What I Watched in August 2021, Part One
August has been a good month so far, and although I saw only one truly great film (which I'll cover next time), there were plenty of good ones and just a couple of lousy ones. Here’s the first half of what I watched in August, 2021:
No Man of Her Own (1950) Mitchell Leisen (Olive DVD), Rewatch, 3x
Research for an upcoming podcast; previously reviewed here
No Man of Her Own (1932) Wesley Ruggles (Universal Cinema Classics DVD)
Clark Gable plays Babe Stewart, who runs a poker scam with a couple of buddies until things go wrong, forcing Stewart to go on the lam. Trying to avoid the cops, Stewart meets a librarian named Connie (Carole Lombard), who turns everything around, but will she be enough to reform him? No Man of Her Own is sometimes referred to as a screwball comedy, but the pacing and timing are far from what we might expect from a traditional screwball, which really began to take off a couple of years later with Gable in It Happened One Night (1934) and Lombard in Twentieth Century (1934). No Man of Her Own is successful largely because of the star power of Gable and Lombard. Although they both appeared in subsequent screwball comedies, this was their only film together.
The Narrow Margin (1952) Richard Fleischer (Warner Archive DVD) Rewatch, 5x
Research for my appearance on The Ghost of Film Past podcast
The Web (1947) Michael Gordon (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
A wealthy businessman named Andrew Colby (Vincent Price) is worried. That’s because a man named Kroner (Fritz Leiber), one of Colby’s former employees who went to prison for embezzlement, is about to be released. Colby hires lawyer Bob Regan (Edmond O’Brien) to act as his bodyguard against Kroner. Sure enough, Kroner makes an attempt on Colby’s life, but Regan prevents it. Regan’s the hero, right? Maybe not. Regan starts hanging out with Colby’s secretary (Ella Raines), which is nice, but thanks to some inside info from a cop (William Bendix), Regan begins to think he’s been set up. This is a terrific noir, just released last month from Kino Lorber.
What Happened Was… (1994) Tom Noonan (Criterion Channel)
Although they’ve worked together in the same law firm for quite some time, Jackie (Karen Sillas) and Michael (Tom Noonan) have never seen each other outside the office. When Jackie invites Michael over to dinner, she’s not quite sure what to expect. I found this movie fascinating, somewhat similar to My Dinner With Andre (1981), but far more compelling.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) Karel Reisz (Criterion Channel)
This British kitchen sink drama finds Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) as a roustabout factory worker living only for booze and his girlfriend Brenda (Rachel Roberts), the wife of one of Arthur’s coworkers. Yet when he meets a new girl named Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), Arthur starts moving in that direction. A powerful look for its time at working class Nottingham, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning still holds up as a fine drama.
Quantez (1957) Harry Keller (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Quantez is an odd Western which takes place mostly indoors with its characters talking, arguing, and fighting in the dark, yet it’s shot in CinemaScope. The film opens with a gang outlaws riding like blazes after a successful robbery, hoping to evade a posse and make it into Mexico. First they stop off in the border town of Quantez, which, to their surprise, is completely abandoned. The gang is led by the sadistic Heller (John Larch), whose woman Chaney (Dorothy Malone) is still distressed over a murder committed during the robbery. Fred MacMurray plays hardened, emotionless soldier of fortune, one of the best roles of his career. Time brings tension to each character and plenty of it. The film is not without action, but we’re really here to watch this drama play out among this group of desperate people. Take this out of the West, and you’ve got a definite film noir. I hope you’ll check it out in Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
The Bed Sitting Room (1969) Richard Lester (borrowed from a friend; also on YouTube)
When you think of Richard Lester, you typically think of the first two Beatles movies or Superman II and III. He also directed the unjustly overlooked Juggernaut (1974) and The Bed Sitting Room, a film that’s almost completely forgotten in America. Set in a London that’s been reduced to rubble, other than a few (barely) freestanding structures, this post-apocalyptic story is one of absurdity and dark humor with its characters wandering through a landscape of debris and waste. We see a British Lord (Ralph Richardson), a government official (Harry Secombe) living in a fallout shelter, a young woman (Rita Tushingham) 17 months pregnant, a police inspector (Peter Cook), a police sergeant (Dudley Moore), a male nurse (Marty Feldman), and more. Many of the isolated scenes are wonderful, but you get the feeling that the film is a sketch that simply goes on too long.
Espaldas Mojadas (1955) Alejandro Galindo (VCI Entertainment Blu-ray)
Paper Moon (1973) Peter Bogdanovich (Amazon Prime)
I almost feel as if I’m the last person in the world to watch this film, one I could’ve easily seen when it was released. Glad I finally got around to it. As most everyone knows, Ryan O’Neal plays Moses Pray, a Bible salesman/con artist who finds himself unavoidably responsible for a young girl named Addie (Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter), who may or may not be Moses’s own daughter. The Depression-era Midwest and black-and-white cinematography make for a world that offers both humor and sadness. Tatum O’Neal is fantastic, still the youngest person ever to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
The Garment Jungle (1957) Vincent Sherman, Robert Aldrich (Columbia Noir #1 box set, Indicator) Rewatch, 2x
Lee J. Cobb plays the owner of a garment factory resisting the influence of union organizers. Co-stars Richard Boone, Robert Loggia, and Gia Scala.
Phase IV (1974) Saul Bass (Kanopy)
The sole directorial effort from Saul Bass, Phase IV often looks and feels like The Andromeda Strain (1971) with ants. The ant population in the Arizona desert is evolving and adapting to surviving anything the local human population can throw at them. Leading this charge are scientists Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and James Lesko (Michael Murphy), who have some serious thinking to do to solve this problem. If you’re into sf and haven’t seen this one, you should.
Bad Ronald (TV 1974) Buzz Kulik (Warner Archive DVD, library)
For quite awhile you’re not certain whether you should or shouldn’t be rooting for Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby), a real mama’s boy who’s socially inept, but has a bit of a talent for art and a love of fantasy literature. As such, he’s made fun of by the rest of the kids. One such kid taunts Ronald, who responds by shoving her, accidentally killing her. Ronald’s mom (Kim Hunter) tells him to hide in a rather large space behind the walls of their house. For a TV movie, this gets really creepy and disturbing, and while it’s not a great movie, Bad Ronald is effective, especially for a TV horror movie. Try to watch this on the Warner Archive Blu-ray. The DVD is atrocious.
The Hot Spot (1990) Dennis Hopper (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Don Johnson plays a drifter named Harry Madox, who wanders into a small Texas down and finds work at a used car dealership owned by a man named George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin). It’s not long before Harry is sleeping with both his boss’s wife Dolly (Virginia Madsen) and has his eye on an accountant named Gloria (Jennifer Connelly). But that’s not enough. Harry’s got bigger plans - to rob the town bank. The big question here is who Harry’s going to take with him after the heist: Dolly or Gloria? This film is total noir without the Production Code.
The Lineup (1958) Don Siegel (Columbia Noir #1 box set, Indicator) Rewatch, 3x
Eli Wallach (in a superb performance) plays a killer hired by the mob to secure a heroin shipment coming from Asia to San Francisco. Based on an earlier TV show of the same name.
Dinner at Eight (1933) George Cukor (Criterion Channel, Warner Archive DVD)
There’s easily enough material here for three movies and a cast that could handle the task with both hands tied behind their backs. Imagine Short Cuts (1993) or Magnolia (1999) in the 1930s, and you get an idea of what Dinner at Eight is like. The film was meant to imitate the structure of Grand Hotel (1932), another film with big stars and multiple stories, this one converging at a lavish, upscale dinner party in Manhattan. Just look at this cast: John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke, and the magnificent Marie Dressler. Comedy, drama, romance, and social commentary, written by Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz, and Donald Ogden Stewart.
That's half of my August. Please share what you watched and enjoyed (or maybe didn't enjoy).