Love in the Afternoon (1957)

Love in the Afternoon is a lesser Billy Wilder film, certainly, but its high points make up for its lulls. Chevalier is fantastic as Claude Chavasse, and in his scenes with Cooper or Hepburn, he elevates their performances noticeably. McGiver is astonishingly good as M. X, and Lisa Bourdin as his wife isn’t given much to do but just exudes charisma. The film is gorgeous to look at and a whole lot of light, fun entertainment. Continue reading

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Even if Holliday wasn’t sure about Martin’s work ethic, it’s undeniable that they made an adorable couple on screen. Martin is pitch perfect as the playboy on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the kind of guy who knows every famous person on stage and screen and yet manages to be the kind of wide-eyed naïf who believes in fairy tales and guardian angels. And Judy Holliday is, well Judy Holliday. She’s amazing. Continue reading

Wait Until Dark (1967)

For those of you who haven’t seen Wait Until Dark before, you are in for a treat, especially from the film’s famous finale, which some reviewers have noted would not work on today’s experienced audiences. I disagree. I said it years ago in a little mini review and I’ll say it again: even if you’ve seen the film before, the finale could very likely give you an infarction! Happens to me every time. Wait Until Dark is a great film, one of the best psychological thrillers to come out of this era. Continue reading

Battleground (1949)

This print may be gorgeous, but Battleground is grimy. This is a film that is down in the dirt and the snow, eye-level with the foxholes (and, presumably, latrines) as they’re being dug. Everyone is caked in dirt and lord knows what else — in Kinnie’s (James Whitmore’s) case, it’s post-chewed tobacco and saliva. They’re underfed, under-informed, used and abused and forced to wear boots that don’t fit while marching about a thousand miles a day. This may sound strange to say to the uninitiated, but it’s the filth that makes Battleground so great. Continue reading

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day is mostly known as being an allegory for McCarthyism as well as a statement against the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, but it’s also a taut thriller based on good old-fashioned persecution fantasy, especially considering the quiet, amiable Macreedy is such a cipher that the bad guys can’t dig up even one detail on him that he doesn’t tell them himself. It’s also one of the quintessential examples of the overlap between film noir and western genres that produced such great films in the 1950s; listen to the “patriotic drunk” speech and tell me that couldn’t be picked up and plonked right down into a late-40s black and white noir starring Robert Mitchum. Continue reading

Loophole (1981)

Loophole has tension and suspense, but its best moments are subtle ones: wide-eyed silence over a polite afternoon tea, a banker spending the very money he is lending, the ancient love letters floating in sewage after robbers threw these worthless items away. Continue reading

The Internecine Project (1974)

This political thriller wears the mask of a cozy murder mystery, the sunny days and party lights and comfortable wool blend sweaters distracting from the high body count. Internecine is the rare film that can justify its light content, withholding explanations because it trusts the audience to be smart, to not need any hand-holding to understand the plot. The Internecine Project is a quiet little film that is long overdue for a reassessment. 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

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) is a successful commercial artist in love with the high-powered (and very married) attorney Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews), the kind of smooth operator that charms everyone but his beleaguered wife (Ruth Warrick). At an uncertain point in their affair, Daisy meets the sensitive war veteran Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda), a widower who may be unstable but is also very kind. In an attempt to get away from her toxic relationship with Dan, Daisy marries Peter and they try to build a life together. Complications ensue — would there be a movie if they didn’t? Director Otto Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon (1947) treats its titular character in a comparatively realistic, morally way, especially in its portrayal of a love triangle that goes completely and unsurprisingly wrong. It’s fascinating to see so many critics and fans, both now and then, consider Dan to be the quintessential “great guy,” someone gregarious and successful and handsome and everything a woman could want. To me, Dan has always come across as a parody of the cinematic perfect man, a mash-up of an old pre-Code ruthless businessman with the current (for 1947) hard-boiled private dick. He shows his contempt for people by constantly calling them “honey bunch” or, for variety, “sugar plum,” which has lead many to consider Dan a hard-boiled character and the film, by extension, a film noir, but I don’t think it is, not strictly anyway. Dan may fight for the rights of the disenfranchised, but he can’t be arsed … 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