“Little White Lies” (2010)
This French film from the writer and director of the 2006 thriller “Tell No One” took a lot of cues from “The Big Chill” right down to the 1960’s soundtrack. The differences: This group of friends is in relatively constant contact, they are brought together not by a friend’s death but by a friend’s hospitalization due to a nearly fatal traffic accident, and they are about to embark on an annual vacation (as opposed to a weekend reunion) haunted by their friend’s absence and myriad secrets they are trying to keep from each other and themselves.

Marion Cotilliard and Jean Dujardin would be the most familiar faces to American audiences, both are Oscar winners. Dujardin’s role is small – he plays the severely injured friend, but Cotilliard is one of the key characters – an activist who travels the world and leaves a trail of broken hearts in her wake. The characters live in Paris, but most of the action takes place at the vacation home owned by Max, played by Francois Cluzet. He and his wife voluntarily foot the bill for everything on these annual vacations, and he doesn’t mind mentioning it. His frequent meltdowns, due to a whopper of a revelation from another friend on the trip, are a source of great comedy and drama in the film.

As much as I love American music from the ‘60s, it seemed rather out of place in this film. I kept wondering why they didn’t pull from a decade that might have been specifically nostalgic for these particular characters, like perhaps the ‘80s. And there was no need for the film to be two and a half hours; it would’ve been just as effective, if not more so, at a flat two hours. Cotilliard’s sulking and Cluzet’s petulance definitely started to wear on me.  But generally, it was an interesting foray into the excesses, obsessions and pretenses of dazzling French urbanites with means pushing 40.
DIRECTOR: Guillaume Canet | HEADLINERS: Marion Cotilliard, Francois Cluzet, Jean Dujardin

“They Drive by Night” (1940)
This was one of those pleasant surprises – a movie I had no intention of watching all the way through when I came across it on TCM, but I couldn’t seem to change the channel. Not to be confused with the 1948 Nicholas Ray movie “They Live by Night” starring Farley Granger, which is what came to mind when I saw the title, this movie features Humphrey Bogart just a year or so before his star-making turn as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.” In fact, there were three names above Bogie’s on this picture: George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino – names modern audiences might not know so well unless they are classic movie fans. But at the time, they were all big stars, and Bogart would soon eclipse them by becoming a superstar.

Raft and Bogart play truck drivers who carry loads at all hours, making their trips dangerous because of the inevitable lack of sleep they get, even though they ride as a team. They’re dream is to someday own their own trucking business. Raft is inspired to work even harder toward their goal when he meets and falls for Sheridan. And fortuitously, a friend soon offers Raft a great opportunity in that direction. Unfortunately, Raft has a history with his friend’s wife, played by Lupino, and she seems to think Raft ought to rekindle their history – in spite of her married status. Her husband is played by Alan Hale, who years later would become the Skipper on TV’s “Gilligan’s Island.”    

Director Raoul Walsh does a great job of keeping the pace steady and suspenseful, but Ida Lupino is the stand-out as the obsessed woman. The ending could’ve been handled with a little more finesse, but it was sufficiently jarring to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Lupino and Bogart didn’t have any scenes together in this movie, but they made up for it when they starred in Walsh’s next picture the following year, the acclaimed “High Sierra,” which I also recommend.
DIRECTOR: Raoul Walsh | HEADLINERS: George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart