Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 20
Louis Malle October 31, 1932
Louis Malle born

The great French director Louis Malle was born October 30, 1932. Coming of movie-making age alongside the New Wave directors, Malle was never formally associated with that movement and, perhaps, was never treated as a boundary-breaking director. But he still created a number of sensuous and sometimes controversial works that were some of the best French films of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Crossing from documentary to fiction, occasionally drawing from the world of theater, and refusing to be bound by the “French system” by venturing into Hollywood, Malle was an elegant storyteller whose works usually featured indelible characters and strong emotions. Malle’s first film was as co-director with Jacques Cousteau of The Silent World, an undersea documentary that was the first non-fiction film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His first fiction film was Elevator to the Gallows, a terse crime pic with a moody Miles Davis score. Also in 1958 was the hugely successful Les Amants, starring Jeanne Moreau in a tale of adultery. In 1971, he made Murmur of the Heart, which featured mother/son incest, and in 1978 he made, in the States, Pretty Baby, starring a young Brooke Shields as child prostitute in 1917 New Orleans. Because of all these films, Malle was often thought of as a director who tackled controversial themes, but his best films were simpler human dramas where his skill for casting and directing actors could shine. In Atlantic City, for example, Susan Sarandon played a down-on-her-heels woman struggling to remake herself as a croupier in Atlantic City who befriends an aging numbers runner, Lou, played by Burt Lancaster. Wrote Roger Ebert, “What's interesting, even with a seemingly commercial project like Atlantic City, is how resolutely [Malle] stayed with the human dimension of his story and let the drug plot supply an almost casual background.” Malle died in November 23, 1995, of lymphoma.


More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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