Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Obviously we’re all trying to make it through these hard times any way we can. For me, watching movies and reading books helps take my mind off what’s constantly on all our minds. But it’s also important for me to spend time with my wife, who only tolerates movies because I love them and she loves me. So I’m not sure how many movies I’ll get to during these uncertain times. But if I watch it, I’ll share it here. Today I’m going through the first half of the month, everything I watched through March 15.
I hope you’ll find something here to watch to take your mind off these dark days. I’d also like for you to let me know what you watched and enjoyed. So let’s help each other cinematically, okay? Here we go:
The Major and the Minor (1942) Billy Wilder (Universal DVD)
What a great way to start the month, with an absolutely delightful romantic comedy starring Ginger Rogers trying to pass for a 12-year-old girl in order to secure a half-fare train ticket. On board the train, she meets Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), and acts as a frightened child, hopefully long enough for her to reach her destination. Never once does the film feel creepy, mostly because Billy Wilder (as co-writer with Charles Brackett, and as first-time director) was a genius. Highly recommended.
Lady Gangster (1942) Robert Florey (Amazon Prime)
Things begin well when you're pulling a bank job and Jackie Gleason is your wheel man, but this is primarily a women's prison flick (with Faye Emerson in the title role) featuring a script that must've deteriorated in the director's hands.
Port of Call (1948) Ingmar Bergman (Criterion Bergman Blu-ray box set)
They Might Be Giants (1971) Anthony Harvey (Anchor Bay DVD)
George C. Scott plays a man who truly believes he’s Sherlock Holmes and that Professor Moriarty is out to get him. Joanne Woodward plays a psychiatrist (named - wait for it - Dr. Watson) who seeks to help him. The film is either a complete misfire or a work of pure genius. Whichever it is, I like it.
And Then There Were None (2015) Craig Viveiros (Library DVD)
This British miniseries may be the darkest adaptation of any Agatha Christie mystery out there, featuring an impressive cast, including Charles Dance, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, and more. The music is too ponderous and the flashbacks a bit too frequent, but overall this was a lot of fun.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Ida Lupino (Ida Lupino: Filmmaker box set, Kino Lorber) Rewatch, 3x
The March entry in our Great Movies series, also celebrating Women’s History Month, spotlighting Ida Lupino. (I’ll also be reviewing the entire Ida Lupino box set for an upcoming issue of The Dark Pages.)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Terence Fisher (Arrow UK Blu-ray)
After watching They Might Be Giants, I wanted a more conventional Sherlock Holmes movie. I’d never seen this version with Peter Cushing as Holmes, André Morell as Dr. Watson, and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, but I really enjoyed the gothic Hammer Studios treatment.
The Silent Partner (1978) Daryl Duke (Kino Lorber Blu-ray) Rewatch, 3x
Out of the Hat #18
This is such a terrific thriller, a wonderful cat-and-mouse game between a shopping mall Santa (Christopher Plummer) and a less-than-honest bank teller (Elliott Gould). This time through (my third) I really appreciated the construction of this excellent story (written by Curtis Hanson, based on the novel Think of a Number by Anders Bodelsen). Gould, Plummer, Susannah York, and Celine Lomez are all terrific. And you’ll see John Candy as well.
Not Wanted (1949) Elmer Clifton, Ida Lupino (Ida Lupino: Filmmaker box set, Kino Lorber)
I’m not sure how much of Not Wanted belongs to Ida Lupino or Elmer Clifton (who had to stop directing after suffering a heart attack), but since Lupino co-wrote and co-produced this independent film, much of the credit must go to her. This story of an unwed mother (Sally Forest) packs a real punch, made more realistic without any studio gloss whatsoever. This is the kind of movie mainstream Hollywood was terrified to make, but Lupino was fearless.
Downhill (1927) Alfred Hitchcock (supplement on the Criterion Blu-ray The Lodger)
Never Let Go (1960) John Guillermin (MGM DVD)
WarGames (1983) John Badham (20th Century Fox Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for my upcoming ‘80s series at the library (which I hope will still happen...)
The Buddy Holly Story (1978) Steve Rash (Library DVD) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #19
The writing (of the film, not the music) disappoints in a major way, but Gary Busey’s performance as Buddy Holly is absolutely stunning.
The River (1951) Jean Renoir (Criterion Channel)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
I know I’m swimming upstream on this one, but I didn’t find much to enjoy here. While I appreciated the Technicolor cinematography, I felt nothing for these characters and thought the voice-over narration greatly weakened the film.
Razzia sur la chnouf (1955) Henri Decoin (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Out of the Hat #20
Jean Gabin plays Henri, a tough, no-nonsense guy called in to shape up a large-scale drug operation in France that’s stumbling, earning far less money than it should. Co-starring Lino Ventura, Albert Rémy, and Magali Noël, Razzia is a solid crime thriller that’s fun to compare to American films from the same period. The film is playing on the Noir City circuit and was recently released on Blu-ray.
Never Fear (1949) Ida Lupino (Ida Lupino: Filmmaker box set, Kino Lorber)
Carol (Sally Forrest) and Guy (Keefe Brasselle) are an engaged couple on their way up in the world of dancing when Carol is stricken with polio. An early film dealing honestly with disabilities, Never Fear has some truly fine moments and good performances.
Broken Lance (1954) Edward Dmytryk (Twilight Time Blu-ray)
Out of the Hat #21
A dark, complex Western with definite touches of Shakespeare, Broken Lance is the story of an aging take-no-prisoners rancher (Spencer Tracy) who’s managed his business and raised his sons (Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brien, Earl Holliman) showing almost no love or compassion. Superb use of Technicolor and Cinemascope. If you haven’t already done so, blind-buy this from Twilight Time now.
The Intruder (1953) Guy Hamilton (Network UK DVD)
When Ex Colonel Wolf Merton (Jack Hawkins) discovers a burglar wrecking his home, he recognizes the intruder as a man who served under him in WWII. Primarily a war story with noir element, The Intruder is an overlooked film that should be better known. There’s a Region B Blu-ray coming out in April that I hope you’ll check out.
The Ipcress File (1965) Sidney J. Furie (Network UK Blu-ray)
Out of the Hat #22
Michael Caine is wonderful in this espionage thriller based on a novel by Len Deighton. This one is reportedly coming to Blu-ray domestically from Kino Lorber.
The Big Fix (1978) Jeremy Kagan (Twlight Time Blu-ray)
The Big Fix simply didn’t work as a comedy/political thriller for most audiences in 1978, but it certainly needs a reevaluation in light of today’s political shenanigans. (I’m wondering if this the first film after Star Wars to include the line “May the Force be with you”?)
No Name on the Bullet (1959) Jack Arnold (Universal DVD)
John Gant (Audie Murphy) rides into a small Arizona town and everyone knows why he’s there: to kill someone, but no one knows who. Gant’s presence creates speculation, panic, and a mob mentality, but a local doctor (Charles Drake) tries to bring a sense of rationality to the townspeople. No Name on the Bullet is an atypical, yet very effective Western.
That’s it for the first half of the month. Once again, please let me know what you enjoyed in the first half of March. And if you watch any of the movies on my list, let me know what you think of them. Stay positive, hang in there, and encourage one another. Stay tuned.
Photos: DVD Beaver, The Film Sufi, BBC, Film Forum, Cinapse, Noir of the Week, FictionMachine, Yify, Shangols - Canalblog, Home Cinema Choice