This project is starting to get tricky. I am very quickly exhausting my list of easy to access flicks, meaning there is a certain amount of searching and spending to cross things off going forward.
Bright side? TCM’s 31 Days of Oscars began on Friday and 14 of the movies on my list will be airing this month. South Point also shows classic movies every Wednesday and have been showing some of interest to me, that I am still not out of easy to find options just yet. Plus, even if I was, with seven more movies ticked off the list this week, the original field of 116 is already down to 88. Considering the goal is 50, I’m still well on pace and could even take a week or two off and still finish by the fall.
And with that, this week’s selections:
Okay, technically this was last week and I just forgot about it. Not my favorite story I’ve seen, but the performances from John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and Walter Brennan are uniformly quite good. I will give that this Western does have an almost biblical or allegorical feel to it about the relationship between fathers and sons. Perhaps because this is a relationship I don’t really have a lot of personal connection to, this movie didn’t leave a lasting impression with me–as indicated by the fact I couldn’t remember seven days later that I even watched it.
Twelve O’Clock High
I expected to like this war movie highlighting the brotherhood and camaraderie of American Air Force pilots in England during WW2, but this very long film was short on action and long on exposition. Gregory Peck is wonderful as the inspirational commander of the squad, but it just felt like the movie tread over the same beats without advancing the plot or even raising the stakes that I found myself struggling to stay involved.
If there is an award for least Capra-esque Frank Capra film, I am pretty sure this movie about a magical place of eternal youth is it. Felt decidedly different from your standard little man bucks the system films Capra made his name on, but I still found myself enjoying it for what it was.
Here is the other funny thing about this movie, which was made before Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World was published (be warned there are some minor spoilers coming): there is no downside to the utopian Shangri-La. The characters are dubious and skeptical about the motives of this mountain paradise, but they all prove to be unfounded. This place is perfect and they are just looking for reasons to ruin it. In fact, the characters who express the most doubt are punished by taking actions that lead to their death. I kept waiting for them to be right, as I am so conditioned by the fleet of Brave New World-esque dystopias to always suspect things can’t be that great, that there is something wrong or somehow the utopia will get corrupted. This one doesn’t though and, in that way, it does inhibit the Capra-esque sense of optimism that perfection in the world is possible, so long as your cynicism doesn’t get in the way.
She Done Him Wrong
This makes me a bad film historian, but I will just admit this right here and now: I do not understand the Mae West thing. Was she just the first bawdy broad to market this kind of persona? Because she isn’t a particularly adept singer or actress, her presence seems much better suited for the stage than film (you can see her “cheating out” as the theater geeks call it, adopting a very presentational posture on camera), and I don’t buy for a minute that a woman like this would charm the dapper and darling Cary Grant. Like Harold and Maude, I think She Done Him Wrong helps me appreciate what Mae West contributed to comedy, females in comedy, and broadening the scope of how women were depicted in movies, it just doesn’t make me appreciate the movie.
The Phantom of the Opera
The notion of a silent film centered around music struck me as a not so compelling idea, and, have to say, this movie was not so compelling. Perhaps it is because I am so enamored with the musical, I found this film wanting. I also found myself saying “This is the part where Christine would sing ‘Think of Me’, that is, if there were sound.”
I will say the audio mix on this version was well done. When women sang on screen, someone sang on the soundtrack. It made for an unusual but interesting viewing experience. Lon Chaney’s make up as the disfigured Phantom was impressive, even more so when you consider he applied it himself. In the end though, this is one of the weaker silent flicks I’ve encountered in this project.
Touch of Evil
This is one of those movies you need to see in order to have “film school street cred.” Instead of touting “Citizen Kane” as your Orson Welles film of choice, you’re supposed to say this one. There are things about this film to love. The opening three-minute tracking shot is amazing. The cinematography is captivating and so unlike the prevalent style of the error. Janet Leigh gives a great performance. But there are other not so admirable qualities of this movie. Like Charlton Heston trying to credibly play a Mexican. I’m not a big noir fan. I found the pulpy story to be relatively predictable and uninteresting, but the high marks for mis-en-scene made this movie worthwhile for me. I am still going to be that person who cites “Citizen Kane” as my preferred Orson Welles flick (though I thoroughly enjoyed the lesser known The Stranger as well) though. But I didn’t have film school street cred to begin with, so this should surprise no one.
For the past two days, I have been quietly humming this everywhere I go:
In a device that childhood me always assumed was created by the animated Disney film “Robin Hood” and its oodelollying rooster, these two songsters narrate the film using music. It is one of a number of quirky things about this comedy Western starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. Tonally I don’t know how to describe it, except as perhaps a precursor for Blazing Saddles and the movies of Mel Brooks, toying with genre to generate laughs.
My “Oh How Things Have Changed Moment” came in this movie when (SPOILER ALERT) Marvin’s character finally manages to clean himself up and sober up after years of slobbery drunkenness. He puts himself together with the help of Cat and her team of bandits and starts to be a glimpse of his former glorious self. Then, he unceremoniously falls off the wagon and his return to staggering intoxication is milked for laughs. I admit I chuckled at his relapse, which suggested he would remain this drunken stooge forever, but it did get me thinking that the “affable fall down drunk sobering up only to immediately go back to an alcoholic haze cause, hey, what is really wrong with that?” storyline is not one you really see in contemporary film these days.
Cat Ballou was the real delight of the week for me. A unique film that I can genuinely say I have never seen the likes of in my years of movie watching.