REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • March 30, 2012

    Super Sixties Musicals

    by John Farr

    John Farr considers three of the sixties’ superb musicals.


    Mary Poppins (1964)

    What It’s About:
    Based on P.L. Travers’s books set in early twentieth century London, the story tells of the unruly Banks children, Michael and Jane (Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber). The mischievous pair have run through a succession of nannies, when who floats down but a heaven-sent caregiver named Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews). Though the Banks parents (David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns) are initially bewildered by Mary’s unconventional ways, the kids are blissful, as they embark with Mary and new friend Bert, a chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke) on a series of fantastic escapades. Over time, even stern Mr. Banks comes to recognize Mary’s value- and the important lesson she teaches everyone about how to live life to the fullest.

    Why I Love It:
    Disney’s triumph expertly blends live-action and animation, and boasts a delightful score by the Sherman Brothers, including “A Spoonful Of Sugar”, “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”, and “Feed The Birds”. Veteran troupers Ed Wynn, Reginald Owen and Arthur Treacher lend colorful support, and Van Dyke is an appealing song and dance man, though his Cockney accent fails him. The real draw of course is the irresistible Andrews, who won the Oscar in her first starring role. Best for younger children, and young-at-heart parents.


    Funny Girl (1968)

    What It’s About:
    William Wyler’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical depicts the rise and reign of larger-than-life star Fanny Brice (Barbara Streisand), a popular stage comedienne and singer during the 1930s. Hardly considered a paragon of beauty and grace among the chorines she competed against, Brice worked her way to the top from Manhattan’s Lower East Side slums thanks to sheer talent and tenacity. At the height of her career, she was headlining the Ziegfeld Follies and performing to sold-out crowds. But she had less control over her tumultuous love life, particularly her passionate but doomed relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif).

    Why I Love It:
    This exuberant musical launched the screen career of Barbara Streisand, who’d originated the role onstage and who’d win an Oscar for her film debut here. Although brimming with splashy costumes and razzle-dazzle musical numbers, this is hardly a frivolous romp: Funny Girl is a surprisingly moving film that deals soberly with the pitfalls of celebrity and misguided romance. Forget that the film takes significant liberties with Brice’s real story, or that the Egyptian Sharif and Jewish Streisand don’t exactly seem like a match made in heaven; the story still holds you. That said, ultimately what makes this “Girl” triumph is Jule Styne’s fabulous score, and the young lady with the pipes who puts it over. Don’t rain on this parade!


    Oliver! (1968)

    What It’s About:
    In this musicalization of Dickens’s classic, young orphan Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) escapes a hellacious workhouse in 19th Century London to become a street urchin in the employ of shady Fagin (Ron Moody) and his brutal partner Bill Sikes (Carol Reed). In his cramped, filthy, but warm dwelling, Fagin houses a band of young thieves, led by The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild). But fate has more in store for Oliver than to become a common pickpocket. But whatever good may happen, can Oliver put his past behind him?

    Why I Love It:
    The considerable talents of British director Carol Reed and composer/lyricist Lionel Bart combine to create an exuberant musical worthy of its revered source. The cast, both young and old, excel, and songs like “Consider Yourself” and “As Long As He Needs Me” stand the test of time. “Oliver” won six Oscars, including Best Picture, a rare feat for a musical. Watch this and you’ll say: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”


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  • February 16, 2012

    Classic Clark Gable

    by John Farr

    There’s more to the star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, Run Silent, Run Deep, than “Gone with the Wind.” John Farr lists three of The King of Hollywood’s best roles.


    It Happened One Night (1934)

    What It’s About:
    Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a mixed-up heiress, hits the road incognito to escape a loveless impending marriage and a chronically over-protective father (Connolly). Riding with the common folk on a bus, she meets reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who grudgingly befriends this unusual creature, who appears curiously oblivious to the ways and customs of real life. When Peter discovers her true identity, he knows he’s got hold of the story of the century, but by this time, he’s also started to have feelings for Ellie. What’s a desperate, smitten newsman to do?

    Why I Love It:
    Frank Capra’s sublime romantic comedy swept the 1934 Oscars, and it’s still easy to understand why. Few seventy year old movies hold up like this one. Colbert makes a charming, deft comedienne (check out that hitch-hiking scene!), and Gable was never more appealing, winning his only Oscar for this role. The scene where Peter takes off his shirt and exposes his bare chest was a first, and reportedly, sounded a death knell for the undershirt industry. Hail to the walls of Jericho!


    Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

    What It’s About:
    In 18th century Great Britain, sadistic Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) commands the HMS Bounty on a long voyage to Tahiti to collect food supplies. When his consistent cruelty towards his crew goes beyond reasonable limits, second-in-command Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) faces the fateful decision of whether or not to seize control of the ship.

    Why I Love It:
    MGM’s adaptation of the famous Nordhoff/ Hall book is given top shelf treatment here, with the sneering Laughton the definitive Bligh, and the studio’s biggest star, Gable, playing Christian with gusto (and notably, without either a British accent or his trademark mustache). But never mind- this is grand, sweeping entertainment, suitable for the whole family.


    Command Decision (1949)

    What It’s About:
    During the Second World War, Air Force Brigadier General Casey Dennis (Clark Gable) decides to take advantage of fair weather by sending maximum sorties to decimate German factories where, unbeknownst to his airmen, a new, devastatingly superior jet is being manufactured. But after two days of extremely heavy losses, Dennis faces intense pressure from his senior officer, Major General Roland Kane (Walter Pidgeon), and image-conscious Congressmen, to pick easier targets- or be out of a job.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on William Wister Haines’s Broadway hit, this impeccably acted drama focuses on the politicking and senior-decision-making behind managing a war–and homeland morale. Gable is superb as the tough-minded general who must defend his top-secret, suicidal Operation Stitch to reluctant pilots and officers alike, while co-stars Pidgeon and Brian Donlevy shine as the supposedly more sensible generals. Charles Bickford has a nice turn, too, as an army reporter who thinks the privately aggrieved Dennis is a glory-hunting butcher, and watch for Edward Arnold as a Capitol Hill bigwig. Obey my “Command”–see this smart, gripping film.


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  • February 8, 2012

    Jack Nicholson – Best Actor Losses

    by John Farr

    Jack Nicholson was nominated thrice for Best Actor before finally winning for this week’s Reel 13 Classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What were they? John Farr has the answers.


    Five Easy Pieces (1970)

    What It’s About:
    Disaffected, hard-drinking oil rigger Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is not what he appears at first sight: Born into a patrician clan from Puget Sound, Bobby has turned his back on bourgeois comforts and a promising career as a classical pianist for life on the road with dim-witted girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black). Bobby’s drawn back into the family fold, however, when he learns his father Nicholas (William Challee) is dying.

    Why I Love It:
    One of the definitive, highly acclaimed films of the early-70′s New American Cinema, Bob Rafelson’s edgy, deep character study features complex and courageous performances from both Nicholson and Black. As an existentially pained outcast of upper-middle-class breeding, Jack’s pent-up Bobby is especially absorbing to watch, as he denigrates Rayette’s crass singing efforts or spars with a waitress over the vagaries of a chicken-salad sandwich. A moody portrait of alienation and unresolved pain, Rafelson’s Oscar-nominated “Pieces” will stick with you.


    The Last Detail (1973)

    What It’s About:
    Hal Ashby’s seminal 70′s film has career sailors Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young) escorting a younger convicted enlistee named Meadows (Randy Quaid) from Virginia to New Hampshire for an eight year sentence in the stockade. Taking pity on the painfully naïve, benumbed young man, the two older men resolve to show Meadows a wild time en-route, to make his upcoming incarceration more bearable. But are they really doing it for Meadows, or is to ward off their own feelings of imprisonment?

    Why I Love It:
    Gritty, wildly profane movie is equal parts funny and tragic, a tricky balance director Ashby sustains throughout. The Academy Award – nominated Quaid is wonderfully dim and pathetic as perennial loser Meadows, but Nicholson’s performance as Buddusky is a revelation, easily up to his better-known work in “Carnal Knowledge” and “Chinatown” (it earned him his third Oscar nod in four years). This “Detail” is definitely worth enlisting for.


    Chinatown (1974)

    What It’s About:
    Hired by glamorous Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to snap incriminating photos of her husband, private dick J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he’s on a routine investigation of spousal infidelity. It turns out Evelyn is actually the daughter of powerful baron Noah Cross (John Huston), and the seamy revelations only mount from there, drawing Jake deeper into a hornet’s nest of incest, betrayal, and corruption in seedy 1930′s Los Angeles.

    Why I Love It:
    Cynical, brooding, and knotted with mystery, Polanski’s “Chinatown” is an inspired update of the private eye picture that equals most anything Bogart did in the forties. The cast, of course, can’t be beat: Nicholson puts his own stamp on the familiar character of a private eye in over his head; Dunaway excels playing a dangerous woman that most men would walk off cliffs for, and Huston delivers a titanic performance as the arrogant Cross. Watch for Polanski himself as a knife-wielding thug with a grudge against nosy people. “Chinatown” earned eleven Oscar nods, but snagged only one win, for Robert Towne’s dense, twisty script. Viewed today, it’s all too clear: it should have won more.


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  • February 3, 2012

    Don’t Miss Dean Martin

    by John Farr

    Dean Martin, co-star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, Ocean’s Eleven, achieved fame with his smooth singing and straight-man partnership with Jerry Lewis, but the reason he enjoyed a such an enduring career is that he could really act.


    The Young Lions (1958)

    What It’s About:
    During WWII, singer Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and Jewish American Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) enlist and strike up a close friendship. Meanwhile, in Germany idealistic Nazi supporter Christian Diestl (marlon Brando) joins Hitler’s army and becomes an officer in the Wehrmacht. Over the course of the war, each man falls in love and confronts unpleasant realities. Ackerman battles anti-semitism among his own countrymen; Whiteacre feels guilt for getting a cushy assignment far from the front lines, and Diestl becomes increasingly disillusioned with Nazi brutality. Thus director Dmytryk explores the gray areas to be found in war, and in all human conflict.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on Irving Shaw’s novel, Edward Dmytryk’s perceptive rumination on love, war, loyalty, and fate is notable for offering one of the first three-dimensional portrayals of a Nazi character, courtesy of Brando, in a surprisingly understated mode. Clift’s own turn as the proud, patriotic Jew is one of his shining moments on-screen, while Dino eased into his first serious screen role with assurance. Great support from Lee Van Cleef (as Clift’s racist superior), the superb Maximillian Schell (as a cynical Nazi), and Hope Lange, Barbara Rush, and May Britt (as love interests) keep these “Lions” roaring.


    Some Came Running (1958)

    What It’s About:
    Returning to his Midwest hometown after WWII, card-playing soldier and once-promising novelist Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra) is a perturbing presence to his older brother, Frank (Arthur Kennedy), a well-to-do businessman who feels Dave is more trouble than he’s worth. When local creative-writing instructor Gwen French (Martha Hyer) takes a liking to Dave, he cleans up his act, but his acquaintance with Chicago floozie Ginny (Shirley MacLaine) and card sharp Bama Dillert (Dean Martin) threatens to undermine their budding romance.

    Why I Love It:
    In the wake of “From Here to Eternity,” Warners adapted another James Jones novel for the big screen, pairing director Minnelli (best known for musicals) with Ol’ Blue Eyes, who puts in solid work here as a wayward writer with a troubled heart. On- and off-screen drinking pal Martin is aces, too, playing to his breezy, real-life persona, but the fellas leave the heavy work to Best Actress nominee MacLaine, whose heartrending turn as the self-sacrificing Ginny really burrows under your skin. If “Running” has a moral, it’s this: Messy lives can be as noble as carefully ordered ones.


    Rio Bravo (1959)

    What It’s About:
    Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) is in a tight spot. He’s captured dangerous outlaw Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), and must hold him in jail until the territorial judge arrives. Problem is, Burdette has lots of confederates who’ll clearly attempt to break him out before the judge arrives. And all Chance has in his corner is Dude, his alcoholic deputy (Dean Martin) and Stumpy (Walter Brennan), a crippled old geezer. Can Chance hold out?

    Why I Love It:
    Hawks’s colorful, exciting western boasts an archetypal, larger-than-life turn from the Duke, and perhaps Martin’s finest acting job ever as Dude. Film neatly blends pathos, suspense, comedy, even songs to create top-notch entertainment. Look also for Ricky Nelson as Colorado (he and Dino get to croon together), and the leggy, alluring Angie Dickinson as Feathers, a young woman with her eye on Chance. Bravo indeed.


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  • January 27, 2012

    Have You Seen McQueen?

    by John Farr

    Steve McQueen, star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic “The Thomas Crown Affair” endures as an antihero thirty years after his premature death. John Farr will show you why.


    The Great Escape (1963)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    During World War 2, a team of Allied prisoners in a high security German POW camp work together in a tireless attempt to facilitate a mass escape. Their daring plan is to dig a long underground tunnel which will take them all to the other side of the barbed wire and freedom. This painstaking job will take not only a highly coordinated effort, but a fair amount of time, with a constant risk of failure or exposure. Will these intrepid soldiers make it out of there?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This breathless war entry, based on a true story, may just be the finest escape movie ever filmed. Beautifully shot on locations in Europe, director John Sturges reunites several of the cast from his prior triumph, the testosterone-heavy “Magnificent Seven”- notably McQueen (now a much bigger star), James Coburn, and Charles Bronson (as the expert on tunnel digging), and adds in James Garner and Richard Attenborough for good measure. Though the film is long, trust me-you won’t be looking at your watch. If you love war movies, this is top-notch, star-studded entertainment. And check out Steve on that motorcycle!


    Bullitt (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When hard-nosed Bay Area police detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) launches an inquiry into the murder of a Mob informant under his protection, he is stymied by aspiring politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), head of the Senate subcommittee investigating Mafia corruption. Undaunted, Bullitt pursues the underworld killers with dogged determination.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A cop film which boasts one of the best car chases ever – an exhilarating, ten-minute romp through the streets of San Francisco that’s rarely been equalled – “Bullitt” is the ultimate McQueen movie (along with “The Great Escape”). The action sequences are taut and nerve-jangling, and the distinctive McQueen persona – reticent, self-reliant, cool under pressure – is fully formed and evoked. Of course, he had one undeniable advantage: he was the coolest movie star of his time, and so both he and “Bullitt” endure. (Note: a young Jacqueline Bisset also makes for a stunning diversion as Bullitt’s love interest.)


    Junior Bonner (1972)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen) is a fading rodeo star who re-visits his home turf to participate in the area’s annual event. There, he re-unites with his family: beloved dad Ace (Preston), a charming but irresponsible dreamer; mother Elvira (Lupino), his more grounded, long-suffering mother who (for the most part) is now estranged from Ace; and brother Curly (Baker), a born hustler who’s becoming rich. Junior must see if he still has the stuff to compete, while coming to terms with his tricky family situation.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Sam Peckinpah’s most subtle, gentle movie is a perfect showcase for the mellowing McQueen, who comfortably wears the part of Junior like a pair of old jeans. “Junior” also boasts fabulous late-career turns from Preston, who nearly steals the picture, and Lupino in a bittersweet turn as the resigned Elvira. Flavorful entry features great rodeo atmosphere and some exciting bucking bronco sequences. Given a mixed reception on release, this underrated gem holds up extremely well, and constitutes must-viewing , particularly for McQueen fans.


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  • January 19, 2012

    Cagney the Classic Bad Guy

    by John Farr

    In his day James Cagney became the quintessential movie bad guy. Here are three of his best baddies.


    The Public Enemy (1931)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    This landmark film concerns Tom Powers (James Cagney), a wayward Irish youth from Chicago’s gritty South Side who becomes a big-time mobster during Prohibition, while his stable older brother Mike (Donald Cook) works a low-paying but honest job. As Tom’s dark star soars ever higher in the gangland hierarchy, he and childhood buddy Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) leave a trail of blood in their wake, but ultimately this life of crime exacts its toll on Tom.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Wellman’s “The Public Enemy” launched the film career of a pugnacious Irish-American from Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen who started out as a dancer, only to become the toughest tough guy of them all: Jimmy Cagney, never cockier than he is here. Since organized crime was a fairly new and frightening epidemic at the time, Wellman gives “Enemy” the stark feel of a purely cautionary tale. Both the famous grapefruit scene and Tom’s final homecoming still pack a wallop, and a stunning Jean Harlow injects plenty of sex appeal as Tom’s gal Gwen.


    Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly, two young hooligans on the make, are caught stealing, and only Jerry gets away. As the years go by, the reform school-hardened Rocky (James Cagney) enters a life of crime, becoming a famous and feared gangster, while Jerry (Pat O’Brien) ultimately sees the light and enters the priesthood. While maintaining affection for each other, criminal and priest must compete for the souls of a new generation of hoodlums in the neighborhood, played by the Dead End Kids.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    “Angels” represents the peak of the gangster picture genre which Warners developed and refined in the thirties, when the age of Capone was still fresh in people’s minds. Cagney, whose screen career had been launched seven years before in “The Public Enemy”, perfects his rendition of the crook with a heart of gold, and his close real-life friend Pat O’Brien counters him perfectly as the mellow, morally upright Father Connolly. Meanwhile Humphrey Bogart, in full villain mode, is deliciously slimy as Rocky’s “business partner”. Whatever you do, don’t miss that ending!


    White Heat (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Film follows twisted path of one Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) a hardened career criminal whose profound mental illness manifests itself in blinding headaches and an intense mother fixation. His psychosis doesn’t hold him back from an aggressive spree of robbing and killing, however. When Cody winds up in jail on a relatively minor charge, the authorities place undercover cop Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) in his cell. Later, when the two are sprung, Hank joins the Jarrett gang, and from the inside, starts to accelerate Cody’s undoing.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Raoul Walsh’s dynamite gangster picture is so much more than a re-tread of the early thirties gangster classics that made Cagney a star. Here we are less concerned with the cat-and-mouse aspects of the story (though they are plenty diverting) and more focused on the progressive mental disintegration of the central character. Cagney is outstanding as Jarrett, a man whose own demons may consume him before the police finish the job. Electrifying stuff, and a Cagney peak.


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  • January 13, 2012

    Yves Montand Cubed

    by John Farr

    Yves Montand, who stars opposite Ingrid Bergman in this week’s Reel 13 Classic “Goodbye Again” deserves a closer look.


    The Wages of Fear (1953)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Four down-on-their-luck men in a remote South American town are hired for about the most dangerous mission imaginable: dividing into pairs, they must each transport a truckload of highly explosive nitroglycerin across three hundred miles of rugged terrain. A sort of primal, perverse competition ensues, as the two sets of drivers attempt the impossible, knowing that at the next bump in the road, any or all of them could be blown sky-high.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A gut-wrenching tale from master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot, “Wages” is also an intense meditation on just how far dispossessed human beings will go for money, if desperate enough. The young Montand is positively magnetic in his first dramatic role as one of the four men. The film won the Grand Prize at Cannes, and actor Vanel, who plays another driver, was also singled out for his work. Fasten your seat belts, and get ready for a tense ride.


    Z (1969)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Minutes before he’s to deliver an anti-nuke speech to a public crowd, pro-democracy scientist Zei (Yves Montand) is brutally attacked by right-wing extremists with close ties to the authoritarian Greek government. His death sparks a scandal, a contentious trial, and the formation of a military coup dedicated to suppressing peaceful protests and the evidence presented by an intrepid photojournalist (Jacques Peppin).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Based on the real-life assassination of peace activist Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963, Costa-Gavras’s Oscar-winning political thriller stars Jacques Peppin, Greek starlet Irene Papas (as Zei’s wife Helena), and Yves Montand, in one of his most committed and compelling dramatic performances. Sweeping us from the streets of discontent to the corrupt corridors of government power, “Z” is a visceral, nerve-wracking courtroom drama with a visual energy to match its shocking exposé of anti-democratic cover-ups and martial violence. A landmark in world cinema.


    Jean de Florette (1986)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In 1920s Provence, crafty farmer Cesar (Yves Montand) and his dim-bulb nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) both covet the adjoining land, which holds a spring capable of sustaining a lucrative flower-growing business. Unfortunately, on the death of their old neighbor, one Jean Cadoret (Gerard Depardieu) inherits the acreage, and decides to farm it himself. Greedy and conniving, Cesar commits an act of treachery to which Jean becomes an unwitting victim.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Adapted from Marcel Pagnol’s two-volume novel, Claude Berri’s magnificent “Jean de Florette” (and its sequel, “Manon of the Spring”), center on the bounty we owe to water, comprising two parts of one rich story. The great Yves Montand delivers a memorable, nuanced portrayal of the scheming “Le Papet,” while the equally brilliant Depardieu tugs at the heartstrings as determined hunchback Cadoret, who struggles against impossible odds to make his farm a success . Stunningly picturesque, “Jean” reaches a high watermark for period drama.


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  • December 20, 2011

    Early Shirley Jones

    by John Farr

    Shirley Jones was a star long before her ‘Partridge Family’ days.


    Oklahoma! (1955)


    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Fox introduced the new singing team of MacRae and Jones in this buoyant musical, adapted from the hit play that launched Rodgers and Hammerstein as a songwriting team .The movie follows the round-about romance of a young couple in the rough frontier days of the early 1900s. Cowboy Curly (Gordon MacRae) has eyes for Oklahoma farm girl Laurey (Shirley Jones), but so does brutish farmhand Jud Frye (Rod Steiger). When Curly rescues Laurey from Jud’s ungentlemanly advances at a social, he also wins her hand, but Jud hasn’t sung his last tune just yet.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Though the film is long and contains a fairly high corn factor, it’s also visually stunning, and truly soars whenever the music and dancing starts, with peerless renditions of “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “The Surrey With The Fringe On The Top,” and the immortal title tune. The dance numbers, choreographed by Agnes de Mille, are original and exuberant, while Steiger and Gloria Grahame turn in fine performances, respectively playing the dastardly Jud and the naively amorous Ado Annie, “the girl who can’t say no.”


    Carousel (1956)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Former carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) marries the sweet and lovely Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones), a factory worker in a Maine coastal town. Frustrated by his inability to find work as he’s about to become a father, Bigelow makes a misguided attempt to better their circumstances, with tragic results. Ultimately, Billy receives a single shot at redemption for his past sins.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    The score’s the thing in the bittersweet musical “Carousel,” based on yet another Rodgers and Hammerstein play. Though on release the film’s darker themes played less well with audiences than jauntier predecessor “Oklahoma,” time has been kind to this picture. Once again MacRae and Jones make a winning, handsome couple, and their mellifluous voices do full justice to timeless classics like “If I Loved You” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”


    Elmer Gantry (1960)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Hiding his dissolute leanings, charismatic street preacher Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) teams up with touring tent revivalist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons) to spread the word of God, and before long the two are making money hand over fist. Falconer falls in love with Gantry, and with her new spoils, builds an enormous house of worship by the ocean. But the mercurial minister’s womanizing past is about to revisit them in the person of Lulu (Shirley Jones), a jilted prostitute out for a little payback.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Based on the bestselling novel by Sinclair Lewis, this tale of a lustful, larger-than-life charlatan’s fall from grace owes its strength to the force of Lancaster’s dynamic, Oscar-winning performance. His Gantry preaches hellfire and brimstone, but loves life – and women – with a hearty gusto that is as pure as Sister Falconer’s vanity is unbecoming. Jones also took home an Oscar, playing against type in a sultry turn as a minister’s “fallen” daughter who became Gantry’s lover. Also great is Arthur Kennedy as an atheist journalist modeled on the legendary H.L. Mencken. Fiery and sharp, Richard Brooks’s satirical take on Bible-thumping hypocrisy and hucksterism still speaks volumes in today’s world.


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  • December 15, 2011

    Darker Jimmy Stewart

    by John Farr

    Following World War II, James Stewart decided he needed to pursue roles that reflected the darker atmosphere of the Atomic Age. He found them in westerns.


    Winchester ’73 (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Lin McAdam (James Stewart) is roaming the prairies, looking to settle an old score with one Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). Unfortunately, when the two meet up, they’re in Marshal Wyatt Earp’s jurisdiction and must surrender their weapons. The two do compete in a shooting contest for a brand-new Winchester ’73 rifle, the finest firearm made. McAdam wins, but through an act of treachery, loses the rifle. McAdam goes after Dutch Henry again, only this time, he wants his rifle back too.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    James Stewart wanted a change from his folksy, everyman roles, and in a risky move, chose a western to give his image a harder edge. Director Anthony Mann and he would collaborate on four more oaters after this outing, which proved a huge success. “Winchester” brought a new complexity of character to the Western form, literally resuscitating a fading genre. This role also revived Stewart’s career by displaying the actor’s impressive range: Stewart’s McAdam is a dark, conflicted, angry fellow, far removed from the Mr. Smiths and Elwood P. Dowds of the world. Film also features sterling support from Dan Duryea, Millard Mitchell, and a comely Shelley Winters as a sweet-natured showgirl. Also look fast for Rock Hudson playing an Indian brave.


    The Naked Spur (1953)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Kansas rancher-turned bounty hunter Howard Kemp (James Stewart) faces a stubborn obstacle in his effort to return fugitive killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) for a $5,000 reward: old timer Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and dishonorably discharged cavalryman Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) turn up at an opportune moment to help Kemp corner Ben and his feisty gal, Lina (Janet Leigh), and now they want a share of the money. But it’s a long way from the Indian-inhabited Colorado mountains to Kansas, and everyone, it seems, is watching out for number one.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Filmed in Technicolor in the gorgeously rugged Rocky Mountains, Mann’s gritty, thrilling Western hinges on the hidden motives of its five protagonists, each of whom is running from a sordid past. In a none-too-wholesome role, Stewart is brilliant as a bitter war veteran whose fiancee abandoned him while he was away at the front-and made off with the title to his ranch. Mitchell’s no-luck miner and Meeker’s unsavory, no-account soldier vie with Kemp as Ryan, cackling like a jackal, sets all parties against each other while plotting his escape. The radiant Leigh rounds out the cast playing Lina, a misguided gal longing for a new life in California who falls for Stewart. “Spur” is a tough, bristling horse drama by noir director Anthony Mann.


    The Man from Laramie (1955)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Laramie native Will Lockhart (James Stewart) rolls into Coronado, N.M., with a wagon train of goods he aims to deliver, but his real motive is to find the person responsible for selling rifles to the Apaches who killed his brother. Lockhart soon learns the town is part of a vast empire owned by Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), an aging patriarch trying to decide whether to leave his vast holdings to Vic (Arthur Kennedy), his right-hand man, or his only son Dave (Alex Nicol), a dangerously unhinged cretin. Lockhart’s dust-up with Dave soon puts him into conflict with the Waggomans and town authorities.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Anthony Mann’s first picture in CinemaScope was also his last with frequent collaborator Jimmy Stewart, terrifically gritty here playing a former Army captain with a chip on his shoulder who becomes embroiled in a family’s Shakespearean conflict. Shot on location in New Mexico desert, “Laramie” has a stark visual flair to match its tough cattlemen (Kennedy is great as Waggoman’s cunning second in charge) and dark psychological themes of vengeance and greed. Saddle up!


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  • November 21, 2011

    Berlin + Astaire

    by John Farr

    The music of Irving Berlin and the fancy footwork of Fred Astaire combined for some of the finest musical cinema of the century. John Farr selects his favorite three.


    Top Hat (1935)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    It’s love at first dance for performer Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) and the stunning Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) , until, for reasons I won’t disclose, Dale gets the wrong idea that Jerry is already married. This case of mistaken identity leads to a series of comic shenanigans, punctuated by Irving Berlin songs and stunningly choreographed dance numbers.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Finally, the long-awaited Astaire-Rogers classics are being released on DVD, and “Top Hat” (arguably the best of the series, along with “Swing Time”) has never looked or sounded better. The plot is soufflé-light, but runs on the divine hilarity of its ensemble players, in particular Eric Blore as persnickety butler Bates, and Erik Rhodes as Beddini, rival to Dale’s affections. Beyond that ineffable Astaire-Rogers chemistry, the real stars are the buttery Berlin score (highlight: “Cheek to Cheek”) and dancing sequences that define beauty and grace in motion. Heaven-I’m in heaven!


    Holiday Inn (1942)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    After a painful bust-up with his girlfriend, song-and-dance man Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) decides he’s had it with the big city and retires to a farm in New England, which he converts into an inn, complete with floor shows, but open only on public holidays. Friend and co-headliner Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) wants to make a film about the inn, but things get complicated when he tangles with Hardy over lovely leading lady Linda Mason (Debbie Reynolds).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Conceived from an idea by composer Irving Berlin, Mark Sandrich’s “Holiday Inn” is a humorous, festive Crosby/Astaire musical that finds both performers in tip-top crooning and toe-tapping form. Famous for introducing “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time and an instant favorite with troops overseas, “Inn” is consistently tuneful and entertaining, with a sublime Irving Berlin score that covers not just Christmas, but all major holidays. Watch for the July 4th rave-up “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers,” one of many musical highlights.


    Easter Parade (1948)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Dumped on Easter by longstanding dance partner Nadine (Ann Miller), Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) rashly wagers he can still draw crowds even teamed with the greenest of chorus girls. Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) is his pick, and Don begins grooming her for stardom.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    In this joyous musical romp, MGM producer Arthur Freed paired Garland with the recently “retired” Astaire after original lead Gene Kelly injured his ankle. Combining Astaire’s moves and Garland’s pipes with a phenomenal Irving Berlin score adapted by Johnny Green and Roger Edens, highlights include the vaudevillian duet “We’re a Couple of Swells” and Astaire’s excellent solo to “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”. The movie was a big success in 1948, and no wonder! By all means, step out with this title.


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  • November 11, 2011

    Serious Slasher Cinema

    by John Farr

    Follow-up this week’s suspenseful Reel 13 Classic, Dressed to Kill, with three of the greatest slasher films ever made.


    Psycho (1960)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) wants to make a new life for herself, and flees hometown Phoenix with a stolen bag of cash from her employer. She then makes a fateful stop at the Bates Motel, run by one Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a nervous, awkward but seemingly innocuous man. Marion learns too late he is anything but, and soon her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Marion’s lover Sam Loomis (Gavin) have teamed up to discover what happened to her.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Made at the peak of his career in 1960, “Psycho” was suspense master Hitchcock’s last and most famous black-and-white picture-and a film that inaugurated the sub-genre of slasher movie. By the standards of today’s gore-fests, it’s a fairly restrained murder mystery, but disturbing nonetheless, achieving its chills more by what is withheld than shown. Hitchcock knows just how to heighten our dread of who or what might be at the top of the stairs, or beyond that shower curtain. The terrifying “Psycho” stands above most any psychological thriller made since.


    Black Christmas (1974)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    As their Pi Kappa Sigma peers begin to leave for the Christmas break, sorority sisters Jessica (Olivia Hussey) and bawdy Barbie (Margot Kidder) stay behind for a Yuletide party. The cheerful mood is marred, however, by a series of frighteningly obscene phone calls. The girls get nervous enough when their friend Clare (Lynne Griffin) fails to meet her dad for the ride home, and then a teenage girl is found murdered in a local park, prompting a concerned visit by police lieutenant Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon). Is a psychopath loose, or could this be more personal?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Three years before the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” brought the term “slasher film” into our movie lexicon, Bob Clark (the director of “Porky’s”!) helmed this Canadian-made psycho thriller starring Hussey, Kidder, and ubiquitous ’70s character actor John Saxon, playing a detective who suspects Jessica’s jilted boyfriend (Dullea) is a killer. With its menacing atmosphere and see-less-scare-more dictum, “Christmas” avoids all the clichés that were to follow in gorier films to come. When the shrill ring of a telephone makes your nerves jump, you know Clark’s dread-and-distress horror film has gotten under your skin.


    Halloween (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Michael Myers, who butchered his sister when he was six, has escaped from an asylum and returned to his small Illinois hometown just in time to wreak more carnage and mayhem on Halloween. Baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is unlucky enough to fall in Michael’s path, which interferes with her trick-or-treating. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael’s psychiatrist, is frantically tracking his patient, but how much blood will get spilled before he finds him?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    John Carpenter’s first and best entry in a long series, this movie gives the slasher pic a good name (that is, until you sit through all those pale re-treads). This lean feature works because it’s both original and daringly basic: Laurie is a young teenage girl up against a monster, with only her wits and her two feet to protect her from the wrong end of a large butcher knife. Will Laurie and her young charges make it to Thanksgiving? You’ll remain on the edge of your seat finding out.


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  • November 4, 2011

    Robert Aldrich Revisited

    by John Farr

    John Farr selects three great pictures from the oft-overlooked Robert Aldrich.


    Attack! (1956)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Ordering his men to attack a well-guarded German pillbox, Lieutenant Joe Costa (Jack Palance) expects backup from his senior commander, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert). The captain balks out of fear, and a squadron of Costa’s men die as a result. Infuriated, Costa curtly informs Cooney that if it happens again, Cooney will pay for his cowardice with his life. Days later, Cooney dispatches Costa’s men to the Belgian front, where the fighting is even fiercer than before.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Offering a hard-as-nails depiction of war and the ugly flipside of frontline bravery, Aldrich’s “Attack!” revisits the decisive Battle of the Bulge with a realistic tale of mutinous revenge. The always intense Palance delivers a riveting performance as an aggrieved lieutenant at the end of his rope, but it’s Albert, in a superb turn as the scurrilous, yellow-bellied captain, who earns top honors. Great support from Marvin, as Cooney’s corrupt, high-ranking pal, Colonel Bartlett, and William Smithers, as a conscientious soldier, round out a fine cast. This gritty, searing war drama ranks with “Kiss Me Deadly” director Aldrich’s very best work.


    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a highly successful child performer in vaudeville, but sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) overtook her in adulthood, becoming a huge movie star before a freak accident ended her career. Now years later, Jane takes care of her wheelchair-bound sister, but as Jane’s sanity drifts away, her long-simmering jealousy erupts into truly unhinged, sadistic behavior.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Aldrich’s campy cult classic still chills, thanks to a deliciously creepy premise which borrows from “Sunset Boulevard” in exposing the mental disintegration of a one-time star. Still, this is a more ghoulish affair, with Jane finding a variety of sinister ways to torture poor Blanche. Leads Davis and Crawford had parallel Hollywood careers, and their rivalry was famous, yet they’d never worked together before this (nor would they again!). Davis in particular is fearless as demented harridan Jane, and corpulent Victor Buono adds a revolting touch as Jane’s smarmy accompanist.


    The Longest Yard (1974)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) wants to put together a big football game pitting his prisoners against the thuggish, but well-seasoned guards’ team, so he cuts a secret deal with former-pro inmate Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) to throw the game in exchange for parole. Crewe assembles his convict squad, dubbed the “Mean Machine,” and morale is high. But when game time arrives, he faces a choice between freedom and loyalty to his team-mates.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Robert Aldrich’s crowd-pleasing prison/football comedy makes us favor the irreverent convict-outsiders (played by a who’s who of 1970s NFL stars) while disdaining the opposing bulls, led by ruthless warden Hazen and the vicious Capt. Knauer (Ed Lauter). Real-life collegiate player Burt Reynolds scored his first post-”Deliverance” hit with his assured, charismatic portrayal of Paul Crewe. Aldrich and Oscar-winning editor Michael Luciano infuse energy and urgency into the climactic game itself, spanning a whopping 47 minutes on-screen, which helps make “Yard” a winner by any measure. Beware the recent re-make.


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