The Sniper (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1952). Arthur Franz as Edward “Eddie” Miller, who kills dark-haired women with a long-range rifle. Part psychological thriller, part police procedural, part policy debate. With Richard Kiley as Dr. James G. Kent, a progressive psychiatrist whose solution to the problem of sex crimes is to lock up offenders indefinitely.
Jeopardy (dir. John Sturges, 1953). Barbara Stanwyck plays Helen Stilwin, a wife and mother whose husband Doug (Barry Sullivan) is caught under a jetty’s broken piling — as the tide rises. The only hope of rescue lies with Lawson, an escaped convict (a Brando-like Ralph Meeker). What will Helen have to do to persuade him to help? Lurid and terrifying.
To Please a Lady (dir. Clarence Brown, 1950). Midget racers! And many scenes of racing and stunt driving, which must have felt novel and exciting — to someone. Zero chemistry between brash racer Mike Brannan (Clark Gable) and tough syndicated columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck). Their dialogue needs help:
“We’ll win it next year, baby.”On a DVD with Jeopardy , which is the only reason to watch.
“Or the year after.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (dir. John Hughes, 1986). Required viewing for anyone who doubts Julius Lester’s contention that the white American male idea of freedom is freedom from — freedom from restraint and responsibility. Hilarious, to be sure, and the battle between Bueller (Matthew Broderick) and Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is a Chicagoland version of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Bueller is charming, clever, and fiendishly indifferent to other people — a perfect psychopath. This film was a crucial one for so many of my students. I’m glad I never watched when I was teaching.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1946). You can go home again, but if you do, it’ll be messy, in more ways than one. How did they ever get the ending past the censors? With Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, and Lizabeth Scott. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers has fallen into the public domain, which makes it reliable fodder for low-budget television programming.
Good Ol’ Freda (dir. Ryan White, 2013). The title comes from the Beatles’ 1963 Christmas record: “Good ol’ Freda!” the lads shout. As Brian Epstein’s secretary, Freda Kelly ran the Beatles’ fan club. Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats: “Giving a job like that, to what became the biggest band in the world, to a girl of seventeen, that was an unbelievable thing to do — and she never let them down.” Freda Kelly: “I’m still a Beatle fan.” As the film makes clear, Kelly was and is a deeply private person. Thus there’s not much here in the way of inside stories. George was the best Beatle when it came to signing things for fans — that’s about as deep as we get. Did Freda have an affair with one of the four? She’s not saying.
You can see Freda in the big group photograph at the back of the Magical Mystery Tour booklet: she’s on the far left, the third person from the top, someone’s pointing finger just below her face.
The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (dir. Les Blank, 1968). The world of a Texas bluesman. Like every Les Blank film I’ve seen, it’s devoid of voiceovers, devoid of plot. Just watch and listen, as the film moves from place to place. The opening sequence, with Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Billy Bizor, is worth the price of admission, or would have been if I hadn’t borrowed Criterion’s Les Blank collection from the library.
God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (dir. Les Blank, 1968). Silent footage of a 1967 love-in at Elysian Park, Los Angeles, with a musical soundtrack added later. Did people really look like this? And was it really fifty years back ? No, only forty-nine years back.
Spend It All (dir. Les Blank, 1971). Cajun culture, with music by Nathan Abshire, the Balfa Brothers, and Marc Savoy. Music here, as elsewhere in Blank’s films, is not a matter of performers and their audiences but a form of life — something people do, like eating and drinking. This film might be your only chance to see self-dentistry, with pliers.
A Well Spent Life (dir. Les Blank, 1971). A portrait of Mance Lipscomb, a Texas singer and guitarist with a distinctive fingerpicking style (an insistent 4/4 bass) and the eclectic repertoire (blues, rags, pop ditties) of a so-called songster. Music, food, and philosophizing about love and marriage. One favorite moment: the filmmaker’s conversation with Elnora Lipscomb, Mance’s wife, who sits away from the table while eating:
“Could you tell us why you don’t eat at the table with Mance?”She does goes on to explain. Another favorite moment: the freight train that rolls by and blows its horn after a baptism. Sheer serendipity.
“It’s just a habit I’ve got.”
“How long have you had it?”
“About fifty years.”
The Man in the White Suit (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1951). A chemist invents a miracle fabric. Complications ensue. Ealing Studios, Alec Guinness: I had every reason to like this film, but it felt rather dreary. I did notice that Michael Gough appears to have been separated at birth from Benedict Cumberbatch.
All or Nothing (dir. Mike Leigh, 2002). Three working-class British families facing daily difficulties and larger crises. A favorite moment: Ruth Sheen’s character taking her turn at karaoke. A viewer who suspects she’s being set up to fail will be caught short: she does a fine job. And her willingness to stop mid-song shows what a good friend she is. There are no ordinary people here.
My affection for this film and other Leigh films makes me feel unhappy about not liking Mr. Turner . (Timothy Spall, who plays J. M. W. Turner, is terrific here as a despairing cabdriver.) If Netflix can ever solve its Availability Unknown problems, our household will soon have seen every full-length Mike Leigh film.
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
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