REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • October 27, 2011

    Blake Edwards’ Best

    by John Farr

    John Farr selects three of A Shot in the Dark director Black Edwards’ best efforts, including his only non-Pink Panther picture with Peter Sellers.


    Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Charming, bubbly Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) leads a peripatetic life in Manhattan, attending swanky parties and living off the largesse of her gentleman acquaintances, who keep her attired in the very best designer outfits. Intrigued by Holly’s coming and goings, as well as her bouts of wistful loneliness, upstairs neighbor Paul (George Peppard) falls for the neurotic socialite. But is there something hidden behind Holly’s sophisticated facade?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Adapted from Truman Capote’s novella, Edwards’s fleet-footed romantic comedy would not be the cultural touchstone it is without the effervescent presence of Hepburn. As Holly Golightly, a small-town Texas girl with her feet planted firmly in the glitz of New York’s party scene, Hepburn is irrepressibly charming, a vision of elflike beauty in Givenchy and pearls. But she is also a frail creature harboring secrets, and Hepburn plays both sides exquisitely. Peppard is solid and likable as writer Paul, Holly’s admirer and confidante, while Neal chews on her steely role as Paul’s wealthy older mistress. A chic, iconic romance, memorably set to the Oscar-winning strains of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.”


    Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    After an awkward meeting at a boat party seems to put them at odds, publicist Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) and Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick) fall madly in love. The social and professional demands of the public-relations racket are nothing new to Joe, but gradually he turns tee-totaller Kirsten on to the pleasures of swilling cocktails at any hour. Over time, alcohol becomes integral to the young newlyweds’ relationship, and threatens to destroy their blissful existence.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A downbeat love story pickled in bile and booze, this melodrama of addiction by the great Blake Edwards skirts the same terrain as “Lost Weekend” without ever getting preachy. Instead, Edwards examines the sullied yet undying connection between his two self-destructive protagonists, played by Lemmon and Remick with unblinking honesty. (Two specific scenes-his in a madhouse and hers in a motel-are wrenching.) Charles Bickford lends terrific support as Kirsten’s widower father, as does Jack Klugman in a small role as Joe’s AA sponsor. “Days” is a hard-hitting drama about love in the ruins, buoyed by Henry Mancini’s melancholic jazz score.


    The Party (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    A fat-cat Hollywood producer decides to throw a splashy dinner party (“Anyone who’s anyone will be there!”), and as bad luck would have it, Indian-born actor Hrundi Bakshi (Peter Sellers) mistakenly makes it onto the guest list. Though Bakshi knows few of his fellow guests, they will certainly get to know him before the night is over.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Sellers inhabits another accident-prone character in his continuing partnership with Blake Edwards. Bakshi is a gentle person, but his innocent curiosity about his surroundings (or is it bewilderment?) manages to wreak havoc most everywhere he goes. Though detractors claim the comic momentum flags by picture’s end, Sellers’s brilliant characterization and some sublime set-pieces make this worthy viewing. In particular, what transpires when the guests are first seated for dinner may be one of the funniest sequences ever captured on film. In addition, French actress Longet is adorable as the party’s prettiest guest, who befriends Bakshi. Don’t miss this riotous sixties bash!


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  • October 20, 2011

    William Powell Perfection

    by John Farr

    William Powell made so many magnificent pictures it’s difficult to choose three recommendations to watch after After The Thin Man this weekend, but John Farr makes the tough choices, all from one year: 1936.


    The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    This enchanting film traces the colorful life of early twentieth century showman Florenz Ziegfeld from carnival side-show barker to producer of the immortal Ziegfeld Follies, the most glamorous and elaborate stage show ever mounted, including the world’s prettiest chorus girls and the country’s top vaudeville acts, including comedienne Fanny Brice and hoofer Ray Bolger (who both appear in the film).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This top MGM musical recreates the glory days of the musical theatre, before movies overtook Broadway as our primary form of entertainment. The charming Powell reflects ideal casting for Ziegfeld, and frequent co-star Myrna Loy is also on hand playing second wife Billie Burke. Winner of that year’s Best Picture Oscar, Luise Rainer also won a statuette for her portrayal of “Ziggy”‘s first wife Anna Held (her culminating phone scene is justly famous). Long but dazzling, “Ziegfeld” combines backstage drama with on-stage spectacle- in particular, don’t miss that immortal “Pretty Girl” musical number.


    My Man Godfrey (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Through a contest only the idle rich could invent, a daffy family hires a forgotten man from skid row to become the new butler in their zany household. Younger daughter Irene (Carol Lombard) proceeds to fall in love with him. Godfrey (Powell), however, is not precisely who, or what, he seems.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Gregory La Cava’s sublime “Godfrey” blends screwball elements with more serious overtones on Depression-era class injustice, to create a wildly entertaining yet thought-provoking movie that holds up beautifully. The term debonair was indeed coined for Powell, and Lombard makes for an adorable ditz. (Trivia note: the two stars had been married briefly several years earlier, but had divorced amicably, and remained good friends). Highlights: comic actor Mischa Auer as Mrs. Bullock’s “protégé”, along with the rotund Pallette as Mr. Bullock, the family’s frustrated industrialist father, who appears more like an impotent keeper at an asylum.


    Libeled Lady (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    The ever-smooth Powell plays Bill Chandler, a freelance journalist hired by his old newspaper to squelch a libel suit brought by society heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy). To do this, Bill must make Connie fall in love with him and then place her in a compromising position. Ultimately, he melts her icy exterior, but ends up falling in love himself. What’s a smitten newspaperman to do?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1936, Jack Conway’s underexposed screwball comedy is a raucous farce buzzing with zany humor, thanks to a flurry of impeccable one-liners delivered by Powell and Loy, reunited from their pairing in “The Thin Man.” Playing Haggerty, the newspaper’s frantic editor, and Gladys, his continually jilted fiancée, Tracy and Harlow round out a stellar foursome in this fast-paced, ingenious laugh-fest.


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  • October 13, 2011

    PI Pictures

    by John Farr

    On the occasion of the broadcast of Reel 13 Classic The Thin Man, John Farr tips his fedora to three classic PI pictures.


    The Maltese Falcon (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Humphrey Bogart is private detective Sam Spade, playing opposite Mary Astor as the shifty and cunning femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She needs help finding a jewel-encrusted statue of a bird that goes back centuries. A host of other nefarious types, including The Fat Man (Sydney Greenstreet), is after the same thing. Spade is locked in tight since the case has also resulted in his partner’s murder. The new three disc, special edition version includes a fresh digital transfer of this timeless classic, along with a new documentary on the making of the picture, and two prior filmings of Dashiell Hammett’s story.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    After years of playing villains for Warner Brothers, this picture demonstrated once and for all Bogart’s star quality. “The Maltese Falcon” is the definitive private eye film, where we see crooked human beings grabbing for their pot of gold in a bewildering urban jungle. An impressive debut feature for John Huston behind the camera, the film holds you in its grip throughout. Wait for that immortal ending! And-with Warner’s extra-filled re-issue, “Falcon” fanatics will have even more to sink their teeth into, including two earlier film adaptations that are fun in themselves but also point up what elevates the Bogie version. This new set is a must for any serious film fan.


    Murder, My Sweet (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Former crooner Dick Powell was first to assay the role of Raymond Chandler’s famous gumshoe Philip Marlowe in this screen adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely”. Here Marlowe is hired by hulking underworld figure Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) to find his missing girlfriend, Velma. Being versatile and money-hungry, at the same time Marlowe takes on another assignment to recover a stolen necklace. Could the two cases be linked? Marlowe endures a lot of pain finding out, but then, that’s what he’s paid for.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Edward Dmytryk’s trim, crackling detective tale has enough twists and turns to befuddle most any snoop, but that’s the whole fun of it. Powell’s gritty, bravura turn as the original Marlowe (Bogie would follow him two years later in “The Big Sleep”) opened up gritty new avenues for the actor, and the sultry Claire Trevor scorches the screen as femme fatale Helen Grayle. Packed with the patter of gunsels and molls in dimly lit, smoke-filled rooms, noir doesn’t get much “noirer” than this. Hard-boiled mystery fans should pounce.


    Out of the Past (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Private detective Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is hired by high-ranking mobster Whit Sterling (a young Kirk Douglas), to find the crook’s runaway mistress, Kathie Moffett (Jane Greer). Apparently, the young woman got into some serious mischief and ran off with $40,000. Tracking her South of the Border, Bailey meets and falls for Kathie’s seductive charms, setting off a chain of events that drags him ever deeper into a world of lies, treachery, and betrayal.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Replete with expressionistic lighting, ominous atmosphere, cynical dialogue, and a sizzling femme fatale, Jacques Tourneur’s “Out of the Past” is quintessential film noir. In a star-making performance, Mitchum cemented his image as a laconic, heavy-lidded fatalist, while the white-hot Greer- radiant as Kathie-executes one of the most sensual entrances in film history. All conspire to make Tourneur’s “Past” damn close to perfect. Remade to lesser effect as “Against All Odds” (1984), with Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward.


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  • October 7, 2011

    Masterful Joseph L. Mankiewicz

    by John Farr

    This Saturday, Reel 13 will air Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic, All About Eve, but before that,John Farr recommends you brush up on three of the master’s earlier works.


    A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    As three female friends (Linda Crain, Jeanne Darnell, and Ann Sothern) head off on a day-long boating excursion with a school group, each receives the same letter from town flirt Addie Ross claiming she has absconded with one of their husbands. Each woman then has the day to spend wondering if it’s her man who’s missing. Their individual musings take the form of revealing flashbacks into their interconnected lives.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    The legendary Joe Mankiewcz received direction and screenplay Oscars for this sharp little gem, too often eclipsed by his masterful follow-up, “All About Eve”. “Wives” uses a clever narrative device to explore the pettiness of small-town life, and the foibles and insecurities in three marriages, as the three women react to the mysterious note by taking stock of their lives, each knowing one of them is in for a big shock at day’s end. Intelligent, incisive, and adult romantic drama. Look for Kirk Douglas in an early role as one of the husbands.


    House of Strangers (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Self-made immigrant banker Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) treats three of his four employee sons like dirt, reserving his favor only for Max (Richard Conte), a lawyer. When Gino’s old ways of doing business run afoul of banking regulations, only Max tries to help him, and ends up doing jail time, while the other brothers wrest control of the bank from their broken dad. Once Max is sprung, his first instinct is revenge, but time and the love of a woman (Linda Hayward) make him reconsider.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s scorching tale of a destructive family vendetta is a stylish, well-conceived outing. Though screenplay credit went to Philip Yordan, Mankiewicz’s inspired touch is evident in the film’s tight pacing and sharp, flavorful script. Robinson is masterful as an Italian-American patriarch, and the under-appreciated Conte is also aces as a slick operator who’s not quite as tough as he seems. For a gritty noir you won’t forget, enter this House of Strangers.


    No Way Out (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Wounded mobster Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) is brought to a police hospital along with his brother George (Harry Bellaver), where they are treated by Dr. Luther Brooks (Sydney Poitier), a talented black M.D. whom Ray heckles with racist diatribe. When George dies, Ray blames Dr. Brooks, and begins a campaign of hate that boils over into the city’s black community.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A tense, hard-hitting social drama that earned an Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1950, Mankiewicz’s pioneering film looks squarely at the ramifications of racial hostility while keeping audiences on the edge of their seat. Poitier is magnificent in his debut role, the epitome of coolheadedness and quiet self-regard, while Widmark seethes in a typically explosive role. Mankiewicz builds suspense inside and outside the hospital, and the effect is riveting. Keep an eye out for actors/civil-rights activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, playing Luther’s brother and sister-in-law in a tandem debut. A potent powder keg of a film that hasn’t lost its bite–or its relevance.


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  • September 30, 2011

    Amazing Audrey

    by John Farr

    Audrey Hepburn led a legendary life and career. This week, Reel 13 will air her classic, “The Nun’s Story.” If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Audrey at her best, John Farr has three of her finest to recommend.


    Charade (1963)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Parisian Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) knew she had marital problems, but when her errant husband gets mysteriously killed, she finds being a widow even more troublesome. It seems her husband was involved in hijacking some significant loot during the war, and now some of his past comrades- including Tex (James Coburn), Herman (George Kennedy) and Leo (Ned Glass), want to know where the money went. H. Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) is the government agent also interested in the case, and suave Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) the gallant older man who serves as Regina’s protector. But is Peter really on Regina’s side?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This Hitchcock homage provides a last glimpse of Cary as leading man. At sixty, the actor still brings off his trademark persona superbly. Hepburn is also in top form as the put-upon damsel in distress. Deftly combining mystery, romance, and humor, director Donen creates a chic, sophisticated mood via gorgeous Paris locations and a smooth Mancini score. The villains are mean enough to be taken seriously, but exhibit enough idiosyncrasies to seem human (Coburn has particular fun as Tex). As top-drawer entertainment, “Charade” is the real thing.


    Two for the Road (1967)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    The ups and downs of matrimony are deftly explored via vacations past and present in the lives of affluent couple Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) and Mark Wallace (Albert Finney). We see the bloom of early passion recede as over time the couple adjusts to new life priorities and struggles to maintain their intimacy and affection.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This smart, knowing romance projects director Donen’s signature style, with Hepburn the essence of sixties chic, and Finney (in his prime) the epitome of a salty, rugged leading man. European locales and a memorable Henry Mancini score add the requisite zing to this mature, nuanced love story. William Daniels and Eleanor Bron are also memorable as another married couple who cause Joanna and Mark to examine the state of their own union.


    Wait Until Dark (1967)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Blinded in an accident, Manhattan housewife Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) is terrorized by a gang of killers after a large quantity of heroin stashed in a doll her husband, Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), unwittingly accepted from a woman on a plane trip. Led by Roat (Alan Arkin), the thugs will stop at nothing to recover the fortune, but Susy’s no pushover.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Audrey Hepburn ventures into edgy territory in Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark,” based on the stage play by Frederick Knott (writer of “Dial M for Murder”). The Oscar-nominated actress excels in the role of a sightless woman fighting for her life in a basement New York flat, and Richard Crenna is solid as her unlikely protector. Still, it’s Alan Arkin who really sets your teeth on edge playing one of the screen’s creepiest villains. This nifty suspenser starts slowly but builds to a terrifying climax. Just wait.


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  • September 16, 2011

    Darker Dassin

    by John Farr

    Once a successful Hollywood director, Connecticut-born Jules Dassin turned to Europe to revive his film career after being blacklisted in the years after WW2. Here are three of his darker films from his Hollywood noir days.


    Brute Force (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Tough, unsmiling inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) has spent much of his long prison term butting heads with sadistic, power-hungry Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Sentenced to a merciless work detail in the subterranean drain pipe after one of Munsey’s stool pigeons is killed in a machine-shop accident, Collins determines to hatch a breakout plan with his cellmates.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Made just prior to “Naked City,” Dassin’s gritty prison melodrama puts a twist on the archetypal bust-out scheme by revisiting, in flashback, the pre-penitentiary lives of Collins – ably played by an intense young Lancaster – and his crew, colorfully brought to life by character actors Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and John Hoyt. In a fine performance, Charles Bickford appears as the prison’s gruff de facto leader and newspaper editor who throws in his lot with Collins. The other ace in Dassin’s deck is Cronyn, playing a corrupt, savage prison guard bent on bringing “discipline” to his inmates, while nursing a megalomaniacal ambition to replace the wimpy Warden. Aside from the ominous noir visuals, Dassin explores issues endemic to prison life and wraps them up in an ugly finale meant to evoke a Nazi bloodbath.


    The Naked City (1948)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When a high-class model is murdered in her bathtub on New York’s Upper West Side, veteran detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) is called in to solve the crime. Tediously reconstructing the previous 18 months of the young woman’s decadent social life, Muldoon, along with sidekick Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), pursues a seemingly endless string of weak leads and no-account witnesses in hopes of cracking the case.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Shot entirely on location in 1940s Manhattan, this semi-documentary police procedural offers a day-to-day look at the life of the Big Apple, its varied denizens, and the routine of two cops-old hand Fitzgerald (who quietly steals the film) and the dutiful but still green Taylor–out to catch to catch the killer of a young model. Soon the fast-talking Frank Niles, who knew the deceased and has no alibi, emerges as the prime suspect. Director Dassin handles all the action with a matter-of-fact directness, but the great achievement of “City” is its verisimilitude of character and place, along with a final chase scene on the Williamsburg Bridge that will steal your breath away. There might be “8 million stories in the naked city,” but this sinister crime drama was the first-and still the best. Trivia note: this film was said to have inspired “Dragnet”.


    Thieves’ Highway (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Returning home from World War II, stout-hearted mechanic Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) is angered upon learning that devious trucking boss Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) is to blame for the accident that left his father legless. Vowing revenge, Nick colludes with fellow driver Ed (Millard Mitchell) to expose Figlia’s crooked racket, even if it means breaking the law.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Like Raoul Walsh’s 1940 film “They Drive by Night,” Dassin’s drama deals with the hard-line culture of rig drivers who transport goods and produce from state to state, often at great risk to their health and livelihood, and their connection to underworld crime. Cobb is terrific as the pitiless Figlia, and Conte is stalwart as the war vet whose quest for vengeance leads him down a dangerous path-away from alienated fiancée Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and into the arms of prostitute Rica, played by the luscious Valentina Cortesa. Dassin’s second to last film before his blacklist-related exile in France, “Highway” is road noir at its redline best.


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  • September 6, 2011

    Superb Susan Sarandon

    by John Farr

    John Farr sends a salute to the star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, the superb Susan Sarandon.


    Atlantic City (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Lou Pasco (Burt Lancaster) is a remnant of the old Atlantic City, a fading numbers runner who takes care of Grace (Kate Reid), the lonely, elderly widow of a mob boss. His neighbor Sally Matthews (Sarandon) is a symbol of the city’s coming revitalization with legalized gambling – a young waitress and aspiring blackjack dealer who hopes one day to work in a Monte Carlo casino. Lou comes into unexpected money via a botched drug deal, and finally gets the chance to live the dream he’d almost given up on, one that includes a new wardrobe, a wad of cash, and Sally on his arm. But will Lou’s new reality last, and will Sally make her own dreams come true?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Hypnotic film by French director Louis Malle deals with themes of decay and regeneration in both character and setting. Lou represents the past, Sally the future, with Atlantic City itself the transitional present which makes it possible for this unlikely duo to connect. Sarandon is luminous, but Lancaster’s Lou forms the movie’s heart and soul. Top-notch script by John Guare completes this winning package.


    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!


    Dead Man Walking (1995)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), a Catholic nun and anti-death-penalty activist, receives a letter from Matthew Poncelet (Penn), soon to be executed for the rape and murder of two teenage girls, she resolves to pay him a visit. Though Matthew is far from sympathetic, Sister Helen agrees to be his spiritual advisor and advocate, and lobbies for a new hearing on Matthew’s sentence.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s non-fiction book by actor/director Tim Robbins, “Dead Man Walking” is an intense, harrowing account of one woman’s dogged attempt to assure spiritual (if not earthly) redemption for a condemned killer. Penn is ideally cast as the convict, but Susan Sarandon’s stripped-down performance as his spiritual guide is courageous, gut-wrenching work, fully meriting that year’s Oscar. Unavoidably depressing, “Dead Man Walking” is also very real, shedding light into spaces we could easily ignore, but shouldn’t.


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  • August 31, 2011

    Royal Reels

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 will air The Madness of King George, and to expand your palette of films about royalty, John Farr shares three of his favorite movies about monarchs.


    The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In this cheeky look at the controversial life and loves of King Henry VIII, Charles Laughton portrays the over-indulgent monarch, who challenged church doctrine by marrying not once but six times. From Anne Boleyn to Anne of Cleves, Henry proves himself to be a haughty conqueror of women, and quite enamored of his power-at least until he meets his match.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Henry VIII’s unusual life has been covered in many films, but this lavish early depiction has its own magic, primarily owing to Laughton’s dynamic, Oscar-winning portrayal, in a role he was born to play. Laughton is ably supported by a dashing Robert Donat as Henry’s cuckolding subject, and the dark and stunning Merle Oberon as the endearingly dim-witted Boleyn.


    The Lion in Winter (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Hoping to retain his grip on power, 12th-century King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) summons his estranged, exiled wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), for a Christmas Eve meeting with their three sons, Richard the Lion-Hearted (Anthony Hopkins), Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), and Prince John (Nigel Terry), to determine who will succeed to the throne. As Henry and Eleanor lock in a vicious battle of words, the remaining family members-including Henry’s mistress Alais (Jane Merrow) and her teenage brother King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton)-try to outmaneuver each other in their quest for dominance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Shot on location in France and the British Isles, and based on an excoriating play by Richard Goldman, “Lion” is a wit-fueled, magnificently acted parable of power-lust and extreme family dysfunction. O’Toole and Oscar winner Hepburn are superb as the grizzled, sarcastic regent and his cunning wife, locked in a never-ending exchange of venomous criticisms. A youthful Anthony Hopkins, in a spirited turn, pops off some of the best insults. Aside from the endless machinations of various family members, Harvey adds period flavor with authentic costumes and gloomy, tone-perfect settings. When this “Lion” roars, you’ll be hooked.


    Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (1997)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    With the premature death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in the 1860s, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has withdrawn from her subjects into a period of mourning and seclusion. A Scottish stable worker named John Brown (Billy Connolly), whom Albert had admired, is summoned to the Queen’s service. Brown’s common-sense directness and strength draw her out, and literally and figuratively, place the Queen back on her horse.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    “Mrs. Brown” beautifully recounts one of the most unconventional, unlikely romances in history. The close and affectionate friendship that grows between Victoria and lower-class Highlander Brown scandalized Britain then, and will fascinate audiences now. Judi Dench is glorious to watch in a role that gilded her path to Hollywood, and brilliant comic Connolly shows he can act with the best.


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  • August 24, 2011

    Anti-War Cinema

    by John Farr

    Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, this week’s Reel 13 Classic, is a unique film in a long tradition of anti-war movies. John Farr suggests three more essential entries.


    Paths of Glory (1957)

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

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


    Coming Home (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Fonda plays Sally, a Veterans’ hospital volunteer, whose husband (Bruce Dern) is away in Vietnam. At the hospital, she befriends Luke (John Voight), a paraplegic, as a result of the same war. Luke’s bitterness is gradually overcome by his relationship with Sally, which evolves into a love affair. When her husband returns from overseas, he, Sally and Luke have a lot to sort through.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A love story to be sure, but also a highly original take on the human price of war. This riveting film is propelled by intense performances from the three leads, all of whom were Oscar-nominated (both Voight and Fonda won). A triumph from the late, talented Hal Ashby.


    Breaker Morant (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When war breaks out in 1899 between Great Britain and the Boers (African settlers of Dutch heritage), a number of Australians volunteer to serve in the British army. In the heat of battle, a group of Boer prisoners and a German missionary are killed by an Australian unit, and three men–including Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward)–are court-martialed for murder, to placate both the Germans and the Boers, who may be ready to make peace.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    One of the high points in Australian cinema, Beresford’s devastating film recounts the true story of Australian soldiers martyred for political expediency. Accurately depicting the injustice visited upon these three “colonials” by their British commanders, “Morant” is also a magnificent character study. Thompson is terrific as the lawyer who defends the men, but Woodward’s resonant, heart-rending performance in the title role is reason enough to see this stunning film.


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  • August 18, 2011

    Magisterial Lee Marvin

    by John Farr

    John Farr digs into three films featuring one of his true cinematic heroes, Lee Marvin, star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, The Dirty Dozen.


    The Professionals (1966)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When a lawless Mexican revolutionary named Raza (Jack Palance) abducts the gorgeous Maria (Claudia Cardinale) for ransom, wealthy Texas rancher Grant (Ralph Bellamy) hires the only men he knows have a chance of rescuing his wife: horse trainer Hans (Robert Ryan), tracker and longbow expert Jake (Woody Strode), and stoic leader Fardan (Lee Marvin), who posts bail to recruit his womanizing best pal, explosives pro Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), for this tricky job. The trek is dangerous, with bandidos in the canyons and Raza’s trigger-happy watchmen on patrol, but with $10,000 each on the barrelhead if they bring Maria back, the men are highly determined.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Richard Brooks’s self-penned, high-energy Western, set in the waning years of the Mexican Revolution in 1917, is a tense, gritty and exciting horse drama. The teaming of Marvin and Lancaster, playing Raza’s disenchanted ex-amigos, works brilliantly, while Strode and Ryan offer fine support as talented sidekicks. Italian bombshell Cardinale, in her first English-speaking role, provides plenty of fiery va-va voom, too, especially in league with Palance’s rough-riding Raza, who proves to be quite a romantic himself. Filmed on location in Nevada, “The Professionals” is a rousing, thoughtful action movie that deals with questions of money versus morality, and the last gasp of noble frontier idealism.


    Point Blank (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    It’s not a good idea to double-cross Walker (Lee Marvin), but the Organization, a far-reaching crime syndicate, actually thought they could get away with it. Leaving him mortally wounded (they thought) and without his cut of a lucrative heist, they become understandably rattled when Walker is suddenly back in their midst, wanting his money and not taking “no” for an answer.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Director John Boorman’s peerless crime drama endures as one of the signature films of the 1960′s. Marvin is a walking, talking time bomb as the obsessed Walker and Lloyd Bochner looks and acts the part of slimy chief betrayer Frederick Carter, a man we dearly want to see get what’s coming to him. Angie Dickinson is her sexiest as wily femme fatale Chris, who hops between men (and beds) with ease. And just wait for a pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor in a pivotal role as Brewster, the big syndicate boss. One of my personal favorites, and endowed with a swingin’ sixties look and feel, this one really hits the bull’s eye. Pounce, action fans.


    The Iceman Cometh (1973)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    At a grungy New York ale house in 1912, a group of down-and-out alcoholics gather to celebrate the birthday of bar owner Harry Hope (Fredric March), including Larry Slade (Robert Ryan) and Hickey (Lee Marvin), a perennial loser who believes he has alighted on the proper attitude toward a wasted life. As Hickey berates the assembled for clinging dearly to their never-to-be-realized pipe dreams, his orations unleash a torrent of ill feeling and heart-rending catharsis.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Star Lee Marvin delivers the goods in the demanding central role of Hickey, the loutish sermonizer who attempts to convince his fellow losers that admitting to being a failure is the only possible redemption. In the last role of a long and distinguished screen career, March also shines as the aptly named Harry Hope, a widower who numbs his grief with work. Still it’s tough guy Ryan who gives the film’s most towering performance as the dying, laconic intellectual Slade (Ryan was also terminally ill when the film was shot). Frankenheimer, normally a director of high-wire political thrillers, directs Eugene O’Neill’s raw, devastating play with confidence and sympathy for the plight of his characters. Look for a very young Jeff Bridges as Parritt, Slade’s tragic young friend.


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  • July 26, 2011

    Masterful Muni

    by John Farr

    This week’s Reel 13 Classic, Angel on My Shoulder, stars the inimitable Paul Muni, an actor whose brilliant chops shone particularly bright in the three films John Farr highlights here.


    Scarface (1932)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In Prohibition-era Chicago, a power struggle is underway: mobster Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is charged with killing the reigning mob boss, but manages to beat the rap. Tony is nothing if not ambitious: soon enough he’s seized control of the whole bootlegging racket, through sheer cunning and good ol’ fashioned homicide.Though his rise is meteoric, we sense Tony’s fall may be just as dramatic.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Hawks’s film was the most violent America had ever seen (with 30+ on-screen deaths), but the visual energy he brought to the production proved intoxicating, making a big star of Muni, one the meanest criminal maniacs in screen history. Hawks upped the ante in other ways, too, like giving Ann Dvorak a central role as the slinky sis Camonte is perversely jealous of, despite having the sexy Karen Morley on his arm. And George Raft earned himself a studio contract playing Muni’s loyal, kill-happy sidekick, Guino. De Palma’s tongue-in-cheek remake has its own dirty charms, but Hawks’s vicious gangland biopic will never be topped for sheer bravado. Bonus: Boris Karloff as a North Side boss. Don’t miss this one!


    I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang(1932)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Sentenced to ten years on a chain gang for a restaurant holdup he was forced to participate in, hard-luck WWI vet James Allen (Paul Muni) sees his dreams of becoming an architect vanish. Unable to take the vicious, dehumanizing prison routine hes been condemned to, Allen escapes, holes up in Chicago, and begins a new life. But his past will not desert him so easily.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Anchored by Paul Muni’s gut-wrenching performance, Mervyn LeRoy’s socially outraged “Gang” is based on real-life escapee Robert Elliott Burns’s Depression-era memoirs. In fact, LeRoy’s gritty, unflinching depiction of the sadistic brutality of chain gangs proved so unpopular in Georgia, where the practice was perfected, that the state’s governor banned the film! Burns himself helped out with the script, and was eventually pardoned after the film’s release. Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1933, “Chain Gang” set the bar high for future prison movies, and its influence, which extends down to “Cool Hand Luke,” can’t be overstated.


    The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Living in Paris with his impoverished painter friend Paul Cezanne (Vladimir Sokoloff), budding novelist Emile Zola (Paul Muni) encounters one frustration after another when his writings are repeatedly stymied by government censors unhappy with his penchant for depicting prostitutes and other persons of low character. Zola eventually makes a breakthrough, but faces his biggest challenge defending Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut), whose trial for treason became one of the most controversial news events of the late 19th century.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Part film biography of France’s great writer, part riveting real-life story of justice, Dieterle’s well-mounted production is a triumph all around, especially for Muni and Schildkraut, who won an Oscar playing Dreyfus, for whom an aging Zola penned his now legendary tract “J’accuse.” Harry Davenport is also a compelling presence as the leader of the anti-Semitic officers presiding over Dreyfus’s fate. Winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1937, “Life” is a splendidly acted, rousing historical film.


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  • July 20, 2011

    Power & Tierney

    by John Farr

    This week’s Reel 13 Classic, The Razor’s Edge, features a pair of stars in Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney destined to share the screen, but don’t stop there. John Farr has three other films for fans of Power and Tierney.


    The Mark of Zorro (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Disillusioned by his experiences as a WWI pilot, Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power) returns to Chicago skeptical of American values and fixated on discovering the true meaning of life. This doesnt play well with his fiancee, Isabel (Gene Tierney), a society doyenne, whod like Larry to be more practical and stay put. So Darrell must embark alone on a spiritual quest that takes him first to Paris, then Nepal. Years later, the former lovers meet again

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    You can’t be faulted for balking at the misbegotten 1984 adaptation of this Somerset Maugham novel starring Bill Murray, but don’t pass on Goulding’s original-it’s a gem. Shepherded to the big screen by Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck, “Edge” is the story of a personal odyssey that catches up to its cast of characters ten years on, finding them much changed. Apart from Power’s unusually affecting performance as a war vet who finds solace with a Hindu mystic, the film’s cast includes Clifton Webb and Oscar winner Anne Baxter in a blowout performance as Darrell’s blowzy, alcoholic wife. “Edge” is a poignant, finely wrought exercise in soul-searching.


    Nightmare Alley (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Stanton Carlisle is a carnival employee who over-reaches in his quest for fame and fortune. He picks up a mind-reading technique (which boils down to a bunch of sophisticated code) from trusting colleague Zeena (Joan Blondell), then discards her for a younger woman and appropriates the code for himself. Now hitting the big-time in night-clubs, Stanton feels he can’t lose, but the higher he gets, the farther he’s bound to fall.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Edmund Goulding creates one of the screen’s most indelible noirs, with the seamy carnival world providing an ideal setting. Power excels against type as the sleazy Stanton (a role he loved playing), and Blondell brings the perfect cheap, faded quality to small-timer Zeena. Jules Furthman’s hard-boiled script keeps us guessing just how Stanton will eventually tumble. Dripping with a deliciously dark mood and atmosphere, mystery fans will find “Nightmare” right up their alleys.


    Night and the City (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In post-war London, small-time hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) ekes out an existence steering customers to the Silver Fox, a sleazy nightclub owned by the oily, obese Phil Nosseross ( Francis L. Sullivan). Wily and manipulative in his unquenchable drive to advance his fortunes via various shady schemes , Harry even stoops to stealing from his devoted singer-girlfriend, Mary (Gene Tierney). He finally gets his chance at the big time when he cons retired Greco- Roman wrestling star Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbysko) into a new promotional scheme, only to face the wrath of Gregorius’s well-connected and dangerous son, Kristo (a young Herbert Lom, later Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the “Pink Panther” series).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    The noirish name of Jules Dassin’s classic thriller says it all: Widmark, here in the role of penny-ante loser more than hardened criminal, manages to be at once hateful and pathetic as conniver Fabian, running through dark, dank back alleys to flee those he’s fleeced. Lom and Sullivan are also stellar as the underworld kingpins he inevitably stings-and who mete out punishment accordingly. Vivid camerawork, frenetic pacing, and a palpable sense of anxiety drive Dassin’s final, pre-blacklist Hollywood picture to a heart-pounding finish.


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