Browsed by
Month: June 2006

Way Out West (1937)

Way Out West (1937)

“I think we’ve given that deed to the wrong woman!”

Synopsis:
Laurel and Hardy head to Brushwood Gulch to deliver a gold mine deed to the daughter (Rosina Lawrence) of a dead prospector. Once there, however, they find themselves swindled by the girl’s bosses (Jimmy Finlayson and Sharon Lynn), and must do what they can to return the deed to its rightful owner.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this classic Laurel and Hardy flick is “consistently funny”, “well-paced”, and full of “sight gags, slapstick, and witty verbal repartee”. Along with Sons of the Desert (1933) and Block-Heads (1938) (both also recommended by Peary), it is required Laurel and Hardy viewing for any film fanatic.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hardy forcing a tearful Laurel to eat his hat
  • Stan using his thumb as a lighter
  • Lynn tickling Hardy into giving her the will
  • Laurel and Hardy’s soft-shoe dance number
    Soft Shoe

Must See?
Yes. This is one of Laurel and Hardy’s best works, and not to be missed.

Categories

Links:

Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers/Revenge is Sweet (1934)

Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers/Revenge is Sweet (1934)

“I thought you said 100 soldiers six feet high!”

Synopsis:
Oliver Dee (Oliver Hardy) and Stanlee Dum (Stan Laurel) attempt to rescue Little Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry) from the evil clutches of Silas Barnaby (Harry Kleinbach).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this imaginative fantasy film — which has “always been a favorite of children” but has recently “become a cult favorite of adults as well” — has much to recommend it: multiple familiar fairy tale friends; “nifty” costumes; an exciting story of good versus evil; and the wonderful comedic team of Laurel and Hardy. I agree with Peary, however, that some of the songs could probably have been cut; unlike the highly memorable roster of tunes in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Victor Herbert’s operatic arias here are sappy and instantly forgettable.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Laurel and Hardy as the infinitely clueless Dum and Dee
  • Inventive sets and costumes
  • Fun incorporation of multiple fairy tale characters into one story

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

Links:

Birth of a Nation, The (1915)

Birth of a Nation, The (1915)

“This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today.”

Synopsis:
After the defeat of the South in the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan fights against what it perceives as the emergence of black supremacy.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this groundbreaking, highly controversial silent movie as “the birth of the feature film”. Indeed, as Roger Ebert argues in his “Great Movies” review, in Birth…, director “[D.W.] Griffith demonstrated to every filmmaker and moviegoer who followed him what a movie was, and what a movie could be.” Peary notes that the film — “based on the Reverend Thomas Dixon’s racist Reconstruction play The Clansman, which celebrated the KKK for restoring the politics and life-style of the antebellum South” — will “astonish you with its visuals” (see here for an extensive list of the cinematic techniques Griffith brought to the film) yet “repulse you with its content”. Peary chastises Griffith for promoting a narrative in which “the klansmen become our heroes when they rescue whites who are about to be killed by black militiamen”, and concludes his review by arguing that Birth… is “a great film… marred by a reprehensible viewpoint”. He concedes, however, that it’s “too important to miss, if only to see what once passed as history.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An abundance of exciting new cinematic techniques — including cross-cutting, night photography, the “iris shot”, and color tinting
  • Highly realistic Civil War battle recreations

Must See?
Yes. While difficult to watch, this film is nonetheless too historically important for any film fanatic to miss.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Hallelujah! (1929)

Hallelujah! (1929)

“Look, son: the Lord has sent an angel to show you the way.”

Poster

Synopsis:
A humble cotton farmer (Daniel Haynes) is seduced by a gambling vamp (Nina Mae McKinney), then repents for his sins by becoming an itinerant preacher.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this landmark all-black film (made and financed by white director King Vidor) is actually rather dull. In addition, it unfortunately helped to establish the offensive stereotype that rural blacks are happy living in poverty simply because of their deep religious faith. Nonetheless, the film is worth checking out for its historical status, as well as to watch Nina Mae McKinney’s truly electric performance as the wily femme fatale.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nina Mae McKinney as the beautiful, seductive, deceptive Chick
    Nina Mae McKinney
  • Mammy Johnson (Fannie Belle DeKnight) singing a lullaby as she rocks one of her children to sleep

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as the first all-black film to come out of Hollywood.

Categories

Links:

Hang ‘Em High (1968)

Hang ‘Em High (1968)

“How many men are you going to have to hang to heal your scar?”

Synopsis:
Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood), wrongly accused of cattle rustling, is hung by a group of vigilantes and left to die. When he survives, Cooper becomes a marshal for the local judge (Pat Hingle), and vows to seek revenge on the men who nearly killed him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary doesn’t seem to like this western much, calling it “derivative”, “stilted”, and “cliche-ridden”. I suspect, however, that the film suffers primarily from guilt-by-comparison, since it was made immediately after Sergio Leone’s string of brilliant “Man With No Name” westerns. In reality, Hang ‘Em High is actually an enjoyable revenge tale, one which manages to comment on the public thirst for bloody spectacle without coming to any neat-and-tidy conclusions. In addition, Judge Fenton is played with surprising nuance by Hingle; his struggle to bring justice to the vast, untamed Oklahoma Territory makes for an interesting contrast with Walter Brennan’s more humorously sadistic Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner (1940).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pat Hingle as the frustrated, hard-nosed Judge Fenton
  • Bruce Dern in an early villainous role
  • The “Hanging Circus” scene, which makes public corporal punishment come across as a viable entertainment alternative to the County Fair

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links:

Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The (1967)

Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The (1967)

“I am not a comedian… I am Lenny Bruce.”

Synopsis:
Lenny Bruce debunks the obscenity charges made against him in New York City.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Lenny Bruce’s second-to-last live performance is crudely shot, lacking in focus, and only intermittently funny. Nonetheless, Bruce still manages to come across as both highly intelligent and naturally witty, and it’s easy to catch glimpses of his genius through the haze of his (legitimate) obsession with the “politics of obscenity”. Most enjoyable for me was seeing what a master Bruce was at voice characterizations — watch how easily and convincingly he’s able to switch from character to character during his running jokes.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bruce’s improvisatory discussion of the obscenity charges made against him
    Charges
  • The skewering “How the Jew and the Negro Got Into Show Business” schtick (much less offensive than it sounds)
    LennyBruce
  • If you’re renting the DVD, don’t miss the oddly hilarious short “Thank You Mask Man”, in which one of Bruce’s most famous running jokes is set to animation
    Mask Man

Must See?
Yes. As Lenny Bruce’s only live performance preserved on film, it holds a special place in cultural history.

Categories

Links:

Rocketship X-M (1950)

Rocketship X-M (1950)

“You must get back to Earth, and tell them what we found.”

Synopsis:
A team of travellers on an eXpedition to the Moon (X-M) finds their rocketship heading towards Mars instead.

Genres:

  • George Pal Films
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Science Fiction
  • Space Exploration

Response to Peary’s Review:
Viewed by many as an irredeemably “bad movie”, this dated sci-fi flick is primarily notorious for beating out George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950) as the first of the “fifties science fiction cycle”. In his review, Peary insists that Rocketship X-M — despite its much lower production values and infinitely inferior scientific credibility — is “at least as entertaining” as its Technicolor counterpart. While this is true to a certain extent, the number of sexist comments directed towards the lone female on board the ship made it difficult for me to focus on anything else. Check out this inane repartee, for instance:

Dr. Lisa Van Horn (Osa Massen): I suppose you think women should only cook, and sew, and bear children–
Col. Floyd Graham (an annoyingly smug Lloyd Bridges): Isn’t that enough?

In terms of the plot, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo framed the story as a cautionary tale about nuclear power: once the explorers arrive on Mars, they find that a nuclear holocaust has caused the “once advanced civilization” of (conveniently) humanoid Martians to revert to a brutish cave-man existence. Unfortunately, the scenes on Mars — actually shot in the American Southwest with an added sepia tint — are underdeveloped, slowly paced, and largely unsatisfying.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • First 1950s sci-fi flick
    Mars

Must See?
Yes, but only for its place in film history.

Categories

Links:

Massacre at Central High (1976)

Massacre at Central High (1976)

“There’s definitely a message in all these accidents: the higher you feel, the deeper you fall.”

Synopsis:
A high school student (Derrel Maury) takes revenge on the bullies who crippled him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this unusual hybrid film is “a real sleeper”. Unfortunately, its misleading slasher title will prevent most mainstream viewers from seeking it out (not to mention disappointing horror fans who are looking for typical mindless fare). The story tells of a trio of bullies (Ray Underwood, Steve Bond, and Steve Sikes) who effectively rule Central High with their scare tactics. But when newcomer David (Maury) manages to knock them off one by one (without adult intervention, it should be noted), the remaining students prove themselves incapable of handling their newfound freedom — thus prompting Maury (once sincere and heroic, now cynical and heartless) to continue his descent down the slippery slope of retribution-by-death.

Peary offers a fascinating, in-depth political analysis of the film in his Cult Movies 2 (which I recommend reading). In a nutshell, he proposes that every character represents “a different political force”, and that Maury’s job “is to politicize [the two sympathetic protagonists], who are always neutral, and make them into activists willing to fight.” Many have likened this film to George Orwell’s Animal Farm — another tale of power and corruption told from the perspective of “lower class” citizens — and the analogy is apt: high school students and farm animals both represent “oppressed” citizens who ultimately require more than simply “freedom” to improve their lot.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fascinating use of a popular genre (teen slasher flick) to support a subversive message

Must See?
Yes. Don’t let the low budget and mediocre acting turn you off; it’s the story that counts in this one. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 (1983).

Categories

Links: