Pretty in Pink (1986)

Pretty in Pink (1986)

“You don’t understand that it has nothing at all to do with you.”

Synopsis:
When a teenager (Molly Ringwald) living with her unemployed dad (Harry Dean Stanton) falls for a rich boy (Andrew McCarthy), she seeks support from her quirky boss (Annie Potts) and her lifelong friend “Duckie” (Jon Cryer), who is hurt that Andie (Ringwald) isn’t interested in a romantic relationship with him instead.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Class Relations
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Father and Child
  • High School
  • Love Triangle

Review:
John Hughes’ third and final collaboration with Molly Ringwald — after Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985) — was this film (directed by Howard Deutch) in which Ringwald once again plays a savvy teenager making her way through the complexities of adolescence and romance.

At its core, this is a story about class relations — characters literally live “across the tracks” from one another — as epitomized by the unbearably snobbish, white-suited Steff (James Spader):

… and his bullying girlfriend Kate (Emily Longstreth, standing here next to Gina Gershon):

Meanwhile, McCarthy represents someone trying to navigate both sides of the coin:

… though truthfully, he simply comes across like a bland wet blanket. Much more colorful — if intentionally annoying — is Jon Cryer as Andie’s lovesick friend:

… while Annie Potts steals every scene she’s in as Andie’s slightly-older boss and friend; the sequence in which she reminisces about her prom is my favorite in the entire movie:

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tak Fujimoto’s vibrant cinematography
  • Molly Ringwald as Andie
  • Annie Potts as Iona
  • Jon Cryer as Duckie

Must See?
No, though of course John Hughes fans will consider it a must.

Links:

Jim Thorpe — All American (1951)

Jim Thorpe — All American (1951)

“Tonight we pay recognition to a man who had more than a brief moment — a man who, during the past half-century, has carved a permanent place for himself in all our hearts.”

Synopsis:
Award-winning Native American athlete Jim Thorpe (Burt Lancaster) marries his college sweetheart (Phyllis Thaxter) and enjoys a successful career under the tutelage of “Pop” Warner (Charles Bickford) — including setting numerous records at the 1912 Olympics — but experiences a rapid decline after the death of his beloved son.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Football
  • Michael Curtiz Films
  • Native Americans
  • Olympics
  • Sports

Review:
Michael Curtiz directed this engaging biopic about Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, whose career trajectory and personal life were filled with both triumphs and tragedies. As the film opens, we see restless young Thorpe (Billy Gray) being convinced by his kind father (Nestor Paiva) to return to school:

“You don’t see nothing but a boy’s world. That’s all you’ll ever see here on the reservation… You can try to make something of yourself — be something! [You can be] whatever you want to be, boy; it’s all in the books, and the books are in the schools.”

Next we see grown Thorpe studying at the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where he quickly demonstrates his mettle as an extraordinary runner and track-and-field star (Lancaster is truly impressive performing his own athletic stunts here).

Soon Thorpe meets and falls for a young woman (Thaxter):

… who is also being wooed by a star football player (Steve Cochran):

… thus leading Thorpe to attempt (and succeed in!) that sport as well. Meanwhile, Thorpe wows the entire world by setting new records at the Olympics:

… only to face a major setback when his awards are rescinded based on a ridiculous technicality. He rallies at the birth of his son, but when unimaginable tragedy hits once again, Thorpe never really recovers.

The screenplay simplifies Thorpe’s complicated personal life — he was married three times and had eight children, though only one of each are shown here — but we don’t mind this narrative elision given how powerfully we understand the depths to which he sinks.

Perhaps most impressive is the attempt made to present Native Americans’ perspectives on navigating through their newly colonized land — though we must also suffer through obnoxiously stereotypical “Indian music” pounding on the soundtrack:

Regardless, this film offers a rare glimpse into the lives of Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century, and serves as a valuable semi-historical document about an enormously gifted athlete.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe
  • Fine direction and cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical significance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Knute Rockne All American (1940)

Knute Rockne All American (1940)

“You’d be a success at anything you tried, Knute.”

Synopsis:
After his own success as a college football player, Knut Rockne (Pat O’Brien) becomes a beloved coach at Notre Dame, where he mentors numerous players — including George Gipp (Ronald Reagan).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Football
  • John Qualen Films
  • Pat O’Brien Films
  • Ronald Reagan Films

Review:
DVD Savant describes this idolizing biopic of Norwegian-American football coach Knute Rockne as “Warners’ valentine to American values”:

… and that just about sums it up perfectly. We see young Rockne (Billy Sheffield) — raised by his supportive dad (John Qualen) and mom (Dorothy Tree) — taking naturally to football:

… Rockne working hard (at the post office) to afford to attend college a little later than most:

… and Rockne getting along swimmingly with his roommate, Gus Dorais (Owen Davis Jr.) — alongside whom he “brought the forward pass to professional football”:

Eventually Rockne must decide — with help from Father John Callahan (Donald Crisp) and Father Julius Nieuwland (Albert Bassermann) — between a career as a chemistry instructor or a coach:

… and, of course, we know which path he will choose. He famously mentors baseball player-turned-football player George Gipp, who mouths the AFI’s 89th Greatest Movie Quote of all time on his deathbed:

“Some day, when things are tough, maybe you can ask the boys to go in there and win just one for the Gipper.”

Speaking of this film embodying “American values”, Gipp states the following line to Rockne’s devoted wife (Gale Page):

“There’ll never be but one Rockne — here at Notre Dame or anywhere else. He’s given us something they don’t teach in schools: something clean and strong inside, not just courage but a right way of living that none of us’ll ever forget.”

Other notable moments covered from Rockne’s life include coaching the “Four Horsemen” of Notre Dame:


… and Rockne’s tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 43, which led to improved aviation building standards. Football fans will surely be curious to check out this flick about the man who earned “the highest all-time winning percentage (.881) for a major college football coach”, and really did seem to be beloved by all — but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tony Gaudio’s cinematography

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1997.

Links:

Storm Over Asia / Heir of Genghis Khan, The (1928)

Storm Over Asia / Heir of Genghis Khan, The (1928)

“There are ceremonies and rites among all races.”

Synopsis:
When a Mongol fur trader (Valery Inkizhinov) is offered an unfair price for his wares, he attacks the white traders and flees for the mountains, where he joins Soviet partisans fighting against British occupying troops. Bair (Inkizhinov) is captured and nearly killed, but allowed to live when documents are discovered indicating he is an heir to Genghis Khan.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Russian Films
  • Silent Films

Review:
V.I. Pudovkin’s third film in his so-called “revolutionary trilogy” — following Mother (1926) and The End of St. Petersburg (1927) — was this highly fictionalized tale of Mongols rising up against imperialist Brits (who in actuality never colonized the land!). To explain why Pudovkin would make a film set in Mongolia, a bit of history — courtesy of Wikipedia — seems in order:

In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops led by warlord Xu Shuzheng occupied Mongolia. Warfare erupted on the northern border. As a result of the Russian Civil War, the White Russian Lieutenant General Baron Ungern led his troops into Mongolia in October 1920, defeating the Chinese forces in Niislel Khüree (now Ulaanbaatar) in early February 1921 with Mongol support.

To eliminate the threat posed by Ungern, Bolshevik Russia decided to support the establishment of a communist Mongolian government and army. This Mongolian army took the Mongolian part of Kyakhta from Chinese forces on March 18, 1921, and on July 6 Russian and Mongolian troops arrived in Khüree. Mongolia declared its independence again on July 11, 1921. As a result, Mongolia was closely aligned with the Soviet Union over the next seven decades.

Well, there you go; I certainly didn’t know any of this before watching Storm Over Asia. On its own merits (historical untruths aside), it offers a fascinating pseudo-ethnographic look at Mongolian rituals as juxtaposed directly against equally “odd” European rituals:


Indeed, Pudovkin’s use of montage is as masterful as ever, so those with an interest in watching his craft will want to check this one out — but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anatoly Golovnia’s cinematography

  • Expert use of montage
  • Fascinating footage of early 20th century Mongolian culture

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for its cinematic interest as the first movie shot in Mongolia (but not for its historical accuracy!). Listed as a film with Historical Relevance in the back of Peary’s book.

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

Links:

End of St. Petersburg, The (1927)

End of St. Petersburg, The (1927)

“It’s all the bald one’s fault, your honor.”

Synopsis:
When a young peasant (Ivan Chuvelyov) goes to St. Petersburg seeking work, he learns that his former neighbor (Aleksandr Chistyakov) — much to the consternation of Chistyakov’s worried wife (Vera Baranovskaya) — is involved in a strike, and Chuvelyov foolishly goes to the authorities with this information. Soon Chuvelyov is inscripted into World War I, and returns to help the revolutionaries take over the Winter Palace.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Labor Movements
  • Revolutionaries
  • Russian Films
  • Silent Films

Review:
Russian director V.I. Pudovkin’s follow up to Mother (1926) was this second of three films about revolution, with key actors (Baranovskaya and Chistyakov) from Mother reappearing:

… and the storyline once again showcasing someone who naively betrays a comrade, then has a change of heart and joins the movement.

As noted in Cinesavant’s review, there is plenty of “furious fast cutting”; indeed, Pudovkhin’s masterful use of montage to build tension and perspective was legendary. The following abbreviated set of stills shows, for instance, how he builds up to the climactic firing on the Winter Palace:













Close-ups of “heroic” faces are interspersed with group shots, weaponry, statues, and buildings — occasionally repeated or provided in a closer-up view — to show how collective and coordinated the effort was. It’s impressive editing work for sure, and those interested in early Soviet cinema will certainly want to check it out — but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography
  • Masterful use of montage

Must See?
No, unless you’re particularly interested in Agitprop cinema. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Love of Jeanne Ney, The (1927)

Love of Jeanne Ney, The (1927)

“Six years in this country… and not one pleasant memory.”

Synopsis:
In Crimea near the end of the Russian Civil War, a young woman (Edith Jehanne) in love with a Bolshevik (Uno Henning) must retreat to Paris after the sudden death of her father (Eugen Jensen). In Paris, Jeanne (Jehanne) stays with her detective-uncle (Adolf E. Licho), whose blind daughter (Brigitte Helm) falls for a sociopath (Fritz Rasp) planning to murder her after inheriting her money, and who has soon framed Henning for theft of a valuable diamond.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Falsely Accused
  • G.W. Pabst Films
  • Psychopaths
  • Silent Films

Review:
G.W. Pabst is best known for the two films he made starring the incomparable Louise Brooks: Pandora’s Box / Lulu (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). As in Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925) (co-starring Greta Garbo), this earlier film is similarly concerned with luckless women struggling to survive in male-dominated spaces:

In this case, we see the travails of not only the titular character, but her hopelessly naive blind cousin (Helm will be recognizable to film fanatics as Maria in Metropolis), who not only lives with a money-obsessed father:

… but falls for the nasty, rat-like Rasp (seen here groping a kiss with Jehanne while holding clueless Helm’s hand:


In another minor but thematically relevant scene, Jehanne watches a beautiful young bride sobbing quietly during her festivities:

… before being swept into an embrace by her enthusiastic new husband.

What’s most consistently impressive about Pabst’s work is his visual style, on ample display here. Unfortunately, the narrative — including a bit about a diamond-swallowing parrot (!):

— is pure pulp, and doesn’t really satisfy. This one is only must-see viewing for Pabst enthusiasts.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Highly expressionistic cinematography




  • The wild opening orgy scene

Must See?
No, though of course fans of Pabst will want to check it out. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

7th Voyage of Sinbad, The (1958)

7th Voyage of Sinbad, The (1958)

“May the powers of God protect all our footsteps.”

Synopsis:
While traveling to Baghdad with his future bride, Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant), Sinbad the Sailor (Kerwin Mathews) is blown onto the island of Colossa, where he’s rescued from a cyclops monster by the magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), who has stolen a magic lantern with a genie (Richard Eyer) inside it. When the cyclops recovers his lantern after it drops into the sea, Sokurah (Thatcher) engineers a return to Colossa by miniaturizing the princess and insisting a certain ingredient to cure her is only available on the island.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Magicians
  • Ray Harryhausen Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “wondrous adventure is a major source of inspiration for most of today’s [1986’s] fantasy-film directors, who were kids when it came out and had never seen anything like it” — and it remains notable as “the first film in which special-effects master Ray Harryhausen employed ‘Dynamation’/’Dynarama,’ whereby he could show live actors in the same frame with his animated, imaginatively designed creatures.” Peary argues that “handsome Kerwin Mathews is the best Harryhausen hero, his best Sinbad”:

We enjoy watching him battling “a fire-spitting dragon:

… a giant Cyclops:

… [and] a sword-wielding skeleton.”

Peary adds that “the adventure is exciting — kids will love it — and Harryhausen’s work is spectacular,” and he notes that while “it’s more juvenile than Jason and the Argonauts” (which I ultimately prefer), it’s “just as much fun.”

Peary’s review is accurate: this magical adventure film offers non-stop excitement, impressive (non-CGI) effects, and colorful sets. Grant (otherwise known as Mrs. Bing Crosby) is pert and sexy even in her miniaturized form:

… and Thatcher is appropriately menacing as a baddie-magician:

The main disappointment is Eyer as the genie; he can’t hold a candle to either Sabu or Rex Ingram:

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ray Harryhausen’s impressive creations
  • Wilkie Cooper’s cinematography

  • Bernard Herrmann’s score

Must See?
Yes, for Harryhausen’s creations.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Rules of the Game, The / Régle Du Jeu, La (1939)

Rules of the Game, The / Régle Du Jeu, La (1939)

“Some people are really clumsy with their guns.”

Synopsis:
When a pilot (Roland Toutain) lands in Paris after a trans-Atlantic flight, he publicly laments the fact that his lover (Nora Gregor) is not there to meet him. Meanwhile, Christine (Gregor) is preparing for a visit with her husband (Marcel Dalio) to their country villa, accompanied by her loyal maid (Paulette Dubost), whose husband (Gaston Modot) is the villa’s gamekeeper. When Christine’s long-time friend Octave (Jean Renoir) arrives at the villa with heartbroken Andre (Toutain), romantic hijinks quickly ensue — including Christine discovering that her husband has been having a long-time affair with a family friend (Mila Parely), and Lisette (Dubost) being pursued by an amorous poacher (Julien Carette).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bourgeois Society
  • Class Relations
  • French Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Romantic Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this classic film by Jean Renoir is “set up as a standard French bedroom farce”: “many guests gather for a weekend of partying and hunting at [a] country chateau,” but the “affair deteriorates” as Dalio has a “knockabout fight with the hero aviator” (Toutain), and the gamekeeper (Modot) “races through the house trying to gun down the poacher-turned servant (Julien Carette) who has captured” the heart of his wife (Dubost).

Peary points out that “as the men fight over the women, the women’s attentions turn elsewhere” and that “the slapstick nature of foolish men going at each other is diversionary, meant to seem like a counterpoint to [the] earlier brutal rabbit-pheasant hunt.”

He argues that “Renoir intended to present us with several [types of] romances that [the] French have pride in,” including “a hero who runs off with a lonely married woman whose rich, unfaithful husband was undeserving of her.”

However, the “surprisingly bleak, cynical ending” shows us that “for those who are driven by hearts and emotions, there is tragedy — those who survive unscathed are those sly devils who have money or those stupid brutes who have guns in their hands.” Peary finishes his review by noting that while this is “regarded as Renoir’s masterpiece,” it’s “not for all tastes (including [his] own) despite interesting themes.”

I think I’m a slightly bigger fan of this darkly satirical romantic farce than Peary. I appreciate Dalio and Gregor’s performances as a couple who clearly understand the spirit of their marital arrangement:

… and Dubost as a romance-loving maid who confidently asserts, “My husband’s no trouble” (in terms of her having casual lovers on the side), yet comes to a rude awakening about the depth of his jealousy. The hunting sequence is keenly handled, both in terms of showcasing class relations and in setting up a key narrative turning point:

Given how many guns are waved around by dozens of individuals, we know that one will eventually — as Chekhov dictates — go off (and not simply to kill a rabbit), but we’re kept in suspense about when and how this will happen. Meanwhile, slapstick and lighthearted fun are expertly mixed with pathos and — as Peary notes — tragedy.

Note: Be forewarned that casual racism and antisemitism are present to an extent that was likely (sadly) common for the time.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marcel Dalio as the Marquis
  • Nora Gregor as Christine
  • Paulette Dubost as Lisette
  • Jean Bachelet’s cinematography

  • The memorable hunt sequence

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring classic by a master director.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

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

Links:

Andromeda Strain, The (1971)

Andromeda Strain, The (1971)

“Clotted blood… Powder!”

Synopsis:
After nearly an entire town is wiped out by an extraterrestrial organism, four scientists — Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid), and Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne) — are called in to investigate and stop the deadly substance from spreading.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Race-Against-Time
  • Robert Wise Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Scientists

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “Robert Wise directed this deliberately paced adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-seller” about a “U.S. spaceship bring[ing] back deadly unknown bacteria from outer space, which quickly wipes out an entire town but for a [constantly crying] baby and an alcoholic” (George Mitchell).


He writes that, “Like Crichton, Wise emphasizes the scientific process that occurs when a problem must be solved,” with “Crichton’s theme [being that] no process is foolproof:

So, while the scientists make discoveries, there are also major mistakes made by man and machine.”

He argues — though I disagree — that “the most intriguing aspect of [the] book and [the] film is that with all the scientific dialogue and experimentation taking place, and the exciting finale in which Olsen desperately races to stop the bomb from exploding, we almost overlook the fact that the scientists need not have been brought together in the first place,” given that “in regard to the bacteria, the same result would have happened without their presence, and their presence almost caused world destruction.” He closes his review by asserting, “This is a story about helplessness.”

I’m hard pressed to see how this interpretation holds up, given that it’s unthinkable not to bring in a “team of brainy scientists” to help figure out what’s going on in a situation like this — and they do an incredible analytical job.

Peary writes that “Crichton’s point is that it was thoughtless to have brought back such bacteria from space in the first place (possibly to be used militarily),” given that “once that happened, every attempt to correct the initial mistake caused new errors and cascading ramifications.” However, that choice was made — along with a careful plan to immediately bring in expertise as needed, as we see playing out here.

Personally, I find the film’s “deliberate” pacing appropriate and provocative. The futuristic sets of the Wildfire Laboratory (what a name!) seem to intentionally evoke thoughts of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968):

Meanwhile, given the COVID-19 reality we’ve lived through over the past year-plus, seeing the extensive precautions taken by the team in order to be as contaminant-free as possible is fascinating:

Most distressing are both the (infamous) scenes of animal cruelty (albeit supervised by the ASPCA!):

and seeing the surviving baby left to cry on his own most of the time, without being held or comforted.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography by Richard H. Kline


  • Douglas Trumbull’s special effects

  • Many powerful moments


Must See?
Yes, as a sci-fi classic.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic

Links:

Golden Coach, The (1952)

Golden Coach, The (1952)

“We’re here only for this treacherous gold; no one dreams of anything else.”

Synopsis:
In 18th century colonized Peru, an Italian actress (Anna Magnani) travelling through town with her troupe is wooed by a local bullfighter (Riccardo Rioli), the Viceroy (Duncan Lamont), and her own boyfriend (Paul Campbell), who has run off to join the army.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Royalty and Nobility

Review:
The first of Jean Renoir’s so-called “trilogy of spectacle” was this colorful comedic fable described by Jonathan Rosenbaum as “a film in English set in a Spanish colony of Peru … inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s music and shot in an Italian studio by a French director.” It’s primarily a star vehicle for Magnani, whose presence adds spark and interest to each scene she’s in:

However, it’s also an opportunity for Renoir to once again skewer the aristocracy:

… while having fun with color, set pieces, life-versus-art, and romantic entanglements; as noted by Andrew Sarris in his essay for Criterion, it “can best be appreciated as an illustrious filmmaker’s elegant tribute to the theater.” It’s not must-see for all film fanatics, though Renoir or Magnani fans will certainly want to check it out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anna Magnani as Camilla
  • Colorful cinematography, costumes, and sets

  • A fine Vivaldi-filled score

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

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

Links: