life personality. This sort of thing would nowadays be cable-movie fodder, but it's interesting to see something so edgy from so long ago, with such a neurotic performance by a major "Tough guy" star. Recommended for fans of that star, and anybody who enjoys film noir-style stories. Disc extras include featurettes on the film and its restoration.

MGM, 1940, B&W, 112 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Katharine Hepburn: "So I'm to be examined, undressed, and generally humiliated at fifteen cents a copy."

The more things change, the more they stay the same. While the prices of tabloid-style magazines have gone up in the past 60 years, they still thrive on items like the one they're after in this story- coverage of publicity-shy blue blood Hepburn's second marriage. Unfortunately for her, hubby number one, Cary Grant, has hooked-up with a glossy rag called Spy and convinces her to allow the coverage by using the time-honored technique of blackmail. Of course, since Hepburn's family are a bunch of screwballs, the representatives of Spy- reluctant writer James Stewart and wisecracking photographer Ruth Hussey- find themselves wondering what hit them.

This classic romantic comedy was written expressly for Hepburn, with the idea of knocking her from her "Box-office poison/ice queen" pedestal- a strategy which displays its seams but which proved to be very successful. The film has all of the snappy, fast-paced dialogue, fun characters, scheming rivalry, role reversals, self-revelations, subterfuge, melodrama, and last-minute surprises that you expect from this sort of thing. Director George Cukor keeps his expert cast fully engaged in the material, aided by the typically glossy production values of "The Lion" (aka MGM). Romantic comedy aficionados will find this bare-bones disc well worth a look, as will fans of Stewart, who won an Oscar for his efforts.


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© Melt Magazine 2003