One of the joys and pleasures of being a cinephile is not only discovering a film you never knew existed, but uncovering a film that in your wildest imagination you could never conceive as having been made.
The film Cease Fire was shot on location in Korea during the Korean War — in 3D. The resulting movie takes the viewer on a deadly mission literally on the cusp of the signing of the armistice that ended the conflict.
Fun fact: The Korean War lasted from 1950 through 1953 and was fought by United Nation troops led by General Douglas MacArthur (until he was relived of command in 1951 by then President Truman). During the three-year period, the fighting ranged from the bottom tip of Korea at Pusan to the top of Korea at the Chinese border.
With peace negotiations ongoing at Panmunjom, the director of Cease Fire, Owen Crump (himself Oscar-nominated for a short subject Korean War project titled One Who Came Back in 1951 as well as helmer of a lot of WWII-themed shorts) arrived in Korea in May of 1953, approximately two months before the end of the ordeal.
3D filmmaking in the early 1950s had already had its day in the sun and was waning at the time, but Crump and his six-man camera crew wanted to capture something different. The film’s score was from veteran composer, and four-time Oscar winner Dimitri Tiomkin.
The actors were actual soldiers who were utilized in the fictionalized mission. One of the troops who showed the most promise as a performer actually turned down a Hollywood contract and was tragically killed during maneuvers after the filming was completed within a week of the conflict’s termination.
The 3D effects are awesome in keeping with the perspective of the era. The main gun of a tank firing directly into the camera. Or, jets taking off from an aircraft carrier. Shots like these were made for 3D. The filming incorporated real ammunition and explosions.
Yet, the general mise-en-scène also emphasizes the space that the combatants occupy, whether it’s a press tent with columnists filing stories on the ongoing peace negotiations, or the soldiers on a hillside trying to avoid landmines. In short, 3D filmmaking of this era supersedes contemporary efforts with few exceptions. The actors on display include one black soldier as well as a Korean soldier who acts as a guide. You get a real sense of the distance between the troops in the foreground and the enemy in the background.
After playing in theaters (in both 3D and flat projections) in late 1953 and early 1954, Cease Fire, a Paramount release, literally dropped off the face of the planet until cable network AMC ran it in 1998. A subsequent 3D print was struck for a film festival showing in 2006. The restoration by Kino Lorber Film Classics restores the unique look of this lost classic.
The Sissi Collection showcases the trilogy of films that made the then teenage German actress Romy Schneider a star. When you see the films you understand how an unknown could catapult to stardom based on poise, beauty and acting ability.
From 1955 through 1957, Schneider was the lead in three films depicting Princess Elizabeth of Austria (1837 – 1898): Sissi, Sissi: The Young Empress, and Sissi: The Fateful Years of the Empress. All three movies have been remastered for Blu-ray and the results are impressive in look and feel.
Director Ernst Marischka shot the films in the European film stock Agfacolor that offered a softer and flatter look than the Technicolor film being used during the same period in Hollywood. The Sissi films are dominated by pastel colors.
Schneider’s mother was leading actress during the Nazi era (Hitler’s favorite actress) and as such was not used in post-WWII films until she started appearing in her daughter’s films, usually playing the mother. Sissi herself was compassionate for the common people and for animals. One poignant scene in the trilogy has her freeing her caged animal pets once she becomes sovereign.
The five-disc set incudes all three Sissi films as well as the bastardized American version, which edited all three films into a single two-and-a-half-hour Paramount release in 1962 dubbed into English and titled Forever My Love. An added bonus is the 1954 Queen Victoria biopic The Story of Vickie (Mäschenjahre einer Königin) released domestically as Victoria in Dover. Judi Dench and Emily Blunt rank second and third with their interpretations of the same character.
The latter film unwinds like a comic farce as Victoria upon being crowned queen runs away and hides in a common hotel where she meets her future husband Albert who himself is traveling incognito with his friend composer Johann Strauss.
There are few actresses who shine in their motion picture debut like the youthful Schneider, who herself would undergo personal tragedy leading to an untimely death at the age of Forty-three. Gene Tierney and Hedy Lamarr come to mind.
Bertrand Tavernier’s brilliant documentary My Journey Through French Cinema is required viewing for anyone who cares about movies. At three-hours plus it seems too short so it’s no surprise that Tavernier has also made a sequel in the form of a nine-episode French television series.
Tavernier, himself a noted international director, spends the first hour or so going through the films of director Jacques Becker and actor Jean Gabin. Directors and writers like Marcel Carne, Jacques Prévert and Rene Clair figure into the narrative, as well as composer Maurice Jaubert. Jaubert’s score for the Jean Vigo 1934 film L’Atalante gets a special treatment in Tavernier’s view of the development of music in film.
Rules of the Game and La belle et la bête are featured with the same compassion as the films of actor Eddie Constantine and the films of François Truffaut, Agnès Varda (winner of a recent honorary Oscar) and Jean-Pierre Melville. Many, many others are also featured.
There are few films of such dense length and material that I immediately want to watch again.