A huge star in Mexico, Arturo de Cordova never made much of an impression elsewhere. Though he spent the mid-1940s in Hollywood (more often than not cast as a Frenchman!), de Cordova couldn’t match the Tinsel Town success of fellow ex-pats Pedro Armendáriz and Dolores del Rio, and soon returned home. Ironically, he’s probably best known today by American cinéastes for his performance as an unhinged husband in Luis Luis Buñuel’s brilliant shot-in-Mexico parable El (1953).
Pacific Film Archive’s ongoing series ‘Mexican Film Noir’ provides a rare opportunity to appreciate some of this fine actor’s less familiar work, much of which was never released in the United States. Screening at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, director Roberto Gavaldón’s En la palma de tu mano (In the Palm of Your Hand, 1951) features the star in top form as a fortune-telling grifter who gets himself in too deep with a wealthy widow.
De Cordova plays Professor Karin, a hugely successful ‘clairvoyant’ whose business tends to the worries and concerns of some of Mexico City’s richest women. Supplied tips by his partner Clara (Carmen Montejo), who works at a high class beauty parlor, Karin flim-flams his victims from the confines of a baroque, crystal ball-equipped office (created by art designer Francisco Marco Chillet, later to achieve notoriety via the tacky North Pole of 1959’s kiddie non-classic Santa Claus).
A particularly valuable tip comes his way after Clara picks up gossip regarding the infidelity of recently deceased businessman Leon Romero’s wife. Sensing an opportunity, Karin attends Romero’s funeral and suggests to the grieving widow that her spouse had been one of his best customers – and that, for a price, he’ll be willing to wash clean the dirty laundry the millionaire shared with the medium.
Penned by Gavaldón in collaboration with José Revueltas and shot by Canadian émigré Alex Phillips, In the Palm of Your Hand is a florid and intoxicating tale of greed, romance and (this being a noir!) inexorable and unavoidable fate. If you think you’ve seen all the classic films noir, guess again – you’ve got one more to discover.
High-Rise: an ambitious story of 1970s dystopia
Director Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise (currently playing at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas) has drawn decidedly mixed reviews, but there’s enough good stuff in it to warrant a recommendation. Based on J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name, it’s an ambitious story of 1970s dystopia set in a rapidly decaying tower block somewhere in middle England.
Starring the excellent Tom Hiddleston (who really reminds me of the young John Hurt) as Robert Laing, one of the block’s newest residents, High-Rise swerves uneasily from Ballardian clamminess to Fellini-esque bacchanalia before reaching its decidedly social realist conclusion. The film is littered with references to films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Polanski’s Repulsion, and, most importantly, Lindsay Anderson’s acerbic and frequently unpleasant Britannia Hospital.
Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) has established himself — along with Richard Ayaode and Peter Strickland — as one of Britain’s best new directors. Although High-Rise isn’t quite an instant classic (and some would contend it’s a complete failure), it’s a bold attempt to free British cinema from the kitchen sink grip that’s held it for the last few decades.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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