Posts Tagged ‘100 great films’

 Director: Grigori Aleksandrov

Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky


Bronenosec  Potjomkin -Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary sophomore feature has so long stood as a textbook example of montage editing and with it the Russian film- maker changed the shape of cinema into a new direction. ( Previously the accent was on staging best exemplified by Weiner’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Russian master gave in its place a purely cinematic idiom of montage.)  Another feature of this film is that thin and treacherous line that often trips up a film maker who is bent on making a propaganda film. It is to the credit of Eisenstein that he didn’t fall a victim. Eisenstein of course was working under the dictates of the party bosses and had to keep true to the Marxian ideology from their position. What made it a celluloid epic despite of their interference?

In order to understand this conundrum we have to grasp the fundamentals of film. (First of all let me make it clear as with music  knowledge of grammar is unnecessary in order to enjoy film).

A film is synthesis of several arts. In visual terms a film maker might make a political statement from any historical event. In the Battleship of Potemkin, Eisenstein is narrating a crucial event of the 1905 revolution. He can play with time as in the famous  scene on the steps of St. Petersburg. The action itself, the people running up the steps into the guns of the Tsarist soldiers actually takes place in a few minutes. The detail shots of falling bodies, feet, faces, guns are all props to give an illusion of time in the viewer’s mind. If with time he can also shift points of view back and forth. The art of film being such there is no place for dogmatic statements. It is cerebral experience as well as vicarious. It was the genius of Eisenstein that he could fine tune his control on his viewer by means of montage. Like a wizard he made the experience of the protagonist as that of you and me. Montage makes it possible to shift from objective to subjective and vice versa. Thus the Russian master didn’t narrate history of the revolution as it happened but in the context of a few characters that figure in the film. Lo and behold their situation has for the moment become yours and you have become part of the experience of the protagonist!

In order to reinforce that a film maker could create the right mood as in the case of the corpse of the murdered sailor. How can a viewer be not affected by the environment,- and the rising misty dawn over the hapless sailor simply puts the viewer receptive to what is to follow. Eisenstein portrays the revolt in microcosm with a dramatization of the real-life mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin. His genius transcended politics and created a timeless classic.

 The story tells a familiar party-line message of the oppressed working class (in this case the enlisted sailors) banding together to overthrow their oppressors (the ship’s officers), led by proto-revolutionary Vakulinchuk. When he dies in the shipboard struggle the crew lays his body to rest on the pier, a moody, moving scene where the citizens of Odessa slowly emerge from the fog to pay their respects. As the crowd grows Eisenstein turns the tenor from mourning a fallen comrade to celebrating the collective achievement. The government responds by sending soldiers and ships to deal with the mutinous crew and the supportive townspeople, which climaxes in the justly famous (and often imitated and parodied) Odessa Steps massacre. Eisenstein edits carefully orchestrated motions within the frame to create broad swaths of movement, shots of varying length to build the rhythm, close-ups for perspective and shock effect, and symbolic imagery for commentary, all to create one of the most cinematically exciting sequences in film history. Eisenstein’s film is Marxist propaganda to be sure, but as I said earlier polemics do not stand a chance against a creative genius who is in control of his medium. Naturally it is the secret of this masterpiece.

(ack:Sean Axmaker)

Similar Movies

         October  (1927, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Arsenal  (1929, Alexander Dovzhenko)

         Storm over Asia  (1928, Vsevolod Pudovkin)

         Strike  (1924, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Tabu  (1931, Robert Flaherty, F.W. Murnau)

Movies with the Same Personnel

         Alexander Nevsky  (1938, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Qué Viva México  (1932, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Vesna  (1947, Grigory Alexandrov)

         Strike  (1924, Sergei Eisenstein)

         October  (1927, Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Ivan the Terrible, Part 1  (1944, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Ivan the Terrible: Part 2  (1946, Sergei Eisenstein)

         Our Daily Bread  (1934, King Vidor)

Other Related Movies

 is featured in:           Seeds of Freedom  (1943, Hans Burger)

 is related to:           Reds  (1981, Warren Beatty)

           Black Sea Mutiny  (1931, Arnold Kordyum)

 has been re-edited into:           Seeds of Freedom  (1943, Hans Burger)

 is related to:           Blue Moon  (2002, Andrea Maria Dusl)

           Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy  (1998, Oleg Kovalov






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The 1951 John Huston classic, set in Africa during WW I was based a novel by C.S. Forester that had been making the Hollywood rounds since its 1935 publication.

German troops set fire to an African village, resulting in the death of an English missionary. His straightlaced sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn), now alone, is taken aboard a riverboat, the African Queen, by its gin-soaked Canadian skipper, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). Allnut would love to sit out the war just drinking and smoking, but Rose convinces him otherwise; newly invigorated and desiring revenge, she persuades him to take her downriver where they will try to destroy a German U-boat using homemade torpedoes. Taking an instant, mutual dislike to one another, the two endure rough waters, the presence of German soldiers, and their own bickering to finally fall into one another’s arms. This is classic Huston material–part adventure, part quest–but this time with a pair of characters who’d all but given up on happiness. Bogart (a longtime collaborator with Huston on such classics as The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo and Hepburn have never been better, and support from frequent Huston crony Robert Morley (Beat the Devil, also featuring Bogart) adds some extra dimension and color.

How this movie ever got to be finally made or given the chemistry, bad in most cases, between Huston and his actors, one might think it a miracle that the film became a hit.


The location shoot in the African Congo turned out to be one of the most difficult, most legendary, and most recounted in Hollywood history. To start, the company arrived in Africa without a finished script. James Agee had collaborated with Huston on the screenplay, but a heart attack kept Agee from flying to Africa for the shoot and from writing the film’s ending. Instead, Peter Viertel came in as replacement.

 Imagaine what it is to shoot with a script still in development and to work with a director whose nickname was ‘the monster’. Then the crew had location problems that included sun, rain, snakes, scorpions, crocodiles, tsetse flies, hornets, huge biting black ants, and constant humidity, which created mildew everywhere. Further, the African Queen’s engine had problems, rope would get tangled in its propellers, sound from the generator would interfere with shots. One night the Queen sank, and it took three days to raise the boat and get it ready again. To top it all there also were no toilets except the outhouse back at camp.

The food was OK but the dishes were washed in infected river water, and virtually everyone in the cast and crew got sick – except for Bogart and Huston, which they attributed to the fact that they basically lived on imported Scotch. Bogart later said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.” Inspite of every difficulty posed by ego or location the film still stand out as high adventure as corroborated in Hepburn’s memoir, led by John Huston, a man with a strong but odd personality.

Hepburn and Huston

Hepburn was frustrated with Huston’s lack of interest in discussing the script – which Hepburn thought had major problems – before leaving for Africa. Finally he “ambled” up to her hut one morning and began to talk the script over with her. “We had long and amiable arguments,” wrote Hepburn. “Nothing much was done, really, and I seemed to be happy. I found that I could be quite honest with John about what I thought, and I also found that where I had good ideas he would take them. Where I was just worrying and confusing the issue, he would say, ‘Let it alone.'” One episode in particular won her over for good. The director had been dissatisfied with Hepburn’s performance, finding it too serious-minded. He came calling at her hut one day and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt – to put on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. Huston left the hut, and Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “that is the goddamnedest best piece of direction I have ever heard.”

For all Huston’s oddities and the pranks that he and Bogart pulled on Hepburn (such as writing dirty words in soap on her mirror), she came to respect his talent deeply.

Hepburn, Bogart, Huston and Agee went on to earn Oscar nominations, and Bogart won the Best Actor Academy Award for the first and only time in his career. “



Columbia originally bought the book as a vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. When that duo instead made The Beachcomber (1938), a similar story, the deal fell through. Warner Bros. then bought it for Bette Davis and David Niven, but that deal also unraveled before the property ultimately found its way to Spiegel.

A story of two old people going up and down an African river… Who’s going to be interested in that? You’ll be bankrupt.”


So spoke British producer Alexander Korda to American producer Sam Spiegel upon learning that Spiegel wanted to film The African Queen. Korda wasn’t alone in his skepticism. “It will give John [Huston] the kind of commercial hit he had when he made The Maltese Falcon [1941],” Spiegel boasted to The New Yorker before shooting even began. But Spiegel would turn out to be right: the roughly $1.3 million gamble turned out to be not only a critical success, earning four Oscar nominations, but a huge commercial hit, pulling in $4.3 million in its first release.

Sam Spiegel knew his man: John Huston seemed to thrive on misery of his stars. Simply deciding to shoot in the Congo was one way of torturing everybody. Another example was the scene in which Bogart finds his body entirely covered with leeches (This was actually shot in the studio in London). Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the studio with a tank full of them. This made Bogart queasy and nervous – qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder’s chest. Hepburn observed these kinds of incidents, and later wrote of Huston, “I never did see him go to the outhouse. Maybe he never did. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Would explain a great deal.”

Additional notes: Peter Viertel later related his run-ins with Huston in his novel White Hunter, Black Heart, a thinly disguised expose of the making of The African Queen and its director who would rather hunt elephants than shoot film. (Clint Eastwood directed a film version of that book in 1990, playing the Huston character himself.) Hepburn’s entertaining 1987 book The Making of the African Queen also details Huston’s obsession with hunting. One day he even convinced Hepburn to join him, and he inadvertently led her into the middle of a herd of wild animals from which they were lucky to escape alive.

 (Ack:–Tom Keogh,Jeremy Arnold)





Producer: Sam Spiegel, John Woolf

Director: John Huston

Screenplay: James Agee, John Huston, Peter Viertel, C.S. Forester (novel)

Cinematography: Jack Cardiff

Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen

Art Direction: Wilfred Shingleton

Music: Allan Gray

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer), Walter Gotell (Second Officer).

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