What I Watched in March 2021
My movie watching in March covers seven decades of film with just a handful of rewatches. I also continued my Alfred Hitchcock project, my Roger Ebert Great Movies journey, horror, westerns, film noir, and more. I hope you’ll find something of interest to watch here:
Insiang (1976) Lino Brocka (Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project, No. 2 box set, Criterion)
A young woman named Insiang, who lives with her hateful mother in an impoverished Philippine village, is raped by the mother’s boyfriend. When Insiang’s cries for help to her own boyfriend fail, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Insiang is a powerful revenge story with tremendous characterization, a great way to kick off this second volume of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. Clearly I will have to get all three of these volumes.
Colorado Territory (1949) Raoul Walsh (Warner Archive DVD)
Colorado Territory is Raoul Walsh’s remake of his own High Sierra (1941), this time with Joel McCrea and VIrginia Mayo in the parts originally played by Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Plus this one’s a western. McCrea plays Wes McQueen, who escapes a jail cell to meet his former partner-in-crime. Along the way, he gets involved with a woman (Dorothy Malone) he thinks might be worth giving up a life of crime for. Ah, but there’s this former dance hall girl (Virginia Mayo), and, well… Some prefer this film to High Sierra, but while I liked Colorado Territory, I’ll stick with Bogart and Lupino.
Queen of Diamonds (1991) Nina Menkes (Criterion Channel)
This tale of a Vegas blackjack dealer (Tinka Menkes) is an extremely slow burn (spoiler for the tree scene, which is a fast burn in comparison). The long, static shots of little or no movement are obviously meant to convey the drudgery of a prolonged Vegas existence, but for some, Queen of Diamonds will move much too slowly. Many compare this film to Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975) and Wanda (1970), but I found those films far more compelling than Queen of Diamonds. Yet something about Menkes’s film is pulling at me to revisit it.
Nothing Sacred (1937) William A. Wellman (Kanopy)
This color screwball comedy contains all the makings of an unforgettable classic, but fell short for me. Carole Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a young woman diagnosed with radium poisoning whose plight comes to the attention of newspaper reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March), who needs a big story. When Hazel discovers she’s been misdiagnosed, she decides to keep up the deception. Lombard is wonderful, but the chemistry between her and March isn’t quite there, and something about the rhythm of this film doesn’t click. Those hideous figures in the opening credits sure don’t help.
Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) Dean Parisot (Library DVD)
Dude, this is not most excellent. The best part of this movie is the appearance of Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted’s (Keanu Reeves) daughters, Thea (Samantha Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). I’d rather watch a movie about them. Maybe someone’s working on that.
Sergeant Rutledge (1960) John Ford (Criterion Channel)
Woody Strode appears in a rare starring role as Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, a black first sergeant in a black U.S. Calvary regiment. Rutledge, standing trial for the murder of a white man and the rape of his daughter (Constance Towers), is defended by Lieutenant Tom Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) in one of John Ford’s most underrated films. Sergeant Rutledge is part of the Criterion Channel’s 11-film Black Westerns showcase, so be sure to check out all of those films.
Nashville (1975) Robert Altman (Library DVD)
About 20 minutes into Nashville, I told myself, “I know where this is going, I see what Altman is doing, and while it’s handled expertly, do I really need nearly three hours of this?” The answer is yes. Many viewers (including me) have focused on only a few of the aspects of Altman’s filmmaking, primarily his overlapping of dialogue, turning it into a device. It is a device, but it’s so much more than that. Life rarely comes at you scripted, and Altman’s genius is presenting that reality-based experience as a way to develop character. Who cares if the actors are improvising or delivering carefully-scripted lines? These characters’ stories weave in and out seemingly without effort, yet each character has some type of agenda, which creates several overarching themes: politics, government, the search for love, stardom, freedom, escape, and how all of those elements can lead to disgruntlement and despair. Tremendous.
Written on the Wind (1956) Douglas Sirk (Library DVD)
I’m only lately beginning to appreciate the work of Douglas Sirk, so forgive me if I’m late to the party. Not a big fan of melodrama, I’ve mostly avoided his films, but Written on the Wind contains an entire warehouse of spectacular shots filled with shadows, color, telling looks and glances, raging emotion looking for escape through drunken faces, and more. Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) works as a geologist for the ultra-rich Hadley family, but mostly keeps the family patriarch’s son Kyle (Robert Stack) from self-destruction. Although Mitch is the first to meet a new Hadley employee named Lucy (Lauren Bacall), Kyle sweeps her off her feet and marries her, ruining Mitch’s chance to win her over. Dorothy Malone is fantastic as Kyle’s sister Marylee, the family tramp. Written on the Wind is so much more than a melodrama. I hope you’ll check it out for yourself. I also hope Criterion upgrades this title to Blu-ray, which would jump to the top of my “to buy” list.
Mail Order Bride (1964) Burt Kennedy (Warner Archive DVD-MOD)
Aging Will Lane (Buddy Ebsen) seeks to keep a promise he made to his dying friend, to find the man’s son and give him his inheritance, but with one stipulation: The son has to prove that he’s matured and given up his wild ways. Yet Lee Carey (Keir Dullea) has no intention of doing that, not while he can hang out with his wild friends, which includes a local no-good named Jace (Warren Oates). That’s okay; Lane has just the thing. He’ll order Lee a mail order bride (Lois Nettleton), unaware that she already has a small son (James Mathers, younger brother of Jerry Mathers from Leave It to Beaver). Mail Order Bride is mostly a routine western comedy, although it grows some teeth during its final act. The picture contains some nice small roles for BarBara Luna, Paul Fix, Denver Pyle, Kathleen Freeman, and one of my personal favorites, Marie Windsor.
The Manxman (1929) Alfred Hitchcock (Kino Lorber, Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection Blu-ray set)
Reviewed here as part of my Alfred Hitchcock project
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) Terence Fisher (Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray box set, Mill Creek)
Previously reviewed as part of my journey through the recent Mill Creek box set Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection)
The Caine Mutiny (1954) Edward Dmytryk (Sony Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Still an effective military drama, The Caine Mutiny (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Herman Wouk) stars Humphrey Bogart as Lieutenant Commander Queeg, in command of the USS Caine, a minesweeper whose crew could use some discipline, which he is only too glad to provide. Yet his officers (including Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, and Robert Francis) believe they have evidence of Queeg’s growing incompetence, leading to said mutiny. Bogart looks weary and tired (and perhaps he was, being diagnosed with esophageal cancer less than two years later), which adds to his excellent performance.
The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) Ken Hughes (Network UK Blu-ray
Anthony Newley plays Sammy Lee, an emcee/comedian at a small London strip club who spends 24 hours trying to repay a loan shark before the inevitable happens. Julia Foster plays a young woman who once met Sammy, was taken with him, and wants to work with him. A gripping crime/noir film from Great Britain that’s still potent. The film is part of The Strange World of Gurney Slade (UK) Blu-ray set from Network.
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Andrzej Wajda (Kanopy) Rewatch, 3x
Research for our Great Movies virtual discussion. The audience response was somewhat mixed. Some really enjoyed it, others not so much. I previously discussed this movie for the Noir City International (virtual) festival last year.
The Detective (1968) Gordon Douglas (Twilight Time Blu-ray)
Frank Sinatra plays a detective investigating the murder of a gay man, which for 1968, was somewhat controversial, but not as dated as you might think. A darker film than I expected with an excellent score by Jerry Goldsmith.
A Date with the Falcon (1942) Irving Reis (The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection, Volume 1, Warner Bros. DVD)
This delightful second entry in the Falcon series improves upon the initial film with fast laughs, wonderful timing, and plain old entertainment value.
So Evil My Love (1948) Lewis Allen (Kino Lorber Blu-ray review copy)
I’ll be reviewing this period noir in an upcoming issue of The Dark Pages.
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) Michael Curtiz (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
Several of my online friends were excited when I posted that I’d purchased this film as part of the recent Warner Archive sale, and now I know why. Lionel Atwill stars as Ivan Igor, a master sculptor who operates an impressive wax museum in 1921 London, yet his partner Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell) isn’t impressed, since all the Londoners are bypassing this museum in favor of another one across town featuring more lurid and macabre characters. After Worth torches the place for the insurance money, nothing - and no one - remains. But 12 years later Igor shows up in New York with a new, improved museum. And those figures certainly do look lifelike, don’t they? Mystery of the Wax Museum uses two-strip Technicolor (which may take some viewers awhile to adjust to), and co-stars Glenda Farrell as sassy newspaper reporter Florence Dempsey, a woman trying to save her job, and Fay Wray as her roommate. I can’t wait to explore the disc’s two commentaries by Michael Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode and UCLA preservationist Scott MacQueen.
The Law and Jake Wade (1958) John Sturges (Warner Archive Blu-ray)
This John Sturges western doesn’t go into a lot of depth, but it’s a solid tale of two criminals, one who’s gone straight and is now a town marshal (Robert Taylor), the other still an outlaw (Richard Widmark) forcing his former partner to turn over the money he stole from a previous job together. Beautiful cinematography by Robert Surtees, especially the scenes of California’s High Sierra mountains.
Bad Lieutenant (1992) Abel Ferrara (Amazon Prime)
A powerful, unsettling performance by Harvey Keitel makes Bad Lieutenant unforgettable. Definitely not one for the kids or the easily offended. I’m planning on a full review of this soon, so stay tuned.
Doc (1971) Frank Perry (Signal One UK Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x
Not only is Doc a retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, it’s a revisionist western that deserves a closer look. I’m giving it such a look right now, working on an essay that I hope to share with you soon. Doc stars Stacy Keach, Faye Dunaway, Harris Yulin, and a smaller role played by Denver John Collins, brother of singer Judy Collins.
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) Lewis Gilbert (Criterion Channel)
The always impressive Dirk Bogarde stars as Edward “Teddy” Bare, who kills his much-older wife Monica (Mona Washbourne) for her money, only to learn that she hadn’t updated her will in his favor. No problem, thinks Teddy, I’ll just try again with another rich widow. But feisty Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood) may be more than Teddy can handle. Cast a Dark Shadow is one of the better Brit noirs, yet rarely discussed. A new release (a double feature with the 1946 noir Wanted for Murder) from Cohen Media Group should help correct that.
The Suspect (1944) Robert Siodmak (Kino Lorber Blu-ray, review copy)
Another period noir, this time set in 1902 London, finds Charles Laughton suffering as henpecked husband Philip Marshall, who befriends a young woman (Ella Raines) looking for employment. When Marshall’s shrewish wife Cora (Rosalind Ivan) dies, everyone believes her death was accidental except for that pesky Scotland Yard inspector (Stanley Ridges). More on this one in an upcoming issue of The Dark Pages.
He Who Gets Slapped (1924) Victor Sjöström (Criterion Channel)
Perhaps my favorite film of the month, He Who Gets Slapped is a must-see for anyone, not just fans of silent cinema. Lon Chaney plays scientist Paul Beaumont, whose work is not only stolen by his patron Baron Regnard (Marc McDermott), but presented to the Academy of Sciences as Regnard’s sole work. When Paul protests, Regnard slaps him, causing laughter from the Academy and humiliation for Paul. Years later, Paul has reinvented himself as a circus clown whose trademark is getting slapped repeatedly during his act, which has become an audience favorite. Working with Paul, now billed as “HE who gets slapped,” is daredevil horseback rider Bezano (John Gilbert) and the beautiful Consuelo (Norma Shearer). Of course Bezano is in love with Consuelo, but so is HE. Complicating matters, Consuelo’s father (Tully Marshall) hopes to regain prominence by having his daughter marry someone wealthy, someone like… Baron Regnard.
He Who Gets Slapped is far more than a love story, although it certainly is that. It’s also an action picture, a thriller, and a drama, with elements of horror, surrealism, and tragedy. I try to watch any Lon Chaney film that comes along, but this is one of the best.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season Four (1958-1959) (Universal DVD)
Perhaps the strongest season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season Four features many strong episodes including “Poison,” “The Crooked Road,” and my personal favorite (pictured above), “Banquo’s Chair.”
The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) Michael Carreras (Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray box set, Mill Creek)
Here it is again in case you missed it in the 20 or so mummy movies that came before this one: Don’t mess around with the tombs of Egyptian royalty. Bad things happen. In 1900, three Egyptologists discover the mummy of Ra-Antef, son of Ramesses VIII. The financial backer of the project (Fred Clark, one of my favorite character actors) wants to forego the museum route in favor of the big money: displaying the mummy on a roadshow tour. Shenanigans ensue, as well as a love interest between Annette (Jeanne Roland), the daughter of an Egyptologist, and a wealthy patron of the arts (Terence Morgan) interested in both Egyptology and Annette. There’s really nothing new here, but at least Hammer has made a pretty good attempt at art direction.
That was my month of movies. Please tell me about yours!