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Month: October 2012

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

“I can’t say that I’m happy with her, but I’m unable to live without her.”

Synopsis:
The owner of a tobacco factory (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the island of Reunion is surprised to find that his new correspondence bride (Catherine Deneuve) looks nothing like the photo she sent him — but he falls in love with her nonetheless. As he learns more about his new bride, however, he quickly finds himself involved in an increasingly tangled web of deception and murder.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Catherine Deneuve Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Francois Truffaut Films
  • French Films
  • Marital Problems

Review:
Based on Cornell Woolrich‘s 1947 novel Waltz Into Darkness, this Hitchcockian thriller by Francois Truffaut offers an intriguing variation on his cinematic obsession with deceptive, calculating, and/or murderous females (Deneuve’s “icy blonde” is a particularly suitable homage to Hitch’s sensibilities). To say very much about the plot would be to immediately give away spoilers, thus making it difficult to provide a fair critique of what happens throughout the two-hour film. Suffice it to say, however, that Deneuve and Belmondo make an appealing screen couple (naturally!), and that one can’t help remaining involved in their travails, even as one questions many of the foolhardy choices they make. Meanwhile, Truffaut makes excellent use of location filming in a diverse set of locales, ranging from the small island of Reunion off the coast of Madagascar, to Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Paris, and finally a snowy white cabin in the mountains. This one is worth a look.

Note: This deceptively titled film has nothing to do with either the state of Mississippi (it refers to the name of the ship Deneuve arrives on in Reunion) or to mermaids (other than an alliterative reference to a female “siren” of sorts). Be forewarned.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Catherine Deneuve as Julie
  • Jean-Paul Belmondo as Louis
  • Fine, diverse location shooting
  • An intriguing tale of marital deception

Must See?
Yes, as a good show by Truffaut. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Shoeshine / Sciuscia (1944)

Shoeshine / Sciuscia (1944)

“I know he’s a delinquent, a scoundrel — but he’s your brother!”

Synopsis:
In post-WWII Italy, a homeless teenager (Franco Interlenghi) and his friend (Rinaldo Smordoni) shine the shoes of American G.I.s while saving money to buy a beloved horse. To get the last payment required, they assist Smordoni’s brother in selling a pair of stolen American blankets, but are caught and sent to prison, where their friendship and loyalty are quickly tested under the strain of the harsh environment.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Betrayal
  • Italian Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Prisoners
  • Vittorio De Sica Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that “Vittorio De Sica’s first major film” — a “classic of Italian neorealism” — is “one of the most powerful social dramas in cinema history”. He notes that while the movie is “unsparingly harsh” (De Sica “wanted to show how postwar Italian society was insensitive to the plight of the poor”), it “also has a tender, poetic quality”, and he posits that we “feel tremendous sympathy for Pasquale [Interlenghi] and Giuseppe [Smordoni],” “inseparable pals” who “are ignored by society and are at the mercy of the times”. He points out that we “understand their fears, confusion, desperation, misplaced anger, and worry about being betrayed by the only person they love (each other)”.

I agree with Peary on most of these major points, yet wouldn’t quite assert that Shoeshine has held its place as one of the “most powerful social dramas in cinema history”. Indeed, in comparison with more recent, no-holds-barred films like the Brazilian social drama City of God (2002) — or its earlier counterpart, Pixote (1981)Shoeshine‘s storyline comes across as both contrived and highly scripted. Once the boys enter into a “brutal, corrupt reform school”, the plot eventually turns into a youthful variation on a Mafia flick, as familial loyalty and the fatal costs of betrayal become central themes. With that said, Anchise Brizzi’s cinematography on the streets of Rome remains noteworthy, and the lead performances are impressively natural. While it’s not must-see viewing, film fanatics will likely be curious to see this precursor to De Sica’s best-known neo-realistic classic, The Bicycle Thief (1948).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Natural performances by Interlenghi and Smordoni
  • Fine neo-realist cinematography on the streets of Rome

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look simply to see the evolution of De Sica’s neo-realist sensibilities.

Links:

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Terms of Endearment (1983)

“Grown women are prepared for life’s little emergencies.”

Synopsis:
A widow (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter (Debra Winger) clash over Winger’s decision to marry an aspiring English professor (Jeff Daniels), but maintain a close relationship even when Winger and her family move away.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Death and Dying
  • Debra Winger Films
  • Grown Children
  • Illness
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • John Lithgow Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Shirley MacLaine Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
I was pleasantly surprised to revisit this “Best Picture Oscar Winner of 1983”, a “slice-of-life seriocomedy that chronicles the combative yet loving 30-year relationship between [an] infuriatingly resolute widow… and her equally indomitable daughter”. Peary notes that while “the mix of ‘human’ comedy, outrageous comedy, perceptive family drama, and morbidity” (a major character dies) “doesn’t always mesh”, “no one will be disappointed in the splendid performances by the three leads”. Indeed, in his Alternate Oscars, Peary agrees with the Academy both that Winger deserved her nomination, and that MacLaine deserved her Best Actress award for her role as Aurora Greenway, noting that MacLaine “gave the performance of her career” here. He points out that she “doesn’t treat her [acerbic] character with condescension, because she recognizes Aurora’s extraordinary qualities. Instead she makes sure we know that Aurora recognizes her own peculiarities and foibles” (which include being “overbearing, opinionated, [and] tactless”).

Peary notes in his GFTFF review that TOE is fortunately “not one of those pictures in which a stern parent lets her… daughter know that she indeed loves her deeply although she could never express it”; instead, “there is never any question that they love each other”, which is what makes the film as a whole so refreshing. When we watch Winger’s young character butting heads with her mom in opening scenes — and witness MacLaine actually admitting she’d prefer not to attend Winger’s wedding — we believe we’re being set up for a story that will center around ongoing mother/daughter strife; instead, what we see is a film “about two different women who become close friends“. While they remain “adversaries, they [also] seek out each other’s advice and support”, as they “begin leading parallel lives” (“both have affairs… at the same time”).

In the remainder of his review, Peary mentions numerous major spoilers that probably won’t be news to most film fanatics, but I’ll refrain from discussing them here. Suffice it to say that “the tragedy that befalls [one of the main characters] leads us to the film’s reassuring theme: in a crisis, especially a life-and-death situation, even irresponsible people will come through for those they love”. Peary notes that “we get a unique look at what makes even the most common people special”, and argues that TOE remains a “touching, tear-inducing film”. He points out that writer/director James L. Brooks’ project (based on a novel by Larry McMurtry) “was rejected by several studios because executives thought it was more appropriate for a television movie”, which makes sense — but the actors and the screenplay ultimately elevate this one above the level of most made-for-TV melodramas. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Shirley MacLaine as Aurora
  • Debra Winger as Emma
  • Jeff Daniels as Flap
  • Jack Nicholson as retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove
  • A fine adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful, Oscar-winning tearjerker.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links:

Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972)

Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972)

Synopsis:
A sociology student (Andre Dussollier) writing his thesis on criminal women interviews a beautiful inmate named Camille (Bernadette Lafont) who has been jailed for murder. While listening to her recount her story, he finds himself deeply smitten with her, and dedicated to proving her innocence — but is she worthy of his adoration and trust?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Flashback Films
  • Francois Truffaut Films
  • French Films
  • Prisoners

Review:
Critical opinion seems fairly unanimous on this adaptation (by Francois Truffaut) of Henry Farrell‘s 1967 novel, with Time Out’s reviewer referring to it as “loud and crude”, and accurately naming it “Truffaut’s weakest movie, a black comedy which totally misfires”. Neither of the leads — either Dussollier’s hopelessly naive sociology student or Lafont’s calculating femme fatale — are anything close to likable, leaving us with nobody to root for and little interest in hearing Lafont relate her supposedly tragic background to Dussollier. Because it’s made clear to us from the beginning that Lafont is either lying and/or enormously deceptive, there is little point to learning more about her travails; we know that Dussollier is a dope for getting roped in, and we can see that he has nowhere to go but down. It’s especially disappointing to see Lafont — so appealing in her debut as the put-upon Marie in A Very Curious Girl (1969) — reduced to playing a comical tramp here. Charles Denner (star of Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women [1977]) gives the only semi-dignified performance in the film, playing an exterminator smitten with (and prey to) Lafont’s dubious charms.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Denner as Arthur

Must See?
No; definitely feel free to skip this one. Not even recommended for Truffaut fans.

Links:

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)

Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)

“A lot of people think they’re born better than others. I’m trying to prove it’s the way you’re raised that counts — that even a monkey brought up in the right surroundings can learn the meaning of decency and honesty.”

Synopsis:
By secretly raising a chimpanzee like his own child, a psychology professor (Ronald Reagan) whose father was a notorious thief attempts to prove to his future father-in-law (Herbert Heyes) that environment is more important than heredity when it comes to building character, and that he’s thus worthy of marrying Heyes’ daughter (Lucille Barkley). Complications arise, however, when Barkley becomes jealous of the lovely young nanny (Diana Lynn) Reagan hires to care for Bonzo the chimp, and Lynn finds herself falling in love with Reagan.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Governesses and Nannies
  • Love Triangle
  • Primates
  • Professors
  • Ronald Reagan Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of Bedtime for Bonzo, Peary dates himself (and GFTFF) by writing that “Democrats have often screened this farce at political fundraisers, believing that when voters saw candidate Reagan playing papa to a chimp it would reduce his credibility as a candidate for Governor or President”. He points out, however, that “of course these attempts… have always backfired because the picture is surprisingly enjoyable, amusing rather than campy”. He argues that “the cute and affectionate Bonzo is a lot of fun to watch”, and that “Reagan proves to be an adequate partner to the chimp, only rarely being his foil and never playing the fool”. He writes that “as would-be voters discovered, Reagan comes across as reliable, friendly, earnest, and an all-around good sport” — not to mention “predictable — a characteristic that would appeal to voters who always confuse the character on screen with the actor who plays him”.

In his more extended review of BfB in his Cult Movies book, Peary elaborates upon the film’s importance as perhaps the most notorious entry in Reagan’s limited, largely unexceptional acting career (with just a few pleasant surprises — such as the pre-WWII melodrama Kings Row — demonstrating his greater potential). These days, however — several decades after Reagan’s political career is over — Bedtime for Bonzo holds much less cult appeal than it once did, and must instead be judged upon its own merits. As such, it remains an “amiable film”, innocuous and reasonably entertaining, but certainly not one film fanatics need to stand up and take notice of. Its primary audience, naturally, will be people who enjoy watching trained animals on screen. With that said, Bonzo is nicely supported by no-nonsense Lynn (always a treat) and by Walter Slezak in a rare good-guy role as the professor who loans Bonzo to Reagan.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Diana Lynn as Jane Linden
  • Walter Slezak as Prof. Neumann

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its erstwhile curiosity value.

Links:

Lassie Come Home (1943)

Lassie Come Home (1943)

“I know something about this dog. She’s going somewhere — she’s on her way.”

Synopsis:
The son (Roddy McDowall) of an out-of-work Yorkshireman (Donald Crisp) and his wife (Elsa Lanchester) is heartbroken to learn that they’ve sold his beloved collie, Lassie (Pal), to a Scottish duke (Nigel Bruce). Fortunately, Bruce’s kind-hearted granddaughter (Elizabeth Taylor) helps set Lassie free, and the intrepid dog makes her way back home to Yorkshire via a long and arduous journey.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Donald Crisp Films
  • Edmund Gwenn Films
  • Elizabeth Taylor Films
  • Elsa Lanchester Films
  • Pets
  • Road Trip
  • Roddy McDowall Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “classic family film” — a “classy, colorful MGM production” — is “sentimental but not as gushy as one might imagine”. He accurately notes that it “boasts an outstanding human cast” (including Dame May Whitty, Elsa Lanchester, and Donald Crisp) and that “of course, Lassie” (actually played by a male dog named Pal) “is a remarkable talent”. He points out how refreshing it is that “Lassie is portrayed here as a very smart dog, rather than as the genius of the television show”; indeed, given how often we hear stories of pets enduring unimaginable hardships to make their way back home, it’s not that difficult to swallow Lassie’s adventures as somewhat realistic. McDowall is excellent in the critical role as Lassie’s beloved “Joe”, and “pretty little Elizabeth Taylor, who still sported an English accent” is surprisingly charismatic in a bit part as the dog-loving girl who supports Lassie’s quest to “come home”. While the human storyline wraps up far too conveniently for its own good (you’ll be groaning at the final reel), Lassie Come Home remains an enjoyable family flick, one which film fanatics should check out simply for its historical relevance as the “grand-daddy” of all beloved canine movies.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances throughout



  • Oscar-nominated Technicolor cinematography
  • A heart-warming, well-crafted family tale

Must See?
Yes, as a “family friendly” classic (though thankfully, Peary doesn’t list any of the sequels in his book; this first entry is sufficient).

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Shane (1953)

Shane (1953)

“Call me Shane.”

Synopsis:
A former gunslinger (Alan Ladd) is invited to stay and work at a farm run by a homesteader (Van Heflin), his wife (Jean Arthur), and their son (Brandon De Wilde) — but when a local rancher (Emile Meyer) and his associates continue to threaten Heflin and other homesteaders in the area, Shane (Ladd) realizes he may have to resurrect his gun-slinging ways.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Ladd Films
  • George Stevens Films
  • Jack Palance Films
  • Jean Arthur Films
  • Van Heflin Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “if you want to understand the form of the ‘classic’ western,” Shane — directed by George Stevens, and based on a novel by Jack Schaefer — “is the picture to study”. He notes that the character of Shane (Ladd) fits the archetype of a classic “westerner” — “a loner who has a mysterious, violent past that he cannot escape”, someone who “would like to settle down in the civilized West” but “comes to realize he has no future”. He points out that “the overlap of this [mythological] West (embodied by gunslingers like Shane) with the beginnings of the civilized historical West is essential to classic westerns” — indeed, the particular trope played out here (of “ranchers versus settlers”) remains an iconic one in its own right, and can be seen as far back as John Ford’s silent film Straight Shooting (1917). TCM’s article on the film furthers Peary’s argument about its classic structure, positing that “Shane is the real McCoy — a powerful cinematic myth with a stoic hero at its center who simply wants to do the right thing”.

Given its iconic status, it’s easy to approach Shane with a sense of cinematic duty — but despite overly slow pacing and an occasionally disruptive musical score, for the most part it’s held up quite nicely. Indeed, there’s plenty to enjoy and appreciate about Shane, which features “remarkable authenticity” (check out stills of the sets below), is “beautifully shot” by Oscar-winning DP Loyal Griggs, and is “beautifully acted” by Ladd, Heflin, Arthur, and others. While some have argued that Ladd was miscast in the title role, I disagree; he shows off an appropriately fit, muscular body, and is entirely believable both during the excitingly brutal extended fight scenes, and during the film’s many quieter moments, as we see how much he’s come to care for both Arthur and her adoring son, Joey.

Heflin is equally notable in the critical secondary role as Joe Starrett, a man determined to hold onto his land and fight back against bullies at any cost — and Arthur (lured out of semi-retirement by Stevens) is a fine, believable choice to play Starrett’s wife. Meanwhile, other familiar faces — including Elisha Cook, Jr. as a hot-headed southern homesteader, and Jack Palance as the black-hatted gunslinger brought in to “take care of” the homesteaders — are a welcome presence as well. Unfortunately, De Wilde’s performance as young Joey is the one dissatisfying outlier; he’s far too often shown simply staring wide-eyed at the proceedings, and/or asking whiny “why?” questions like a four-year-old. However, his nearly worshipful adoration of Shane is made abundantly clear, which I suppose is what’s most important in this tale of a larger-than-life western hero.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Alan Ladd as Shane (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Van Heflin as Joe Starrett
  • Jean Arthur as Marian
  • Fine supporting performances


  • Loyal Grigg’s cinematography
  • Authentic production values and sets

Must See?
Yes, as a justified western classic. Voted Best Picture of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links:

Naked Kiss, The (1964)

Naked Kiss, The (1964)

“My darling, our marriage will be a paradise — because we’re both abnormal.”

Synopsis:
A prostitute (Constance Towers) runs away from her abusive pimp and arrives in a small town where the police captain (Anthony Eisley) encourages her to join a brothel run by a madam named Candy (Virginia Grey). However, after renting a room from a kind seamstress (Betty Bronson), Towers decides to go straight and get a job as a nurse at a hospital for children with disabilities. When she falls in love with a local millionaire (Michael Dante), she dares to dream of married bliss — but will her past catch up with her? And is her fiance really as ideal as he seems?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Morality Police
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Sam Fuller Films
  • Small Town America

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while “moviegoers who are unfamiliar with Sam Fuller’s work consider [The Naked Kiss] to be campy and laugh at almost every line”, it is nonetheless “Fuller’s masterpiece, one of the most fascinating and original ‘B’ movies ever made”. He describes Towers as providing a “wild variation on a Joan Crawford role” in “a strong performance as a tough intellectual prostitute”, who — after having her head shaved bald by her pimp in a “shocking pre-title sequence” — “flees the mob” and eventually “decides to go straight”. He notes that the film “deals with Towers’ attempt to prove herself ‘normal’, to lead a normal life”, only to have her “dreams… shattered” when she catches her fiance in an unforgivable act. (Spoilers abound on this latter point, btw — in Peary’s review and elsewhere — so don’t read about it ahead of time if you’re a first-time viewer.)

In his more extensive review of the film in his Cult Movies 3 book, Peary elaborates upon its role in Fuller’s broader oeuvre, noting that “The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor are usually linked by critics and twin-billed by repertory theater owners”, perhaps because they “have (if you stretch it) vaguely similar premises, star Constance Towers…, were [similarly] financed…, were photographed by Stanley Cortez, deal with lurid subject matter and perverse sex, and tread the fine line between trash and art”. In addition, he points out that they both possess “fantasy-dream sequences”, incorporate “out-of-place personally photographed 16-mm travelogue-like footage”, include “absurd scenes only Fuller fanatics can accept”, and “have smashingly directed, unflinching shock scenes”. Indeed, as Peary notes, “there are few more startling sequences in Fuller’s work” (or any other films of the period, for that matter) “than the opening in The Naked Kiss;” while Towers’ head only remains bald during this initial scene (and it’s clear, if you’re looking, that she’s wearing a headpiece), the image evoked is masterfully indelible.

What’s perhaps most fascinating about The Naked Kiss is how brutally Fuller disrupts the trajectory of his storyline, which eventually shifts into what looks like a standard “corny” Hollywood romance about a woman with a secret past hoping to reform and be accepted. (In Cult Movies 3, Peary quotes Fuller himself as saying, “I hate those kinds of stories.” !!) Instead, Fuller completely upends our expectations by showing that while Towers herself may be an “outcast”, she’s surrounded by corrupt men who “have no respect for women”, and think of them exclusively in “sexual terms”. Peary points out that while Fuller’s “violent, male-oriented films” may not seem like prime candidates for feminist analysis, The Naked Kiss actually offers us a “strong, smart, self-reliant… and proud” female protagonist, one who becomes a “positive role model… to the other women in the film, because she refuses to play the victim”. Indeed, Towers’ performance is one you’re unlikely to soon forget, making this a cult favorite all film fanatics should check out at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Constance Towers as Kelly
  • Stanley Cortez’s cinematography


  • Fuller’s uniquely quirky screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as another of Fuller’s cult classics.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Important Director

Links:

High Noon (1952)

High Noon (1952)

“I think I ought to stay.”

Synopsis:
When a recently retired sheriff (Gary Cooper) learns that a man (Ian MacDonald) he helped send to prison for life has returned to town with three assistants (Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, and Sheb Wooley) to seek revenge, he goes against the wishes of his new wife (Grace Kelly) by deciding to stay and confront the men — but he quickly finds that few townsfolk are willing to join his posse.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fred Zinnemann Films
  • Gary Cooper Films
  • Grace Kelly Films
  • Lee Van Cleef Films
  • Lloyd Bridges Films
  • Lon Chaney, Jr. Films
  • Revenge
  • Sheriffs
  • Thomas Mitchell Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of High Noon — based on a short story by John W. Cunningham, and scripted by blacklisted writer Carl Foreman — Peary argues that “some brilliant editing… and a dramatic Oscar-winning score by Dimitri Tiomkin (with Tex Ritter giving an emotional performance on the Oscar-winning title song) elevated Fred Zinnemann’s slightly-above-average western into a classic”. He’s not alone in this rather lukewarm assessment, with DVD Savant similarly dismissing it as “a well-acted, fairly klunky, faux-profound script given good direction within a mediocre production”. I feel much the same way about High Noon, which I admire more than I enjoy — yet there is much to admire, given that the performances throughout are solid (especially by both Oscar-winning Cooper and Katy Jurado as his former mistress); Zinnemann’s direction is reasonably creative; the editing is nearly always top-notch; and the score is nicely atmospheric (though I do find the title song a tad over-used).

Regarding the “fairly clunky, faux-profound” script, the film’s moral compass remains notoriously challenging to grasp, with critics continuously debating whether it more accurately represents a liberal or a conservative viewpoint. While many see Cooper’s “Will Kane” as a stand-in for Foreman himself (abandoned by friends and colleagues during his blacklisting in the HUAC era), others see him as a staunch version of America, unafraid to fight and stand up to Communist threats. Personally, I choose to view the film on a much simpler and more human level — as the tale of a man who knows he’ll be followed for the rest of his life unless he confronts the menace that’s out to get him. To that end, Cooper’s Kane makes a pragmatic but life-altering choice in what seems like an instant, despite the fact that it means the disruption of his brand-new marriage to beautiful (pacifist) Kelly; indeed, given that the film is basically “told in real time”, we’re plunged immediately into Kane’s dilemma, without much of a chance to learn more about his character or what might have caused him to make such a seemingly reckless decision.

Peary writes, “Personally, I think Cooper should have left town… but I’m glad he doesn’t because the final shootout is one of the western’s most exciting sequences”, since “Cooper finally displays strength” and “because of the way Floyd Crosby’s striking images are edited to fit the music”. Indeed, regardless of whether one believes Cooper is being foolhardy or not by staying in town (and I personally disagree that he shows anything but “strength” all along), the storyline itself — including the enjoyably taut final shootout — remains intrinsically compelling, simply given the threat of an ever-looming deadline, and the question of whether or how Cooper will be able to pull together enough support to stay alive.

Interestingly, Peary points out that High Noon is “one of the few westerns that are favorites of viewers who dislike the genre”, perhaps because of its strategically thriller-like structure — or perhaps because of its unconventional storyline, which is ultimately more of an allegorical morality tale than a standard western. Who are the “good guys” here, and who (other than the obvious four gunmen) are the “bad”? That’s ultimately left up to viewers to decide. Speaking of personal takes on the film, Peary writes that apparently “Howard Hawks was so infuriated by Cooper’s whimpering [sic] that he made Rio Bravo to show that a professional lawman like Cooper’s wouldn’t ask common folk for help against the gunmen”. While I don’t agree with Hawks’ interpretation of Cooper’s character, I’m not upset that Rio Bravo was the result of his dissatisfaction.

Note: Watch for Lon Chaney, Jr. in a brief supporting role as the town’s former sheriff; it’s lovely to see him given such a dignified moment in a highly-regarded film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gary Cooper as Will Kane
  • Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez
  • Fine direction by Fred Zinnemann
  • The tense final shootout
  • Oscar-winning editing by Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad

Must See?
Yes, as a certified classic of the western genre.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links:

Graduate, The (1967)

Graduate, The (1967)

“There’s a great future in plastics; think about it.”

Synopsis:
When a recent college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) returns home to live with his parents (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), he’s immediately seduced by the wife (Anne Bancroft) of his father’s law partner (Murray Hamilton). Bancroft warns him not to have anything to do with her grown daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) — but Ben (Hoffman) soon finds himself enamored with Elaine, and caught in an undeniably sticky love triangle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Bancroft Films
  • Dustin Hoffman Films
  • Generation Gap
  • Love Triangle
  • May-December Romance
  • Mike Nichols Films
  • Romantic Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of The Graduate (based on a 1963 novel by Charles Webb), Peary focuses primarily on its nostalgia value as someone who saw it “several times” the year it was released, when it was considered “the film of the year” and was “integral to everyday conversation”. He notes that “while not all of us were impressed by director Mike Nichols’s technical innovations, we were excited by his novel use of contemporary music (popular songs by Simon & Garfunkel); the provocative sexual theme; a lead character, Ben (Dustin Hoffman’s first major role), whose problems we could relate to; and a hilarious new style (for movies) of comic dialogue, in which the listener, Ben, must find words to fill in the adult talker’s long and awkward pauses.” He posits that “Nichols intentionally stops being funny at about the time Elaine enters the picture”, noting that “the humor disappears when Ben stops being passive and awkward and snaps out of his postgraduate depression”, as he “comes alive and exhibits a desperate, anarchic spirit that any young person in 1967 could identify with.” Peary concludes his review by noting that the “film is dated” but “essential to any study of film during the protest years”.

Many (including myself) would disagree with Peary’s assertion that The Graduate is “dated”, given its iconic status as a cult favorite, with countless memorable scenes and quotes:

“Are you here for an affair, sir?”
“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word… Plastics.”
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.”
“I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends.”

Peary is right, however, to point out that “the acting by Hoffman and Bancroft is super”, with “their scenes together still hold[ing] up”. Indeed, the first half of the film — during which Ben carries out his affair with Mrs. Robinson — is undeniably its funniest and most powerful, with nearly every scene packing a punch, and Nichols establishing himself as a master of sly romantic wit; Bancroft’s seduction of Hoffman will have you laughing out loud, yet simultaneously wincing at Ben’s obvious discomfort. Once Elaine “enters the picture”, it’s true that events take a more somber turn, and one can’t help regretting that Bancroft’s character eventually recedes into the background as a one-dimensional mother-bitch; but Ben’s pursuit of Elaine is ultimately what drives the film, so while we may miss Bancroft, we nonetheless remain glued to the screen, wondering how in the world Ben will salvage the mess that is his love life.

Adding to the film’s appeal is the fact that Ben remains a sympathetic character throughout the entire movie, given that he was clearly (oh, so clearly) the one seduced by Mrs. Robinson; that he tells Elaine about his affair immediately after meeting her, at which point it stops; and that he’s never anything but transparent and sincere about his intentions to put his past with Mrs. Robinson behind him. It’s also easy to relate on a personal level to Ben’s broader existential dilemma, as he contemplates how to craft a life for himself without automatically following in his parents’ footsteps; there’s nothing at all dated about that coming-of-age scenario. Finally, Nichols’ creative direction (which, unlike Peary, I do find impressive), Richard Surtees’ cinematography, fine supporting performances, and Simon & Garfunkel’s instantly recognizable soundtrack all add to the appeal of this deserved cult classic.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dustin Hoffman as Ben (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Katharine Ross as Elaine
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Creatively stylistic direction by Nichols
  • Robert Surtees’ cinematography
  • Richard Sylbert’s production design
  • Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack

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

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

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