Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Appointment in Honduras (Jacques Tourneur, 1953)



"Throughout the film, Tourneur deliberately effaces dramatic contrast, smoothing the gradations of the narrative to a near level, for the sake of a purely cinematic unity of tone. After a while, the film, which at under 80 minutes is fairly brief but which could potentially go on at any length, almost ceases to tell a story. Instead, it becomes a study of color and movement, vegetation as decor, sudden death and love; with no story, it is a film of purposes and projects, promises and dreams..."

-Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall

Jacques Tourneur's elliptical approach, his emphasis on "absence", as described by Fujiwara earlier in his book, reaches a kind of stripped-down zero-point in Appointment in Honduras. Fujiwara describes it as abstract, which feels apt, although the term's overuse in genre isn't doing us any favors. 

Tourneur's relentless series of subtractions bring us to a certain purity of expression. Glenn Ford moves through the jungle, "a tiger", characters weave plots around his movements. The offscreen space, that outside world that weighs heavy and moves people towards their fate, closes in oppressively here through the crowded soundstage jungles. 

Where Tourneur is essentially unmatched in cinema is in his portrayal of death, which becomes simply a matter of existing or not existing. A fleeing soldier is shot in the back, and vanishes into the jungle, the same way Ward Bond's villain in Canyon Passage is simply erased from existence. Tourneur almost never hinges any import or theatrics on dying itself, instead allowing it to unfold formally (on or offscreen). 

The film is death-obsessed, and Tourneur views the proceedings from the outside. Rather than crafting a chilly, manipulative atmosphere, however, we instead get something strangely cosmic, and there is emotion and value to be found. We come to realize that idealism has been the driving force of the quest, Ford working with the local population in an effort to depose a dictator. This initially strange reveal, offsetting with its sudden imposition of a clear "right side", proceeds to recolor the entire film. The outside movements of soldiers and villagers bracket our hero's progress, reinterpret the villains' schemes, and completely restructure our impression of Tourneur's formal distance. Rather than a ruthlessly efficient "exotic thriller", we instead receive a compact expression of morality and humanity.

Friday, March 29, 2013



Two Mules for Sister Sara (Don Siegel, 1970)


Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)