The Last Best Year (1990)

When Jane, a career woman and quiet loner (Bernadette Peters), discovers she has a terminal illness, she has no one to turn to. Her doctor recommends psychologist and friend Wendy Haller (Mary Tyler Moore) to help her come to terms with her diagnosis, and in doing so, helps her open up to others. Soon she has a small but solid group of friends and relatives there with her as she fights against cancer. The Last Best Year originally aired on ABC in November of 1990, just at the beginning of the golden era of made-for-TV movies, and was well-received by critics on its release. That said, Ken Tucker’s review makes a good point: it’s fantasy to the point of improbability, and for most people faced with terminal illness, they don’t get pat resolutions or unlimited financial and emotional support. Have you ever wondered what happens to the other patients of the doctors in these films? Wendy spends so much time with Jane that I can’t imagine she has time for anyone else.   It’s how we would want to deal with terminal illness if we had the choice, and somehow Jane has that choice, though there is never any explanation why. In real life, how do you even explain something like that? You don’t. In cinema, however, there is always some kind of explanation, usually that the person in question is deserving of a reprieve from death or, at the least, a good death. The Last Best Year is somewhat … Continue reading

The Klansman (1974)

The Klansman is trash. It just is, and there’s no way around that. But now it’s uncensored, restored trash, and a must for 1970s exploitation aficionados. Continue reading

Macbeth (1948)

It’s difficult, even for a very forgiving fan like me, to not wonder if much of the now-celebrated innovations of Orson Welles’ later-career output weren’t just the manifestation of restlessness and hostility. Macbeth (1948), Welles’ adaptation of the Scottish play, was not the first film of his finished by someone else, but it would be the first of many of his films to be released in multiple versions. Audiences, critics and studios alike found his work confusing, indulgent and wildly out of sync with the times. It’s a more or less straightforward adaptation as far as plot and character motivation goes, but visually and conceptually, Welles’ Macbeth was probably one of the oddest films anyone of the time had ever seen. As Macbeth (Welles), a celebrated Scottish soldier in the 11th century, and his general Banquo (Edgar Barrier) are riding home, they stumble across three gruesome witches, all praising a clay effigy of Macbeth and promising he is to become King of Scotland. Though Macbeth is unsure of his destiny, Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan) is not, and urges her husband to kill King Duncan (Erskine Sanford) and essentially chase off his son Malcolm (Roddy McDowell) so he can claim the throne for himself. Once the deeds are done, more killings are required, the paranoia, guilt, madness and death are the result. Macbeth is an uneven film, surely intentionally, but its schizophrenic nature doesn’t always work. Welles is a fine if workmanlike Macbeth, while Jeanette Nolan is revelatory as the over-heated … Continue reading

Gas-s-s-s (1970)

Gas-s-s-s investigates the hippie generation’s fear of aging and responsibilities as the 1970s begin, as they got older and life started to seem less in their control. All of the “youths” of the film look 25 or older; they’re definitely old enough to know better… and to be worrying about whether the gas would still be around on their 25th birthdays, if we’re taking the plot literally, which we probably shouldn’t. Yet amidst the Edgar Allan Poe parodies and doofy football players is a very real sense of people hoping for one last fling before they have to cut their hair and turn into yuppies, as God and Greyhound intended. Continue reading

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Discussions of Johnny Guitar are plagued by the constant question of why Ray and Crawford would make such a Western. The answer is simple: Why not? Continue reading

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969)

Underneath that stereotypical late-60s conservative backlash veneer are some really interesting points being made, points that director Mel Stuart sadly seems to have not noticed. Continue reading

The King and Four Queens (1956)

Filmed in the beautiful St. George, Utah area and with cinematography by Lucien Ballard, The King and Four Queens is light on plot but full of gorgeous scenery. Continue reading

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947)

Based on the Guy de Maupassant novel Bel Ami published in 1885, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami is the story of an unmitigated cad and his insatiable quest for money and power and women. Curiously, the film is serene, tasteful, sometimes even bland, surely in the service of the Production Code which was still in effect at the time. Continue reading

Try and Get Me! (The Sound of Fury, 1950)

Jerry is less offering a job to Howard than he is seducing him, and in a very pragmatic, do-you-want-it-or-don’t-ya manner suggestive of a hook-up rather than a romance. It’s all metaphorical, of course, but everything about their interactions, from Jerry’s constant preening to Howard’s habit of talking with his mouth full, cranks the usual film noir homoeroticism up to 11. Continue reading

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße, 1973)

Originally released as an episode of the long-running German television show “Tatort,” Samuel Fuller’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973) is a surreal parody of the crime caper, with plenty of sarcastic humor and references to beloved films noir to make it enjoyable. Continue reading