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Thread: Classic score, script, direction AND acting

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    Default Classic score, script, direction AND acting

    Fussy? Me? Not at all. I don’t ask much from the cinema—only a first-rate score, a first-rate script, first-rate direction, and first-rate acting.

    Has any movie ever contained first-rate work in all four of those departments?

    I'm sure you've had the experience of hearing a recording of a superb movie score by a major composer, and wanting to see it in its original setting—only to discover that the script, or the acting, or both, weren't worthy of the magnificent music lavished on them!

    Many Hollywood movies with classic scores by Korngold, Herrmann, etc., contain outstanding direction and acting, but the scripts were obviously put together by the familiar stock committee method—the results may be serviceable, but aren’t in themselves outstanding.

    Many British films with classic scores by Alwyn, Auric, etc., are quite competently directed, but you’d never say they had anything special to offer in that department.

    I set aside Alexander Nevsky because of its simplistic propaganda script, Shostakovich’s Lear because of its acting problems (partly because the central role was mimed by one performer and dubbed by another), and Louisiana Story because it contains nothing that could exactly be called acting.

    Offhand, the films that spring to my mind as possibly coming closest to true fourfold classic status might include (in chronological order):

    Pygmalion (1938). Score by Arthur Honegger, script by Bernard Shaw, direction by Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard, performances by Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, etc.

    Our Town (1940). Score by Aaron Copland, script by Thornton Wilder, direction by Sam Wood, performances by Frank Craven, Martha Scott, William Holden, etc. (But the script has been much criticized.)

    Citizen Kane (1941). Score by Bernard Herrmann, script by Herman J. Mankiewicz, direction by Orson Welles, performances by Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, etc.

    The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Score by Bernard Herrmann, script by/from Stephen Vincent Benet, direction by William Dieterle, performances by Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, James Craig, etc.

    Henry V (1944). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Leslie Banks, Robert Newton, etc.

    Ivan Grozny (1944–1948, unfinished). Score by Sergei Prokofiev, script & direction by Sergei Eisenstein, performances by Nikolay Cherkasov, Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, Serafima Birman, Mikhail Nazvanov, etc.

    La Belle et la bête (1946). Score by Georges Auric, script & direction by Jean Cocteau, performances by Jean Marais, Josette Day, etc.

    The Winslow Boy (1948). Score by William Alwyn, script by Terence Rattigan, direction by Anthony Asquith, performances by Robert Donat, Neil North, Margaret Leighton, Cedric Hardwicke, etc.

    Hamlet (1948). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Felix Aylmer, etc.

    Orphée (1950). Score by Georges Auric, script & direction by Jean Cocteau, performances by Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, etc.

    La Beauté du diable (1950). Score by Roman Vlad, script & direction by René Clair, performances by Gérard Philipe, Michel Simon, etc.

    Madame de... (1953). Score by Georges Van Parys, script by Marcel Achard, direction by Max Ophuls, performances by Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio de Sica, etc.

    Hobson’s Choice (1954). Score by Malcolm Arnold, script from Harold Brighouse, directed by David Lean, performances by Charles Laughton, Brenda de Banzie, John Mills, etc.

    Richard III (1955). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, etc.

    La Princesse de Clèves (1961). Score by Georges Auric, script by Jean Cocteau, direction by Jean Delannoy, performances by Jean Marais, Marina Vlady, etc. (The marmoreal “Old Guard” direction might be the debatable point here.)

    Hamlet (1964). Score by Dimitri Shostakovich, script from William Shakespeare tr. Boris Pasternak, direction by Grigoriy Kozintsev, performances by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, Mikhail Nazvanov, Elza Radzina, etc.

    When I watch such movies (no doubt there are plenty of others that I can't recall offhand) I don't feel disillusioned. I don't feel that anyone in the team has let the side down. I do feel that the movie is worthy of the music.

    The list cuts out around 1960 because my wife & I have watched virtually no movies dating from later times. Others would no doubt be able to comment there!
    Last edited by gvn; Nov-28-2020 at 06:07.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Our Town (1940). Score by Aaron Copland, script by Thornton Wilder, direction by Sam Wood, performances by Frank Craven, Martha Scott, William Holden, etc. (But the script has been much criticized.)
    Maybe I should explain that comment. Wilder was a bit uncomfortable because the last act of his 1938 play had been taken as a statement about the afterlife. The equivalent section of the 1940 movie was changed to avoid that misreading. Many viewers who are familiar with the 1938 play are disappointed with the 1940 changes. I personally feel that there are advantages and disadvantages both ways, and that the changes don't affect the classic status of the material one way or the other. Hence I personally don't feel that the script lets down Copland's music, but I recognize that others might!

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Fussy? Me? Not at all. I don’t ask much from the cinema—only a first-rate score, a first-rate script, first-rate direction, and first-rate acting.

    Has any movie ever contained first-rate work in all four of those departments?

    I'm sure you've had the experience of hearing a recording of a superb movie score by a major composer, and wanting to see it in its original setting—only to discover that the script, or the acting, or both, weren't worthy of the magnificent music lavished on them!

    Many Hollywood movies with classic scores by Korngold, Herrmann, etc., contain outstanding direction and acting, but the scripts were obviously put together by the familiar stock committee method—the results may be serviceable, but aren’t in themselves outstanding.

    Many British films with classic scores by Alwyn, Auric, etc., are quite competently directed, but you’d never say they had anything special to offer in that department.

    I set aside Alexander Nevsky because of its simplistic propaganda script, Shostakovich’s Lear because of its acting problems (partly because the central role was mimed by one performer and dubbed by another), and Louisiana Story because it contains nothing that could exactly be called acting.

    Offhand, the films that spring to my mind as possibly coming closest to true fourfold classic status might include (in chronological order):

    Pygmalion (1938). Score by Arthur Honegger, script by Bernard Shaw, direction by Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard, performances by Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, etc.

    Our Town (1940). Score by Aaron Copland, script by Thornton Wilder, direction by Sam Wood, performances by Frank Craven, Martha Scott, William Holden, etc. (But the script has been much criticized.)

    Citizen Kane (1941). Score by Bernard Herrmann, script by Herman J. Mankiewicz, direction by Orson Welles, performances by Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, etc.

    The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Score by Bernard Herrmann, script by/from Stephen Vincent Benet, direction by William Dieterle, performances by Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, James Craig, etc.

    Henry V (1944). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Leslie Banks, Robert Newton, etc.

    Ivan Grozny (1944–1948, unfinished). Score by Sergei Prokofiev, script & direction by Sergei Eisenstein, performances by Nikolay Cherkasov, Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, Serafima Birman, Mikhail Nazvanov, etc.

    La Belle et la bête (1946). Score by Georges Auric, script & direction by Jean Cocteau, performances by Jean Marais, Josette Day, etc.

    The Winslow Boy (1948). Score by William Alwyn, script by Terence Rattigan, direction by Anthony Asquith, performances by Robert Donat, Neil North, Margaret Leighton, Cedric Hardwicke, etc.

    Hamlet (1948). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Felix Aylmer, etc.

    Orphée (1950). Score by Georges Auric, script & direction by Jean Cocteau, performances by Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, etc.

    La Beauté du diable (1950). Score by Roman Vlad, script & direction by René Clair, performances by Gérard Philipe, Michel Simon, etc.

    Madame de... (1953). Score by Georges Van Parys, script by Marcel Achard, direction by Max Ophuls, performances by Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio de Sica, etc.

    Hobson’s Choice (1954). Score by Malcolm Arnold, script from Harold Brighouse, directed by David Lean, performances by Charles Laughton, Brenda de Banzie, John Mills, etc.

    Richard III (1955). Score by William Walton, script from William Shakespeare, direction by Laurence Olivier, performances by Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, etc.

    La Princesse de Clèves (1961). Score by Georges Auric, script by Jean Cocteau, direction by Jean Delannoy, performances by Jean Marais, Marina Vlady, etc. (The marmoreal “Old Guard” direction might be the debatable point here.)

    Hamlet (1964). Score by Dimitri Shostakovich, script from William Shakespeare tr. Boris Pasternak, direction by Grigoriy Kozintsev, performances by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, Mikhail Nazvanov, Elza Radzina, etc.

    When I watch such movies (no doubt there are plenty of others that I can't recall offhand) I don't feel disillusioned. I don't feel that anyone in the team has let the side down. I do feel that the movie is worthy of the music.

    The list cuts out around 1960 because my wife & I have watched virtually no movies dating from later times. Others would no doubt be able to comment there!
    I love your list!! What an estimable group of films. I'd also have to say for score, script, acting, direction - "Psycho", just for starters. "Les Enfants du Paradis" Direction: Marcel Carne, Script: Jacques Prevert, Score: Maurice Thiriet, Cinematography: Roger Hubert, Production Design: ALEXANDRE TRAUNER. Starring Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur (been to his grave at Pere Lachaise), Arletty.

    One of the most phenomenal films of all time from any nation. Made under the most extreme conditions during the Vichy government in France, in two separate parts/reels. The perfect synthesis of all the cinema arts. Funny, sad, dramatic, melodramatic, philosophical. Who will ever forget that last scene where Baptiste escapes in grief into the carnival crowd and his tragedy is magnificently counterpointed with the festivities. It's a very long film and does become bogged down at times, but the storylines always remain interconnected. A glory of a thing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsX2heVNcdY

    "Shut up!! I can't hear the mime!!"

    In my opinion Jean-Louis Barrault was one of the greatest actors ever to appear on screen. Who could know that when that train steamed into La Ciotat and on screen 125 years ago, filmed by the Lumiere Brothers, that we would be rewarded via the miracle of cinema with a golden art form in dimensions of accessibility nobody could have ever imagined.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dgLEDdFddk
    Last edited by Christabel; Nov-28-2020 at 06:39.

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    Oh, I certainly shouldn't have missed that! If that isn't a classic in all four departments, I don't know what is. I've seen Thirieu's name in the credits of several movies, always with good scores; I wonder what he did outside the cinema.

    This makes me realize that I've also, criminally, overlooked Jean Françaix, who created the perfect scores for several of the cleverest movies ever constructed, notably:

    Les Perles de la couronne (1938), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Lyn Harding, etc.

    Assassins et voleurs (1956), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Jean Poiret, Michel Serrault, etc.

    to which I would also add (though their sheer length might be a problem for some):

    Si Versailles m’était conté (1954), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Sacha Guitry, Jean Marais, Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, etc.

    Napoléon (1955), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Daniel Gélin, Raymond Pellegrin, Sacha Guitry, Michèle Morgan, Orson Welles, etc.
    Last edited by gvn; Nov-28-2020 at 09:38.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Oh, I certainly shouldn't have missed that! If that isn't a classic in all four departments, I don't know what is. I've seen Thirieu's name in the credits of several movies, always with good scores; I wonder what he did outside the cinema.

    This makes me realize that I've also, criminally, overlooked Jean Françaix, who created the perfect scores for several of the cleverest movies ever constructed, notably:

    Les Perles de la couronne (1938), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Lyn Harding, etc.

    Assassins et voleurs (1956), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Jean Poiret, Michel Serrault, etc.

    to which I would also add (though their sheer length might be a problem for some):

    Si Versailles m’était conté (1954), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Sacha Guitry, Jean Marais, Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, etc.

    Napoléon (1955), score by Jean Françaix, script & direction by Sacha Guitry, performances by Daniel Gélin, Raymond Pellegrin, Sacha Guitry, Michèle Morgan, Orson Welles, etc.
    I haven't heard of any of those, so thanks for the references. Probably they'd be available through Criterion, or similar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Many Hollywood movies with classic scores by Korngold, Herrmann, etc., contain outstanding direction and acting, but the scripts were obviously put together by the familiar stock committee method—the results may be serviceable, but aren’t in themselves outstanding.
    You mention Herrmann, but no Hitchcock? I mean, Vertigo alone . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Many British films with classic scores by Alwyn, Auric, etc., are quite competently directed, but you’d never say they had anything special to offer in that department.
    If you're going to mention Alwyn, you've got to include Odd Man Out.

    I'll also add Bernstein and On the Waterfront.
    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christabel View Post
    Les Enfants du Paradis
    My favorite film ever.
    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    My favorite film ever.
    It's so very easy to love, as the Porter song would have it!!

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    Any film by Fellini with score by Nino Rota.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christabel View Post
    I haven't heard of any of those, so thanks for the references. Probably they'd be available through Criterion, or similar.
    Pearls of the Crown is in a convenient cheap Criterion Eclipse box called Presenting Sacha Guitry, along with three other Guitry movies of the late 1930s (none, I think, with Françaix scores).

    Guitry was a kind of combination John Barrymore and Preston Sturges (if that helps), i.e., he was a flamboyant stage & screen star and also an extremely witty & original dramatist. He had one of the most beautiful speaking voices I've ever heard, with immaculate diction and a full, baritonal timbre shot through with a rich, expressive quick vibrato like a great violinist.

    Half his movies are purely filmed theatre--preserving original cast performances of his classic plays from a virtually stationary camera. (O that the great actor-dramatists of the English-speaking theatre had done the same! What wouldn't one give for a simple celluloid transcript of Private Lives played by Coward & Lawrence!) Two of the items in the Criterion box are documents of that kind.

    Guitry's other movies, however, are totally original creations for the cinema and play all kinds of inventive games both verbally and visually. They were probably the biggest single influence on the young Orson Welles--half of the most innovative things in Citizen Kane (e.g., the breakfast scene) are adapted from, or inspired by, Guitry films of the period.

    The dialogue of Pearls of the Crown is conducted in three languages--French, English, and Italian--or four if you count the utterances of Arletty, who speaks nothing but gibberish from start to finish. The remaining movie in the Criterion Eclipse box, The Story of a Cheat, is equally original but in an entirely different way, which I wouldn't want to spoil in advance.

    Assassins et voleurs has been issued on commercial DVD only in France and without subtitles. i think downloadable amateur English subs are available on the internet, and DVD-Rs using those subtitles are floating around, but I can't vouch for their quality! Perhaps Criterion will do something for it too. It has one of the most jaw-droppingly astonishing plots I've ever encountered.

    Versailles and Napoleon are Guitryesque versions (or perversions) of French history. As I noted above, they're VERY long, too long for some tastes, but on the other hand the extra length does give Françaix more room to move--from a purely musical viewpoint, they're probably his finest scores for the cinema. I fear they too may be available complete on commercial DVD only unsubtitled and in France. A severely cut English-language dub of one (I forget which) is in circulation, but I don't think anyone would recommend it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    You mention Herrmann, but no Hitchcock? I mean, Vertigo alone . . .

    If you're going to mention Alwyn, you've got to include Odd Man Out.

    I'll also add Bernstein and On the Waterfront.
    Yes, fair comments. As I mentioned above, I personally have slight problems with the scripts of many standard Hollywood movies. Vertigo is a case in point. To me the score seems highly creative, the work of an absolute master; ditto the direction; ditto the acting. But I don't see anything comparably creative in the script--it's a perfectly competent Hollywood committee transcript of an ingenious story. It does its job perfectly well, it doesn't do anything wrong, but simply leafing through a big collection of Hollywood scripts (separated from the score, the direction, and the acting), I don't think I would see anything classic about it. Just as I want to hear something really imaginative, non-routine, in a movie's music, so I want to hear something really imaginative in its spoken dialogue. (Hecht, Sturges, Welles, Kaufmann....) Obviously these are purely subjective, personal responses.

    Another bad Alwyn omission from the above list is The Fallen Idol with script by Graham Greene, direction by Carol Reed, performances by Ralph Richardson etc. Surely that must qualify for fourfold classic status! What was I thinking of, to omit it?
    Last edited by gvn; Nov-28-2020 at 22:31.

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    @gvn: I'll have to acquire those works you've mentioned which are available on Criterion. Thanks so much for the excellent comments on these films. My foreign film viewing, I know, is sadly lacking. These films would have had an influence on the European emigres to the USA, such as Ernst Lubitsch. His "Trouble in Paradise" is actually very European in its aesthetic.

    You mention having 'trouble' with the scripts in some Hollywood film; there were excellent writers about, however. What about "His Girl Friday", Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht? "Ninotchka" has a brilliant and witty script. But I see the point you're making; you're looking for all four criteria as in the OP. In the case of "Ninotchka" you have brilliant and witty writing and directing but I don't think the cinematography (Daniels) or acting stands out.

    There have been absolutely superb writers for American film; I'm thinking of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin for "Adam's Rib" - an absolutely wonderful film - as just one example. So very many from which to choose. Just recently I watched 'Hud' written by Irving Ravetch/Harriet Frank. Gold. Also, more recently, the Coen Brothers. These are highly original scripts. I think "The Man who Wasn't There" is their finest, and there is classical music in it. Roger Deakins's cinematography is masterful (it's totally gorgeous!!) and the direction and acting is of the highest order: also its noir image, plot and argot. Not only that, but the narrative is disjointed and confusing in the same way that Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" proved to be for Howard Hawks!! The Coen Brothers love the American film legacy and very much admire the work of Hawks, and this is clear in "The Man who Wasn't There".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8AE-25r3TE

    Here's Roger Deakins talking about the cinematography: sadly, he's not very articulate.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DStM9TV1jE
    Last edited by Christabel; Nov-28-2020 at 23:10.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Yes, fair comments. As I mentioned above, I personally have slight problems with the scripts of many standard Hollywood movies. Vertigo is a case in point. To me the score seems highly creative, the work of an absolute master; ditto the direction; ditto the acting. But I don't see anything comparably creative in the script--it's a perfectly competent Hollywood committee transcript of an ingenious story. It does its job perfectly well, it doesn't do anything wrong, but simply leafing through a big collection of Hollywood scripts (separated from the score, the direction, and the acting), I don't think I would see anything classic about it. Just as I want to hear something really imaginative, non-routine, in a movie's music, so I want to hear something really imaginative in its spoken dialogue. (Hecht, Sturges, Welles, Kaufmann....) Obviously these are purely subjective, personal responses.
    It's hard to argue about such matters, since my differing response is also purely subjective and personal--as are the responses of the American Film Institute members who in 2007 ranked Vertigo as the ninth greatest American film, or the critics surveyed in the 2012 British Film Institute's Sight & Sound poll who hailed Vertigo as the greatest film ever made. No one is required to agree with such assessments, of course, but they do at least suggest that the film--including its screenplay--may be more than just "perfectly competent."
    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    It's hard to argue about such matters, since my differing response is also purely subjective and personal--as are the responses of the American Film Institute members who in 2007 ranked Vertigo as the ninth greatest American film, or the critics surveyed in the 2012 British Film Institute's Sight & Sound poll who hailed Vertigo as the greatest film ever made. No one is required to agree with such assessments, of course, but they do at least suggest that the film--including its screenplay--may be more than just "perfectly competent."
    Oh, the standard of the film is not in dispute at all, and I don't think the script does anything to undermine it--I just don't think the script matches the brilliance of Herrmann's brilliant score! Again and again I hear something absolutely breathtaking in the orchestra, but then the next line of dialogue is something bland, unimaginative, uncreative.

    The fact that a film is a masterpiece doesn't necessarily mean that its script is also a masterpiece. Just as the fact that a film is a masterpiece doesn't necessarily mean that its score is a masterpiece. I think Ozu's and Mizoguchi's movies are among the very greatest works of cinema ever made anywhere by anyone, but that doesn't mean that I think their scores are among the greatest film scores composed by anyone. (Very much the reverse, in fact--bland snippets of Home, Sweet Home played with excruciatingly treacly sentimentality by barely competent performers!)

    You get the same thing in opera, of course. Some operas have brilliant music and brilliant scripts: Norma (Bellini/Romani), Elixir of Love (Donizetti/Romani), Otello (Verdi/Boito), Mefistofele (Boito/Boito), etc., etc. Others have brilliant music and perfectly competent scripts (all those Verdi/Piave operas, for instance). Others, alas, have brilliant music and incompetent scripts (Masked Ball [Verdi/Solera], especially in the original Italian--all its verbal clumsinesses & incompetences are naturally fixed up in all translations!).

    I most certainly do consider Vertigo a masterpiece, just as I consider Rigoletto a masterpiece. But it's a Verdi/Piave masterpiece, not a Verdi/Boito masterpiece.

    What I'm asking in this thread is: "What are the Verdi/Boito masterpieces of the cinema?"--those that don't just have brilliant scores, but comparable brilliance in other areas as well. A tall order, I know!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christabel View Post
    You mention having 'trouble' with the scripts in some Hollywood film; there were excellent writers about, however. What about "His Girl Friday", Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht? "Ninotchka" has a brilliant and witty script. But I see the point you're making; you're looking for all four criteria as in the OP. In the case of "Ninotchka" you have brilliant and witty writing and directing but I don't think the cinematography (Daniels) or acting stands out.

    There have been absolutely superb writers for American film; I'm thinking of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin for "Adam's Rib" - an absolutely wonderful film - as just one example. So very many from which to choose.
    Yes, that's exactly how I feel. His Girl Friday, Ninotchka, Adam's Rib are scripts with exactly the kind of creative brilliance that I want alongside the work of the greatest film composers.

    I wonder if we could put up The Big Sleep as qualifying. Outstanding script based on Chandler, outstanding direction by Hawks, outstanding acting by Bogart & Bacall. But in this case I'm not sure that I would regard the music as outstanding. Max Steiner isn't my favorite Hollywood composer (though I don't mind his work), and this particular score doesn't seem to me one of the best examples of his art. But others may feel differently.
    Last edited by gvn; Nov-29-2020 at 00:09.

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