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Month: June 2007

Kid Blue (1973)

Kid Blue (1973)

“I ain’t got no gun. I ain’t got no wife. All I got is a bed, and board, and a job, and I’m trying to be as good a citizen I can.”

Synopsis:
An inept train robber (Dennis Hopper) goes straight and takes a series of menial jobs in the town of Dime Box. Meanwhile, he befriends a genial factory worker (Warren Oates) and his seductive wife (Lee Purcell), as well as an eccentric preacher (Peter Boyle).

Genres:

  • Dennis Hopper Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Warren Oates Films
  • Westerns

Review:
This revisionist western tells the simple yet timeless tale of an ex-con going straight who faces a daunting lifetime of menial, low-paying work. Dennis Hopper is appropriately rangy and wide-eyed in the title role, but ultimately too long in the tooth (he was 37 at the time) to be playing a “young ‘un” needing to “respect his elders”.

More impressive are the cast of supporting actors, especially the always-reliable Warren Oates and Peter Boyle as the Kid’s new friends. Nothing special, but worth a look if you catch it on late-night T.V.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Warren Oates as the Kid’s new best friend
  • Peter Boyle as Preacher Bob
  • Lee Purcell as Molly

Must See?
No. This one is only must-see for western fans. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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Leopard Man, The (1943)

Leopard Man, The (1943)

“Cats are funny, mister — they don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them, they go crazy!”

Leopard Man Poster

Synopsis:
When a traveling showman (Dennis O’Keefe) and his star performer (Jean Brooks) accidentally let a leopard loose in a New Mexico town, innocent young women begin to die, one after the other. Soon O’Keefe starts to believe that a man — not a leopard — is responsible for the killings, and reluctantly tries his best to catch the murderer.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
More a “mystery with horror elements” than a straight horror flick, Peary designates The Leopard Man the “creepiest film” ever made by producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. Two sequences in particular are, as Peary notes, “among the scariest in film history”: when “a young girl [Margaret Landry] is chased home by the leopard through the dark, deserted streets and winds up outside her locked door, unable to get inside” (note the slow trickle of blood along the lintel of the closed doorway), and when “another young girl [Tula Parnen] is trapped inside a cemetery after dark, and something on the tree limb above her is ready to pounce”. Unfortunately, as Peary points out, “some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, and the finale… seems hurried” (not to mention far-fetched); but the story remains both tense and suspenseful, with plenty of grist for critical analysis (see the two Bright Lights Film Journal articles below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert De Grasse’s atmospheric cinematography
  • Many genuinely frightening scenes
  • Clo-Clo (Margo) clicking her castanets as she walks down the street

Must See?
Yes. This collaboration between Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur remains, according to Peary, “essential Lewton”.

Categories

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Seventh Victim, The (1943)

Seventh Victim, The (1943)

“I’ve always wanted to die.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Kim Hunter) searches for her missing sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks), who has joined a Satanic cult in New York.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “exceptional Val Lewton thriller” is a “complete original”, featuring “bizarre and sinister characters”, “smart, strong-willed women”, and “several scary scenes.” The screenplay is complex, “full of smart dialogue between educated characters about free will vs. fate”, and it takes an unexpected turn about halfway through, when Hunter and Hugh Beaumont (Jacqueline’s husband) fall in love with each other and reduce their efforts to find Brooks. As always, producer Lewton (this time via director Mark Robson and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca) employs stark cinematography and clever framing to create frightful scenes without gore (note especially the shower scene). The Seventh Victim is a rare film which requires multiple viewings to really “get”, but is worth the effort.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kim Hunter in her film debut as Mary Gibson
  • Jean Brooks as Jacqueline
  • Effective noir cinematography
  • Many genuinely frightening moments
  • The infamous shower scene, predating Psycho (1960) by 17 years
  • The surprise ending

Must See?
Yes. This enigmatic film has long held fascination for film fanatics, and merits multiple viewings.

Categories

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

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Uninvited, The (1944)

Uninvited, The (1944)

“Stella will never be well until this house is cured — and somehow, we’ve got to cure it!”

Synopsis:
Roderick (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) buy a house haunted by the unhappy mother of a local woman, Stella (Gail Russell). When they realize that Stella’s life is in danger, Roderick, Pamela, and a local doctor (Alan Napier) try to solve the mystery of the haunted house before it’s too late.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is clearly a fan of this “classy horror film”, labeling it “the cinema’s first really good ghost story”, and praising it for being “atmospheric, suspenseful, and witty.” Unfortunately, the film’s comedic overtones are distracting rather than enjoyable; because we’re never really scared, it doesn’t work as a true horror film. At the time of its release, lesbian fans flocked to see The Uninvited again and again, due to Cornelia Otis Skinner’s turn as a (presumed) former lover of Stella’s mother; unfortunately, this interesting subplot isn’t given adequate time or attention.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Likable Ray Milland as Roderick
  • Cornelia Otis Skinner as “Miss Holloway”
  • Atmospheric cinematography and sound effects

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance as an erstwhile cult favorite with lesbians.

Categories

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Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

“There’s something clammy about him… I’d have the same feeling brushing up against something in the dark night.”

Rasputin Poster

Synopsis:
In the Russian court of Czar Nicholas (Ralph Morgan), Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore), and Czarevitch Aloysha (Tad Alexander), the duplicitous “holy man” Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) worms his way to the top, while Prince Chegodieff (John Barrymore) does what he can to stop him.

Genres:

Review:
Like many Hollywood costume dramas, Rasputin and the Empress takes ample liberty with historical facts, focusing more on character than veracity: Lionel Barrymore’s Rasputin is appropriately wild-eyed and scummy, sister Ethel is adequately regal, and brother John provides a consistent voice of reason. The dialogue (by, among others, Charles MacArthur and an uncredited Ben Hecht) and elaborate set designs are enjoyable; otherwise, Rasputin remains a rather tepid affair, one which will annoy history buffs and only provide minimal enjoyment to most film fanatics. Watch it simply to see the three Barrymores in action, as well as for its legal notoriety (see note below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • All three Barrymore siblings acting together in one film
    Barrymores
  • Sumptuous sets and costumes
  • Rasputin forcing Aloysha to witness an ant and fly battling each other to the death

Must See?
No. Although it holds some historical importance as the film which prompted the disclaimer, “Any resemblance to actual persons…” to be added to historical dramatizations, it’s ultimately not must-see viewing.

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Scoundrel, The / Miracle on 49th Street (1935)

Scoundrel, The / Miracle on 49th Street (1935)

“How I wish that I were as nice as you think I am.”

Synopsis:
Ruthless, womanizing publisher Anthony Mallare (Noel Coward) falls in love with a young poet (Julie Haydon), then abandons her for another woman. When he is killed in a plane accident, Mallare’s ghost is given one month to find someone who will shed a tear for him, and he rests all his hope on Haydon.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “mix of Broadway satire and outright fantasy” by writer/director team Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur “looks great” and “has exceptional dialogue”. Unlike Peary, however, I’m less impressed by the overall screenplay, which shifts from a “supersophisticated script” into a far-fetched fantasy with a “simple, tear-jerking ending”. I much prefer the first two-thirds of the film, in which Mallare — played with wonderful panache by Coward (he should have done more screen acting!) — is snide and bitchy; because he’s so upfront about his love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude towards relationships, it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for Haydon (though we like her as well). Once Mallare dies and starts wandering the Earth, the story’s delicious bite fades away, as does much of our enjoyment. Nonetheless, this hard-to-find film remains worth watching at least once, if you can locate a copy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Noel Coward as Anthony Mallare
    Coward
  • Julie Haydon as Cora Moore
    Haydon
  • Lee Garmes’ cinematography
    Cinematography
  • Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s witty, clever dialogue: “She’s the only woman I’ve ever met who seems shallower and more superficial than I am. It’ll be a perfect match: two empty paper bags, belaboring each other.”

Must See?
Yes, simply for Coward’s excellent performance.

Categories

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Fraternity Row (1977)

Fraternity Row (1977)

“Ah, the pledges: mow ’em down, turn ’em active, and they keep coming, like bad dreams.”

Fraternity Row Poster

Synopsis:
In the 1950s, an idealistic pledge (Gregory Harrison) and his pledgemaster (Peter Fox) clash with a bullying brother (Scott Newman) over hazing practices at their fraternity.

Genres:

Review:
This remarkably assured feature debut by director Thomas Tobin and screenwriter Charles Gray Allison (who completed the film as his thesis project at USC) is based on a true story of accidental death-by-hazing. Given this background knowledge, one expects the story to focus on the negative aspects of fraternity life; indeed, when we hear Newman (Paul’s son) sneer early on, “Never forget that you are pledges, because a pledge is a low-life — scum, dirt, filth, diseased meat!” we cringe to think of what’s to come. Instead, the bulk of the story turns out to be relatively tame, only touching briefly on the vices and pitfalls of fraternity life (which in themselves come across as remarkably innocuous). Although the screenplay could be a bit tighter, and the elegiac narration by Cliff Robertson seems unnecessary, it’s hard to find fault with this competent film, a refreshing counterpart to raunchy college-exploitation flicks such as Animal House.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An insightful look at the rituals — both innocuous and harmful — of fraternity life
    Rituals
  • Good acting by the cast of (mostly) non-actors
    Actors

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended if you can find a copy. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Nightfall (1957)

Nightfall (1957)

“Yeah, I’ve got problems — who hasn’t?”

Synopsis:
A man (Aldo Ray) falsely accused of murder tries to escape from two bank robbers (Brian Keith and Rudy Bond), who believe Ray has their stolen money. Meanwhile, Ray is trailed by an insurance investigator (James Gregory) hoping to find the money himself.

Genres:

Review:
This well-acted, suspenseful B-noir by director Jacques Tourneur features inspired casting, with Aldo Ray an unlikely yet sympathetic leading man, and Anne Bancroft suitably adventurous as his new love interest. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (working from a story by David Goodis) makes good use of flashbacks to unveil Ray’s story, gradually revealing why he chooses to stay on the lam rather than go to the police. The snowy climax in Wyoming brings this enjoyable yarn to a tense and dramatic end.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Aldo Ray as the falsely accused fugitive
    Aldo Ray
  • Anne Bancroft as Ray’s new girlfriend: “You’re the most wanted man I know…”
    Bancroft
  • The snowy climax
    Snow

Must See?
No, but it’s highly recommended.

Links:

Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (1978)

Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (1978)

“I’ve declared war — that’s what I’ve done. I’ve declared war!”

Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Poster

Synopsis:
In the early 20th century, a half-aboriginal Australian (Tommy Lewis) tries to adapt to white culture, but finds himself unable to cope with rampant, debilitating racism.

Genres:

Review:
Fred Schepisi’s second film — a follow-up to his semi-autobiographical debut feature, The Devil’s Playground (1976) — was this adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s novel about the tragedy of systemic racism. Much like the New Zealand film UTU (1983), Blacksmith attempts to explain why relentlessly downtrodden individuals may turn to violence as a final means of expression: when all else is taken away from Jimmie (he’s unable to feed his own family), he must choose between abject resignation (other aborigines have descended into alcoholism) or rebellion. Blacksmith isn’t an easy film to watch, but it bears viewing by anyone genuinely interested in Australian history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tommy Lewis in the title role
    Tommy Lewis
  • A no-holds-barred look at race relations and prejudice in early-20th century Australia
    Prejudice
  • A powerful portrayal of a man attempting to straddle two radically different cultures
    Two cultures
  • A disturbingly realistic glimpse at aboriginal shantytowns
    Shantytown

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical importance. It’s listed as a cult movie in the back of Peary’s book, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could stomach this harsh film more than once.

Categories

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

Links:

Devil in Miss Jones, The (1973)

Devil in Miss Jones, The (1973)

“Touch me — please!”

Synopsis:
After finding herself damned to hell, suicidal spinster Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin) returns to Earth for a final attempt at sexual fulfillment.

Genres:

  • Adult Films
  • Life After Death
  • Mentors
  • Sexual Liberation
  • Suicide

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “Bergman-influenced existential p. film” remains one of the best “breakthrough” adult movies from the early 1970s. Spelvin — who looks refreshingly normal — she’s “neither young nor especially pretty” — brings acting chops to her role, and makes us genuinely care for her character, not an easy feat in an adult film. Even if we don’t especially enjoy watching Miss Jones diddling herself with water and fruit, confronting a phallic snake, or sandwiching herself between two guys, we appreciate the fact that at least we’re witnessing a genuine personal transformation in progress.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Georgina Spelvin’s passionate, seemingly “genuine” performance as Miss Jones
    Spelvin
  • A provocative, literate basis for an adult film
    Suicide
  • Unexpectedly fine production values
    Values

Must See?
Yes. Along with Deep Throat (1972) and Behind the Green Door (1972), this remains an icon of early 1970s adult filmmaking.

Categories

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