Movies Watched in August Part II

If you read Part I of the August Movies Watched post, you know I just barely scratched the surface of last month’s films. Here are the rest:

DEATHKISS4big

The Death Kiss (1932) Edwin L. Marin
(1:12)
Kino Lorber DVD (library)

Bela Lugosi plays Joseph Steiner, the head of a Poverty Row movie studio whose newest picture runs aground when its lead actor is shot and killed while the cameras are rolling. Yet no one on the set seems to have fired the fateful shot. Since the cops are mostly useless, the movie’s screenwriter Franklyn Drew (David Manners) tries to solve the case himself.

This pre-code murder mystery is interesting in that it allows audiences (then and now) to see what making movies for a low budget studio was like. Much of the film, however, suffers from cornball comedic touches, courtesy of a clueless studio police officer (Vince Barnett) as well as a disappointing role for Lugosi, who isn’t given nearly enough to do.

Interestingly enough, Lugosi’s character Steiner spends part of the movie looking for a replacement who can finish the film for the actor who was murdered. A similar situation happened to Lugosi himself when filming Plan 9 from Outer Space in in 1956. Lugosi died before the film was completed and another actor – at least a head taller than Lugosi – was hired to replace him.

The Death Kiss is a far better film than Plan 9 from Outer Space, but it’s nothing stellar. Still, the Library of Congress thought enough of the film to help fund its restoration, so there’s that. Worth a look.

3/5

lastembrace_pub

Last Embrace (1979) Jonathan Demme
(1:42)
Kino Lorber DVD (library)

Unfortunately, unlike The Death Kiss, Jonathan Demme’s Last Embrace really isn’t worth a look. (Or if it is, make it a quick look.) The film begins fairly well: after losing his wife, government agent Harry Hannan (Roy Scheider) returns to New York after a period of therapy, ready to get back to work. Harry’s been gone for so long, he finds someone else renting his apartment, a doctoral student named Ellie (Janet Margolin). Soon Harry receives a strange note written in ancient Hebrew. Is someone after him or is he simply paranoid?

Watching Last Embrace is like watching someone trying to imitate Hitchcock by giving the viewer all of the techniques but none of the substance. The relationships and plot soon become unbelievable, the devices clichéd, and the ending downright ridiculous. Since this is one of Jonathan Demme’s early films, we can forgive him. Demme would, of course, go on to direct many good films, some of which are great. This one is neither.

2/5

lineup+tryptich

The Lineup (1958) Don Siegel
(1:26)
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I DVD

The Lineup presented 1950s audiences with a concept that’s common now, but was very unusual for the time: making a movie based on a television show. The Lineup was actually a CBS radio show (1950-53) and a TV show (1954-60) before Don Siegel got behind the camera and literally ran with the idea. The film’s poster touts “Too hot…too big…for TV!” And it was.

Two San Francisco police inspectors (Warner Anderson and Tom Tully) investigate the fatal crash of a taxi driver carrying a suitcase containing stolen figurines housing heroin. Two gangsters (Eli Wallach and Robert Keith, both excellent here) seek to track down the goods.

Siegel made some good films, some great ones, and at least two that will probably be remembered forever (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry), but The Lineup is one of his most effective movies that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Many of its scenes are gloriously cringe-worthy and Wallach is absolutely masterful as the psychotic gangster. The Eddie Muller/James Ellroy commentary on the DVD is a must, although Ellroy gets so weird sometimes, you can almost hear Muller scooting his chair away from him.

5/5

the_party_01

The Party (1968) Blake Edwards (4x)
(1:39)
Kino Lorber Blu-ray

The Party isn’t a great film, and the more I watch it, the more I see its weaknesses, yet I find myself almost needing to watch it every few years. Doing so takes me back to a time when comedies were simpler, took their time to develop, and paid off with rich rewards.

Peter Sellers plays Hrundi V. Bakshi, an actor from India who completely ruins the set of a big-budget movie. The studio executive, thinking he’s blackballed Bakshi for tanking his film, inadvertently invites him to his house for a lavish party. Shenanigans ensue…

Many of the gags take a long time to develop, while others are over-and-done-with rather quickly. The scenes that do take awhile are usually worth it, but audiences used to faster comedy and sparkling one-liners may not appreciate a film like The Party. The finale goes on far too long and some of the long-running jokes go well beyond their shelf life, but if you’re in the right mood for it, The Party might just be for you.

3.5/5

600full-back-to-the-future-screenshot

Back to the Future Part I (1985)
(1:56)
25th Anniversary Trilogy Blu-ray

5/5

back-to-the-future-2-movie-clip-screenshot-chain-reaction_large

Back to the Future Part II (1989)
(1:48)

4/5

bfft3

Back to the Future Part III (1990)
(1:58)

4/5

I’m really glad that the Back to the Future trilogy is getting a lot of attention in its 30th anniversary year. We screened the entire trilogy at the library on three consecutive Saturdays and had a great time. Surprisingly, Part II  – typically the least favorite for most people – brought in more people than the other two films combined. I hope to write a separate post on the entire trilogy soon, but if you’ve only seen the first film, I urge you to see all three.

perfect_storm

The Perfect Storm (2000) Wolfgang Petersen (2x)
(2:09)
Viewed at a friend’s house, DVD

Although I’d seen The Perfect Storm years ago, our Guys Book Club just read the book, so when one of the guys invited me and my wife to see it, I was pretty enthusiastic to see how the movie differed from the book. The story is somewhat faithful to the book, but weaknesses creep in when Petersen tries to speculate on exactly what happened on the Andrea Gail (which we’ll never know), especially the drama and the steps they took to survive. Still, not a bad film.

3/5

the-quatermass-xperiment

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) Val Guest
(1:22)
Kino Lorber Blu-ray

Previously discussed here.

4.5/5

5-AGAINST-HOUSE--2-

5 Against the House (1955) Phil Karlson
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics 1 DVD
(1:24)

Previously discussed here.

3/5

it_follows

It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell
(1:40)
DVD (library)

Previously discussed here.

4/5

ep187-warriors

The Warriors (1979) Walter Hill (2x)
(1:33)
Amazon Prime streaming

Often you rewatch a film years after your first viewing (36 years in this case) and discover the movie you once cherished has turned into rotten fruit. On rare occasions a film holds up, but what really rocks your world is having a film speak to you in a different, surprising, and perhaps even better way than it did at that first viewing.

I first saw The Warriors late one night on HBO when I was 17. I thought the film and its violence was raw, edgy, and blazing with intensity. I’d never even seen a gang member (I’m from a small Mississippi town, remember), but I probably thought the portrayal of gangs taking over New York City was not only likely, but maybe even inevitable. (Hey, I was a kid…) What can I say? I got caught up in the excitement and really enjoyed the movie.

Now in my 50s, I enjoyed the film as an over-the-top fantasy that I didn’t believe for a minute, but accepted it on its own terms. Of course the film is ridiculous, but it believes in itself. Sure, everything in it is overplayed and overdone, but it still stands as an effective action-adventure film from a time when you could try just about anything. Walter Hill made a string of interesting, entertaining films in the 70s and 80s and The Warriors is just one of them. I still like it and the gang in the New York Yankees uniforms with the face paint still creeps me out…

4/5

Widmark

Night and the City (1950) Jules Dassin
(1:35)
Criterion Collection DVD (library)

I hope to have more to say about this one later as well, but let’s just say that Richard Widmark’s portrayal of Harry Fabian, a small-time American grifter in London, is one of the great – maybe the greatest – losers in film noir as he tries to rise to the top of the London wrestling rackets. The performances are superb as is Dassin’s direction.

Dassin’s story by itself is worth the price of the DVD or Blu-ray, which includes a 17-minute interview with Dassin filmed in 2005. If you’re a fan of film noir, Night and the City belongs in your collection.

5/5

So I hope you’ve found something to explore (or re-explore) here. If so, please let me know what you watched and what you think.

(Photos: David MannersBlu-ray AuthorityReel SFThe Film ReelWe Got This CoveredWing ClipsYifyWe Are Movie GeeksPop OptiqLe Blog du WestThe News CommenterAlcohollywoodThe Movie Gourmet)

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One thought on “Movies Watched in August Part II

  1. Pingback: Best Movies of 2015: Film Noir | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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