Cinematic hat-tricks

Here’s an interesting one:

Before I get on to it, I’d like to acknowledge that the idea for this, such as it is, came from a Facebook post I saw recently from a friend. He knows who he is. I won’t embarrass him by naming him here – unless, of course, he specifically asks me to. I think he comes on to this blog from time to time. However, if this idea turns out to be a bad one, I take full responsibility for this upon myself.

Now that’s over with, let’s move on.

Can you name an instance of a film director who has made three great films in succession?

Of course, much depends on what you consider “great”. The example my friend gives is Carol Reed, who made, in succession, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, and The Third Man – and I reckon all three deserve to be called great. But what other examples are there?

There are surprisingly few. Usually, looking through even the most distinguished of filmographies, great films – or, rather, films I would consider great – are interspersed with minor works. For instance, I know Satyajit Ray started his career with the justly renowned “Apu Trilogy”, and that between the second and third of these films, he made Jalsaghar (The Music Room), which is also a masterpiece. So that’s four great films in succession. But looking at the full filmography, I see that in between those films he also made Paras Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone), which, to my mind, is a rather lacklustre comedy, so that spoils that one. I suppose one could go for Jalsaghar, Apur Sansar (the final instalment of the Apu Trilogy) and Devi, but the last of these, fine though it is, isn’t, perhaps, quite in the class of the others. (Ray continued to make great films right up to and including Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984), but they are all interspersed with lesser works.

So, presumably having nothing better to do, I started looking up filmographies of some of my favourite directors, and I was surprised how rare these hat-tricks were. The directors of classic Hollywood are generally a bad bet: they often regarded themselves primarily as craftsmen rather than as artists – even when they were artists – and made whatever the studios asked them to make (John Ford, say, is a prime example of this). Even with the very individual Billy Wilder, it’s difficult to find three consecutive works of comparably high standard.

I suppose it must be difficult, in any art form, and especially in cinema where so much depends upon collaboration and upon budgeting and finances, to maintain high levels of creativity over a concentrated period. And I suppose many film-makers may quite deliberately make a lighter film in between the heavyweights. But this makes all the more impressive the various instances where film-makers have indeed made great films in close succession.

Take Ingmar Bergman, for instance. In the late 50s, he made Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries in close succession. And he repeated the trick between 1961 and 1963, he made the three films known as the “Faith Trilogy” (don’t ask me why: that’s what it says on the cover of my DVDs!) – Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Night, and The Silence. And Luis Buñuel finished his distinguished career with three of his finest films – Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Le fantôme de la liberté, and Cet obscur objet du désir.

And going back to my own favourite era of film-making – the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood – despite all the strictures imposed by the studio system, Preston Sturges, between 1941 and 1944, made  not three, but five consecutive films that I, for one, would place in the  top bracket – The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and Hail the  Conquering Hero.

But perhaps the most impressive uninterrupted sequence of masterpieces came from Robert Bresson, when, in succession, he made Les dames du bois de Boulogne, Journal d’un curé de campagne, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, Pickpocket, Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, As hasard Balthazar, and Mouchette. I guess the only sequence of films to match that would be the seven films made by Andrei Tarkovsky.

I suppose Bresson went into the doldrums a bit after those seven films (in my opinion, at any rate), but, again in my opinion, he came back to form again with his last film, L’Argent: here, he took his spare, detached style about as far as it could possibly go, and came up with a film that haunts my mind. It is a film that does, I know, split opinions, but I doubt anyone can take serious issue with that extraordinary sequence of films he had made earlier in his career.

I’m sure there are many other sequences of uninterrupted creativity in film-making. So now it’s time to throw this open: what is your favourite cinematic hat-trick?

29 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Roger on December 9, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Hitchcock 1958 – 1963. Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds

    Reply

  2. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes in succession. I think that might well be the best example of a great cinematic hat-trick.
    These three films were directly preceded by I Know Where I’m Going, A Canterbury Tale and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, so you could easily argue they in fact made six great films in succession.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Roger on December 9, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Another good one from the studiomera is Howard Hawks 1938-1940. Bringing up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday

    Reply

  4. I don’t know how you deal with the word “great” here. It looks to me like there are lots of hat-tricks, not few.

    Kiarostami, artistic kin of Tarkovsky and Bresson, made something like 10 great films in a row, maybe more. “Where Is My Friend’s House” onward. Unbelievable.

    The Lumière brothers made ten or twenty or whatever great films in a row – and those were their very first films! Perhaps the very first films!

    Varda’s late career, the digital era, is an interesting example of a great run.

    Reply

    • Yes, I should have been clearer on that point. .”Great” is what I, personally, consider “great”,and I do appreciate that everyone will have different ideas of what constitutes “Greatness”. It was really just a bit of idle curiosity on my part to see what others think constitute a “great run”.

      Reply

      • I should add that I think Terence Fisher had a “great” run of Hammer horror films, but I think I may be in a minority with that opinion! 🙂

      • Posted by Chris Jennings on December 10, 2019 at 7:15 pm

        “I should add that I think Terence Fisher had a “great” run of Hammer horror films, but I think I may be in a minority with that opinion!”

        Dracula, The Mummy, and Brides, and that trio doesn’t even include my favourite horror of all from a few years later, The Devil Rides Out.

    • I figured. But then, boy do I ever have a long long list of great runs. Some of them are theoretical. When will I ever watch enough Julien Duvivier films, to pick a likely candidate, to really know?

      Reply

  5. Francis Ford Coppola had a run of four in the ’70s – The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now. All pretty decent films…

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    • That was indeed a terrific run. And from my era too!

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      • I may be too decrepit by this point to claim the 2010s as my era (that was probably the 1990s, a cinematic wasteland by comparison), but the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had an incredible run of three recently with A Separation, The Past and The Salesman (and About Elly too, earlier on). A Separation is the greatest film of the century so far, by my reckoning. You should watch it!

      • I have certainly heard many fine things about Iranian cinema, and have even seen a couple of films by Kiarostami. I shall most certainly seek this one out.

  6. Posted by Charley Brady on December 10, 2019 at 2:30 am

    Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Dekalog’, ‘Double Life of Veronique’ and the ‘Three Colours’ trilogy. Also ‘The Wild Bunch’, ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue’ and ‘Straw Dogs’ from Sam Peckinpah. In fact I’d add the wonderful ‘Junior Bonner’ to that run.

    Reply

    • I had a feeling you’d mention Peckinpah! 🙂
      Does Cross of iron fit there anywhere? I think that’s my favourite Peckinpah film.

      Reply

      • Posted by Charley on December 10, 2019 at 1:44 pm

        God, am I that predictable?! As to the brilliant ‘Cross of Iron’ I wish I could get it in there. Unfortunately it comes between ‘The Killer Elite’ and ‘Convoy’!

      • Well, that’s a shame! But you do often find that even with the best – a couple of fine films, and then something relatively minor. Doesn’t matter – we still have Cross of Iron!

  7. Posted by David Gouldstone on December 10, 2019 at 8:09 am

    David Lean arguably gets two mentions. Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, then (several pretty good films later) The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago (plus, possibly, according to taste – though as everyone acknowledges this is all a matter of taste – Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India).

    Reply

  8. Posted by sandra McGregor on December 17, 2019 at 9:07 am

    What about early Kubrick? The Killing 1956. Paths of Glory 1957 and Spartacus 1960.

    Reply

    • Agreed, they’re all excellent films. I’m a particular fan of “Spartacus”. I’m very much in a minority in that I’m not really a fan of the films Kubrick made after that (except, perhaps, 2001 – A Space Odyssey which, despite my blind spot for science fiction, I can tell is the work of a very distinctive vision). But there can be little question about the quality of the films you mention.

      Reply

      • Posted by Charley on December 17, 2019 at 9:18 pm

        I’m amazed that someone didn’t mention Kubrick sooner, Sandra. I’ve never really gotten that guy, though. Totally baffled by the likes of ‘Lolita’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’; and yet for all that I find him overrated two of my favourite films come from him – ‘2001’ and the sublime, wonderful ‘Barry Lyndon’, which will be the closest I get to actually travelling back in time. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen it.

        As to ‘Spartacus’, who doesn’t like that one? Except maybe Kubrick, who pretty much disowned it.

        Oh and by the way, check out a documentary called ‘Filmworker’ on Kubrick. It was in the cinemas earlier this year and is quite an eye-opener!

  9. Fellini from 1957 to 1963. Cabiria, La dolce vita, Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio (my favorite among Fellini’s works) and 8½.

    Reply

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