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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.


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

  • January 27, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Have You Seen McQueen?

    by John Farr

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


    The Great Escape (1963)

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

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


    Bullitt (1968)

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

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


    Junior Bonner (1972)

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

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


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

  • January 19, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Cagney the Classic Bad Guy

    by John Farr

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


    The Public Enemy (1931)

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

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


    Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

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

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


    White Heat (1949)

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

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


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

  • January 13, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Yves Montand Cubed

    by John Farr

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


    The Wages of Fear (1953)

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

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


    Z (1969)

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

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


    Jean de Florette (1986)

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

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


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

  • December 20, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Early Shirley Jones

    by John Farr

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


    Oklahoma! (1955)


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

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


    Carousel (1956)

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

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


    Elmer Gantry (1960)

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

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


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

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