By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
September 14, 2010. Two meticulously prepared film devotees sat before their Macs at the appointed hour and discussed (via Skype) Cavalcanti’s 1947 gangster/noir revenge melodrama, They Made Me a Fugitive, a restored print of which will be screened this weekend as part of LACMA’s tribute to the Film Foundation, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.
“Shall we just jump into it then?” said Wes Anderson.
“Absolutely,” said Kent Jones.
“I wonder if we need to begin in such a way that we’re kind of announcing why we’re talking about this movie,” said Anderson thoughtfully. “Here’s a possible opener: ‘One of the films showing in the tribute to the Film Foundation is They Made Me a Fugitive. I had never seen this movie before, and I’d never heard the one name of its director, Cavalcanti.’ ”
Jones was mildly surprised. “Really?”
“No,” said Anderson. “But then I realized I’d seen Dead of Night, the horror omnibus movie from Ealing [Studios] — and he directed the most famous episode, ‘The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,’ and also ‘The Christmas Party,’ which are both very interesting. Do you know his other films?”
“He was Brazilian,” offered Jones as he downshifted into information mode, “and sometimes he used his first name, Alberto. He worked in France, crossed paths with Jean Renoir, wound up in England working for John Grierson’s documentary unit, and then made those great fiction films. For instance, he made a tremendous wartime movie called Went the Day Well.”
“I should see that,” said Anderson. Jones sensed genuine excitement in Anderson’s voice: He was always on the lookout for new discoveries. “I loved They Made Me a Fugitive. The grittiness and the style and the great, great dialogue. It’s sort of like a British Sweet Smell of Success — which I suppose was directed by an English person, anyway.”
“But written by two Americans. The dialogue in this one is amazingly pungent,” said Jones by way of amplification. There was to be a good deal more mutual amplification.
“It’s very good, and very hard,” Anderson continued. “The violence of the language is much more blunt than you’d ever expect of a movie from 1947. What’s that sound?”
“New York police sirens,” answered Jones abstractedly, as the whining from Broadway peaked and gradually died away. “Maybe we should clearly state that you’re in Paris and I’m in New York …”
“… and that we’re talking about a British film showing in Los Angeles.”
“After the war, there were a lot of very tough British movies set in the underworld,” Jones said, “like It Always Rains on Sunday and Brighton Rock — in fact, all three were made in 1947.”
“Brighton Rock is also brutal,” Anderson said with an audible tinge of excitement. “They’re unexpectedly cruel and frank in their language and violence — they don’t hold back.”
“For me, Trevor Howard gives They Made Me a Fugitive a special energy.”
“Yes, Trevor Howard is great,” agreed Anderson, “and so is the guy who plays Narcy. He’s wonderful. What’s his name?”
“Maybe since we’re on our computers, we can look it up.” An idle remark, which initiated a quiet cacophony of frantic transcontinental typing.
“Isn’t it incredible that there’s a gangster named Narcy, short for Narcissus?” asked Jones as his index finger hit the “return” key.
“That’s kind of one you want to steal,” said Anderson as his computer chimed. “Narcy is … Griffith Jones.”
“Another thing that intrigued me about They Made Me a Fugitive was that it always seemed like it was going to veer into pure expressionism. Like Sally’s beating, for instance, done in a quick montage, which includes a distressed close-up, unusual for its time.”
“It’s shot by a German cameraman, isn’t it?”
“We’d better double-check the good old IMDb.” Another round of typing.
“He’s an Otto — but maybe he’s not German,” Anderson suggested. Jones suddenly remembered the menacing German women on The Darjeeling Limited. “That expressionist current of feeling combines with the location shooting and the type of story being told, the rawness of it all, to give the movie a documentary-ish flavor. It’s a strange combination. And the dialogue is so graphic and blunt.”
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city