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What I Watched in June 2020

With my return to work at the library, June got off to a slow start, but I made a nice recovery in the home stretch. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest (and maybe one or two to avoid) from my June list. Here we go:


The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) Abbas Kiarostami (Cohen Media Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our online library Great Movies discussion

The Vast of Night (2020) Andrew Patterson (Amazon Prime)

Previously reviewed here

Time Limit (1957) Karl Malden (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

Man, what a nail-biter! Karl Malden’s lone directorial effort features Richard Basehart as an American officer accused of aiding his North Korean captors while in an POW camp. Richard Widmark is assigned to defend the major, but he knows he’s not getting the full story. A tremendous film with the entire cast at the absolute top of their game.

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) Joseph Stefano, Robert Stevens (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

Four years after his script for Hitchcock's Psycho and just one year after his involvement with The Outer Limits (the first season only), Joseph Stefano had an idea for another TV show, this one about an architect (Martin Landau) who investigates paranormal incidents on the side. That pilot wasn't picked up, but Stefano added more scenes to justify a feature-length movie. That padding becomes obvious and threatens to negate some of the film's atmospheric strengths. (The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains the hour-long original, which I haven't yet watched, but by all accounts, is superior to the longer version.) The film also stars Diane Baker and Judith Anderson.

Rawhide (1951) Henry Hathaway (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

When news of four escaped convicts reaches the stagecoach way station at Rawhide Pass, Cavalrymen commander a stagecoach that’s just stopped to let off passengers, transporting it out of the reach of the outlaws. For her own safety, they refuse to allow Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her young niece Callie (Judy Ann Dunn) to continue their journey until the convicts are caught, leaving her at the way station with the stationmaster (Edgar Buchanan) and his disgruntled assistant (Tyrone Power). As you can imagine, the convicts (Hugh Marlowe, Jack Elam, George Tobias, Dean Jagger) show up and hold everyone hostage until the next stagecoach arrives. Anyone expecting this to be a predictable western will be pleasantly surprised.

The Monster Squad (1987) Fred Dekker (Amazon Prime)

This comedy/horror film stars a group of pre-teens who love all things related to monsters. Their club, the Monster Squad, gets a chance to prove their knowledge and skills when the classic Hollywood (think Universal) monsters begin terrorizing their community. I know a lot of people love this movie, but I’m afraid it didn’t do much for me.

Buffalo ’66 (1998) Vincent Gallo (Amazon Prime)

Just released from prison, Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) kidnaps a stranger (Christina Ricci), demanding that she pose as his girlfriend while they visit Billy’s parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston). Gallo’s independent film is far more than a simple character study, although it certainly is that. It’s also a family drama, a quest for identity, meaning, belonging, and much more. Although most of the supporting cast gets little screen time, the film contains excellent work from Gazzara, Huston, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent, Mickey Rourke, and others.

The Tramp and the Dictator (documentary 2002) Michael Kloft, Kevin Brownlow (Criterion Channel)

Research for our next Great Movies virtual discussion. The Great Dictator certainly deserves a fuller, richer treatment than the documentary’s slim 55 minutes, but what’s there is good.

The Great Dictator (1940) Charlie Chaplin (Kanopy) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our online library Great Movies discussion

A Man Alone (1955) Ray Milland (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

Ray Milland plays Wes Steele, a gunfighter who happens upon the aftermath of a stagecoach massacre. When he seeks to report the crime to the authorities in the nearest town, Steele becomes a target, hiding out in a house cellar belonging (as luck would have it) to the town sheriff Gil Gorrigan (Ward Bond), who’s been stricken with yellow fever. Attempting to avoid discovery, Steele learns what really happened to the stagecoach as he falls for Gorrigan’s daughter Nadine (Mary Murphy). An usual but effective western, co-starring Raymond Burr, Lee Van Cleef, and Alan Hale Jr.

Too Late for Tears (1949) Byron Haskin (live stream made possible by the Film Noir Foundation and Flicker Alley) Rewatch, 2x

When a passing vehicle throws a bag into the moving car of husband and wife Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott), the couple discovers it contains $60,000 in cash. The Palmers have different ideas about what to do with the money and so does the guy looking for it (Dan Duryea). This special live stream also included a virtual Q&A with Czar of Noir Eddie Muller. A fantastic evening! Let’s hope Flicker Alley and the Film Noir Foundation do more of these live streaming events.

Fantastic Planet (1973) René Laloux (Criterion Channel)

It’s difficult to find animated movies from this far back that still hold up today, but Fantastic Planet certainly does, primarily because it focuses on fundamental problems we’re still dealing with: racism, oppression, and human rights, to name just a few. Laloux only made three animated feature films (along with Time Masters [1982] and Gandahar [1987]). Fantastic Planet is the most well-known of the three.

The Station Agent (2003) Tom McCarthy (DVD borrowed from a friend)

Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) is surprised to discover that he’s inherited a gift from his deceased boss (Paul Benjamin): a railroad depot in a small New Jersey town. Fin’s passion is trains, not people, so when some of the locals try to get to know him better, Fin retreats to the security of the depot. That is, until they start knocking on his door. A delightful film. Thanks to my friend Dana for letting me borrow it.

Transit (2019) Christian Petzold (Amazon Prime) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our online library Great Movies discussion

The Sandlot (1993) David Mickey Evans (Library DVD)

I’d spent years having no clue what “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” meant. Now I know. I also know that The Sandlot is one of the most enjoyable movies about kids and baseball you’ll ever see. I only wish the film had been about 10 minutes shorter, and I know exactly what I would cut: 10 minutes of the many attempts to get the baseball away from the angry dog next door. Still, I really enjoyed this one.

The Night Holds Terror (1955) Andrew L. Stone (Kit Parker/Mill Creek Noir Archive Vol. 2: 1954-1956 Blu-ray set)

The night also holds exasperation. If you like home invasion stories, this is the month for you. (See Blind Alley near the end of this post.) John Cassavetes leads a trio of thugs (including Vince Edwards and David Cross) who pose as hitchhikers, then force Good Samaritan Gene Courtier (Jack Kelly) to take them to his home and give them all his money. Since the bank won’t open until the next morning, the thugs have time for lots of shenanigans (as well as bad writing and acting). A definite rip-off of The Desperate Hours (a much better film, also from 1955), but it does have a couple of good moments.

The Monolith Monsters (1957) John Sherwood (Universal, The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 DVD box set)

Fragments of a meteor grow to astonishing proportions (just add water), threatening to destroy a small desert town. Way better than it sounds, I promise.

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) Phil Goldstone (YouTube)

This pre-Code Poverty Row film is remembered more for its Alberto Vargas poster than for the film itself, which begins with Edith Crawford (Claire DuBrey) visiting her deceased husband’s brother, District Attorney John Grant (Alan Dinehart). Crawford has discovered letters proving her husband was having an affair before his demise. Grant lets her in on a little secret: The woman in question was the infamous Nora Moran (Zita Johann), the first woman to die in the electric chair in over 20 years for a crime she didn’t commit. Thus begins a flashback that tells us the full story. In addition to flashbacks, the film uses other noir techniques such as voiceover narration, dream sequences, and more. Your mileage may vary depending on how you define film noir (or pre-film noir, as the case may be), but The Sin of Nora Moran is definitely worth a look, especially for noir fans.

Doc (1971) Frank Perry (Amazon Prime)

Based on a novel by Pete Hamill, Doc is one of the dustiest westerns I’ve ever seen, which is significant. There’s nothing clean or sanitized about this revisionist take on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you’re a fan of McCabe & Mrs. Miller (also from 1971), you’ll probably like Doc. Although it’s not quite in the same league as the Robert Altman film, Doc is certainly worthy of discovery (or rediscovery).

Madigan (1968) Don Siegel (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

NYC Detective Daniel Madigan (Richard Widmark) and his partner (Harry Guardino) seek to bring in a criminal named Benesch (Steve Ihnat), but Madigan foolishly loses his gun to Benesch, resulting in all sorts of problems, which Madigan seems to have in abundance: He’s in hot water with the police commissioner (Henry Fonda), his wife (Inger Stevens), and more. I’m currently working on a full review of Madigan, a film that has one foot in classic Hollywood and the other in the emerging New Hollywood. Stay tuned.

Unfaithfully Yours (1948) Preston Sturges (Library DVD)

Unfaithfully Yours is the first Preston Sturges film I’ve seen that I haven’t loved. Sturges was a master of screwball comedy, but this tale of an orchestra conductor (Rex Harrison), convinced his wife (Linda Darnell) has been unfaithful, is very dark. My disappointment is no doubt tied to my dislike of Rex Harrison as well as my aversion to how professional musicians and conductors are portrayed in film, so I plan to give this a rewatch in the near future.

Night Must Fall (1937) Richard Thorpe

What a terrific film, one so few people talk about, a real slow-burn of a thriller with an outstanding performance by Robert Montgomery as Danny, a ne’er-do-well who charms his way into employment with the irascible Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty). Although Danny is promised to one of Mrs. Bramson’s servants, he has eyes for the elderly woman’s niece Olivia (Rosalind Russell), who suspects Danny may be a freeloader or worse. Do seek this one out.

The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954) Frank Launder (Alastair Sim’s School for Laughter box set, Film Movement)

Try to imagine Animal House set in a British girls' boarding school in the 1950s, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Add Alastair Sim in a dual role playing a brother and sister, mix in a stolen race horse, and an undercover policewoman. Absolutely outrageous and loads of fun.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) Spike Lee (Netflix)

Spike Lee’s newest film about four African American Vietnam veterans returning to the site of the war, both to honor their fallen squad leader and to seek buried treasure, touches on many themes (perhaps a few too many), but is a very effective film, often brilliant. The movie also features an unforgettable performance by Delroy Lindo.

Sherlock Jr. (1924) Buster Keaton (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our Great Movies online library discussion with special guest Imogen Sara Smith

Quatermass II (aka Quatermass 2, aka Enemy From Space, 1957) Val Guest (Shout Factory Blu-ray)

The Quatermass universe can be a confusing one, but it’s well worth exploring. (I took a brief sojourn through it last year.) Brian Donlevy returns as Professor Quatermass for Quatermass II (or 2, if you prefer), playing the scientist responsible for the bizarre happenings in The Quatermass Xperiment (1955). This time the professor investigates some strange goings-on at the remote research facility under his leadership. He’s shocked to discover that the prototype of the moon colony he’s trying to get funded has already been built in a nearby secluded area, all without his knowledge. Although not as compelling as The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass II is better than many sf films from this period and is definitely worth checking out.

Return from the Ashes (1965) J. Lee Thompson (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

Shortly after the liberation of France from Nazi occupation, an unfortunate tragedy occurs aboard a train. Only one passenger seems completely unconcerned, a mysterious woman whose heartlessness earns the ire of the other passengers. In a flashback, we learn that the woman was once known as Michele Wolff (Ingrid Thulin), a wealthy Jewish widow and concentration camp survivor. During this flashback, Michele meets an unscrupulous chess player named Stanislaus Pilgrin (Maximilian Schell) who marries her, intending to siphon off her money. Michele’s friend Dr. Charles Bovard (Herbert Lom) isn’t happy about her new marriage, and for good reason. And it’s not long before Pilgrin becomes interested in Michele’s stepdaughter Fabienne (Samantha Eggar). Based on the 1961 Hubert Monteihet novel Le Retour des cendres (as was Christian Petzold’s excellent 2014 film Phoenix), Return from the Ashes is compelling, containing tremendous performances. More people should know about this one.

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón (Arrow Blu-ray)

Unexplained infertility threatens to destroy mankind’s future at a time when Great Britain is one of the few nations that still has a functioning government, although a massive police state threatens to deport (or kill) all illegal immigrants. I’m still speechless after watching this dystopian movie that’s absolutely horrific in light of our current situation. This film deserves an in-depth review, but I don’t think I can bring myself to rewatch it anytime soon. Great performances from Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Clare-Hope Ashitey, and Michael Caine with tremendous direction by Alfonso Cuarón.

The Great Buster: A Celebration (documentary, 2018) Peter Bogdanovich

Research for our Great Movies double feature (along with Sherlock Jr.) discussion. Yes, that’s Quentin Tarantino, one of the many people in this documentary who greatly admire Buster Keaton.

Black Eye (1974) Jack Arnold (Warner Archive DVD)

Fred Williamson plays Shep Stone, a former cop who’s now a private investigator, looking for a runaway girl and the unique silver-handled walking cane people are willing to kill for. I haven’t seen that much Blaxploitation, but this one seems pretty standard.

Blind Alley (1939) Charles Vidor (Criterion Channel)

In this early home invasion story, convicted murderer Hal Wilson (Chester Morris) has just escaped from prison, thanks to some help from his gang (including Ann Dvorak). Wilson and company hang out at the home of psychologist Dr. Anthony Shelby (Ralph Bellamy), who seeks to turn the tables on his captors by getting inside Wilson’s head. Blind Alley was remade (somewhat unnecessarily) in 1948 as The Dark Past with William Holden as the escaped killer and Lee J. Cobb as the psychologist.

Columbo: “Any Old Port in a Storm” (TV 1973) Leo Penn (Columbo Season Three DVD)

Okay, it’s technically not a movie, but I just love revisiting these Colombo episodes, and this is one of my favorites with Donald Pleasance as a wine connoisseur who kills his half-brother. Not only does Columbo (Peter Falk) wear him down, the killer actually develops a level of respect for the lieutenant.

That’s how I spent my month of June. Be sure to tell me what you watched. Take care of yourselves and be safe. The best way to do that? Stay home and watch some movies.

Photos: Film Comment, Metacritic, Park Circus, Reel Reviews, MoMA, Letterboxd, AMC UK, NY Times, Noirish, Made in Atlantis, IMDb, ithankyou, Eye for Film

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