Anthony Strand is a librarian and writer who lives in Fulton, Missouri. His blog can be found at zeppomarxist.blogspot.com, and he has contributed to thiswastv.com and toughpigs.com. You can follow him on Twitter @zeppomarxist.
Here's his Film Discoveries list from last year:
For the first 8 months of 2016, I didn’t think I would be able to participate in the series this year. I was so busy that I saw very few new-to-me movies, and most of the ones I did see were recent (and not very good). But in August, a magical thing happened - I temporarily moved into a house with cable! In the fall, I saw dozens of great movies on TCM. These are just a few of the best ones:
Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
Directed by Max Linder
One of French comedian Max Linder’s attempts to break into the US, Seven Years Bad Luck is best known for its early use of “the mirror routine”. But the entire movie - about a guy who breaks a mirror the night before his wedding, leading to a series of mishaps - is hilarious. This was my first experience with Linder, but it made me want to seek out some of his earlier French hits.
American Madness (1932)
Directed by Frank Capra
Fourteen years before It’s a Wonderful Life, here’s a Frank Capra movie that features both a panicked run on a Depression-era bank and an uplifting ending where a noble banker is saved by the generosity of all the people he’s helped over the years. But American Madness is terrific on its own merits. In 75 brisk minutes, it tells the story of a bank heist that spins out of control in unexpected ways.
Twentieth Century (1934)
Directed by Howard Hawks
John Barrymore is an egotistical stage director, and Carole Lombard is the temperamental star/girlfriend who leaves to star in pictures. He follows her onto the title train and tries everything in his power to get her to come back. This is one of the foundational documents of screwball, and one of the best ones I’ve seen. It moves at the speed of light, and the two stars seem like they genuinely hate and love each other in equal measure.
The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
Directed by John Ford
In one of his few comedies, Edward G. Robinson plays the dual roles of a notorious gangster and a meek accountant who gets mistaken for him. Only one of those roles is a stretch for Robinson, of course, but he’s surprisingly convincing as a man scared of his own shadow (and sends up his image beautifully as the gangster). Jean Arthur plays his love interest, and the two have wonderful chemistry. Honestly, Robinson seems like a better match for her than Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper.
Piccadilly Jim (1936)
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
This was my favorite movie that I saw in 2016. Robert Montgomery is a happy-go-lucky cartoonist, Frank Morgan is his ne’er-do-well father, and they both fall in love with members of the same rich family (a woman and her aunt). Then Montgomery creates a smash hit comic strip based on his girlfriend’s mother, and she’s not at all happy about it. I wanted to spend years watching these characters be ridiculous. Bonus fun: the aunt is Billie Burke, which means it’s a Wizard of Oz/Glinda the Good Witch romance.
Stormy Weather (1943)
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
A pretty typical early 40s musical, this one is most notable for having an all-black cast, and an unusually funny script. Bill Robinson was almost 40 years older than his love interest Lena Horne, but it doesn’t read that way on-screen at all. The movie is packed with great musical performances, including this astonishing dance from the Nicholas Brothers.
Key Largo (1948)
Directed by John Huston
The last of the four movies Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together, and also the last one I saw. They’re trapped in Bacall’s family hotel by an aging gangster (Edward G. Robinson again) with her wheelchair-bound father (Lionel Barrymore). The situation is tense, the performances are pitch-perfect (Barrymore is a particular standout), and the ending is one of Huston’s most exciting.
It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)
Directed by Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen
Generally regarded as “Kelly and Donen’s cynical follow-up to Singin’ in the Rain,” It’s Always Fair Weather *is* a very bitter look at post-war life (with a ton of jabs at how silly that new-fangled TV is), but it’s also a funny and moving story of three friends who’ve grown apart over time. And it has some genuinely stellar dance numbers, including one where the three leads all have garbage can lids on their feet.
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
I liked Hammer’s first Frankenstein movie (The Curse of Frankenstein from 1957) well enough, but this sequel tops it in every way. It picks up with Peter Cushing’s mad doctor hiding out under an assumed name, amputating body parts unnecessarily so he can build a new, improved monster - one that looks like a healthy, “normal” person. Since it’s an original story, the filmmakers are able to pack it full of unexpected twists and weird new ideas. One of the best Frankenstein movies ever made, and I don’t say that lightly.
Lord Love a Duck (1966)
Directed by George Axelrod
“Good” isn’t the right word for this movie, but it certainly is fascinating. 36-year-old Roddy McDowell plays a genius high school senior who becomes obsessed with his beautiful new friend played by Tuesday Weld, eventually deciding to kill her new husband (the fact that two high schoolers get married isn’t anywhere near being the weirdest thing about this movie). The jokes work better than the story, which is kind of a mess, but always entertaining.