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Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 3 (#21 - 30)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #21 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

30. The Conformist (1970)

30. The Conformist (1970)

29. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

29. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

28. Gilda (1946)

28. Gilda (1946)

27. The Godfather (1972)

27. The Godfather (1972)

26. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

26. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

25. The Graduate (1967)

25. The Graduate (1967)

24. White Heat (1949)

24. White Heat (1949)

23. The Exorcist (1973)

23. The Exorcist (1973)

22. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

22. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

21. Manhattan (1979)

21. Manhattan (1979)

I know...there are still more.

A.G.

Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 3

This photo of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid was sold at auction for $2million.  

This photo of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid was sold at auction for $2million.

 

Drama is conflict.

Nowhere is that better exemplified than in a less technologically advanced, austere Western setting. Practically since the dawn of Cinema itself, Westerns appeared on the scene with their comparatively short and simple narratives, befitting both the West's preceding closure and this amazing, new storytelling discovery. 

Since then, the best film makers working in this genre have offset their characters' immediate and barer motives with a mature and sophisticated oversight, allowing the setting's simplicity to heighten the dramatic impact while making sure the events described don't become too unrealistic. In less capable hands, an accurate description of frontier living could be pretty dull without some artificially created heroics inserted to liven the proceedings. Filmmakers who attempted to justify their dramatically inflated events by promulgating, or debunking, "the true story" usually wound up only adding an element of pretentiousness to their projects. 

By applying their visionary approach, allowing both the characters and plot to naturally develop, the talented storytellers represented here passionately conveyed the Western's majesty; still looking beyond the obvious to explore its inhabitants' deep thought processes, while maintaining the authenticity of both.

In this third and final part of the series, I will complete this list with the most enlightening and meaningful Westerns ever made, those timeless motion pictures that for all the right reasons, resonate long after the lights go up.  

(For a further introduction, see: Top Ten Western Treasures Part 1 and Top Ten Western Treasures Part 2.)

 

#4. Ride the High Country (1962, U.S.A.)

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum (on left) and Joel McCrea as Steve Judd

Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum (on left) and Joel McCrea as Steve Judd

Aging ex-lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) accidentally runs into an old friend Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) who together with Westrum's much younger partner Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) agree to transport a shipment of gold from a mining community in the High Sierras to a local town's bank. During their journey Gil will try to chip away at Steve's decision to complete the mission honestly, and instead persuade him to keep the gold for themselves. Heck goes his buddy Gil one better saying: "Gold splits better two ways than three."

Things get a little complicated after the three stay the night at a ranch occupied by a strict, bible quoting widower, Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong, See: End Credits) and his daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley) who Heck takes a strong liking to. She decides to tag along with the others to get away from her overbearing father and get to the mining town so she can wed Billy Hammond (James Drury). After the marriage goes horribly wrong (Billy, not to mention his seedy sex-starved brothers, basically sees her as property to be ravaged), she's cleverly rescued from the Hammond clan by our trio to be returned to her father's home.

It is at this point in the story where events start to intensify and take on a more meaningful subtext. Gil lets Heck know privately that he was right about Steve not loosening his resolve to do the job right, meaning they'll have to double cross him. However, Heck's attitude has changed since he's developed a newly found respect for the old man and possibly because of his feelings for Elsa. Gil reminds his younger buddy that they made a deal. Heck responds with a softly reluctant "yes sir."

Ron Starr as Heck Longtree and Mariette Hartley as Elsa Knudson

Ron Starr as Heck Longtree and Mariette Hartley as Elsa Knudson

These conflicting loyalties and their profound effect on character would represent themes intelligently explored in this and its director's other works. Here Heck being the far younger of the three is just starting to develop his values while the others are fairly set in theirs. He'll have to choose and that choice will forever be part of who he becomes, as well as how he's seen by others like Elsa and Gil. We've heard Steve previously describe to Gil his early law-breaking days and how this assignment (once its fulfilled honestly with the others' help) can allow him to "enter my house justified" (a personally significant line written by the director specifically for McCrea's Steve Judd). Will Heck reform his opportunistic ideas and become honorable like Steve, betraying Gil's trust, or will he keep his agreement with his law breaking friend and be known as a common outlaw? What of the risks involved in either decision?

That night when Gil tries to quietly make off with the gold, he and Heck get caught by Steve and there's one explosive showdown. Nothing in this scene is embellished in the slightest: It's tense and economically delivered increasing its forcefulness, foreshadowing the exciting events to come.

Warren Oates as Henry Hammond

Warren Oates as Henry Hammond

The next day a couple of the Hammond boys catch up with the group to claim Elsa but Steve refuses them as well. The Hammonds swear they'll get Elsa back, making Steve's situation increasingly challenging and difficult. For one he has to decide whether to untie his two prisoners so they can assist him in fighting off the Hammonds.

Pressure mounts as threats come to all four before and during this story's suspenseful and sensational climax. The heroic poignancy of its final moments cannot be overstated. Like the following films on this list, it will "cash in" on all of the deeply personal character traits its storytellers have subtly planted and nurtured throughout, delivering a devastatingly powerful and everlasting dramatic catharsis.

The filmmakers made an audacious choice of Western hero Randolph Scott (his last performance) for the role of Gil Westrum, the morally questionable opportunist of the two aged friends. Both he and frequent Western star Joel McCrea's casting are truly inspired. That's the word as well for their committed performances and George Bassman's hauntingly beautiful music that perfectly underscores the strong, prevailing bond between the two leads and the grandeur of their surrounds. The majestic widescreen color photography by Lucien Ballard is still another strong asset in providing its audience with an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Sam

Sam

A couple of films later director Peckinpah would explode some of the Western genre's traditional dramatic conventions, confronting his audience with 1969's The Wild Bunch, his crowning artistic achievement. It's only because he took such extreme risks in daring to say so much and succeeded that his 1969 film rates higher on this list than his elegiac Ride the High Country... not because it's any more intelligent or passionate.  

      


A.G.




#3. Devil's Doorway (1950, U.S.A.)

Director: Anthony Mann

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#2. The Searchers (1956, U.S.A.)

Director: John Ford

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#1. The Wild Bunch (1969, U.S.A.)

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Read More

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 2 (#11 - 20)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the first 10 selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #11 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected.   

20. Sorcerer (1977)

20. Sorcerer (1977)

19. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

19. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

18. La Jetée (1962)

18. La Jetée (1962)

17. The Third Man (1949)

17. The Third Man (1949)

16. Psycho (1960)

16. Psycho (1960)

15. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

15. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

14. North by Northwest (1959)

14. North by Northwest (1959)

13. The Seven Year Itch (1955)

13. The Seven Year Itch (1955)

12. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

12. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

11. Planet of the Apes (1968)

11. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Still some missing? Feel free to make comments. They are most welcome.

A.G.

P.S. A trivia question for film buffs: Who or what does the name of film #20 literally refer to?

 

Top Ten Costume Jewelery: Most Annoying Movie Characters

 

Top 10: Most Annoying Movie Characters

 

My guest contributor is young Mr. X whose first post here will hopefully not be his last.

These are in order of least annoying to most with #1 being the worst offender:

 

 

 

 

 

#10.

Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Instead of ingratiating her way into our hearts she irratates her way into our heads. By this point, mine looked like the monkey's.






#9.

Leo Getz Lethal Weapon 2-4

Leo Getz Lethal Weapon 2-4

"Okay"..."okay"... Okay, enough already. Somebody shoot this guy, okay?






#8.

The Gargoyles The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Gargoyles The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

If the message is "Don't judge by appearance" why won't they stop doing it?

 

 

 

 

 

#7.

Ruby Rhod The Fifth Element

Ruby Rhod The Fifth Element

I was hoping the first element's purpose was to shut this grating idiot up.

 

 

 

 

 

#6.

Rachel Ferrier War of the Worlds (2005)

Rachel Ferrier War of the Worlds (2005)

Hey kid, there are hostiles present so would you kindly STOP SCREAMING!!! If I had been Cruise, the martians could have kept her.

 

 

 

 

 

#5.

Robin Batman Forever and Batman and Robin

Robin Batman Forever and Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin Whining Forever would have been a better title for both.

 

 

 

 

 

#4.

Wendy Torrance The Shining

Wendy Torrance The Shining

She's more horrifying than anything else in the picture. All things considered, was Jack really that out of line?

 

 

 

 

 

#3.

Anakin Skywalker Star Wars Episode 1

Anakin Skywalker Star Wars Episode 1

His acting ever so slightly improved when I had the misfortune of meeting him in person.






2.

Bella Swan Twilight Saga

Bella Swan Twilight Saga

She's just an average young girl with the added distinction of being the most self-centered cow on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

1.

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

"Meesa supposed to be like Chewbaca. But Meesa can't because Meesa keeps opening Meesa's mouth, spewing nerve fraying triviality." Lucas should have "Jar jar'd" up this character and Weesa should have blasted him into outer space before his movies even started.

 

Mr. X (with an assist on the bylines by A.G.)

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images

This category needs little explanation. See the films listed and you'll know why. We'll start with #10 and work our way to Cinema's most treasured, iconic image.

#10. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#10. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

9. The Searchers (1956)

9. The Searchers (1956)

#8. Safety Last (1923)

#8. Safety Last (1923)

#7. Citizen Kane (1941)

#7. Citizen Kane (1941)

6. Vertigo (1958)

6. Vertigo (1958)

#5. The Wild Bunch (1969)

#5. The Wild Bunch (1969)

4. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

4. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

#3. Ikiru (1952)

#3. Ikiru (1952)


2. King Kong (1933)

2. King Kong (1933)


1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

 

So what did I miss? Please give me your thoughts in the comments section below.

A.G.

P.S. A trivia question for film buffs: What is the amazingly strong link between the last two images above?

Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 2

 

One of the more fascinating aspects of this genre is that the historic "wild west" of America had just officially ended when these motion pictures were first being churned out. (For a further introduction to this series, see Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 1.)

             William F. Cody

             William F. Cody

Edwin Porter's The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903 while "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" (a show William F. Cody started in 1883) still had another decade to go before closing. These shows (including famous Western figures like Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane) along with their cinematic counterparts (even Cody himself in 1913 made the lost film The Indian War), were presenting a mostly romanticized, falsely heroic, re-imagining of historical events that their audiences voraciously consumed. Literary figures Bret Harte and Zane Grey made a significant contribution to this popular 'revised' representation as well.

Cinematic portrayals of famous heroes and anti-heroes in numerous Westerns to come, including those featuring Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer, Billy the Kid, Frank and Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, would continue the "mythologization" of the West from one turn of the century to another.

During this one hundred plus years of the Western's cinematic evolution, filmmakers preoccupied with promoting either the ‘legends’ or the ‘facts’ limited their capacity to explore greater forms of human truths and conflicts. In contrast, some visionary filmmakers would embrace this simple setting for a different reason: To create, and focus on, deeper issues, such as trust, friendship and sacrifice. When no longer obligated to explain the why and wherefore, these themes could freely play out against their opposing forces of betrayal, antagonism and greed.

The Western's familiar environment permitted its audience to witness these stories in a more personal fashion, giving us the opportunity to clearly perceive their timeless insights and applications.  It afforded the enlightened breed of storyteller greater freedom to advance their stories beyond the boundaries of historical accuracy and steer the genre's evolution in a more meaningful direction.

Aside from the paltry 10 Western motion pictures (from the thousands upon thousands made) that will be covered here, many more will be reviewed in a follow-up series entitled "Plundering the Genre."

Generally speaking, the criteria for selecting the Top Ten from this category are in regards to the fictional narrative's authenticity in respect to its characters and their motives. This, and the depth of their relationships have become decisive factors in determining the best from the rest.

 

Continuing the Top Ten Western Treasures:

 

#5. Man of the West (1958, U.S.A.)

Director: Anthony Mann

title card.jpg

Following a thwarted train robbery, reformed outlaw Link Jones is left stranded along with fellow passengers Sam Beasley (a card shark) and Billie Ellis (a saloon singer). They make their way to an isolated farmhouse only to discover its inhabitants are the unsuccessful bandits. Making the situation more precarious, the bandits' leader is Link's uncle Dock Tobin, who raised him and whom Link abandoned long ago upon realizing the sickness and futility of his killing and robbing ways. Link was on the train trying to get to Fort Worth. He was entrusted with a year's advance salary to provide a schoolteacher for Good Hope, a community which, knowing about Link's evil past, gradually allowed him to "live it down", regain his self respect and earn their trust. Even though the bandits didn't get anything from the railroad, (a sharpshooting guard managed to get the train to move on safely before the gang could successfully complete their task) one of them, already on the train when it left the station, took Link's bag containing the money that was entrusted to him. Now, Link must convincingly feign interest in re-joining Dock's gang of killers while stopping them from endangering the lives of his two fellow travelers.

doc and julie.jpg

Link is superbly played by Gary Cooper, the part and performance being somewhat reminiscent of his Will Kane in High Noon especially when he has to shoot it out with 3 adversaries in a deserted town toward the end of the story. What gives his character here an added complexity is the fact that Link used to be just like these bad guys. Now he secretly has to outsmart and fight against them while pretending to be one of them. This is something he reminds Billie (Julie London) of, when they're alone saying: "There's a point where you either grow up and become a human being or you rot, like that bunch."

Stumbling on to the remnants of his past life, the series of events set into motion will provide the "link" to a history he's constantly reminded of and tortured by. These same events will progressively motivate him to break free from that link by ironically calling upon those same primal "kill or be killed" instincts he'd rather have forgotten about. As good as Cooper is at portraying this inner turmoil, Lee J. Cobb's performance as his nemesis Uncle Dock is even better. Cobb is riveting when he bitterly rails against his nephew for running off and leaving him. He makes us feel his rage at the new inferior gang he's saddled with when admonishing the group for not taking a train with "one stinking guard" and fully captivates us with his dream of robbing a fat bank in a small town. More than once Dock will separate Link from his companions so that he, or his fellow gang members, can degrade and humiliate the others which culminates in the sexual assault of Billie.

man of the west.jpg

Strong and dangerous threats constantly arise for all three. With the exception of Dock who wants Link to help him with the bank robbery, every other gang member (including two of Link's cousins) want all three immediately killed and have no compunction about repeatedly saying so. The most vile and repulsive of the bunch is Link's cousin Coaley (an all-stops-out Jack Lord) who at one point makes Billie strip while holding a knife to Link's throat.

fight.jpg

As intense as this scene is, a later showdown between Link and Coaley is even more terrifyingly suspenseful. After a brutal fistfight, in which Link is finally able to get the upper-hand over an exhausted Coaley, he literally strips him down in revenge for Coaley's earlier mistreatment of Billie, all the while taunting him verbally. These moments portraying Link's vengeful regression give credence to a past life of having been "as bad as the others." They reveal the strange enjoyment of Dock witnessing a weaker relative being sadistically tormented by another. Furthermore, the scene has Sam Beasley (endearingly played by Arthur O'Connell) committing an act of heroism and finalizing the moment with some poignant words he delivers to Link: "It was a shrewd move. You see, I figured without you around here, they'd have killed me for sure. I'd have laid 3...4 to 1 on that."

man.jpg

Anthony Mann had previously directed James Stewart in a series of fine Westerns including Top Ten #7 on this list with Stewart campaigning for the main character part here. But a previous falling out with the director gave us Cooper instead. Mann's extreme confidence and experience is most evident in the ensemble performances, incredible shot compositions and imaginative staging of the events taking place. Leigh Harline supplied the expansive "great outdoors" kind of memorable theme used most appropriately throughout the story not to mention his superb underscoring of the outbursts of violence. From the locomotive winding through lush green countryside to the dirty, dilapidated town of Lassoo, to the monumental rock formations at the film's climax, the scenery in Man of the West is so formidable it almost manages to chew up the actors. All of which is beautifully photographed by Ernest Haller in its CinemaScope glory.

lassoo.jpg

For its final showdown between Link and Dock the action takes place at the previously mentioned rock formations reaching skyward and shaped almost like an ampitheatre. A half-mad Dock yelling from on top of the mountain like some mythical creature overseeing his great domain, questions Link about whether he killed all of his remaining gang members and family. Link returns the call with: "Listen to me Dock! Claude and Ponch and Trout are lying in the streets at Lassoo. Lassoo's a ghost town, and that's what you are, Dock! You've outlived your kind and outlived your time, and I'm comin' to get you!" The perfect dialogue and setting for a climactic finish to this dark and moving Western.

A.G.

 

Next Time: The final Top Ten Western Treasures in Part 3.

Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 1

western genre.jpg

One of the more fascinating aspects of this genre is that the historic "wild west" of America had just officially ended when these motion pictures were first being churned out. In other words, history having just been made in the real West in the late 1800's was to be first represented on celluloid in the early 1900's.

In 1901, Butch Cassidy and Sundance left America for Bolivia, when only a couple of years later The Great Train Robbery was released. Legendary silent film stars Tom Mix and William S. Hart were close friends of Wyatt Earp (a recurring subject in many motion pictures to come) and both attended his funeral.

Decades later these early silent Westerns were still influencing contemporary filmmakers like Martin Scorsese. Check out this very brief but revealing moment with the famous director:

 

Speaking of Earp's participation in the infamous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", its many cinematic incarnations over the years have probably inspired more debate and controversy over what really happened than the incident itself ever could. This is perhaps a worthwhile byproduct of the art form, keeping in mind that cinema's primary concern should be to tell a good story, not faithfully document history. Unless the film actually rolled on the event, creative license has to be in play, like it or not. So it might as well be in service of making the fictionalized narrative more legitimately compelling.       

Below is a short clip from a 1971 T.V. documentary of star Henry Fonda asking director John Ford about filming the historic gunfight for their film My Darling Clementine (1946):

In keeping with the above mentioned criteria regarding the depth and profundity of the story and its characters, including the artists' creative success at telling their tales, I will begin my Top Ten Westerns with #1 being the greatest representation of the genre. By the way, the list will exclude Westerns having a more modern day setting, excellent as they may be, and others perceived as transcending the genre i.e., The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Bad Day at Black Rock, Hud, Lonely are the Brave, Lone Star and The Beguiled. These aforementioned films, Top Ten runner-ups and numerous other fine Westerns will be covered in a future series called "Plundering the Genre." 

 

#10. The Tall T (1957, U.S.A.)

Director: Bud Boetticher

The Tall T.jpg

Director Boetticher, who typically worked with writer Burt Kennedy and star Randolph Scott, made quite a number of these outstanding, taut little Westerns, this being the boldest and most dramatically compelling of them all. This time Scott, after having lost his horse in a bet, takes a stagecoach and stumbles into a trio of "baddies" who on the one hand are so vicious and brutal they throw their dead victims (including a small boy) into a well and on the other, have a leader (a scene stealing Richard Boone) who reveals some thoughtful, fascinatingly complex and conflicting intellectual responses over events as they unfold. Tension and deep emotions reach the boil when Scott tries to outsmart the three outlaws (the others being Henry Silva and Skip Homeier) who are holding a hostage (Maureen O'Sullivan) for ransom. Intelligent, exciting and thought provoking all in a compact 78 minutes. 

 

   

#9. Once Upon a Time in the West a.k.a. C'era una volta il West (1968, Italy)

Director: Sergio Leone

once upon a time in the west.jpg

Here I couldn't have selected a more different kind of Western than the one above if I tried. The Tall T clocks in at little more than an hour. Once Upon A Time in the West is just slightly under 3. Stylistically they are complete opposites. In film #10, closely connected situations and outspoken characters are rapidly developed. Here they sit around silent and endlessly wait while we watch on, somewhat bewildered but fascinated at the attention to detail and creative use of the wide-screen canvas. The story itself is tight and controlled in the aforementioned film and mysteriously stretched out here; it's lengthy scenes seem at first almost unrelated to one another. This is the American West revered but re-invented by an outsider: Slow and deliberate, containing many humorous observances and anecdotes. Its photography and characters' movements are strangely choreographed like some ritualistic dance with a new kind of atmospheric soundtrack (courtesy of the brilliant Ennio Morricone) designed to accentuate its operatic nature. By the time its performers start to move in synch with the plot, we begin to appreciate its grand design, historical significance and how an intricate web of stimulating characters are ingeniously connected to one another.

The almighty railroad laying its tracks as it slowly makes its way to the Pacific Ocean is trying to simultaneously buy the land in its path like big corporations do: Cheaply. Its hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda cast way against his typical good guy image) is most willing to remove the obstacles for his railroad boss Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) with even less fuss. Morton hearing the news of one of Frank's dirtier deeds states: "Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them" with Frank responding "People scare better when they're dying." Enter Charles Bronson as a mysterious stranger called "Harmonica" with a very private, strangely obsessive vendetta against Frank who will team up with a wanted desperado Cheyenne (Jason Robards) to protect a widow (Claudia Cardinale) from Frank's ruthless aggression. Leone and his co-screenwriters Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Donati, have fashioned an epic homage to the Western form. After building the requisite anticipation, they reveal their central character's darkest secret at this elaborate story's emotionally powerful conclusion.

           

 

#8. High Noon (1952, U.S.A.)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

High Noon.jpg

Now we're back to a typical Western plot that seems straightforward enough. Some might say it's too much so...contrived perhaps. Its perfect execution however will easily compensate for its simplicity, securing our undivided attention and deep involvement. This is a lesson in suspense building without peer as a town Marshall gradually accepts the fact that he will have to face 4 armed and vengeful killers (whose collective purpose is to end his life) all alone. It's one of the rare cinematic stories told in "real time". (Another benefiting from this device enhancing its viewer's focus is 1949's noir The Set-Up). Gary Cooper's performance as Marshall Will Kane anxiously anticipating his destiny, preparing his "Last Will and Testament" plus scenes where he alternately confronts and comforts those around him, is mesmerizing. He's matched every step of the way by co-star Grace Kelly and numerous supporting actors such as Lon Chaney Jr., Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado and Harry Morgan all playing multidimensional, finely etched characters courtesy of Carl Foreman's exceptional screenplay. There's also some terrific editing by Elmo Williams and a brilliant score including its iconic and unforgettable song composed by Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Ned Washington. This is a film one can savor repeatedly and never tire of.    

 

 

#7. The Man From Laramie (1955, U.S.A.)

Director: Anthony Mann

man from laramie.jpg

Director Mann truly excelled in this genre and is thrice represented on this list, as well as directing numerous Top Ten Western runner ups. His Westerns are distinguished by psychological undercurrents that stir beneath his stories' personalities and within the events themselves. It's this palpable motivational force that captivates our attention while substantiating the characters' dramatic purpose. The tale begins with our protagonist Will Lockhart (James Stewart) transporting supplies while seeking the person(s) responsible for selling repeating rifles to Apaches, used to wipe out a garrison of soldiers - his younger brother amongst them. Running afoul of Dave Waggonman (Alex Nicol), and his cattle baron father Alec (Donald Crisp), Lockhart reluctantly accepts employment by rival Kate Canady (Aliene MacMahon). It's in the depiction of the Waggonman family where the drama really kicks into high gear, with outsider Lockhart being the catalyst for a "King Lear" like sub-plot. Alec's strong emotional dependency on his impetuous and morally bankrupt son Dave not only compromises his values, but creates conflicted feelings about his ranch foreman Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy), whom he unfairly holds responsible for Dave's increasingly irresponsible actions. Alec would like to consider Vic a son, but cannot seem to reconcile these feelings with his stronger ties to Dave. There's also Barbara Waggonman (Cathy O'Donnell), the independently minded niece of Alec, for whom Lockhart develops feelings although she is already promised to Vic. A unique trait of the Anthony Mann/James Stewart Westerns (of which this was the last) is that Stewart inhabits psychologically troubled characters: Far from heroic (as one might expect from a Randolph Scott or John Wayne role) they come across as flawed, stubborn and emotionally conflicted, none more so than Lockhart. At the story's conclusion, he'll find the answer surrounding his brother's death and finally choose between an act of vengeance being what he wants, or to 'let it go' being who he is. His and the other richly drawn character's choices will provide much food for thought, lasting long after this hard-hitting drama ends.

 

 

#6. Red River (1948, U.S.A.)

Director: Howard Hawks

red river.jpg

It's "Mutiny on the Prairie" as Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) leads a long and arduous cattle drive along with adoptive son Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift: The great "method" actor's first motion picture role), side-kick Groot (Walter Brennan) and a team of hired-hands who will gradually come to resent and mostly rebel against the stubborn, hard-liner Dunson. As dissension in the ranks grows over the dangers and obstacles that present themselves, so does Dunson's resolve to "stay his course", even though it seems increasingly risky compared to a suggested alternative route. His extreme responses, including the punishment of death to an ever growing number of dissenters, begin to be perceived as borderline pathological. When the conflict becomes unbearable between father and son, the story takes on Greek tragedy proportions with Garth assuming command by force and diverting the cattle from Missouri to Kansas with Dunson in pursuit, vowing vengeance. Wayne's tyrannical rancher elicits some deeply convincing, dark emotions from the actor rarely presented in his past roles. Clift's natural performance, as would be typical, is beyond reproach. Because Dunson's transformation from considerate and generous father to tyrannical dictator is so gradual it consumes our attention, and is quite revealing of just how much a person can change, but never is there any doubt as to its authenticity. Additionally, this developmental coldness from Dunson increases our interest in Garth's reactions, as the younger one's moral values are being formed as he's tested against Dunson and the perilous circumstances that keep arising. At one point the team meet up with some Pioneers under attack by Indians. This introduces us to Garth's love interest Tess Millay (Joanne Dru), one of director Hawks' typically outspoken and headstrong females who will become a primary factor in the story's concluding scenes of our two male leads' reconciliation. These final moments have been criticized by some as being too artificial considering the pair's past differences but there are mitigating factors that for myself make it a convincing and worthy resolution to what is basically a rousing adventure tale...a welcome reminder throughout being Dimitri Tiomkin's splendidly memorable theme underscoring that enormous herd of cattle on the move.

A.G. 

 

Next Time: Top Ten Western Treasure #5 Man of the West in Part 2.

 

Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures Part 1

Ever since silent pictures were shown with live organ accompaniment, music has been a most important asset in enhancing the dramatic development of a cinematic story.

A truly magnificent score to a motion picture not only enriches the viewing experience it becomes inextricable to it. This is achieved through its ability to become completely genuine to, and deeply immersed in, its subject matter. The composers of these scores have demonstrated an uncanny gift of knowing how to perfectly capture the emotional heart of the story, influence the narrative's pace and enter and exit with amazing precision. They boldly tell us, through their considerable skill, what the visuals alone cannot begin to describe, but nevertheless take nothing away from them. 

Choosing only 10 of these is a daunting task since there are easily 100 or more that could be listed with full honors. I'm hoping therefore that readers will appreciate and focus on the choices made instead of the many, just as worthy scores, left out. I have chosen 1 film per composer so that a few more supremely talented artists can be represented and will try and choose the motion picture that most benefits from the composer's contribution.

Many of us enjoy listening to film music on its own. Compared to classical music, the experience is typically quite unique with shorter, more condensed cues that can radically change in tone without any transitional material or end with no resolution. There is however an emotional richness, excitement and passion to discover in this comparably new musical art form. I guess we recognize but still appreciate the difference in structure since after all the music we are listening to is intended as a collaborative part of a creative whole and not, at least initially, meant for stand-alone listening. It is for this collaborative contribution that the selections have been made and assessed as reaching the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

(They are listed in alphabetical order)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Composer: Hugo Friedhofer

It begins with a stately and gorgeous main theme over the credits and continues to Coplandesque Americana describing 3 serviceman's return to civilian life. The score perfectly conveys the sad and heartfelt emotion when the disabled war veteran is unable to adjust to what he wrongly perceives will be his girlfriend's rejection. It describes another vet's jazzy reunion with his trophy wife and haunts us with a powerful description of his nightmares of war. Finally the music beautifully fulfills his final discovery of a love pure and undeterred, just as the other two returning vets have found, by reprising the original, superlative beginning theme. Hugo Friedhofer's Academy Award winning composition is this film's most remarkable and essential artistic contribution.

It's that good.

 

A.G.

The Best Years of Our Lives is available on Blu-ray here:

The Best Years of Our Lives [Blu-ray]
$16.98
Starring Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo

It is also available on DVD here:

The Best Years of Our Lives
$8.99
Starring Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy

Its soundtrack can be purchased from Screen Archives Entertainment here:

 

Next time: Cleopatra (1963)

Composer: Alex North

 

 

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 2

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)

These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures. 

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

 

 

Blue Velvet (1986, U.S.A.)

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Director: David Lynch

Like Blade Runner (1982), the first film in this series, Blue Velvet has become a cult favorite. It's abstract, strange and highly regarded by some prominent film critics and historians such as Mark Cousins, who praises it in his 15 hour documentary: The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). David Lynch certainly has a command of the medium and is the sole writer, besides being the film's director. He made an auspicious feature debut with the striking Eraserhead (1977), and with both films his collaborators are clearly in service of his unique vision. Being an accomplished painter he maintains a distinctive visual approach and begins Blue Velvet strongly, especially in the way he keeps directing our attention to the menacing undercurrents of an outwardly simple and peaceful small American town.

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Blade Runner often symbolically refers to eyes. With Blue Velvet the reference is ears by way of a severed one that begins its main character's descent into darkness. And it's in depicting this darkness that the movie really excels. The scene where Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle MacLachlan, who's really a stand in for the director) is discovered hiding in the closet by the subject of his voyeurism Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini who's the very personification of her mother here) is shockingly revealing of deep and provocative emotions rarely explored in the arts. If that wasn't disturbing enough, a follow up scene adds more perverse Freudian complexity by introducing us to one of evil's finest representatives: Frank Booth (devilishly portrayed by Dennis Hopper) whose psychopathic insanity is so advanced, he seems to suffer excruciating emotional pain when he's experiencing the most pleasure. This is evident in the film's best and most electrifying scene where Booth and his gang visit his friend Ben (Dean Stockwell) in which the latter mimes Roy Orbison's song "In Dreams" with a lamp used as a faux microphone.

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As fascinating as the Vallens and Booth characters are, and even though their relationship becomes increasingly beguiling and insidious as the story progresses, Lynch has most clearly identified with MacLachlan's Beaumont character. Beyond the story's introduction he seems to be very naive, vague as to his motives and full of behavioural contradiction: one minute objectively investigating the nefarious drug dealings of Booth and company, the next crying over his own involvement and how horrible things are. One moment he's telling everyone he's through involving himself in this criminal underworld, the next he's at Vallens' apartment exploring a very dangerous situation for some unknown reason. His precarious involvement with Vallens seems justified in the beginning but it's continuation isn't. He tells others how dangerous Booth is but makes no effort to stay out of his way. What is he looking for? Why does he take such extreme risks? The character and therefore the audience, are clueless. It appears Lynch has too strongly moulded himself into Jeffrey and prefers "to watch" rather than commit to following through with his ideas. This leaves the director unable to explain, let alone resolve, the emotional instability of his characters. When things get too intense, both the character and storyteller back off, only to get back in when curiosity comes a callin'. When events become overwhelmingly unclear regarding Jeffrey's involvement, and Lynch seems lost and in over his head, we either get scenes with Jeffrey's ethereal girlfriend Sandy (played by Laura Dern) that are so trite and insipid, they take banality to a whole new level, or the director makes the story veer off into weird abstraction. Either way the narrative stalls, and the subject matter becomes a "hot potato." We are left like Jeffrey and Sandy naively wondering "Why are there people like Frank?" and "Why is there so much trouble in this world?" I for one was hoping to get some kind of answer.                          

If Lynch's intention was to depict a struggle of good vs. evil he should have taken a page out of one of it's best cinematic treatments namely The Night of the Hunter (1955) where the terrifying evil of Robert Mitchum's preacher Harry Powell is matched by his nemesis: the goodness of Lillian Gish as Rachael Cooper, a formidable protector of innocents. In Blue Velvet, Booth's evil has no visible opposition. Only at the very end does Jeffrey muster up the resources to stop Frank, but by then it seems more a matter of coincidental luck to him and us. Other than that there's some vague, wishful dream about robins coming...a very intangible and unsatisfying conclusion to the story. 

A.G. 

Next time: Top Ten Fool's Gold #3 Casablanca (believe it or not.)

Blue Velvet [Blu-ray]
$10.49
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Velvet can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Velvet (Special Edition)
$9.64
Starring Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange

It is also available on DVD here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also features a distinctively brooding and atmospheric score by Angelo Badalamenti that can be purchased on its original soundtrack here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1

The purpose of this list is not to give a critical lambasting to what a great number of viewers consider to be cinematic treasures. What I would like to provide my readers with is an alternative and admittedly more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general.

 

The critics I grew up reading such as Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby and Charles Champlin all provided additional insight into looking at our shared passion. They've increased my enjoyment of all types of films even the ones I think have weaknesses let alone those that someone else does. I'm hoping therefore that my comments are taken in the same spirit and have a similar effect. These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures. 

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.) 

 

Blade Runner (1982, U.S.A.)

Director: Ridley Scott

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The Director's Cut or Final Cut without the clumsy, intrusive narration and juvenile "happy ever after" ending are certainly an improvement over the Theatrical Version. They allow the stunning visuals and unique environment to "breathe" and better enable us to place ourselves in the main character's shoes. An added dream sequence involving a unicorn adds an element of mystery which ties in nicely with these Director's and Final versions' last scene. The contribution made by the amazing set designs, special effects and musical sound-scape cannot be faulted in creating this most fascinating vision of a futuristic city sprawl.

There is however a giant void at the center of its universe. All the king's horses etc. cannot bring its main character to life. Harrison Ford's performance as Rick Deckard (the "Blade Runner" of the title) is not the problem here. It's the overly simplistic narrative: From beginning to end, this guy's just doing a job, hunting down and terminating human-like replicants and from what we see, not doing it very well. Each encounter with his quarries sees him caught off guard and rather surprisingly incompetent, at odds with what his superior (M. Emmet Walsh) says when he talks Decker out of retirement. Decker doesn't seem to care for the job either, or for anything else really. He does express some feelings for the replicant Rachael (Sean Young), a secretary at the Tyrell Corporation where the replicants are designed. Yet these emotions seem rather superfluous since she's saved his life during an encounter with an adversary and according to Deckard he "owes her one" (which means he won't be coming after her but "somebody will").          

In search of some motivation or emotional depth one might turn to the replicants like Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) the rebels' leader. He's certainly motivated to increase his short life span and cares for his fellow androids. One senses his betrayal and anger toward his "maker" Tyrell (Joe Turkel) after confronting him and discovering that his short time left is scientifically inevitable. Even though Batty kills his maker one can understand this action; after all we have somewhat similar story references like Frankenstein and Island of Lost Souls. However, any empathy he might have gained is quickly lost when we hear that he's also inexplicably killed J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), an acknowledged "friend" of Batty's whom the storytellers have gone to some effort to build sympathy for. Plus Sebastian helped him find and meet Tyrell. None of the other characters are given enough time to register much interest including Sean Young's Rachael and that's sad because this film is beautiful to look at, contains some fascinating symbolism, as well as some very poetic lines of dialogue, but it's all in service of an overall, un-engaging and dramatically flat motion picture.   

A.G. 

Next Time: Top Ten Fool's Gold #2 Blue Velvet

 

 

 

Blade Runner can be best appreciated on Blu-ray and purchased here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
$2.99
Starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh

 

 

Its Final Cut is also available as a digital download for U.S. residents here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blade Runner - O.S.T.
$13.34
Atlantic

 

The film also sports an evocative and sensual score by Vangelis that is available here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten: Guilty Treasures

The following are 10 of my personal favourites that cannot in good conscience be fully recommended to everyone. That's not to say these films don't have some positive qualities, for example in originality or how their stories are crafted. However, they all have inherent flaws; perhaps it's a subject matter too limited in value, or overly simplistic characters given too much unwarranted attention. At the very least the ten listed suffer from a self-imposed lack of "universal appeal." Below, I will attempt to take an objective look into why these movies fail to reach a higher artistic level while describing my own thrills when viewing them.

(They are listed in alphabetical order) 

 

Dirty Harry (1971, U.S.A.)

Director: Don Siegel

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Upon it's release famous film critic Pauline Kael basically denounced this as politically fascist and immoral. Then, somewhere in the middle of her review, she suddenly switched gears by acknowledging how well crafted the film was. Well, she got the second part right at least. Her criticism centres on Inspector Harry Callahan's circumvention of laws (established to protect ordinary citizens) in his quest to stop a psycho killer holding the city for ransom. All of Harry's reactions are in keeping with his well established character especially considering some of the highly volatile, yet still realistic, situations he's faced with. The results of his actions are quite believable as well and usually not what Harry intends, so it's definitely not the film maker's bias that's showing. Besides, as the story develops, there are enough strong and credible arguments voiced against Harry's disregard for a suspect's rights, to make Kael's criticism fallacious. A somewhat less apparent flaw to the film does exist however, and unfortunately, once uncovered, it's as big as Harry's 44 magnum: There's simply no precedent (in real life or established in this film) for a psychotic killer who kills for money. To make this premise even more fanciful, he continues to kill and make threats, while raising his financial demands, even after the authorities know who he is! This doesn't stop me from enjoying Dirty Harry though, because of Siegel and Company's vivid characters, highly inventive situations, tight pacing and pitch perfect performances. Each and every scene scores a knockout even when very little is happening to advance the plot. Lalo Schifrin's propulsive jazzy score is a huge asset. The sequels went steadily downhill not having the dedicated craftsmanship demonstrated here.             

 

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 Freebie and the Bean (1974, U.S.A.) 

Director: Richard Rush

Talk about credibility...this film has barely any...plot, characters, you name it. But what it does have is this whacked-out, albeit engaging, relationship between these two cops that winds up wreaking havoc all over the streets of San Francisco. All of the creativity has gone into this politically incorrect "buddy" pairing of James Caan and Alan Arkin (portraying the title characters respectively) resulting in an electrifying display of chemistry between the two. Additionally, the lead actors' performances are so inspired they even manage to imbibe their parts with a little sympathetic quality. Their cartoon-like antics might be too outrageous to fully enjoy while they're happening but trust me: Thinking about them later will leave you in stitches. They certainly out banter those Lethal Weapon cops, that's for sure. 

 

 

Let it Ride (1989, U.S.A.) 

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Director: Joe Pytka

This little known film doesn't quite make it as a "Hidden Gem" due to a tendency to shrug off some serious issues concerning vices, focusing instead on its rather naive "dream come true" results. One of the characters is named "Looney" but they all might as well be considering the eccentric behaviour on display. I doubt, however, you'll ever see a more loveable bunch of weirdos cheering on their even more loveable hero in his quest to have a "very good day" at the races.        

 

 

Marathon Man (1976, U.S.A.)

Director: John Schlesinger

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When this film was released I had to watch it twice in a row just to figure it out (by the way the second viewing was even more fun than the first). Problem was that when finally made sense of it, the film itself didn't. Improbabilities abound when one looks back but there's plenty of enjoyment to be had while taking this roller coaster of a ride. Suspense never had it so good and to say this movie is thrilling would be a criminal understatement. Worth noting is the ever changing power hierarchy due to the plot machinations and its clever juxtaposition of characters. Adding to the film's full on immersion effect is its brilliant polish: Everything looks so damn good. This is achieved by complete synchronicity between Conrad Hall's silky smooth photography (the first film released theatrically to use the brilliant Steadicam), Jim Clark's perfectly timed editing and Michael Small's haunting, conspiratorial music. So much has been said by others about the scenes between Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman, especially the ones about dentistry, that I'd just like to mention a few containing the super cool presence of Roy Scheider. In his Paris hotel room, clad only in undershorts, his tanned muscular frame doing pushups from the foot of his bed to the floor, then sipping on orange juice before taking in the view from his balcony, he's truly a sight to behold. This all happens right before he magnificently defends himself against a most brutal attack. Later, we see him in a fabulous high-end restaurant in New York City dressed to the nines cleverly tricking Hoffman's new girlfriend Marthe Keller into admitting to lies covering up her German heritage. Finally it's his brisk, confident walk over to the former Nazi Olivier, impatiently waiting with his two henchmen by a large sculpted fountain, that impresses. After Olivier inquires about his safety, Roy's deep voiced "May I be candid...?" remarks are abruptly cut off. For myself, these are the scenes from Marathon Man that are the most fun to watch.          

 

 The Music Lovers (1970, U.K.)

Director: Ken Russell

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When directing his previous film, the excellent Women In Love (1969, U.K.) Ken Russell managed to wisely subdue his tendency to self indulge by otherwise emphasizing his characters' more wild, ostentatious behaviour. However with this, his next theatrical feature, the gloves are off, all restraints as well. Simply describing The Music Lovers as a bio-pic on the life and times of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky would be suggesting it had an undeserved dignity, at the same time failing to recognize its primary quality: a true sense of "joie de vivre". We're practically participants when Tchaikovsky rollicks in the snow, enthusiastically plays his Piano Concerto No. 1, has (because of his closeted homosexuality) a vividly terrifying moment when witnessing his nymphomaniac bride writhing naked on the floor of their train compartment, and fantasizes those in his life having their heads blown off by the cannon fire heard during his 1812 Overture. Any long and serious dramatically dull scenes that might slow the proceedings are jettisoned in favour of its ensembles' heightened displays of passion in all of its many forms. If you're looking for something resembling historical truth forget it. If on the other hand you want to truly experience the imagined fears and desires of this brilliant composer and those who were close to him, all perfectly wedded to that glorious Tchaikovsky music, you've come to the right place.           

 

 

No Way To Treat A Lady (1968, U.S.A.)  

Director: Jack Smight

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Even when seen today this black comedy/crime-drama/romance film will probably make some people uncomfortable as it keeps shifting between moods. Personal taste will primarily determine how well one thinks the film handles these transitions. When I think of Television's Dexter and Breaking Bad however, and how many people enjoy their ever changing dynamics, perhaps there is a wider audience for this film than one might first assume. Rod Steiger plays a serial killer with a mother fixation who also happens to run a legit theatre in New York. Being a theatrical producer with ready access to disguises as well as having developed a talent for conjuring up a wide variety of personality types and voice impersonations, provides him with some credibility for the rather outlandish way he toys with his victims before strangling them. And Steiger totally submerges himself in this part providing loads of fun here as long as one doesn't take things too seriously and can appreciate the blackest of humour. George Segal is a cop who lives with his very Jewish mother, and is attempting to catch the strangler while he simultaneously tries to romance Lee Remick, a neighbour to one of Steiger's victims. This all works for me because of how the film makers ingeniously connect and involve these characters with each other and the plot as it unfolds. Actor Michael Dunn has a very funny bit part and Stanley Myers' sad and beautiful theme over the beginning and end credits provides a perfect calming effect while lending some sentiment to the proceedings. And what a spectacular pay off at the end: Steiger's final little encore on stage will blow you away. 

 

 

The Outside Man a.k.a. Un homme est mort (1972, Italy/France/U.S.A.)

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Director: Jacques Deray

Like the movie mentioned directly above, this film, as it plays out, keeps shifting its tone depending on which genre is on screen at the moment. There's romance, crime thriller, character study... a lot's going on. It's even a little rougher around the edges than it should be pertaining to how it's put together. However, this movie does contain some strikingly original qualities. First and foremost is its point of view: A U.S. crime drama that's being told from a "french perspective" (directed and mostly written by French film makers) which gives all of the proceedings a unique and refreshing twist. Then there's the brilliant concept: A French assassin is brought to Los Angeles to quickly fulfill a contract and then leave back to France, only he can't leave because his passport has been stolen by the same people who hired him. So he's stuck in L.A. having killed a mob boss. He's a foreigner in strange, unfamiliar surroundings. To make matters worse for him (but even more fascinating for us) there's an American hit man dispatched to kill him so that the original contract our French protagonist performed is far less likely to be exposed. Now the French guy has to dodge this very determined, single-minded assassin, not to mention the L.A. cops, still try to figure out who set him up, get his revenge and then make his way out of the country! After all that do I really need to add more as to why I like it so much?...    

 

 

Putney Swope (1969, U.S.A.) 

Director: Robert Downey Sr. 

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Some films are best savored after they're over and this is one of them. It's just too shockingly insane while it's taking you for a ride. Offensive to everyone and anyone in his wide-angled sights, Robert Downey Sr. indulges his each and every whim. He even puts "a prince" after the director's credit and completely dubs his own voice over that of his lead actor Arnold Johnson. His performers constantly repeat phrases throughout, i.e. "How many syllables Mario?", "The Borman Six girl has gottsta have soul" and "Lay some bread on us." It's as if one didn't find it amusing the first time, maybe you will after a few more. On the other hand, in a "theatre of the absurd" kind of way, it is pretty funny since none of the characters are paying any real attention to what others are saying. If the only reason you like television's Mad Men is because it takes place at a New York advertising agency in the '60's you may...no actually I can't even recommend this to that audience since it exaggerates and trashes everything about the subject: its clients, the people who work there and the commercials they produce. Continuing along the path of destruction Downey targets The President of the United States who's a midget with a former Nazi adviser, along with some guy who sits next to them repeatedly telling bad jokes, and a photographer who when he can't get any work decides to climb into bed with the President and his wife who's also a midget. I really can't go on with this. It's just too ridiculous and downright hilarious.        

 

 

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967, U.S.A.) 

Director: John Huston

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If this movie was a soufflé you'd have to say it was burnt. Is it Tennessee Williams on steroids? No, it's Carson McCullers directed by the great John Huston. Why then does it teeter right on the edge of camp? My guess is that the film makers wanted to embellish the proceedings to make it seem much more dramatically significant than its simple narrative could realistically withstand. This is symbolized by the decision to add a dreary golden tint to the entire film ruining what was its beautiful technicolor photography. Not all aspects of this melodrama are over-heated however. Many critics have mistakenly skewered the performances confusing the actors with the admittedly strange characters they so authentically inhabit. To this reviewer, the performances by its very talented cast are so restrained they not only make their actions believable and engaging, they are the primary reason this motion picture is so fascinating to watch. Consider the movie's lead, Major Weldon Penderton: An apparently bored officer with a ditzy wife (Elizabeth Taylor) living on an Army base in the deep South who also happens to be a latent homosexual. He's involved in murder but aside from some wild camerawork, the act is treated as incidental whereas the incidental happenings are mistakenly over dramatized. In conclusion, there's simply not enough genuine depth in the material needed for us to engage our concerns. But hold on, this Army officer is being played by the great "method to the madness" (and vice-verse) Marlon Brando. His unwavering ability to communicate so much depth of feeling by injecting his patented style of subtly nuanced personality traits provides an excellent example of why so many of his fellow thespians describe him as the best actor they've ever worked with. It's not just Maj. Penderton's homosexuality that's repressed. All of his emotions are held in tight without an outlet available in the form of a person or for that matter, anywhere else within his military environment. This is very convincingly expressed by the great actor's talent in varying ways. For example during his soliloquy to his enlisted men on leadership what Brando conveys inside as an occurring nervous breakdown he outwardly plays as a temporary distraction. Then there's the scene with the stallion Firebird, his wife's most prized possession. Penderton chooses him for a solo ride to prove his manhood after being out-ridden and virtually ignored on a previous outing with his wife and her secret lover Lt. Col. Morris Langdon. The horse bolts and takes its inexperienced rider on a terrifyingly fast interminable journey through the woods with the Major unable to slow it's speed. He sustains multiple cuts by tree branches before finally falling off. The horse stops and Brando tellingly reveals the complex inner rage for not only the injuries and humiliation suffered during the ride but for all of his past pent-up frustrations and disappointments. This is a most captivating display of emotional intensity that he's only able to express when it's just the horse and himself out there in the woods...or so he thinks at first. Furthermore, the actor skillfully suggests his character's sudden fear that for every brutal lashing he's unleashed on his wife's most coveted horse he will have to answer for from his dominating Mrs.. Co-star Elizabeth Taylor insisted on Brando's casting when others were being sought after and as a result there seems to be a lift in everyone's game especially Brian Keith's heartfelt Lt. Col. Langdon. Keith elicits so much unsolicited sympathy over his deteriorating relationship with his neurotic wife Alison (Julie Harris), his accomplished performance here may even outshine that of Brando's.                   

 

 

Strange Cargo (1940, U.S.A.)

Director: Frank Borzage

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The cargo isn't the only strange thing on this journey. However, the title does symbolically refer to its most unusual factor: A rather too obvious Christ-like figure played by Ian Hunter who tags along with some other prisoners attempting an escape from Devil's Island, a penal colony off the coast of French Guiana. One might suspect that this character's persistent appearance in the storyline would be a constant annoyance yet that's really not the case. He's rarely judgmental. His remarks about the others are always creatively intelligent, often unexpectedly helpful. He's even forgiving given these convicts' sordid backgrounds especially after witnessing their self-centered actions during the long and difficult escape. A notable example of his rather surprising response occurs when two of the convicts' (portrayed by Albert Dekker and a young John Arledge) very close and personal relationship ends when the younger one dies. Dekker not being able to cope without his friend (lover?) decides to take his own life. Yet Hunter neither condemns the suicide or the rather obvious homosexual relationship between the two. Instead he chooses only to reinforce the idea to Dekker as he's dying that it's not too late for him to reach a higher spiritual plateau. Besides, this spiritually symbolic figure is not just an observer he's a participant. For one thing he typically goes to great lengths (sometimes miraculous) to help the other criminals remain free! His presence right through to the end of this story will remain mysteriously, and perhaps awkwardly, ambivalent. Yet all of these characters are unique and multidimensional. Most are depicted as ruthless albeit creative opportunists. Foremost is Paul Lukas' serial killer having a past that includes disposing of his many wives for purely financial gain. He cynically but respectfully rejects Hunter's religious overtures right up to the end when they part company, bringing further realism to the proceedings. Now did I mention this film stars Clark Gable as one of the convicts and Joan Crawford as a thinly disguised prostitute? No? Well then I saved the best part for last. Their on and off again relationship (not to mention their dialogue which is snappier than a busload of Japanese tourists) is priceless. Add the weird Peter Lorre as a prison informer who vies for Crawford's affections and you have one mismatched, very strange yet fascinating motion picture.           

A.G. 

 

Top Ten: World Cinema Treasures

Films on this, the highest level of artistic merit, must contain an extraordinary breadth of insight into the human experience, one that transcends any geographical, cultural or genre limitation. Furthermore their story's development must appear spontaneous and natural, without apparent signs of its author's manipulation. At the same time the narrative groundwork must be subtly laid so that an audience can strongly identify with, and feel for, the characters' outcome. These motion pictures must not only be supremely crafted, but reach deep into the bone marrow of our existence to create an everlasting spiritual experience not unlike that produced by any of the other arts' greatest achievements.

They are listed in alphabetical order:

 

The  Battle of Algiers a.k.a. La battaglia di Algeri    (1966, Italy/Algeria)

Director: Gillo Pontecorvo  

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It's almost impossible to believe that no documentary footage was used for this searing, ultra-realistic masterpiece dedicated to exposing the rock bottom, yet transcendental truth behind both sides of this emotionally charged conflict. It depicts Algeria's struggle for independence from French rule. Each and every scene is devastating to watch since passions run so high. One takes place at a French race track where a rebel's bomb has exploded. Upon seeing an Algerian boy who was innocently selling his wares, some of the survivors attack him. French soldiers torturing their Algerian suspects on one side are met with Algerian freedom fighters' bombs exploding in French soda shops on the other. After experiencing this film my legs kept buckling barely allowing me to leave the theatre.  

 

 

Bicycle Thieves a.k.a. Ladri di biciclette  (1948, Italy)

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Director: Vittorio De Sica   

Nothing in cinema's acclaimed neo-realism movement captures its style's spirit in a more personally moving way than this Italian Director's greatest artistic success.  

 

 

 

 

Children of Paradise a.k.a. Les enfants du paradis   (1945, France)

Director: Marcel Carne  

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Watch in amazement as Carne skillfully develops the natural interplay between his characters while reaching deep within to expose their innermost heartfelt emotions. Vastly entertaining, it enthralls, and finally leaves one breathless. 

 

 

 

 

Citizen Kane  (1941, U.S.A.)

Director: Orson Welles

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Irony, not to mention profundity, is represented in its purest form when the question over a newspaper magnate's hidden purpose in life arises upon his death thus causing a determined reporter to look everywhere and to anyone for the answer. Finally, after he's gone home unsuccessful, the startling revelation is something so simple and apparent: a worthless piece of junk to some, but to its title's subject, a most meaningful symbol of a lost and cherished childhood. Imaginative, innovative, it uses a whole new arsenal of cinematic language to unveil its mysterious and dazzling narrative and consistently reveal the most fascinating details of its characters' personalities. Astonishing film making from anyone, let alone a 25 year old novice.  

 

 

 

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Diary of a Country Priest a.k.a. Journal d'un curé de campagne    (1951, France)

Director: Robert Bresson  

It's very difficult to chose but one of this filmmaker's many masterpieces; however this most deeply personal of the great Director's "diaries" is so incredibly moving and insightful it spiritually rises above his others. 

 

 

Forbidden Games a.k.a. Jeux interdits     (1952, France)

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Director: Rene Clement   

The reason for its perceptively simple view of war-torn France is because of the story's touching perspective: Told from a child's point of view, she's at first resilient even to becoming an orphan, which makes her final and most gut-wrenching sadness over being separated from her little playmate, a tragedy personified.   

 

 

 

Ikiru a.k.a. To Live     (1952, Japan)

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Director: Akira Kurosawa  

Right from the start an omniscient narrator tells us that its story's protagonist, a petty bureaucrat who has stomach cancer and only a short time to live, is dead anyway because of how he's wasted his life. Upon realizing the truth of his condition, this paper pusher embarks on a rather long, arduous search for the meaning of life, finally finding it practically under his nose at work the whole time. Viewers who are not moved by the scene in which this dying man sits all alone quietly celebrating his accomplished dream might want to check with a cardiologist to see if they're like "The Tin Man." Cinema's supreme "message" film is quite simply the greatest motion picture ever made. 

 

 

L'Avventura a.k.a. The Adventure     (1960, Italy)

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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Only when it's over can we contemplate on the journey, realizing the significance over its destination, which reveals so many secrets of the human psyche subtly but powerfully conveyed in Antonioni's most perfectly created cinematic treasure.   

 

 

 

Nazarin      (1959, Mexico)

Director: Luis Bunuel  

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All of Bunuel's films about religion are expertly satirized, exposing their subjects' hypocrisies and failures and here is no exception. With Nazarin however, our cinematic storyteller also demonstrates compassion (perhaps unintentionally) for his main subject, Father Nazario. When this priest finally suspects that changing his ways, instead of praying that others change theirs, can lead to a more satisfying life, his odyssey becomes a true revelation.

 

 

 

 

Smiles of a Summer Night a.k.a. Sommarnattens leende        (1955, Sweden)

Director: Ingmar Bergman

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Practically all of this artist's creations are so intentionally dark and serious, it's somewhat surprising that his most accomplished is this endearing and enduring romantic comedy.  

 

 

 

A.G.