Another hugely productive week in my movie resolution. I’ve become a little obsessive about checking movies off my list. I think because I am enjoying more movies than I expected to, I just keep trucking and ticking them off. Here’s hoping that a dry spell of duds won’t derail me. Even if it does, with 20 movies viewed already, I am already where I was supposed to be in May, so I think I will be okay.
Here’s the latest results:
Good Night and Good Luck
This is one of the most inexplicable entries on my list. I love movies set in this time period, I love movies about television. I really have no idea how I missed this suspenseful, entertaining, technically impeccable film. Maybe I was in that post-college period of having no money to go to the movies? I don’t know. I’ve even met Fred Friendly’s (the George Clooney character) son Andy and heard from him the amazing things his father accomplished. So happy to have finally been clued in to how good this movie is.
No, not the Al Pacino one. This is the original Scarface, made in 1932, back when bad guys were required to get their comeuppance as part of the Hays Code and these types of violent films had to be presented with a message. This message was an interesting one, one that seemed eerily timely 80 years later. The scrolling text at the beginning speaks to the epidemic of violence in the country and implores the government to do something about it. The titular character is obsessed with machine gun and fire power. In that respect, I found watching this movie worthwhile. When it comes to gangster films of the period, I prefer White Heat mostly because I am a Jimmy Cagney fan, but Paul Muni is a compelling lead and this story certainly kept me invested. Gangster movies have never been my thing though, so it isn’t surprising that I don’t really feel like I need to see this one again in my lifetime.
Boyz N The Hood
This one was easily the best movie of the bunch this week. This coming of age tale may have had some overwrought cinematic moments, but its diverse and authentic portrayal of life in South Central was captivating, heartbreaking, and even had its hilarious moments too. Unsurprisingly, director John Singleton went to USC = ) I’ve enjoyed the Singleton movies I’ve seen. I am probably one of the bigger fans of “Four Brothers” out there, both in part for my love of Garrett Hedlund and Marky Mark (sans Funky Bunch) and because I think Singleton gets how to appropriate and effectively use the 1970s era of Blaxpoitation and urban flicks exponentially better than Quentin Tarantino, who often gets lauded for just that. Need to see more Singleton flicks in my future. Side note: only movie to make me cry so far this project. Oh Ricky.
I will give this movie this: Rita Hayworth is gorgeous and has an exceptional screen presence. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of positives to associate with this movie. The male lead, Glenn Ford, is fine, but I vastly preferred him in another movie I watched this week, Blackboard Jungle. The story is a bit convoluted and what is supposed to be a surprise ending isn’t particularly surprising or rewarding. I’m assuming this tepid noir made the list mostly because of the cultural relevance of Hayworth?
A Raisin in the Sun
Most people cite this as a negative, but I kind of enjoy that the movies of the 40s and 50s that were originally plays have very easy to spot theatrical roots. The movies take place in one or two places, mostly because the play wasn’t equipped to handle so many changes of scenery. There are long stretches of dialogue, lasting several minutes. There are monologues. Oh, there are monologues.
A Raisin in the Sun has all of these things and, while it does feel a little claustrophobic and artificially restrictive, it mostly functions as a stage for some of the best performers of the era to dig into meaty roles in a meaty story about the American Dream and what that dream looked like for African Americans during the Civil Rights era. It goes without saying that Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee are amazing, but I was also quite impressed with Diana Sands as the younger sister who still has the luxury of being idealistic because she hasn’t quite seen what the real world is like yet.
After A Raisin in the Sun, I had a hankering for more Poitier and TCM heard my plea. They aired what has his breakout role in the juvenile delinquency movie Blackboard Jungle. Like Scarface, this one even begins with scrolling text about the epidemic of misbehaving youth. Don’t let the idea of the consummate gentleman Poitier playing a “thug” lead you to believe this movie is soft. These kids are horrifying. One locks a teacher in the library and tries to rape her. Another group attempts to murder a teacher. This shit makes Dangerous Minds look like Kindergarten Cop. This was also the day and age where a teacher could hit, physically threaten, and blackmail students with no reprimand from the school board. Nonetheless, I am a sucker for a good teacher movie, even one with outlandish violence. And Glenn Ford really sells the frustration teachers face getting through to kids. While some of the other elements of this movie feel outdated, that frustration about relating to the kids remains true and sincere to this day.
I don’t always believe that movies of the 40s can become too dated to enjoy. I think this is an excuse a lot of people come up with not to watch them, not all that different from “I don’t like black and white movies.” There are exceptions though, and I think Mrs. Miniver, a movie about an English family persevering during WW2, is one of them. Yes, I found the movie had the inspirational moments. Yes, I enjoyed a lot of the performances, especially that of one of personal favorites of the time, Teresa Wright. But, I felt like not having experienced WW2, there was something missing from my experience. Like Scarface though, I appreciate seeing this for its historical value and thought there were several worthwhile moments in a movie that did a feel a bit overly long for my tastes.
The Longest Day
In 1998, there were two WW2 films recognized by the Academy Awards, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. Both clearly drew inspiration from Daryl F. Zanuck’s epic recreation of D-Day. The Omaha Beach scenes of Saving Private Ryan are clearly inspired by the same sequence in this film. The sprawling cast of characters approach to depicting the melee of battle appears to be a page out of Zanuck’s play book. So much so, that as I watched this movie I said to myself, “Oh, this is what The Thin Red Line would have been like if it weren’t terrible on every level.” I found The Longest Day long indeed, a little too much so as a matter of fact. However, there are so many amazing moments sprinkled among the three hour film that I found it worth watching. John Wayne used his The Duke persona in one of my favorite roles of his I’ve ever seen. Richard Beymer (and you know I love Richard Beymer), is delightful as the wide-eyed young soldier. And the paratrooper sequence of the jump gone awry is one of the most breathtaking, horrific, and impactful set pieces I’ve seen this year.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
I always tell myself I need to watch more The Twilight Zone. For those unfamiliar with the show, these hour-long episodes of science fiction would tap into an interesting conceit that had broader social implications beyond simply sci-fi. Many folks say Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which feels like a longer than average Twilight Zone episode, was a purposeful allegory about the post-war invasion of Communism in America. The filmmakers have said otherwise. It makes sense to draw the comparison. This is a story of the familiar not being what it seems, tapping into the fear that danger might be lurking in our own home unbeknownst to us. However, I think this is just an instance of a great sci-fi story rather than an intentional jab at the Reds. Great sci-fi and great horror take mundane, everyday fears and present them on a larger, fictional scale. They frequently work allegorically for several things. You could take the same story and apply it to terrorism in post 9/11 America. Homeland and the upcoming The Americans on FX play on the same themes. There are cultural reasons zombies and the themes associated with zombies are so popular today. The homogenization of global culture, feelings that we are going through our lives just to get by rather than enjoy it, and increased concern over medical epidemics are just a few examples of why zombies are the horror trope of our times. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sci-fi movie that is clearly of its time, but its premise is one that extends far beyond the Red Scare.
I thought this movie might be a Rebecca rip-off at first. The title character is dead, yet exerts a strong force over the characters actually in the film, much like the Hitchcock classic. However, this movie takes a fascinating turn halfway through and it becomes something much, much different. This is the kind of film noir I can get behind. Cinematic high style, arch characters, and a story that keeps me guessing, yet makes nothing but sense. My lone complaint is that Gene Tierney, who plays Laura in flashback, doesn’t live up to the hype of the characters describing how charismatic Laura was. Tierney is lovely, just not magnetic, which results in one noticeable false note in an otherwise enjoyable thriller.