Playing Catch-Up — The Immortal Story; Operation Finale; The Blue Gardenia

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The Immortal Story (Orson Welles, 1968). Funded by French broadcasters, The Immortal Story was one of the featured directed by Orson Welles after he’d been effectively exiled from Hollywood. Under thick makeup better suited for the stage, Welles also plays the lead role, a wealthy recluse named Charles Clay living in Macao in the nineteenth century. In idle discussion with his bookkeeper (Roger Coggio), Charles recounts a well-worn yarn shared by sailors and immediately becomes committed to orchestrating the realization of the bit of lore, a compulsion that involves the recruitment of strangers to engage in sexual relations. The visual approach of Welles teeters between staid classicism and vivid innovation (a few shots anticipate the dreamlike seductions of David Lynch), but the narrative energy leans toward the former. Adapted from a Karen Blixen story, the film has all the drive of an in-class reading by disengaged undergrads. The Immortal Story is mostly notable because of its status as the last fiction film directed by Welles, at least that was released in his lifetime.



Operation Finale (Chris Weitz, 2018). This well-meaning and inert drama depicts Israel efforts to bring to justice escaped Nazi Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), retrieving him from Argentina to stand trial for his crimes against humanity as one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. A group of Mossad agents, led in part by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), journey to the South American nation Eichmann escaped to and engage in ad hoc espionage that also includes significant time in which Eichmann is held as a secret prisoner in a safe house, engaging in devious mind games with the team that found him. Chris Weitz directs with a measured seriousness and little inspiration, making even the most harrowing, horrible details into rote plot points. With little to do beyond play familiar beats of misery and outrage, the actors are stranded in place where progressing beyond mere adequacy is all but impossible.


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The Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang, 1953). A Los Angeles switchboard operator (Anne Baxter) is thrown for a loop when she gets a break-up letter from her boyfriend who’s off fighting in the Korean War. She impulsively goes out for the evening with a wolfish artist (Raymond Burr) who’d telephoned her boarding house looking for one of the other residents. Floating on a sea of boozy cocktails, she accompanies the man to his home, where she needs to fend off his advances with a fireplace poker. The next day, she has little recollection of the evening gone wrong, but the man’s murder is all over the newspapers, leaving her wracked with guilt. Director Fritz Lang gives this adaptation of a Vera Caspary novella the proper seamy charge. He revels in the bleakness of the story, especially the cynical opportunism of the press, personified by angle-playing columnist Casey Mayo (Richard Conte, giving a devilishly fun, fast-talking performance). The ending is too pat, a flaw fairly common to the era, but the film otherwise crackles like a downed power line.


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