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  • September 4, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: The Set-Up

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of the great American boxing films, directed by Robert Wise.


    The Set-Up (1949)

    What It’s About:
    Despite the pleas of lovely wife Julie (Totter), washed-up heavyweight Bill “Stoker” Johnson (Ryan) steps into the ring one more time, feeling “in his bones” that tonight he’ll emerge the winner. But unbeknownst to him, slimeball manager Tiny (George Tobias) has arranged with crooked crime boss Little Boy (Alan Baxter) for Stoker to take a dive in the third-something the hyped-up boxer doesn’t learn until the match is well under way.

    Why I Love It:
    Robert Wise’s taut, bruising drama tackles the merciless world of boxing with heavy cynicism but great empathy for the men whose bodies are nothing more than bettors’ chips. Ryan, a real-life college boxing champion, is exceptional playing the 35-year-old fighter-an “old man in this business,” as his wife reminds him-determined to whip a mobster’s punk. And Baxter, whose pinched smirk conveys a world of menace, couldn’t be more sinister, especially in the crushing finale. Wise intercuts the bloody, heart-catching real-time bout (a major influence on “Raging Bull”) with unflattering shots of the audience-a woman screaming for blood, an obese fellow stuffing his mouth-satirically expressing his own fury without a single word of dialogue.

  • July 22, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Gentleman Jim

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas, directed by Raoul Walsh.


    Gentleman Jim (1942)

    What It’s About:
    Sponsored by a bank executive, brash Irish pugilist and bank clerk Jim Corbett (Flynn) trains himself in the scientific methods of prize fighting at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Cocky and charismatic, Corbett works his way up the fledgling boxing hierarchy and even tries to win over the high-born Victoria Ware (Smith). But Corbett faces his ultimate challenge when he takes on famed bruiser John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) in a highly charged New Orleans bout back in 1892.

    Why I Love It:
    Walsh’s splendidly robust biopic of Corbett, the first fighter to win the world heavyweight title under the more refined Marquis of Queensberry rules he helped draft (i.e. no biting, kicking, or clawing), is one of Hollywood’s greatest sports dramas. Flynn’s deft handling of Corbett’s outsize personality – a mix of classy manners and boorish bluster – and Bond’s own turn as Sullivan, a champion boxer who can “lick any man in creation,” are the film’s main attractions. In dramatizing Corbett’s colorful career, Walsh handles the action exceedingly well, especially the final ring showdown, a bout as jarring and thrilling as anything in Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.”

  • July 9, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Hud

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends you revisit Paul Newman’s brilliant lead performance in this film.


    Hud (1963)

    What It’s About:
    This modern-day psychological Western concerns unfulfilled, resentful Texas rancher Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), and his uneasy relationships with distant, steely father Homer (Melvyn Douglas), sexy, weathered housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal), and impressionable nephew Lon (Brandon de Wilde). Keeping everyone at arm’s length, Hud believes in looking out for himself alone, even when events at the ranch take a turn for the worse.

    Why I Love It:
    Strikingly photographed by James Wong Howe, Martin Ritt’s uncompromising, anti-hero Western broke new ground for a genre which, in the early ’60s, was still stuck in tired old conventions. The movie endures due to Newman’s brilliant lead performance as Hud, an arrested adolescent in a man’s body. All the acting is excellent-especially Oscar winners Patricia Neal as the sad, sensuous Alma, and Douglas as the leathery, principled father. Finally, Newman’s ability to inject pathos into such a cynical, unsympathetic character speaks volumes about his own talent. A spare and powerful film.

  • July 9, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Rear Window

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces.


    Rear Window (1954)

    What It’s About:
    After breaking his leg on the job, photojournalist Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart) must pass the sweltering New York summer looking out his apartment window–into his neighbors’ windows-and his natural nosiness causes him to study a battling couple across the courtyard. When the woman disappears, Jeff suspects her husband, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), of foul play, and enlists his adoring, high-society girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) to help him investigate.

    Why I Love It:
    One of the most celebrated films in history, this classic takes its time, but once the tension starts building, it doesn’t stop until the heart-pounding conclusion is upon you. A new peak for Hitchcock in blending the story of a crime that may have happened with the dark side of human obsession–in this case, voyeurism. The movie marks a high point for James Stewart, who would be remembered as Hitchcock’s most human and vulnerable hero. And who can resist the bewitching Grace Kelly?

  • June 28, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: The Narrow Margin

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of the most thrilling crime pictures with a surprise ending.


    The Narrow Margin (1952)

    What It’s About:
    Tough-talking LA detective Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) arrives in Chicago to escort a cynical mobster’s wife (Marie Windsor) to a California grand jury, where she plans to testify against her estranged husband. The mafia has other plans for Mrs. Neall-namely, to rub her out. After his partner is gunned down leaving Neall’s apartment, Brown is on high alert, and must outwit a team of gangsters who follow them onto a sleeper train but seem to have no idea what their female target looks like.

    Why I Love It:
    A smart, edge-of-your-seat thriller set almost entirely on a West Coast-bound train, “Margin” captivates thanks to its many sudden plot twists and ingenious central tension: Brown doesn’t know which of the men on-board is a gangster, and the hit men don’t know which of the female passengers to bump off. McGraw’s gritty, hardboiled cop and Windsor’s catty moll play off each other extremely well, and portly actor Paul Maxey adds a bit of mystique as an irritating, perhaps devious passenger. Snappy dialogue, crisp pacing, and even-handed direction keep Fleischer’s “Margin” flying like a bullet. Infinitely better than the 1990 remake.

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