Monkey Business (1931) Norman Z. McLeod
Universal – The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray (1:19)
Previously discussed here
The Reichsorchester: The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich (Doc. 2007) Enrique Sánchez Lansch
Digital Concert Hall; Arthaus Musik Blu-ray (1:30)
Previously discussed here
The Lady in Question (1940) Charles Vidor
Previously discussed here
Escape from New York (1981) John Carpenter (2x)
MGM DVD – interlibrary loan (1:39)
I’ll have more to say about this one in my upcoming Kurt Russell post.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Fred F. Sears
DVD – library (1:23)
Scientist Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Carol (Joan Taylor) are out driving when they see a flying saucer. Oddly enough, Martin had his tape recorder running during the incident and even more oddly enough, Martin is in charge of a project with the space program that launches research satellites into orbit. How convenient! While Martin tries to convince his supervisors that the saucer is real, he discovers that they are real. But are they friend or foe?
The Ray Harryhausen special effects were excellent for the time and still look good. As with any film from this era, you have to consider the technology, culture, and audiences of the time. If you do, you’ll probably enjoy Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
Blow-Up (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
The debate continues. Is Blow-Up film noir or is it something else? It played on the Noir City circuit in 2016 (one of the films I was unfortunately unable to attend) but I wonder how many conversations ensued about whether or not it should be included as a film noir. I’m not entirely sure myself.
Put very simply, a London fashion photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) photographs a couple in Maryon Park. The young woman (Vanessa Redgrave) – obviously seeing an older man, neither of them aware that they are being photographed – tracks down Thomas, demanding the film. Even though the film is over 50 years old, I’m not going to tell you what happens next, other than one thing: after blowing-up the photos, Thomas sees something he wasn’t supposed to see.
I could say so much about this film, but not without at least one more viewing. Roger Ebert wrote a review of the film in 1998, reflecting back on his thoughts on seeing the film just before he became a professional film critic. One year later, he wrote a post called “Corpse from Blow-Up Speaks!” which is required reading for anyone who has seen the film. If it is legitimate, it places the film in an interesting light, to say the least.
Although I only saw it this year for the first time, Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) will probably become one of my favorite films of all time. Although Blow-Up will probably never make that list, it contains moments that remind me of L’avventura, and moments that seem as if they came from another director. Again, I need to see both films again, as well as much more of Antonioni’s work. I hope you will also.
Highway 301 (1950) Andrew L. Stone
Highway 301 (which actually runs through the town where I live) begins as a semi-documentary featuring the actual governors of Maryland (William P. Lane), Virginia (John S. Battle) and North Carolina (W. Kerr Scott) talking about the vicious and sadistic gang of armed robbers hitting several banks throughout their respective states. Once this painful introduction has ended, we’re treated to a pretty good tale of the aforementioned gang led by George Legenza (Steve Cochran), who kills so many people it’s hard to keep count. (The gang also included Wally Cassell, Richard Egan and a very young Robert Webber.) Fast-paced, tough, and (once the introduction is over) satisfying. Available on DVD from Warner Archive.
Paradise Now (2005) Hany Abu-Assad
I’m looking at several international films for a possible upcoming project at the library and Paradise Now is the first film I’ve looked at with the project in mind. Paradise Now follows two Palestinian men, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). Said and Khaled have been friends for years and have now been recruited to carry out suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The films focuses on how this decision will effect the rest of their lives as well as those of their families and friends.
I can only imagine the difficulties and pressures that were associated with making this film. Director Hany Abu-Assad said in an interview with the Telegraph that “If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s not worth endangering your life for a movie.” Paradise Now was the first Palestinian film nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. (It won the Golden Globe and several other awards.) It is a powerful film, but not without controversy. I will refer you to the Wikipedia article as a starting point if you want to know more about it. I hope you’ll see the film for yourself.
Choose Me (1984) Alan Rudolph (2x)
MGM DVD (1:54)
It’s rare that I revisit a film I haven’t seen in 20+ years and find that it still holds up as well as I’d imagined it from my original viewing, but that rarity happened with Choose Me, a film I probably saw at my friend Terry’s house in 1985 probably on a VHS rental. I realize there are a couple of “probably”s in that sentence, but I’m very clear on the quality of the film: excellent.
Choose Me has a very 80s look and feel, but you can’t blame a film for the era that produced it; take it for what it is: a smart, sophisticated romantic comedy/drama. It’s been largely forgotten, which is a real shame. I’ll try to give you a little of the story without giving away too much, which would be criminal.
A man named Mickey (Keith Carradine) walks out of a mental hospital and heads to Los Angeles, where he finds a bar named for a woman named Eve (Lesley Ann Warren). Mickey is attracted to Eve. Who isn’t? She’s smart, charming, gorgeous. Mickey begins to tell Eve a series of tales, chronicling his many accomplishments and achievements. He’s just walked out of a mental hospital, so these things couldn’t be true, could they?
Other people either frequent or work at the bar, Rae Dawn Chong as the former, John Larroquette the latter. But things get more interesting. Eve has just found a roommate, a woman named Ann (Geneviève Bujold) who’s a stranger, but seems nice. What Eve doesn’t know is that she’s actually been talking to Ann for a long time as a caller to the love relationship/confessional radio talk show hosted by Dr. Nancy Love.
Okay, so I refuse to tell you anything else about the film other than this: it’s smart, sexy, unpredictable, and marvelously acted. If you’ve never seen the film, I envy you. You’re in for a real treat. Available on DVD, but urgently needs a Blu-ray release.
Smart Girls Don’t Talk (1948) Richard L. Bare
Virginia Mayo plays Linda Vickers, a woman enamored of a man named Marty Fain (Bruce Bennett) who owns a gambling house. When Linda’s brother Doc (Robert Hutton, playing a doctor in training) visits, she begins rethinking her relationship with Fain, which is part of the reason she considers helping police lieutenant McReady (Richard Rober) nab Fain.
Mayo is smart and sassy in the role and her character develops nicely (although not always believably). The other performances aren’t nearly as interesting, mostly because they’re written as pretty one-dimensional parts. The dialogue leaves much to be desired, relying heavily on gangster cliches. The film is fairly entertaining and definitely worth watching for Mayo. Available on DVD from Warner Archive.
Horse Feathers (1932) Norman Z. McLeod
Universal – The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray
Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx), after being appointed the new president of Huxley University, proceeds to set higher education back at least a couple of centuries. Wagstaff feels the pressure to succeed early: his son Frank (Zeppo Marx) urges him to do something to improve the school’s football team. Maybe if more teams had players like the Marx Brothers on their rosters, I’d watch more football… Regardless, the Marx Brothers deliver. Score. Whatever.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) Sam Peckinpah
Arrow Blu-ray (UK) (1:52)
I truly believe Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a masterpiece. It’s one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen with one of the most interesting characters in all of cinema. I do not exaggerate. I don’t know of many other actors who could pull off what Warren Oates does here as Bennie, a piano player in a Mexican bar who takes on the challenge of finding the titular Alfredo Garcia for a Mexican crime boss. The film certainly deserves its own separate (and detailed) review, which I hope to do in the following months. It will take me at least that long to check out all the supplements on the recent Arrow release, which include a new audio commentary exclusive to this release by Stephen Prince (author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies), another commentary with Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman, the 1993 documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, an audio recording of Peckinpah’s lecture at the National Film Theater, and a separate bonus Blu-ray featuring over 10 (Yes, 10) hours of previously unreleased interview footage. Wow…. But you’ll need a region-free Blu-ray player for this one (and it’s a good excuse to get one!).
Flaxy Martin (1949) Richard L. Bare
Caesar (Jack Overman) – who works for gangster Hap Richie (Douglas Kennedy) – commits a murder, but no problem! Richie has a lawyer named Colby (Zachary Scott, center) in his pocket, so he arranges for Colby to spring Caesar free. Richie knows that Colby is getting sick and tired of being the gangster’s boy, so he has singer Flaxy Martin (Virginia Mayo, right) persuade Colby to stick around. All sorts of shenanigans ensue. Flaxy Martin certainly isn’t a great film, but it is entertaining, plus it’s always nice to see any appearance by Dorothy Malone and Elisha Cook Jr.
The Guns of Navarone (1961) J. Lee Thompson
Based on Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel of the same name, The Guns of Navarone chronicles the mission of an Allied commando team to destroy a German fortress and its two massive guns, thereby seizing control of the island of Navarone where 2,000 British soldiers are being held. That team includes Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle and more, including a cameo by Richard Harris. (It also stars British actor Percy Herbert, who was also in The Bridge on the River Kwai and just about every other film involving the British in WWII during the 50s and 60s.) It’s one of those epic war adventures that I’m sorry it took me so long to see, but it was worth the wait.
That’s it for February… Let me know what you watched or if you’ve seen any of the films listed here.
Photos: Rare Film, Encyclopedia Britannica, TCM, DVD Beaver, DoctorMacro, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Cinema of the World, Hazazah Pictures, Skeptical Analysis, Sci-Fi Movie Page, The Spartan Dog Film Review, TMDb