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  • January 4, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Black Narcissus

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses an earlier Deborah Kerr film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

    Black Narcissus (1947)

    What It’s About:
    When young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is asked to open a convent-hospital in a former brothel perched high above a small village in India, she readily agrees, despite knowing hardships lie ahead. Once there, she’s greeted by a sardonic Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who takes great delight in ruffling Sister Clodagh’s habit. But it’s jealous, unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who eventually succumbs to the dark allure of the exotic, windswept setting.

    Why I Love It:
    Another great success for “Red Shoes” helmers Powell-Pressburger, “Narcissus” is an absorbing, finely acted British melodrama about the secular problems facing a new mother superior in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile new environment. The directors even stirred controversy by developing a subtle yet credible sexual tension between the luminous Kerr and hunky Farrar. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography and Alfred Junge’s hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot. And Kathleen Byron’s celebrated turn as the unhinged Sister Ruth climaxes in a suspenseful sequence that’s hard to forget.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • December 28, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 3:10 to Yuma

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a suspenseful western film, directed by Delmer Daves.

    3:10 to Yuma (1957)

    What It’s About:
    Heflin plays Dan Evans, a local rancher in need of cash due to a drought who, to save his livelihood, takes on the dangerous task of guarding and escorting outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) to the train which will carry him to the halls of justice. The hitch: Wade’s gang is in town, and they’re determined to prevent their boss from making the 3:10 to Yuma.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on an Elmore Leonard story, Delmer Daves’s film (in a new special edition) is a sharp psychological western in the vein of another better-known classic, “High Noon.” Taut and suspenseful, “Yuma” also tells a very human story, as Evans’s own self-respect and principles are as much at stake in this situation as money. “3:10” is intelligent and skillfully paced, boasting top-notch turns from the two leads.

  • December 17, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Mervyn LeRoy’s Oscar-nominated prison movie, starring Paul Muni.

    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 he’s 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.

  • December 10, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Thomas Crown Affair

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Steve McQueen’s coolest film, directed by Norman Jewison.

    Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

    What It’s About:
    After suave tycoon Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) plans and executes a bank robbery for his own amusement, crack insurance investigator Vicky Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is assigned to the case. As Crown and Anderson cautiously circle each other, suspicion mingles with the laws of attraction. Will romance or justice win the day?

    Why I Love It:
    This sleek, stylized movie’s chic trappings and star chemistry still comprise a winning formula. It’s fun to see the usually scruffy McQueen dressed to the nines in the title role, but Dunaway’s the revelation. Stacked up against the wily, macho Crown, Vicky is his match in looks, confidence, and brains, so the inevitable seduction feels balanced and mutual. “Crown” is a sexy, suspenseful cat-and-mouse game waged between equals, with a nifty surprise finish. Innovative split screen cinematography from Haskell Wexler and a romantic Michel Legrand soundtrack make this one of the top “sixties time capsule” films.

  • November 15, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Zorba the Greek

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the multiple Oscar-winning movie starring Anthony Quinn, directed by Michael Cacoyannis.

    Zorba the Greek (1964)

    What It’s About:
    On his way to Crete to resuscitate a mine inherited from his father, buttoned-down British writer Basil (Alan Bates) meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a lusty, larger-than-life figure who agrees to handle the duties of foreman. Though oddly matched, the pair quickly become inseparable. Settling into Greek village life proves less felicitous, however, especially in the troubled relationships that Zorba and timid Basil cultivate with two local women.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the multiple Oscar-winning “Zorba” is all about Quinn’s indelible, galvanic performance. A bon vivant who exhorts Basil to “loosen your belt and go find trouble”, Zorba is a hurricane of manic energy and strapping muscularity, but also great tenderness. Bates portrays the cerebral, sissyish Basil with perfect restraint, while Oscar winner Kedrova (as ailing French hotelier Mme. Hortense) and Eleni Anousaki (as a stunningly gorgeous widow) provide excellent support as doomed love interests. Zesty and passionate, even in its darkest half-hour, Cacoyannis’s “Zorba” is an irresistibly salty portrait of Greek life.

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