Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Canterbury Tale

Micheal Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1944, bw (8.4*)
This newly restored high definition version of this British wartime film should remind everyone what a classic film it remains. Absolutely beautiful to look at, the films closing sequence contains some of the most beautiful black and white images in popular films.

The story uses Chaucer's classic Canterbury Tales as inspiration, updating it to wartime England; The three travelers to Canterbury are a local girl whose husband is missing in action, who's come here to work; an American GI sergeant interested in the local scenery; and a British sergeant stationed nearby for pre-invasion training. The three become involved in the "glue bandit" crime when the girl becomes a victim of what has to be the most bizarre crime in cinema mysteries. Along the pilgrim road to Canterbury we see the British countryside around Kent, where Powell was born. We are also shown perhaps the most jubilant and whimsical children's mock battle ever captured on film. It's more than a road film, or a local travelogue, though parts are obviously in "Major Exposition" style, to all Powell to relate the history of the area to the audience, a history of a road that goes back 1000 years.

Powell chose two real soldiers for the army sergeant roles, and this was filmed without any major stars at all. Perhaps the soldiers are a little amateurish as actors, but there's no doubt they are real soldiers. On the dvd from Criterion, they've included scenes added to the American release of the film, a perplexing new opening with Kim Hunter on a rooftop in New York discussing this area of England with Sgt. John Sweet, the American soldier in the film. This was her only scene, yet she shared star-billing with all the film's real actors! This is ranked #537 on our Top Ranked survey, #334 on the critics consensus 1000, and deserves the higher ranking in my opinion. It's a small and unassuming film, yet has the Powell/Pressburger magic working.

The film's page at Criterion


do you have a flag? July 22, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

1000 DVDs to See,

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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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