I’m sure none of us will ever forget March 2020, and even though movies aren’t the most important thing happening in the world right now, they’ve certainly helped many of us to maintain some level of normalcy and comfort. I previously posted Part 1 of what I watched in March, so here’s the second half. Please feel free to share the films you watched and enjoyed.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) Sidney Lumet (Paramount DVD) Rewatch, 3x
Our library’s Director of Virtual Services asked if I’d like to introduce and lead a live chat on any movie of my choice now streaming on Kanopy, which our library patrons can enjoy for free. For our first movie, I chose the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I enjoyed both the film and discussion, which brought in 18 people on Zoom. We’re going to do this on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future.
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) Robert Bresson (Criterion Channel)
How do I give a quick synopsis of a movie that’s so profound and moving? I can’t. Saying it’s a movie that follows a donkey named Balthazar around the French countryside is like saying Citizen Kane is about a guy who owned a newspaper. This is a tremendous film that I’ll be thinking about for the rest of my life.
Born Yesterday (1950) George Cukor (Sony Pictures DVD)
Out of the Hat #23
About 15 minutes into this movie, I was ready to eject it and move on to something else. I just didn’t think I could tolerate Judy Holliday’s high-pitched Billie Dawn, moll for the unscrupulous millionaire Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), for 103 minutes. Eventually I settled in and began to appreciate Holliday’s performance and the film itself, co-starring one of my favorites, William Holden, as a journalist hired by Brock to “smarten” Billie up.
How to Steal a Million (1966) William Wyler (Twilight Time Blu-ray)
Out of the Hat #24
A heist movie with the adorable Audrey Hepburn and the delightful Peter O’Toole set in the art world certainly appeals to me, but the film is far too long at 123 minutes when it should’ve been 90. Still, there’s plenty to like here.
The Bigamist (1953) Ida Lupino (Ida Lupino: Filmmaker box set, Kino Lorber) Rewatch, 2x
Edmond O’Brien is married to two women (Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino) in two different cities, neither of whom knows about the other. Today this would be played as a comedy, but director Lupino plays it straight and powerful. I’ll be reviewing the entire Lupino box set for The Dark Pages in the March/April 2020 issue.
The Patsy (1928) King Vidor (Warner Archive DVD)
Out of the Hat #25
The Patsy is an absolutely charming silent comedy starring the adorable Marion Davies as Pat, the neglected daughter in a family consisting of an overbearing mother (Marie Dressler), a self-centered, conniving sister (Jane Winton), and a father (Dell Henderson) who loves Pat, but is overruled by his wife at every turn. This film is an absolute treasure.
La Traviata - Met Opera Live (2018) Michael Mayer (Met Opera Channel)
Okay, this is not quite a movie, but it appears on Letterboxd, so I’m counting it! The Metropolitan Opera has cancelled the rest of its season, but has graciously allowed free streaming for several of its operas, which you can check out right now. My wife and I decided to take advantage of this by watching Verdi’s La Traviata, the story of Violetta (Diana Damrau), a young woman who lives only for pleasure until the arrival of a man named Alfredo (Juan Diego Flórez), who is totally devoted to her. Just tremendous…
The Limping Man (1953) Cy Endfield (VCI Video DVD)
American Lloyd Bridges returns to London to reunite with his lover (Moira Lister), only to find himself exiting the passenger plane, standing next to a man who drops dead from a sniper’s bullet. This Brit noir begins well, then meanders, but commits (IMO) cinema’s greatest sin with an unforgivable ending. This limping man needs to be put out of his misery.
Blazing Saddles (1974) Mel Brooks (Warner Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Out of the Hat #26
So very un-PC, but so very funny. Say what you want about it, but Brooks assembled an incredible amount of talent for Blazing Saddles.
Easy Living (1937) Mitchell Leisen (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
In attempting to teach his spendthrift wife (Jenny Ball) a lesson, the ultra-wealthy but high-strung J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold) tosses one of her sable coats out the window of their high-rise, where it lands on a hard-working girl named Mary Smith (Jean Arthur). This madcap screwball comedy could only have been written by Preston Sturges and it’s a pure delight.
My Best Girl (1927) Sam Taylor (YouTube)
I believe this is my first Mary Pickford movie, and I loved it. Mary plays Maggie, who falls for a 5 & 10 cent store stockroom boy named Joe Grant (Charles Rogers), who’s actually Joe Merrill, son of the millionaire owner of a chain of 5 & 10 stores. Pickford is delightful, nailing the expressions, emotions, timing, everything.
The Wasp Woman (1959) Roger Corman (Good Times DVD)
Short on the Wasp Woman herself, but this early Corman feature isn’t bad.
Big Night (1996) Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott (Columbia Tristar DVD) Rewatch, 2x
Research for our second library virtual movie discussion, which included 39 online participants, more than doubling last week’s participation.
Whispering Smith (1948) Leslie Fenton (Universal DVD)
Alan Ladd plays the title character, a railroad officer paid to bring in railway criminals, one of which might just be his friend (Robert Preston). An enjoyable Western, soon to be part of a Kino Lorber Western box set.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953) Jacques Tati (Criterion Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Research for a possible upcoming project.
Budapest Noir (2017) Éva Gárdos (Kanopy)
The time is 1936 and Hungary is on the brink of an alliance with Hitler. When a young prostitute is found beaten to death in a courtyard, no one shows the slightest interest except a crime reporter named Zsigmond Gordon (Krisztián Kolovratnik). The story is quite conventional with few surprises, but the performances and period detail are impressive.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (TV 1973) John Newland (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
This is just one in a long line of good made-for-TV horror films that’s way better than it needs to be. Married couple Kim Darby and Jim Hutton move into an old mansion where weird things begin happening. A standard plot, but effectively done, definitely worth your time.
The Wings of Eagles (1957) John Ford (Warner DVD - borrowed from a friend)
John Ford’s tribute to aviator/screenwriter Frank “Spig” Wead (John Wayne) is heartfelt and at times moving, but too long.
Das Rheingold (2010) Gary Halvorson
Die Walküre (2011) Robert Lepage
Siegfried (2011) Gary Halvorson, Debbie Miller
Götterdämmerung (2012) Robert Lepage
I’ve always wanted to see Richard Wagner’s massive 16-hour opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, never thinking it would actually happen, but thanks to the free access to the Metropolitan Opera streaming channel, my wife and I watched it on four consecutive nights and were absolutely stunned at its grandeur. There are few things in the world like Wagner’s Ring cycle. If you get a chance to experience it, do so. (Probably not something you want to blind-buy, but the entire cycle is available on Blu-ray.)
American Splendor (2003) Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini (HBO DVD)
Clever biopic of underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar with a stellar performance by Paul Giamatti as Pekar and appearances by Pekar himself.
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) Preston Sturges (Kanopy)
Research for our third library virtual movie discussion this Friday.
Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (doc. 1990) Kenneth Bowser (extra on the Sullivan’s Travels Criterion Blu-ray)
More research. The advantage of this 1990 documentary for the PBS series American Masters is in showing people who worked with Sturges who were still alive at the time, including Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, and more.
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) Roman Polanski (Warner Archive Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
I absolutely loved this horror/comedy as a kid, and it’s still enjoyable.
Moonstruck (1987) Norman Jewison (Amazon Prime)
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list
Don’t ask me how, but I’m seeing this movie for the very first time. Charming, touching, and funny.
The Descent (2005) Neil Marshall (Amazon Prime) Rewatch, 2x
Although I was prepared for it, the claustrophobic element of this film still freaked me out in this second viewing. I did notice some inconsistencies, but still enjoyed it.
Dark Star (1974) John Carpenter (Criterion Channel)
I’m a John Carpenter fan, but this one didn’t do much for me. The elevator scene was fun (but too long), as was the philosophical discussion with the ship’s computer.
Chernobyl (HBO miniseries, 2019) Johan Renck (library DVDs)
It may seem odd to watch such a downer of a miniseries during these times, but if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It’s a compelling drama, but more than that, I can’t tell you how much it parallels our current situation. I’ll just end with that.
These are the movies and shows that helped (and in some cases, didn’t help!) me get through March 2020. Please share the movies and shows you enjoyed last month. Hang in there and be safe.
Photos: IMDb, DVD Beaver, Rosie Powell 2000’s Blog, Backlots, Met Opera Playbill, Goregirl’s Dungeon, Letterboxd, Chroniques du Cinephile Stakhanoviste: mars 2018, Metrograph, The Critical Critics, PBS, Dazed, The New Yorker