Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Another dozen movies

[And no spoilers.]

The Bigamist (dir. Ida Lupino, 1953). D.O.A. (dir. Rudolph Maté, 1950) fixed my sense of Edmond O’Brien on the screen: sweaty, hapless, despairing, doomed. In this film we find his character Harry Graham married to two women. (He’s a traveling salesman.) Trouble develops when Harry and first wife Eve (Joan Fontaine) decide to adopt a child. What will happen when adoption agent Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn) finds out about Phyllis Martin (Ida Lupino)? Cue sweaty , hapless , despairing , and, maybe, doomed . The Bigamist is said to be the first film in which a woman directed herself.


The Big Short (dir. Adam McKay, 2015). The collapse of our economy as a tragicomedy. I’ll quote from an earlier post about the film: “an inventive approach to telling a Strangelovian story.” It was the end of the world as we knew it, and they — those bastards — felt fine.


Carol (dir. Todd Haynes, 2015). Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet, in a story of attraction at first sight. I thought of Brief Encounter (dir. David Lean, 1945), another story of two people in a relationship for which there are no guidelines. And I thought of the words Tony Asher wrote for Brian Wilson: Wouldn’t it be nice to live together, in the kind of the world where we belong? Carol and Therese, unlike the Brits, take to the road. Optional essay question: What might it mean that the film is named for only one of its two leads?


Ride the Pink Horse (dir. Robert Montgomery, 1947). Lucky Gagin (Montgomery), post-WWII, travels to New Mexico to avenge a comrade’s death. The real stars here are the supporting players: Fred Clark, Thomas Gomez, Wanda Hendrix, Art Smith. Anyone who’s seen Touch of Evil (dir. Orson Welles, 1958) will recognize the atmosphere. But Ride the Pink Horse moves very slowly.


The Lady Killers (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955). Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) — or should that be “Professor” Marcus? — and associates plot to rob an armored car. My mom spoke up strongly for Katie Johnson’s performance as Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce, an archetypal little old lady. And yes, it’s a wonderful performance. And so are the musical “performances” (via phonograph) wonderful. But I still prefer The Lavender Hill Mob (dir. Charles Crichton, 1951). Sorry, Mom.


Don’t Look Now (dir. Nicolas Roeg, 1973). Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, in Venice, as a couple who have lost a child. The poet Kenneth Koch said somewhere that Venice is the most beautiful city in the world. Here it’s a damp, grey city of the dead, in which the plainest everyday moment feels ominous. Great atmosphere, many genuine shocks. There’s also a sex scene with Christie and Sutherland, controversial then, a little hilarious now.


Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (dir. Alex Gibney, 2015). It begins reverently, with scenes of people lighting candles and weeping in front of Apple stores in the aftermath of Jobs’s death. And it then turns negative. Jobs treated Steve Wozniak badly. He treated the mother of his oldest child badly. He treated that child badly. He treated many other people badly, some of whom appear on screen (along with Apple veterans who speak of Jobs with tearful affection). And it’s all true. But so much is missing: Jobs’s carpentering father, calligraphy at Reed College, Xerox PARC, and, most of all, the Mac: what made it different from the PC, its reception and influence in the tech world. This documentary is more a tearing down of a public figure than an exploration of his work. (Note: Jobs for me is no hero. I read his life as a cautionary tale.)


Larceny, Inc. (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1942). Edward G. Robinson as “Pressure” Maxwell, a hoodlum who takes over a luggage shop so that he can tunnel into the bank next door. Broad slapstick (watch Robinson wrap a suitcase), snappy one-liners. Anthony Quinn has a turn as a George Raft wannabe (at least I think that’s how we’re supposed to see him). If you know Jane Wyman from Johnny Belinda (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1948), you will be surprised by her ultra-glamorous appearance here as Maxwell’s adopted daughter. Jackie Gleason steals a scene as a soda jerk. My mind boggles at distances and how quickly they shorten: S. J. Perelman, one this film’s writers, was a friend of our friend Margie King Barab.


A Master Builder (dir. Jonathan Demme, 2014). Wallace Shawn’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen. Foundation damage and sexual rivalries in the house of a great architect. With André Gregory, Julie Hagerty (Airplane ), and Lisa Joyce. I’m baffled that this adaptation was the stuff of fourteen years of rehearsals and private performances, some of that can be seen in the tedious documentary André Gregory: Before and After Dinner (dir. Cindy Kleine, 2013). I have come, alas, to realize that my affection for “André” and “Wally” may always be limited to My Dinner with André (dir. Louis Malle, 1981). I found nothing to care about here.


The Spirit of St. Louis (dir. Billy Wilder, 1957). Jimmy Stewart’s Charles Lindbergh is mostly Jimmy Stewart, which means that Lindbergh remains a cipher: all we really know of him is his impulse to fly. When he shouts to Irish farmers from his plane, I hear the voice of George Bailey: “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan.” The best elements in this film: the design and construction of an airplane and the preparations for flight. I think of this film as a long, digressive instructional video: The Spirit of St. Louis; or, How to Cross the Atlantic Ocean by Plane .


The Apartment (dir. Billy Wilder, 1960). I wanted to see another Wilder after The Spirit of St. Louis, and I was struck more than ever by the cynical carnality of the executives who exploit the men (Jack Lemmon’s C. C. Baxter) and women (Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik) beneath them. (I’m aware of the pun in “beneath them.”) I love the odd intimacy that develops when Miss Kubelik ends up in Mr. Baxter’s apartment: she’s sleeping in his bed, and he doesn’t know her first name. The best moments: the office party and the broken mirror, Dr. Dreyfuss’s (Jack Kruschen) “Walk, Fran” and his advice to be a mensch, Mr. Baxter’s account of attempting suicide, Miss Kubelik’s closing line. The screenplay does the film one better, adding a line: “And that’s about it. Story-wise.”


The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973). It’s been called the Citizen Kane of horror movies, praise that baffles me. An upright, uptight police sergeant (Edward Woodward) travels to an island in the Hebrides to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. A spectacular ending, but there’s little here to horrify and much that’s campy or silly. The procession of singing and swaying islanders made me think of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967). If The Wicker Man isn’t the Citizen Kane of horror, what might be? I’d vote for The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980), though when it comes to horror, I am a low-information voter.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Twelve more movies : Thirteen more : Fourteen more : Another thirteen more

comments: 6

J D Lowe said...

I wonder if Jimmy Stewart had a thing for Spirit of St. Louis style movies? Have a look at his No Highway in the Sky. Maybe there are others.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes. Don’t forget, he was a pilot and flew combat missions in WWII.

Fresca said...

I so enjoy your movie reviews, and as always, they always inspire me to do a few write-ups myself (I'm always behind--you remind me, though, that short can be sweet.)

A couple comments:

1. "Shawn’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen. With..."Julie Hagerty (Airplane )"
I laughed at the incongruity.

2. "The Wicker Man" scarred (and scared) me forever! But maybe you have to be a young adult, like I was, to find that ending memorably terrifyingly cruel.

3. I'm with you re "The Lavender Hill Mob."

But yeah, I totally vote for "The Shining" as a better film (talk about unfair comparisons though).
It's coming to a theater this summer--I'm going to screw up my courage to watch it on a big screen again. Who knew a Big Wheel going down a hall could inspire such dread.

Have you seen "The Shining" trailer remixed as a comedy?
I LOVE it--such a teachable tribute to editing:

But I steer away from horror movies--they bother me too much. I even got "Don't Look Now" out of the library, but after watching the trailer, I couldn't bring myself to watch any more!

Michael Leddy said...

Julie Hagerty: I I kept thinking, Where do I know her from?

I did call the ending of The Wicker Man spectacular. But overall, not, for me, a scary film.

I love the remix of The Shining . Brilliant!

Chris said...

Look up Radiohead's new video "Burn the Witch" for a clever Wicker Man adaptation.

Michael Leddy said...

The thrill of recognition! I especially like the little animated fires.