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  • June 23, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Sudden Fear (1952)

    by John Farr

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

    Sudden Fear (1952)

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

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

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • June 16, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Dark Victory

    by John Farr

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

    Dark Victory (1939)

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

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

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • May 19, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: The Conversation

    by John Farr

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

    The Conversation (1974)

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

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

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • May 12, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: The Big Clock

    by John Farr

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

    The Big Clock (1948)

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

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

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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