If you missed Part I of the films I watched in August, this will get you caught up. Continuing…
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) Wes Anderson
Criterion DVD (1:58)
I know exactly what I’m going to get with a Wes Anderson movie. They’re all the same, yet they’re all different. If you’ve seen even a couple, you know what I mean. You also know they’re irresistible. This one finds oceanographer/documentary filmmaker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) on an expedition to find the “Jaguar Shark” responsible for the death of Zissou’s friend and chief diver Esetaban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel). Along for the ride are first mate Klaus (Willem Dafoe), a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett), and a man named Ned (Owen Wilson), who may or may not be Zissou’s son. The film also stars Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum and many others. Probably not the best place to start with Anderson’s films, but if you’ve seen at least one other, I think you’re good to go.
The Naked Spur (1953) Anthony Mann
Warner DVD (1:31)
While tracking vicious killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) through the Canadian Rockies, bounty hunter Howard Kemp (James Stewart, left) realizes he’s going to need some help. He finds an old prospector (Millard Mitchell, center) and a former Union soldier (Ralph Meeker, right) who’ll be glad to help for a small fee. When they find out a hefty reward is being offered for Vandergroat, the alliance starts to unravel and the men’s true intentions begin to emerge. Superb western from Anthony Mann, also starring Janet Leigh. Dear Warner Archive: please release this magnificent film on Blu-ray soon!
Swamp Water (1941) Jean Renoir
Twilight Time Blu-ray
According to Renoir scholar Alexander Sesonske, Renoir’s first American film was not under the director’s complete control since producer Darryl F. Zanuck was firmly holding the reins (or muddying the water, as you might say in this case). Set in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, a young man named Ben (Dana Andrews, right) goes deep into the swamp looking for his lost hunting dog. Along the way he discovers Tom Keefer (Walter Brennan, standing), a man wanted on a murder charge. Keefer’s been hiding out in the swamp for a long time and refuses to let Ben leave, fearing he might disclose his hideout.
Swamp Water contains some wonderful scenes and an exceptional cast (including Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Ward Bond, John Carradine, and Eugene Pallette, one of the most recognizable voices in classic cinema), but suffers from clichés, stereotypes, and some painful overacting by Andrews. The most enjoyable performance for me was Walter Brennan as the fugitive. Who knew he could be so menacing?
Suspiria (1977) Dario Argento
Suspiria (and Italian giallo films in general) have always been a blind spot for me. Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (watched just a few weeks ago) was – as far as I know – my first giallo film. All I can say about this film – the strange adventure of a young American girl (Jessica Harper) at a German ballet school – is that I was visually blown away, so much so that I probably overlooked several elements of the story. I’ll definitely need a re-watch (and maybe even a crash course on giallo films) in my near future.
The Blot (1921) Lois Weber
Milestone DVD (1:31)
It’s a shame that (1) so few people watch silent films and (2) that fewer still know of the legacy of Lois Weber, one of most important American directors who was also an actress, screenwriter, producer and much more. The Blot is possibly her most seen film, a social drama about Amelia, a young librarian (Claire Windsor, right) whose professor father (Philip Hubbard) is a college professor struggling to make ends meet. Amelia catches the attention of a spoiled rich college student in her father’s class named Phil West (a young Louis Calhern, left) as well as an equally poor young preacher. The wealthy immigrant family next door looks down upon Amelia and her family and Weber provides some potent social commentary while delivering an expertly produced narrative, one that clearly shows her talent and influence.
The Offence (1972) Sidney Lumet
Kino Lorber Blu-ray (1:52)
Previously discussed here
A Woman’s Face (1941) George Cukor
Warner DVD – library (1:46)
Told mostly in flashback, Joan Crawford plays Anna Holm, the leader of a group of blackmailers in Stockholm. Anna’s face was disfigured by a fire when she was a girl and she attempts to hide it with broad-brimmed hats pulled down over that side of her face. She guards her heart just as closely, that is, until aristocrat Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt) pays her some attention, seemingly oblivious to her disfigurement. Barring also knows a plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) whom he thinks can help Anna. All this seems to indicate deep melodrama, and there’s certainly some of that present, but A Woman’s Face also serves as an excellent early film noir with wonderful performances and excruciating suspense.
They Drive by Night (1940) Raoul Walsh
Warner DVD (1:35)
Brothers Joe (George Raft, left) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart, right) want to own their own independent truck-driving business, but can’t seem to get out from under the control of the big trucking companies or the loan sharks. The two brothers seem to be headed on the right track until a fateful accident forces them to chose different paths with devastating results. People tend to focus on the Raft/Bogart aspect of the film (hilarious that these guys were cast as brothers), but the movie also contains great performances from Ann Sheridan (center), Ida Lupino, Alan Hale and more. The film was recently reissued by Warner Archive on DVD and is also available in a TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection set with three other Bogart films.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Arthur Penn (5x)
Bowie Regal Cinema 14 (1:51)
Previously discussed here
The Breaking Point (1950) Michael Curtiz
Criterion Collection Blu-ray (1:37)
Although the plot of The Breaking Point is similar to the Howard Hawks film To Have and Have Not (1944), both based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, the Curtiz film is (at least in my opinion) the greater of the two versions. Harry Morgan (John Garfield, right, in one of his finest roles) operates a small fishing boat in the San Diego area. Although he’s a hard worker, he always struggles to provide for his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) and two little girls Donna Jo Boyce and Sherry Jackson). When Morgan books a gambler named Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) and his mistress Leona (Patricia Neal, left) for a fishing trip, Hannagan bails before paying his bill, leaving man-eater Leona with Morgan. Hannagan’s money was going to get Morgan out of a tight spot, but now the spot is even tighter, especially with the temptation of Leona. Morgan’s offered a way out of his predicament, but he’ll be forced to do business with F.R. Duncan (Wallace Ford), a shady character always in on crooked deals around the docks.
The Breaking Point is a superb film noir that’s just been released by Criterion and contains some nice supplements including an interview with writer and film historian Alan K. Rode, whose new biography Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film will be published in November. Everything about the film is wonderful, especially John Garfield’s performance. (I’m a big fan of Patricia Neal, too, and she’s spectacular here.) I hope to have more to say about this one later this year. So far it’s one of my favorite film noir discoveries of 2017.
That’s all for this time. I’m still watching movies like crazy, so stay tuned.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Mubi, BFI, That Was a Bit Mental, CineMata’s Movie Madness, Cinema Talk, MoMA, Gold Hollywood