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Night After Night (1932) – Paramount definitely had a style in the early-30s, and this is one of its best exemplars. George Raft as a smooth bootlegging gangster backed up by Mae West in her first role—and one of her unbridled bawdiest. It’s stylish and amoral, but still somewhat human.
One Way Passage (1932) – Great pre-Code tearjerker about a condemned man and a dying woman meeting on an ocean voyage. Warner Bros. isn’t really known for its hearty dramas, but this one is accomplished with the right amount of tragic romanticism and sly comic support.
The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933) – One of James Whale’s dramas, so naturally it gets no attention at all. There’s a wonderful streak of menace and jealousy in this tale of a wronged husband and how that affects his attorney, who soon realizes his wife is having an affair as well. It’s fairly diabolical, and, coming from Whale, of course great to look at.
The Nuisance (1933) – Lee Tracy at his best, this comedy sees him as an ambulance chasing lawyer who won’t let honesty get in his way. Has a surprising amount of heart for all of the ruthlessness on display.
Three Cornered Moon (1933) – I’ll never understand people who suggest that screwball comedies didn’t exist until 1934. This one is a pip, with an entire family of eccentrics suddenly realizing they’re down to the double digits in the family accounts. It’s a nice cross section between the zany rich and the grim realities of the Depression, all while staying pretty enjoyable all the way.
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) – I was booking through the big list of screwball comedies late last year and it cannot be understated what an unbelievably outstanding resource Jean Arthur was for the genre. Paired with Charles Coburn in both this film and 1943’s superb The More the Merrier, she gets a lot of mileage out of being a little too fussy but also a little too honest. This one, where she teaches a tycoon the true meaning of not being an asshole, is one of the most charming and fun in the genre.
The Doomsday Flight (1966) – I’m a big fan of airplane disaster movies (which, considering how often I fly, doesn’t bode well), and this one is a real standout. Featuring Edmond O’Brien doing his best Burgess Meredith as a selfish, wounded bomber, Rod Serling’s script indulges in a number of the usual clichés only to quietly pull the rug out from a number of them in the last act.
Fate is the Hunter (1964) – Speaking of airline disaster films, this one opens with a bang and a hell of a sobering moment. The rest of the film, which becomes about Glenn Ford trying to rediscover his old friend Rod Taylor’s past and make peace with him, is quietly effective. There’s a scene in a hanger where Ford, having learned a whole new facet to this man’s life, is reflecting on a chunk of burned fuselage, and a shadow appears behind him. It’s such a haunting moment and made me catch my breath. Great stuff all around.
Game Change (2012) – Best horror film in years.
The Grim Game (1919) – Caught its restoration premiere at the 2015 TCM Film Festival, and it was a revelation. There’s a moment where Harry Houdini is jokingly put in a pair of handcuffs by his office mates. He looks down at them and then breaks the fourth wall by looking at the camera and smiling slyly. It’s probably one of my favorite moments in film now, illustrating that line between expectations, desire, and, well, magic. The rest of the movie, with a lot of goofy plotting and a hell of a climax involving a real plane crash, is a treat, too.
Heißer Sommer (1968) – Though the box advertises this as the East German Grease, it’s far more akin to one of the dozen Beach Party movies I watched this summer. The twist, of course, is that this was made under the Communist regime, so the plotting is carefully tilted ideologically. The differences between what our cultures were advocating – group harmony versus personal sexual fulfillment – are fun to observe, and the music ain’t bad either.
The Holdiay (2006) – I’ll admit to something weird upfront: I’ve owned the soundtrack to The Holiday for several years before I actually saw the movie. I caught the soundtrack on Pandora and was instantly smitten, and it regularly pops up during long walks on starry nights. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie easily matches the grace of Zimmer’s score. It plays like a gaudy 1940s all-star melodrama, tenderly poking at itself while relishing in all the beauty and warmth that can be scrounged up in Hollywood nowadays.
Johnny Cool (1963) – I watched this one after Trailers From Hell featured it. Wasn’t expecting much, but it marches so fiercely to the beat of its own drummer that it’s utterly compelling in spite of its cheesier aspects. And that ending—man, that ending sticks with you.
Let’s Kill Uncle (1966) – It’s a William Castle movie done in the style of those cheesy Disney live action comedies of the time, only it’s about Nigel Green wanting to violently murder a pair of innocent children, while the children have to decide how to murder him first. It’s bonkers is what I’m saying.
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) – Though often emblemized through slogans and art, this documentary takes a look behind the glamorous Hollywood propaganda at some of the real life women who went to work in the factories during World War II. The results are sobering and fascinating, as we see how a united female workforce broke down racial barriers and scared the powers that be to their cores.
Morning for the Osone Family (1946) – I just watched a war propaganda film last night called The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942) where a selfish widow learns the virtues of patriotism from her gentle and kind neighbors. Morning for the Osone Family plays the same scenario from the opposite angle, where a family is slowly destroyed and unraveled as the war drags on even though only their priggish uncle was in favor of it. Honestly surprised I’d never heard more about Osone, it’s a fantastic little film about the dangers of not standing up against the bullies of the world.
The Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) – The other great screwball comedy I saw last year, this one is a weirdly wonderful mix of 30s Paramount surrealism, honest-to-God patriotism, and some of the decade’s best comedy actors just letting loose. Probably my favorite Charles Laughton performance by far.
Shall We Dance (1996) – Living in Japan, I should probably watch a few more Japanese movies than I do. Last summer while I was staying in a hostel in Hiroshima. Its story of quiet isolation is one that plays out a lot here, and the movie really captures both the feeling of claustrophobia from living in the Tokyo megalopolis as well as that euphoria when you spiritually break free of it.