Journey Into Fear (Norman Foster, 1943). Shortly after Orson Welles recruited his troupe’s leading man, Joseph Cotten, to pitch in on the script for The Magnificent Ambersons, he handed him primary writing duties on another adaptation. RKO had already taken one fruitless swing at the adaption of Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear when it was slid into Welles unwieldy pile of projects. Cotten is the sole credited screenwriter (though Welles contributed on the sly) and plays Howard Graham, an engineer who gets caught up in geopolitical intrigue in Turkey around the point when World War II was getting especially messy in Europe. Directed by Norman Foster (with Welles again making uncredited contributions to the process), the film is a nifty entry in the sort of regular-guy-in-over-his-head thrillers that was regularly done to perfection by Alfred Hitchcock. Cotten is solid, but the most enjoyable performances come from further down the cast list. Welles employs his usual approach of distractibly heavy stage makeup and chewy accent as a Turkish police officer, Agnes Moorhead is grandly snippy as a passenger on the ship the hero boards to make his escape. and Dolores del Río effectively draws on the charisma required to compete with her amazing costumes,
Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957). Giulietta Masina won one of the top acting prizes at Cannes when Nights of Cabiria played there, and it’s no wonder why. Under the direction of her husband, Federico Fellini, Masina is absolutely magnetic as a prostitute who dreams of breaking free to a more glamorous existence and comes tantalizing close on more than one occasion. With the expressiveness of silent film star, Masina meets every turn — for good or ill — with emotions cascading across her face. Thanks to Fellini’s committed focus and unerring eye, the film compelling captures a time and place, showing what it’s like to live on the fringes of society, every earnest attempt at escape undone by the cruel whims and general venality of those who’ve already found their way free.
The Marrying Kind (George Cukor, 1952). Starting in a divorce court, The Marrying Kind uses flashbacks to chart the courtship, betrothal, and painful distancing of Florrie (Judy Holliday) and Chet (Aldo Ray). Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, the film has a startling candor about the travails that can beset a relationship, melding uncompromising drama with bruising wit. George Cukor is ideal director to usher the material to screen, crafting the film with an unerring sense of balance and a finely developed ability to make scenes unfold with a roughly hewn honesty that doesn’t sacrifice cinematic polish. The film’s greatest prize is the performance of Holliday, who has to complete an emotional obstacle course during the course of the film. She hits zippy comic highs and solemn lows with equal deftness.