Sophie Lowe, left, and Morgan Saylor are excellent as sisters in “Blow the Man Down.” (Courtesy Jeong Park/Amazon Studios)

Women charm in droll comedy ‘Blow the Man Down’

Criterion streams classic German expressionist cinema

A streaming recommendation, for obvious reasons, leads things off. “Blow the Man Down” is a salty, quirky, gritty, droll, female-driven noir comedy set in a fishing village with a delectably sinister vibe. It begins streaming Friday, March 20 on Amazon Prime.

The debut film from writer-directors Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole combines Coenesque ingredients — grisly doings, eccentric characters, genre tropes and colorful site-specifics — and fresh elements, including a female focus and its unique setting, Easter Cove.

The town, in Maine, is a coastal hamlet where fishermen sing shanties and people say “toodaloo,” not “you betcha.” Women, especially those with dark and dubious pasts, stick together and run the show.

The story loosely centers on the Connolly sisters: responsible, straitlaced Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and younger, restless Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor). The pair have inherited crushing debts from their mother, whose funeral they’ve just attended. Priscilla intends to work hard to keep the family fish store operating. Mary Beth can’t wait to leave town.

But when Mary Beth inadvertently kills a creep she met at a tavern by stabbing him in the neck with — what else? — a harpoon after he attacks her, she finds herself with a mess to clean up. To conceal the act, she and Priscilla stuff the corpse into an ice chest (a fish knife comes in handy) and dump the cooler and its gruesome contents into the ocean.

Soon, a corpse washes up — but a different corpse.

The filmmakers have described small-town Maine as somewhat of an “alternative Wild West,” and their movie reflects that sentiment.

Body No. 2 is that of a prostitute who worked for the formidable Enid Devlin (Margo Martindale), who runs a brothel disguised as a B&B. The man Mary Beth killed also was employed by Enid, to whom all roads seem to lead.

There’s also a trio of female elders (Annette O’Toole, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot) who used to be friends with Enid, but now, despising her business practices, want to cut her down to size. Enid calls them “catty bitches.”

Alexis (Gayle Rankin), a prostitute, has her own reasons for wanting to bring Enid down, meanwhile.

Dark truths emerge as the Connolly sisters’ and Enid’s narratives intersect. A bloody knife and a bag of money also play a role in the action.

“Blow the Man Down” isn’t profound, penetrating or hard-hitting, and it’s not wholly effective. Scenes featuring a conscientious young cop (Will Brittain) play weakly, for example.

Yet it’s thoroughly enjoyable as a tale of crime, sisterhood and small-town secrecy. It features fun female spins on familiar ingredients and achieves dramatic impact from sly glances, not violent showdowns. The refreshingly low-key storytelling focuses more on characters than plot twists.

The screenplay contains some choice lines.

At one point, Priscilla thanks a neighbor who’s given her flowers. “They weren’t cheap,” the neighbor huffs. “Toodaloo,” the neighbor then chirps.

Atmosphere is another strong point. The directors, whose shots of waves, rocks, boats and wind, and close-ups of weathered faces, make this town a character in its own right.

Shanties, sung robustly by seamen, don’t entirely jibe with the prevailing tone, but they supply an intriguing fabular element.

Among the first-rate cast, Martindale triumphs in the showy role of Enid, a hardened survivor who exudes evil but never becomes a caricature. Saylor and, especially, Lowe provide poignancy as the sisters come to terms with their personal situations and tainted family history. O’Toole, Squibb and Hugot delight as pie-serving, tea-sipping senior dames with their own secrets.

REVIEW

Blow the Man Down

Three stars

Starring: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Margo Martindale, Gayle Rankin

Written and directed by: Danielle Krudy, Bridget Savage Cole

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

The cast and crew of “Blow the Man Down” includes, from left, writer-director Danielle Krudy, actresses Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor and writer-director Bridget Savage Cole. (Courtesy Amazon Studios)

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” from 1920 is among the classic German-expressionist films streaming at criterionchannel.com. (Courtesy Criterion Collection)

German-expressionist cinema produced groundbreaking and terrific films in the 1920s and 1930s, many now horror classics. Gems from the movement will stream in a 10-movie program viewable on the Criterion Channel this Sunday.

The German expressionist filmmakers, like the painters and theater artists associated with that movement, favored emotional and atmospheric material over realism. Their work contained angular visuals, heightened shadows and subjects including madness, torment, abusive authority, monsters and the supernatural.

German-expressionist fare, from “Nosferatu” to “Metropolis,” inspired the horror and noir genres of later decades, influencing the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Otto Preminger and Tim Burton.

Films on the Criterion slate are from the silent and early-sound eras and include some masterpieces.

Selections include “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920), director Robert Wiene’s horror classic about a deranged hypnotist who uses a somnambulist to kill people. Its dark, angular, distorted look reflects the characters’ states of mind, and the movie’s painted sets suggest German-expressionist paintings.

Also by Wiene, whose films seem to have the creepiest titles, is “The Hands of Orlac” (1924). The horror drama centers on a renowned pianist who, through a transplant procedure, winds up with a murderer’s hands.

“The Golem” (1920), directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, is a supernatural Jewish tale set in the ghetto of Prague. The title refers to a magical being created by a rabbi to defend his people. Some have described it as a precursor to James Whale’s “Frankenstein.”

“Nosferatu” (1922), F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized rendition of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” is a genre classic that demonstrates how a good horror story can truly disturb your comfort zones. Max Schreck plays Count Orlok, the famed vampire. The film contains the iconic scene of his shadow ascending a staircase.

Fritz Lang, who would later bring his German-expressionist sensibilities to Hollywood, accounts for half of the Criterion bill. A featured masterwork is “Metropolis” (1927), Lang’s pioneering sci-fi drama about class, workers, towers, mass production and technology’s effect on humanity.

“M” (1931), perhaps an even greater Lang must-see, stars Peter Lorre as a serial killer of children. The entertaining and affecting drama, which would influence future serial-killer movies, depicts the hunt for the killer, by cops and underworld criminals alike, and addresses issues ranging from politics to the vigilante mentality.

Also look for Lang’s “Dr. Mabuse the Gambler” (1922) and “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933), both featuring the criminal genius created by novelist Norbert Jacques.

Lang’s “Destiny” (1921) is a supernatural romantic fantasy inspired by an Indian folk tale.

E. A. Dupont’s much-praised “Variete” (1925) tells a tale of jealousy and murder in a circus setting. A forceful Emil Jannings stars in the revenge melodrama, which was shot with an unchained camera and was a major hit in its day.

German Expressionism films stream Sunday, March 22 on Criterion Channel at www.criterionchannel.com.

Movies and TV

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Breed: SF will extend order to stay home until at least May 1

Mayor London Breed said Monday that the shelter-in-place order that went into… Continue reading

Mental health, suicide hotlines brace for surge of crisis calls

Responders feel the weight of the coronavirus-related calls themselves

SFUSD reduces food pick-up days, sites

The district will still provide five days worth of meals for children

In a time of isolation, the demand for animal companions has increased

Flooded with requests to foster or adopt, shelters and rescue groups move operations online

Chinatown SRO tenants fear close quarters will spread coronavirus

Shared kitchens, bathrooms make it difficult to avoid contagion

Most Read