The Prowler – A film noir from Joseph Losey, in which Van Heflin plays a cop called out to investigate a peeping tom. He falls in love with the woman placing the call (Evelyn Keyes) and plots to murder her husband as the two begin an affair. They get away with it, except Keyes’s pregnancy threatens to give away the crime. Set in only a few iconic locations (Heflin’s spare apartment, a ghost town) and with the husband a constant presence over the radio in the early scenes (he’s a DJ or something), Losey creates one of the blackest noirs I’ve seen, and Heflin’s cop is one of the genre’s scariest protagonists. The #16 film of 1951.
Ministry of Fear – A wartime film noir from Fritz Lang, though the plot seems a more natural fit for Alfred Hitchcock. Ray Milland plays a nice guy recently let out of a mental hospital who gets himself involved in a Nazi spy ring and finds himself framed for murder. He skulks about avoiding the cops and the bad guys while making friends with a pretty girl and every once in a while wondering if he’s crazy or not. The wrong man setup and the plot convolutions are Hitchcock’s natural territory, but Lang brings more serious bleakness and less comedy to the material. It’s not as good as Lang’s similar Man Hunt from a couple years earlier, but it has a better ending than the other Lang noir from 1944, the otherwise solid The Woman in the Window. The #9 film of 1944.
La Commune (Paris 1871) – A massive film from Peter Watkins that recreates the events of the Paris Commune on a big soundstage with barebones sets and covers it like an extended live from the scene news report. Using modern media techniques to mirror the press of the past and deconstruct the media of the present, our guides for much of the film are two reports from “Commune TV” who interview various Parisian citizens, soldiers, rich and poor women, government and Commune officials, etc, all with a stridently pro-Commune POV (these are contrasted with mainstream news programs that give the establishment line on the events). The Commune was a democratic socialist revolt that established, for a short time, a new government within Paris. Why and how the Commune failed is the major subject of the film, as are its big successes (secular public education, the right of women to vote, wage equality between genders and such) and we see it all play out in granular detail over the film’s four hour running time. But more than just a history lesson, the film repeatedly loops the Commune into the issues of the present, not just in the media, but in many of the same concerns of feminism and anti-capitalism that are on-going and seemingly never-ending. The most wondrous moment of the film is when we realize that a group of actors we’ve been watching stating their grievances and opinions in character for hours have suddenly started talking about themselves and their own beliefs, and how the experience of just being in the film has made them see their world in a new way.