REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • June 23, 2013

    Sudden Fear (1952)

    by John Farr

    Never marry an actor! John Farr discusses one of Joan Crawford’s best later films, directed by David Miller.


    Sudden Fear (1952)

    What It’s About: After he’s rejected from afar for a big role by playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) owing to his sinister looks, actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) meets and romances the middle-aged writer on a train ride back to San Francisco. She falls head over heels, and they soon marry. It seems like a match made in heaven. Only Myra doesn’t realize that Lester is not in love with her, and is actually plotting to kill her with his ex-girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame).

    Why I Love It:
    Miller’s Oscar-nominated “Sudden Fear” pairs queen of melodrama Crawford with virile villain Palance, to strong effect. Meanwhile scene stealer Grahame sizzles as Jack’s greedy, scheming mistress. With its atmospheric lighting and stark cinematography, the film is exemplary of noir thrillers of the time, but screenwriter Lenore Coffee gives the plot a gratifying twist as the intended victim turns the tables on the man who wants her dead. The resulting game of cat and mouse, which ends with a climactic nighttime chase, is the heart-pounding fun of “Fear.”

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  • June 16, 2013

    Dark Victory

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the first great melodrama starring Bette Davis, directed by Edmund Goulding.


    Dark Victory (1939)

    What It’s About: Headstrong Long Island heiress Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) lives life to the fullest, swilling stiff cocktails and chain-smoking as she flits from one party to another. But a bout of recurring headaches and fainting spells sends her to the doctor, where she learns she has a brain tumor. Following a successful operation, Judith falls in love with her surgeon, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), but her high spirits are undercut by the news that the procedure has offered only a brief reprieve.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on Casey Robinson’s stage drama, which starred Tallulah Bankhead, this Oscar-nominated weepie about a dying socialite trying to find happiness in the remaining months of her life scored with audiences in 1939, and it’s not hard to see why. The luminous Davis is superb, convincingly transforming herself from a bossy, devil-may-care horse breeder into a down-to-earth, spiritually humble human being. Humphrey Bogart does a sprightly turn as an Irish stable hand (yes, it’s true), and also watch for Ronald Reagan, who’s terrific as Judith’s suitor, Alec Hamin. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, “Dark Victory” is your ticket to tearful bliss.

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  • May 19, 2013

    The Conversation

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Francis Ford Coppola’s provoking mystery-thriller starring Gene Hackman.


    The Conversation (1974)

    What It’s About: Detached and distrustful of others, surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a deeply private, virtually friendless man whose life is consumed by his special brand of freelance intelligence work. Hired by corporate director Martin Stett (a young Harrison Ford) to monitor the conversation of a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), Caul is troubled by the fragments of talk he illicitly captures on tape and begins obsessively piecing them together, suspecting a murder is in the works.

    Why I Love It:
    Made before he began work on “The Godfather, Part II,” Francis Ford Coppola’s prescient, haunting drama is a brilliant character study that plays out in an atmosphere of intense paranoia. Hackman is the dark heart of the film, playing a profoundly solitary man tortured by guilt, complicity, and his own inability to trust anyone, including girlfriend Amy (Teri Garr). Perhaps Coppola’s most artful film, “The Conversation” is dark, brooding, mysterious, and ultimately, completely unnerving.

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  • May 12, 2013

    The Big Clock

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses this smart, inventive thriller, starring Charles Laughton and Ray Milland, directed by John Farrow.


    The Big Clock (1948)

    What It’s About:
    George Stroud (Ray Milland), editor of “Crimeways” magazine, works for effete, clock-worshipping publishing magnate Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), an unpleasant man who for years has denied Stroud a vacation with his wife (Maureen O’ Sullivan). One night, in a fit of rage, Janoth murders his mistress. Hoping to pin the crime on an unknown man she was seen with earlier, Janoth asks Stroud to launch a private manhunt, ostensibly to get a big scoop-unaware that his star editor was the woman’s drinking companion.

    Why I Love It:
    Memorable for its edgy dialogue and tense, sinister atmosphere, director Farrow’s 1948 adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel boasts an ingenious plot device: two characters, one guilty and one innocent, both attempt to “solve” a crime in which they are circumstantially implicated. Milland, solid as ever, anchors the action as the cornered protagonist, while the portly Laughton is sly and superbly loathsome as the controlling, megalomaniac killer. “Clock” also features fine support from an alluring O’Sullivan (then Farrow’s wife), Elsa Lanchester (Laughton’s wife), and Harry Morgan, who’s chilling as Janoth’s mute, gun-toting bodyguard. Incidentally, this smart, inventive thriller was re-made in 1987 as “No Way Out”, with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman.

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  • May 5, 2013

    Marathon Man

    by John Farr

    Dustin Hoffman was one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the Seventies. John Farr discusses the nail-biting thriller that showcases Hoffman’s talents.


    Marathon Man (1976)

    What It’s About:
    Thomas “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) is a nerdy New York grad student who finds himself in a nightmare soon after his mysterious older brother Doc (Roy Scheider) pops in to visit. Though Doc betrays precious little to his kid brother, he’s in fact with the CIA, hot on the trail of former Nazi Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). When Doc next bursts in to Babe’s apartment mortally wounded, the clueless younger brother is plunged into some deadly international intrigue involving stolen diamonds, and becomes a target of Szell himself.

    Why I Love It:
    Dustin Hoffman re-grouped with “Midnight Cowboy” director Schlesinger for this nerve-jangling thriller based on screenwriter William Goldman’s novel. Some critics fault the movie for loose ends in the plot, but in a thriller of this type, plot logic seems almost secondary. The Oscar-nominated Olivier is chilling as the sadistic Szell, but the resto f the cast id equally fine, including Scheider and William Devane as a corrupt government agent. Twisty and paranoic, “Man” delivers…” Add final sentence: “Is it safe to see this movie? You decide.

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  • May 3, 2013

    El Cid

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Charlton Heston’s historical epic, directed by Anthony Mann.


    El Cid (1961)

    What It’s About:
    Disgraced 11th-century Spanish knight Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar (Charlton Heston), dubbed El Cid for his progressive sense of justice, earns the king’s favor when he vanquishes a hostile challenger in a duel to the death. Now the royal defender, El Cid pursues Chimene (Sophia Loren), a gorgeous noblewoman with an ax to grind, and goes on to unite all the warring factions in his home country against Moorish invaders.

    Why I Love It:
    King of psychological westerns and hard-boiled noir films, Anthony Mann turned his attention in 1961 to mounting a widescreen historical epic worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. The effort paid off handsomely: the set pieces are stunning, the orchestration of men, horses, and armies dynamic and thrilling to behold. At the heart of this real-life story of love and adventure is the interplay between Heston, always commanding in large-scale heroic roles, and the luxuriant Loren, playing his nemesis and future wife. Shot on location by DP Robert Krasker, “El Cid” has a grandeur equal in every way to its legendary namesake.

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  • March 24, 2013

    Pride of the Yankees

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the baseball classic, directed by Sam Wood.


    Pride of The Yankees (1942)

    What It’s About:
    Biopic of famed New York Yankee Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) traces his storied athletic career, as the legendary southpaw ascends to the best team in baseball, while also portraying his romance and eventual marriage to devoted wife Eleanor (Teresa Wright). The movie culminates in his final gallant battle with a rare and fatal disease, soon to bear his name. We watch as Gehrig bears this ultimate challenge with the same grace and finesse he displayed as a ballplayer.

    Why I Love It:
    Potent inspiration for a country newly at war, this sentimental tearjerker still holds up beautifully, with lots of patriotic flavoring and the inspiring atmosphere of a simpler, nobler time. The magnetic Cooper was never better, Wright is radiant as his spouse, and we even get a glimpse of Babe Ruth playing himself. Don’t miss this affecting ode to a long-ago era when our nation’s role models really were heroic.

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  • March 17, 2013

    Cary’s Comedies

    by John Farr

    Five funny films featuring Cary Grant.


    Topper (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    George and Marion Kirby (Grant and Bennett) seem to have it all: they’re rich, attractive, and live the high life-that is, until they’re killed when driving their roadster just a bit too fast. Now bona-fide ghosts, it seems the couple have one final errand to do before going to their eternal rest: help their stifled, hen-pecked banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) get more out of life-while he’s still living!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Uproarious comedy was yet another step to super-stardom for Cary Grant, who proves himself a gifted comic player as well as handsome leading man. Bennett (older sister of Joan) is the essence of high-toned style and beauty as wife Marion. Still the revelation is Young, who’s a consistent delight as the put-upon Cosmo, a man who must cope not only with a rigid, controlling wife (Billie Burke), but a couple of goofy, upper crust specters who keep turning his well-ordered world upside down. A genuine screwball classic. Note: this DVD also includes the sequel “Topper Returns”, which brings back Young (sans Grant and Bennett) and is good fun, though a tad contrived and not up to the first entry.


    The Awful Truth (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, an affluent, attractive young couple who temporarily drift apart and initiate divorce proceedings. Both are unwilling to admit the obvious fact that they’re still in love. Jerry plays the field, but always seems to be turning up (mostly to visit their dog, Mr. Smith). His visits only increase once Lucy gets involved with oil man Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), a wealthy rube from Oklahoma.The couple’s slow but inevitable rapprochement becomes one hilarious, delightful dance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leo McCarey was renowned for his comedic flair (he had directed the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup”), and this consistently sharp, often side-splitting picture shows why. Reportedly the director actually improvised many of the comic set-pieces right on the set, causing rising star Cary Grant much anxiety. He needn’t have worried. The film was a hit, and cemented the reputations of both stars as much more than pretty faces, but in fact, gifted comic players with superb timing. Both Dunne and Bellamy received Oscar nods, while McCarey won for Best Director. Among the top screwball comedies ever made- and that’s the truth!


    Bringing Up Baby (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) leads a quiet, studious life, and is engaged to a proper, like-minded young woman. Then, quite by accident he runs into daffy heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who immediately takes a shine to the handsome, bespectacled scientist. Used to getting just what she wants, Susan simply won’t let David go. Before long, Huxley’s life gets turned upside down, as Susan kidnaps him to her starchy aunt’s Connecticut estate, along with her explorer brother’s recently arrived present, a tame leopard called “Baby”. The comic mayhem escalates from there.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Howard Hawks’s quintessential screwball outing remains one of our most riotous and inspired screen comedies. Grant and Hepburn (who’d do “Holiday” later the same year and “The Philadelphia Story” two years later) are in fabulous form, with Grant wholly convincing as the nerdy, befuddled victim, and Kate on fire as a flaky but determined lass who’s finally found true love, and intends to hold on, come what may. This Sublime, classic film is fun, fast and oh-so-funny.


    Holiday (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Free-spirited Johnny Case (Cary Grant) proposes to sweetheart Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on holiday in Lake Placid, but only later learns that she hails from an old and wealthy New York family headed by her stiff, suspicious industrialist father (Henry Kolker), who disapproves of Case. Julias rebellious sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn), goes to bat for the dashing, independent-minded Mr. Case–and they soon find they have more in common than a tendency to flout convention.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    As leading man, Grant was unequalled, the epitome of charm, and Cukor’s “Holiday” finds him in peak form, starring opposite the redoubtable Hepburn in this giddily amusing romantic comedy. Based on Philip Barry’s Broadway play, this was the third Grant-Hepburn pairing in as many years, and one of the sauciest, as the young would-be lovers buck the dictates of high society. With excellent supporting work by Lew Ayres as Hepburn’s alcoholic brother, and Edward Everett Horton as Grant’s bosom friend, “Holiday” is an antic riff on lives of privilege.


    His Girl Friday (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Sneaky, slimy editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will stop at nothing to prevent his best reporter (and former wife) Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) from leaving the exciting newspaper business for a dull marriage to the chronically normal Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). As fate would have it, the year’s biggest story is breaking, as condemned killer Earl Williams (John Qualen) breaks out of jail, and even Hildy can’t resist the lure of the scoop. Will Walter’s nefarious scheming prevent Hildy from reaching the altar?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The legendary Howard Hawks directs what may be the fastest film comedy ever. A re-make of “The Front Page”, this version’s inspired plot twist is that Hildy is a female reporter, formerly wed to loveable scoundrel Burns. The conceit works, as underneath Walter and Hildy’s scathing, rapid-fire repartee we sense a strong (though somewhat twisted) animal attraction. Both Grant and Russell are in top form, and all we have to do is keep up with them. A rip-roaring good time, start to finish.


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  • February 17, 2013

    Roman Holiday

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, directed by William Wyler.


    Roman Holiday (1953)

    What It’s About:
    A gossamer young Hepburn plays the young Princess Anne, who is making an official visit to Rome. As royalty, she is programmed and scheduled to the hilt and becomes increasingly tired of being cooped up. So one night, she slips out to sample the wonders of the ancient city- incognito. Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) is the reporter who eventually takes her in for the world’s biggest scoop, and then falls for her. Albert is his photographer friend, who shares Peck’s explosive secret.

    Why I Love It:
    Off-screen, Peck was so convinced Hepburn would be a huge star that he confronted director William Wyler, insisting she share top billing with him. An extremely generous and unusual gesture, it also reflected keen judgment. Virtually an unknown before the picture was released, this often hilarious, extremely touching movie made Hepburn an overnight star. Not only could she act, but the camera loved her as it has loved few actresses. Peck and Albert are both terrific, and Wyler’s on-location shooting is flavorful and evocative. This timeless romance is also ideal for the whole family.

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  • January 20, 2013

    Bull Durham

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Kevin Costner’s great baseball movies, directed by Ron Shelton.


    Bull Durham (1988)

    What It’s About:
    Shelton’s winning romantic comedy is set in the special world of minor league baseball, exploring the dynamics (and rivalry) between two very different teammates – seasoned veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), and rookie hot-shot Nuke La Loosh (Tim Robbins). Complicating matters further is the femme fatale that comes between them: a bewitching baseball “groupie” named Annie (Susan Sarandon). Which player will take home that prize?

    Why I Love It:
    This wry comedy delivers irresistible entertainment, evoking the more- shall we say, informal- atmosphere of life in the minors. Star Costner is appealingly mellow, and Sarandon skillfully plays her character as sexy, funny and wise, all at once. Still, Robbins steals the movie in showy role as the dim-bulb rookie. Director Shelton was Oscar-nominated for his salty, funny script- and no wonder. Play ball!

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  • January 14, 2013

    Indiscreet

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a romantic comedy starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, directed by Stanley Donen.


    Indiscreet (1958)

    What It’s About:
    Industrialist Philip Adams (Cary Grant), on business in London, meets famous stage actress Anne Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) and pretends to be married, presumably to avoid the subject further down the road. Anne still can’t help falling in love with him, of course. But when she learnsWhen the fiery Anne learns he’s not married, she schemes to make him pay for his ruse.

    Why I Love It:
    What Director Stanley Donen uses excellently here are two gorgeous, sophisticated stars that fit like a glove. He also creates a deliciously elegant atmosphere with colorful, chic sets, scenic London locales, and stunning Dior gowns and stunning Dior gowns that comprise a feast for the eyes. “Indiscreet” will transport you to another lost, pleasant, and civilized time and place when the words “sophisticated”‘ and “comedy” could actually go together.

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  • January 10, 2013

    The Flight of the Phoenix

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses James Stewart’s last great film, directed by Robert Aldrich.


    The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

    What It’s About:
    After their plane crashes in the Sahara desert, grizzled veteran pilot Frank Towns (James Stewart) and alcoholic navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) attempt to establish order among a volatile group of male passengers, including British officer Capt. Harris (Peter Finch) and addled mental case Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine), while scrambling for a way to flag down help. All hope seems lost until arrogant German engineer Heinrich (Hardy Krüger) reveals an audacious plan for building a new aircraft from the wreckage.

    Why I Love It:
    A gripping survival film headed by a superlative cast, Aldrich’s gritty “Phoenix” pits Stewart’s irascible, old-school aviator against Kruger’s smug, ultra-rational scientist, a tense war of wills that anchors Lukas Heller’s intelligent storyline. Addressing issues of cowardice and bravery, as well as the antagonisms that divide civilization from the rule of anarchy, Aldrich gets a lot of mileage out of the scorching setting. Attenborough, Finch, Borgnine, and Dan Duryea add a colorful mix of madness and insight to the crew’s efforts in fine support roles. For a manly take on desperation and its discontents, “Phoenix” is one hell of a good ride.

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