Monday, June 28, 2010

The Amazing Mr. X (1948) - Black, White, and Beautiful

Hiya Kiddies! Y'know, it's a story that's been told many, many times over the years. A grieving widow is approached by someone who claims to be able to help them reach their lost love on "the other side". Of course, most of the time, the "spiritualist" or "medium" turns out to be a phony, but sometimes, as in the popular '90's movie Ghost, well, there is more to the story.

I'm not going to give away here where The Amazing Mr. X falls on the "is he a fake or not" scale, because honestly there's quite a few twists and turns along that road in this film and I don't want to give them away. Instead, I want to take just a minute to talk about the, if you'll forgive the use of the word, amazing black and white cinematography of this film.

John Alton was an Austrian-Hungarian born cinematographer who began his career as a lab technician in Los Angeles in the 1920's. He soon became a cameraman and subsequently moved to France to work with noted director Ernst Lubitsch. After that, he shot a number of Spanish language films in Argentina before returning to America in the late 1930's Upon his return to the states he was one of the most sought-after cinematographers, noted especially for his use of lighting to create atmosphere in noir films such as He Walked By Night and Hollow Triumph. Mr. Alton also won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color in 1952 for his work on An American in Paris, and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1992. He also literally wrote the book on cinematography.

Painting With Light, published in 1949, was the first book on cinematography actually written by a major cinematographer. Its main focus, as the title suggests, is on light, specifically the technical aspects of lighting a scene, and how light can be used to create atmosphere and special effects in a studio setting. He also focuses on choosing locations and using different camera techniques to create mood in a film.

All of this technical expertise is on display in The Amazing Mr. X. Though essentially a low-budget quickie of a film, it is obvious that Mr. Alton still brought all of his know-how to bear on it. Throughout the film one is struck over and over again not only by the lushness and texture that Mr. Alton brings forth from the blacks, whites and grays of the film, but by the appropriateness of his choices when viewed in the narrative context of the story.

All-in all, this is definitely an entertaining little film which is raised above its meager budget and its time by the skill and talent of The Amazing Mr. Alton.

Let's take a look, shall we?

And now, the skinny:
Title: The Amazing Mr. X
Release Date: 1948
Running Time: 78min
Black and White
Starring: Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari
Directed by: Bernard Vorhaus
Produced by: Benjamin Stoloff
Distributed by: Eagle-Lion Films

The Amazing Mr. X is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available for purchase on DVD from Amazon: Amazing Mr X.
It's also available for rent at Netflix.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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