With part 5, we have reached the halfway mark in this series. I’m still one film over my 101 limit, but have yet to remove it since, as I have mentioned before, titles could be added or subtracted. We shall see, Anyway, here is the next installment…
The Godfather Part II
You wouldn’t think it was possible, but Francis Ford Coppola managed make an even better film with The Godfather 2. The filmmaker just didn’t take Paramount’s money and dish out a piece second rate movie making. It’s breathtaking in its scope with its dual storyline and in dep.th characters. Being a third generation Italian-American, I found the Ellis Island scenes fascinating. My grandparents came through Ellis Island and I always imagine them going thru a similar process as young Vito. And I know people whose last name was changed because the Ellis Island ‘reception committee’ could not understand these “foreigners.” There were Italian immigrants who, believe it or not, ended up with German sounding last names or something else as strange for their background. I found most fascinating to watch the contrast between De Niro’s young meditative young Vito and the more power hungry, unsympathic Michael. A study in power gone corrupt.
Gold Diggers of 1933
Gold Diggers of 1933 pushed the buttons of pre-code limits. There are plenty of scantily dressed chorus girls in the opening number. The three female stars, roommates, are seen in various stages of undress in their apartment. Joan Blondell especially provides sexy views of her various attributes. The musical numbers are just as spicy. The “Pettin’ in the Park” sequence is notable for its silhouetted shots of chorus girls who are definitely naked behind the curtain that is slowly raised by a smirking Billy Barty. In this production number, Barty plays a leering baby who is up to no good. In addition to the curtain raiser, he manages to look up a chorus girl’s dress and hands Dick Powell a can opener during the number so he can “open up” the metal type swimsuit Ruby Keeler is wearing. But Gold Diggers is more than seeing women in scanty clothes. The film focuses on the great depression and of course the amazing musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. Ginger Roger’s leads the We’re in the Money number including a verse in pig Latin. The real highlight though is the film’s ending number, Remember My Forgotten Man with Joan Blondell, which includes a powerful bluesy piece by Etta Moten.
The Gold Rush
Arguably Chaplin’s best known film. One filled with iconic images like the “dancing rolls,” boiling and eating one of his boots for dinner, and waking up one morning after a fierce snowstorm to find the cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff. These images are at times poignant, sweet and always laugh out loud funny. They are embedded in our cinematic file cabinet as deeply as Bogart and Bergman’s final goodbye in Casablanca or Rocky Balboa running up the steps as the soundtrack plays “Gonna Fly Now” in Rocky.
Some films are indelibly burned into your psyche for whatever reason. It may have to do with the heart of every audience member jumping into their throats the first time the shark comes out of the water in “Jaws,” or the blaring rock sound of The Ronettes great song, “Be My Baby,” on the soundtrack in “Mean Streets,” or the discovery of a little know film called “The Panic in Needle Park” as you watch a then unknown actor named Al Pacino blow you away. There are certain films that are etched into your life and become a brick on the wall that helped build your love for movies. For me “The Graduate” was one of those films.
Based on a novel by Charles Webb. It was published in 1963 to little and no acclaim. By 1967, a lot had changed in America. The anti-war movement had emerged, long hair, hippies, the anti-establishment movement was growing; there was a feeling out there that it was us against them. Webb’s Benjamin Braddock did not live in that world. He seemed to be a character on the cusp, a product of 50’s suburban America. Though unlike his 50’s counterparts he did not want to follow in his parents footsteps, subsequently he drifts…mostly into an affair with Mrs. Robinson. Still, this film was revolutionary. There was casting of ethnic looking Dustin Hoffman. Here was a guy who did not look like the typical Hollywood movie star, but rather like an everyday person. Any of us could be Benjamin Braddock. Then there is Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. Well, nobody thought of Ms. Bancroft as a sexy on screen performer before this film, extremely talented, yes, but not sexy. But here was Annie as a sexy “older” woman showing off her body in various stages of semi-undress. Another point is that nobody considered Annie a funny lady, but how could she not be? Wasn’t she married to Mel Brooks? Looking at Mrs. Robinson today, though she was consider the devil back then, she can be viewed as the most sympathetic and real person in the film; a frustrated, unsatisfied woman, and I don’t mean just sexually. She’s in a dead end marriage and was probably more hip to the times than any other character in the film.
The original title, Deadly Is The Female, says it all. A lethal woman and a chump of a guy whose life isn’t worth a plug nickel once the sexual sparks ignite and the bullets begin to fly. Gun Crazy is a compact, quick moving, finely tuned, low-budget piece of celluloid art. Brilliant in its minimalist approach, this small quickie accomplishes more visual beauty and excellent pacing than 99% of all high budget products that are excreted from today’s filmmakers. Note how director Joseph H. Lewis focuses entirely on the young lovers making all the other characters and their actions secondary. Even the police, as they close in on the couple in the swamp, are barely on-screen. The stunning bank robbery sequence, shot in one long take, sucks the audience, into the action practically making us all accessories in the crime.
John Wayne proclaimed his dislike for this movie, seeing it as a parable for the blacklisting and anti-communist furor that was taking hold in the early 1950’s. He found it disgraceful that Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tosses his badge into the dirt at the end of the film. Seven years later, Wayne and Howard Hawks would made Rio Bravo as a response to the radical High Noon. As late as 1971, Wayne, in a Playboy magazine interview, called High Noon, “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” If Wayne disliked what the film stood for, Hawks abhorred it, insulting his sense of professionalism. Ironically, over the years, people and countries from both sides of the political spectrum have come to find their own personal values in this film. The former Soviet Union accused the film of being “a glorification of the individual.” Pro-McCarthyites saw the film as communist propaganda and anti-American. Yet President Ronald Reagan loved the film for it lead character’s “strong sense of and dedication to duty and law.” Both Presidents Eisenhower and Clinton loved the movie. Clinton ran the film no less than 17 times while in office! So how can one film be interpreted and satisfy both sides of the political fence? Possibly, because, no matter where you stand politically, the film has come to symbolize the courage and perseverance an individual needs during hard and difficult times. Here was one man who stood up for what he believed in, despite the abandonment, the lack of conviction and courage from the community he helped build and protect. Perhaps the Soviet Union was right, High Noon is the glorification of the individual. How American!
The film is unconventional in many ways. Unlike most westerns, there is little action The Marshal openly admits he is afraid. There is no talk of the west being the opening of a new frontier or the beginning of a new community, themes common at the time to western film mythology. High Noon is nothing a typical western is suppose to be. It is the antithesis of John Ford’s more romanticized version of west. No wonder The Duke hated. Finally, there is Floyd Crosby’s cinematography and Dimitri Tiomkin’s soundtrack. The film is brilliantly shot with deep rich blacks. I was truly impressed by the framing of many of the images that could have easily been plucked from the film and would work elegantly as black and white still photographs. Dimitri Tiomkin’s music has become as iconic as Cooper’s image walking down the empty streets of the town. The haunting title song with the word’s “do not forsake me oh my darling,” a constant reminder that Kane has been abandoned by everyone.
His Girl Friday
There is not a weak spot in the film. The script is a marvelous piece of writing beginning with the original play. The cast is pitch perfect. Grant is sublimely devious as Burns who stops at nothing to keep Hildy on the job. Lanky Rosalind Russell easily goes toe to toe with Grant. Her Hildy Johnson is a typical Hawks female, strong and professional. Ralph Bellamy is the bland boyfriend, a role similar to the one played a few years earlier in “The Awful Truth.” The acting accolades though do not stop with the three leads. John Qualen is the alleged killer, Earl Williams, Helen Mack (Son of Kong), is his girlfriend Molly Molloy, Gene Lockhart as the sheriff along with, Porter Hall, Regis Toomey, Cliff Edwards and Roscoe Karns as the reporters are all exceptional and contribute nicely to this funny, funny film.
Cary Grant may be the most essential actor there ever was in screwball comedy. Just based on the sheer number films he has appeared in places him in a class by himself. Roz Russell’s Hildy Johnson was way ahead of her time. Played to perfection by the leggy actress. She dresses professionally, is good at her job, independent and is respected by her male co-workers.
Hold That Ghost
One the best horror/ghost comedies ever made and one of Bud and Lou’s best films. The film reunites the comedy team with The Andrews Sisters, Shemp Howard, and throws in the always funny Joan Davis, as well as the lovely Evelyn Ankers who would soon become a main stay in many Universal horror films. The scene with Costello and Joan Davis (the moving candle) is hysterical.
The Marx Brothers attacked scared institutions, both high and low. They turned their anarchistic satire on universities, the upper class, opera, war, football and bootleggers. As Groucho sang, “Whatever it is, I’m against it!” In Horse Feathers Groucho is Professor Wagstaff, not the typical sort of instructor you expect to find at a college. He’s corrupt, scheming and is more interested in tearing down the pompous walls of education than teaching. In a Marx Brothers film there are no rules just rebellion. The film is filled with puns and gags that will leave you belly laughing on the floor.
The Hustler can be seen as a prelude to the type of films that would rise to prominence with the film generation a few years later. Films like Bonnie and Clyde and Midnight Cowboy. Robert Rossen, the director and co-screenwriter, had a background of making films with social issues and concerns. He, either wrote or directed works like Marked Woman (Prostitution), All the King’s Men (Political corruption), and Body and Soul (boxing and corruption). His heroes were usually loners, social misfits, outsiders of society. So the story of Eddie Felson fit Rossen perfectly. Paul Newman, as Felson, was the first anti-hero of the sixties generation. It’s an iconic performance. His moves, his talk, his attitude, his complete actions are a perfect pitch.