What I Watched in April 2020 Part 1
What would we do without movies, especially during times like this? I always enjoy seeing what other people are watching these days, so I hope you’ll share some of what you’ve seen after reading my list for the first half of April. Here we go…
Garden of Evil (1954) Henry Hathaway (Twilight Time Blu-ray)
My first film of April may end up being one of the best ones I’ll see all month. This Western stars Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, and Cameron Mitchell, who play three very different men stopping in a Mexican village on the way to California for gold prospecting. Almost immediately, a woman (Susan Hayward) barges into the cantina where the men are relaxing, promising to pay each man $2,000 if they’ll help free her husband who’s trapped in a gold mine in Apache territory. There’s so much going on in this film, so many layers, all of which take on a different tone with the use of gorgeous CinemaScope Technicolor, to say nothing of the Bernard Herrmann score (his only Western). Highly recommended.
The Madonna’s Secret (1946) Wilhelm Thiele (YouTube)
Thanks to The Nitrate Diva for including this film in a Twitter video on lesser-known film noir titles unavailable on DVD and Blu-ray, but which are (at least for now) on YouTube. This odd entry stars Francis Lederer (who sort reminds you of Peter Lorre, only more handsome and more refined) as a portrait artist whose models all suffer the same fate: death. Ann Rutherford and Gail Patrick co-star in this noir/mystery that’s pretty easy to figure out, but contains some fabulous cinematography by John Alton.
From Beyond the Grave (1974) Kevin Connor (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
This Amicus Productions horror anthology features four stories (all in modern-day settings) linked by a London antiques shop and its proprietor (Peter Cushing), who has an interesting way of getting even with customers who try to cheat him. Only one of the stories has a strong comedic element (the story I found least effective), but all in all, the film is a fun ride. Cast includes David Warner, Donald Pleasence, Diana Dors, Lesley-Anne Down, Angela Pleasence (who delivers the film’s creepiest performance), and many more.
Hasta el viento tiene miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid, 1968) Carlos Enrique Taboada (VCI Blu-ray)
Claudia (Alicia Bonet) and her friends are literally trapped at their exclusive Mexican girls’ boarding school after disobeying one of the rules of the overbearing headmistress Ms. Bernarda (Marga López). Claudia is convinced there’s a connection between the nightmares she’s having and a mysterious tower on the school grounds. Very atmospheric and enjoyable, one of my few ventures into Mexican cinema. The Blu-ray release from VCI, however, is problematic on multiple levels, mostly in sound quality, skips (not due to the disc, but issues with the original elements), and inaccurate (or missing, in one scene) subtitles. Worth picking up on sale.
Blow the Man Down (2019) Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy (Amazon Prime)
Thanks to a tweet by writer Eric Beetner, I watched a real sleeper you shouldn't miss. My full review here.
Suspense (1946) Frank Tuttle (Warner Archive DVD)
Frank Leonard (Albert Dekker) manages an ice-skating revue featuring his wife Roberta (British Olympic figure skater Belita). When the act begins to get stale, Leonard - desperate to save the show and his venue - agrees to a crazy idea suggested by one of his peanut vendors (Barry Sullivan). Yet Peanut Boy has it bad for Roberta, which could really liven up the show… A much better noir than I was anticipating.
The Trip to Bountiful (1985) Peter Masterson (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Our library online library movie discussion film, one I hadn’t seen since 1985.
The Midnight Man (1974) Roland Kibbee, Burt Lancaster (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Jim Slade (Burt Lancaster) was a Chicago cop convicted of killing his wife’s lover, but now he’s trying to get his life back on track. He takes a job as the night watchman at a small Southern college, frequently reports to his parole officer (Susan Clark), and finds himself investigating an on-campus murder, all the while pissing off the local sheriff (Harris Yulin) who thinks he has the case wrapped up. The Midnight Man certainly has plenty of noir/‘70s disillusionment, but it’s too frequently a convoluted mess. Maybe it’s better after a second viewing. I’m willing to give it a chance.
Stark Fear (1962) Ned Hockman, Skip Homeier (uncredited) (ByNWR)
I’d never head of the Nicolas Winding Refn movie project until I saw a mention of it in the recent Noir City eMagazine in an article by Farran Smith Nehme. (See, it pays to subscribe!) Stark Fear is just one of several rare, forgotten, or unknown films available to watch for free. Skip Homeier stars as Gerry, an abusive husband (Homeier? Say it isn’t so!), who blows a fuse when his wife Ellen (Beverly Garland) tries to help them out of their financial straits by working as a secretary for an Oklahoma developer named Cliff (Kenneth Tobey). Things get wild and violent as Ellen learns more about Gerry while finding herself in some frightening situations with some very odd people. Much of the film doesn’t work, but it’s worth a look.
Thirst (1949) Ingmar Bergman (Criterion Blu-ray)
The fourth film in my Ingmar Bergman project
Easy Virtue (1928) Alfred Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock: A Legacy of Suspense DVD set, Mill Creek)
The fifth film in my Alfred Hitchcock project
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) Francis Ford Coppola (Columbia TriStar DVD) Rewatch, 2x
The Desperadoes (1943) Charles Vidor (Sony Western Legends Double Feature DVD set with The Man from Laramie)
Despite a Technicolor production (Columbia’s first) and a good cast, The Desperadoes is an average Western at best. Randolph Scott stars as Steve Upton, the sheriff of Red Valley, Utah, where everything’s just fine until Cheyenne Rogers (Glenn Ford), an old friend with a criminal past, comes to town. The film also stars Claire Trevor, Evelyn Keyes, Edgar Buchanan, Porter Hall, and others.
Village of the Damned (1960) Wolf Rilla (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
I thought I’d seen this before, but I’m probably getting it confused with its lesser sequel Children of the Damned (1964). Village stands as one of the most effective British sf/horror films of all time chronicling how a mysterious sleep overcomes a village, leading to the birth of several strange (and frightening) children. George Sanders is excellent as the professor trying to figure out what’s going on.
Suture (1993) Scott McGehee, David Siegel (Amazon Prime)
If you can buy into its premise, Suture has the potential to provide much food for thought. If you can’t, watching the film could be an intensely frustrating experience. After the funeral of his father, the wealthy Vincent Towers (Michael Harris) meets Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert), the identical half-brother he didn’t know he had. Vincent sets Clay up as a pawn, using his half-brother to fake his own death and escape into anonymity. The problem with the premise is that Vincent is white and Clay is black, yet to everyone in the film, there’s no distinction whatsoever between the two men. Directors McGehee and Siegel are obviously making a commentary on racism, but some viewers may not be able to get around the premise. Suture is sometimes referred to as an art house noir, filmed in gorgeous black-and-white. It’s on Amazon Prime, so check it out and see if it’s for you.
My Forbidden Past (1951) Robert Stevenson (Warner Archive DVD)
Robert Mitchum and Ava Gardner made only one film together and it’s too bad it was this one. Set in 1890s New Orleans, Barbara Beaurevelle (Gardner) is shocked to find her lover Dr. Mark Lucas (Mitchum) has returned from South America with a new bride (Janis Carter). Barbara connives with her slimeball cousin (Melvyn Douglas) to destroy the new marriage. You know something’s wrong when Robert Mitchum is the least interesting character in the movie.
Son of Rambow (2007) Garth Jennings (Kanopy) Rewatch, 2x
Our online library movie discussion film for this week.
Much Ado About Nothing (1984) Stuart Burge (Amazon Prime)
My wife and I have lately wanted to experience more Shakespeare, so we started with this one, a very enjoyable BBC Television version we found streaming on Amazon.
Au Revoir les Enfants (1987) Louis Malle (Criterion Channel)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
Two 12-year-old boys become friends in a French boarding school, a place where innocence often begins to vanish in the midst of shenanigans and growing up. Yet Julien (Gaspard Manesse) and Jean (Raphael Fejto) have the misfortune of attending school in 1944 during the German occupation. You can probably guess what’s going to happen, but the way in which Malle allows the story to unfold is both restrained and powerful. This is indeed a great film.
Wagon Master (1950) John Ford (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
A group of Mormons led by Ward Bond (I know… Seriously?) gets run out of town, looking for someone to help them journey to the San Juan Valley. Horse traders Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. seem the best choice, but initially they aren’t interested, not until some enticements of the female persuasion make themselves known. Did I mention there’s also a dangerous group of killers lurking around, looking for a place to hide? A Mormon wagon train might provide a good cover… I’m just sayin’…
Race Street (1948) Edwin L. Marin (Warner Archive DVD)
San Francisco racketeer Dan Gannin (George Raft) and his friend Detective Barney Runson (William Bendix) may be on different sides of the law, but they both want to find out who killed a bookie named Hal (Henry Morgan). Race Street is a terrific little noir that rarely gets talked about, but should. It’s got great cinematography, including some very inventive camerawork (especially an impressively staged musical number) by J. Roy Hunt, plus some nice work from Marilyn Maxwell, Frank Faylen, and others.
The Life of Oharu (1952) Kenji Mizoguchi (Criterion Channel)
Mizoguchi delivers a devastating, gut-wrenching story of the downfall of a woman named Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), whom at every turn is reminded of her former life as a prostitute, a choice made not by her, but rather her father when she was young. Roger Ebert called this “the saddest film I have ever seen about the life of a woman.”
Lawman (1971) Michael Winner (Twilight Time Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Burt's doing his law enforcement thing again... I really like Lawman, revisiting it this month for the first time since its original theatrical release. A fairly straightforward story sets the stage for a complex look at human nature, crime, punishment, and much more. Burt Lancaster plays Jered Maddox, marshal of a town named Bannock, where a group of ranchers accidentally kill an innocent man during a drunken romp through the town. Maddox arrives in Sabbath, a much larger town where the ranchers live. Maddox gives the men a choice: They can turn themselves in to Maddox or be killed, plain and simple. But we’re dealing with human nature here, and nothing is plain or simple. The supporting cast is impressive: Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, Sheree North, Albert Salmi, J.D. Cannon, Joseph Wiseman, Ralph Waite, John McGiver, and even a few shots of John Hillerman. Quite violent for the time, but much less so now, Lawman is worth seeking out.
The Firemen’s Ball (1967) Miloš Forman (Criterion Channel)
Everything that could go wrong does go wrong at a firemen’s ball in a small Czechoslovakian town as the local firemen seek to honor a retiree, hold a large-scale raffle, and organize a beauty contest. The film works as straight comedy, a satire on Communism, or both.
The Sisters of Gion (1936) Kenji Mizoguchi (Criterion Channel)
Since this is the first film discussed in a book I picked up recently - Reading a Japanese Film, by Keiko I. McDonald - I was delighted to discover it on the Criterion Channel. Two geisha sisters (Isuzu Yamada, Yôko Umemura) have very different ideas about how their line of work should be carried out. I’m looking forward to learning more about Japanese cinema and (in this film, at least), learning about the (mis)treatment of women in general in prewar Japan. I hope to eventually write more about this and the other Mizoguchi film I watched this month, The Life of Oharu.
That’s going to do it for the first half of the month. You can check out all the movies I’m watching on my Letterboxd page, but I hope you’ll let me know about the movies you’re watching as well. Take care, be safe, and watch some great movies.
Photos: IMDb, DVD Beaver, Blood Red Reviews, Cinema Nostalgia, KCET, byNWR, Blu-ray.com, Filmotomy, TMDb, Close-Up Film Centre, DVD Talk, Movie Micah, Mubi