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American Lafayettes In The Movie, “Lafayette Escadrille”

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Arch, 1928

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Arch, 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1957 Lafayette Escadrille, a punk kid (Tab Hunter) at the time of the Great War travels to France to join (with other Americans) an elite air force corp—the Lafayette Escadrille.  The corp is training to fight before the U.S. has entered the war.  In Paris, the young rebel falls in love with a French prostitute (Etchika Choureau) but he also aggressively strikes his drill sergeant and, after being sprung from jail by his Yank buddies, runs away.  He is now a deserter until he is given a second chance.

A personal project for Hollywood’s William Wellman, this is not one of the director’s better movies.  Not only does it seem partly dishonest, it is also rather imperfectly directed and Tab Hunter’s acting is utterly by-the-numbers.  Further, for a long time it makes French men, soldiers and otherwise, look like fools.  By the time it reaches midpoint, however, it gets a bit better.  Its anodyne love story, though it receives too much screen time, assuredly has its moments; and there is some nifty stuff involving the old WWI fighter planes.  But it’s a shame for Lafayette Escadrille to have to be a half-enticing failure.

Talking It Out: “The Aviator’s Wife”

The Aviator's Wife

The Aviator’s Wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 20-year-old college student, Francois, in Eric Rohmer‘s French film, The Aviator’s Wife (1981), needs to find himself a woman other than Anne, the one he is obsessed with.  Anne is generally indifferent and rude to him, even after her married lover (an aviator) goes back to his wife.  It ought to be driven home to Francois that he is essentially empty-handed.  Lucie, an intelligent 15-year-old girl—the actress who plays her looks much older than fifteen—gradually tells him the truth about Anne (based on Francois’s information); but Lucie behaves as though she is attracted to Francois.  Is she?  And should this mean anything to the young man?  Is there still empty-handedness?

The first picture in Rohmer’s Comedies et Proverbes series, this has another impressively written script by Monsieur Eric, notwithstanding I recommend seeing half of it, on disk, at one time and the other half at another time.  There is so much talk I don’t see how boredom can be prevented otherwise.  The film lacks the whimsy and crispness of Rohmer’s best work (e.g. A Tale of Winter), but I do think it’s a smart success.

Marie Riviere (Anne), Philippe Marlaud (Francois) and Anne-Laure Meury (Lucie) are acting and yet not acting; they’re embodying people in a screenplay and it’s magnificent.  Contrast this with the performance of Mathieu Carriere as Anne’s ex-lover, which is less natural, less interesting.

(In French with English subtitles)

Jubal & Pinky & Shep & So Forth: The Movie, “Jubal”

Cover of "Jubal"

Cover of Jubal

Western time again.  In the beautiful Jubal (1956), properly in color and directed by Delmore DavesGlenn Ford stars as a cow hand made near-aimless and solitary by life.  Hired to work at Shep Horgan’s ranch, he—Jubal Troop by name—is the Joseph to the Potiphar’s wife of Mae Horgan, who is the boss man’s missus.  Mae tries vigorously to coax Jubal into a sexual relationship, but the cow hand will have none of it.  He isn’t like the odious, hypocritical Pinky (Rod Steiger), who often gets fresh with the dissatisfied Mae and who turns into Jubal’s most dangerous foe.  Fact is, Jubal has eyes for a young female member of a Mormon-like sect that moseys onto Shep’s land and that Pinky callously wants to stomp on and Jubal is nice to.

Kindness meets bullying, amorous desire meets wounded vengefulness:  this is the riveting Jubal.  Valerie French plaays Mae and Felicia Farr plays Jubal’s eventual girlfriend, and both are exquisite-looking.  Ford is ever the Westerner, as he was in 3:10 to Yuma, and Ernest Borgnine is forcefully enjoyable, and believable, as Shep the ranch owner.

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