What I Watched in April 2020 Part 2
Just a word about this and all of my lists: I don’t write these to say, “Hey, look at all the cool stuff I’ve been watching,” but rather in order to share these movies with you. If I watched something I like, you might want to watch it too. It’s as simple as that. The flip side is that I also want to know what you’ve watched and enjoyed recently, so please share with everyone in the comments section or on Twitter.
I always mention how I saw these movies, but this time I’m also going to give you some streaming options if available. (Double check, however. Streaming services, availability, and prices often change.) So here we go with what I watched during the second half of April, 2020:
Death on the Nile (1978) John Guillermin (Lionsgate DVD) Rewatch, 4x
Although the cast of this Agatha Christie adaptation is almost as impressive as that of Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot is not my favorite. (That would be David Suchet.) This is still a fun movie I enjoy revisiting from time to time, especially to see so many wonderful actors such as David Niven, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Jack Warden, and more. I need to revisit Evil Under the Sun (1982) next.
Station West (1948) Sidney Lanfield (Warner Archive DVD; also streaming on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu for $3)
What a terrific Western! Some have called this a film noir Western, and with a cast of film noir regulars, it’s hard to disagree. I reviewed this film just a few days ago.
Queen Bee (1955) Ranald Mac Dougall (Columbia DVD; also streaming on Amazon, Fandango Now, and Vudu for $3)
Joan Crawford is in rare form in this otherwise turgid Southern drama (that’s hardly Southern at all) co-starring Barry Sullivan, John Ireland, Betsy Palmer, Lucy Marlow, and Fay Wray. Queen Bee is sometimes referred to as a film noir, but I can’t go along with that. Watch it for the wonderful Charles Lang cinematography and for Joan ripping everybody a new one.
Umberto D. (1952) Vittorio De Sica (Criterion Channel; also streaming on Kanopy for free, Amazon and Apple for $4)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
I think I may prefer this to Bicycle Thieves. Like that film, Umberto D. gives us more Italian realism as we follow Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), an elderly pensioner who’s in danger of losing his boarding house room due to an increase in rent and a hateful landlord. The film is much more than that, of course, and it’s unforgettable.
Dark of the Sun (1968) Jack Cardiff (Warner Archive Blu-ray; also streaming on Amazon and Apple for $3)
I was expecting nothing more than a testosterone-filled action/adventure flick starring Rod Taylor and Jim Brown as mercenaries taking a train through the Congo to snag millions of dollars in uncut diamonds, but by the time I got to the end, I was gobsmacked. The next time they have a 4 for $44 sale at Warner Archive, make sure you include this one. Or just buy it now. It’s worth it.
El esqueleto de la Señora Morales (The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales, 1960) Rogelio A. González (VCI Blu-ray)
This fine black comedy from Mexico is quite impressive. I’m not sure how, but it manages to exercise restraint while often going over the top to touch on issues of marriage, religion, money, community, and more. I’m delighted this made it to Blu-ray. This is a barebones disc, but a far better presentation then the other VCI Mexican title I viewed earlier this month, Even the Wind is Afraid (1968).
King of Hearts (1966) Philippe de Broca (Kanopy; streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft for $4) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our weekly library online movie discussion
World War I is over, and just before the German army retreats from the small French town they’d been occupying, word gets out: The Germans planted a bomb powerful enough to blow up the entire town. Sent in to defuse the bomb, Scottish soldier Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) finds the town deserted except for the inmates of a local asylum, who believe Plumpick to be their long-awaited King of Hearts. An excellent satire and just plain fun.
The Crooked Web (1955) Nathan H. Juran (Noir Archive Vol. 2 Blu-ray set, Mill Creek)
Stan (Frank Lovejoy) runs a drive-in with his girlfriend Joanie (Mari Blanchard). When Joanie’s brother Frank (Richard Denning) comes by for a visit, he sells Stan on a get-rich-quick scheme. But there’s more going on here… The Crooked Web is one of those film noir titles with a good idea, but it ends up shooting itself in the foot with untenable motives and characters who just couldn’t be as dumb as they are and still function in the real world. Disappointing.
Eight O’Clock Walk (1954) Lance Comfort (Network DVD, UK)
Out of the Hat #27
Here’s another disappointment. This Brit noir courtroom drama features Richard Attenborough as Tom Manning, a cab driver suspected of murdering a young girl after she played an April Fool’s trick on him. Tom’s wife Jill (Cathy O’Donnell, one of my favorites) hires an inexperienced lawyer to represent her husband. You know you’re watching a bland film when your title is Eight O’Clock Walk, which sounds like a melodrama set in a retirement community.
Mildred Pierce (1945) Michael Curtiz (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 3x
Research for my guest appearance on the Fatal Femmes podcast, which should be posted in a couple of weeks.
French Cancan (1954) Jean Renoir (Criterion Channel; also streaming on Fubo and Watch TCM for free; Fandango Now and Microsoft for $3; Amazon, Apple, Vudu for $4)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
I think I appreciated this universally well-loved film more than I liked it. Jean Gabin (whom I’ll watch in anything) plays Danglard, the impresario of the Parisian Moulin Rouge. I loved the dancing, the behind-the-scenes machinations, and the free-for-alls, but was bored to tears by the love stories. I’ll give this one another shot in a couple of years.
The Frontier (2016) Oren Shai (Kino Lorber Blu-ray; streaming for free on Sundance Now; Vudu for $3; Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play for $4))
Out of the Hat #28
A young woman named Laine (Jocelin Donahue), on the run from the cops, hides out at a remote desert motel called The Frontier, where she senses some of the motel’s guests could be involved in a caper with a big payout. The Frontier is leisurely compelling, but lacks any real depth, other than the character of motel owner Luanne (Kelly Lynch). I only spent three bucks on the Blu-ray, so this wasn’t a bad choice. I might listen to the director’s commentary to see what he had in mind for the film.
Time Table (1956) Mark Stevens (Amazon Prime)
(Yes, that's Jack Klugman in a small part from his motion picture debut.) This unjustly overlooked noir about an insurance detective (Mark Stevens) investigating a train robbery has some nice twists and turns, and even though the ending disappoints a bit, it’s solid. You could almost think of it as a poor man’s Double Indemnity, but you may also see it as an offshoot from other noir titles. (Hey, being derivative isn’t always a bad thing.) If you have Amazon Prime, check this one out.
The Green-Eyed Blonde (1957) Bernard Girard (borrowed from a friend)
The Green-Eyed Blonde in question is Susan Oliver (in her first film), playing Green Eyes, a teenager in a home for wayward girls. Believe it or not, Green Eyes’s story is not the main focus here. Written by an uncredited Dalton Trumbo, the movie aims for realism rather than sex-kitten antics. Although very dated, its attempt at hard-edged realism was daring for its time.
The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) John Ford (Criterion Channel; also Fandango Now and Vudu for $3; Amazon for $4)
This absolutely charming screwball comedy stars Edward G. Robinson in a dual role, playing Arthur Ferguson Jones, a low-level advertising man who looks exactly like the notorious at large “Killer” Mannion. Jean Arthur is wonderful as Jones’s co-worker, and the entire film is simply delightful.
The Last Days of Disco (1998) Whit Stillman (Criterion DVD; also free from DirecTV, Starz; Amazon, Fandango Now, Vudu, and Microsoft for $4)
I was really surprised I liked this. Stillman walks a fine line between effective drama and pretentiousness, following several young men and women professionals during the last days of a fashionable New York disco. Written differently, I could've easily wanted to slap most of these characters, but instead, I felt I understood them. The final shot is perfect.
Charade (1963) Stanley Donen (Kanopy; also free on Amazon, Hoopla, Fandor, Snag, and free with ads on Roku, Vudo, and Pluto) Rewatch, 3x
Research for out Great Movies online edition. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and the greatest Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made.
I Love Trouble (1948) S. Sylvan Simon (Amazon Prime)
Wichita (1955) Jacques Tourneur (Warner Archive DVD; also Amazon, YouTube, Apple, and Google Play fir $2; Vudu and Microsoft for $3)
Day for Night (1973) François Truffaut (Criterion Channel; also Microsoft for $3)
Everyone who loves movies should see this, one of the best movies about making a movie.
Illegal Entry (1949) Frederick de Cordova (ok.ru)
Howard Duff is a former pilot now working undercover as a U.S. immigration inspector trying to expose a smuggling ring. By this time, these laughable introductions by actual government officials were still clinging to life, but once those are over, this film noir isn’t bad at all. The film co-stars Märta Torén and noir favorite Paul Stewart.
Bacurau (2019) Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles (AFI Silver Virtual Screening Room)
Yowza, you’ve gotta see this one! I’m hoping to write a review in the next couple of days (I wrote six pages of notes), but this Brazilian film takes place in the near future in a small, remote village where strange things begin to happen after the death of the village matriarch at the age of 94. Bacurau contains elements of Westerns, science fiction, horror, revenge, and plenty of other genres. A must-see.
So there you go. I hope you’ll find something to help get you through these troubled times. And please share the titles you enjoyed from last month. Take care of yourselves and stay safe.
(If you missed what I watched in the first half of April, here you go.)
Photos: IMDb, DVD Beaver, The Stalking Moon, Cinestudio, Medium