Charlie Chaplin and Claire Bloom in the 1952 film Limelight. The following year he was banned from returning to the US and settled in Switzerland. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists/Sportsphoto.
MI5 opened a file on Charlie Chaplin while he was being hounded by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI for alleged communist sympathies.
The FBI, which described the star of Modern Times and The Great Dictator as one of “Hollywood’s parlour Bolsheviks”, asked MI5 for information to help get him banned from the US.
The results, including information gathered through eavesdropping, are contained in an extensive personal MI5 file released on the National Archives.
“Chaplin has given funds to communist front organisations … He has been involved in paternity and abortion cases,” an MI5 liaison officer in Washington warned in October 1952. MI5 noted that a decade earlier Chaplin had told the Los Angeles branch of the National Council of American Soviet Friendship: “There is a great deal of good in communism. We can use the good and segregate the bad.”
Papers have been withheld from Chaplin’s MI5 file to protect the names of informants though there are unexplained, probably inconsequential, references to Jimmy Reid, the communist Scottish trade unionist; Larry Adler, the harmonica virtuoso who left his native US where he was branded a communist and blacklisted; and Humphrey Lyttelton, the Eton-educated jazz musician who once described himself a “romantic socialist”.
MI5 concluded that Chaplin was not a security threat.
Pictured: Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire.” (HBO).
1. Billy Liar – John Schlesinger
An early sixties, black and white British gem from John Schlesinger.
Tom Courtenay plays a dreamer who wants to bust out of his small town with the help of Julie Christie.
One of the saddest endings to a comedy I’ve ever seen. I saw John Schlesinger give a Q&A after a special screening at the Film Forum, and he said he didn’t feel that the ending was sad at all, just appropriate to Billy’s character.
2. Brute Force – Jules Dassin
I watched this 1947 stark, black and white, noirish prison drama as part of research for a film I directed called Animal Factory, written by novelist and ex-convict Eddie Bunker.
For years I thought director Jules Dassin was a Frenchman working in the U.S. I was surprised to learn he was an American (Russian Jew) from Connecticut who fled the U.S. during the red scare of the fifties.
He ended up in Paris and made the wonderful French film Rififi, which added to my confusion. The Naked City (1948) by Dassin is also a classic, shot on gloriously gritty locations in New York Cit
3. The Honeymoon Killers – Leonard Kastle
I guess I’m a sucker for black and white. This 1970 independent classic is from writer/director Leonard Kastle, who took over after Martin Scorsese was let go.
Shirley Stoler is funny and heartbreaking as the homicidal, jealous companion of scam artist Tony Lo Bianco.
Based on a true story, it held particular interest for me because the killers at one point decide to retire to suburban Valley Stream, Long Island, the town where I primarily grew up and directed my first film, Trees Lounge.
I once worked with Tony on an episode of the TV series Homicide and excitedly told him he had one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies. After sizing me up for a few seconds, he replied, “Well, that would have to be the Honeymoon Killers, and the line of course is, ‘Valley Stream. Valley Stream. What a joke!’”
4. Man Bites Dog – Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde
Another black and white, this one from Belgium, 1992. I think I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival with Quentin Tarantino.
It’s a hilariously dark, fake documentary about a serial killer and his concerned friends and family. It’s not for everybody, but it genuinely shocked me while I laughed my ass off. Kudos to directors Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde.
5. My Own Private Idaho – Gus Van Sant
It’s hard to pick a favorite Gus Van Sant film, but this one has my favorite River Phoenix performance. I
t took me a while to warm up to the story while watching it, but by the end I was loving it. I like it when movies sneak up on you that way. And hey, it’s in color!
6. Salesman – Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
Okay, back to black and white, a (real) documentary from the talented Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin about door-to-door Bible sellers.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but Richard Linklater sent me a bootleg copy he made when he screened it at the Austin Film Society in the late eighties.
I loved the handheld camera work and how each salesman is depicted as a nuanced, dramatic character. Deeply moving, but not without a sense of humor.
7. Short Cuts – Robert Altman
What can I say? Robert Altman interprets Raymond Carver with an amazing cast of characters. Look at any of Altman’s films and you’ll find they are among the finest examples of collaborative efforts, yet unmistakably and uniquely his own.
I was lucky enough to get to work with him on Kansas City, and briefly on Tanner on Tanner, and will always be inspired by his vision, independence, and generosity of spirit.
About Kansas City he once said to me, “I don’t care if this film makes a nickel—I want it to be successful on my terms.” Then gesturing toward himself and me, he added, “Our terms.” We’ll miss you forever, Bob.
8. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm – William Greaves
This title never comes through the spell check unscathed. I love director William Greaves’s bravery for making this outrageously fascinating experimental feature that pushes the boundaries of what’s traditionally accepted in film. There are actually two films here.
The first one, which he made in the late sixties, was somehow denied a proper release, and the sequel (of sorts) he made over thirty-five years later. Part one was my favorite discovery at Sundance 1992, and I was proud and honored to have worked on the second instalment. More to come, Bill?
9. The Vanishing – George Sluizer
This Dutch director George Sluizer is actually a Frenchman, or born in France anyway.
This creepy 1988 thriller about a woman abducted and the torment her kidnapper puts her boyfriend through was remade by the director as an American film in 1993. But check out this original and see if you don’t have nightmares.
10. A Woman Under the Influence – John Cassavetes
I have been under the influence of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands and their extended family in film ever since I saw a retrospective of Cassavetes’s movies at MoMA soon after he died.
I could have listed any number of his films: Faces with Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin, Opening Night with Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, or Husbands with Peter Falk . . . it doesn’t matter.
Each film is made with a love, passion, and style unique to John, and inspiring to the rest of us.
Photo: Peter Lorre as he appeared in the Maltese Falcon.
by Philip French
He was born László Lowenstein in Rosenberg, Hungary.
Briefly a bank clerk before studying acting in Vienna and then performing throughout the German-speaking world, the 5ft 3in, saucer-eyed Lorre found enduring fame in Berlin under the auspices of two of Weimar’s greatest artists. Bertolt Brecht cast him in Mann ist Mann and acclaimed him as the finest actor in European theatre.
Fritz Lang gave him the complex central role of the sympathetic child murderer in M (1931), one of the greatest films ever made.
The rise of the Nazis compelled the Jewish Lorre to quit Germany. He progressed to Hollywood via Britain, where he played the neurotic heavy in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). In 1935, Chaplin called him “the best actor in the world”.
Thereafter, he was in constant demand as a character actor, usually playing supporting roles in big-budget films (his crazy surgeon in Karl Freund’s Mad Love and his Raskolnikov in Josef von Sternberg’s Crime and Punishment, both 1935, are exceptions).
He often took the lead in B-features, most significantly reprising his serial killer from M in Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), the first authentic Hollywood film noir.
In 1941, he played the effeminate crook Joel Cairo in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, the first of eight movies in which he worked with his friend Sydney Greenstreet, though in the most famous of these, Casablanca, they don’t actually meet.
They had their names above the title in the splendid period thriller The Verdict (1946), the directorial debut of Don Siegel.
He could play comic and serious while remaining just as sinister, and his lightness of touch was revealed working with Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).
His most serious role in the postwar years was in the rarely seen Der Verlorene (alias The Lost One, 1951), his only film as writer-director. The movie was a financial disaster and he’d just undergone a cure for drug addiction brought about by the morphine prescribed for a back injury.
His shortage of money drove him to tour the British music halls and I caught his half-hour act at the Bristol Hippodrome. It consisted of a monologue mocking his screen persona, followed by a riveting performance of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
This was no doubt good preparation for the low-budget Poe movies produced in the 1960s by Roger Corman, in which Lorre starred with Vincent Price.
It is believed that Lorre said to Vincent Price at Bela Lugosi’s funeral “Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just in case?”
Photo: Peter Lorre played the serial killer in “M”.
M is supposedly based on the real-life case of serial killer Peter Kürten, the “Vampire of Düsseldorf”, whose crimes took place in the 1920s, although Lang denied that he drew from this case.
“At the time I decided to use the subject matter of M there were many serial killers terrorizing Germany — Haarmann, Grossmann, Kürten, Denke,” Lang told film historian Gero Gandert in a 1963 interview.
In 1930, when Lang placed an ad in the newspaper stating that his next film would be Mörder unter uns (Murderer Among Us) and was about a child murderer, he immediately began receiving threatening letters in the mail.
He was also denied a studio space to shoot the film at Stakken studio.
When Lang confronted the head of Stakken studio to find out why he was being denied access to the studio, the studio head informed Lang that he was a member of the Nazi party and that the party suspected that the film was meant to depict the Nazis.
This assumption was based entirely on the film’s original title and the Nazi party relented when informed of the film’s plot.
M was eventually shot in six weeks at a Stanken Zeppelinhalle studio just outside of Berlin. Lang also made the film for Nero-Film instead of UFA or his own production company.
It was produced by Nero studio head Seymour Nebenzal, who later produced Lang’s The Testament of Doctor Mabuse.
Other titles given to the film before “M” were Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (A City searches for a Murderer) and Dein Mörder sieht Dich an (Your Killer Looks At You).
While researching for the film Lang spent eight days inside a mental institution in Germany and met several real child murderers, including Peter Kürten.
He later used several real criminals as extras in the film and eventually 25 cast members were arrested during the film’s shooting.
Peter Lorre was cast in the lead role of Hans Beckert, the mentally ill child murderer.
During filming, Lorre acted in the film during the day while appearing onstage in Valentine Katayev’s Squaring the Circle at night.
Lorre’s character whistles the tune “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1.
However, Peter Lorre himself could not whistle – it is actually Lang’s wife and co-writer Thea von Harbou who is heard.
The film was one of the first to use a leitmotif, associating “In the Hall of the Mountain King” with the Lorre character.
Later in the film, the mere sound of the song lets the audience know that he is nearby, off-screen.
This association of a musical theme with a particular character or situation, a technique borrowed from opera, is now a film staple.
The world of Terminator Genisys is still firmly in the realm of science fiction. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Shutterstock
by Ian Sample, science editor
The harried parents in one family in the Channel 4 drama Humans are divided about having a robot called Anita.
The father is delighted with the extra help; the mother unnerved and threatened.
The teenage daughter, bright and hardworking, gives up at school after wondering why she would spend seven years to become a doctor, when a “Synth” could upload the skills in as many seconds.
The teenage son, of course, is preoccupied with the sexual possibilities.
The thriller has become the biggest home-made drama on Channel 4 for more than two decades, according to viewing figures published this week, and is the latest to explore what has been described as perhaps the greatest existential threat the human race has ever faced, artificial intelligence: the idea that computers will start thinking for themselves and not much like what they see when they cast their eyes on their creators.
The humanoid robots in Humans are not portrayed as good or evil but are dropped into suburbia, where the crises they cause are domestic: disrupting relationships, employment aspirations, and feelings of freedom.
AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
It is a theme that has increasingly attracted screenwriters. In the 2013 film, Her, Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his computer’s intelligent operating system.
In Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a young coder must administer the Turing test to an AI robot called Ava with deadly results. There is also the release of Terminator Genisys the fifth instalment of the series, in which humans are forever trying to prevent a future world destroyed by the machines.