What I Watched in August 2020
Okay, so I didn’t see that many films in August, but I did revisit a few titles (some I first watched over 30 years ago), went back to my “Out of the Hat” movies which I choose at random, and began to tackle my Letterboxd watchlist. I was stunned to discover that my first five movies were all horror (or semi-horror) titles. In August I encountered Boris Karloff (twice), John Frankenheimer (trice), Robert Aldrich (twice), Edward G. Robinson, Edgar Ulmer, Kurt Russell, and more. Let’s take a look:
The Night Strangler (TV 1973) Dan Curtis (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
A different city and a different villain from 1972's The Night Stalker aren't enough to elevate this movie to the level of the earlier Kolchak entry, although the film attempts to up the ante via more of Kolchak's hijinks with the police and his editor (Simon Oakland). Unfortunately, that becomes tiresome quickly. The payoff, however, provides some nice moments.
The Old Dark House (1932) James Whale (Masters of Cinema Blu-ray) Rewatch, 3x
Research for our library virtual movie discussion.
The Asphyx (1972) Peter Newbrook (Kanopy)
The Asphyx takes a good premise - What if you could capture the human soul at the point of death? - but doesn’t do nearly enough with it. Robert Stephens plays Sir Hugo Cunningham, a scientist/early photographer in Victorian England who makes the above discovery through a personal tragedy. The first hour plays reasonably well with some interesting period atmosphere and philosophical discussion, but gets derailed during the second half. Worth a look.
Black Sabbath (1963) Mario Bava (Arrow Blu-ray, UK) Rewatch, 3x
I continue my journey through Bava’s films with one I’d previously seen twice, but this marks my first viewing of the Italian version, which marks a significant difference from the American International Pictures version. The three segments of this anthology film are presented in a different order with slight additions/deletions, music, and more. Plus the Arrow Blu-ray does a fantastic job of pointing out these differences.
Murder by Decree (1979) Bob Clark (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 7x
I’ve spoken of my love for this movie many times, but I could not pass up an opportunity to watch the new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. The transfer and the original elements have their problems, but this is still a marked improvement over previous DVD versions. The new commentary with Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell is terrific.
52 Pick-Up (1986) John Frankenheimer (Amazon Prime)
This crime thriller wasn’t bad, but it should’ve been much better, especially with a story by Elmore Leonard, directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Roy Scheider, Ann-Margaret, Clarence Williams III, and John Glover. Scheider plays Harry Mitchell, a successful manufacturer who’s stepping out on his wife, played by Ann-Margaret. (What was he thinking?) A trio of thugs present Mitchell with video evidence of his infidelities, thus demanding blackmail money. When things get nasty, Mitchell decides to turn the tables on his tormentors. Elmore Leonard novels have several moving parts with rich, complex characters, and perhaps Frankenheimer simply tried to pack too much into this, especially with the villains, who sometimes come across as believable and smart, and at other times, stereotypical and dumb.
Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) Robert Aldrich (20th Century Fox DVD) Rewatch, 2x
This one’s haunted me since I first saw it at age 7. I recently discussed it on one of my “Growing Up with Movies” posts.
Vera Cruz (1954) Robert Aldrich (Amazon Prime)
Hey, why not a Robert Aldrich double feature? Ex-Confederate soldier Ben Trane (Gary Cooper) finds himself in Mexico looking for work as a mercenary where he discovers Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) the leader of a gang of criminals. Together they sign up to escort a countess (Denise Darcel) to the city of Veracruz for the sum of $50,000, but there’s more than a simple escort trip going on here. I’ll be honest: I was so distracted by Burt Lancaster’s teeth that I was laughing more than Aldrich probably intended. Vera Cruz is essentially a testosterone-fest with Gary Cooper’s Ben Trane as the only person in the film with any scruples whatsoever. I would’ve preferred the film as a flat-out comedy, but I still enjoyed it. My biggest disappointment is that Jack Lambert gets so little screen time.
Seconds (1966) John Frankenheimer (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our library virtual Great Movies discussion
At Close Range (1986) James Foley (Amazon Prime)
Previously reviewed here
So Proudly We Hail (1943) Mark Sandrich (Universal Cinema Classics DVD)
Out of the Hat #29
Patriotic to the hilt, So Proudly We Hail gave 1943 audiences something unique: a look at the work, sacrifice, and courage of American military nurses in the Pacific during WWII. For maximum enjoyment (and impact), you simply must try to put yourself in the time and mindset of audiences of the time. No, the film’s not perfect by any means, but it’s what was needed at the time and is still powerful. The cast includes Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, and a pre-Superman George Reeves.
The Green Glove (1952) Rudolph Maté (Alpha Video DVD)
A gauntlet covered with jewels and stones? A forerunner to the Infinity War? Ah, that would be a no. The Green Glove is worth seeing, although it has some serious pacing issues, and it took me quite awhile before I connected with the characters (and they with each other). But it's Glenn Ford and George MacReady! We already know from Gilda (1946) that this will be worth watching just for these two guys.
Royal Wedding (1951) Stanley Donen (Kanopy)
Research for our library virtual Great Movies discussion
Everyone knows that Fred Astaire famously dances on the ceiling, but that’s not the only great number in this film. The story is standard, but watch it for Astaire and Jane Powell.
The Hands of Orlac (1924) Robert Weine (Criterion Channel)
Letterboxd Watchlist #2
Previously reviewed here
Endless Night (1972) Sidney Gilliat (Kanopy)
Endless Night is an apt title. I thought it would never end. Michael, an aimless young man having few prospects (Hywel Bennett) marries a wealthy young woman named Ellie (Hayley Mills). Ellie’s family don’t approve of the union, but they can’t stop the couple from building a new, ultra-modern house. But weird things begin happening at the new domicile. The acting in this picture is beyond awful, as is the pacing and practically everything about the film, with the exception of the Bernard Herrmann score. Based on a quickly-written Agatha Christie novel (six weeks, as opposed to her usual 3-4 months), Christie herself said of the film, “It got flatter and less interesting every minute.” I agree.
The Last Starfighter (1984) Nick Castle (Universal DVD) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #30
The Last Starfighter is one of those 30-year-old movie memories I should’ve left alone. Maybe it came at just the right time, as many science fiction geeks like myself were reaching for any kind of fun space opera after Return of the Jedi (1983). The Last Starfighter is still fun and sweet, and Robert Preston is always worth watching, but I’m afraid its magic has faded for me.
Larceny, Inc. (1942) Lloyd Bacon (Warner DVD)
Out of the Hat #31
How can you not have a great time with Edward G. Robinson, Broderick Crawford, and Edward Brophy? After their release from prison, “Pressure” Maxwell (Robinson) and his slow-witted partner Jug Martin (Crawford) decide to go straight and turn down a shady offer from fellow inmate Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn). Joined by Jug’s friend Weepy Davis (Brophy), the trio decide to buy a luggage shop, which is right next door to a bank. Irresistible and fun.
Maurice (1987) James Ivory (Kanopy)
Maurice is perhaps the most unfairly neglected Merchant Ivory production, possibly due to its release during the peak years of the AIDS crisis, but also because many in and out of the movie industry considered E. M. Forster’s source novel substandard. Like other (perhaps all?) of Forster’s work, Maurice concerns English society and class structures, but is primarily the love story of Maurice Hall (James Wilby) and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) at a time when homosexuality was punishable in England by imprisonment or worse. As with all Merchant Ivory films, the production values and acting soar.
The Man from Planet X (1951) Edgar G. Ulmer (Shout Factory Blu-ray)
Give Edgar G. Ulmer a few thousand bucks and about a week, and he’ll deliver a movie that transcends its limitations. The Man from Planet X may not be a great picture, but it’s a fun entry in the ‘50s science fiction category. Days before a the mysterious Planet X is scheduled to pass dangerously close to Earth, Scottish Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond) and reporter John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) discover a crashed spaceship containing one of the most unique aliens in sf movies. The Shout Factory Blu-ray includes two compelling commentaries, one from Gary D. Rhodes and Arianné Ulmer Cipes (daughter of the director), and the other with author Tom Weaver, Joe Dante, David Schecter, and film historian Robert J. Kiss.
Anthropoid (2016) Sean Ellis (Kanopy)
Letterboxd Watchlist #3
Two Czech soldiers (Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy) parachute into their occupied country to assassinate Nazi high official Reinhard Heydrich. Almost no one talks about this WWII thriller from just a few years ago. It’s one of the best, least formulaic WWII films in a long time with superior period design and detail, strong performances, and good writing. See it. Read more about it as my third Letterboxd Watchlist movie this year.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) H.C. Potter (Warner DVD)
Out of the Hat #32
I know many people love this film, but for me, watching it was painful. The entire movie is in the title, but despite the casting of Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas, Mr. Blandings varies between unfunny and boring.
The Come On (1956) Russell Birdwell (ok.ru)
Letterboxd Watchlist #4
I’d forgotten all about this movie until I heard Eddie Muller and Anne Hockens talking about it on the third installment of Ask Eddie. It stars Anne Baxter, Sterling Hayden, and John Hoyt. Without any of them, it would be just another routine con man/blackmail crime picture, but with them, you can (mostly) ignore the scripts weaknesses and clichés. How can you not like hearing Hayden tell Baxter, “Women like you belong to nobody. And everybody,” just before he grabs her for a kiss, the harsh Sterling Hayden kind?
Escape from New York (1981) John Carpenter (Shout Factory Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
I dismissed this movie the first time I saw it (probably in 1982 on VHS), liked it better upon a revisit three years ago, and began to embrace it this time around. I don’t think I’d previously fully appreciated Carpenter’s world building, amazing visuals, and bizarre characters. Sure, it’s all fantasy, mostly on the comic book level, but I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. I’m looking forward to exploring all of the supplements on the Shout Factory two-disc Blu-ray release.
That was my August. I’d love to hear about yours.
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