REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • June 22, 2009

    Charade

    by John Farr

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    Suspicion

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The shy but wealthy Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) marries suave, penniless Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) despite warnings that he’s a gold-digging playboy. Before long, Johnnie appears to show his true colors when he gets involved in an embezzlement scheme-and his partner Beaky (Nigel Bruce) turns up dead. Though lacking hard evidence, Lina begins to suspect her husband is a killer, and fears he may come for her next.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Hitchcock’s psychological thriller is as tightly plotted and crisply directed as any of the master’s finest works. The tension builds slowly and inexorably, as the bookish, increasingly frightened Lina waits passively for her nightly glass of (poisoned?) milk, fearing the worst. Fontaine, who appeared the previous year in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” won an Oscar for her role as the rattled wife, while Grant is superb as a cynical charmer. “Suspicion” is sure to thrill anyone in the mood for subtle romantic intrigue.


    Notorious

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    American intelligence officers tracking Nazis in post-war South America coerce Alicia Hubermann (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of an executed Nazi spy, to use her feminine wiles to implicate more of her father’s colleagues, including one Alex Sebastian. Before the assignment is disclosed; however, American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia have already begun a passionate romance, complicating matters going forward.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “Notorious” still delivers outstanding suspense, with director Hitchcock at his most subtle. The story of a fallen woman-first redeemed by love, then put in peril- is riveting throughout, and stars Grant and Bergman emit powerful on-screen chemistry. Acting laurels also go to supporting player Rains, who’s never been smoother or slimier than here, playing a Nazi agent. But then, just look at his friends-and that mother! Don’t miss the climax, nothing less than pure, understated genius.


    To Catch A Thief

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    On the sun-drenched French Riviera, someone is relieving rich women of their precious jewels, and all the evidence points to retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant). Reluctant to sit for questioning, “The Cat” evades investigators who show up at his luxe villa and-with the help of London insurer H.H. Hughson (John Williams)-cozies up to wealthy American widow Mrs. Stevens (Jesse Royce Landis), who he believes may be his imitator’s next victim.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Paramount’s new two-disk “Centennial Edition” has re-mastered audio and crystal-clear color. Filmed in VistaVision by Oscar winner Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s swanky, breezy suspense film takes a simple idea-one cat burglar on the tail of another-and spins it into cinematic gold. With his customary wit and sexual innuendo, the director positions tanned star Cary Grant on a collision course with the resplendent Kelly, who never looked more ravishing as spoiled heiress Francie Stevens, especially in a wide-brimmed white sun hat and bathing outfit Jackie O would have coveted. When they kiss, there are literally fireworks on-screen, a technique Hitch used to keep the censors from snipping his film. You’ll have a lot of fun catching this “Thief.”


    North by Northwest

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    By chance, martini-swilling adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a top spy, and set up for murder. He then finds himself in the unfamiliar position of fugitive, criss-crossing the country in search of the real culprit, his only chance of survival. Along the way, he meet the beautiful but mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint), who wants to help him. But is she who or what she seems?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Fifty years after release, “Northwest” provides gripping, colorful entertainment for the whole family, full of the Master’s trademark twists and turns. Only Cary could undertake such a rugged and dangerous journey and keep looking marvelous with no change of clothes. Eva Marie-Saint is appropriately enigmatic and alluring as the icy blonde who may or may not be in his corner. But it’s James Mason’s treacherous turn as the cold-blooded enemy agent that stays etched in your memory.


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  • June 15, 2009

    Anchors Aweigh

    by John Farr

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    On the Town

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1949, legendary MGM producer Arthur Freed introduced dancer Gene Kelly to a young director named Stanley Donen, and the two collaborated on this musical, chronicling three sailors’ wisecracking, happy-go-lucky shore leave in New York City. They’ve got just one day to take in the world’s greatest city, and find three girls to join them on their exuberant adventure.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This exhilarating musical comedy, featuring (respectively) the fancy footwork and infectious crooning of GIs Kelly and Sinatra, perfectly captures the optimistic spirit that held sway in the post-World War II boom. Co-starring dancers Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, “On the Town” was one of the first color films shot on location in Manhattan, and remains one of the grandest, liveliest Hollywood musicals ever made.

    Watch the trailer on Reel 13.


    Singin’ in the Rain

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A tribute to and satire of the late 20’s, when Hollywood transitioned from silent films to talkies. Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a star with a future who meets talented unknown Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), and besotted, schemes to advance her prospects. Meanwhile, he must derail the career of cloying past co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a shrill femme fatale from hell. Donald O’Connor plays Cosmo, Kelly’s eternally loyal, energetic pal.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An obvious choice, but it’s hard to resist what is likely the best film musical of all time. The period music is delightful, the dancing routines sensational. Thanks to a golden Comden & Green script, this is also among the funniest musicals ever, especially with Hagen’s side-splitting performance as Lina. Must-viewing for the whole family.’


    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the backwoods of Oregon, rugged Adam (Howard Keel) marries Millie (Jane Powell), who then inherits Adam’s six rambunctious bachelor brothers. The newlyweds need to tame the brothers so they can find mates of their own. In civilizing these boys, more than half the fun is getting there.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Featuring a slew of fabulous dancers, including a young Russ Tamblyn (later Riff in “West Side Story”), the movie’s an adrenaline rush of vibrant hues and non-stop motion. Though the songs by Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer are catchy, the real attraction here is Michael Kidd’s matchless choreography. The barn-raising sequence alone is one of the outstanding sequences in all musical film. Exuberant, infectious fun.


    Funny Face

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) transforms Paris bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) into a modeling sensation. It’s all a souffle-light pretext for breathtaking sets, music and dancing.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Combine the moves of Fred Astaire, the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the talents of Director Stanley Donen with the city of Paris and a Gershwin soundtrack, and what have you got? Movie paradise. Prepare to be delighted: this 50th Anniversary edition is “Swonderful, Smarvelous!” Look for Eloise-creator Kay Thompson playing a fashion editor modeled on Diana Vreeland.


    The Pajama Game

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When her fellow workers are denied a 7.5-cent raise, pajama-factory employee Katie “Babe” Williams (Doris Day) forms a grievance committee and takes their modest wage demand to the doorstep of shop boss Sid Sorokin (John Raitt). But things grow complicated for Babe-and how!-when she falls for the handsome superintendent. Just whose side is she on?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This Technicolor smash hit began life on Broadway but made a lively, beautiful transition to film in 1957. Funny, intelligent, and stuffed frame to frame with a jumping songbook and ebullient choreography by the one and only Bob Fosse, “Game” features Day in one of her cheekiest, most adorable screen roles. Adler/Ross tunes like “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “There Once Was a Man,” and the show-stopping “Steam Heat,” featuring the remarkable Carol Haney, add punch. If all workers’ movements looked like this, we’d have a revolution on our hands!


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • June 15, 2009

    The White Countess

    by John Farr

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    Shakespeare Wallah

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal) is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe, the Buckingham Players, trying to eke out a living performing for less-than-enthusiastic villagers in postcolonial India. When their caravan breaks down, wealthy playboy Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) steps in to help, and the sparks fly. But Sanju has already been claimed by Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey), a Bollywood actress with no intention of letting him go.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This charming early effort by the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory team, penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a gorgeous elegy to the waning of British influence in India, represented here by the growth of the Bollywood film industry. Based in part on the real-life experiences of Kendal’s own family, Ivory’s film was scored by Satyajit Ray, shot by his lensman Subrata Mitra, and impeccably played by a lively cast. Jaffrey, however, nearly steals the show with an over-the-top performance as the arrogant, jilted starlet.


    Howard’s End

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Meticulous adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End depicts transitions in the British class system in the early 20th century. It traces the evolving relationship between Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a restrained and conservative industrialist, and Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) — a poor, yet plucky younger woman.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Few filmmakers capture period detail like James Ivory. Here, Hopkins is the personification of upper-class British reserve, while Emma Thompson is radiant in an Oscar-winning performance. Vanessa Redgrave portrays Hopkins’ dying wife with poignancy, and Helena Bonham Carter is suitably fiery as Thompson’s modern sister. Literate, human drama of the first order.


    Morgan!: A Suitable Case For Treatment

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Morgan Delt (David Warner), a mentally unbalanced young artist obsessed with apes, really goes off the deep end when his beautiful, only slightly daffy spouse, Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), asks for a divorce. Determined to have her back, Morgan resorts to bizarre and desperate measures to keep her from marrying priggish art dealer Charles (Robert Stephens).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Redgrave made her film debut in this wildly inventive black comedy by Czech director Reisz. Her magnetic performance as Leonie-continually torn between her more conventional side and the unhinged part of her nature – netted her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. “Morgan!”‘s exuberant pacing and anarchic spirit make it one of the swinging sixties’ most delightfully loony cult films. Also, Warner is terrific in the lead.


    Georgy Girl

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Georgina, known as Georgy (an Oscar-nominated Lynn Redgrave), is an ugly duckling at loose ends. Her father is a manservant whose married, middle-aged employer (James Mason) wants her as his mistress. Meanwhile, her gorgeous roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) treats her carelessly, but Georgy basks in her glamour. Finally, there’s Jos (Alan Bates), Meredith’s sometime boyfriend, who beds the beauty but seems to prefer Georgy’s company. Somehow, this plump, sweet girl must make sense of her disordered life and figure out where she belongs.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Distinctive black comedy has Georgy, a free spirit with a self-image problem, surrounded by somewhat pathetic, bizarre characters: Meredith’s beauty can’t conceal the soul of a witch; Jos is a loveable, overgrown child; and Mason’s character seems like a rather lonely, leering fellow, though endowed with real affection for Georgy. Still, the film’s ambiguity is intended- and it’s a large part of its charm. A fascinating, highly original ride, with terrific performances and a vivid sense of London in the swinging sixties. Catchy title tune by The Seekers.


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