REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • June 28, 2010

    Vintage Family Classics

    by John Farr

    John Farr offers three family friendly films to accompany this week’s Reel 13 Classic, “The Little Princess.”


    March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This musical fantasy based on a Victor Herbert operetta features a variety of familiar nursery rhyme characters joining Stannie-Dum (Stan Laurel) and Ollie-Dee (Oliver Hardy) in Toyland. Stan and Ollie are toy-making apprentices working for no less a personage than Santa himself. Meanwhile, Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry) wants to marry Tom-Tom Piper (Felix Knight), but evil landlord Silas Barnaby threatens to foreclose on Bo-Peep’s home unless she marries him. She refuses, and then Barnaby frames Tom-Tom, who gets relegated to Bogeyland. Stan and Ollie are around to stir up, then resolve several “fine messes” in the bargain, including the fate of Tom-Tom and Bo-Peep.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    March”, a perennial holiday favorite produced by the legendary Hal Roach, retains its magic, thanks to a charming, refreshingly simple rendering of Toyland and its citizens, some cute songs, and the irresistible antics of Laurel and Hardy as the movie’s hapless heroes. Best for smaller kids and their parents (though more suggestible tykes might get a small scare out of Bogeyland’s denizens). In sum, this is a sweet movie that harkens back to a more innocent, fanciful time, while showcasing an immortal comedy team.


    Captains Courageous (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the pampered son of a wealthy widower and tycoon (Melvyn Douglas) who has learned he can get whatever he wants if he whines, lies, and screams loud enough. On a posh cruise to Europe with his father, Harvey falls overboard and is rescued by a boat full of fishermen led by crusty skipper Disko (Lionel Barrymore) and including kind-hearted, Portugese-born Manuel (Spencer Tracy). As Harvey’s official rescuer, Manuel undertakes to teach the young Harvey about real life and the ways of humble men who work the seas.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on a Rudyard Kipling story, this heartwarming adventure saga follows the transformation of a bratty pantywaist into a decent young man under the tutelage of Tracy’s gentle fisherman. Bartholomew is a natural playing the self-centered child of privilege, and really clicks with Tracy, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the sensitive Manuel (though he hated putting on an Iberian accent). Absorbing for viewers of any age, “Captains” is a rousing tale whose bittersweet climax will not leave a dry eye on deck.


    Lassie Come Home (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Young Joe (Roddy McDowall) adores his collie, Lassie, and the dog returns his devotion. When hard times force Lassie’s family to sell her to a wealthy nobleman who lives far away (Nigel Bruce), the fiercely loyal and intelligent pooch cannot be deterred from returning to what she considers her true home and master.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Touching tale gets full MGM treatment, with sumptuous Oscar-nominated Technicolor and a solid cast, including Donald Crisp and Elsa Lanchester as Joe’s parents, and Elizabeth Taylor in her first MGM role. Mc Dowall’s performance is heartfelt and restrained for the time, and Lassie, of course, is the dog we’d all love to own- as evidenced by the numerous movie sequels and TV incarnations that followed.


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  • June 21, 2010

    Fritz Lang in America

    by John Farr

    Fritz Lang directed many fine films; here are 3 of his greatest shot Stateside.


    Fury (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    An innocent man (Spencer Tracy) on his way to a long-awaited reunion with his fiance (Sydney) is stopped by police en-route and accused of a kidnapping he didn’t commit. The angry townspeople then take justice into their own hands, and only later is the enormity of their crime revealed in court.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Master Director Fritz Lang creates a superb showcase for a young Tracy as a random victim of mob violence. The film’s denunciation of all too common practice (particularly against minorities) was well ahead of its time. This bold, gut wrenching feature culminates in a memorably potent wind-up.


    Hangmen Also Die (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy), a leader of the underground Czech resistance, assassinates a prominent Nazi minister known as “the Hangman,” the surgeon seeks refuge in the home of Mascha (Anna Lee), whose own father, Professor Novotny (Walter Brennan) is on a short list of enemies of the Reich. Seeking revenge and obedience to Nazi rule, the Gestapo begins rounding up suspected dissidents and agitators, including Novotny. Meanwhile, they issue an ultimatum to the people of Prague: Surrender the assassin or the detainees will die.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the finest anti-Nazi thrillers to emerge from the WWII period, Lang’s noirish approach to the propaganda film involves cloak-and-dagger intrigue, sinister interrogations, and plenty of light-and-shadow atmospherics, courtesy of camera great James Wong Howe. Such elements were second nature to German ex-pat Lang, director of “M” and “The Big Heat,” and his impeccable direction of numerous character actors – a cab driver (Lionel Stander) and a fruit merchant (Sarah Padden), in particular – adds to the visceral power of this story of resistance. Brennan is also excellent playing against type as a radical patriot. See “Hangmen” or die trying.


    The Big Heat (1953)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Scrupulous police detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) targets mobster Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) after a colleague’s suicide note implicates him in corruption at the city-government level. In response, Lagana’s men plant a car bomb meant for the snooping cop, but instead kill Bannion’s wife, prompting the enraged lawman to seek vengeance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This brutal, in-your-face noir thriller about organized crime and political graft by German ex-pat Lang is about as hardboiled as they come. For starters, the dialogue is sharp and blunt, like a smack in the jaw, and Ford’s portrayal of the obsessed Bannion is downright fearsome. “Heat” is particularly memorable for two performances: Lee Marvin, as psychotic henchman Vince Stone, and the peerless Gloria Grahame, as a sultry moll whose face Marvin cruelly disfigures-with a cup of scalding hot coffee! Crisply paced and unrelentingly fierce, “The Big Heat” is one steamy ride.


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  • May 31, 2010

    Working-Class London

    by John Farr

    A glimpse of London’s less-glamorous side.


    Alfie (1966)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Self-styled English playboy Alfie (Michael Caine) is crazy about women and guiltlessly indulges himself without an ounce of shame or sense of responsibility. Upbeat but completely lacking in self-awareness, Alfie behaves like a cad when he learns his live-in girlfriend, Gilda (Julia Foster), is pregnant, and selfishly pursues other birds, including Lily (Vivien Merchant), a married woman. But Alfie’s carefree, happy-go-lucky days can’t last forever can they?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on the play by screenwriter Bill Naughton, director Lewis Gilbert’s “Alfie” is a black comedy of mores and manners about a naïve womanizer who wonders, as in the title song, “What’s it all about?” Caine, in a star-making role, is sensational as the charming but emotionally clotted Alfie, whose hilarious asides to the camera leaven the film’s heavier moments. Just as good is a brassy Shelley Winters as Ruby, a seductive vixen who turns Alfie inside out. Even today, Gilbert’s unsparing riff on the emptiness of sexual conquest still resonates, and the film also benefits from the palpable electricity of London in the swinging sixties.


    Dance with a Stranger (1985)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In Mike Newell’s recounting of the crime that shook England, Ruth Ellis (Miranda Richardson) is a club hostess with the bad fortune to meet and fall for the wealthy, careless David Blakely (Rupert Everett), a young playboy whose attentions toward Ruth eventually turn sporadic. Ruth truly loves David, so his inconstancy wreaks havoc with her already delicate mental state. Ruth’s loyal friend Desmond (Ian Holm) tries to steer her off this destructive course, but fails. This tortured romance is bound to end in tragedy.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Beautifully rendered, superbly acted film recreates events leading up to one of England’s most famous crimes of passion. Newell painstakingly revives the look and feel of 1950′s London, using this sordid affair to examine the ingrained class differences that doomed the couple from the start. Richardson, Everett, and Holm are marvels to watch, and the film’s shattering climax is worth waiting for. Catch this chilling romantic thriller.


    Naked (1993)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After sexually assaulting a woman in London, acid-tongued ne’er-do-well Johnny (David Thewlis) flees to Manchester and looks up his ex-girlfriend, Louise (Lesley Sharp). Johnny seduces her drug-addled roommate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), but soon grows irritable and ventures out for a midnight jaunt, regaling every stranger he meets with his nihilistic worldview.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leigh created his most disturbing and loathsome character in the garrulous drifter Johnny, but his brilliance is in making us empathize with this viciously sociopathic personality. Thewlis gives a virtuosic performance as Johnny, spewing abrasive, apocalyptic vitriol about women, God, and bourgeois society, when he isn’t simply humiliating those in his immediate vicinity, like Louise and Sophie. Dreary settings and encounters with a variety of sad characters transform Johnny’s bleak rants into an indictment of sorts against England’s rotting welfare state. Not for all tastes, “Naked” is raw, fierce, and unforgettable.


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  • May 24, 2010

    The Screwball

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed My Man Godfrey, you might also enjoy these classic screwball comedies.


    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.


    The Awful Truth (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a wealthy young couple who temporarily drift apart and initiate divorce proceedings. Both are unwilling to admit the obvious fact that they’re still in love. Their rapprochement is one delightful, hilarious dance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leo McCarey was a genius with comedy, and this consistently sharp, side-splitting picture proves it. The film cemented the reputations of both Grant and Dunne as much more than pretty faces, but in fact, gifted comic players with superb timing. A delightful, sophisticated screwball comedy.


    Bringing Up Baby (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

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

    WHY I LOVE IT:

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


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  • May 17, 2010

    Glamorous Gene Tierney

    by John Farr

    John Farr pays tribute to the sad life of one of noir’s forgotten stars.


    Heaven Can Wait (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    On the day of his death, assured that he’ll be rebuffed in Paradise, aristocratic New Yorker Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) pays a visit to His Excellency (Laird Cregar), a highly courteous Lucifer who agrees to listen to Van Cleve’s life story and determine whether he’s right for Hell-a place people had often “told him to go.” Thus begins this playboy’s tale of life-long philandering, and the effect it had on his lovely wife Martha (Gene Tierney), a woman he truly adored at first sight.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A deft, subtly brilliant romantic comedy by the great Lubitsch, “Heaven” examines a privileged man whose boyish love of courtship colors his devotion to his wife, making his life “one continuous misdemeanor.” Penned by the gifted Samson Raphaelson and shot in lavish Technicolor, “Heaven” marries urbane wit and bittersweet themes about youth and aging, folly and regret. Ameche and Tierney make a handsome, appealing pair from their first meeting in a bookshop, while Charles Coburn (as scampish Grandpa Hugo) and Allyn Joslyn (as Henry’s strait-laced cousin Albert) round out a fabulous supporting cast. Delicate, charming, and almost effortlessly moving.


    Laura (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Assigned to investigate the gruesome murder of lovely Laura (Gene Tierney), hard-boiled homicide detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) cross-examines those who may have had a motive: besotted columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), wealthy playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and his lover, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson)-Laura’s aunt. Strangely drawn to Laura himself, now present only in the form of an oil portrait, Mark can’t help falling in love with the dead girl. Then, late one night, in walks the beauty herself!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Preminger’s impeccable murder-mystery is in many ways the standard against which all other noirs tend to be judged. Eerie and smart, with lots of deliciously twisted feints and counter-feints around the central questions of murder, blackmail, and poisonous passion, “Laura” is a marvel of confounding revelations. Add to that a superb cast: Tierney, enchanting as always, as the lust object; Andrews as a cop with a weakness for beauty; Price as an effeminate rogue; Webb as a prissy critic with a viper’s tongue; and Anderson as Laura’s scheming, jealous aunt. Preminger’s stylish touch and confident direction earned this clever, mesmerizing whodunit five Oscar nods-and movie lovers’ eternal admiration.


    The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Wanting to flee the oppressive orbit of her in-laws, headstrong young widow Lucy Muir (Tierney) decides to move to the English seaside with her young daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and faithful maid Martha (Edna Best). Despite the warnings of real-estate agent Mr. Combe (Robert Coote), Lucy rents a house haunted by its deceased former owner, crusty Captain Daniel Gregg (Harrison). The seaman is hardly welcoming, but over time, Lucy and the handsome, bearded spirit develop an unusually close friendship.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The ever-talented Mankiewicz’s deeply romantic “Mrs. Muir” is pure Hollywood fantasy, driven by the entrancing presence of its two fabulous co-stars. While a love story between a gruff dead seaman given to salty turns of phrase and a gorgeous grieving mother might sound a bit hokey, the chemistry between Tierney (radiant as ever) and Harrison (quite dashing as an unapologetic man’s man) is not only credible but winning. Worlds better than its “70s TV spinoff and heartier than latter-day imitations like 1990′s “Ghost,” this is one cinematic haunted house you should be sure to visit.


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  • May 10, 2010

    Penned & Produced by Arthur Freed

    by John Farr

    Three films from legendary lyricist and producer Arthur Freed.


    Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    It’s 1903, and the World’s Fair is coming to St. Louis, causing great excitement for the Smiths and their four young daughters. Then, Mr. Smith is offered a position in New York City, causing some emotional complications. Daughter Esther (Judy Garland) experiences some unfamiliar emotions of her own as she develops her first crush on the boy next door.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A lyrical, nostalgic Valentine to our country at the turn of the century, Director Minnelli brings his flair for color, costumes and setting to create a sumptuous visual treat. Film is extremely nice on the ears too, as young Judy (never more luminous) sings “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and more. A timeless treat for the whole family.


    Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    George Sidney brings to gorgeous big-screen life the rowdy career of backwoods sharp-shooter Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton), who soared to fame in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and tamed the heart and holster of rival Frank Butler (Howard Keel).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Irving Berlin’s immortal musical had a sensational run on Broadway in the ’40s, but MGM’s lavish full-color production, originally slated for Judy Garland, remains memorable thanks to Hutton’s fiery, sparkling turn as Oakley. Keel is great, too, playing the pistol-packing ladykiller and unrepentant chauvinist whom Annie challenges to a shooting match. “There’s No Business Like Show Business” is the film’s signature theme, but the witty wordplay of Berlin numbers like “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and the cheeky “Anything I Can Do” are every bit as pleasing. Fire up “Annie”!


    Silk Stockings (1957)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Suave American producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants to use a prestigious Russian composer on his latest film, and must use all his wiles to prevent Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse), a determined female Russian official, from taking his talent back to Moscow. Seemingly impervious to love, capitalism and vintage champagne, Ninotchka is a hard nut to crack, but Canfield’s charms soon work their magic.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A witty and warm Cold War romance, “Stockings” re-shapes Garbo’s famous MGM comedy “Ninotchka” into a delightful music and dance-fest. Thanks to the romance of a Paris setting and a buttery Cole Porter score, détente between stars Astaire and Charisse develops quickly, followed by marvelous dancing routines. At age 57, Astaire is still a dazzling, graceful performer, while Charisse ably fills Garbo’s shoes. Peter Lorre, in a rare comic turn, even vamps his way through the rollicking “Siberia.” Irresistible entertainment.


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  • May 3, 2010

    More Ingrid

    by John Farr

    John Farr can’t get enough Ingrid Bergman.


    Intermezzo (1939)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Renowned, married violinist Holger Brandt (Leslie Howard) returns from concert tour, and meets Anita Hoffman, his daughter’s piano teacher (played by Bergman in her first English-speaking role). He first takes a professional interest in her, which soon becomes more personal. With all that stands in their way, is their love meant to be?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This short (just 70 minutes), tender romance retains a special purity. Bergman, who played the same role in a Swedish version, is breathtaking, while Howard exudes the old world charm of a classic British gentleman. Their subtly intense interactions are punctuated by some very lovely music. All in all, romance with a capital “R.”


    For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Joining the partisans as the Spanish Civil War rages, idealistic American schoolteacher Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) is assigned to destroy a bridge. Linking up with a guerilla troop led by drunken Pedro (Akim Tamiroff) and his steely wife, Pilar (Katina Paxinou), he meets refugee Maria (Ingrid Bergman), a young woman badly used by enemy soldiers. As he bides his time waiting to complete his mission, Robert finds himself drawn into a torrid affair with the gorgeous peasant.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A splendid adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, this rousing, romantic adventure tells the tale of a love between a Spanish-born guerilla and an outsider who’s joined the cause out of political solidarity. Featuring solid performances by Cooper and the ravishing Bergman – who gets off one of cinema’s most famous kissing lines (“I always wondered where the noses went”) – Wood’s film is an absorbing treat. Katina Paxinou even picked up an Oscar for her fiery performance as de facto rebel leader Pilar. This “Bell” tolls for thee.


    Spellbound (1945)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When young psychiatrist Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives to helm a posh new mental asylum, icy colleague Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) notices right away that this man does not appear to be who he says he is. Suspecting that’s he not a psychiatrist at all, but an amnesiac named J.B., she sets out to discover the truth about his mysterious, possibly murderous, past.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Intriguing and mystifying, this “manhunt story” (as the director described it) is pickled in a heady dose of psychoanalytic dialogue, thanks in part to producer David O. Selznick, an ardent Freudian. Aside from Hitchcock’s peerless handling of both the suspense surrounding J.B.’s identity and the love tryst that develops between Peck and Bergman, “Spellbound” remains celebrated because of the unforgettable dream sequence designed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali (and directed by William Cameron Menzies). For sheer thrills and hypnotic weirdness, all enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s unsettling, Oscar-winning theremin score, “Spellbound” is hard to beat.


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  • April 26, 2010

    Parade Movies

    by John Farr

    John Farr joins the parade.


    The Music Man (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Traveling charlatan “Professor” Harold Hill convinces the citizens of River City, Iowa, that they should have a marching band to help guard youth against moral corruption. Charming the socks off everyone, including the mayor’s wife (Hermione Gingold), with his plan to teach the town’s kids how to play using his deliciously absurd “Think System”, Hill’s a homey kind of huckster. His only obstacle is to win over local librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones), who believes he’s a fraud.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This exuberant, energetic adaptation of Meredith Wilson’s hit Broadway musical is a bona fide marvel thanks to Robert Preston’s virtuosic turn as the ultra-charming swindler. Homing in on small-town America in 1912, “Music Man” mixes nostalgic sentiment with real-world woes, memorably in the person of Ron Howard, who plays Marian’s sullen younger brother Winthrop. Comedian Buddy Hackett adds levity as Hill’s goofy sidekick, while Jones is a perfectly prim counterweight to Preston’s engaging rogue. And let’s not forget the songs: “Till There Was You” and the rollicking “76 Trombones” will leave you humming long after the lights go up.


    Animal House (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    At Pennsylvania’s Faber College, stiff-shirted Dean Wormer (John Vernon) is fed up with the raucous antics of Delta House, an anarchic, thoroughly debauched fraternity with no sense of decency, decorum or, apparently, brains. So he hatches a plan to strip the Deltas, who are led by a group of seniors including Otter (Tim Matheson) and John “Bluto” Blutarsky (John Belushi), of their credentials, enlisting the help of their hated, upper-crusty rivals at Omega House.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The original “party animal” teen movie (despite its “R” rating), Landis’s outrageous feature-length prank has enough gross-out humor, slapstick yucks, and all-night beer chugging to put a drunken smile on anyone’s face. Matheson and co-stars James Widdoes, Peter Riegert, and Bruce McGill bring sheer lunacy to their roles as leaders of a riotous frat house for rejects, losers, and academic failures. But it’s Belushi’s gonzo portrayal of Bluto that remains iconic, and helped make the former “SNL” cast member a bigtime comic star. Irreverent, subversive, and totally inappropriate, “Animal House” depicts the college experience most of us never had, but kind of wish we did. Watch for Kevin Bacon in a small early role as a young pledge.


    The Fugitive (1993)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Andrew Davis’s adaptation of the 60′s TV series involves Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a prominent Chicago doctor accused of murdering his wife. The jury doesn’t buy Kimble’s story about confronting a one-armed man in his apartment the night his wife was killed, and he is convicted. When Kimble escapes custody, he hunts the real culprit, and ace U.S Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) gets assigned to track him down. Will Gerard get to Kimble before the doctor can clear himself?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A textbook example of a first-rate thriller, buoyed by Davis’s breathless pacing and a picture-stealing performance from Jones, who won an Oscar. Drawing from his Indiana Jones days, Ford is just right as the besieged hero always one step ahead of disaster, but Jones’s Gerard, whose drive is offset by a wry, folksy humor, is intensely charismatic as the intrepid hound-dog on Kimble’s trail. Over ten years after its initial release, it’s worth another peek if you haven’t seen it since. First-timers should definitely plunge.


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  • April 19, 2010

    Neglected Bogart

    by John Farr

    Three of the great Humphrey Bogart’s lesser-known films.


    High Sierra (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Weary, aging gangster Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart) is enlisted in a hotel-robbery scheme after mobster friend Big Mac (Donald MacBride) springs him from prison. On his way to a rendezvous point, he meets and falls for club-footed farmer’s daughter Velma (Joan Leslie). Meanwhile, Marie (Ida Lupino), his colleague’s tough-as-nails girlfriend, develops a soft spot for Earle. Once the heist goes down, however, the attachments he’s formed with the two women could bring about his downfall.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Though the forties saw a waning in gangster pictures, early on Bogart was given a juicy breakout role in Walsh’s “High Sierra”, as a killer with a compassionate side. Bogart’s “Mad Dog” Earle is more Dillinger than Capone, more sympathetic and human, but when threatened, still a scary individual. Young Lupino stands out as Earle’s loyal protector who can’t win his love. Co-written by a young John Huston, “High Sierra” is a solid, flavorful entry for “Bogie-as-bad-guy” fans, boasting a slam-bang finish.


    Sahara (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the Second War, after the fall of Tobruk in Libya, Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) and his remaining men, including soldiers Jimmy Doyle (Dan Duryea) and Waco Hoyt (Bruce Bennett), retreat in their tank across the blistering desert, picking up more straggling allies and two POWs along the way. Finally, they reach a fortress which holds a limited quantity of that most crucial substance: water. When a superior German force arrives, the enemy is desperate enough to offer an exchange of food for water. Gunn’s challenge is to hold them off until British reinforcements arrive.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Director Korda’s gritty, gutsy WWII actioner vividly evokes the particular risks and hazards of desert warfare, while showcasing Bogie in his prime, on the front lines of battle. Duryea is solid as usual as Jimmy, and character actor J. Carroll Naish lends poignancy as a good-hearted Italian prisoner caught in a war not of his own making. Suspenseful and smart , “Sahara” is a distinctive, sadly overlooked war film that makes you thirsty for more of the same.


    Dark Passage (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Wrongfully accused of murdering his wife, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escapes San Quentin prison and hides out in the apartment of Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), a lovely socialite convinced of his innocence. After undergoing plastic surgery to radically alter his face, a now unrecognizable Vincent devotes his efforts to seeking out the actual killer.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Filmed on location in San Francisco, this inventive noir is the third of the legendary Bogart-Bacall pairings, and hinges on the unusual face-transformation plot point: For the first part of the film, Daves presents the action using a point-of-view camera shot, in which we see everything through Vincent’s eyes. Once his bandages are removed, the objective perspective is restored, and Bogart appears for the first time. This visual gimmick and the sexual chemistry between the two leads is half the fun of watching “Passage” and then there’s Agnes Moorehead, who vamps it up as a shrewish deviant named Madge. For a first-rate mystery-thriller, “Dark Passage” leads the way.


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  • April 12, 2010

    Marx x 5

    by John Farr

    Revisit five of the Marx Brothers’ Depression-era Paramount masterpieces.


    The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Edition (1930-1933)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The best way to enjoy the nutty antics of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo is to indulge yourself in this boxed set of five early Paramount classics. A struggling Miami hotel is the scene of The Coconuts, based on the hit Broadway play and starring Groucho as a penurious manager. Animal Crackers tracks the efforts of a certain Captain Spaulding to crack an art-theft case, while the wacky Monkey Business finds the Marx Brothers stowing away on a luxury ship. Horse Feathers follows the demented siblings’ efforts to engineer a comeback for a college-football team, and in Duck Soup they try to govern the unruly nation of Freedonia.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Still one of the funniest vaudeville acts ever to grace stage, television, or silver screen, The Marx Brothers pioneered an antic, anarchic style of gut-busting entertainment that left audiences of the 1930s howling with delight. Even today, the hilarious mix of song-and-dance routines like “The Monkey Doodle-Do” and “Shirt Song”-accompanied, of course, by Harpo’s harp, Groucho’s guitar, and Chico’s expert ivory-tinkling-combined with the sheer nuthouse fervor of their adventures simply dazzle. In fact, “Duck Soup” was a political farce so extreme that Mussolini banned it . This “Silver Screen” set collects the Brothers’ early, outré Paramount outings, the only films where all four funnymen appeared together. Will social satire ever be this goofy again?


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  • April 5, 2010

    Multimedia Bing Crosby

    by John Farr

    Bing Crosby, the first multimedia star of radio, film, and television.


    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.


    Going My Way (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When easy-going, young Catholic priest Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) arrives at St. Dominic’s, a rundown church heavily in debt, he faces a disillusioned congregation and the downbeat attitude of its elder curate, Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). Through the miracle of song, however, O’Malley raises spirits all around and ultimately rescues the beleaguered parish.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Though not focused on Christmas, Leo McCarey’s “Going My Way” exudes holiday spirit and was a smashing box-office success. Bing Crosby, a staunch Catholic himself, is pure gold as Father O’Malley, a young priest who injects hope and purpose into a fading congregation and a group of neighborhood kids, while Barry Fitzgerald is perfectly winning as his crusty superior. Both actors won Oscars, as did the film, thanks to writer-director McCarey’s eloquent direction. Moving rather than maudlin, “Going My Way” is a sentimental favorite.


    The Country Girl (1954)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When bigshot Broadway director Bernie Dodd (William Holden) loses his lead for a musical set to open in three weeks, he takes a chance on washed-up alcoholic singer Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby). Even though Dodd is committed to boosting his shaky leading man’s confidence with a combination of pep talks and tough love, he feels constantly thwarted by Elgin’s cold, cynical wife, Georgie (Grace Kelly), whose manipulations threaten to deep-six his production.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Adapted from the Clifford Odets play, Seaton’s searing, melodramatic story of a twisted menage à trois boasts three superb performances: Crosby as the self-loathing, destructive crooner, Kelly as his morose, long-suffering wife, and Holden as the strapping, misogynistic director who slowly learns the truth about both of them. Crosby rightly earned an Oscar nod for his convincing turn as a sad-sack boozer, but it was Kelly who took home a statue for her radically unglamorous role as Georgie. “Girl” is a poignant backstage drama that remains true to its tortured heart.


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  • March 31, 2010

    Ex-Cons

    by John Farr

    John Farr examines films about ex-cons who have abandoned their crooked ways.


    Sling Blade (1996)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Released from an Alabama psychiatric institution 25 years after he murdered his mother and her lover, 37-year-old Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) takes a job as a fix-it man in his old hometown. Despite his violent past, the mildly retarded Childers is a gentle soul who befriends a needy young boy, Frank (Lucas Black), and his widowed mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), who offers to take him in. But Karl’s delicate re-entry into society is disturbed by Linda’s no-good boyfriend, Doyle (Dwight Yoakam), a cruel, abusive drunk who treats him with utter contempt.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Alternately haunting and sweetly affecting, “Sling Blade” is a beautifully accomplished debut by actor-director Billy Bob Thornton, who conceived, wrote, directed and starred in this absorbing drama. (He won an Oscar for his original screenplay.) Thornton’s cathartic, humane portrayal of Childers–a mild-mannered simpleton who quietly protects and cares for Frank and his mom but is haunted by the past–stirs our deepest sympathies. In a nuanced turn, the late John Ritter excels as Linda’s gay friend Vaughan, but the real surprise is country singer Yoakam, whose hateful, hard-drinking Doyle guides the film’s tragic final act.


    Spring Forward (1999)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Paul (Liev Schreiber) is fresh out of jail, working to re-build his life even as past mistakes and unresolved issues threaten to undo his progress. Enter Murph (Ned Beatty), Paul’s older, wiser groundskeeper colleague, who subtly mentors the conflicted younger man. In time, they form a special bond, sharing their ambitions, regrets, and hopes for the future.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A simply told yet provocative story about the gift of friendship, “Spring Forward” is an exquisitely handled character piece fueled by a perceptive script and the considerable skill of the two leads. Shooting in sequence over the course of a year, director Gilroy follows the nuances and little epiphanies of this unlikely friendship through four seasons with nary a misstep, giving us the sense we’re watching it all unfold in real time. Touching and true, “Spring Forward” is a quiet triumph.


    Boy A (2007)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    With the support of his caring, avuncular social worker (Peter Mullan), a young man (Andrew Garfield) is released from prison with a new identity to ease his transition back into society. “Jack” lands a good delivery job and then embarks on a tentative romance with co-worker Michelle (Katie Lyons). But he remains tortured over his childhood role in a headline-making murder, a fact that threatens to disrupt his new life.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on a novel by Jonathan Trigell, John Crowley’s gutsy, hard-hitting drama tackles the question of whether we are prepared to forgive our youngest offenders. Mullan’s character believes in Jack and supports him even as the relationship with his own estranged son takes a tragic turn. Garfield carries the film, though, playing Jack as a fragile, vulnerable, good-natured soul who desperately wants to believe that his past is behind him. Poignant and provocative as it flashes back to Jack’s childhood crime, Crowley’s “Boy A” keeps the tension high from the gripping opening scene.


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