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  • May 3, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: El Cid

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Charlton Heston’s historical epic, directed by Anthony Mann.


    El Cid (1961)

    What It’s About:
    Disgraced 11th-century Spanish knight Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar (Charlton Heston), dubbed El Cid for his progressive sense of justice, earns the king’s favor when he vanquishes a hostile challenger in a duel to the death. Now the royal defender, El Cid pursues Chimene (Sophia Loren), a gorgeous noblewoman with an ax to grind, and goes on to unite all the warring factions in his home country against Moorish invaders.

    Why I Love It:
    King of psychological westerns and hard-boiled noir films, Anthony Mann turned his attention in 1961 to mounting a widescreen historical epic worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. The effort paid off handsomely: the set pieces are stunning, the orchestration of men, horses, and armies dynamic and thrilling to behold. At the heart of this real-life story of love and adventure is the interplay between Heston, always commanding in large-scale heroic roles, and the luxuriant Loren, playing his nemesis and future wife. Shot on location by DP Robert Krasker, “El Cid” has a grandeur equal in every way to its legendary namesake.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • March 24, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Pride of the Yankees

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the baseball classic, directed by Sam Wood.


    Pride of The Yankees (1942)

    What It’s About:
    Biopic of famed New York Yankee Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) traces his storied athletic career, as the legendary southpaw ascends to the best team in baseball, while also portraying his romance and eventual marriage to devoted wife Eleanor (Teresa Wright). The movie culminates in his final gallant battle with a rare and fatal disease, soon to bear his name. We watch as Gehrig bears this ultimate challenge with the same grace and finesse he displayed as a ballplayer.

    Why I Love It:
    Potent inspiration for a country newly at war, this sentimental tearjerker still holds up beautifully, with lots of patriotic flavoring and the inspiring atmosphere of a simpler, nobler time. The magnetic Cooper was never better, Wright is radiant as his spouse, and we even get a glimpse of Babe Ruth playing himself. Don’t miss this affecting ode to a long-ago era when our nation’s role models really were heroic.

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  • March 17, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Cary’s Comedies

    by John Farr

    Five funny films featuring Cary Grant.


    Topper (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    George and Marion Kirby (Grant and Bennett) seem to have it all: they’re rich, attractive, and live the high life-that is, until they’re killed when driving their roadster just a bit too fast. Now bona-fide ghosts, it seems the couple have one final errand to do before going to their eternal rest: help their stifled, hen-pecked banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) get more out of life-while he’s still living!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Uproarious comedy was yet another step to super-stardom for Cary Grant, who proves himself a gifted comic player as well as handsome leading man. Bennett (older sister of Joan) is the essence of high-toned style and beauty as wife Marion. Still the revelation is Young, who’s a consistent delight as the put-upon Cosmo, a man who must cope not only with a rigid, controlling wife (Billie Burke), but a couple of goofy, upper crust specters who keep turning his well-ordered world upside down. A genuine screwball classic. Note: this DVD also includes the sequel “Topper Returns”, which brings back Young (sans Grant and Bennett) and is good fun, though a tad contrived and not up to the first entry.


    The Awful Truth (1937)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, an affluent, attractive young couple who temporarily drift apart and initiate divorce proceedings. Both are unwilling to admit the obvious fact that they’re still in love. Jerry plays the field, but always seems to be turning up (mostly to visit their dog, Mr. Smith). His visits only increase once Lucy gets involved with oil man Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), a wealthy rube from Oklahoma.The couple’s slow but inevitable rapprochement becomes one hilarious, delightful dance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leo McCarey was renowned for his comedic flair (he had directed the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup”), and this consistently sharp, often side-splitting picture shows why. Reportedly the director actually improvised many of the comic set-pieces right on the set, causing rising star Cary Grant much anxiety. He needn’t have worried. The film was a hit, and cemented the reputations of both stars as much more than pretty faces, but in fact, gifted comic players with superb timing. Both Dunne and Bellamy received Oscar nods, while McCarey won for Best Director. Among the top screwball comedies ever made- and that’s the truth!


    Bringing Up Baby (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) leads a quiet, studious life, and is engaged to a proper, like-minded young woman. Then, quite by accident he runs into daffy heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who immediately takes a shine to the handsome, bespectacled scientist. Used to getting just what she wants, Susan simply won’t let David go. Before long, Huxley’s life gets turned upside down, as Susan kidnaps him to her starchy aunt’s Connecticut estate, along with her explorer brother’s recently arrived present, a tame leopard called “Baby”. The comic mayhem escalates from there.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Howard Hawks’s quintessential screwball outing remains one of our most riotous and inspired screen comedies. Grant and Hepburn (who’d do “Holiday” later the same year and “The Philadelphia Story” two years later) are in fabulous form, with Grant wholly convincing as the nerdy, befuddled victim, and Kate on fire as a flaky but determined lass who’s finally found true love, and intends to hold on, come what may. This Sublime, classic film is fun, fast and oh-so-funny.


    Holiday (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Free-spirited Johnny Case (Cary Grant) proposes to sweetheart Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on holiday in Lake Placid, but only later learns that she hails from an old and wealthy New York family headed by her stiff, suspicious industrialist father (Henry Kolker), who disapproves of Case. Julias rebellious sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn), goes to bat for the dashing, independent-minded Mr. Case–and they soon find they have more in common than a tendency to flout convention.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    As leading man, Grant was unequalled, the epitome of charm, and Cukor’s “Holiday” finds him in peak form, starring opposite the redoubtable Hepburn in this giddily amusing romantic comedy. Based on Philip Barry’s Broadway play, this was the third Grant-Hepburn pairing in as many years, and one of the sauciest, as the young would-be lovers buck the dictates of high society. With excellent supporting work by Lew Ayres as Hepburn’s alcoholic brother, and Edward Everett Horton as Grant’s bosom friend, “Holiday” is an antic riff on lives of privilege.


    His Girl Friday (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Sneaky, slimy editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will stop at nothing to prevent his best reporter (and former wife) Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) from leaving the exciting newspaper business for a dull marriage to the chronically normal Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). As fate would have it, the year’s biggest story is breaking, as condemned killer Earl Williams (John Qualen) breaks out of jail, and even Hildy can’t resist the lure of the scoop. Will Walter’s nefarious scheming prevent Hildy from reaching the altar?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The legendary Howard Hawks directs what may be the fastest film comedy ever. A re-make of “The Front Page”, this version’s inspired plot twist is that Hildy is a female reporter, formerly wed to loveable scoundrel Burns. The conceit works, as underneath Walter and Hildy’s scathing, rapid-fire repartee we sense a strong (though somewhat twisted) animal attraction. Both Grant and Russell are in top form, and all we have to do is keep up with them. A rip-roaring good time, start to finish.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • February 17, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Roman Holiday

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, directed by William Wyler.


    Roman Holiday (1953)

    What It’s About:
    A gossamer young Hepburn plays the young Princess Anne, who is making an official visit to Rome. As royalty, she is programmed and scheduled to the hilt and becomes increasingly tired of being cooped up. So one night, she slips out to sample the wonders of the ancient city- incognito. Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) is the reporter who eventually takes her in for the world’s biggest scoop, and then falls for her. Albert is his photographer friend, who shares Peck’s explosive secret.

    Why I Love It:
    Off-screen, Peck was so convinced Hepburn would be a huge star that he confronted director William Wyler, insisting she share top billing with him. An extremely generous and unusual gesture, it also reflected keen judgment. Virtually an unknown before the picture was released, this often hilarious, extremely touching movie made Hepburn an overnight star. Not only could she act, but the camera loved her as it has loved few actresses. Peck and Albert are both terrific, and Wyler’s on-location shooting is flavorful and evocative. This timeless romance is also ideal for the whole family.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • January 20, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Bull Durham

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Kevin Costner’s great baseball movies, directed by Ron Shelton.


    Bull Durham (1988)

    What It’s About:
    Shelton’s winning romantic comedy is set in the special world of minor league baseball, exploring the dynamics (and rivalry) between two very different teammates – seasoned veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), and rookie hot-shot Nuke La Loosh (Tim Robbins). Complicating matters further is the femme fatale that comes between them: a bewitching baseball “groupie” named Annie (Susan Sarandon). Which player will take home that prize?

    Why I Love It:
    This wry comedy delivers irresistible entertainment, evoking the more- shall we say, informal- atmosphere of life in the minors. Star Costner is appealingly mellow, and Sarandon skillfully plays her character as sexy, funny and wise, all at once. Still, Robbins steals the movie in showy role as the dim-bulb rookie. Director Shelton was Oscar-nominated for his salty, funny script- and no wonder. Play ball!

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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