(Here’s Part I in case you missed it.) Many of these entries will be quite brief. My apologies, but I’m watching them pretty quickly this month and am trying to get them out there as I watch ‘em. More on the way…
Hud (1963) Martin Ritt (2x)
Paramount DVD (1:51)
Previously discussed here
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) Sidney Lumet (2x)
Paramount DVD – library (2:11)
Previously discussed here
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) Michael Cimino
Twilight Time Blu-ray (1:55)
When I was in the sixth grade my friend Jim told me that his big brother got him in to see an R-rated Clint Eastwood movie called Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He only quoted one line from the movie in which a character told a kid what he could do to a duck. That was all he told me about it and that’s the only thought I had of the movie until a few years ago when I heard it was director Michael Cimino’s first film. Really? The guy who gave us The Deer Hunter (1978) and forever changed how movies are made (in a bad way) with Heaven’s Gate (1980)? That’s the guy.
Clint Eastwood is Thunderbolt, a Korean War veteran who mentors a young drifter named Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Lightfoot discovers that Thunderbolt is really a master bank robber and was part of a gang (George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis) who are tracking down Thunderbolt, thinking he double-crossed them on their last job. I won’t get into any more of the story other than to say it’s a fun but odd film. Kennedy and Lewis vacillate between scary and buffoonish (Lewis would later become much more so in later Eastwood films in the late 70s/early 80s) while Eastwood retains his 70s cool. Bridges – still a youngster here at 25 – is effective as a goofy, woman-chasing “high on life” type of guy. He even earned an Oscar nomination for the role. Is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot a buddy picture, a road picture, or a neo-noir? All of the above? I’ll let you decide. (The film played at Noir City 15 in San Francisco, unfortunately after I had to fly home, but I was glad to pick up the Twilight Time Blu-ray.)
Duck Soup (1933) Leo McCary
Universal – The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray (1:08)
Possibly the Marx Brothers at their finest in their final Paramount film and the last film to star Zeppo. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly appointed leader of Freedonia, a tiny country that’s struggling financially. The ambassador of the neighboring country Sylvania (Louis Calhern) tries to spark a revolution and sends his two best spies (I’d sure hate to see his two worst spies) Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo). Duck Soup has so many great scenes and no musical scenes that aren’t advancing the plot. (And I’ll say nothing about the many comparisons to the current political landscape.) If you only see one Marx Brothers movie in your life (and who wants to see only one?), see Duck Soup.
You Only Live Once (1937) Fritz Lang
Although it predates the recognized era, some consider You Only Live Once an early film noir while others consider it a forerunner of noir. Regardless of how you look at it, Fritz Lang’s second American feature after Fury (1936) is striking and powerful. Sylvia Sidney stars as Joan, the secretary for the public defender (Barton MacLane), which would be a pretty good job if she hadn’t fallen for a criminal named Eddie Taylor (Henry Fonda). Joan’s convinced that Eddie is basically a good guy who’s simply had lots of bad luck. He still does. I think Fury is a better film, but You Only Live Once contains more noir elements. Both are very good.
The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos (doc. 2016) Constantine Nasr
The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray box set (1:20)
This new documentary mostly covers the brothers’ career during the years the movies in this box set take place (1929-1933), focusing on the films themselves, but also on the boys’ relationship with their mother/agent Minnie Marx. No film that’s as limited as this one is at 80 minutes can go into that much depth, so for what it is, the film’s quite good.
The Lion in Winter (1968) Anthony Harvey
MGM DVD (2:14)
Set during Christmas 1183, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) must decide which of his sons will inherit the throne: Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (John Castle) or the youngest son John (Nigel Terry). Henry also allows his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) leave from her imprisonment to enjoy the festivities, of which there are plenty, yet few of them what you might call celebratory. Extraordinary film which earned three Oscars – Best Actress for Hepburn (tied with Barbara Streisand for Funny Girl, the only time this has happened in this category), Best Adapted Screenplay for James Goldman, and Best Music Score for John Barry.
Help! (1965) Richard Lester (3x)
I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I must say that Help! gets worse each time I watch it. A far cry from A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! involves an eastern cult as it seeks to sacrifice a woman to the goddess Kaili, but the high priestess Ahme (Eleanor Bron) discovers the sacrificial ring to be missing. Who has it? Ringo, of course. So for the next 90 minutes, we get a series of schemes from the leader of the cult (Leo McKern) to get the ring as he chases the Beatles around the globe. The Beatles were huge Marx Brothers fans, and while that spirit is clearly at work in their first film, it only comes through briefly during Help! At least the music is good.
Slap Shot (1977) George Roy Hill
I like to think of Slap Shot (when I think of it at all, which is not often) as Animal House on skates. This sports comedy about player/coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) and his minor league hockey team the Charlestown Chiefs has several laughs and plenty of testosterone, but is ultimately all over the place. The film contains a great cast, including Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren, Lindsay Crouse, Melinda Dillon and M. Emmet Walsh. Oh, and the Hanson Brothers (no, not those Hanson Brothers), who provide one of the main reasons to see the film.
Split Second (1953) Dick Powell
Dick Powell’s directorial debut is a tight, tension-filled film noir gem that unfortunately many seem to have forgotten about or dismissed altogether. Convicts Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally) and Bart Moore (Paul Kelly) escape from prison, hook up with their mute friend “Dummy” (Frank de Kova) and hide out in a ghost town that’s been evacuated due to its location: an atomic bomb test site. Not only that, but the gang has taken four hostages. Hurley persuades one of the hostages, Kay Garven (Alexis Smith) to contact her husband/doctor Neal Garven (Richard Egan) to help save the life of Moore, who was shot in the getaway. The film really belongs in the hostage sub-genre with a touch of Cold War paranoia and although it tries to keep a few too many plates spinning, is quite good.
That’s it for now. There will be more…
Photos: DVD Talk, Slate, DVD Beaver, We Are Cult, WogBlog, Another Old Movie Blog