Stunningly beautiful widescreen drama about a contemptuous, alcoholic writer (Frank Sinatra) returning to his home town, with a big city call girl (a magnificent Shirley MacLaine) chasing after him, trying to get him to fall in love with her. Dean Martin completes the picture with his best performance (next to RIO BRAVO) as Sinatra's extremely loyal, hat-wearing best friend, and Arthur Kennedy is good, too, as Sinatra‘s straight-arrow brother. They just don't make anything like this anymore--cynical little stories told on the widest, most lovingly painted canvases. Based on the novel by James Jones (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE THIN RED LINE), and with Oscar-nominated cinematography from William C. Daniels.
MAN HUNT (Fritz Lang, 1941)
A breathtaking middle-brother to serial shorts and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Walter Pidgeon plays a man who's catches Hitler in his gun sights, and then spends the entire movie escaping the Nazis (led by a sly George Sanders). Exciting throughout, with spirited support from cute Joan Bennett (who falls for Pidgeon), a young Roddy McDowell, and menacing John Carradine. One cannot possibly forget its wild final shot, or the travails of its director, who himself escaped the Nazi purge.
PICKUP (Hugo Haas, 1951)
Vintage noir from the poor man's Orson Welles, Hugo Haas (whose movies I had long heard of but had never seen). Beverly Michaels is terrific as the money-hungry floozy who hoodwinks sweet ol' Haas into marrying her, then acts all snippy when the cash fails to appear…and, of course, it‘s only a matter of time before the murder plans start spinning. Just a good old fashioned B-movie, but when they're done this well, they seem like A-movies to me.
THE BIG COUNTRY (William Wyler, 1958)
Sweeping wide-screen western with Gregory Peck as an East Coaster who arrives west and finds himself in the middle of a land dispute. Stellar cast--Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Chuck Connors, Charles Bickford and an Oscar-winning Burl Ives as the straight-talking patriarch of one of the warring families. True to its title and setting, it's a film that needs the biggest screen possible, so as to take in cinematographer Franz Planer’s superb compositions. Jerome Moross' score is one of the best ever written.
LOOKIN’ TO GET OUT (Hal Ashby, 1982)
An overlooked comedy from the always reliable Hal Ashby, with Jon Voight as a reckless gambler who escapes his New York debt crisis by cajoling his best friend (Burt Young) into an impromptu Vegas trip. Lots of amiable laffs all the way through, and the two leads have a ridiculously warm bond. The supporting cast includes Ann-Margret, Burt Remsen, Richard Bradford and, in the final scene, a very young Angelina Jolie. Photographed by the always great Haskell Wexler.
SANJURO (Akira Kurosawa, 1962)
Mifune plays the mysterious stranger who arrives to assist a milquetoast band of samurais in their fight against a vicious warlord. Searing black-and-white scope photography and an urgent but fun sense of pacing, plus a stern showing from Mifune--all the things one expects from a Kurosawa film of this time period.
BREEZY (Clint Eastwood, 1973) Affecting account of a May-December romance between a serious L.A. businessman (William Holden) and a free-spirited hippie girl (Kay Lenz, whose utter enthusiasm is wonderful). Eastwood's first directorial effort without him as its star, it's an unexpectedly longing and romantic outing for him. Excellent score by Michel Legrand, with a splendid title song sung by Shelby Flint.
FOURTEEN HOURS (Henry Hathaway, 1951)
Tense, real-time telling of the chaos that results on a New York street when a depressed man (Richard Basehart) steps out on a high-rise’s ledge and threatens to jump. Paul Douglas is lively as the beat cop who tries to talk him down. The cast is filled out by Agnes Moorehead (as the man's needling mother), Barbara Bel Geddes (as the confused woman he may or may not love), Debra Paget and Jeffery Hunter as two flirtatious kids in the crowd of onlookers, Grace Kelly (in a strangely superfluous, early-career supporting role), and Howard Da Silva (as the police captain). Striking early NYC location work as well.
JUBAL (Delmer Daves, 1956)
The usually blah Glenn Ford comes to life here as a ranch hand who strikes up a friendship with his amiable new boss (Ernest Borgnine) and then finds himself on the receiving end of romantic advances from Borgnine's dissatisfied wife (Valerie French) and violent ones from a jealous former top hand (Rod Steiger). Engrossing through and through.
I SAW WHAT YOU DID (William Castle, 1965)
Ridiculous but fun comedy/horror nuttiness with two teenage girls spending their sleepover making prank calls, and then finding themselves in deep dung when one of their victims (a murderous Joan Crawford) begins to suspect the girls really DO know about the dead body lying in her bathroom. Very campy--especially with the over-the-hill Crawford on-board--but the film seems in on the joke, and that makes it even more hilarious. The B&W photography by Joseph Biroc is quite spooky, though.
WARNING SHOT (Buzz Kulik, 1967)
Excellent late-60s TV movie, with David Jannsen is an L.A. detective who shoots a respected doctor while on a stakeout, and then has to defend himself when the gun Janssen said the doctor pulled on him can't be found. The massive, constantly surprising supporting cast includes--get ready: Lillian Gish, Ed Begley, Carroll O'Connor, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Collins, Keenan Wynn, George Sanders, Eleanor Parker, Steve Allen, Stefanie Powers and a hipster George Grizzard. The screenplay is very fine, keeping the tale’s central mystery constantly baffling, and the late-60s TV look to it, with all those bright colors and lights, often approaches an odd surrealism.
WARLOCK (Edward Dmytryk, 1959)
This morally complex western has Henry Fonda as a famed gunslinger hired by the troubled town of Warlock to clean up its streets, which are being terrorized by a gang of animalistic goons (including Richard Widmark and Bones himself, DeForrest Kelley). Anthony Quinn is Fonda's loyal but hobbled compatriot, and Dorothy Malone is the woman who accuses the heroes of a terrible crime. Unfairly dismissed, Dmytryk's film deserves a higher reputation than it now enjoys.
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (Fritz Lang, 1956)
Late-period Lang--maybe his last worthwhile film--has Dana Andrews as a writer who conspires with a newspaper editor (Sidney Blackmer) to confess to a murder that he didn't commit, in order to prove--along with his innocence--that capital punishment is a barbaric practice. The outlandish story is given real weight by the convincing, twisty script. Joan Fontaine is particularly good here as the woman who questions her love for the redoubtable Andrews. Remade in 2009 by Peter Hyams.
CISCO PIKE (Bill L. Norton, 1972)
In his first film, Kris Kristofferson (who also supplies much of the movie's music--including that one song, “The Pilgrim,” that Cybill Shepherd references in TAXI DRIVER) plays a retired pot dealer cajoled back into the game by a harried, crooked cop (Gene Hackman). First-rate 70s California feel, with a seedy supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Karen Black, and Warhol-stamped star Viva.
ALEX IN WONDERLAND (Paul Mazursky, 1970)
Donald Sutherland has one of his most meaty lead roles here as a newly-minted director searching for his next project. It's this director's take on 8 1/2, and as such, it includes a rare cameo appearance by Federico Fellini (whom Mazursky idolizes). Sometimes uncomfortably chaotic, and always filled with that terrific dialogue Mazursky is known for (he also has a role as a wine-swilling producer), it also features Ellen Burstyn and the director's daughter Meg in notable performances.
BULLETS OR BALLOTS (William Keighley, 1936)
Edward G. Robinson is former NYC detective tapped by the police commissioner to infiltrate the mob, led by a business-like Barton McClane. McClane’s second is a perennially suspicious gunman, played with seething malevolence by Humphrey Bogart. On the flip side, Joan Blondell is pretty but fades from memory as Robinson’s love interest (the movie luckily doesn’t spend much time on this). Quite flashy throughout, with a tremendous, bullet-riddled climax, Keighley’s film also sports some surprisingly luscious black-and-white imagery.
MR. SARDONICUS (William Castle, 1961)
Our title character (Guy Rolfe) is a man who once committed an unspeakable wrong and, as penance, has to spend his life with a hideously frozen face. Oscar Homolka is very creepy as his leering, damaged henchman. Originally, in the theaters, Castle offered viewers a “Punishment Poll” so they could decide the fate of the lead character (Castle only filmed one ending). A weird and kind of lovable cult favorite.
Bizarre Czech art film which, because of its copious nudity, was sold to early’70s porno palaces but which deserves more serious consideration. Jaroslava Schallerova is transfixing as a sexually-bursting 13-year-old whose allure bedevils everyone around her--men, women, priests, vampires and crazy aunts. Jires’ dreamy direction is as filled with gorgeous absurdities as anything by Fellini or Russell, Jan Curik’s cinematography is wondrous, and the score by Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusak is its perfect compliment.
DARK OF THE SUN (Jack Cardiff, 1968)
A Tarantino favorite, this nasty caper/war film has Rod Taylor--who’s never been better--as the leader of mercenaries out to traverse the jungles of a civil war-torn Congo, with a healthy cache of uncut diamonds as their ultimate goal. Jim Brown is very good as Taylor’s right-hand man, and Peter Carsten is pretty slimy as the former Nazi who becomes this thrilling film’s nominal villain (there really no one to root for here). Kenneth More, Calvin Lockhart and Yvette Mimieux co-star, and the memorable score is by Jacques Loussier.
WENT THE DAY WELL (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)
Taut British film tells the story of a rural village targeted by the German army as the site for a secret invasion of Nazi troops, and how the town’s residents slowly learn of this plot, and then decisively act to combat their foes. Finely edited with a sharp attention to suspense and space, and with an able cast of mostly unrecognizable actors, Cavalcanti’s film is a rousing, well-written bit of UK WWII patriotism.