Monday, November 5, 2018

Twelve movies

[As “Slip” Mahoney might say, “Routine Twelve!” Four sentences each. One to four stars. No spoilers.]

In a Lonely Place (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1950). Ostensibly a murder mystery, at least sort of. But it’s really a character study, because the question of whodunit is supremely unimportant. Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele, a screenwriter given to sudden violence, and Gloria Grahame as Laurel Gray, the woman next door, drawn to and then terrified of her neighbor. This film is Grahame’s finest hour: a cool, understated performance in which a single glance or hesitation speaks volumes. ★★★★

*

Odds Against Tomorrow (dir. Robert Wise, 1959). An ex-cop (Ed Begley), an ex-con (Robert Ryan), and a compulsive gambler (Harry Belafonte) team up for a bank robbery that will leave each man set for life, but their perfect plan runs into unforeseen complications. With great location shots from New York City and upstate New York. What makes the story especially unusual is the element of racism complicating the work of the criminal trio — though it’s treated with some heavy-handed symbolism. Also with Gloria Grahame and Shelley Winters. ★★★★

*

Winter Soldier (prod. Winterfilm Collection, 1972). A documentary presenting testimony, interviews, and informal conversations from the Winter Soldier Investigation, a 1971 gathering in Detroit, Michigan, at which Vietnam veterans described war crimes that they had committed or witnessed. For the purpose of this post I’ll leave it at that: war crimes. It's a journey into a true heart of darkness. There’s no healing (that I can see) in the sharing of these stories, only an effort to awaken a sleeping public, an effort by men who seem belatedly awakened to the reality of their own experience. ★★★★

*

Patterns (dir. Fielder Cook, 1956). Life among executives, and great performances all around: Everett Sloane as a merciless second-generation boss, Ed Begley as a kindly old hand, Van Heflin as the new man who learns to his dismay that he is to replace the old hand. Will Heflin’s character play along? Screenplay by Rod Serling, adapted from his 1955 teleplay. This film would pair well with Executive Suite (dir. Robert Wise, 1954), right down to the tolling bells. ★★★★

*

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (dir. Fritz Lang, 1933). A vast criminal enterprise led by — by whom, or what? I’m not sure what to call Dr. Mabuse. The baffling beginning, quick cuts, and startling images make for an ultra-modern film. Mabuse’s criminal schemes, focused on sheer destruction and terror, also make for an ultra-modern film. ★★★★

*

The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Tay Garnett, 1946). John Garfield and Ida Lupino star as doomed lovers, smoldering and scheming in a roadside café. My favorite scene is the one I’d call the most disturbing: the jukebox, the dancers, the happy man with the guitar. There should be a name for this kind of film, the kind that turns off in a new direction midway. See, for instance, Vertigo. ★★★★

*

Portrait of Jennie (dir. William Dieterle, 1948). Finally available at Netflix. Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones in a mystical romance of artist and subject, one living, one dead. I think the third star of this film is its cinematographer, Joseph H. August, who gives us beautiful dark interiors and a luminous Central Park. Portrait of Jennie would pair well with Miracle in the Rain (dir. Rudolph Maté, 1956). ★★★★

*

Follow Me Quietly (dir. Richard O. Fleischer, 1949). William Lundigan as a police detective searching for a serial killer who calls himself the Judge, Dorothy Patrick as a true-crime writer pursuing the story and its detective. The title must mean that she’s supposed to follow behind, neither heard nor seen. Or is it that they both must follow the Judge quietly? Some good atmosphere (bookstores, diner) and some deeply creepy creepiness (missives from the Judge, and, especially, that faceless dummy). ★★★

*

Loyalty cards

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (dir. Charles Lamont, 1955). “How stupid can you get?” “How stupid do you want me to be?” It’s Halloween season, and this movie was on TCM: that’s my explanation — that, and loyalty born of hours watching reruns of The Abbott and Costello Show in early youth (thank you, WPIX). Richard Deacon, Dan Seymour, and Marie Windsor are here, everyone making a living. ★★

Ghost Chasers (dir. William Beaudine, 1951). The Bowery Boys expose a séance racket. My friend Chris Sippel and I were Bowery Boys fanatics in middle school (or was it called junior high?), so I watched Ghost Chasers out of loyalty to the past. Doing so let me better appreciate the considerable comedic gifts of Huntz Hall (as Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones) and wonder what people ever saw in Leo Gorcey, whose Terence Aloysius “Slip” Mahoney is an insufferable mess of unfunny Dunning-Kruger self-confidence. With Lloyd Corrigan as a friendly ghost. ★★

*

Island of Lost Souls (dir. Eric C. Kenton, 1932). Charles Laughton has a ball as the evil Dr. Moreau, a whip-cracking, vivisecting experimenter who rules over an island full of his animal-human creations. It’s Heart of Darkness meets Freaks. With Richard Arlen (Wings) and a startling turn by Bela Lugosi. Watch and you too will be able to say, “Oh, so that’s where ‘Are we not men?’ comes from.” ★★★★

*

I,Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie, 2017). Margot Robbie gives a great performance as Tonya Harding. The politics of class, the politics of gender, and the presentation of the self in figure-skating life, all in a highly inventive bio-pic. “America, you know? They want someone to love, but they want someone to hate.” ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Chris said...

We watched Island of Lost Souls for the first time when it was on TCM recently. It was much better than we expected. I kept looking for Lugosi and didn't recognize him until the film was almost over. The Freaks comparison is apt.

Michael Leddy said...

Same here. I kept wondering when he was going to show up.