What I Watched in July 2020, Part 1
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Here's how my July got started:
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018) Henry Dunham (Image Entertainment Blu-ray)
The Purchase Price (1932) William Wellman (Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 3 DVD set) Rewatch, 2x
Barbara Stanwyck plays Joan Gordon, a nightclub singer trying to escape her gangster boyfriend (Lyle Talbot) in this Pre-Code gem. Joan finds an unlikely way out: becoming a mail-order bride for a North Dakota farmer (George Brent). As always, Stanwyck rises above the material she’s given, and Wellman always keeps things interesting, especially when the locals bring the party to the newlyweds.
Brewster McCloud (1970) Robert Altman (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
On the surface, Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who’s living in a fallout shelter in the Houston Astrodome, building a complex set of wings that will allow him to fly. But this is Robert Altman, so there’s much, much more going on beneath the surface (as well as beneath the Astrodome). The women in this film (Sally Kellerman, Shelley Duval, Jennifer Salt, and even Margaret Hamilton singing “The Star Spangled Banner”) are exceptional.
Coogan’s Bluff (1968) Don Siegel (library DVD)
Right now I’m writing an essay on Madigan (1968) and wanted to see the film Don Siegel made just after Madigan. Clint Eastwood plays Arizona Deputy Sheriff Coogan, who travels to New York City to apprehend and bring a wanted man back to Arizona (Don Stroud, who’s also in Madigan) to stand trial. Coogan is definitely a fish-out-of-water who doesn’t understand all the procedural red tape inherent in the NYC police system and seems to clash with just about everyone he meets, especially those involved in the swinging psychedelic ‘60s culture. The film was a little too contrived for me, but is still worth checking out.
Man with the Gun (1955) Richard Wilson (Criterion Channel)
Westerns are loaded with stories about out-of-control frontier towns seeking law and order from a lawman (or anyone) who can depose the current inefficient (or corrupt) sheriff. In comes Robert Mitchum as Clint Tollinger, who acts as the “town tamer,” fighting fire with fire (some of which comes from the local madame Jan Sterling). Any film with Ted de Corsia and Emile Meyer is automatically on my radar.
This film (and Lust for Gold, reviewed below) is part of the the current Western Noir showcase currently playing on the Criterion Channel.
The Making of Psycho (doc. 1997) Laurent Bouzereau (extra on the Psycho Universal Blu-ray)
Research for my appearance on The Movie Palace podcast as part of their "Summer of Psycho" series. (More on that below)
The Wages of Fear (1953) Henri-Georges Clouzot (BFI Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our Great Movies discussion
The Gamma People (1956) John Gilling (Amazon Prime Video)
Part of my obsession with 1950s science fiction movies, reviewed here
Lust for Gold (1949) S. Sylvan Simon, George Marshall (Criterion Channel)
Imitating the best (and sometimes the worst) flashback framing devices from film noir, Lust for Gold (aka Bonanza) finds us in modern times with Barry Storm (William Prince), a young man who believes he has a claim to a lost gold mine somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. He learns the story of how his grandfather Jacob “Dutchy” Walz (Glenn Ford) discovered the mine and fell in love with a woman named Julia (Ida Lupino), who’s already married, but withholds this information from Walz. Lust for Gold is filled with greed, deception, and some moments that (especially for 1949) are quite brutal, making it a truly western noir.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (doc. 2019) Daniel Roher (Magnolia Pictures Blu-ray)
This wonderful documentary of the Band is narrated and seen through the eyes of Robbie Robertson. That’s a good thing, in that Robertson has a quiet sort of energy and almost childlike view of the years the Band stood together from their early years backing Ronnie Hawkins until their final performance (captured by Martin Scorsese in the brilliant 1978 concert film/documentary The Last Waltz). The main downside to the film is we only get Robertson’s point of view. Garth Hudson, the only other surviving member of the group, chose not to participate in the project, but apparently the families of the other members either weren’t approached or turned down a chance for their input. Despite the disc having zero extras, this is a solid documentary well worth owning.
Dog Day (aka Canicule,1984) Yves Boisset (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
I’ll watch anything that stars Lee Marvin. If you've seen any of his films, you'll understand why. I actually know very few people who’ve seen this French film (which also features Tina Louise in a very small part), and while I’m glad I checked it out, it’s quite disappointing. Marvin plays Jimmy Cobb, an infamous American criminal living in France. Cobb pulls off a heist and hides out in a farmhouse filled with a nymphomaniac (Bernadette Lafont), a sleazebag (Victor Lanoux), and a kid (David Bennett, the boy from The Tin Drum ) obsessed with criminals. The film is dark (which is fine), but unsatisfying (which is not). Marvin completed only two more films after this, and you can see the weariness on his face, yet he gives it his best shot.
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) Luis Buñuel (borrowed from a friend)
Luis Buñuel’s final film begins with a well-to-do Frenchman named Mathieu (Fernando Rey) waiting for his train to depart from the station. When a young woman insists on seeing him, Mathieu dumps a bucket of water in her face. As the train begins to roll, everyone in Mathieu’s passenger car wants to know why he did such an awful thing to such a lovely young girl. Thus begins Mathieu’s story of sexual frustration with a young woman named Conchita (played alternately by Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina), who constantly teases Mathieu, let refuses to allow him to sleep with her. How many times is Mathieu going to fall for Conchita’s tricks? Will there be a reckoning? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Monster on the Campus (1958) Jack Arnold (Universal, The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 DVD box set)
My journey through 1950s science fiction movies continues with Monster on the Campus, a less-than-great entry featuring a prehistoric fish whose blood acts as a catalyst that mutates any living thing it touches: flies, dogs, people, and just possibly some movie producers at Universal. Apparently Jack Arnold made the film as a favor to a friend. Must’ve been some favor… In what amounts to a Jekyll and Hyde story, Monster on the Campus is a pretty lackluster script looking for some excitement and not finding much. I’ve seen a good bit of Arnold’s work, and I can’t imagine it gets any worse than this. Even the dog is bored.
Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock (Universal Blu-ray) Rewatch, 5x
Research for my guest appearance on The Movie Palace Podcast’s “Summer of Psycho” series, which you can start listening to right now. (My episode on the making of the movie should be available at the end of July.)
Smash Palace (1981) Roger Donaldson (Arrow Blu-ray)
With Smash Palace, Roger Donaldson dares to attempt something few would even consider: turning a family drama into an unforgettable thriller. Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence) has retired from auto racing to keep his father’s auto shop/salvage yard in rural New Zealand going. Al clearly loves his young daughter Georgie (Greer Robson), but his wife Jacqui (Anna Jemison), growing tired of Al’s emotional distance, starts seeking attention from other sources. Smash Palace is a slow burn that’s both thrilling and heartbreaking.
Model Shop (1969) Jacques Demy (borrowed from a friend)
Perhaps hard to believe, but this is my first Jacques Demy film. George (Gary Lockwood) has studied to be an architect, but he’s going nowhere in Los Angeles. His girlfriend (Alexandra Hay) can’t get him motivated to look for work, his car’s about to be repossessed, and even though some of his friends are also struggling, they’re much better off than George. After borrowing $100 from one of his friends (one of the members of the band Spirit, who appear in the film and perform the soundtrack), George follows a beautiful young woman (Anouk Aimée) into a model shop, a photography “studio” where customers can take erotic pictures (although they're very tame photos) of the models. Model Shop is a better-than-average entry in the ‘60s disaffected youth subgenre and is worth seeking out. (Harrison Ford was considered for the role, but the studio thought Gary Lockwood - especially after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey - was more recognizable and bankable.)
Devil Girl from Mars (1954) David MacDonald (Amazon Prime)
“We must’ve sinned something terrible…” That’s a line from one of the film’s characters, but it should’ve been spoken by the producers. Devil Girl from Mars is a truly awful film about Nyah (Patricia Laffan), an evil woman from Mars whose spaceship lands in rural England. Her mission: to find men to help repopulate her planet. Nyah’s costume is cool, but that’s about it. Her killer robot is a knee-slapper that wouldn’t frighten a toddler, and that same toddler probably could’ve written a better script.
Howards End (1992) James Ivory (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our online library movie discussion
Destry Rides Again (1939) George Marshall (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
There’s no need to worry that you never saw Destry Rides before watching this movie. It’s not a sequel, but it is one of the most entertaining comedic westerns of all time. (Heck, it’s one of the best westerns of all time!) After a crooked card game, a man named Kent (Brian Donlevy) wins an area of land that gives him control over the entire cattle industry surrounding the town of Bottleneck. Kent does away with the local sheriff and appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), as Bottleneck’s new lawman. Recalling the town’s most famous and effective lawman, Tom Destry, Dimsdale sends for Destry’s son Tom Destry Jr. (James Stewart) to clean up the place and put an end to Kent's grip on the town. To Dimsdale’s disappointment, Destry is mild-mannered and doesn’t even carry a gun. How’s this going to turn out? Spectacularly. Destry Rides Again is a true wonder, the kind of film they literally don’t make anymore, largely because we don’t have actors like Stewart and Marlene Dietrich anymore, both of whom are superb here, as is the entire supporting cast. Dietrich finally has a role here that’s down-to-earth, and American audiences loved her in it. Dietrich’s saloon fight with Una Merkel is truly amazing, especially considering that no stunt doubles were used. As you can tell, I could go on and on about this one all day long. Make a point of picking up the new Criterion Blu-ray of this one. You won’t be disappointed.
That’s the first half of my July. I’d love to hear what you watched.
Photos: Lapham’s Quarterly, IMDb, Poolside Cinema, Qwipster, The Criterion Channel, Flickriver, WipFilms, Returning Videotapes, Movie House Memories, Cult Projections, Filmcentric, That Was a Bit Mental, Frame Rated