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Month: April 2006

Cold Wind in August, A (1961)

Cold Wind in August, A (1961)

“I keep forgetting I’m robbing the cradle.”

Synopsis:
A lonely stripper (Lola Albright) seduces a teenager (Scott Marlowe) in her apartment building, then finds herself unexpectedly falling in love.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • May-December Romance
  • New York City
  • Strippers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “Lola Albright… had her one strong movie role in this erotic, honest little sleeper”, playing a “past-her-prime stripper who, to show herself she still has what it takes, seduces a seventeen year-old”, and “is surprised to discover that he provides her with the love and sex that have been missing from her life”. Most effective is the way Burton Wohl’s screenplay (based upon his own novel) presents us with two characters in flux: Albright’s Iris is finally learning what it’s like to be in love, while Marlowe’s Vito is simply responding to his awakening sexual urges. It’s inevitable that such a pairing won’t last, but it’s still painful to watch Vito pulling away, and Iris suffering as a result. Made six years before The Graduate (1967), Cold Wind is the superior film simply in terms of showing the “older woman’s” perspective.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lola Albright’s mature, natural performance as Iris (Peary nominates her for an Alternate Oscar)
  • The rapport between Vito and his understanding father (Joe De Santis)
  • Unusual camera angles and editing
  • Striking graphics in the opening titles
  • Smart dialogue

Must See?
No, but it’s highly recommended for Albright’s wonderful performance.

Links:

Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The (1976)

Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The (1976)

“We don’t see much of you two in the village. Not even at the market.”

Synopsis:
Thirteen-year-old Rynn (Jodie Foster) tries to keep her father’s recent death a secret from her nosy landlady (Alexis Smith), her landlady’s lecherous son (Martin Sheen), and a local cop (Mort Shuman). Eventually she enlists the help of an unusual teenage boy with a limp (Scott Jacoby), and the two fall in love.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alexis Smith Films
  • First Love
  • Hiding Dead Bodies
  • Jodie Foster Films
  • Martin Sheen Films
  • Orphans
  • Psychological Horror
  • Survival

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “uncomfortable but interesting film” deals with one of my favorite cinematic tropes: independent kids who must survive on their own in an adult-centric world (see, for instance, Our Mother’s House). As Peary notes, the movie’s “preposterous storyline” sometimes “overwhelms its unique ‘child liberation’ theme”, but the film nonetheless builds to a genuinely suspenseful conclusion, and “Foster’s terrific performance still comes through.” Despite the fact that she’s killed at least one person and may kill more if necessary, Rynn is a remarkably sympathetic protagonist, and we root for her until the very end.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jodie Foster’s commanding, intelligent performance

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely recommended for Jodie Foster fans.

Links:

Soldier Girls (1981)

Soldier Girls (1981)

“Because I’m not gonna have anybody out there being all emotional and everything — ’cause you’re gonna hurt somebody.”

Synopsis:
A platoon of young women undergo basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Military
  • Soldiers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this fascinating, disturbing documentary by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill “should be shown in all high schools before army recruiters start handing out brochures about computer jobs and expenses-paid Hawaiian vacation.” Indeed, basic training is shown to be such bleak torture that it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing a life in the army after watching this film. The most disturbing sequences show certain “uncooperative” recruits being mercilessly hazed by their superiors — though it’s hard to feel sorry for one woman who fakes incompetence in order to get herself kicked out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A no-holds-barred look at the harsh reality of boot camp

  • The “mini-lesson” on biting off the heads of chickens
  • The female soldiers hanging loose in their barracks together

Must See?
Yes, for its revealing inside look at bootcamp.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

So Long at the Fair (1950)

So Long at the Fair (1950)

“Of course you don’t believe me. Nobody does! But I shall go on searching until I find him, do you hear me?”

Synopsis:
A young British woman (Jean Simmons) attends the 1889 Paris Exposition with her brother (David Tomlinson), only to find him mysteriously missing the morning after their arrival. When the hotel staff insists that neither her brother nor his hotel room ever existed, Simmons must investigate the mystery on her own, with the assistance of a helpful young stranger (Dirk Bogarde).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Dirk Bogarde Films
  • Gaslighting
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Simmons Films
  • Mysterious Disappearance
  • “No One Believes Me!”

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “very enjoyable and suspenseful” historical thriller — based on an urban legend, or perhaps a true story — is well-acted (particularly by “sweet, pretty Simmons and handsome Bogarde”, who “make an appealing romantic team”), genuinely gripping, and possesses a “clever, satisfying conclusion.” As Peary notes, Alfred Hitchcock “admired the film”, and fans of his thrillers — especially his similarly themed The Lady Vanishes — will undoubtedly enjoy it as well.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean Simmons as Vicky Barton
  • Dirk Bogarde as George Hathaway
  • Cathleen Nesbitt as the duplicitous hotel manager
  • A highly suspenseful story of “gaslighting”
  • Effective period sets and costumes

Must See?
Yes. This one is definitely worth seeking out.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Yum-Yum Girls, The (1976)

Yum-Yum Girls, The (1976)

“They’re not interested in our minds, you know.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring model (Michelle Daw) comes to New York in hopes of making it big, but finds that things aren’t as easy as she anticipated.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Models
  • New York City

Response to Peary’s Review:
After warning us that “your reputation’s on the line if you admit to having seen a film with” a title like this, Peary notes that “this R-rated exploitation film” is “relatively tame as far as the sex goes”, and adds that “most of the memorable moments are comedic, featuring an array of funny actresses auditioning or making stupid commercials”.


He points out that “Daw is sympathetic” as a “young model-actress… who must play the ‘game’ in order to get ahead in New York”, and that while the film is “nothing special” it “could have been worse”.

However, it will surely be hard for modern viewers to stomach the rampant sexual harassment and manipulation Daw must endure (one date actually tells her angrily that she “shouldn’t have eaten the hamburger” he foisted on her if she wasn’t willing to sleep with him later); and the endless clips of brainless beauties fumbling their lines simply adds insult to injury.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Not much.

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one.

Links:

Madchen in Uniform (1931)

Madchen in Uniform (1931)

“I can’t stand by and watch children made into scared, helpless creatures.”

Synopsis:
A young orphan (Hertha Thiele) at an authoritarian boarding school in Prussia develops a crush on her kind teacher (Dorothea Wieck).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Boarding School
  • German Films
  • Lesbianism
  • Orphans
  • Ruthless Leaders

Response to Peary’s Review:
This female-directed “landmark of the German cinema” was, as Peary notes, “the first German film to incorporate sound skillfully and thematically”, the first film to “treat lesbianism sympathetically,” and a rare movie which dared to “attack authoritarianism at the time the climate was right for Hitler’s rise to power.” Indeed, as Peary and many other reviewers have noted, Madchen is strongly allegorical, with the girls’ boarding school clearly meant to represent Germany’s increasingly oppressive fascist regime. It’s refreshing to see these girls — who are “spirited, funny, caring, and supportive” — sustain themselves through the love and support they have for one another.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A remarkably sensitive early cinematic depiction of lesbian attraction
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a landmark German film.

Categories

  • Controversial Film
  • Foreign Gem

Links:

Groupies (1970)

Groupies (1970)

“Led Zeppelin or some of them, nobody can fuck them — they’re hard to get. They’re the good ones — they’re the true pop stars!”

Synopsis:
Rock star groupies screw musicians and tell-all.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Counterculture
  • Documentary
  • Musicians
  • Obsessive Fans

Response to Peary’s Review:
Unlike Peary, I don’t believe this “terrific documentary subject” is made “surprisingly dull” by directors Ron Dorfman and Peter Nevard. While Peary argues that “half the time you don’t know what people on-screen are talking about, [and] at other times you don’t care”, I think the film’s cinema verite approach accurately captures how these groupies (not always the best and brightest) really live and talk. Despite their limited career aspirations, it’s revealing that these women (plus a few gay men) know exactly what they’re doing and why; in fact, they’re downright calculating about it, and it’s (usually) a “win-win” situation for the musicians (who enjoy screwing) and the women (who enjoy carving notches into their belts). These groupies consider it a competitive game to “ball” as many rock stars as they can, and are brutally honest (and open) in their estimation of the men’s charms and sexual abilities. It makes for a fascinating glimpse at an enduring subculture.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Terry Reid singing “Bang, Bang”
  • Hyper groupies dishing the dirt on all the rock stars they’ve slept with

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended as a revealing look at an interesting subculture.

Links:

Chained for Life (1951)

Chained for Life (1951)

“If I have a date, you have a date too, my dear.”

Synopsis:
A conjoined twin (Violet Hilton) shoots her sister’s con-artist husband (Mario Laval), and stands on trial for murder.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Singers
  • Twins
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “extremely dull” exploitation film starring conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton truly is a “curio” more than anything else. As in the Hilton sisters’ only other movie (Tod Browning’s cult classic, Freaks), “freaks” of nature are cruelly used and jilted by the “normal” folks around them — but in this case, the “freaks” are forced to stand trial in “normal” society rather than banding together to mete out vigilante justice. Despite its dull storyline, however, Chained for Life does include several interesting scenes (as when Violet is “fantasizing she is a normal woman and dancing with [her lover]”), and it presents viewers with some provocative dilemmas: Would you sentence Violet for what she did? And what would happen, logistically speaking, if one of a pair of conjoined twins was sentenced to jail?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An interesting take on the intense loyalty twins may feel for each other (but done much to much better effect by Olivia De Haviland in The Dark Mirror, 1946)
  • Dorothy’s fantasy dream sequence

Must See?
No. Watch the infinitely superior Freaks (1932) to get a more interesting, albeit shorter, glimpse of the Hilton twins.

Links:

After Hours (1985)

After Hours (1985)

“Why don’t you just go home?”

Synopsis:
A New Yorker (Griffin Dunne) meets an array of unusual characters while finding himself unable to get home on the worst night of his life.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Flashback Films
  • John Heard Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Martin Scorsese Films
  • New York City
  • Rosanna Arquette Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes this unusual Martin Scorsese film as a “loopy paranoia-comedy”, full of so many “ridiculous and tragic” occurrences that it’s clearly meant to resemble a living nightmare akin to Alice’s “bumpy descent into Wonderland.” It’s chock-full of hilarious exchanges, memorable moments, and quirky characters — including Rosanna Arquette as Dunne’s suicidal date:

… Linda Fiorentino as Arquette’s kooky sculptress roommate (who makes plaster-of-paris bagels!):

… Teri Garr as a baggage-laden blonde waitress:

… John Heard as a menacing bartender:

… Cheech and Chong as a pair of duplicitous thieves:

… and the always delightful Catherine O’Hara as a well-meaning but ultimately ruinous contact.

As Peary notes, Dunne’s character isn’t an overly sympathetic protagonist — indeed, “he’s kind of a worm” — but “we can [nonetheless] identify with his plight” given that he’s an “Everyman, with many of our less noble qualities.”

By the end of the film, Dunne learns that he should have stayed home instead of trying to take advantage of a stranger in need.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rosanna Arquette as the sweet but troubled woman Dunne meets in a coffee shop
  • Catherine O’Hara shouting out random numbers as Dunne tries in vain to memorize his friend’s phone number

Must See?
Yes. This unusual film is guaranteed to hold your interest, and remains a unique entry in Scorsese’s oeuvre.

Categories

  • Important Director

Links:

High School Confidential (1958)

High School Confidential (1958)

“If you flake around with the weed, you’ll end up using the harder stuff!”

Synopsis:
Tough Tony Baker (Russ Tamblyn) arrives at a new high school and immediately tries to edge in on the drug scene — much to the consternation of his concerned teacher (Jan Sterling).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Drug Dealers
  • High School
  • Jack Arnold Films
  • Jan Sterling Films
  • Mamie Van Doren Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Russ Tamblyn Films
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek” film about the “fifties turbulent-youth scene” — which contains “intentionally sleazy elements” — is “great fun because of the wild dancing and action, three blonde actresses…, and hip teen lingo that will make you feel nostalgic: ‘flipout’, ‘swingingest’, ‘nowhere’, ‘square’ ‘(fill in any word)sville'”, etc. He points out that producer Albert “Zugsmith and talented director Jack Arnold include much intentional campy humor, but the drug angle is treated cautiously” — and he adds that while it’s “a much better film than 1936’s Reefer Madness“, there “are a surprising number of similarities between the two” given that both claim “problem children don’t necessarily come from problem homes,” “the major dealers set up business with pushers and are too smart to be users themselves,” and “where there is loud music there are usually drugs” (!). Peary argues that Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn’s “nymphomaniac” aunt is particularly noteworthy, and that he believes “it’s worth the price of admission to watch her walking around in semi-obscene outfits…, biting into [Tamblyn’s] apple with thoughts of Eden in her naughty head.” Okay.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn’s aunt
  • Jan Sterling as Tamblyn’s concerned teacher
  • Tamblyn secretly shooting up into a ball rather than his arm when “testing out” some drugs

Must See?
Yes, as a cult movie. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 (1983).

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links: