The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: From the Vaults

From the Vaults -- 'I Bambini Ci Guardano' ('The Children Are Watching Us') 1944


  'The Children Are Watching Us'  

Nina (Isa Pola), Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis) and Andrea (Emilio Cigoli) in “The Children Are Watching Us.”

If we met Nina and Andrea with their young son, Prico,  at the beach, we might assume that they were just another family on vacation with no more and no fewer problems than anyone else. But in Vittorio De Sica’s “I Bambini Ci Guardano” (“The Children Are Watching Us”), we don’t see them trying to be a family until halfway through the film, after a painful breakup and strained reconciliation in which their son, Prico, is the fragile glue that briefly holds them together.

“Children” is another movie in my random stroll through old foreign films on Netflix, and it was a marvelous discovery. The movie, which was restored in 2000, is beautifully photographed by Giuseppe Caracciolo and Romolo Garroni, with music by Renzo Rossellini.

Given the other De Sica films I have seen (“Bicycle Thieves” “Shoeshine”) I expected something fairly gritty, but “Children” turned out to be an opulent production showing middle-class life. Although it was made in the early 1940s, a soldier and sailor in one crowd scene are the only acknowledgment of World War II, and because of its enduring theme, the movie is essentially timeless.

Based on a 1924 novel by screenwriter Cesare Giulio Viola, who also worked on the script for “Shoeshine,” “Children” is told from the viewpoint of 4-year-old Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis), an absolutely wonderful young child whom nobody seems to want; not his mother, who sees him as an impediment to her love life; not his father, because he was a shameful “mistake” to be made right; and not even his relatives, to whom he is an annoying burden. The turning point comes in the final scene of the film, when he turns the tables and walks out on his mother – a powerful performance from a 4-year-old actor. 


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From the Vaults -- 'Fires on the Plain' (1959)

  Fires on the Plain  

So far in my ramble through old foreign films, I have done the Holocaust (“Yiddle With His Fiddle”) and incest (“La Mujer del Puerto,”) so imagine my surprise when this week’s entry, “Fires on the Plain,” turned to cannibalism.

Directed by Kon Ichikawa from a script by Natto Wada based on a novel by Shohei Ooka, “Fires” is set on the Philippine island of Leyte in 1945 as the Japanese are fleeing the advancing the American forces. Private Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi, above), a hapless soldier who is too ill to fight but too healthy to be hospitalized, shuttles between his unit and the hospital, and after being rejected by both, roams the island, encountering other equally desperate soldiers and a few natives.

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From the Vaults -- 'La Mujer del Puerto' (1934)

  La Mujer del Puerto  

None of the countless movies  I have ever seen – domestic or foreign -- prepared me for the 1934 Mexican film “La Mujer del Puerto” (“The Woman of the Port”). If you watch the movie without knowing anything about it – as I did – you may think the plot is drifting aimlessly. But it’s not.

In case you don’t recall, I randomly ordered old foreign films – the earliest I could find -- when I subscribed to Netflix as an escape from the usual Hollywood fare. “Mujer” arrived shortly after “Vamonos Con Pancho Villa!” as part of my meandering through Mexican cinema. The movie deals with a theme that has yet to be explored to any great degree in American films and makes  “Vamonos” look like a romp in the park. 

Aside from the plot, one the biggest surprises of “Mujer” is the technical sophistication. The film is beautifully photographed by Alex Phillips and contains some of the most powerful images I have seen in a long while.    

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From the Vaults -- 'Yiddle With His Fiddle'

  Yiddle With His Fiddle  

“Yiddle With His Fiddle,” a 1936 Yiddish-language production that was filmed in Poland and stars American actress Molly Picon, is -- at face value -- an  endearing movie with catchy tunes. But hovering over the gaiety is the specter of the Holocaust, and it is sobering to discover that there is no trace of many of the cast members, including one of the leads.

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Paul Coates, April 10, 1961


  April 10, 1961, Mirror Cover  

April 10, 1961: Notice the Spade Cooley story. It vanished from later editions, and I couldn’t find the jump, just the Page 1 portion.

Paul Coates writes about two Beverly Hills police officers' problems with Police Chief Clinton Anderson. You might put Anderson’s “Beverly Hills Is My Beat” (1960) on your Zombie Reading List.  Anderson has chapters on the Johnny Stompanato and Bugsy Siegel cases.

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From the Vaults: 'Fantasia'


For the last few days, the DVD player has been glowering at me. Over two nights, I worked my way through most of “Fantasia” and whenever I went near, it would scold me as if to say “Don’t forget, you still have to watch ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and ‘Ave Maria.’ ” I always found some excuse for a delay. A long-postponed plumbing project, perhaps, or the laundry. I even tried bargaining with it: “Look what came from Netflix! ‘Yiddle With His Fiddle!’ ” But it was unyielding.

Finally, with all my other tasks out of the way, I sat down to finish the movie. And frankly, whatever Walt Disney expected of “Fantasia,” it certainly wasn’t supposed to be a chore.

My sudden interest in the film is all because of delayed advertising. I have gone through the 1941 stories and display ads for the local premiere of “Fantasia” – it had already debuted in New York -- and thought it might be a nice subject for Anne Elisabeth, who responded with a demur, ladylike “No thank you.” So with my curiosity aroused, I took on the film myself.


 “Fantasia” on the Daily Mirror

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From the Vaults -- 'Vamonos Con Pancho Villa!'


“Vamonos Con Pancho Villa!” (“Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!”) is the surprisingly dark, roughly hewn story of six friends who call themselves “the lions of San Pablo” and join the Mexican Revolution as much for the adventure as the idealism. “Vamonos” is a study in the progression from loyalty to blind obedience and from courage to being tragically foolhardy.

Vamonos Con Pancho Villa The 1936 Mexican film was directed by Fernando de Fuentes from a novel by Rafael F. Muñoz and portrays Villa as a ruthless, cold-blooded killer who nonetheless is adored by his thousands of rag-tag troops. “Vamonos” is a bleak film of increasingly senseless violence and the alternative ending included on the DVD raises the bloodshed to the impossibly surreal.

(At right, writer Rafael F. Muñoz plays Martín Espinosa, who is shot to death while lighting bombs and throwing them at a fort.) 

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From the Vaults -- '13 Rue Madeleine'

  Jan. 23, 1947, 13 Rue Madeleine  

  13 Rue Madeleine  

Robert “Bob” Sharkey (James Cagney) and Charles Gibson (Walter Abel) discuss the incoming class of American secret agents in “13 Rue Madeleine.”  One of their students is a Nazi spy!

After a longwinded exposition, the 1947 film “13 Rue Madeleine” turns out to be a fast-moving suspense story of a double agent concealed among intelligence officers preparing for the invasion of Europe in World War II. Once the Nazi spy’s identity is revealed, the story unfolds rapidly and ends quickly, before anyone can have second thoughts about the resolution. It’s enjoyable as a lesser-known film of James Cagney, in which he is half  G-Man and half-crook on the side of good.  As he warns his class of agents, they should forget their American sense of good sportsmanship because the Axis doesn’t play by those rules!

Please notice: The ad says "Go ahead and tell the ending. It's too terrific to keep secret," which is your cue that spoilers are ahead, but I’ll keep them to a minimum.  

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Paul Coates, Jan. 25, 1961


  Jan. 25, 1961, Mirror Cover  

Jan. 25, 1961: Mel Blanc, 51, is making progress after being badly injured in a head-on crash with Menlo College student Arthur Rolston, 18, on Sunset Boulevard at the notorious “Dead Man’s Curve” at Groverton Place. Blanc suffered head injuries, a broken pelvis and two broken legs. After the crash, the city of Los Angeles moved quickly to reconstruct that section of Sunset by “raising the outside lanes,” The Times said. 

Paul Coates writes about one of his worst fears: Being assigned to do a first-person story about the rain.


"Dead Man’s Curve" on the Daily Mirror
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From the Vaults: 'After the Thin Man' (1936)

After Are there detectives anywhere in pop culture more fun than Nick and Nora Charles? Oh, Inspector Clouseau may be amusing, but you'd never want to have dinner at his house: at best, he'd spill the soup in your lap. At the Charles house, Nora would serve you cocktails while wearing a lulu of a dress, while Nick would entertain you while unmasking a killer. There might be gunshots, but you'd probably never be in danger. What better way to spend an evening?

"The Thin Man" was the last novel written by Dashiell Hammett, who also wrote "The Maltese Falcon." It came out in January 1934; with remarkable efficiency, a movie starring William Powell and the divine Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora was also out in 1934.

Here, in the first of five "Thin Man" sequels, Nick and Nora Charles are on their way back to the West Coast after solving a murder in New York with the help of many martinis and their wire-haired terrier Asta (who was a schnauzer in the books). Nick is a retired detective who'd come back into the game to help solve the disappearance of the titular thin man, and Nora is his witty, very game, socialite wife. (In the first movie he knocks her out to protect her from gunfire, and she revives irate, yelling, "I knew you'd take him, but I wanted to see you do it!")

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From the Vaults: 'The Eyes of Laura Mars' (1978)

Lauraposter Like all right-thinking people, I cherish "The Empire Strikes Back," and was saddened by the death of director Irvin Kershner. But I didn't realize until reading his one of his obits that he also directed the acclaimed thriller "Eyes of Laura Mars." And I didn't realize, until sitting down to watch the film for the first time this week, that Tommy Lee Jones could be so exquisitely pretty. Yes, pretty. Forget Yoda and space slugs and Sensitive Han -- Jones' sensitive urban pout takes you to new worlds!

Actually, "Laura Mars" is pretty well grounded in our own world, specifically New York of 1978. It's glamorous yet gritty! Taxis honk their horns, men have big hair, people swear at each other in the street, and the culture is saturated with sex and violence.

Embodying the latter two is the photography of fashion guru Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway), whose sought-after yet controversial work tends to feature beautiful women in violent situations. Feminists loathe her, but as she eventually explains, real-life violence against women really bugs her: "I can't stop it. But I can make people look."

Unfortunately for Laura, she's not the only person in New York concerned with violence: She's plagued by killer's-eye visions of vicious homicides that turn out to be real. Worse, they all involve the slaughter of people she knows. So the movie's question becomes not just who is the killer, but what's his connection to Laura?

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Paul Coates, Jan. 3, 1961

  Jan. 3, 1961, Mirror Cover  

Jan. 3, 1961: The Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area surpasses Chicago as the second-largest urban area, although Chicago is still ranked the second city, census figures show. 

… and Paul Coates writes about his “jail mail,” including a poem from one guest at the Hall of Justice.

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