Face in the Crowd, A (1957)

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!”

Synopsis:
A radio producer (Patricia Neal) discovers a charismatic drifter (Andy Griffith) in Arkansas who is soon tapped to star in his own television show as “Lonesome Rhodes”, and becomes a folksy cult favorite with “the common people”. Griffith and Neal fall in love, but their romance is compromised when Griffith marries an adoring young baton-twirler (Lee Remick). Meanwhile, Griffith’s estranged wife (Kay Medford) shows up to wreak havoc, and Griffith’s growing need for adoration turns him into a monstrous narcissist.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
There could hardly be a more apt time in American history to post a review of this “cynical film” about a “Frankenstein Monster [who] use[s] the media to bolster his fame, manipulate the public, and increase his power”. Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Bud Schulberg had no way of knowing that a bombastic reality-T.V. star would rise to the highest power of the land in 2016 — but their telescoping of current-day America is simply uncanny, and demonstrates that human tendencies haven’t evolved much (if at all) since this film’s release. Peary writes that “Schulberg is expressing his fear that television, which has tremendous power, will become a political tool” — as, of course, it has (along with the internet). He notes that while “Lonesome Rhodes is guilty of taking advantage of the medium — through which you can fool all the people all of the time”, “Schulberg is attacking us, the ignorant people who sits like sheep and believes whatever it sees on the tube”. Perhaps most creepily prescient is Peary’s comment that these days, if “Rhodes were caught expressing his real thoughts while thinking the mike was off, his popularity would probably go up”. ‘Tis true, indeed. He closes his review by noting that this is a “well-made film” and that “in her debut, Lee Remick catches your eye as a sexy baton twirler” — but I find it more relevant to comment on Kazan’s memorable direction and Gayne Rescher and Harry Stradling’s consistently stark b&w cinematography.

In his Alternate Oscars, Peary names Griffith Best Actor of the year for his role here, noting that his “Lonesome Rhodes is quite a shock, a perversion of the other two characters” he was known for at the time: a “harmless country boy” in No Time for Sergeants on Broadway, and his “easygoing sheriff in the long-running Andy Griffith Show.” He writes that “Lonesome is abrasive, ambitious, shrewd, and manipulative” — someone who “with unbridled energy and the right mix of superiority and humility, attempts to convince everyone around him that he is right”. He further notes that “when Lonesome expounds his conservative philosophy to redneck sycophants” he’s “creepy”, and that “when Lonesome has made a fool of himself on national television and no one shows up for his lavish dinner and he hugs the servants in an effort to get them to say they love him” he “is pathetic”. Lonesome’s ultimate lesson (appropriately enough) is that “it really is lonely at the top”. Peary asserts it’s a good thing that Griffith never again played such a “monster” on-screen, given that no one “could stand to see or hear another Lonesome Rhodes” — but then again, life itself offers plenty such monsters to loathe…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Andy Griffith as “Lonesome Rhodes”
  • Patricia Neal as Marcia Jeffries (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Fine cinematography


  • Incisive direction by Kazan



  • Budd Schulberg’s searing screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a heartbreakingly relevant classic. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

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Raw Deal (1948)

“What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born.”

Synopsis:
With help from his lovestruck moll (Claire Trevor), a convict (Dennis O’Keefe) escapes from prison and kidnaps a soft-hearted social worker (Marsha Hunt) while fleeing from both the police and his deceitful crime boss (Raymond Burr).

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Review:
Anthony Mann and DP John Alton collaborated on several Peary-listed titles, including T-Men (1947), Reign of Terror (1949), Devil’s Doorway (1950), and this gritty escape drama about a convict caught between his growing love for a “good” woman (Hunt) and loyalty for his girlfriend (Trevor). The three key characters in the film are indeed given a “raw deal”: O’Keefe took the rap on behalf of his corrupt boss (Burr), who not-so-secretly hopes O’Keefe will be killed during his escape; Trevor is desperately in love with O’Keefe, but recognizes Hunt as a legitimate threat to her status; and do-gooder Hunt simply wants to help O’Keefe, but ends up kidnapped and endangered as a result. The performances (including supporting roles by Burr, John Ireland, and others) are all excellent, and the storyline is reliably tense — but it’s Mann and Alton’s visual work that really ties this piece together as a stylistic gem of the genre (see stills below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dennis O’Keefe as Joe Sullivan
  • Claire Trevor as Pat
  • John Alton’s highly atmospheric cinematography



  • Anthony Mann’s consistently inventive direction

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little noir flick.

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American Pop (1981)

“You’re the prize in my box! And my box is this country. It’s all tinfoil on the outside, corn and sweetness on the inside.”

Synopsis:
Four generations of Russian-Jewish immigrants seek love, fortune, and musical careers in New York City and beyond.

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Review:
Ralph Bakshi‘s animated musical-paean to the messy glory of American life and the pursuit of happiness offers a satisfying alternative to his more famous yet crasser work (i.e., Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic). Utilizing impressive rotoscoping and an eclectic array of colors, sets, and styles, Bakshi tells an affecting tale of musicians (fathers, sons, grandsons) living through distinctive historical eras in America. Film fanatics will want to check this one out simply for the consistently engaging visuals and awesome soundtrack — including songs by Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, George Gershwin, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Louis Prima, and the Mamas & the Papas (whew!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent rotoscoping animation


  • An affecting story of inter-generational trauma and artistic striving

  • An impressive soundtrack

Must See?
Yes, as a good show with enduring cult potential. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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Daisy Kenyon (1947)

“I can’t wander all my life… I’ve got to be going somewhere!”

Synopsis:
When her wealthy lover (Dana Andrews) refuses to leave his manipulative wife (Ruth Warrick) out of concern for his two daughters (Peggy Ann Garner and Connie Marshall), a magazine artist named Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) agrees to marry a widowed veteran (Henry Fonda) — but is Andrews really gone from Daisy’s life?

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Review:
Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway‘s novel about a working woman in New York City who is torn between continuing her affair with an overbearing lawyer (Andrews) or settling for a tamer life with her smitten new suitor (Fonda). Naturally, it’s Crawford’s show the entire way, and her diehard fans likely won’t be disappointed — but the film on the whole is not quite satisfying, with both characters and plot underdeveloped. Fonda’s character is meant to be an enigmatic (how in the world did he come into Daisy’s life, anyway?), psychologically damaged milquetoast, with the ultimate result that he’s little less than a foil for Andrews’ unappealing womanizer. A critical subplot about Warrick’s abusive treatment of Marshall (who looks appropriately traumatized) is the most intriguing element of the screenplay, but is glossed over. Apparently the film now holds a minor cult following, with DVD Savant writing that it is “dramatically and emotionally satisfying” and “easily one of Preminger’s best efforts” — but I can’t really agree.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Crawford or Preminger completists.

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T.R. Baskin (1971)

“The city is pretty from a distance — like someone with bad skin.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Candice Bergen) from a small town heads to Chicago, where she falls for a guy (James Caan) who inexplicably mistakes her for a prostitute, and recommends her “services” to a former college buddy (Peter Boyle).

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Review:
Herbert Ross directed this somewhat bewildering flashback tale (scripted by Peter Hyams) about a naive young woman in the Big Cold City who is so offended at being mistaken for a prostitute that she… becomes one. The film’s “plot twist” is given away immediately, leaving all narrative tension (such as it is) to Bergen’s big reveal about how or why Caan could have done such a thing (spoiler alert — we never really learn). When the true meaning of a character’s initials is one of the film’s biggest mysteries (hint: Bergen’s character is named after a famous supporting actress), you know you’re in trouble. Thelma Ritter, please rescue us!

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some effective cinematography

Must See?
No; don’t bother seeking this one out.

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Untamed Youth (1957)

“Don’t you see, honey? After this harvest, I’ll be rich — and after next season, I’ll be wealthy!”

Synopsis:
Two aspiring singers (Mamie Van Doren and Loren Nelson) are arrested for vagrancy on their way to Hollywood, and sentenced by a judge (Lurene Tuttle) to work on a cotton farm owned by her greedy husband (John Russell), who hopes to exploit as many young “delinquents” as possible.

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Review:
All film fanatics should be familiar with Mamie Van Doren, known as one of Hollywood’s three busty-blonde “M’s” (along with Marily Monroe and Jayne Mansfield). However, Peary lists no less than eight of Van Doren’s titles in his GFTFF, which is far too many — and this Z-grade exploitation flick should definitely not be among them. Mamie shimmies as seductively as ever in her super-tight clothing, but she’s ultimately a bit player in a ridiculous tale about a villainous cotton farm owner who exploits young white delinquents (!) due to an apparent widespread lack of manpower (the racist implications in this aspect of the plot are beyond belief). Meanwhile, he’s actively deceiving his cougar-wife (Tuttle), whose passion for this caddish heel gives a terrible name to female judges, and lends the film its ultimate message: never trust hormonal middle-aged women in positions of power. According to IMDb, the film “was originally condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency” — perhaps due in part to a subplot involving a blonde delinquent nicknamed “Baby” (Yvonne Lime) — “but that only served to enhance the curiosity factor, resulting in it being a big moneymaker for the studio.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Surreal scenes of young white “delinquents” singing and dancing while “toiling” in cotton fields

Must See?
No, unless you’re a Van Doren completist.

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Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (1983)

“Don’t call me a former Communist, call me a former party member — because I’m still a communist, small c, in terms of wanting a cooperatively, communally controlled society where everybody has something to say about their life.”

Synopsis:
Former and current American Communist Party members speak about their involvement in this controversial political movement.

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Review:
This Oscar-nominated documentary offers a humanizing glimpse into the lives and convictions of diverse American Communists, both before and after HUAC — “created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties” — reached its zenith in the 1950s. As one interviewee explains, “I saw the Communist Party as a way of getting rid of an insane, erratic, irrational politic-economic system and bring into existence a rational, humane, humanistic society — socialism.” In addition to learning why American Communists felt so passionately about their cause, we hear their responses to Nikita Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin in a 1956 speech, which rattled most die-hard Communists to their core and was clearly responsible for the rapid decline in party membership. With socialism once again on the rise in America — and our collective memory notoriously short — this film remains an especially useful archival resource to consider.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Informative archival footage and interviews





Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a look for historical purposes. Your best bet for finding a copy is at your local public or university library.

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Fritz the Cat (1972)

“All the stuff to see — and all the kicks, and all the girls — are out there!”

Synopsis:
A swinging hep-cat (Skip Hinnant) beds chicks while seeking the meaning of life through drugs, a road trip, and violent revolutionary action.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “X-rated cartoon by Ralph Bakshi” — “based on Robert Crumb’s underground comic-book character” — “hit a responsive chord with hip counterculture audiences of the early seventies”. He writes that while it is “ambitious and cleverly animated”, he also finds it “extremely dull” and argues “it’s annoying that the characters whom Fritz meets… are stupid, hypocritical, cruel, sex-obsessed, [and] politically naive” — thus making this film “a downer for those who romanticize about that era”. I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s review: I applaud its innovation and clever visuals, but dislike nearly everything else about it (including the characters). Be forewarned that the film is filled with “much sexual and violent imagery”, and many scenes (while animated) are quite explicit; watching the trailer may suffice to familiarize yourself with what this one is all about.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Colorful animation

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its historical notoriety (but if you’d rather not subject yourself to it, just watch the trailer).

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Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

“You don’t forget the taste of human flesh!”

Synopsis:
A woman (Ursula Andress) searching for her missing husband travels deep into the New Guinean jungles, accompanied by her brother (Antonio Marsina) and an anthropologist (Stacy Keach). Once there, she encounters a sexy explorer (Claudio Cassinelli), many predatory animals, and a tribe of cannibalistic natives.

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Review:
Within the sub-genre of “cannibal horror flicks” — which “has a well-deserved reputation as the genre that was prepared to go to the most graphically nasty extremes of any exploitation genre” — this Italian adventure flick holds some limited fame, given that it had a generous budget, starred a couple of big-name actors (Andress and Keach), and wasn’t banned by any country. Does that make it worth viewing? Most decidedly not — unless your idea of fun is watching one-dimensional protagonists slogging their way through dense jungles, camera shots zooming in on menacing wildlife, native tribesmen (and women) enacting bestial rituals, and Andress heaving her glistening bosom while making heated proclamations:

“Why can’t you realize — I want to find my husband, that’s all!”
“My husband is missing — and I’m prepared to do ANYTHING to find him!”

Be forewarned that there’s a particularly nasty, infamous scene in which an enormous python devours a monkey in real-time. In an interview on the DVD, the director (Sergio Martino) claims it was all accidental and they just happened to film the moment, given that they “couldn’t do anything at that point to help” — but a freeze-frame analysis shows that the monkey was shoved into the snake’s mouth. Classy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effective use of authentic jungle settings

Must See?
No — unless you’re a film fanatic determined to familiarize yourself with every sub-genre out there. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

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Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

“When I watched him die and suffer like he did with that black lung disease, I knew that something could be done about it. I told myself then, if I ever get the opportunity to get those coal operators, I will.”

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Synopsis:
A group of poverty-stricken Kentucky coal miners seeking representation by the United Mine Workers go on strike until the Duke Power Company agrees to sign a contract with them.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “stirring, Oscar-winning documentary by Barbara Kopple” — “covering a successful, bitterly fought 13-month strike in 1973-74 at the Brookside mine in Harlan, Kentucky” — is “one of the most incisive portraits of America and the ever struggling labor movement”, and remains “as exciting as good fiction”. He describes how “Kopple and [her] crew befriended the striking miners and were allowed to enter their company-built shacks (which have no bathrooms) and their jail cells when they were arrested for obstructing scab workers who were driving to the mine; to attend organizational meetings; and to join them on the dangerous picket lines”. As Peary points out, Kopple “makes no attempt to disguise she’s on the miners’ side;” indeed, she and her crew put their own lives at risk numerous times. Peary writes that “emphasis is placed on the many women who picket on behalf of the male miners (who were limited to six pickets) and the old women who emotionally relate tragic stories about the suffering their fathers, husbands, and sons have endured as non-union miners”. In addition to current footage, we also “learn about the miners/people of Harlan County, their violent history, and their hope”. He asserts that “we are most impressed by their bravery, their obstinacy about not giving in, and, though they aren’t that educated, their tremendous grasp of the issues that brought about a strike”.

Peary’s review is spot-on: this film remains as exciting, informative, distressing, and relevant now as it was 40 years ago, and it’s impossible to forget many of the faces, images, and sequences on display. Kopple may not have intended to make a feminist film, but the grit and fury of these wives and mothers makes it clear that coal-mining is very much a family affair despite its deeply gendered history (no female coal-miners are shown). Thankfully, Criterion Films has not only preserved and digitized this movie but added informative supplements to the DVD, including a “making of” documentary, outtakes, and commentary by Kopple and editor Nancy Baker. John Sayles’ Matewan (1987) was directly influenced by this film, and he appears briefly on the disc as well. Click here to read an update on the ongoing labor realities of Harlan County citizens, who now face closing mines.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressive ethnographic footage of mining families’ lived realities and struggles
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  • Many powerful and/or frightening moments caught on film
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Must See?
Yes, as a still-riveting American documentary classic.

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