Two Woody Allen films, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Altman, Ford, along with Bob Hope, The Marx Brothers and my favorite holiday film highlight Part 7 in this series.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a classic western that stands up against the best in John Ford’s filmography. It’s a work of an elder statement taking a darker, morose look at a period in America he had glorified in earlier times. The film represents a turning point in the history of the American west, Statehood was on the horizon; the law and civilization were coming. John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon knew his days were over and that James Stewart’s Rance Stoddard and his breed represented the future. A masterwork!
In Manhattan, Woody Allen’s New York is a world filled with artists, poets, musicians, writers, intellectuals and psychoanalyst. It’s an oasis of art galleries, museums, books and neurosis. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue fills the air as Gordon Willis’ superb black and white photography paints a majestic world of urban beauty. Filmed in Cinemascope, the black and white images instill a sense of character with every image we see. The city itself is the main character in this film with everyone else in a supporting role. Manhattan is an exceptionally multifaceted film, smoothly transitioning between comedy, romance and drama, like an exceptional multi course meal at an expensive restaurant topped off with a fine wine and, of course, with Gershwin in the background.
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Like many, I am a fan of The Thin Man movies and other amateur sleuth husband and wife films that have appeared over the years. MMM is a throwback to some extent of Allen’s earlier work. It make’s sense since the script was written by Allen and his former partner, Marshall Brickman, years ago, and then tossed into a draw only to be excavated after the trials, tribulations and accusations of his former lover Mia Farrow. Mia was originally set to play the part of Carol, but due to all the personal animosity, Allen sought out former lover and screen co-star, Diane Keaton. And Keaton is a marvel here. She is the driving force of the entire story. As a screen couple, Allen and Keaton look as comfortable working together as a pair of well-worn shoes. One criticism leveled at the film is that Allen and Keaton are just playing older versions of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. While there may be some validity to this, I don’t see it as detrimental. After all, didn’t Chaplin mainly play the same tramp character in each of his films as did Laurel and Hardy and Bob Hope?
Right from the opening scene with choppers carrying the bloody wounded bodies of soldiers; on the soundtrack, the soft mellow sound of a song with the odd title, Suicide is Painless. You quickly realize this film is going to be something different. Here was a satirical, unhinged bloody (for the times), offensive, anti-war comedy. The film not only mocked military procedures and war, but religion takes a bit of a beating too. Like Dr. Strangelove, some six years earlier, the film laughs at the absurdities of war and the bureaucracy behind it. Egotism, incompetence and piousness all take a shellacking. Director Robert Altman created an episodic film that lacks any kind of plot, yet hits you in the face with the whole absurd idea of war; a timely topic considering when the film was released, and still is today. Though set in Korea, Vietnam hovers over M.A.S.H. like a low flying vulture. Make no mistake about it; Altman was making a film about the Vietnam War.
Every serious film lover sees a film that once in awhile affects you so deeply, it changes your life. You look at the screen and you say to yourself, yes this is what it’s all about. This is why I love movies; this is why I sit through so many crappy films searching for the one that moves me to the highest levels of octane never reached before. For me, Mean Streets is one of those films. It’s not perfect. It’s not Scorsese’s greatest film, it does not have to be, it is what it is, a personal work by a young filmmaker that reflects a time and a place that connected with me deeply. Little Italy and its inhabitants were an enclave unto themselves, living a mostly separate existence from the rest of the city.Outsiders were foreign and not wanted. Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” shows us a world mixed with the old country and the new, a hybrid that never fully integrated. This is evident even in the superb use of music where the soundtrack combines the old (Opera), the traditional (Italian) and the modern (Rock and Roll). Scorsese was influenced by the cinema verite documentary movement of the 1960’s, the French New Wave as well as by film noir of the 1940’s. From the opening pounding beat of Ronnie Spector’s voice singing “Be My Baby” to the final bloody ending “Mean Streets” is one of the great rides in cinema
Miracle on 34th Street
A perfect blend of Hollywood fluff and fantasy for the holidays. It’s charming and entertaining with a superb cast. Who doesn’t think Edmund Gwenn is the perfect Santa? The script is smart, there is not one bit of schmaltz unlike so many modern holiday films, and also unlike modern holiday films, it does not pander to the lowest common denominator.
After watching this film, you may think twice about taking a cruise. The Brothers encounter gangsters and high society wreaking havoc on both. A highlight is when the brothers all try to impersonate Maurice Chevalier singing “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” in order to get passed customs. Pure Anarchy!
My Favorite Brunette
Absolutely, my favorite Bob Hope film. A great blend of Hope style humor and a spoof on film noir/private eye films. It even includes an uncredited cameo by Alan Ladd as a P.I. There’s also Dorothy Lamour as the film’s femme fatale. Peter Lorre adds a dark sinister note while Lon Chaney Jr. plays a comic variation of Lennie from Of Mice and Men.
The Narrow Margin
Running a quick 71 minutes, The Narrow Margin is as hi-speed as the rails they are riding. We are back in time when most people traveled by train. It’s a world filled with sleeping berths, club cars, dining cars, porters and whistles shrieking in the dark of the night. Most of all, the film has the great Charles McGraw, unofficial king of B film noir. Whether portraying a cop or a criminal, his gravel like voice, square jaw looks have graced many film noirs including T-Men, The Threat, The Killers, Armored Car Robbery and Border Incident, among others. Director Richard Fleischer reached his own personal summit in a long and erratic career. There are scenes here that are pure magic. Brilliantly executed uses of camera angles and light.
North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock at his most entertaining and thrilling. North by Northwest contains many of the director’s major themes: the wrong man, the blonde woman, a charming criminal, trains, sex and using a landmark, in this case, Mount Rushmore, for one of the film’s most exhilarating segments. This was Hitchcock during his peak period in the 1950’s when he made at least four masterpieces (the other three being Strangers on a Train, Rear Window and Vertigo).
For earlier posts in this series, check out 101 Films to Watch Over and Over Again in Categories over on the sidebar.