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  • November 4, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Robert Aldrich Revisited

    by John Farr

    John Farr selects three great pictures from the oft-overlooked Robert Aldrich.


    Attack! (1956)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Ordering his men to attack a well-guarded German pillbox, Lieutenant Joe Costa (Jack Palance) expects backup from his senior commander, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert). The captain balks out of fear, and a squadron of Costa’s men die as a result. Infuriated, Costa curtly informs Cooney that if it happens again, Cooney will pay for his cowardice with his life. Days later, Cooney dispatches Costa’s men to the Belgian front, where the fighting is even fiercer than before.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Offering a hard-as-nails depiction of war and the ugly flipside of frontline bravery, Aldrich’s “Attack!” revisits the decisive Battle of the Bulge with a realistic tale of mutinous revenge. The always intense Palance delivers a riveting performance as an aggrieved lieutenant at the end of his rope, but it’s Albert, in a superb turn as the scurrilous, yellow-bellied captain, who earns top honors. Great support from Marvin, as Cooney’s corrupt, high-ranking pal, Colonel Bartlett, and William Smithers, as a conscientious soldier, round out a fine cast. This gritty, searing war drama ranks with “Kiss Me Deadly” director Aldrich’s very best work.


    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a highly successful child performer in vaudeville, but sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) overtook her in adulthood, becoming a huge movie star before a freak accident ended her career. Now years later, Jane takes care of her wheelchair-bound sister, but as Jane’s sanity drifts away, her long-simmering jealousy erupts into truly unhinged, sadistic behavior.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Aldrich’s campy cult classic still chills, thanks to a deliciously creepy premise which borrows from “Sunset Boulevard” in exposing the mental disintegration of a one-time star. Still, this is a more ghoulish affair, with Jane finding a variety of sinister ways to torture poor Blanche. Leads Davis and Crawford had parallel Hollywood careers, and their rivalry was famous, yet they’d never worked together before this (nor would they again!). Davis in particular is fearless as demented harridan Jane, and corpulent Victor Buono adds a revolting touch as Jane’s smarmy accompanist.


    The Longest Yard (1974)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) wants to put together a big football game pitting his prisoners against the thuggish, but well-seasoned guards’ team, so he cuts a secret deal with former-pro inmate Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) to throw the game in exchange for parole. Crewe assembles his convict squad, dubbed the “Mean Machine,” and morale is high. But when game time arrives, he faces a choice between freedom and loyalty to his team-mates.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Robert Aldrich’s crowd-pleasing prison/football comedy makes us favor the irreverent convict-outsiders (played by a who’s who of 1970s NFL stars) while disdaining the opposing bulls, led by ruthless warden Hazen and the vicious Capt. Knauer (Ed Lauter). Real-life collegiate player Burt Reynolds scored his first post-“Deliverance” hit with his assured, charismatic portrayal of Paul Crewe. Aldrich and Oscar-winning editor Michael Luciano infuse energy and urgency into the climactic game itself, spanning a whopping 47 minutes on-screen, which helps make “Yard” a winner by any measure. Beware the recent re-make.


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

  • October 27, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Blake Edwards’ Best

    by John Farr

    John Farr selects three of A Shot in the Dark director Black Edwards’ best efforts, including his only non-Pink Panther picture with Peter Sellers.


    Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Charming, bubbly Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) leads a peripatetic life in Manhattan, attending swanky parties and living off the largesse of her gentleman acquaintances, who keep her attired in the very best designer outfits. Intrigued by Holly’s coming and goings, as well as her bouts of wistful loneliness, upstairs neighbor Paul (George Peppard) falls for the neurotic socialite. But is there something hidden behind Holly’s sophisticated facade?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Adapted from Truman Capote’s novella, Edwards’s fleet-footed romantic comedy would not be the cultural touchstone it is without the effervescent presence of Hepburn. As Holly Golightly, a small-town Texas girl with her feet planted firmly in the glitz of New York’s party scene, Hepburn is irrepressibly charming, a vision of elflike beauty in Givenchy and pearls. But she is also a frail creature harboring secrets, and Hepburn plays both sides exquisitely. Peppard is solid and likable as writer Paul, Holly’s admirer and confidante, while Neal chews on her steely role as Paul’s wealthy older mistress. A chic, iconic romance, memorably set to the Oscar-winning strains of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.”


    Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    After an awkward meeting at a boat party seems to put them at odds, publicist Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) and Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick) fall madly in love. The social and professional demands of the public-relations racket are nothing new to Joe, but gradually he turns tee-totaller Kirsten on to the pleasures of swilling cocktails at any hour. Over time, alcohol becomes integral to the young newlyweds’ relationship, and threatens to destroy their blissful existence.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A downbeat love story pickled in bile and booze, this melodrama of addiction by the great Blake Edwards skirts the same terrain as “Lost Weekend” without ever getting preachy. Instead, Edwards examines the sullied yet undying connection between his two self-destructive protagonists, played by Lemmon and Remick with unblinking honesty. (Two specific scenes-his in a madhouse and hers in a motel-are wrenching.) Charles Bickford lends terrific support as Kirsten’s widower father, as does Jack Klugman in a small role as Joe’s AA sponsor. “Days” is a hard-hitting drama about love in the ruins, buoyed by Henry Mancini’s melancholic jazz score.


    The Party (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    A fat-cat Hollywood producer decides to throw a splashy dinner party (“Anyone who’s anyone will be there!”), and as bad luck would have it, Indian-born actor Hrundi Bakshi (Peter Sellers) mistakenly makes it onto the guest list. Though Bakshi knows few of his fellow guests, they will certainly get to know him before the night is over.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Sellers inhabits another accident-prone character in his continuing partnership with Blake Edwards. Bakshi is a gentle person, but his innocent curiosity about his surroundings (or is it bewilderment?) manages to wreak havoc most everywhere he goes. Though detractors claim the comic momentum flags by picture’s end, Sellers’s brilliant characterization and some sublime set-pieces make this worthy viewing. In particular, what transpires when the guests are first seated for dinner may be one of the funniest sequences ever captured on film. In addition, French actress Longet is adorable as the party’s prettiest guest, who befriends Bakshi. Don’t miss this riotous sixties bash!


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

  • October 20, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: William Powell Perfection

    by John Farr

    William Powell made so many magnificent pictures it’s difficult to choose three recommendations to watch after After The Thin Man this weekend, but John Farr makes the tough choices, all from one year: 1936.


    The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    This enchanting film traces the colorful life of early twentieth century showman Florenz Ziegfeld from carnival side-show barker to producer of the immortal Ziegfeld Follies, the most glamorous and elaborate stage show ever mounted, including the world’s prettiest chorus girls and the country’s top vaudeville acts, including comedienne Fanny Brice and hoofer Ray Bolger (who both appear in the film).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This top MGM musical recreates the glory days of the musical theatre, before movies overtook Broadway as our primary form of entertainment. The charming Powell reflects ideal casting for Ziegfeld, and frequent co-star Myrna Loy is also on hand playing second wife Billie Burke. Winner of that year’s Best Picture Oscar, Luise Rainer also won a statuette for her portrayal of “Ziggy”‘s first wife Anna Held (her culminating phone scene is justly famous). Long but dazzling, “Ziegfeld” combines backstage drama with on-stage spectacle- in particular, don’t miss that immortal “Pretty Girl” musical number.


    My Man Godfrey (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Through a contest only the idle rich could invent, a daffy family hires a forgotten man from skid row to become the new butler in their zany household. Younger daughter Irene (Carol Lombard) proceeds to fall in love with him. Godfrey (Powell), however, is not precisely who, or what, he seems.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Gregory La Cava’s sublime “Godfrey” blends screwball elements with more serious overtones on Depression-era class injustice, to create a wildly entertaining yet thought-provoking movie that holds up beautifully. The term debonair was indeed coined for Powell, and Lombard makes for an adorable ditz. (Trivia note: the two stars had been married briefly several years earlier, but had divorced amicably, and remained good friends). Highlights: comic actor Mischa Auer as Mrs. Bullock’s “protégé”, along with the rotund Pallette as Mr. Bullock, the family’s frustrated industrialist father, who appears more like an impotent keeper at an asylum.


    Libeled Lady (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    The ever-smooth Powell plays Bill Chandler, a freelance journalist hired by his old newspaper to squelch a libel suit brought by society heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy). To do this, Bill must make Connie fall in love with him and then place her in a compromising position. Ultimately, he melts her icy exterior, but ends up falling in love himself. What’s a smitten newspaperman to do?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1936, Jack Conway’s underexposed screwball comedy is a raucous farce buzzing with zany humor, thanks to a flurry of impeccable one-liners delivered by Powell and Loy, reunited from their pairing in “The Thin Man.” Playing Haggerty, the newspaper’s frantic editor, and Gladys, his continually jilted fiancée, Tracy and Harlow round out a stellar foursome in this fast-paced, ingenious laugh-fest.


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

  • October 13, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: PI Pictures

    by John Farr

    On the occasion of the broadcast of Reel 13 Classic The Thin Man, John Farr tips his fedora to three classic PI pictures.


    The Maltese Falcon (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Humphrey Bogart is private detective Sam Spade, playing opposite Mary Astor as the shifty and cunning femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She needs help finding a jewel-encrusted statue of a bird that goes back centuries. A host of other nefarious types, including The Fat Man (Sydney Greenstreet), is after the same thing. Spade is locked in tight since the case has also resulted in his partner’s murder. The new three disc, special edition version includes a fresh digital transfer of this timeless classic, along with a new documentary on the making of the picture, and two prior filmings of Dashiell Hammett’s story.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    After years of playing villains for Warner Brothers, this picture demonstrated once and for all Bogart’s star quality. “The Maltese Falcon” is the definitive private eye film, where we see crooked human beings grabbing for their pot of gold in a bewildering urban jungle. An impressive debut feature for John Huston behind the camera, the film holds you in its grip throughout. Wait for that immortal ending! And-with Warner’s extra-filled re-issue, “Falcon” fanatics will have even more to sink their teeth into, including two earlier film adaptations that are fun in themselves but also point up what elevates the Bogie version. This new set is a must for any serious film fan.


    Murder, My Sweet (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Former crooner Dick Powell was first to assay the role of Raymond Chandler’s famous gumshoe Philip Marlowe in this screen adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely”. Here Marlowe is hired by hulking underworld figure Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) to find his missing girlfriend, Velma. Being versatile and money-hungry, at the same time Marlowe takes on another assignment to recover a stolen necklace. Could the two cases be linked? Marlowe endures a lot of pain finding out, but then, that’s what he’s paid for.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Edward Dmytryk’s trim, crackling detective tale has enough twists and turns to befuddle most any snoop, but that’s the whole fun of it. Powell’s gritty, bravura turn as the original Marlowe (Bogie would follow him two years later in “The Big Sleep”) opened up gritty new avenues for the actor, and the sultry Claire Trevor scorches the screen as femme fatale Helen Grayle. Packed with the patter of gunsels and molls in dimly lit, smoke-filled rooms, noir doesn’t get much “noirer” than this. Hard-boiled mystery fans should pounce.


    Out of the Past (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Private detective Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is hired by high-ranking mobster Whit Sterling (a young Kirk Douglas), to find the crook’s runaway mistress, Kathie Moffett (Jane Greer). Apparently, the young woman got into some serious mischief and ran off with $40,000. Tracking her South of the Border, Bailey meets and falls for Kathie’s seductive charms, setting off a chain of events that drags him ever deeper into a world of lies, treachery, and betrayal.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Replete with expressionistic lighting, ominous atmosphere, cynical dialogue, and a sizzling femme fatale, Jacques Tourneur’s “Out of the Past” is quintessential film noir. In a star-making performance, Mitchum cemented his image as a laconic, heavy-lidded fatalist, while the white-hot Greer- radiant as Kathie-executes one of the most sensual entrances in film history. All conspire to make Tourneur’s “Past” damn close to perfect. Remade to lesser effect as “Against All Odds” (1984), with Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward.


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

  • October 7, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Masterful Joseph L. Mankiewicz

    by John Farr

    This Saturday, Reel 13 will air Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic, All About Eve, but before that,John Farr recommends you brush up on three of the master’s earlier works.


    A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    As three female friends (Linda Crain, Jeanne Darnell, and Ann Sothern) head off on a day-long boating excursion with a school group, each receives the same letter from town flirt Addie Ross claiming she has absconded with one of their husbands. Each woman then has the day to spend wondering if it’s her man who’s missing. Their individual musings take the form of revealing flashbacks into their interconnected lives.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    The legendary Joe Mankiewcz received direction and screenplay Oscars for this sharp little gem, too often eclipsed by his masterful follow-up, “All About Eve”. “Wives” uses a clever narrative device to explore the pettiness of small-town life, and the foibles and insecurities in three marriages, as the three women react to the mysterious note by taking stock of their lives, each knowing one of them is in for a big shock at day’s end. Intelligent, incisive, and adult romantic drama. Look for Kirk Douglas in an early role as one of the husbands.


    House of Strangers (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Self-made immigrant banker Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) treats three of his four employee sons like dirt, reserving his favor only for Max (Richard Conte), a lawyer. When Gino’s old ways of doing business run afoul of banking regulations, only Max tries to help him, and ends up doing jail time, while the other brothers wrest control of the bank from their broken dad. Once Max is sprung, his first instinct is revenge, but time and the love of a woman (Linda Hayward) make him reconsider.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s scorching tale of a destructive family vendetta is a stylish, well-conceived outing. Though screenplay credit went to Philip Yordan, Mankiewicz’s inspired touch is evident in the film’s tight pacing and sharp, flavorful script. Robinson is masterful as an Italian-American patriarch, and the under-appreciated Conte is also aces as a slick operator who’s not quite as tough as he seems. For a gritty noir you won’t forget, enter this House of Strangers.


    No Way Out (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Wounded mobster Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) is brought to a police hospital along with his brother George (Harry Bellaver), where they are treated by Dr. Luther Brooks (Sydney Poitier), a talented black M.D. whom Ray heckles with racist diatribe. When George dies, Ray blames Dr. Brooks, and begins a campaign of hate that boils over into the city’s black community.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A tense, hard-hitting social drama that earned an Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1950, Mankiewicz’s pioneering film looks squarely at the ramifications of racial hostility while keeping audiences on the edge of their seat. Poitier is magnificent in his debut role, the epitome of coolheadedness and quiet self-regard, while Widmark seethes in a typically explosive role. Mankiewicz builds suspense inside and outside the hospital, and the effect is riveting. Keep an eye out for actors/civil-rights activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, playing Luther’s brother and sister-in-law in a tandem debut. A potent powder keg of a film that hasn’t lost its bite–or its relevance.


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

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