Stevens, Robert: I Thank a Fool (1962). Susan Hayward, acting very well, in a plot too wayward for any sense to dwell.
Heisler, Stuart: Tulsa (1949). – Oily.
Edwards, Blake: The Days of Wine and Roses (1962). For a CulturalRites article that comments on this film, read Fidelity and Its Inebriates.
Potter, H.C.: Mr. Lucky (1943). Insipid. Though a financial success for Cary Grant. An insufferably stupid story that attempts, as it collapses to its close, to make amends for its vapidity by appealing to (a) the purity of the church, (b) the war-time sacrifices of Greek patriots, (c) the triumph of true love, and (d) the unexpected reunion. All pretty rich, and not worth gambling one’s time on; for it is a knotty theme whose celluloid warrants the Alexandrian sword.
Eastwood, Clint: High Plains Drifter (1973.) – For a CulturalRites article that comments on this film, read An Allegory of the Avenging Angel.
Hurst, Brian Desmond: Malta Story (1953). A telling of the 1942 Axis attacks, and civilian and British resistance, during the siege of Malta, and the role of these events in the defeat of Rommel in north Africa. Excellent acting by Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness. Highly effective use of archival footage of the battles at sea and in the air, and the bombardment of the island. Cinematography is by Robert Krasker, who was also the director of photography on The Third Man. Hurst was persuaded to direct by John Ford.
Mayo, Archie: Orchestra Wives (1942). Glenn Miller on the road, on the train, playing mostly music, in the main. The last makes the plot, such as it is, irrelevant.
Capra, Frank: You Can’t Take It With You (1938). Still a really marvellous film. Not all home truths are trite clichés.
Rosen, Peter: Shadows in Paradise: Hitler’s Exiles in Hollywood (2008). A very fine documentary, reminding that the heart lives its mystery in places it longs for.
Dwan, Allan: Suez (1938). Historically erratic, to put it mildly. Slave labourers happy as larks. Put all this aside, it’s a good yarn with a great sandstorm.
Antonioni, Michelangelo: Blowup (1966). It is still pretentious bosh.
Potter, H.C.: Second Chorus (1940). Fred Astaire and Artie Shaw adrift in a plot without harmony or cadence.
Lewin, Albert: The Moon and Sixpence (1942). An excellent adaptation of the first third of Somerset Maugham’s fine novel; but the film loses its way when its shimmer changes from overexposed black and white to sepia.
Cromwell, John: Made for Each Other (1939). The first third of the film is dull, the middle third distasteful, and the last third, despite being cinematically the most interesting, and certainly saving what there was in the film to be saved, unrelated to the first two. The film tests one’s patience, despite having Carole Lombard in the lead role, and James Stewart in an unsympathetic one. She should have reconsidered her impetuosity in Boston.
Cukor, George: Travels with my Aunt (1972). Not overly interesting, and a touch incoherent; but Maggie Smith is always a delight to watch. Unfortunately, Lou Gossett, Jr’s, role tends to waste his talent. Lots of European travelogue; not enough Graham Greene.
Taylor, Todd: The Help (2011). The subject is racial prejudice, exemplified by Mississippi in 1962. It is a subject that is well to continue to be explored, and it is explored well. The film is based upon the novel by Kathryn Stockett. The actress Viola Davis is superb.
Korda, Zoltan: Sahara (1943). Well-crafted and well-paced, with an effective narrative and cinematography, and excellent acting, in particular by Humphrey Bogart.
Menaul, Paul: The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999). Forced a dispassionately subjective mood upon me, as I shrugged.
Lang, Fritz: Ministry of Fear (1944). Lauded in the film noir literature, but it is largely pedestrian and narratively insufficiently coherent. I watched it because I admire Lang’s expertise.
Hawks, Howard: El Dorado (1966). Essentially a remake of Rio Bravo, but does not succeed as well, despite the good acting. Hard to make convincing that the good guys win when they’re on crutches, bullet-riddled, and soaked in alcohol and questionable hygiene.
Glenville, Peter: The Prisoner (1955). More play than film, but the dialogue is excellently crafted, even when it seems to lead into darkened tunnels from which it does not exit. Exceptional acting by Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins.
Ford, John: Cheyenne Autumn (1964). One of Ford’s finest. When the Cheyenne, already long into their return to their homeland, split into two factions, one’s heart breaks.
Stahl, John: Magnificent Obsession (1935). Obsessively wretched.
Ford, John: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Another fine film by Ford, with excellent acting by John Wayne.
Vidor, King: Stella Dallas (1937). One cannot help but admire Barbara Stanwyck‘s skills as an actress.
Preminger, Otto: Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Long, but worth the length. Fine work by James Stewart.
Pakula, Alan: All the President’s Men (1976). A curiously lifeless film, given the import of its subject, which is talked through to point of visual anemia; and given the excellence of some of the acting, in particular that of Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, and Hal Holbrook. About half way through, the visual props of the Washington Post newsroom and Carl Bernstein’s nicotine addiction lose all effectiveness; and the film’s ending throws itself away in a very dull montage of news wire reports.
Minnelli, Vincente: Madame Bovary (1949). – Good adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s celebrated novel. Jennifer Jones establishes and sustains the character of Emma Bovary well and consistently. Van Heflin, like the film’s pacing, is a touch plodding; but the country doctor is supposed to be a dull man. Frank Allenby is excellent as the opportunistic entrepreneur, and aptly named, Lheureux. James Mason is the unflinching novelist and champion of realism. Pharmacies have tightened up access over the years.
Hitchcock, Alfred: Strangers on a Train (1951). One of Hitchcock’s best. Lengthy sequences that sometimes seem to continue too long prove merely to keep one’s view in a kind of suspended concentration. Like being on a merry-go-round. Robert Walker is superb, and Ruth Roman excellent. I caught the pun on Pluto at the Tunnel of Love, but it took me a while to work out the visual pan with the double bass.
Lang, Fritz: M (1931). – An exceptional film by the exceptional Fritz Lang. Peter Lorre at his European best. Profound realization of Berlin between the wars. Remarkable cinematography. Further, the film demonstrates that music − there is none − is not needed to make a cinematic masterpiece; indeed, silence heightens the effect of the moving images, which is what film is about. The league of beggars idea may have been influenced by Victor Hugo‘s Les Misérables. There is considerable homage to this film, by the way, in Carol Reed’s The Third Man − and perhaps by extension by way of author Graham Greene, to Hugo.
Ford, John: Fort Apache (1948). – A study of the martinet, and his disregard of the respect due to life. John Wayne acts well, and Monument Valley outdoes everyone.
BBC, presented by Margolyes, Miriam: Dickens in America (2005). – Absolutely splendid. Settle in for three evenings after dinner, set one’s outlook to admiration, and one’s mood to enjoyment.
Milestone, Lewis: Ocean’s Eleven (1960). – Las Vegas when it was what it wasn’t. Quite a distance, though, from the western front.
Van Dyke, W.S.: After the Thin Man (1936). – Not as delightful as the original, but watching Myrna Loy and Dick Powell, it hardly matters.
Preminger, Otto: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). – Honesty triumphs. And Dana Andrews works his way through.
Lang, Fritz: The Return of Frank James (1940). – The masterful Lang directing Henry Fonda. And Denver’s Gene Tierney.
Sinatra, Frank: None but the Brave (1965). – A truce of convenience between warriors, and the inevitability of the utter stupidity of war, no matter the benefits of peace. Clint Eastwood did this again later in Letters from Iwo Jima, but this only film directed by Frank Sinatra succeeded with it earlier.
Ford, John: The Searchers (1956). One of Ford’s best films, with a great role for John Wayne. The text is reclamation, and the subtext who warrants it − and how morality is relative, and, if not exposed by, is aware of, guilt. When I first saw this, I thought it was a screed against the First Nations; now I think it’s the contrary. The cinematography is astonishing.
Capra, Frank: The Miracle Woman (1931). Love conquers greed, even after greed has vanquished faith, and consciously transformed the latter into the more common form of mercenary evangelism. Fine acting by Barbara Stanwyck.
Van Dyck, W.S.: The Thin Man (1934). A pleasant Christmas-themed comedy-thriller of Dashiel Hammett`s The Thin Man—and nicely acted by Myrna Loy and William Powell.
Lang, Fritz: The Big Heat (1953). – Another fine film of Fritz Lang’s, with considerable visual commentary on the essential selfishness of human behaviour. Gloria Grahame is outstanding.
Wise, Robert: Executive Suite (1954). Great acting by Fredric March, Nina Foch, Walter Pidgeon, and Barbara Stanwyck. The story is well-judged and well-paced, although the decisive boardroom monologue, spoken by William Holden, is too improbable and predictable.
Sturges, Preston: The Lady Eve (1933). A splendid little comedy, with fine dialogue by Preston Sturges, fine acting by Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, and a ridiculously pleasing plot.
Hawks, Howard: Rio Bravo (1959). The rejoinder to High Noon. Exceptional pacing to sustain and hold viewer interest. Fine acting in particular by John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Walter Brennan. Leavened with humour. Interlaced with an effective musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin. An excellent work within the Western genre.
Cukor, George: Our Betters (1933). Mostly of interest as an example of an American adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1923 play about Americans.
Preminger, Otto: The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). Good acting by Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak.
Garnett, Tay: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Would have preferred if he’d only rung once. Lana Turner is very black and white. At least the cat got electrocuted.
Preminger, Otto: Advise and Consent (1962). Not a bad film once it escapes the lethargy of the Senate committee set. Finest scene of acting is Inga Swenson’s. Charles Laughton and Henry Fonda, and especially Walter Pidgeon, polished performances. As to putative history, and its benefit to today: little changes, little is the progress.
Ephron, Nora: Julie and Julia (2009) – The wonderful Nora Ephron at her best, in a film witty, funny, and in high taste. With Meryl Steep, whose astonishing artistry is a thing of joy and exquisite accomplishment. Almost wants to make me want to live in Queens, and certainly to de-bone a duck – in Paris, bien sur.
Ford, John; Marshall, George; Hathaway, Henry: How The West Was Won (1962). Ruthlessly; it’s mostly gone now, so quickly. Without this sentiment rising, the film would be merely a ruckus of silliness. Ford’s segment on the Civil War is the best. How a country supposedly built on lofty ideals could have descended into that barbarity are a question, lesson, and fact too often put aside.
Yakima Canute would have admired the stunts. Odd how the whites, with right and without retribution, can drive the reds from their lands and enslave the blacks away from theirs. And then progress to the building of four-level freeways over a waterless Los Angeles.
Godfrey, Paul: The Woman in White (1948). – Driven in accidental part by watching Eleanor Parker in an adaptation of Maugham’s The Painted Veil, and Sydney Greenstreet in The Mask of Dimitrios, we watched both in a Hollywood adaptation of Wilkie Collins‘s The Woman in White.
Now, Collins’s novel, which was published in 1851 by Charles Dickens immediately after the conclusion of the latter’s serialization of A Tale of Two Cities, caused a sensation, being a new kind of work of fiction, a mystery novel with elements of the grotesque and cruel, and made him, and, one would expect, Dickens, rather a lot of money. Collins was a bachelor bigamist, so wrote by the side (or sides) of a Victorian context that produced both exhaustion and, one would speculate, pleasure at its making.
The film’s script takes some liberties with the plot of the novel, the most entrancing perhaps being Greenstreet’s the Count Fosco, morbidly obese both in novel and on screen, engaging in hypnotic alterations of mind and personality, rather than restraining himself to an array of evil and morally questionable doings. The lady Marian becomes a cousin rather than devoted half-sister, and assumes a central role in the film that the novel had not entirely bequeathed the character. Max Steiner, the composer, smooths over a lot of this by night-time chordal progressions on the harp aided by occasional interjections from wonderfully lamenting bassoons.
It is all quite enjoyable to take in.
Hawks, Howard: The Big Sleep (1946). The plot is dizzying, but the acting is terrific.
Wise, Robert: Born to Kill (1947). The narrative’s rather thin, but Lawrence Tierney hulks through it anyway. Walter Slezak, nicely corrupt, quotes Biblically.
Negulesco, Jean: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). Based on Eric Ambler’s novel of the same title. Another B movie from film’s heydey. It puts to shame much that is dubbed A List these days. The plot is serviceable and a good narrative. The camera work is highly crafted. The sets are elaborate yet uncluttered. It is recognized that there actually are counties in the continent of Europe. Everybody smokes. Most of them drink. Many of them recognize emotional despair—theirs and others’. Negulesco was just beginning his lengthy directorial career. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet teamed again to fine advantage. Greenstreet is given lines that do little to advance the plot, but the pleasant involutions of the script are a further pleasure to hear him speak. Peter Lorre sustains his imperturbability, even though he does not remotely have the accent of a Dutch detective story writer. The villain, played by Zachary Scott, is really villainous, but nonetheless cosmopolitan. The ending rather makes one miss the demise of the French franc.
Neame, Ronald: The Seventh Sin (1957). Good adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, with particularly fine acting by George Sanders. Even in the film one detects Maugham’s knowledge and wariness of human behaviour, and his insights that were assisted by his training as a medical doctor who understood the misery of the slums and the downtrodden and ill-treated who lived in them. Maugham’s story for his novel, he writes in the preface to it, was suggested by lines of Dante that include
Siena mi fè; disfecemi Maremma:
Salsi colui, innanellata pria
Disposando m’avea con la suo gemma.
These Maugham translates as “Siena made me, Maremma unmade me: this he knows who after betrothal espoused me with his ring.” The seventh sin, incidentally, is not lust, but pride.