What I Watched in February 2020
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
I knocked out 33 movies in February. Unfortunately none of them had anything to do with either my Alfred Hitchcock or Ingmar Bergman projects, but I did see 11 “Out of the Hat” movies (see last month), six from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list, and a few film noir, Western, and science fiction titles. So here’s everything I watched in February:
Vice Raid (1959) Edward L. Cahn (Mamie Van Doren Film Noir Collection Blu-ray set, Kino Lorber)
“Out of the Hat” #7 - Tiresome Mamie Van Doren “frame a cop” picture.
City Lights (1931) Charlie Chaplin (Criterion Channel)
From Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list - An absolutely marvelous film, perhaps my favorite Chaplin.
King and Country (1964) Joseph Losey (VCI DVD)
Out of the Hat #8 - Powerful anti-war film from blacklisted director Joseph Losey working in England. This WWI film, based on a play, remains potent, but goes a bit too far in its metaphorical territory. A shame no one watches or discusses this one anymore.
The Little Giant (1933) Roy Del Ruth (Warner DVD)
Out of the Hat #9 - With Prohibition at an end, bootlegger Bugs Ahearn (Edward G. Robinson) decides to move to California and enjoy the high life, falling for a socialite (Helen Vinson) and hiring a secretary (Mary Astor). Good fun.
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch (Dailymotion)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list - A real treasure… Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play lovers who are also partners in crime. The script is fast and smart, and so are the performances. Where is the Blu-ray of this film?????
RKO Production 601: The Making of ‘Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World’ (doc. 2005, extra on the Warner King Kong Blu-ray)
A far more comprehensive (and serious) look at the making of King Kong (1933) than Kong: Long Live the King (2016), which I saw in January. Featuring appearances by Ray Harryhausen, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Fay Wray, Frank Darabont, and many others, this documentary is a bit too long in covering Jackson’s otherwise wonderful recreation of the lost “Spider Cave” sequence of the 1933 original, but the rest of the film is exceptional.
My Gun is Quick (1957) Victor Saville (as Phil Victor), George White (Amazon streaming)
This film noir contains some of the noir look and atmosphere, but the story, dialogue, and acting are sorely lacking. Kiss Me Deadly this ain’t.
King Kong (1933) Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack (Warner Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Part of our Great Movies series at the Severna Park Library.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) Ernst Lubitsch (Library DVD)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies List - A retired married couple (Victory Moore, Beulah Bondi) lose their home to foreclosure, having no one to turn to but their children, who quickly discover they’re not equipped to care for their parents. A very timely film, although with a different feel from the era of the Great Depression. Make Way for Tomorrow is one of those exceptionally rare films that is sentimental, but so completely effective.
Billy Liar (1963) John Schlesinger (Criterion Channel)
Tom Courtenay plays Billy, a young working class man who lies as easily as he breathes. Courtenay is wonderful, but is this a comedy, tragedy, fantasy, or something else? I can’t decide whether the film’s ending is a cheat or simply inevitable.
The Cheyenne Social Club (1970) Gene Kelly (Warner Bros. James Stewart: The Signature Collection DVD box set) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #10
I watched this film for the first time in more than 40 years, and it’s not good. If you must watch it, do so for the camaraderie between James Stewart and Henry Fonda, their final film together.
Killer of Sheep (1977) Charles Burnett (Milestone DVD) Rewatch, 2x
Great Movies at the Severna Park Library
Along Came Jones (1945) Stuart Heisler (MGM DVD)
Out of the Hat #11
A Western comedy I really enjoyed, despite the overuse of rear projection shots. Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, Dan Duryea, and William Demarest are all wonderful.
Figure It Out on the Hayduke Trail (doc. 2020; Amazon Prime)
Alex Maier’s documentary chronicling his 800-mile through-hike of the Hayduke Trail across Utah and Arizona. Although there’s some great photography, we really learn very little about Maier and what drives him. Disappointing.
Lawless Valley (1938) David Howard (George O’Brien Western Collection (1938-1940) DVD [MOD] set
My first venture (as far as I can remember) into B-picture Westerns, previously discussed here.Thanks to my friend Laura for the recommendation!
National Parks Adventure (doc. 2016) Greg MacGillvray (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC)
Into America’s Wild (doc. 2020) Greg MacGillvray (IMAX, National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC)
My wife and I watched both of these films in an afternoon, the first, National Parks Adventure, is basically an hour-long ad for visiting and supporting America’s national parks (which we all should do), narrated by Robert Redford. Gorgeously shot, and a worthy venture, but still mostly an ad. Into America’s Wild, narrated by Morgan Freeman, is similar, but follows several trailblazers (including Native American astronaut John Herrington) who find adventure off the beaten path. Lots of great animal footage.
Titanic (1943) Werner Klingler, Herbert Selpin (DVD)
Out of the Hat #12
This Nazi propaganda film with some good scenes, but an awful ending (and I’m not talking about the sinking of the ship).
The Great Dictator (1940) Charlie Chaplin (Criterion Channel)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list - The second Chaplin masterpiece I watched in February, and Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. Chaplin plays dual roles: a fascist dictator and a Jewish barber in one of the greatest satires of all time.
This Island Earth (1955) Joseph M. Newman (Shout Factory Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #13
Aliens seek help from Earth scientists, but there’s something fishy going on here… Higher-than-average production values combine with Technicolor to help mask the film’s shortcomings. It’s still a fun watch and the recent Shout Factory Blu-ray looks great.
Invaders from Mars (1953) William Cameron Menzies (Amazon Prime)
Although its budget and production values are far inferior to those of This Island Earth, I like Invaders from Mars’s alien invasion story better, possibly because it taps into childhood fears and the sense of 1950s paranoia. More people these days have probably seen the Tobe Hooper remake from 1986, but the original is sorely in need of a restoration and Blu-ray release.
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, with uncredited work by Alexandr Korda, Zoltan Korda, and William Cameron Menzies (Criterion Channel)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list - An early Technicolor adventure/fantasy that’s a pure joy to watch.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Ida Lupino (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our upcoming Great Movies library event in March.
The Spanish Prisoner (1997) David Mamet (Sony Pictures Classics DVD) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #14
A Page of Madness (1926) Teinosuke Kinugasa (borrowed from a friend)
Very experimental Japanese silent film about a man working at an insane asylum. A must-see, available from Flicker Alley.
The Raven (1963) Roger Corman (The Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray box set, Shout/Scream Factory)
Great fun as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, a young Jack Nicholson, and the lovely Hazel Court present a very loose adaptation (by Richard Matheson) of Poe’s poem.
Hatari! (1962) Howard Hawks (borrowed from a friend)
The animal action footage in this John Wayne movie is still impressive today. The film runs too long at 157 minutes, but I didn’t mind spending a little extra time with these characters, which is part of the fun in watching any Howard Hawks film.
Great Expectations (1946) David Lean (Criterion Channel)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list - I don’t care how faithful or unfaithful this film version is to Dickens’s original, I loved every minute of it, even if John Mills is far too old to play Pip. One of my favorite discoveries of the month.
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) Henry Hathaway (Universal DVD)
Out of the Hat #15
A long-running feud between two mountain families is broken up (or is it?) by a man (Fred MacMurray) seeking coal mining rights to their land. An early three-strip Technicolor film with a great cast including Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney, and the always adorable George “Spanky” McFarland.
Strangers in the Night (1944) Anthony Mann (Internet Archive)
Gothic noir about a WWII veteran (William Terry) who seeks to meet the woman who wrote to him while he was in the service. Thanks to my friends Laura C. and Jan W. for telling me about this one.
Death in Small Doses (1957) Joseph M. Newman (Amazon Prime)
A government agent (Peter Graves) goes undercover to find out the leader of an amphetamine racket among truckers. Much better than I anticipated. Chuck Connors has a field day in this one as a hopped-up truck driver.
The Deadly Tower (TV 1975) Jerry Jameson (Warner Archive MOD DVD)
Out of the Hat #16
Solid TV movie about the famous shooting rampage by a sniper (Kurt Russell) at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. A somewhat risky move for Russell, who had spent many years making movies and TV for Disney. In fact, this film came out the same year Russell starred in his final role as Dexter Riley in Disney's The Strongest Man in the World. Definitely worth a look.
Strange Invaders (1983) Michael Laughlin (Twilight Time Blu-ray)
Out of the Hat #17
Although I love the idea of an homage/spoof of 1950s science fiction movies, I’m afraid this one didn’t work for me at all. The editing (perhaps as part of the joke) drove me crazy. It's great to see Paul Le Mat and Nancy Allen together, but even they can't hold this thing together.
So I began and ended February with films I didn't care for, but most of the stuff in the middle was good, some of it stellar.
Next month I'll try to get back on track with my Hitchcock and Bergman projects, but there’s also the Annapolis Film Festival in March. Stay tuned. In the meantime, tell me what you watching and enjoyed (or didn’t) in February.
Photos: Letterboxd, IMDb, Criterion, The Film Spectrum, Tiger Droppings, Trailers from Hell, Amazon, 3BL Media, Travel Daily Media, ArtRage Gallery, Nothing is Written, Basement Rejects, Classic Movie Hub, All Horror, Beguiling Hollywood, Mike’s Take on the Movies, Nostalgia Central, DVD Beaver