What I Watched in May 2020, Part 1



Things are starting to pick up around here. We’re preparing for a return to the library soon, which means a good bit of training on new procedures and policies for opening, all of which takes up time. Plus I’m still preparing for our weekly online movie discussions as well as leading a book club. Although it’s not represented here (not yet, anyway), I’m watching more TV shows. So the numbers are a bit low for the first half of May, yet I still hope you’ll find something to check out.


I always mention how I saw these movies, but I’m also going to give you some streaming options if available. (Double check, however. Streaming services, availability, and prices often change.) So here we go with what I watched during the first half of May, 2020:




Guilty Bystander (1950) Joseph Lerner (byNWR.com)

Zachary Scott plays Max Thursday, an ex-cop who’s constantly drunk in what has to be one of the shabbiest apartments in all of film noir. When his ex-wife Georgia (Faye Emerson) wakes Max out of his drunken stupor with the news that their son is missing, he goes into action, or tries to. Guilty Bystander is filled with wonderful low-life characters and a mixture of scenes that are absolutely dynamite and others that seem more like a first rehearsal. Do check this one out, recently restored and playing (for free) on Nicolas Winding Refn’s website.



The Whistlers (2019) Corneliu Porumboiu (AFI Silver Virtual Screening Room)

The Whistlers has a great premise: How can criminals carry off a heist and communicate across large distances without the use of electronics? By learning a whistling language (an actual language used by people from the Canary Islands, where parts of the movie were filmed). Filled with twists, multiple flashbacks, and lots of subtitles, The Whistlers requires some work, but it’s certainly worth the effort. One critic stated that The Whistlers is the film the Coen brothers would’ve made if they were Romanian.



Pool of London (1951) Basil Dearden (Kanopy)

Basil Dearden films are always worth your time and Pool of London is no exception. Dan (Bonar Colleano) is a merchant sailor who’s used to smuggling black market items, but Dan and his friend Johnny (Earl Cameron) find themselves in trouble with a gang of jewel thieves. The plot may sound routine, but Dearden is never content to give you a typical drama. There’s much more going on.



The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) Nicolas Gessner (borrowed from a friend)

13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) lives in a New England cottage with her father, a fairly well-known poet who’s either locked in his study working or out of town, leaving Rynn alone. Rynn catches the eye of a local creep (Martin Sheen) whose mother (Alexis Smith) rents the property Rynn and her father live in. This is a very dark horror tale with an absolutely stunning performance by Foster.



Passion Fish (1992) John Sayles (Kanopy; also available on Amazon Prime) Rewatch, 3x

Research for our online library movie discussion

I love this movie more each time I see it. Mary McDonnell plays a former soap opera star confined to a wheelchair after an accident. Alfre Woodard plays her caregiver. It sounds like a Lifetime movie, but Sayles is not about to engage in cliche or sentimentality, no way.



Edge of Eternity (1959) Don Siegel (Twilight Time Blu-ray) Rewatch, 2x

I don’t think I gave this one a fair chance when I watched it on TV in the ‘90s. Don Siegel’s murder mystery takes us in and around the Grand Canyon with some wonderful shots that help cover up some of the more routine aspects of the story. Nice CinemaScope work by veteran cinematographer Burnett Guffey.



The Public Enemy (1931) William A. Wellman (Warner Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-ray box set; also on TCM Watch, Fubo TV, others)

Research for an upcoming podcast



The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Billy Wilder (Kino Lorber Blu-ray; also on Hoopla, others)

Maybe I’ve just been spoiled from watching so many of the Jeremy Brett episodes from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that I found this film so…ordinary. And from Billy Wilder! Yet Kim Newman called this the best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. This film was also the inspiration for the hit BBC show Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, so perhaps I’m missing something. I’ll definitely go back and watch this and the deleted scenes (almost an hour’s worth).



The Limits of Control (2009) Jim Jarmusch (Arrow Blu-ray; other platforms)

Briefly discussed here



Transit (2018) Christian Petzold (Amazon Prime; also Kanopy and others)

Briefly discussed here



Bedazzled (1967) Stanley Donen (Twilight Time Blu-ray; also on Flix Fling)

Dudley Moore stars as a short-order cook who asks the devil (Peter Cook) to grant him seven wishes in order to make a waitress named Margaret (Eleanor Bron) fall in love with him. I need to give this one another chance, since I unfairly watched it after two challenging movies and didn’t fully appreciate some of the gags. I’ll definitely revisit this one.



Nebraska (2013) Alexander Payne (Kanopy, Crackle, others) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our online library movie discussion

Bruce Dern stars as Woody, an old curmudgeon who thinks a million-dollar sweepstakes prize is legitimate. So much depth in this movie, perhaps Payne’s best.



Warlock (1959) Edward Dmytryk (Twilight Time Blu-ray; also Flix Fling, Starz on Amazon, others)

I love westerns (or any film) whose ideas are as big as the landscape they occupy, and that’s certainly true of Warlock, which has much in common with Wichita (1955), a film I reviewed last month. Henry Fonda stars as Clay Blaisedell, a “marshal-for-hire” who plans to clean up the town of Warlock. Blaisedell warns the town leaders that they’ll appreciate the peace and quiet for awhile, but eventually they’ll turn on him. It’s happened before. This is a rich, complex western with multiple layers, a film you can watch every year and still learn something new from it. Co-stars Richard Widmark, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, and one of my favorites, DeForest Kelley, Whit Bissell, who (spoiler) amazingly doesn’t get killed in this one.



The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (1942) Henri-Georges Clouzot (Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, UK; also the Criterion Channel)

Part comedy, part thriller (with a few noir element thrown in), The Murderer Lives at Number 21 follows the frustrations of residents of the Montmartre district of Paris as they watch a serial killer strike with unnerving frequency. He even leaves a calling card with each new corpse, announcing that "Monsieur Durand" has struck again. Discovering that the murderer lives in a boarding house at No. 21 Avenue Junot, Inspector Wens (Pierre Fresnay) moves into residence disguised as a minister.



The Long Good Friday (1980) John Mackenzie (Arrow Blu-ray, UK; also the Criterion Channel)

One of the all-time great British gangster pictures stars Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand, a London gangster trying to form a legit business with American partners who have mob connections. In just one day (the Good Friday of the title), Shand’s world comes crashing down around him, only he has no idea who’s responsible for the mayhem. Although he was already well known on BBC television by this time, The Long Good Friday launched Hoskins’s film career.



Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa (Criterion Blu-ray; also Kanopy, the Criterion Channel, other platforms) Rewatch, 2x

Research for our online library movie discussion



The Hanging Tree (1959) Delmer Daves (Warner Archive Blu-ray; also the Criterion Channel, others)

I absolutely love the cinematic beauty of a Delmer Daves western, yet I wonder how much of that beauty contributes to - or detracts from - the underlying darkness of the stories and characters in his films. The Hanging Tree will certainly demand further viewings, and not just for a closer examination of its themes. It’s also a gorgeous film. Gary Cooper plays Joseph Frail, a doctor with a past who rescues a young man (Ben Piazza) from a lynch mob. For his efforts, Doc Frail demands the boy work for him. As everyone in mining town is focused on their claims, Frail works on restoring the sight of a woman (Maria Schell) involved in a stagecoach accident. All of this converges in an ending that somehow doesn’t quite feel right. Again, I need to revisit this one soon. George C. Scott’s film debut.



The Night My Number Came Up (1955) Leslie Norman (Kanopy)

At at Hong Kong dinner party, Royal Air Force Air Marshal Hardie (Michael Redgrave) hears a navy commander relating a dream he just had of an airplane crash near Toyko. Even though Hardie is scheduled to fly to Tokyo the next morning, he isn’t worried; the details are all different from those of the dream. Until they start becoming more and more like the dream. The Night My Number Came Up is a compelling supernatural suspense tale which will have a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber in just a few days on May 19, 2020. And yes, that's a young Denholm Elliott (Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies) on the left.



That’s it for now. Please share what you saw during the first half of May. Be safe, stay well, watch movies.


Photos: IMDb, Cinebeats, Talkhouse, DVD Talk, Pre-Code.com, Cinematic Randomness, Detroit Institute of Arts Museum


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