After the first part of July, I poked around the second half of the month with more westerns, some science fiction and horror, my long-neglected Alfred Hitchcock project, and more, including a few surprises. Be sure to tell me what you discovered, rediscovered, or outright dismissed last month. Here we go…
5 Card Stud (1968) Henry Hathaway (Library DVD) Rewatch, 3x
When a poker game gets out of hand, one cheating player finds himself at the end of a rope. But apparently someone in town didn’t care for this brand of justice. One by one, the other men at the poker table that night turn up dead. Van Morgan (Dean Martin), the only man who attempted to prevent the hanging, tries to figure out who’s behind these revenge slayings (and it’s very easy to figure out). The costars include Inger Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Justice, Yahpet Kotto, Denver Pyle, Ted de Corsia, Whit Bissell, John Anderson, and Robert Mitchum as a preacher of questionable theological beliefs. (Of course, Mitchum can practically sleepwalk through this after Night of the Hunter.) This is not a great western, but I still have fond childhood memories of this one and enjoy rewatching it from time to time.
All the Colors of Giallo (doc. 2019) Federico Caddeo (Amazon Prime)
My friend Michael C. recommended this introduction to giallo, a real blind spot in my cinematic journey, yet one I’m eager to explore. The documentary itself (in Italian with English subtitles) is available on Amazon Prime, but I’m looking forward to the Severin Films Blu-ray, which includes not only the documentary, but four hours of giallo trailers including a commentary by Kat Ellinger. Stay tuned. You should see some serious giallo in the coming months.
Avengers: Endgame (2019) Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (at my brother-in-law Dave’s)
Okay, so I finally saw this. Not bad, but certainly not life-changing.
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) Jake Kasdan (at my brother-in-law Dave’s)
Say what you will, these movies are just plain fun. I think I enjoyed it better than the previous movie, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).
Léon Morin, Priest (1961) Jean-Pierre Melville (Kanopy) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our library Great Movies online discussion
Knives Out (2019) Rian Johnson (Lionsgate Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Anytime I can get my wife to sit down and watch a movie that’s not a documentary is a huge win. Even better, she liked it.
Black Sunday (1960) Mario Bava (Kanopy)
A pre-giallo film from Mario Bava, whose work I’m enjoying very much. The witch/vampire story is fairly routine, but the atmosphere and cinematography make this a real treat. More Barbara Steele, please.
The Cameraman (1928) Buster Keaton, Edward Sedgwick (Criterion Blu-ray)
Buster plays a cameraman trying to impress MGM newsreel department secretary Sally (Marceline Day) by capturing a top-notch news story to propel him to fame and fortune (but mostly to Sally). Keaton’s first film for MGM was undoubtedly his last great feature film, and it’s a true delight.
Rachel and the Stranger (1948) Norman Foster (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
Widower David Harvey (William Holden) needs a mother for his son (Gary Gray), but he also needs a cook, housekeeper… essentially an indentured servant. Welcome to the pioneer West. But when Harvey’s traveling friend (Robert Mitchum) comes around, it could spell trouble for Harvey and his common-law wife (Loretta Young). The actors rise above the predictable material, and things get quite dark during the last act, making things a bit less predictable.
The Ring (1927) Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
Hitchcock made a boxing movie? Yep. I'm finally getting back on track with my Alfred Hitchcock project. Review forthcoming.
Dr. Cyclops (1940) Ernest B. Schoedsack (Universal, The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Vol. DVD box set)
Ernest Schoedsack, who co-directed the original King Kong (1933) knew a thing or two about special effects. This impressive-looking film (the first American horror film to use three-strip Technicolor) follows a group of scientists/explorers summoned to a remote area of the Peruvian jungle by the brilliant but whacked-out physicist Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker). Once their very simple assignment is finished, Thorkel dismisses the group, but after some snooping around, they discover what Thorkel’s really up to: using radium to shrink objects, animals, and people to one-fifth of their normal size. A forerunner to The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and the much-later Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Dr. Cyclops is quite impressive for its time and is definitely worth a look, no matter how small you are.
Here and There (Aquí y allá, 2012) Antonio Méndez Esparza (Kanopy)
Research for a project for Hispanic Heritage Month. Stay tuned.
Jojo Rabbit (2019) Taika Waititi (Library DVD)
Young Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) can’t wait to become of full-fledged member of Hitler Youth, but he encounters many bumps along the way, including several conversations with his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler. If you have any reservations (and some do) about the film’s first 10 minutes, just keep watching. Jojo Rabbit successfully walks the thin tightrope between comedy and tragedy, powered by tremendous performances by Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie.
The Night Stalker (TV 1972) John Llewellyn Moxey (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
This TV movie really creeped me out when I was a kid, and I’m pleased to report that it still holds up nearly 50 years later. Darren McGavin plays snarky newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, who sees what he believes is unmistakable evidence that a Las Vegas serial killer is actually a vampire. Loaded with wonderful actors and character actors (Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Elisha Cook Jr., Stanley Adams, Larry Linville… and I could keep going), The Night Stalker is creepy fun. There’s one scene in particular that’s extremely disturbing, but it’s so subtle you might easily miss it. I’ll leave it for you to discover on your own. This film and The Night Strangler (TV 1973) were responsible for the short-lived TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), a favorite of weird kids like me.
The Car (1977) Elliot Silverstein (Netflix)
My Bodyguard (1980) Tony Bill (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace) is the new kid at a Chicago public high school, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem, except that Clifford clashes with the school bully (Matt Dillon). Ah, but Clifford has a brilliant idea: Instead of giving the bully protection money, he’ll simply hire the most-feared kid in school (who apparently raped a teacher and killed a cop), Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), as his bodyguard. Everything is great for awhile, but then… This is the rare teenager movie that’s fun, dark, and substantial, hampered only by too many scenes of light comedy involving Clifford’s man-crazy grandmother (Ruth Gordon).
Day of the Outlaw (1959) Andre De Toth (Criterion Channel) Rewatch, 2x
If you have the Criterion Channel and haven’t watched Day of the Outlaw, stop whatever you’re doing, and prepare yourself for one of the darkest of western noir movies. I’ll have an essay on this film in an upcoming issue of The Dark Pages: The Newsletter for Film Noir Lovers. (You can subscribe or request a free sample copy.)
The Violent Men (1955) Rudolph Maté (Criterion Channel)
A literal barn-burner, The Violent Men tells the story of former Union army officer John Parrish (Glenn Ford) who’s had enough of ranching and is ready to sell his ranch to the only viable buyer around, the ruthless cattle baron Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson). While Parrish is thinking over Wilkison’s measly offer, Wilkinson’s sadistic brother (Brian Keith) stops his affair with his brother’s wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) long enough to have one of Parrish’s men murdered. Things spin out of control, and impressively so, but I wonder if the film would’ve been as effective without the stellar cast and its eye-catching CinemaScope photography. Like Day of the Outlaw, The Violent Men is currently part of the Western Noir showcase on the Criterion Channel.
The Wind (1928) Victor Sjöström (Criterion Channel)
The Wind is one of MGM’s last silent films as well as Lillian Gish’s final silent role, and she’s tremendous in it. Gish plays Letty Mason, a young woman traveling from Virginia to live with relatives on their remote West Texas ranch. Unused to the west, Letty becomes bothered, then horrified by the unrelenting prairie winds, and even more so by the three men who vie for her hand in marriage. If you’ve always heard the name Lillian Gish and wondered what all the fuss is about, check out this film. On second thought, that might be hard to do. Although The Wind has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, there’s still no DVD or Blu-ray available (that I know of). Thanks to my friend Michael, I found out that last night was the film’s last day on the Criterion Channel. (Sorry about that. It’s sort of like apologizing for getting the last donut.) But hopefully that means we may see a Blu-ray release soon. If so, jump on it immediately.
Hey, I’m not kidding. Tell me what you watched, good, bad, glorious, abysmal. See you next time. Have a great August!
Photos: IMDb, Zombies DON’T Run, Inverse, Deccan Herald, Mondo Digital, Letterboxd, Great Western Movies, Hitchcock 52, The Grim Gallery, Filmmaker Magazine, Nostalgia Central, 24 lies per second