Moving right along, picking up where Part I left off:
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Tim Burton
Warner DVD – library (1:30)
Previously discussed here
Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) Otto Preminger
Twilight Time Blu-ray (1:47)
Previously discussed here
Black Friday (1934) Arthur Lubin
The Bela Lugosi Collection DVD (1:10)
Black Friday may not be the best Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff film (I don’t think they even share a single scene together), but it has more than enough fun to hold your interest. Karloff plays Dr. Ernest Sovac, whose friend Professor George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges) is hit by a car while crossing a street. The only hope for Kingsley is for Sovac to transplant a portion of another man’s brain into the professor’s. Things might be a lot simpler if the other man’s brain didn’t belong to a dangerous gangster, but not as profitable: Sovac learns that the dead gangster hid $500,000 before he died. If Sovac can pump Kingsley for information while the gangster’s brain is in control, he could be a very rich man. But another gangster named Marnay (Lugosi) is also looking for the money.
The mad scientist/gangster element works pretty well, as long as you can suspend your disbelief. Karloff gets the majority of the screen time here with Lugosi getting shafted, but Black Friday is still a fun little excursion.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Wes Anderson (4x)
Criterion Collection Blu-ray (1:27)
My friend Orangerful uses Fantastic Mr. Fox as a measuring stick for friendship: if you watch the film and don’t like it, don’t expect her to be your friend. I’m partially joking, but not by much. I decided to see if my two nieces (ages 7 and 10) would like the film. They watch a lot of Disney films, so I was not going to be surprised if they got bored after the first 10 minutes. But I’m happy to report they were glued to the movie! Their mom came to pick them up with about 30 minutes left and they refused to leave until it was over. Nice job, girls. You can proudly remain in the family.
The Lost Weekend (1945) Billy Wilder (2x)
Eureka! Masters of Cinema Blu-ray (UK) (1:40)
In some ways, time has not been kind to The Lost Weekend. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine film with a fine performance by Ray Milland, perhaps his best. (He won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, although Danny Peary in his book Alternate Oscars prefers Boris Karloff’s performance in The Body Snatcher. I find it hard to argue with Peary.)
The Lost Weekend was certainly not the first film to deal with the problems of substance abuse (alcohol in this case), but the topic was controversial enough in 1945 to gain a lot of attention. (The film even won the Best Picture Oscar, although in a fairly weak year.) Milland’s Don Birnam is certainly a self-destructive, unsympathetic character and the Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett script takes him through some hard territory, but audiences have seen much harder stuff since then. This is one of the biggest problems with asking contemporary audiences to watch classic films: they have a difficult time placing themselves in the mindset of viewers from that era. The Lost Weekend almost demands such a “time machine” mentality for the viewer. The film still packs a punch, but its impact is mostly lessened by a weak, implausible “Let’s-satisfy-the-Production-Code” ending.
Yet it’s easy to lose sight of Billy Wilder’s masterful hand at work. If you’ve seen many of his films, you run the risk of taking much for granted: Wilder’s visual sense, the decisions he makes, the way shots move effortlessly from one to another. He was a master and although The Lost Weekend may not be his finest work, it’s still pretty darn good.
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) Carl Franklin
Twilight Time Blu-ray (1:42)
Previously discussed here
The Quiet Man (1952) John Ford (5x)
Olive Films Blu-ray (2:09)
I must confess that I put this on so that my dog wouldn’t feel so alone when my wife and I went to work that morning. (I know, the things pet owners do, right?) When I got home, I couldn’t stop watching it. Even though I’ve seen it many times, it’s still wonderful.
Mysterious Island (1961) Cy Endfield
Twilight Time Blu-ray (1:41)
I felt sure that after watching Journey to the Center of the Earth last month that Mysterious Island, a film I somehow never saw as a kid, would pale in comparison. As improbable as much of it is, it’s still a movie that’s easy to get caught up in, partly due to the Ray Harryhausen special effects that still look pretty good.
During the Civil War, a group of Union soldiers (Michael Craig, Michael Callan, Dan Jackson) escape from a Confederate prison camp and commandeer a hot air balloon. The only guy who knows how to handle the balloon is a Confederate guard (Percy Herbert, who is unmistakably British), so they take him along. After a pretty nasty storm, the group lands on said mysterious island where they find lots of surprises, which I’ll leave for you to discover.
Like another Jules Verne adapted adaptation from roughly the same area, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Mysterious Island is fun, although it lacks a recognizable cast. These guys weren’t exactly household names even back in 1961, although it was hard to watch many films from that time without running into Percy Herbert, whose most famous appearance is probably as Private Grogan in Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Herbert Lom, a more recognizable actor, appears later in the film.
I’ve never read the novel, so I don’t know if its ending is as rushed and patched-together as the film’s, but I’m willing to be a bit forgiving of a movie that contains great Harryhausen effects and a Bernard Herrmann score.
I’ll have a few more films to discuss before the month is out. Stay tuned.