24 Frames 5th Annual Ten Best Classic FIlms Watched… for the First Time

It amazes me that the more films I watch, the more there is to discover. It’s a never ending black hole, and that’s a good thing. The thrill of a new discovery always sets the juices flowing. This year was no different.

Five of the ten films on my list are foreign. There are three from Italy, one a co-production with Algeria. One from England and one from France. Of the five U.S. films, two are silents and one a documentary. Decade wise, the 1940’s and 1950’s had three each. There were two from the 1920’s and one each from 1960 and 1990. All in all, a nice mix. If you are curious about  the previous entries in this series, the easiest way is to go over to categories on the sidebar and select “Annual Ten Best Classic Films Watched…for the First Time.” I also included a dozen honorable mentions. 

After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley) 1990

afterdark

You may question whether a film from 1990 is a “classic” or not, but After Dark, My Sweet channels the best of film noir. Based on Jim Thompson’s dark brooding pulp fiction novel, the film died at the box office when first released. It has remained under the radar ever since. Critics complained at the time, director James Foley moved the film to the present day. That said, After Dark, My Sweet contains the dark, sun-baked, drenched California look that we have come to expect from noir. The pacing is a bit slow, but as I wrote in my review a while back, this is a film about characters, not plot. As uncompromising a bleak tale as any film noir from the golden age. The final part of the film is superbly done with a flawlessly constructed series of events, leading our three leads to their final destiny. Fantastic performance from Jason Patric!

Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo) 1966

battleofalgiersMade it 1966, the film covers French Algier’s war of independence during the late 1950’s. Director Gillo Pontecorvo tells the story of Ali (Brahim Haggiag), a former petty thief, now a important member of the rebel Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). Ali and others are eventually killed by the French military, but Algerian freedom would soon follow in 1962.  Filmed almost entirely in a newsreel style making it seem to pop right out of the nightly news. Powerful, and as relevant today as it was forty odd years ago. A textbook on guerilla warfare.We obviously have not learned much.

The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton) 1928

Buster Keaton - The Cameraman (1928) fire engine

Buster Keaton’s last great work! It’s charming, funny and full of BK’s acrobatic stunts. Buster is a cameraman who falls in love with a pretty office clerk, a very good looking Marceline Day, who works at the MGM newsreel office.  It’s heartbreaking to think that after this film, MGM, who Buster recently signed a contract with, would force him to tote the company line instead of letting his creative juices flow. They made him stick to a script and do it their way. But that was in the near future. Here Buster still managed to insert his own touches including a wonderful sequence where he pantomimes playing in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. The Cameraman was our last chance to see the stoic Buster before MGM transformed him into a sad clown.

The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed) – 1948

fallen-idol-645-75

Lies, secrets and a young boy’s imagination all lead to murder accusations in this superbly paced suspense film from British director Carol Reed. A marvelous performance from Ralph Richardson. The beautiful cinematography adds to the visual pleasures. Admittedly, by the end of the film, I found the young boy really annoying.

Forbidden Games (Rene Clemente) 1953

Forbidden

A poignant, sad, funny and disturbing film with outstanding performances by the two child actors Georges Poujouly and Brigitte Fossey. Fossey who was only six years old when the film was made is exceptional. A masterpiece that exposes the uncompromising tragedies of war on the innocent.

 Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern) 1958

Jazz4Famed photographer Bert Stern’s only feature length film was this documentary covering the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Like the music itself, the film has an improvisational feel to it. As you would expect,it is beautifully shot. Stern’s still photography background is evident in a lot of shots and it is all nicely edited by Aram Avakian. Performing artists include Louis Armstrong, Chico Hamilton, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Chuck Berry, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, and Big Maybelle among others. It is said to be the first feature length concert film.

Le Notti Bianchi (Luchino Visconti) 1957

lenottiA dream like romantic tale, based on a Dostoyevsky short story, with Marcello Mastroianni as the shy third wheel in a love triangle. Beautifully photographed and nicely acted by Marcello and Maria Schell.

Raw Deal (Anthony Mann) 1948

RawdealSuperb film noir from the excellent combination of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. Dark, expressively lit photography and stunning camerawork blend together into a satisfying sinister delicacy. Mann’s uses the camera not to show off, but to further the story. His many low angle shots of a nasty Raymond Burr reflect not just his bulk, but his power, towering over everyone else in his gang.   There is not one shot in Raw Deal that is not lyrically composed.

Shoeshine (Vittorio DeSica) 1946

shoeshineShoeshine is Vittorio DeSica’s bleak and tragic tale of the betrayal, lies and destruction of a friendship after two boys are arrested and thrown into jail. DeSica’s second directorial effort, compared to some later neorealist works, loses some its “shine” dripping at times with too much sentimentality. Still, this is a must see.

Speedy (Ted Wilde) 1928

Speedy-CrowdedHarold Lloyd’s final silent film is a classic on two levels. First, as one of the great silent comedies by one of its masters, and second as a historical document of 1920’s New York City. The location shots are amazing. We get to see Broadway,  Wall Street, Coney Island’s Luna Park, the Elevated Subway (The El), Yankee Stadium, including Harold, as a cabbie, delivering the great Babe Ruth to the game. However, Speedy is more than a historical travelogue. It’s funny, charming with Lloyd playing one of his most likeable characters.

Honorable Mentions

Bellissima (Luchino Visconti) – 1947

Blessed Event (Roy Del Ruth) – 1932

Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,The (Robert Altman) – 1988

Election (Alexander Payne) – 1999

Freshman,The (Newmeyer & Taylor) – 1925

I Love You Again (Woody Van Dyke) – 1940

I Want to Live! (Robert Wise) – 1958

Le Notti Bianchi (Luchino Visconti)

Proof (Jocelyn Moorhouse) – 1991

T-Men (Anthony Mann) – 1947

Uptight (Jules Dassin) 1968

Vincent & Theo (Robert Altman) 1990

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18 comments on “24 Frames 5th Annual Ten Best Classic FIlms Watched… for the First Time

  1. Danny @ Pre-Code.Com says:

    My wife fell asleep the first time she watched The Cameraman, but we watched it again and now she always refers to it whenever we go to a baseball game– always insisting that Buster could have played as one whole team himself and won!

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    • John Greco says:

      Danny, I agree with you wife! I recorded The Cameraman a few years ago. Never watched it and it sort of got misplaced (lost) among a lot of other stuff. Recently, TCM had it on again and I recorded it on my DVR and finally watched. Of course, a week or so later, I found the DVD copy I recorded.

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  2. Sam Juliano says:

    John—this is an absolutely staggering list and presentation. So many of your choices are in my own world cinema masterpiece wheelhouse. Pontecorvo, Keaton, Lloyd, multiple Viscontis, Mann, Clement, and that Stern, which I ashamed to say I need to see soon. Or did I see it. i am not 100% sure. In any case 2014 was really quite a year for you and one that will be a very hard act to follow. Bravo my friend!

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  3. kimalysong says:

    I love Shoeshine. I really wish Criterion would release it in the US.

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  4. I saw “The Cameraman” at the theatre a couple of years ago. The place was packed and the laughter was loud, long and contagious. I’ll keep the favourite memory of my daughter laughing so hard that she leaned on my shoulder with tears in her eyes. She even recognized Ed Brophy!

    May I quote you regarding “Raw Deal”? I have a sister who doesn’t yet get it.

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    • John Greco says:

      Patricia, I love hearing it when younger people, like your daughter, enjoy watching the silents. There’s hope.

      Yes, feel free quote me. You sister needs to see the light! (Lol)

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  5. Dan Heaton says:

    I also caught up with the Battle of Algiers for the first time earlier this year, and I was stunned by how much it still applies to today’s world. It’s one of the most pivotal war films ever made. Sadly, I still need to see all the other films in your list.

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    • John Greco says:

      Dan, Yes, the Battle of Algiers is as relevant today, maybe even more so, as it was back then. I felt the same way you do watching. It was eerie.

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  6. Sounds like a rich year for discovering new masterworks. Haven’t seen the first one, but all the others are superb films, with the exception of “The Cameraman,” which is not high on my list of favorite Buster Keaton movies, though I suspect I might like it better on rewatching. “Shoeshine” is available in the U.S. from International Classic Films LLC. Haven’t seen this version so can’t comment on the quality of the transfer.

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  7. John Greco says:

    Richard, thanks for the info on the availability of Shoeshine. I wouldn’t put The Cameraman up with films like The Generql or Sherlock Jr., but I think it’s still up there. It’s a shame MGM did not give him the creative freedom he needed.

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  8. D says:

    Glad to see your appreciation for The Fallen Idol and Raw Deal (which I place higher than T-Men).

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  9. The Lady Eve says:

    I’ve only seen “The Fallen Idol” of the films on your top-10 (unless I’ve forgotten a film or two which is, sadly, possible). There’s one on your honorable mentions list, though, that I just love, and that’s “I Love You Again.” Loy and Powell with Frank McHugh, directed by Woody Van Dyke. A delight, because of rather than in spite of its ridiculously far-fetched screwball premise. Some killer lines between Loy and Powell – and all around. Always makes me smile (and laugh).

    Though I’m familiar with most of the titles on your top-ten list, “Le Notti Bianchi” is the film I’m most interested in. I don’t think I’ve ever not liked anything I’ve seen by Visconti.

    Always enjoy your annual list, John.

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    • John Greco says:

      I caught, I Love You Again and another Powell/Loy treat, Double Wedding around the same time. Both are a delight though I did like the previous slightly more. Le Notti Bianchi is a beautiful fairy tale like story unlike most of Visconti’s work at the time which was more in the neo-realism style.
      Thanks as always.

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  10. Judy says:

    John, must admit ‘The Fallen Idol’ is the only one I’ve seen out of these – I loved it and agree Ralph Richardson was great, though I also thought the young boy, Bobby Henrey, was really good, so we differ there. There was an interesting piece by him in the Daily Telegraph a couple of years back about what it was like making the film – sounds as if he was quite lonely.

    Anyway, I definitely need to catch up with more of the films on your list! Great stuff, as usual.

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    • John Greco says:

      Hi Judy, Well, I actually thought the young boy, Bobby Hendrey, was completely convincing. He was good. It was the character he played that I found really annoying. All in all , a great film. Thanks!

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