Two out-of-town trips significantly cut into my movie-watching in July, but I hope to bounce back with at least 30 films in August. Two of my current movie projects were also curtailed: my journey through the unseen films on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list (designated below as “Ebert”) and Michael F. Keaney’s Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940-1959 (labeled “745”). I also began a new purging project posted a few days ago. The films in that project are marked with an *. As always, titles in bold I generally like enough to recommend, re-watch, or both.
If I had to pick three movies in July that had the greatest impact on me… Well, first, let’s talk about two honorable mentions:
The entire Five Tall Tales: Budd Boetticher & Randolph Scott at Columbia, 1957-1960 box set is simply stellar, a must-own for any fan of Westerns. All of these films are solid and even the weakest of them is quite good. I finished up the set with Comanche Station (1960) and can’t wait to dig into the commentaries and special features. If you’d like a taste of what this set is like, I highly recommend the podcast Wrong Reel Episode 402. In that episode, host James Hancock is joined by Brian Saur (from the excellent Just the Discs and Pure Cinema podcasts) to discuss these films and the entire set.
Confession time: I am not the biggest Stanley Kubrick fan out there. In the past three years I’ve re-watched and enjoyed both 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Killing (1956), each of them on the big screen. Most of Kubrick’s other films I haven’t seen in at least 20 years (and I’ve never seen Barry Lyndon; please don’t throw things at me). I know I need to re-watch Kubrick’s entire output since I (hopefully) know a little more about movies than I did when I last viewed most of those films. All this to say that I didn’t expect much from Killer’s Kiss (1955), a film many mistakenly cite as Kubrick’s first feature-length film. (It was his second after 1953’s Fear and Desire.) What fascinated me was watching Kubrick as he was learning and developing as a filmmaker. Many shots and scenes are equally inventive and interesting, not only heralding things to come, but also creating moments and compositions that still look fresh and thought-provoking. (How many times have you seen a fight in a warehouse full of mannequins?) Not all of the film works; I didn’t buy into some of the character motivations, but I enjoyed the film and hope to revisit it soon. (Killer’s Kiss is available as a supplement on the Criterion Blu-ray of The Killing.)
I don’t count re-watches (otherwise I’d spend the entire post talking about Rear Window), so these three films have stuck with me most from my July viewing:
Ever since I saw Serena Bramble’s video “The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir,” I’ve been fascinated with the opening scene of The Letter (1940), as Bette Davis ruthlessly guns down a man with the relentlessness of a exterminator who’s ready to go home and relax after a bug-infested afternoon. I knew from that video that The Letter was a movie I wanted to save (and savor) for just the right moment. It did not disappoint. The tension created in that explosive opening forms an undercurrent for the entire film which is part romance, part courtroom trial, and part revenge story. All the while, Bette Davis is glorious, displaying an amazing range as her character Leslie Crosbie desperately orchestrates a plan that will allow her to come out of this murder rap unscathed. Maybe… She’s brazen, reserved, confident, frightened, manipulative, observant, emotional, hard as steel, withering with dread. She’s amazing. She’s Bette Davis. I can’t wait to see it again.
I’ve known of the Australian film Wake in Fright (1971) for years, but after hearing the film discussed on The Magic Lantern Podcast, I tracked down a copy through interlibrary loan. Having been a teacher (but not in Australia), I can identify with John Grant (Gary Bond) and his desire to escape educator servitude at a remote one-room schoolhouse in the outback, but I (thankfully) never had a holiday like this one. After a brief introduction to a game of two-up in the mining town of “The Yabba,” Grant finds himself flat broke and absorbed into a fraternity of debauchery and madness with the local men (including the amazing Donald Pleasance), who seem to have nothing to do all day everyday except gamble, drink, fight, and in one truly horrifying scene, hunt kangaroo. Track this one down. I guarantee you’ll never forget it.
As I mentioned in my last post on collecting, it’s been said that all war films are actually anti-war films, yet others counter that such films are simply recruitment tools. Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) is both, a searing indictment of military incompetence during war and a call to reform from within. Jack Palance, although frequently interesting, has never been one of my favorite actors, but he’s outstanding here. Perhaps more impressive is Eddie Arnold, playing a braggart commander who is, in fact, yellow and seemingly untouchable. As the film nears it’s conclusion, Arnold gives an incredible performance with a range that will astound those familiar only with his work on the TV comedy Green Acres. This is literally the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. No one watching this film in 1956 would’ve been indifferent to it; I’m sure it sparked lengthy conversations and just possibly fisticuffs. It’s a war film that’s sadly overlooked and Aldrich is, unfortunately, just as overlooked. It’s time to reevaluate both the film and its director.
So here’s everything I saw in July:
The Letter (1940) Library DVD (745)
Killer’s Kiss (1955) Blu-ray (745)
Comanche Station (1960) Indicator Blu-ray, Five Tall Tales box set
Morocco (1930) Criterion Blu-ray Criterion Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood Box set
Rear Window (1954) Blu-ray, The Great Movies library series (10x)
The Pagan (1929) DVD gift from a friend
5 Steps to Danger (1957) Library DVD
Wake in Fright (1971) Interlibrary loan DVD
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) DVD
My Favorite Year (1982) FilmStruck
Nanook of the North (1922) FilmStruck (Ebert)
Purple Noon (1960) FilmStruck (2x)
The American Friend (1977) FilmStruck (2x)
*The Andromeda Strain (1971) DVD (3x)
Deep Valley (1947) Borrowed from a friend
Foreign Intrigue (1956) Borrowed from a friend
G-Men (1935) DVD
*Aliens (1986) Blu-ray (3x)
*Attack! (1956) DVD (745)
Air Freight (1933) The Complete Hal Roach Thelma Todd/Patsy Kelly Comedy Collection DVD
*Duel (TV 1971) DVD (2x)
*The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) DVD
The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) Kanopy
*Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) DVD
Now tell me what you saw…
Photos: Idyllopus Press, Cinema Sojourns, Classiq, DVD Beaver, Film Inquiry