Westerns, gangsters and the devil are just few of the treats in Part 9 of this series. With only one part left, I am realizing how many films I left off the list due to a lack of space. There just wasn’t enough room! In this installment Howard Hawks with two films making the list. Also Polanski. Wilder, Lang and Buster Keaton.
Howard Hawks best western and one of the finest western’s of all time. A perfect blend of wit and action that smoothly flows like a fine glass of wine. Wayne, Martin and Brennan are in full control. Angie Dickinson brings a sassy, sexy allure to her role. If there is a weak spot in the casting, it’s Ricky Nelson, who was brought in to lure teen audiences into the theaters.
Roaring Twenties, The
I have lost track on how many times I have watched this film. This Warner Brothers film that use to pop up on a local station in New York City on Sunday afternoons all the time, The Roaring Twenties, along with Angel with Dirty Faces, introduced me to the world of celluloid gangsters. Bogart and Cagney became cinematic idols. I love Warner Brothers gangster films. They were tougher, grittier, more street wise than say a MGM gangster film like Johnny Eagar. The Roaring Twenties and James Cagney bookend the decade of the 1930’s when Warner Brothers ruled the gangster film. Starting with The Public Enemy in 1931 and ending with this film in 1939. True, there were gangster films before and after, but the 1930’s was the classic period and Warner Brothers owned it.
Rosemary’s Baby is a great horror film for anyone, but it can also be read as a feminist woman’s nightmare, after all it is her career struggling husband who arranges to have her impregnated by the devil. Then forcing her to be left in the hands of a demon doctor and strange neighbors, all to advance his acting career. The fear of rape, an unwanted pregnancy, and the fear of an abnormal deformed childbirth are also filtered in. Rosemary becomes isolated, trapped with no family or friends to confide in or help her. Her husband who should be her most trusted ally is in on the dark plan. Unlike most horror films that build up to a fright and relieve the tension before starting again, Polanski continuously builds the tension never letting the pressure loosen for one second.
While loosely based on the life of Al Capone, the film’s realism was enhanced by screenwriter Ben Hecht’s familiarity with the Chicago underworld, and such real life Chicago mob figures as North Side gang leader, Dion O’Banion and Capone himself. Many scenes depicted in the film are based on actual events; the killing of “Big Louie” Castillo by Camonte (Paul Muni) was based the killing of boss “Big Jim” Colosimo. Later on, Camonte has the North Side gang leader O’Hara killed in his flower shop mimicking the Capone ordered assassination of Dion ‘O’Banion in his flower shop. The resulting retaliation by the O’Banion gang, when they shot up a restaurant where Capone was eating at the time, was recreated by Hawks in its violent entirety. Still, there was much that was fiction also. The incestuous attachment Camonte has to his sister, screenwriter Ben Hecht used the Borgias, the infamous Italian Renaissance family as a blueprint, and the ending is pure imagination. Unlike the fictional Camonte, Al Capone died of syphilis and not by police bullets.
Looking at the film today, it still holds up as one of the most violent and best gangster films of its era. This is especially true if compared to Little Caesar that today seems to move along at a creaky pace despite a strong performance by Edward G. Robinson. What also contributes to the films modernity is Hawks use of the X motif, which shows up at various times during the film, mostly when someone is killed or about to be killed. The X, of course, looks similar to the scar on Camonte’s face. While parts of the screenplay are dated, the script also contains a lot of dark and witty humor.
Kitty March (Joan Bennett) is not one of the brightest femme fatales to grace the screen though she certainly ranks up there as one of the nastiest. She would even give Ann Savage in Detour a run for her money. When her milquetoast admirer Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) finds out she has been selling his paintings under her own name, instead of being upset, he seems actually glad. He has only one demand, that she allows him to paint her portrait, to which she replies, “sure, and you can start right now,” as she hands him a bottle of nail polish so he can paint her toenails. “They’ll be masterpieces” she slyly sneers as the scene fades.
In this mature dark western, John Ford explores the divisions discrimination has caused in our country since its beginning, and still exist today. John Wayne, an actor of limited range, gave his best performance of his career as Ethan Edwards, a pathological outsider who can’t go home. He moved beyond just playing John Wayne and developed a three dimensional character. The cinematography is visually stunning.
Buster Keaton’s greatest film. A stunning, cleverly funny, visually poetic work of art that was way ahead of it time. A surrealistic trip through the magical world of film. As a film projectionist at a local cinema, who wants to be a detective, Keaton sits next to the projector imaging himself as the film’s hero. Made in 1924, Keaton evokes the audiences strong love affair with movies exploring the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
Singin’ in the Rain
Is there anything more exuberant than watching Gene Kelly singin’ and dancin’ in the rain? Considered one of, if not, the greatest of all musicals, Singin’ in the Rain is a joyous delight, celebrating movies, music, dance and the talents of a cast and creators who rarely were ever better. The New York Times curmudgeon critic, Bosley Crowthers, wrote at the time of the film’s release, “Guaranteed to put you in a buttercup mood.” And let’s face it, if a film can put old sourpuss Crowthers in a “buttercup mood” that is one hell of a movie!
Some Like it Hot
A hysterical farce that just gets better with each viewing. It’s the first film I ever recorded on tape. Audio tape! This was long before home video existed. I had an old Webcor audio tape recorder at the time and I recorded the soundtrack off the TV with a hand held microphone. I knew the film perfectly, visualizing each scene as I listened to my primitive recording with a pair of gigantic headphones covering my ears. For Jack Lemmon, Some Like it Hot was his break out performance moving him up to the highest eschon of stardom. For me, it was a grand revelation. I fell helplessly in love with the movies.
The Spiral Staircase
A magnificent thriller that Hitchcock would have been proud to have made. The film though is the child of another master of dark suspense, Robert Siodmak, and the master of shadows and light, Nicholas Musuraca. It is Musuraca’s evocative lighting, his painting shadows on the walls, combined with the masterful camera placement of Siodmak that make this film so thrilling. A combination of low-angles and stark lighting against wrought iron fences and circular a staircase creates an eeriness that sends chills down the spine. The entire film is painstakingly crafted and well acted. The film is both a throwback to works like The Old Dark House where there are drenching rains, crackling thunder, candles that mysterious blow out, and the more current cinema of directors of recent thrillers like John Carpenter.
If you are interested in seeing earlier parts in this series, check out the categories drop down and look for 101 Movies to Watch Over and Over Again.