It is an unusual family portrait that Douglas Sirk paints in Imitation of Life, foregrounding two pairs of single mothers and daughters struggling against the 1950s American patriarchy, racial prejudices, and each other, their expressive sensitivities flourishing to form delicate cinematic paintings of privilege and social adversity.
All the money and oil in Texas can’t save the Hadley family from its own self-sabotage, and in following their downfall in Written on the Wind, Douglas Sirk crafts an eloquent Southern Gothic tale of bitterness, envy, and impotence, matching its colourful melodrama with an equally affecting visual style.
Any instance where pure goodness and elegant beauty wins out over insensitivity in Magnificent Obsession is infinitely precious to a soft-hearted melodramatist like Douglas Sirk, as his leading of a spoiled playboy down a path of moral rehabilitation poetically transforms him into an image of the selfless man whose death he indirectly caused.
Even rarer than seeing a woman take the lead in a classical Western is the choice to set her against another woman as the equally compelling villain, as Nicholas Ray projects a feminine sensitivity upon the male-dominated genre in Johnny Guitar with magnificently complex characters and vibrant colourful expressions.
Pickup on South Street is a triumph of writing, character, and stylistic camerawork for Samuel Fuller, and it is in the marriage of all three that he crafts a compelling Cold War thriller crackling with the fizzing tension of stealth, espionage, and a sensual seduction between a pickpocket and his target.
In using the full scope of its widescreen format, Sleeping Beauty creates the layered look of Renaissance tapestries hand-drawn on canvas, effectively infusing the whimsical style of its narrative into its dreamy imagery and delicate orchestrations.
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