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July 19, 2009

by John Farr

If you enjoyed Lolita, you might also enjoy these great films:

Baby Doll


In the Deep South, glum-faced cotton-gin proprietor Archie (Karl Malden) is married to coy, dim-witted teenage nymph Baby Doll (Carroll Baker), who sleeps in a crib, sucks her thumb, and refuses to yield her virginity to her husband until her 20th birthday. When wily Sicilian rival Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach, a Broadway veteran in his film debut) arrives with plans to take over Archie’s business – and his lovely young wife – Archie’s insecurities turn quickly into raging, desperate acts of jealousy.


Notorious in its time as the filthiest picture ever made, this steamy, depraved black comedy from the poison pen of Tennessee Williams is expertly handled by Kazan, who had the picture shot in crisp, stark black-and-white. Malden’s disturbing portrayal of cuckold-to-be Archie is a far cry from his later TV stint on “Streets of San Francisco”, believe me. But also see it for a wonderfully sleazy Wallach, and the Oscar-nominated Baker, who scores as manipulative coquette Baby Doll, especially in a porch-swing scene with the lusty Silva. One of Kazan’s trashiest efforts – in the best sense.

The Killing


A documentary-like depiction of an intricate race track robbery, master-minded by one Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden). A small-timer, Clay may be in over his head and his crew senses it. The film gives off a palpable tension and sense of impending doom, but the job goes ahead anyway.


Skillfully paced, edge-of-your-seat entertainment, accented by vivid characterizations (Elisha Cook and Marie Windsor stand out as a dysfunctional couple) and stark, striking cinematography from Lucien Ballard. This picture put Kubrick on the map. Watch and witness the budding of a cinematic genius. Co-scripted by the director with Jim Thompson, who also wrote “The Grifters.”

Paths of Glory


An aloof, ambitious French general (Adolphe Menjou) sends his men out on a suicide mission during the First World War, and when they ultimately retreat, selects three soldiers at random to face charges of cowardice, for which the sentence is death. Guilt-ridden and seething with injustice, the soldiers’ commander (Kirk Douglas) defends his men in the court martial proceedings.


Few films expose war’s insanity more starkly, contrasting the all-powerful, remote armchair generals with young recruits, mere pawns in an obscene political game, who get slaughtered on the front line of the war to end all wars. We share Douglas’ righteous fury at the plight of his men as the rushed sham of a trial progresses. One of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier, less self-indulgent gems, this stark, disturbing anti-war film hasn’t aged a bit.

American Beauty


Leading an empty suburban life with his uptight, real-estate-agent wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and depressed teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), sardonic fortysomething Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) decides to overhaul his body–and his life–when he falls madly in lust with gorgeous nubile Angela (Mena Suvari), Jane’s flirtatious best friend.


This superlative drama by theater director Sam Mendes peers at the dark side of American middle-class life with ripe, risqué humor and aching poignancy. Both screenwriter Alan Ball and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall were honored along with Mendes at the 1999 Academy Awards for their evocation of suburban alienation, but Kevin Spacey, whose cool, cynical narration constitutes the film’s central nervous system, deserved all the acclaim he received for bringing Lester to life (including a Best Actor Oscar). Working in a subplot involving Lester’s new neighbors, an unhinged Marine (Chris Cooper) and his artsy, drug-dealing son (Wes Bentley), Mendes gives this “Beauty” a gut-wrenching finale that completes Lester’s transformation.

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