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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.

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