Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Jamaica Inn - A 1939 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock - Run Time 1 hour 34 minutes- Starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara

 Available on YouTube 

Jamaica Inn was adapted from Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel of the same name. It is the first of three of du Maurier's works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were her novel Rebecca and short story "The Birds"). It stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara in her first major screen role. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.

The film is set in 1820 in Cornwall, England, and tells the story of Mary Yellan (O'Hara), a young woman who goes to live with her aunt and uncle at the Jamaica Inn, a remote hostelry on Bodmin Moor. She soon discovers that her uncle, Joss Merlyn (Laughton), is the leader of a gang of wreckers who lure ships to their doom on the Cornish coast in order to steal their cargo.

Jamaica Inn is a classic Hitchcock film, with all the hallmarks of his style: suspenseful plot, atmospheric setting, and memorable characters. The film is also notable for its stunning cinematography, which captures the beauty and wildness of the Cornish landscape.

The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it is now considered to be one of Hitchcock's best films. It is a must-see for fans of classic cinema, suspense, and adventure.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Seven Samurai- A 1954 Movie Directed by Akira Kurosawa - Run Time 3 Hours 30 minutes

A very illuminating commentary 

"The movie is long (207 minutes), with an intermission, and yet it moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep. Nobody could photograph men in action better than Kurosawa. One of his particular trademarks is the use of human tides, sweeping down from higher places to lower ones, and he loves to devise shots in which the camera follows the rush and flow of an action, instead of cutting it up into separate shots. His use of closeups in some of the late battle scenes perhaps was noticed Orson Welles, who in "Falstaff” conceals a shortage of extras by burying the camera in a Kurosawian tangle of horses, legs, and swords." Roger Ebert 

Seven Samurai (七人の侍, Shichinin no Samurai) is a 1954 Japanese epic samurai film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Taking place in 1586 in the Sengoku period of Japanese history, it follows the story of a village of desperate farmers who seek to hire rōnin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.

The film stars Toshirō Mifune as Kikuchiyo, a wild and unruly samurai who is initially rejected by the farmers but eventually proves to be one of their most valuable allies. The other samurai are played by Takashi Shimura, Yukiko Shimazaki, Yoshio Inaba, Keisuke Hama, Daisuke Katō, and Seiji Miyaguchi.

Seven Samurai was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest films ever made. It has been praised for its epic scope, its complex and well-developed characters, its stunning visuals, and its timeless themes of good versus evil, courage, and sacrifice.

The film has also been highly influential, inspiring countless other films and television shows, including the Hollywood Western The Magnificent Seven (1960). Seven Samurai is a truly essential film for any fan of cinema.

Here are some of the things that make Seven Samurai so special:

Its epic scope and scale. The film is over three hours long and features a cast of dozens of characters, but Kurosawa never loses control of the story. He masterfully weaves together the different storylines and character arcs to create a film that is both both intimate and epic.

Its complex and well-developed characters. Each of the seven samurai is a unique and memorable character, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Kurosawa also takes the time to develop the characters of the farmers, and the relationship between the samurai and the villagers is one of the most compelling aspects of the film.

Its stunning visuals. Seven Samurai is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai use a variety of techniques, such as deep focus, low-angle shots, and sweeping camera movements, to create a truly immersive and cinematic experience

Mel Ulm .

Monday, September 18, 2023

Sabatoge -A 1936 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock - Run Time 1 hour and 16 minutes - starring Sylvia Sidney, John Lodger and Oskar Homolka

Available on YouTube 

 Sabatoge is loosely based on Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent, about a woman who discovers that her husband, a London shopkeeper, is a terrorist agent.

In the film, Karl Verloc (Homolka) is a mild-mannered owner of a London movie theater, but he is secretly a terrorist agent working for a foreign power. His wife, Sylvia (Sidney), is unaware of his activities, and he uses her young brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester), to deliver bombs to various targets.

When Scotland Yard detective Ted Spencer (Loder) goes undercover investigate you husband she becomes suspicious and initiates her own investigation.

Sabotage is one of Hitchcock's lesser-known films, but it is still considered to be a classic example of his filmmaking style. It features many of the elements that Hitchcock is known for, such as suspenseful sequences, complex characters, and dark humor.

The film was also notable for its realistic depiction of terrorism, which was a relatively new topic at the time. It was released in the years leading up to World War II, and it is thought that Hitchcock was inspired by the rise of fascism in Europe.

I found the closing of the film very exciting with tragic and gratifying elements woven together 

Mel Ulm

Sunday, September 17, 2023

That Uncertain Feeling - A 1941 Film Directed by Ernst Lubitsch - Run Tims 1 hour and 41 Minutes

 That Uncertain Feeling - A 1941 Film Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst lubitsch 
Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany
Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

So far my two favourite films from Ernst Lubitsch are Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.

Today's film is about the bored wife of an insurance salesman who meets an eccentric pianist and seeks a divorce.

Jill Baker (Oberon) is a socialite who is married to Larry (Douglas), a successful insurance executive. Jill's life seems perfect, but she is secretly unhappy in her marriage. Larry is so focused on his work that he neglects Jill, and she feels like she is losing herself.

One day, Jill goes to see a psychoanalyst, Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray), for help with her hiccups. During her first visit, Jill realizes that her hiccups may be related to her unhappiness in her marriage. Upon her second visit, Jill meets a famous pianist, Alexander Sebastian (Meredith), and her doubts about her marriage are intensified when he starts courting her. There are complex emotional developments I will leave for first time viewers to enjoy as I did.

The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress for Oberon and Best Original Screenplay for Walter Reisch and Donald Ogden Stewart.

Mel Ulm

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Uncls Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - 185

 Harriet Beecher Stowe
Born: June 14, 1811, Litchfield, Connecticut,
Died: July 1, 1896, Hartford, Connecticut

I was motivated to read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the best selling American novel of the 19th century,  by Jane Smiley's comments in her 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel:

"Uncle Tom's Cabin is essential reading both as a novel and as a social document.It is compelling and dramatic, full of vividly wrought characters, wonderful and intelligent dialogue, and ideas that were sophisticated in their time and remain so today"

Uncle Tom's Cabin is one of the best-selling novels of all time and is credited with helping to fuel the abolitionist movement in the United States.

The novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave who is sold away from his family and forced to endure a series of hardships. Tom is eventually beaten to death by his cruel master, Simon Legree. However, Tom's Christian faith and his willingness to forgive his oppressors ultimately inspire others to fight for freedom.

The novel also follows the stories of other characters, including Eliza, a slave who escapes to freedom with her son; George Harris, a free black man who is forced to flee to Canada to escape capture; and Little Eva, a white girl who befriends Tom and teaches him about the power of love.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a controversial novel when it was first published. Some people accused Stowe of being inaccurate in her depiction of slavery, while others praised her for exposing the evils of the institution. The novel was also criticized for its sentimentality and its portrayal of black characters as being childlike and docile. The term "Uncle Tom" has entered American vernacular as a highly pejorative label.

Despite the controversy, Uncle Tom's Cabin had a profound impact on American society. The novel helped to change public opinion about slavery and contributed to the growing movement to abolish it. The novel was also translated into many languages and became a bestseller around the world.

Mel Ulm

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Jews of Ottoman Izmir: A Modern History by Dina Danon

 The Jews of Ottoman Izmir by By Dina Danon is a very valuable edition to the scholarship on modern Ottoman Jewish and Sephardic history. She offers a locally focused account of social and political change in one of the most important, yet also understudied, Ladino-speaking communities in the Ottoman She also shifts the narrative about Ottoman Jewish history in a new direction by emphasizing social class as a central framework for her analysis, and by looking, in particular, at the city's Jewish working class, at poverty, and at class conflict. 

Judaeo-Spanish or Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino, is a Romance language derived from Old Spanish. Originally spoken by Jews living in Spain it spread to the Ottoman Empire when the Spanish monarchs ordered all Jews to leave the country in 1492

"Through the lens of two crucial elements of Jewish self-government, namely its financial and leadership structures, I explore how “progress” demanded the reordering of social hierarchies along modern lines. This book traces ongoing efforts to rid the community of its most critical yet increasingly controversial source of revenue, the regressive gabela sales tax on kosher meat, which disproportionately burdened the poor. It tracks the elaboration of rationalized statutes and representative assemblies that would better address the needs of the poor and working classes and reconstructs the reversal of the longstanding rabbinic alliance with the wealthy. Undergirding all of these initiatives, as the book demonstrates, is the evolution of a vibrant and robust Ladino public sphere where the needs of el puevlo or “the people” were constantly debated with recourse to an expanding modern vocabulary of “rights.” From The Introduction 

A primary focus is on the reactions the community to poverty, particularly to beggers. Danon begins about 1898.

Izmir was an important port city. Danon details the role of Jews in the economy of the city.

This is a work of serious scholarship. I strongly recommend it to those who already possess a good bit of knowledge about European Jewish history.

Dina Danon is an assistant professor of Judaic studies at Binghamton University. While her teaching interests span the full range of Jewish history, she focuses on the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities of the Mediterranean world. Currently, she is researching the nature, function, and historical significance of the marriage marketplace in the Sephardi world during the late Ottoman period.
Danon received her PhD from Stanford University and was recently selected as one of six emerging scholars to participate in the Paula E. Hyman Mentorship Program of the Association for Jewish Studies.
Mel Ulm

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The River - A 1951 Film Directed by Jean Renoir

The River - A 1951 Film Directed by Jean Renoir - run time 1 hour and 39 minutes

Available on YouTube

Jean Renoir -made more than forty films. His Rules of the Game and The Grand Illusion are considered two of the world's greatest movies. He was the son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Born: September 15, 1894, Montmartre, Paris, France
Died: February 12, 1979, Beverly Hills, California, United

Shot entirely in India, It is based on the 1946 novel of the same name by Rumer Godden. The film tells the story of three teenage girls, Harriet, Valerie, and Melanie, who are growing up in a jute mill town in Bengal. The river Ghats is a central theme in the film, and it serves as a backdrop for the girls' coming-of-age experiences.

Harriet is the central character of the film. She is a sensitive and intelligent girl who is struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality and her place in the world. She is also deeply attached to the river, which she sees as a source of comfort and inspiration.
The arrival of a handsome American stranger, Captain John, he lost a leg in World War Two, disrupts the girls' lives. Harriet and Valerie are both attracted to him, but he is more interested in Melanie. This sets off a chain of events that leads to tragedy.

The River is a beautifully made film that captures the essence of India and its people. Renoir's direction is understated and poetic, and he uses the natural beauty of the country to great effect. The performances are all excellent, particularly from Patricia Walters as Harriet.

The film is also notable for its sensitive portrayal of adolescent sexuality. Renoir avoids the clichés of the coming-of-age film, and he creates a complex and nuanced portrait of Harriet's journey into womanhood.

I found the colors of the film, of the river, magnificent. Many of the actors were amateurs hired in Calcutta. The actor playing Captain John in fact had only one leg. The narration of the film is wonderful.

Very recently I posted upon another highly regarded film set in India, The Black Narcissus Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Unlike The River, it was done in a Hollywood Studio Lot. Both films deal with sexual impulses created in young women by the proximity of a handsome man. Both feature the interactions of Indians with the English.
I would think taking these two Masterpieces together would make a source for an excellent class room discussion.

Mel Ulm