Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Submitted by Michael Lofthouse
February 13, 2003 Thursday Ontario Edition
SECTION: ENTERTAINMENT; Pg. J14
Vintage glimpses of global exotica
The world became a smaller place during the 20th century, and the principal culprit in this process was the cinema.
In a manner that - for good or ill - blazed the trail for the current news-channel convention of instantly beaming pictures of distant disasters, movies of a bygone era brought geographical and cultural exotica, often in fabulously fabricated renderings, home to movie theatres.
Morocco, Algiers, Casablanca, Shanghai Express - such movie titles held out the promise of exotic transport.
This week, as esteemed anchors from around the world gather in Bagdad in breathless anticipation of a big fat war, let us return to another era in international spectacle. One when an escape abroad still really meant something.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
In this intelligent, exquisitely crafted and completely funny 1932 comedy by the legendary German emigre director Ernst Lubitsch - who was to the American screwball comedy what Busby Berkeley was to the American musical - Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play a pair of urbane and amoral thieves collaborating in a delicious scheme to relieve the glamorous and thoughtless heir to a perfume fortune (Kay Francis) of as many francs as their steamer trunks can carry.
The miracle of the movie - beyond its whip-crack timing, diamond-sharp writing, and smartly sexy hedonism - is how undated and unabashedly adult it remains even after 70 years.
The invitation to venture beyond good behaviour has always been one of the movies' more seductive come-ons, and it was one of Hollywood's more durable strategies to see the entire world outside the American border as a kind of frontier beyond propriety.
Welcome to Paris, a good place to plunder.
PEPE LE MOCO
As well as forging the template for the iconic, tender-tough persona of Jean Gabin - which in turn became the mould in which every subsequent French male movie star, from Montand to Belmondo to Depardieu, was forged - Jean Duvivier's 1936 hard-boiled romantic thriller also set the standard for movie-made visions of North African existential escape.
Watching Gabin, as the master thief Pepe le Moko, elude the police in the silken, teeming labyrinth of a studio Casbah, it's impossible not to see just about every subsequent exercise in fabricated middle-eastern exotica - from Morocco to Casablanca - reflected in its shadows.
Plus there's something eternally heartwrenching about Gabin's particular personification of charismatic, nicotine-stained world-weariness. Where Bogart's cynicism often seemed a cover waiting for the right woman to come and yank off, Gabin's seemed to course more deeply. Which only made his redemption - and subsequent betrayal - by love that much more devastating.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
Shot in London during relentless bombardment by the Nazi Luftwaffe, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's epic 1943 satire of impervious Britishness - as embodied by Roger Livesay's Clive Candy, a career British military man made of equal parts presumption, ignorance, prejudice and bluster - was itself blasted when first released. Even Churchill challenged its propriety.
Based on the walrus-mustached, hawkish magazine cartoon character created by David Low - whose "Colonel Blimp" became a symbol of ossified British imperialism - Powell and Pressburger's splendidly Technicolored film follows the aging but otherwise utterly imperturbable Candy across several continents, three wars and several fraught relationships.
The point that got the movie in much trouble with the political and military establishment of the time was that Candy's lingering crusty Victorianism refused to acknowledge a changing world.
It was one thing to maintain a stiff upper lip while the bombs fell around you. Another to assume it might keep you from getting blown to blazes.
GRAPHIC: In his 1932 film, Trouble In Paradise, Ernst Lubitsch crafted an intelligent, exquisitely crafted and very funny take on plunder in Paris.
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