What I Watched in June 2021
As usual, I watched a little bit of everything in June, leaning heavily on the 1970s and quite a few gambling pictures. So let's roll the dice and get started:
Eight Men Out (1988) John Sayles (discarded library DVD)
Discussed in my latest ABC Movie Challenge
The Castle of the Living Dead (1964) Warren Kiefer, Luciano Ricci (The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Blu-ray box set, Severin Films)
The first film in the Severin Films Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee box set does not disappoint. From the curtains of his lavish coach, Count Drago (Lee) watches as a theatrical troupe performs in a local village. Apparently liking what he sees, he sends an invitation to the group to perform at his castle for a handsome fee. But these performers have been living and traveling together too long and can’t agree on much of anything, which will have consequences for their showing at the home of the count. Donald Sutherland has a nice part in his first credited screen role. The Castle of the Living Dead is creepy, weird, and loaded with wonderful atmosphere.
The Wonderful Country (1959) Robert Parrish (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Robert Mitchum (pictured here with Julie London) plays Martin Brady, a Mexican (no lie!) wanted in the U.S. for a murder from several years earlier. Now an arms dealer, Slipping into Texas to secure a deal for his Mexican boss, Brady breaks his leg, delaying the proceedings. As luck (bad luck, that is) would have it, the shipment is stolen while Brady’s laid up. There’s much more going on underneath the surface, and if you can get over Mitchum and a Mexican accent, you may discover that The Wonderful Country is a very moving film.
Foolish Wives (1922) Erich von Stroheim (Kino Lorber DVD)
Also discussed in my latest ABC Movie Challenge
The Fake (1953) Godfrey Grayson (Amazon Prime)
Okay, so this isn’t the most original premise: Someone is stealing priceless paintings and replacing them with fakes. London’s Tate Gallery is the location for this movie, which is more mystery than noir, although it does contains some noir elements. Dennis O’Keefe plays the inspector, assisted by museum employee Coleen Gray. Routine, but enjoyable.
The Old Dark House (1963) William Castle (Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray box set, Mill Creek)
Soon to be explored in my ongoing journey through the Mill Creek box set Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection.
California Split (1974) Robert Altman (Criterion Channel)
Seasoned (or might we say “addicted”) gambler Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) strikes up a friendship with a casual gambler named Bill Denny (George Segal), creating an unlikely pair on an equally unlikely odyssey. This film deserves far more than the treatment I’m giving it here, but Altman’s small focus on two very different characters, their motivations, passions, fears, and destinies is pure ‘70s, pure Altman, pure brilliance. I hope we see this on a Criterion Blu-ray soon.
Promising Young Woman (2020) Emerald Fennell (library DVD)
Promising Young Woman was certainly… well, promising, at least until its final act, which goes off the rails. Yet Carey Mulligan is tremendous in the role of Cassie, a woman who’s determined to right a horrible wrong. If you’re into revenge movies, you have to watch this one.
The Lady Gambles (1949) Michael Gordon (Kino Lorber Film Noir: Dark Side of Cinema Blu-ray box set) Rewatch, 2x
Previously discussed here
5 Against the House (1955) Phil Karlson (Columbia Noir #1 box set, Indicator) Rewatch, 2x
Previously discussed here
Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski (Amazon Prime)
Research for our virtual Great Movies library discussion on Friday, July 16 at 7pm ET. Signups start July 2.
The Reckless Moment (1949) Max Ophuls (Indicator Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
I originally reviewed this one for Noirvember 2015 and rewatched it after reading the source novel The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, which I review here.
The Crazies (1973) George A. Romero (Criterion Channel)
The Crazies is essentially Night of the Living Dead (1968) with a virus taking the place of zombies. A military aircraft carrying a deadly virus crashes near a small town. Then the virus infects the local water supply, the locals go insane before they die. Operating with twice the budget of Night of the Living Dead (which still wasn’t much), The Crazies boasts lots of color (particularly blood) and some interesting moments, but didn’t exactly win me over.
The Spikes Gang (1974) Richard Fleischer (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Say what you will about the man, but I can’t think of a Richard Fleischer film that isn’t entertaining. Case in point: The Spikes Gang, a Western that begins with three boys finding a man near death and unsure of what to do about it. The boys, Wil (Gary Grimes), Tod (Charles Martin Smith), and Les (Ron Howard) decide to help the man named Harry Spikes (Lee Marvin), whom, upon recovery, promises to reward them someday. With Spikes’s tales of adventure and bank robbing, the boys decide to imitate his exploits, which lands them in big trouble until they’re rescued (or maybe cursed?) by Spikes. Watching Lee Marvin and the young Howard, Smith, and Grimes (who only made six films and a handful of television episodes before walking away from acting in the late 1970s) is reason enough to watch film, but The Spikes Gang is far from a throwaway Western. It’s worth a look.
Challenge the Devil (1963) Giuseppe Veggezzi (The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Blu-ray box set, Severin Films)
If you’ve ever wondered if Christopher Lee was the devil (or close to it), Challenge the Devil may be just the film for you. Or maybe not. When a group of beatniks wander into Lee’s castle, things get trippy… Well, as trippy as they can get in a low budget black-and-white Italian film from 1963. So far this is the low point of the new Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee box set. Watch it once, then move on.
Across 110th Street (1972) Barry Shear (Kino Lorber DVD)
The ‘70s was a great era for crime movies, and it’s too bad Across 110th Street isn’t mentioned more frequently in discussions of that decade. Three small-time criminals (two posing as cops) rob $300,000 from the Italian mob. Big mistake, guys… The mob is hot on their trail, but so are genuine cops Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) and Lt. Pope (Yahpet Kotto), who have wildly differing philosophies on how to work a case, especially regarding interrogation. Gritty with a wonderful ‘70s NYC feel, Across 110th Street is a better-than-average crime film, one that will be featured in the upcoming neo-noir lineup on the Criterion Channel starting in July.
Night Gallery (TV 1969) Boris Segal, Steven Spielberg, Barry Shear (Night Gallery: The Complete Series, Universal Studios, 10 DVD set), Rewatch, 2x
This pilot for the Rod Serling TV series (1970-1972) delivers three 30-minute episodes starring some major actors such as Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowall, Ossie Davis, Richard Kiley, Barry Sullivan, George Macready, Sam Jaffe, and more. As everyone knows, Steven Spielberg directed the Joan Crawford episode in which Ms. Crawford plays a rich woman seeking to have her sight restored. That segment is sandwiched between the tale of no-account Roddy McDowall attempting to hasten the death of his rich uncle (George Macready) so he can grab the inheritance money, and the final episode starring Richard Kiley as a Nazi looking to escape capture in Buenos Aires.
The Watchmaker of St. Paul (1974) Bertrand Tavernier (Criterion Channel)
Philippe Noiret plays Michel Descombes, a Lyon watchmaker whose teenage son has been arrested for murder. Police Inspector Guilboud (Jean Rochefort) doesn’t so much hound Michel for information as much as he tries to befriend him, while Michel constantly wonders what he did wrong as a father. There’s much going on here in this understated crime film, my first experience with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, whom we lost just a few weeks ago.
A Quiet Place Part II (2020) John Krasinski (Regal Waugh Chapel and IMAX)
I enjoyed this sequel more than I did the first installment, possibly because I suppressed questions of logic and believability and simply enjoyed the movie on its own merits, which are indeed impressive. This is also the first movie I'd seen in a theater since Dec. 27, 2019, so I was just overjoyed to be there.
Images (1972) Robert Altman (Criterion Channel)
I’ll never completely figure Altman out, but it’s an absolute pleasure to watch him work. This thriller follows a troubled housewife and children’s picture book author (Susannah York) who sees unsettling apparitions - or are they real people?
Juno and the Paycock (1930) Alfred Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock Legacy of Suspense DVD set, Mill Creek)
Continuing my Alfred Hitchcock Journey with the director’s 11th film, which I will post soon.
The Gambler (1974) Karel Reisz (Criterion Channel)
Looking through Letterboxd, I discovered that there are far too many films titled “The Gambler.” I don’t know if Karel Reisz’s film is the only one you need, but you should definitely see it. To say that English professor Axel Freed (James Caan) is addicted to gambling is far too simple a description of the film, but it will get you started, and once you start, you can’t turn away. Sort of… like gambling, I suppose. Look for M. Emmet Walsh and James Woods in cameo appearances.
That’s going to do it for my month of June. What did you see? Please share.