Lewis Milestone
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Emigrato giovanissimo dalla natia Ucraina, Lewis Milestone cominciò nel dopoguerra a bazzicare gli studios di Hollywood, lavorando come montatore e sceneggiatore per Sennett e King; la sua carriera registica, per lo più mediocre, annovera un paio di storici scoop e qualche film di buon mestiere quasi sempre sostenuto da un'ideologia di sinistra: Two Arabian Knights (1927), commedia di guerra e d'amore, During World War I, two American soldiers who are fighting each other in the trenches are captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp with prisoners of other nationalities. They keep fighting even as prisoners, while making fun of the Germans. One cold winter night they escape, but they are captured again by Germans who confuse them for Arab prisoners. They manage to escape again, and end up as stoaways on a ship to Arabia. During the journey they save the lives of a group of Arabs, including a veiled girl. The evil captain of the ship takes the girl into custody with the intention of raping her while she is still unconscious. Whether that happens or not, the following day the girl walks around the ship, and the two soldiers fall in love with her. They start romancing her and protect her from the captain who is still lusting for her. The veiled girl rewards the younger one with a view of her face. The captain demans that she pays for her ticket and the older soldier simply steals the money from the ship's coffers. One day a boat comes to pick up the girl. It turns out her father has sold her to an arrogant man to become one of his wives. When the servants tell the bridegroom that the girl unveiled in front of an infidel, the bridegroom demands punishment. The Americans barely escape the mob that wants to kill them. To straighten things out, they ask to see the girls' father. The father wants to have them assassinated, but they manage to escape. The young man risks his life to rescue the girl, but is caught by the bridegroom who challenges him to a duel. The bridegroom cheats the young American and leaves with the girl (now unveiled and looking very American), who thinks her loved one died. Instead, his heroic buddy breaks into the room and saves the young American. By the time the arrogant and the girl walk into the carriage, the older soldier has become its coachman and the younger soldier is waiting inside for his beloved. The Racket (1928), forse il primo vero gangster, Nick, a gangster, send a warning to Mac, a man who walking in the rain. Nick is the owner of a major illegal liquor enterprise. Mac is a police captain who does not like corruption. When they engage in a gun battle with another gang, Mac arrests Nick's right man. However, Nick makes one call and has his man released. Nick is protective of his younger brother Joe: when at a party a singer tries to seduce the young man, he humiliates her, but she swears revenge. Nick has invited Mac to the party, and has him sit at the same table as the man he just arrested. When Mac arrests Nick himself for a murder, he receives the order to release him even before Nick walks into the jail. And he is transferred to another district. His chance for revenge comes when Nick's brother, out on a date with the blonde gold digger, causes an accident and is arrested. Mac makes sure that all the newspapers print the news. Nick makes the usual phone call and gets Joe released. The girl, left to languish in jail, accepts to incriminate Nick. Nick reacts by visiting the police station and killing the officer who picked up Joe. A witness, a boy who fell in love with the blonde, sees him. Finally, Mac seems to have a strong case against Nick. Nick's attorney is ready to get him out as usual. Mac decides that he had enough of the law and has the attorney arrested for drunkedness. Then he gives the story to the reporters: he wants Nick to be abandoned by the very politician who has been protecting him. When Nick realizes he is going to be abandoned, he threatens to tell the press about the politician's corrupt life. The politician has him disposed of in Mac's own office. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), dal romanzo di Erich Maria Remarque, il patetico dramma di un giovane inviato al macello sul fronte Francese e caposaldo dell'antimilitarismo di maniera, While the soldiers parade through the center of a German town, the mailman announces with a smile that he has been drafted too. At the local school the teacher is encouraging his pupils to enlist in the army. The kids rise up enthuasiastically and walk out of the school singing patriotic songs. After the training, they are sent to the front. The atmosphere of joy back home hardly reflects the mood in the trenches, where soldiers die like flies and don't even have food. The kids are sent on a night mission. The driver coldly announces that someone will pick up the ones who survive. They are introduced to real war, with bombs exploding all around. One of them is blinded by an explosion. Those who survive return to the barracks but life is not any better, with continuous explosions and scarce food. Their nerves are collapsing. One of them goes mad. Finally they are ordered to the trenches because the enemy is attacking. Men run like ants in a landscape with no shelter, and are gunned down by the machine guns. Despite the colossal losses, enemy soldiers flood the trenches and the kids have to fight man to man, with bayonets, grenades and just hands. Enemy soldiers keep coming in waves, and the Germans have to withdraw. Now it's the enemies that can use the artillery to slaughter the Germans. This time they are fed plenty of food. The following day they have to return to the front. One if the kids, Paul, witnesses his best friend's death. Back tot he front, they are ordered to attack through a cemetery. Bombs again fall all over them. Paul sees more of his friends die. When the enemy counterattacks, Paul hides in a bomb crater. Most of the enemies don't see him as they attack. But when they retreat one of them jumps in his crater and he has to stab him. Suddenly Paul becomes human again: he helps the enemy who is agonizing, while the carnage continues around them. When the enemy soldiers dies, Paul starts talking to him. He finds his papers and a picture of his wife. Paul asks the dead man to forgive him and promises to find his wife. Paul's unit is relieved for a while of duties at the front. They can relax a bit. Paul and others get some French girls by offering them food. Paul finally finds someone who listens to his existential worries, although she may not be understanding a single word of his language. Paul is sent back to the front and this time a bomb blows up Paul and his friend. At the hospital they have to amputate his friend's legs. Paul is finally sent home on leave. He's a hero. But when the schoolteacher asks him to galvanize the new generation of students, Paul tells the truth: war is a dirty amoral business. Back to the front, Paul is happy to find his best friend still in good health. As they walk back to the barracks together, a plane kills him. When he brings back the dead body, hardly anyone pays attention: just another dead soldier. Paul is more disillusioned than ever. In the trenches he tries to grab a butterfly and, as he sticks his head outside, is killed by an enemy sniper. Front Page (1931) commedia brillante di Ben Hecht che scherza sui mali del giornalismo americano, Un reporter decide di sposarsi e abbandonare il giornalismo, ma il direttore tenta di convincere il reporter a non andarsene e chiede come favore che segua un ultimo caso. Mentre il direttore escogita trucchi per inguaiare la fidanzata, il reporter intervista il presunto omicida in carcere. Giornalisti cinici e indifferenti alla sorte del presunto omicida si contendono la storia. Il presunto omicida evade dal carcere approfittando della stupidità delle guardie. Mentre i giornalisti si lanciano sulla notizia, il reporter scova il ricercato omicida e lo nasconde nella sala dei giornalisti, con la complicità di un'amica del ricercato. Per evitare che gli altri giornalisti lo scoprano, la ragazza si butta dalla finestra. I giornalisti si lanciano sulla nuova notizia. Arrivano anche il direttore del giornale e la fidanzata dal reporter, che gli dà appuntamento al treno. Il direttore aiuta il reporter a tenere nascosto il ricercato. Scoperti, vengono arrestati entrami e il ricercato viene catturato. Il reporter scopre di amare il suo lavoro e persino lo spregiudicato direttore più della fidanzata. Rain (1932), adapted from John Colton's play (1923) that was based on Somerset Maugham's story "Miss Sadie Thompson", is an exotic film noir with great black and white photography of rain drops, rain clouds, etc. The sexy Sadie (Joan Crawford) and austere missionary Alfred are on board a boat that has to stop (due to a cholera outbreak) at a remote tropical island where it seems to always rain. Sadie turns out to be a prostitute who is running away from the law. She quickly makes friends with the soldiers who are stationed on the island, but she also offends the missionary who has to live under the same roof. Hotel manager Joe and police chief Tim try to please both parties. In the meantime it keeps raining, a fact that rules out sending Sadie away from the only hotel. The missionary tries to redeem her but she is cynical and indifferent. Tim is falling in love with the prostitute. The missionary has the governor issue an order to deport Sadie back where she came from. She is desperate because it would mean jail. Tim tries to help her, but the missionary is inflexible. In the meantime, it keeps raining. She personally begs the missionary, getting on her knees, but he tells her that the only way she can redeem herself is by going back. Nonetheless she dramatically changes her attire and her manners. Suddenly she looks like a melancholy lady instead of the vulgar whore she was. She has accepted her fate. Basically, the missionary convinces her that the only way she can redeem herself is by going to jail. Now it's Tim who desperately tries to convince her to escape with him, even proposing to her, but she is determined to confront her fate. The missionary is now proud of her. It finally stops raining. On the eve of her departure, Alfred the missionary commits suicide. Sadie shows up dressed like the prostitute she was and walks with Tim to the boat that will take them away. Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933) is a farce set in the Great Depression that pits the world of the rich against the world of the poor. The poor sing most of their lines like in a musical. There are echoes of the communist scare. A party of rich people shoots at the geese while journalists document the feat. Two bums, a white and a black, catch the goose that falls from the sky. It turns out that the hunter is the mayor of New York and the white bum is the "mayor" of Central Park, better known as Bumper, the leader of the homeless people who live in the park. They know each other and are actually friends. They both return to their duties. The mayor receives a note from his girlfriend asking him for forgiveness. He doesn't believe her but is willing to meet her again. In the meantime the bums welcome the return of their mayor. There is a heated argument between Bumper, a good-humored man who is surrounded by merry friends, and a leftist political activist (Harry Langdon), who tries to indoctrinate them. The mayor meets his girlfriend. She gave money to her old lover but she claims that she did it only because he was broke and needed money to leave town. The mayor gave her a huge sum and she claims she lost it. June swears she still loves the mayor, but the mayor doesn't believe her. June decides to leave town. Just then the mayor finds her purse in a garbage can. The other bums are excited but Bumper wants to remain an honest man, and decides to return the money. He walks to June's apartment just when she has left. The mayor finds him there and learns of the purse: it proves that June was telling the truth, that she indeed had lost his money. The mayor gladly donates the money to the bums and runs after June. Bumper distributes all the money among his fellow bums at the park and keeps none for himself. Then he walks singing happily in the park that he is a bum again. He sees a girl jump from the bridge and he jumps to save her. It's June. But she now has amnesia and doesn't even remember her name. Bumper falls in love with the mysterious stranger who has the demeanor of a rich girl. He finds her a room but now he doesn't have money to pay her rent. The rumour spreads that Bumper wants to go to work, a veritable scandal among the bums. Thanks to help from the mayor, Bumper becomes a respectable bank employee and romances the girl whom she named Angel. Angel is in love too with her savior and cannot stay without him. In the meantime the mayor is desperate because he cannot find his June and tell her than now he believes her. The bums find him drunk... like a bum. Bumper takes him home and listens to his delirious rambling about his lost love. Then the mayor shows him a picture of June, and Bumper understands that Angel is June, and she tried to commit suicide because the mayor had left her. Bumper takes the mayor to Angel/June. At first Bumper knocks at the back door: Angel loves him so much that she reproaches Bumper that he left her alone for just a few hours. But then the mayor knocks at the door, and she faints. When she wakes up, she has recovered her memory and forgotten about Bumper. She is happy that the mayor came back to her. Bumper walks outside alone and returns to the park: he's a bum again. The General Died at Down (1936), film esotico- avventuroso con Gary Grant a Shangai, Of Mice and Men (1939), fosco adattamento dalle tinte orrifiche del romanzo di John Steinbeck.

Nei decenni successivi Milestone si specializza nel genere leggero-musicale (Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra) e nel genere preferito, il bellico (A Walk in the Sun, Edge of Darkness), nel quale sopratutto emergono contrastanti qualità di impegno civile e vizi di retorica patriottica.

Edge Of Darkness (1943) is a Brecht-ian apologue on the war.

German aviators notice that a small town in Norway is flying the Norwegian flag. Troops land to check the situation. They find the entire town exterminated. Only a mad man is dancing among the corpses (and quickly disposed of by the German soldiers). The German officer in charge starts dictating a report. That is the flashback of the movie.
The town is run by a disciplined German officer who is well aware that everybody hates the Germans and supports the underground resistance. Gunnar (Errol Flynn), a fisherman who is engaged to Karen, can't stand the occupation anymore and has decided to leave. One night a man comes from a nearby village: he is severely wounded but brings the news that his village rose up (he is the only survivor) thanks to arms delivered by the British. And more arms will be delivered. Gunnar sees the opportunity to fight the Germans and changes his mind about leaving. Karen is on Gunnar's side. Karen's father, the doctor of the village, called to help the wounded refugee, is worried that this will cause more deaths. His wife's wealthy brother collaborates with the German occupiers. He tries to extort the truth from the doctor when he senses that the doctor is afraid of something. The doctor is so disgusted that he slaps his brother-in-law in the face. The German captain threatens to kill random citizens if there is any act of sabotage. During mass at the church, when the Germans are not listening, the wounded refugee tells the villagers how the Germans massacred his entire village, after one of the villagers betrayed them. Gunnar asks the people to decide if they should rise up or not. The priest is opposed, because he thinks violence is evil. Some side with him. Others side with Gunnar. Gunnar wins. A British agent shows up to tell them how the arms are going to be delivered. A shopkeeper visits the Polish lover of the German captain, hoping that she would help the resistance. She sends him away because she has been promised passage on a boat. But it turns out the captain has changed his mind about her. Karen's brother returns home from college. He was disgraced for helping the Germans. He is under the influence of his uncle, and therefore Karen does not trust him with the secret of the arms. When the arms are delivered, Karen is the first one to admit that her village could be betrayed by her own brother like the other one was. In fact her uncle is asking Johann to find out what the villagers are up to and Johann does so. Luckily Karen had warned the villagers, so the Germans don't find the weapons. Later his own parents disown Johann the traitor. When Karen is raped by a nazi soldier, Karen's old father, the doctor, assassinate the rapist. Johann overhears the German captain order the execution of a number of outspoken villagers including Gunnar, Karen and her father. The uncle watches as the prisoners are asked to dig their own graves. The villagers take up the arms and march on the Germans singing a patriotic song. The uncle tries in vain to stop them promising a return to a peaceful life. The first one to shoot is actually the priest himself from his church. In the battle that ensues the villagers are massacred, but also inflict massive casualties to the Germans. The Polish girl and Johann are trapped with the surviving Germans in a hotel. The Polish girl derides the Germans and they kill her. Johann sees his sister and Gunnar lead the attack against the hotel and runs out to warn them of the machine guns that the Germans have hidden. The Germans kill him too. The villagers attack and overrun the Germans. The German captain commits suicide in his office.
This is the end of the flashback. Back to the first scene, the German officer has finished dictating his report: all the German soldiers were killed, but now the German flag has been restored on the village. Gunnar and Karen are still alive, though, and they kill the soldier who was trying to raise the German flag. They lead the partisans who now live in the wroods.

Serio e preparato professionista, Milestone qualche volta è arrivato per primo, contribuendo a impostare la struttura di un genere, anche se privo di uno stile personale. Ocean's Eleven (1960) is a heist caper, but mainly a (lengthy) pretext to group together Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, etc

Danny Ocean (Sinatra) helps a crook in Las Vegas recruit ten men he had met as paratroopers in the war to carry out his plan to rob five casinos on New Year's Eve. Each has a reason to pull the heist. The five casinos are along the strip. The plan is to cause a black out during the New Year's celebration and hit the five casinos at the same time and leave in a garbage truck. Each man has skills that can be used for specific chores. The heist is successful and the men disappear without leaving a clue... except that one of them, already seriously sick, dies of a heart attack right outside the casino. The casinos hire a famous detective, who learns of the heart attack and smells the fire. He also happens to be engaged to the wealthy mother of one of the paratroopers. He visits Danny and asks for 50% of the dough.
Danny thinks he knows how to outsmart him: he moves all the money into the coffin of the partner who died and then gives the widow enough money to ship the coffin to another city. But the widow decides to have her husband buried in Las Vegas. The gang attends the funeral waiting for a chance to retrieve the money but... the widow has decided to cremate her beloved one.
Both the gang and the detective leave empty-handed.
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