REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • September 9, 2012

    In A Lonely Place

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Humphrey Bogart’s great movies, directed by Nicholas Ray.


    In A Lonely Place (1950)

    What It’s About:
    Volatile screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) finds himself in hot water, needing to clear himself of a murder rap. Fortunately his new sexy neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) is on-hand to supply Dixon with an alibi. Then, as she gets to know him more intimately, Laurel begins to second-guess her own memory. Has she helped a murderer go free?

    Why I Love It:
    Nicholas Ray’s first-rate noir entry defines everything a whodunit should be. Bogie seems tailor-made for the role of the tortured, enigmatic writer, while Grahame lends a sultry, heavy-lidded allure to the character of Laurel. (Trivia note: Grahame was actually married to the director at the time, but they split soon after.) Probing, literate and atmospheric, this is one “Place” very much worth visiting.

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  • September 6, 2012

    Tin Men

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Barry Levinson’s second homage to his hometown of Baltimore.


    Tin Men (1987)

    What It’s About:
    Bill “B.B.” Babowsky (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ernest Tilley (Danny DeVito) both sell aluminum siding in 1963 Baltimore, but that’s where the similarities end. B.B is smooth, neat, and a consummate salesman, while Ernest is rougher around the edges and in a slump. When these two meet via a fender-bender, a long-running feud begins, changing both men’s lives and reverberating through the local siding industry.

    Why I Love It:
    Levinson’s second homage to his hometown of Baltimore (after the superb “Diner”) is a vivid, side-splitting movie with terrific star turns and ensemble playing. Both Dreyfuss and DeVito go to town as stylistic opposites and natural adversaries, with John Mahoney, Seymour Cassel, and Bruno Kirby (among others) lending priceless support as fellow tin men on both sides of the conflict. Only Barbara Hershey feels miscast as Ernest’s fed-up spouse, but fine actress that she is, she makes the best of it. A winning comedy with plenty of soul and heart, “Tin Men” is pure gold.

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  • September 4, 2012

    The Set-Up

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of the great American boxing films, directed by Robert Wise.


    The Set-Up (1949)

    What It’s About:
    Despite the pleas of lovely wife Julie (Totter), washed-up heavyweight Bill “Stoker” Johnson (Ryan) steps into the ring one more time, feeling “in his bones” that tonight he’ll emerge the winner. But unbeknownst to him, slimeball manager Tiny (George Tobias) has arranged with crooked crime boss Little Boy (Alan Baxter) for Stoker to take a dive in the third-something the hyped-up boxer doesn’t learn until the match is well under way.

    Why I Love It:
    Robert Wise’s taut, bruising drama tackles the merciless world of boxing with heavy cynicism but great empathy for the men whose bodies are nothing more than bettors’ chips. Ryan, a real-life college boxing champion, is exceptional playing the 35-year-old fighter-an “old man in this business,” as his wife reminds him-determined to whip a mobster’s punk. And Baxter, whose pinched smirk conveys a world of menace, couldn’t be more sinister, especially in the crushing finale. Wise intercuts the bloody, heart-catching real-time bout (a major influence on “Raging Bull”) with unflattering shots of the audience-a woman screaming for blood, an obese fellow stuffing his mouth-satirically expressing his own fury without a single word of dialogue.

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  • July 22, 2012

    Gentleman Jim

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas, directed by Raoul Walsh.


    Gentleman Jim (1942)

    What It’s About:
    Sponsored by a bank executive, brash Irish pugilist and bank clerk Jim Corbett (Flynn) trains himself in the scientific methods of prize fighting at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Cocky and charismatic, Corbett works his way up the fledgling boxing hierarchy and even tries to win over the high-born Victoria Ware (Smith). But Corbett faces his ultimate challenge when he takes on famed bruiser John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) in a highly charged New Orleans bout back in 1892.

    Why I Love It:
    Walsh’s splendidly robust biopic of Corbett, the first fighter to win the world heavyweight title under the more refined Marquis of Queensberry rules he helped draft (i.e. no biting, kicking, or clawing), is one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas. Flynn’s deft handling of Corbett’s outsize personality – a mix of classy manners and boorish bluster – and Bond’s own turn as Sullivan, a champion boxer who can “lick any man in creation,” are the film’s main attractions. In dramatizing Corbett’s colorful career, Walsh handles the action exceedingly well, especially the final ring showdown, a bout as jarring and thrilling as anything in Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.”

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  • July 9, 2012

    Hud

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends you revisit Paul Newman’s brilliant lead performance in this film.


    Hud (1963)

    What It’s About:
    This modern-day psychological Western concerns unfulfilled, resentful Texas rancher Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), and his uneasy relationships with distant, steely father Homer (Melvyn Douglas), sexy, weathered housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal), and impressionable nephew Lon (Brandon de Wilde). Keeping everyone at arm’s length, Hud believes in looking out for himself alone, even when events at the ranch take a turn for the worse.

    Why I Love It:
    Strikingly photographed by James Wong Howe, Martin Ritt’s uncompromising, anti-hero Western broke new ground for a genre which, in the early ’60s, was still stuck in tired old conventions. The movie endures due to Newman’s brilliant lead performance as Hud, an arrested adolescent in a man’s body. All the acting is excellent-especially Oscar winners Patricia Neal as the sad, sensuous Alma, and Douglas as the leathery, principled father. Finally, Newman’s ability to inject pathos into such a cynical, unsympathetic character speaks volumes about his own talent. A spare and powerful film.

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  • July 9, 2012

    Rear Window

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces.


    Rear Window (1954)

    What It’s About:
    After breaking his leg on the job, photojournalist Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart) must pass the sweltering New York summer looking out his apartment window–into his neighbors’ windows-and his natural nosiness causes him to study a battling couple across the courtyard. When the woman disappears, Jeff suspects her husband, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), of foul play, and enlists his adoring, high-society girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) to help him investigate.

    Why I Love It:
    One of the most celebrated films in history, this classic takes its time, but once the tension starts building, it doesn’t stop until the heart-pounding conclusion is upon you. A new peak for Hitchcock in blending the story of a crime that may have happened with the dark side of human obsession–in this case, voyeurism. The movie marks a high point for James Stewart, who would be remembered as Hitchcock’s most human and vulnerable hero. And who can resist the bewitching Grace Kelly?

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  • June 28, 2012

    The Narrow Margin

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of the most thrilling crime pictures with a surprise ending.


    The Narrow Margin (1952)

    What It’s About:
    Tough-talking LA detective Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) arrives in Chicago to escort a cynical mobster’s wife (Marie Windsor) to a California grand jury, where she plans to testify against her estranged husband. The mafia has other plans for Mrs. Neall-namely, to rub her out. After his partner is gunned down leaving Neall’s apartment, Brown is on high alert, and must outwit a team of gangsters who follow them onto a sleeper train but seem to have no idea what their female target looks like.

    Why I Love It:
    A smart, edge-of-your-seat thriller set almost entirely on a West Coast-bound train, “Margin” captivates thanks to its many sudden plot twists and ingenious central tension: Brown doesn’t know which of the men on-board is a gangster, and the hit men don’t know which of the female passengers to bump off. McGraw’s gritty, hardboiled cop and Windsor’s catty moll play off each other extremely well, and portly actor Paul Maxey adds a bit of mystique as an irritating, perhaps devious passenger. Snappy dialogue, crisp pacing, and even-handed direction keep Fleischer’s “Margin” flying like a bullet. Infinitely better than the 1990 remake.

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  • June 25, 2012

    Notorious

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of his favorite Ingrid Bergman films.


    Notorious (1946)

    What It’s About:
    At the end of World War 2, American intelligence officers are busy tracking Nazis who’ve escaped to South America. They approach Alicia Hubermann (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of a condemned Nazi spy, to use her feminine wiles to implicate more of her father’s colleagues, including Alex Sebastian (Rains), ringleader of a clandestine group which is up no good. Before her specific assignment gets disclosed, however, Alicia and American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) become romantically involved, complicating matters going forward.

    Why I Love It:
    With director Hitchcock at his most subtle and inspired, this brilliant nail-biter seems only to improve with each viewing. 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 who falls for the wrong girl. Don’t miss the climax, which is nothing less than pure, understated genius.

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  • June 18, 2012

    The Awful Truth

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Cary Grant’s finest comedies.


    The Awful Truth (1937)

    What It’s About:
    (Cary) Grant and (Irene) 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!

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  • June 10, 2012

    The French Connection

    by John Farr

    What is the best chase scene ever? John Farr gives you the answer.


    The French Connection (1971)

    What It’s About:
    “Connection” relates the fact-based story of narcotics detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider), who use unorthodox means to track down the source of an upcoming heroin influx to New York City. Their obsessive, hard-driving style leads them to a smooth French drug lord (Fernando Rey) attempting to smuggle in a huge shipment of dope from Europe.

    Why I Love It:
    Gene Hackman’s electrifying performance as Popeye Doyle won him an Oscar and transformed him from supporting player to star. Shot verité-style by William Friedkin, this spellbinding movie evokes the slightly fraying quality of New York thirty years ago, when a fiscal crisis loomed. This only adds to the grit and edginess of this intense film, without question one of the best cop movies ever.

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  • May 11, 2012

    The Big Sleep

    by John Farr

    John Farr explains why The Big Sleep could be his favorite of the four Bogart-Bacall films.


    The Big Sleep (1946)

    What It’s About:
    Private investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) gets tangled in a seedy web of murder and vice when he’s hired by wealthy scion General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to investigate a pornographer with incriminating photos of his daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers). Marlowe finds the man dead, but this is only the beginning, as plot twists-and bodies- pile up fast. At first, the detective is intrigued by the general’s other daughter, the ravishing Vivian (Lauren Bacall), but keeps her at a safe distance. Events will soon conspire to bring them closer together.

    Why I Love It:
    Scripted by William Faulkner from Raymond Chandler’s complex detective novel, Howard Hawks’s “The Big Sleep” is a Hollywood whodunit of the highest order. Bogart famously cemented his trench-coated, tough-guy persona tackling the role of Chandler’s shamus protagonist, Philip Marlowe, co-starring alongside soon-to-be wife Bacall. “Sleep” piles up so many dense subplots that ultimately you may lose track of who killed whom- apparently, even Chandler lost track of one culprit. Still, that Bogart-Bacall wattage and Hawks’s expert direction are such that you don’t much care.

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  • April 13, 2012

    How about Howard Hawks?

    by John Farr

    Howard Hawks is certainly known for his comedies, but he’s just at the helm of adventure stories with plenty of intrique.


    Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

    What It’s About:
    Classic Howard Hawks picture concerns Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), operator of an air freight service in South America’s fog-enshrouded Andes Mountains. Confronting treacherous flying conditions with regularity, Geoff must make life-or-death decisions about when his men can fly. Further complicating life on the ground is the arrival of Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), a showgirl in transit who’s socked in by weather, and Macpherson (silent star Richard Barthelmess), a pilot harboring a dark secret. Macpherson is also joined by young wife Judy (Rita Hayworth), who’d once been involved with Geoff. The plot thickens along with the fog.

    Why I Love It:
    Elements of drama and romance co-mingle with the serious business of men being men in this involving, exciting adventure story. Grant stretches his screen persona effortlessly as a tough guy with little humor and no polish, and Arthur makes a spunky love interest. Hayworth looks particularly stunning in a pivotal early role, and Thomas Mitchell also shines as Kid Dabb, a loyal older pilot who’s losing his bearings. This heroic outing soars.


    To Have and Have Not (1944)

    What It’s About:
    Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), an American skipper in Martinique during the World War II, seems like the self-interested type, but ultimately shows his true colors by aiding the Free French. Still, this risky bit of intrigue is mere pretext for the smoldering romance that ignites on- (and off-) camera between Morgan and alluring chanteuse Marie (Lauren Bacall, then just 19).

    Why I Love It:
    Director Hawks wagered Ernest Hemingway he could make a hit movie out of his worst novel. The author took the bet and once you watch “To Have and Have Not” (1944), you’ll know Hawks won. Still, the only elements Hawks keeps from the book are the title, the hero’s name and the fact he makes his living on the sea. Never mind, the film remains a gripping adventure tale with stand-out performances from the stars and supporting players Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael. But above all, it’s very much a romance: just watch the famous “Just Whistle” scene. Bogie and Bacall fell in love on-set, and married soon after.


    Red River (1968)

    What It’s About:
    Bitter, unyielding cattle breeder Tom Dunson (John Wayne) has been forced to take his large herd through treacherous territory to save his business. His adopted son Matthew (Montgomery Clift, in his film debut)-orphaned years ago in an Indian massacre-joins him, but when the two cross swords over Dunson’s obsessiveness, the older man loses his powerful temper and expels his ward, vowing to kill him if and when he next sees him.

    Why I Love It:
    Director Howard Hawks gave western icon John Wayne another indelible, ruggedly stubborn character to play in his masterful “Red River,” a high point of their many collaborations. Populated by colorful supporting characters, including the salty Walter Brennan as camp cook Groot Nadine, “River” combines psychological drama, action, and suspense in a stirring, expansive western landscape. The final settling of scores between Wayne and Clift is unforgettable.


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