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  • April 13, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: How about Howard Hawks?

    by John Farr

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


    Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

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

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


    To Have and Have Not (1944)

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

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


    Red River (1968)

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

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


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  • March 30, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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?”


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more reviews of the best movies.

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  • February 16, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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

    Best Movies by Farr: 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

    Best Movies by Farr: 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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