Rose-Marie (1936)

“If I should ever call you, would you answer me?”

Synopsis:
When a temperamental opera singer (Jeanette MacDonald) heads to the Canadian wilderness to find her fugitive brother (Jimmy Stewart), she falls in love with a singing Mountie (Nelson Eddy). But will his sense of duty foil their new romance?

Genres:

Review:
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy’s second film together (after the success of Naughty Marietta in 1935) features one of the most (in)famous musical romance numbers in movie history — “Indian Love Call”:

Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo
When I’m calling you
Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo
Will you answer too?
Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo

Can you hear it? I’m sure you can. As seemingly interminable as this sequence is, the rest of the film also leaves much to be desired. MacDonald’s diva singer is simply insufferable (though her behavior is presented as acceptable and perhaps even expected), and her blind adoration for a murderous brother (Stewart, in his break-through role) merely lowers one’s opinion of her even further (then again, perhaps filial loyalty was considered such a virtue that this was overlooked). MacDonald’s romance with stiff-as-cardboard Nelson Eddy is as inconsequential as could be; we’re made to understand that two such compelling operatic voices simply must be together. Film fanatics may be curious to watch this film once, to hear “When I’m calling you…” in its original context — but it otherwise should be relegated to historical vaults.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The iconic “Indian Love Call” sequence
  • Nice use of on-location shooting

Must See?
No — but do check out “Indian Love Call” on YouTube if you’ve never seen it. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Buffalo Bill (1944)

“Savages — brutes — fiends! Why did I ever come to this nightmare of a country?”

Synopsis:
After “Buffalo” Bill Cody (Joel McCrea) rescues a U.S. Senator (Moroni Olsen) and his beautiful daughter (Maureen O’Hara) from a stagecoach attack, he falls in love with and marries O’Hara, who struggles to adapt to life in the West. Meanwhile, McCrea tries to help broker peace with local natives — including Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and his sister Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell) — and tells stories of his adventures to a travelling writer (Thomas Mitchell).

Genres:

Review:
William Wellman’s biographical western of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody is an interesting attempt to add nuance and authenticity to a “cowboys and Indians” shoot-em-up flick, but ultimately doesn’t quite succeed at its goal. According to Jeff Wilson’s review for “Digitally Obsessed”, Wellman himself noted that the film was:

…meant to be a more cynical look at the legend of Buffalo Bill, but as Wellman described it to Richard Schickel in The Men Who Made the Movies, his co-writer decided that he didn’t want an American legend to be destroyed in that fashion, so the script was discarded and this more sanitized version was produced. Wellman was somewhat ashamed, as he put it, of the finished product, in particular the end.

Cody is shown as generally sympathetic and supportive of Indian culture (and concerned about too many bison being slaughtered), but it’s hard to tell fact from fiction, especially given the critical intervention of ultimate storyteller and myth-maker Ned Buntline (Mitchell) into Cody’s life.

The film’s most discomfiting scenes feature Darnell as an Indian princess who is openly jealous of Cody’s crush on O’Hara (thus adding a bit of “love triangle” tension to the film). In one scene, she helps the semi-literate Cody write a response to O’Hara’s note, looking at him with baleful eyes as she repeatedly attempts to craft an appropriate signature on his behalf. Later, she sneaks into O’Hara’s room and tries on a gown:

O’Hara [entering her room and spotting Darnell in her dress, admiring herself in front of a mirror]: Who are you? [Darnell turns around.] An Indian! What do you mean by breaking into my room and stealing my clothes?
Darnell: I… I didn’t come here to steal.
O’Hara: Maybe you Indians have another word for it, but that’s my dress you have on.
Darnell: I tell you I didn’t come here to steal.
O’Hara: Perhaps you’ll explain to me just what you’re doing in my clothes!
Darnell: I wanted to find out something.
O’Hara: And just what, may I ask?
Darnell: I wanted to find out… if I could be as beautiful as a white girl… in a white girl’s way.
O’Hara [melts, as violins begin playing]: Oh… I see. [smiles and takes Darnell’s hand, showing her the mirror.] There’s your answer. You look beautiful. [beat] I wish your Indian brave could see you now.
Darnell [eyes widen in anger, as pulsing drumbeats re-emerge on the soundtrack]: Indian! [she tears off the dress]
O’Hara: What is it? What did I say to offend you? Please… I’d rather you kept it. It was so becoming on you.
Darnell: I don’t believe you! You don’t want it because an INDIAN wore it! [throws dress at O’Hara]. Indian! [said as she climbs out the window].

This scene could be deconstructed in countless ways — but suffice it to say that Darnell’s character is openly ashamed of being Indian, and only believes she can have worth (and Cody’s heart) by looking beautiful in a “white girl’s way”. Meanwhile, the entire romance between McCrea and O’Hara lacks conviction: we’re not given much insight into why Cody would be so attracted to her other than her beauty, and their ongoing clash in lifestyles (who knew?!) simply serves as a predictable plot element driving narrative tensions forward.

Note: Nine years after his supporting role in Annie Oakley (1935) as Buffalo Bill, Moroni Olsen was cast in essentially a cameo role here as the father of the woman Buffalo Bill marries — a nifty touch for those keeping track.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

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

Links:

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

“Another robber — the hotel is full of them!”

Synopsis:
The daughter (Gloria Stuart) of a penny-pinching millionaire (Alice Brady) convinces her mother to allow her a summer of freedom and fun before marrying her stodgy older suitor (Hugh Herbert). Stuart quickly falls in love with her new “chaperone” (Dick Powell), a hotel clerk engaged to a fellow employee (Dorothy Dare) who decides to pursue Stuart’s thrice-divorced brother (Frank McHugh). Meanwhile, Brady hires a conniving Russian dance director (Adolphe Menjou) and his set designer (Joseph Cawthorn) to run her annual charity performance, and a wily stenographer (Glenda Farrell) schemes to milk Herbert of his money.

Genres:

Review:
Busby Berkeley’s first full-length directorial effort was this especially cynical entry in the “Gold Diggers” series, of which Peary lists three in his GFTFF: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), this, and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1937). The storyline in this entry features more than just gold-digging young showgirls: nearly ever character (except sweet-faced Powell and Stuart) is out to earn or save a buck in any way possible — from the manager (Grant Mitchell) of the swanky Wentworth Plaza Hotel (who not only doesn’t pay wages, but “generously” doesn’t charge his employees to work there given the tips they’ll supposedly earn, and who wants a cut of every “deal” made), to stingy Mrs. Prentiss (Brady), who gives a collective dime in tips to six bellboys who have just carried all her bags to her room (and is convinced the hotel is out to fleece her at every turn).

We also see a nefarious gold-digger (Farrell) coolly resorting to deception to achieve her goal of snaring a share of eccentric Herbert’s riches; a showman (Menjou) who openly writes the following telegraph to his friend: “HAVE HOOKED A RICH SUCKER STOP COME UP AT ONCE STOP PARDON ME FOR SENDING COLLECT”; and a woman (Dare) completely fine with her fiance (Powell) escorting a beautiful woman (Stuart) around town if it means earning money for their supposed future together. The contrived script and unsubtle performances, however, naturally take a back seat to the musical numbers in any Busby Berkeley film — and this one features several winners, beginning with a creatively filmed sequence of workers preparing to open the Plaza, and ending with the two showcase finales, which are well worth watching (see stills below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • “The Words Are In My Heart” white piano sequence

  • The “Lullaby of Broadway” closing number


Must See?
No, but I can understand why Peary included it in his book, given the stunning musical sequences — which you can now simply check out on YouTube.

Links:

Beginning of the End (1957)

“The time will come when the beasts will inherit the Earth.”

Synopsis:
A journalist (Peggie Castle) and a scientist (Peter Graves) help a general (Morris Ankrum) and his army fight against a swarm of giant atomic locusts headed towards Chicago.

Genres:

Review:
A direct rip-off of Them! (1954) (with locusts replacing ants), this Z-grade atomic-creature flick has everything you would expect in such a film — including an inevitable romance between a beautiful heroine and a handsome hero; laughably simplistic explanations of the science behind the animal mutations; and crowds running from super-imposed images on the screen. Director Bert I. Gordon — who also helmed Village of the Giants (1965) — was clearly comfortable with filming Big Creatures running amok among ordinary-sized humans, and that comfort shows here. But not much else can be said in the film’s favor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Reasonably effective imagery of giant locusts

Must See?
No — though you may want to check out the MST3K version for a few laughs.

Links:

Kipps (1941)

“The portals of society are open nowadays to anyone who has the means to make himself worthy of it.”

Synopsis:
A working-class draper’s assistant (Michael Redgrave) is fired from his job after a night of carousing with an actor (Arthur Riscoe), then comes unexpectedly into a sizable inheritance. Kipps (Redgrave) tries to enhance his status in order to impress a woman (Diana Wynyard) he hopes to marry, but is simultaneously attracted to his childhood sweetheart (Phyllis Calvert), who is now working as a maid.

Genres:

Review:
Carol Reed directed this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel about an eminently likable chap (Redgrave) — a “simple soul” — who longs for intellectual improvement and finds himself smitten by his aloof woodworking instructor (Wynyard). When a string of wild circumstances initiated by a drunken actor (Arthur Riscoe) lead Kipps into unexpected money, he’s swept into the fold of the very people he once idolized — including the owner of a “self-improvement” college (Max Adrian), Wynyard, and Wynyard’s barrister brother (Michael Wilding). Kipps’ story transpires in a rather predictable way from there: he misses his old chums, and finds he’s much more comfortable with his childhood sweetheart than with snooty Wynyard (who knew social class mattered so much?). Some tension arises around what decision Kipps will make between the two women, and there’s an additional narrative twist near the end — but this is otherwise a fairly straightforward tale of class aspirations and conflicts that will be of most interest to fans of the novel or Carol Reed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Arthur Crabtree’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look by Carol Reed fans.

Links:

Flesh and Fantasy (1943)

“I know your face is beautiful because you are — it couldn’t be otherwise!”

Synopsis:
When a man (Robert Benchley) has his fortune told at a party and then dreams the opposite will come true, his friend (David Hoffman) tries to soothe his nerves by telling three tales about the intersection of the supernatural with psychology: a plain and bitter woman (Betty Field) pursues a handsome student (Robert Cummings) during Mardi Gras while wearing a beautiful mask; a lawyer (Edward G. Robinson) is unduly influenced by a fortune teller (Thomas Mitchell) who predicts he will murder somebody; and a tightrope walker (Charles Boyer) is unnerved to meet the woman (Barbara Stanwyck) he saw during a dream as he was falling to the ground.

Genres:

Review:
A year after making the omnibus film Tales of Manhattan (1942), director Jules Duvivier helmed this loosely-linked episodic tale about the impact of prescience, coincidence, and superstition on our lives. The framing story in which Benchley is counseled by a friend at a gentlemen’s club is pretty thin stuff, and merely an excuse to tell three atmospherically filmed but variably engaging stories. The first (taking place during Mardi Gras) is almost laughable in its narrative simplicity: a “plain” woman (clearly pretty underneath shadowy lighting and dour make-up) is made “beautiful” by recognizing her worth, as she falls in love and loses her selfish stance towards life. The second segment — based on Oscar Wilde’s short story “Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime” — is much more engaging, thanks to a provocative narrative (does being told one’s fortune compel one to carry it out?) and Robinson’s typically-committed performance as a tortured man caught in the grips of “fate”. The final segment — in which Boyer’s “drunken tightrope walker” uses a dream as a legitimate way to connect with a beautiful woman (Stanwyck) he meets on-board a ship — is creatively filmed, but ultimately less satisfying. The primary reason to check this movie out is the stunning b&w cinematography by Stanley Cortez and Paul Ivano; just about every frame is a treat to look at.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The entire middle story

  • Wonderfully atmospheric and creative cinematography


Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look for the fine cinematography and the middle segment.

Links:

Reign of Terror (1949)

“No one goes to bed in Paris — it isn’t safe to go to bed!”

Synopsis:
A French patriot (Robert Cummings) kills and impersonates a notorious prosecutor (Charles Gordon) summoned by bloodthirsty Maximilian Robespierre (Richard Basehart), who informs Cummings that his “black book” of traitors-to-be-executed has been lost. With the help of his former lover (Arlene Dahl), Cummings attempts to locate the vitally important book — but will his true identity be revealed?

Genres:

Review:
Anthony Mann and DP John Alton collaborated on three low-budget films — T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and this title — before Mann embarked on the bigger-budget films he’s best known for, including Peary-listed titles such as Winchester ’73 (1950), The Tall Target (1951), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Glenn Miller Story (1954) The Man From Laramie (1955), The Far Country (1954), The Tin Star (1957), El Cid (1961), and more. This “cloak and dagger” historical adventure — taking place during France’s post-revolutionary Reign of Terror — is a highly atmospheric affair, with every frame and set maximized to craft a claustrophobic sense of perpetual danger and betrayal. Unfortunately, the screenplay (co-written by Philip Yordan) is mostly uninspired, with plenty of lines such as the following: “It’s either Madelon or the book — you can’t have both!” However, the details of the fast-moving script don’t matter as much as the excitement generated, and it’s easy enough to follow who the ultimate “bad guy” and “good guy” are. With that said, Reign of Terror is only must-see for fans of this type of flick, and/or Mann completists.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography (by John Alton)




  • Fine period sets and art design


Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look for its visuals alone. Available as a public domain title on Archive.org.

Links:

Clockwork Orange, A (1971)

“If you need Pretty Polly — you take it.”

Synopsis:
In a dystopian British future, an ultra-violent thug (Malcolm McDowell) who has committed a series of heinous crimes with his “droogs” (James Marcus, Michael Tarn, and Warren Clarke) is arrested and sent to prison, where he undergoes a new conversion therapy known as the “Ludovico Technique”. Upon release, Alex (McDowell) feels ill at the thought of violence or sex — but what future lies ahead for this reformed delinquent?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian 1962 novel — written after Burgess endured the brutal beating and rape of his wife by AWOL GI’s during a WWII blackout raid — remains a “visually brilliant [yet] thematically reprehensible” film. Peary asserts that “because Alex is meant to embody our savage, anarchic impulses, Kubrick figured we’d identify with him”, and “manipulates us into accepting Alex in relation to the world”. He notes that as “played by McDowell… Alex is energetic, handsome, witty, and more clever, honest, intelligent, and interesting than any of the adults in the cruel world” — and that “without exception, Kubrick makes Alex’s victims more obnoxious than they are in the book [and] their abuse at Alex’s hands more palatable by making them grotesque, mannered, snobbish figures”. Peary points out how many “distancing devices” Kubrick uses, including “extreme wide angles, slow motion, fast motion, surreal backgrounds, [and] songs that counterpoint the violence” — which, by the way, is all “very stylized” when Alex perpetrates it, “but when it comes time for him to endure violence… is much more realistic”. We’re led to pity Alex, who is “like an alley cat declawed before being returned to the streets”.

Peary’s no-holds-barred reviews of A Clockwork Orange in GFTFF (and his Cult Movies 2 book) are incisive, compelling, and worth quoting at greater length. He notes that Burgess stated, “If we are going to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a not unrepresentative member of it; it is preferable to have a world of violence undertaken in full awareness — violence chosen as an act of will — than a world conditioned to be good or harmless.” However, Peary points out that “the mankind Kubrick shows us is totally alien to us and not worthy of our love. And even before he undergoes the Ludovico treatment, Alex’s violent acts don’t seem to be made through free choice, but are reflexive, conditioned by past violence — he is already a clockwork orange (human on the outside, mechanized on the inside).” Ultimately, the “film’s strong, gratuitous violence is objectionable (as is the comical atmosphere when violence is being perpetrated), but the major reason the film can be termed fascistic is Kubrick’s heartless, super-intellectual, super-orderly, anti-septic, anti-human, anti-female, anti-sensual, anti-passion, anti-erotic treatment of its subject”, with “all emotional stimuli… lumped together as being harmful”, and “all art… pornographic”.

In Cult Movies 2, Peary adds that “the film is like a Sunday sermon where the fellow up on the pulpit suddenly realizes there is no moral lesson that applies to his listeners… Kubrick [simply] teaches paranoid individuals… that you can’t cure the habitual thrill criminal”. He concludes his essay in this book by noting that “once Alex is arrested and the look of the film shifts away from dreamlike pop art, the picture becomes excruciatingly dull”. I’m essentially in agreement with Peary: I’ve avoided a re-watch of A Clockwork Orange for years, and don’t plan to revisit it again — but it’s infamous (and beloved) enough to warrant one-time viewing by film fanatics. (Meanwhile, the cinematography and sets are indeed memorable, as is Wendy Carlos’s synthesized score.) Be forewarned that some scenes are almost unbearably misogynistic and/or brutalizing; if our world is actually headed in this direction, we have reason to be very scared indeed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Malcolm McDowell as Alex
  • John Alcott’s cinematography
  • Many hideously memorable sequences

  • Effectively stylized, futuristic sets and visual design

  • Wendy Carlos’s memorable synthesized score

Must See?
Yes, once, as a dark cult classic.

Categories

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

Links:

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.

Genres:

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.

Categories

Links:

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).

Genres:

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.

Categories

Links: