Thursday, May 29, 2008

THIS MONTH'S EYE CANDY: THE WAVISHING KAY FWANCIS. "I have a confession to make to you: You like me. In fact, you're crazy about me". Um, in case you didn't know . . . that's Kay Francis to which I was referring -- she had a little trouble pronouncing her "r's", you know. She's this month's eye candy if for no other reason than seeing her in the splenderiferous Ernst Lubitsch sparklefest TROUBLE IN PARADISE: a jewel of a movie starring herself as well as the marvelous Miriam Hopkins (in the same year as her Oscar-worthy turn in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) as well as the incredibly debonair (who knew?!?) Herbert Marshall. Kay Francis plays the wealthy young widow Mariette Colet: now-owner of the Colet Parfumier and she's an absolute knockout of a stunner. Jewel-thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins are after her dough but, naturally, Marshall finds himself falling head over heels in love with Kay Francis. Torn between Miriam and Kay; I wouldn't want to be in Herbie's shoes, I'll tell ya. Whom does he end up with. You'll have to see the movie (and I HIGHLY recommend that you do).
Poor Kay never really gave too much of a hoot about her movie career and took any role that the studio gave her. Sadly, after an accident in 1948 in which she was burned, her acting career tailed off dramatically. Kay Francis would die of breast cancer in 1968. But she will always live in my heart as the immortal (and wavishing) Kay Francis of TROUBLE IN PARADISE -- and believe me, the photos don't really do her justice. . . you have to see her in the film. Many MANY thanks to my Ilsa* (we'll ALWAYS have Paris) for bringing this incredibly sophisticated, glass of champagne of a film to my attention!
ATTENTION!!! WATE BWEAKING NEWS ON THE WAVISHING KAY FWANCIS!!! Here is a wonderfully salacious link to an article concerning a Kay Francis biography on the Bright Lights Film Journal website for an even more detailed (and MUCH steamier) insight into the great Kay. What a naughty little minx she was -- check out the Kay Francis quote in red directly under the article's title! Prepare yourself for a little salty language, children!

Monday, May 19, 2008

"VAMPIRES LURKED IN THE WOODS!" May I draw my erudite readers' attentions to a new article on the always enjoyable SENSES OF CINEMA website by John Potts entitled "WHAT I OWE TO HAMMER HORROR" (click here to read it). Potts, associate professor and head of the Department of Media at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia does a lovely job of comparing the lush and shadow-haunted Europe depicted in Hammer's Dracula movies to his extremely flat, hill-less suburban Australian town of 35 years ago. This contrast led to a certain sense of "otherness" which captivated the young John Potts as he sat through Saturday matinee after Saturday matinee of these great Hammer Horrors.
The Dracula/vampire films were the main vein that ran through the entire Hammer output in much the same way as the Frankenstein movies were the backbone of Universal's golden age of monsters during the 30's and 40's. When I think of Universal horror, I always flash on black and white images of stony Frankensteinian castles and Karloff's monster lumbering about in asphalt-spreaders boots. Whereas, when I think of Hammer Horror I always, without fail, flash upon images of bright red (unusually red) blood, Christopher Lee's fangs and blazing red contact lenses. Professor Potts, in his article, evokes himself at the age of 10 in 1970 at the old, rundown Empire cinema (since demolished, of course) watching second runs of these Hammer vampire films (particularly DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and SCARS OF DRACULA -- films not usually singled out for comment). It was these Dracula films which, Potts reveals, taught him about Europe (in a backhanded but no less important way). He tells the all-too-familiar story of all horror fans when he talks about the lasting impact these films made upon him in a marvelously descriptive passage:
  • "We saw other films, of course, but none made an impact on me approaching that of the vampire films. The lurid technicolor: the unnatural red of the blood; the lushness of the forest;the atmosphere of the village inn; the mystery of the castle on top of themountain; the wolves and bats; the mist; churches and buildings made of stone; the villagers' fear; the thrilling power of the Count; his lure of the village women; his fangs sinking into their throats; the climb up the mountain to confront him; the grim-faced man of God battling the arrogant Count; the ritual elements deployed in battle: garlic, holy water, fire, wooden stakes, ice, crucifixes; the superstition, the dread; the social order; the ancient customs of the village; the fearsome majesty of the castle; the thick woods at night."
All these facets of Hammer vampire movies and more are gone over by Professor Potts. Particular contrast is made between the "evil aristocracy descending upon the helpless lower classes" and Potts' own egalitarian "level playing field free of class system" that was his boyhood suburban home town in Australia. This was one of the intriguing things about the vampire films of Hammer and Potts' examination of them makes an absorbing read. So, I heartily encourage you to take a stroll on over to the forests of the Senses of Cinema website and read John Potts' throroughly enjoyable article. Just make sure that you don't go strolling through it after dark. For vampires lurk in those woods.
Funny. . .two big shaggy guys' birthdays in a row.
And hey Peter, doesn't that guy you used to hang around with have a new movie coming out? Aw, what was his name???? Oh, I know! Sawyer!

Friday, May 16, 2008

SO YEAH....THE BITCH IS 40. And I see he's now also stolen my Five Songs idea over there on his blog. That's OK. I'm used to inspiring the world with no monetary recompense. But since it's his birthday, I'll let him slide. Oh, by the way, here's a recent photo of him and me. Frolicking. So, taking a page from his EXTREMELY OLD NOW book, I thought I'd make a little listy of songs that remind me of my Doddy -- that reprobate I call my friend. I've known him for 23 years so I think there should be a few. Now, I'm not really gonna go on and on about them -- I'm just going to list them without comment. Suffice it to say that I can't really hear any of these songs without immediately thinking of the Oot! The Donger! Granpa Strohman. The ole Sweet Cheeks. Here they are in no particular order:
  • MLK by U2 (there's a story behind this one)
  • NEVER by Heart
  • HURDY GURDY MAN by Donovan
  • QUESTION by The Moody Blues
  • DROP THE PILOT by Joan Armatrading
  • LIL SOMTHIN' SOMTHIN' by Insane Clown Posse
  • THE AIR THAT I BREATHE by The Hollies
  • BEST OF FRIENDS by Pearl Bailey
  • WHISPERING PINES by Johnny Horton
  • RUNNING BEAR by Johnny Preston
  • ROY ROGERS by Elton John
  • UNDER ICE by Kate Bush
  • GALILEO by Indigo Girls
  • GOODBYE by Night Ranger
  • FIRE IN THE TWILIGHT by Wang Chung
  • NO ONE IS TO BLAME by Howard Jones
  • WHEREVER I MAY ROAM by Metallica
  • THE CHAUFFER by Duran Duran
  • OLD FRIEND by Elton John & Nik Kershaw
  • SPIRIT IN THE SKY by Norman Greenbaum
  • JUST LIKE BELGIUM by Elton John
  • ONE MORE ARROW by Elton John

And in the spirit of benevolence, I even spared him mentioning that OTHER song (J.F. and A. B. B.) in order to spare him the embarrassment. I'm sure there are other songs but this pretty much gives you an idea. So once again, here's wishing the Doddy a Happy, Happy 40th -- your "Happy Birthday" in 74 different languages is in the mail!

HE'S OLD. . .
SO OLD. . .

Thursday, May 15, 2008

SO I HEAR "RACE WITH THE DEVIL" IS GONNA GET A REMAKE SOON. Hmmm. I have every faith that it will be unwatchable. After all, they just CAN'T do satan worshipper/car chase movies justice outside of the 1970's. And this 1975 drive-in theatre owner's wet dream of a movie has got it all. Devil worshippers prancing around a bonfire sticking daggers into the hearts of nubile nude blondes. Cross country car chases with buckshot a-flyin'. An annoyingly cutesy little dog hanging dead from a mobile home door. And a Mount Rushmore of 1970's borderline-competent acting talent that wobbles between embarrassing and engaging: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit AND Lara Parker. A quartet we know from "EASY RIDER", "IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT", "M*A*S*H*" and "DARK SHADOWS" respectively. (SIDEBAR: I seriously cannot BELIEVE that Loretta Swit will be 71 years old this year!!!). And the irony of Lara Parker starring in a Satanic cult movie after rising to fame as the evil sorceress Angelique of DARK SHADOWS is not lost on me -- and shouldn't be lost on you either -- or why else would you be WATCHING this kinda movie in the first place?!? Not forgetting for one minute the role Peter Fonda would play in 2007's cinematic masterpiece GHOST RIDER! Basic plotline (and seriously, this is all anyone REALLY needs to make a movie): Two couples (them four up there) decide to take a vacation to Aspen in their humongous mobile home. While camping in a secluded wooded area, what should they espy from their lawnchairs but a devil cult in the night. After doffing their clothes, one woman is sacrificed with a dagger to the heart. Naturally, it's JUST at this moment that Loretta Swit decides to poke her head out of the motor home and call LOUDLY for the two guys to get back inside.

Satanists start bounding across the river towards them as the mobile home skids off into the night as if the Devil was after them. And of course, he kinda is. The four drive to the next town where they report the crime to the local sheriff who (I'm sure I won't be spoiling anything when I tell you this) is IMMEDIATELY obvious as a member of the Devil Cult himself. I mean, the way R. G. Armstrong plays the part, the way his introduction is shot and just the way he looks SCREAMS he's one of the Satanists. And of course, knowing this is a 70's movie, there could be no other option. Truly, while I was watching the first shot of the sheriff it's almost like a loud bell went off proclaiming "Villain"! After examining the scene of the crime, the Sheriff finds a dead dog and intimates the four probably mistook what they saw and were probably drunk besides. We the viewers, of course, know different -- and so do our heroes. As the drive off towards their far off destination, they keep encountering devil worshippers who beat the living hell out of their mobile home. Suspicious people are everywhere the quartet stops and, after the movie passes its first hour of running time, things really begin to heat up.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL is one of those great, empty-headed drive-in movies that are a lot of fun. There is a slow build-up of suspense and tension (and this is a GOOD thing) until the final half of the film really begins to rivet you to your seat. The car crashes, pyrotechnics and stunt work are actually top notch and the film itself turns into something of a thrill ride. Of particular interest is the scene where those wacky Satanists have placed a couple deadly rattlesnakes inside the mobile home. It really is one hell of a scene; the snakes are real and they look to be right there on the set with the actors.

That nicely bleak, downbeat 70's thing can be found especially at the end of the movie (and come on, were you REALLY expecting anything different from a 70's movie?!? As Bugs Bunny said at the end of "WHAT'S OPERA, DOC". . . .well, you know what he said. I suppose RACE WITH THE DEVIL loosely qualifies as a horror film; although it's more of a car chase thriller owing to the fact that the occult trappings of the Satanic cult are only seen during two scenes of the film. All the rest of the time the Satanists are almost impossible to tell from the everyday rednecks populating the rural highways and byways. The rather nice thing about the film is that our four protagonists are not blissfully unaware of the machinations lined up against them; from the very beginning of trouble they are ALWAYS pretty sure that some skullduggery is afoot. Witness the surreptious way that Peter Fonda secretly picks up his OWN blood sample at the bonfire site; already suspecting that the local sheriff isn't going to prove too helpful. The problem is the four are simply unable to wrest themselves loose from the seemingly endless parade of Satanic cult members hounding them across the highways.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL would be my idea of the perfect film to place in the middle of a 70's car chase movie marathon. DEATH RACE 2000, of course, would be the lead off film followed by RACE WITH THE DEVIL and we'd wind things up with Ron Howard's first directorial effort: GRAND THEFT AUTO. Could there be a better way to waste an evening?!? I would naturally recommend you have a huge pile of fried chicken on hand while watching this marathon of movie goodness, by the way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

THE FIVE SONGS: NINTH INSTANCE. FRANK SINATRA DIED EXACTLY TEN YEARS AGO TODAY. Now, I've never really counted myself as a particular fan of Ol' Blue Eyes and I'm still not a raving Frankie-phile. However, I have come to enjoy his singing more and more over the years; particularly the suicidal, "Ava Gardner left me" stuff on his classic albums "IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS" and "ONLY THE LONELY". So it is in this spirit of inclusion that I decided to make the next installment of THE FIVE SONGS a list of my favourite Sinatra performances on platter. These are, in my opinion, five of the slambangingest, ring-a-ding-dingiest vocals Frankie ever committed to disc.
  1. PLEASE DON'T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME (Henry Nemo) - My favourite Sinatra song, I think. Vulnerable Frankie pleading not to be dumped...crooning: "Would you take the wings from birds so that they can't fly?/Would you take the ocean's roar and leave just a sigh?/All this your heart won't let you do/This is what I beg of you/Please don't take your love from me." And of course, there's that killer line: "Tear a petal from a rose and the rose weeps, too."
  2. DANCING ON THE CEILING (Rodgers/Hart) - Useta be my favourite Sinatra song until I heard that one up there. Again an obsessive, lovesick Frankie from the very first LP record EVER: "IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS". That's right; this album was the very first 33 1/3rd long playing record. Here we have Frankie is practically certifiable and will surely be locked up in a rubber room before the week is out -- because he's laying awake in bed staring at the ceiling where all he can see is his love dancing. "She dances overhead/on the ceiling near my bed/in my sight/all through the night." You'd better have that looked at, Frankie. And of course, the greatest line in the song: "I love my ceiling more/since it is a dancing floor/just for my love." Ella Fitzgerald does a version of the song which is almost as good. But not quite.
  3. TIME AFTER TIME (Cahn/Styne) - the perfect match between a song and a singer. Old Blue Eyes debuted this in the movies way back in the 40's -- and he was singing it to JIMMY DURANTE of all people. But even then, the beauty of the song was arresting. Let's just hope Frankie and Jimmy didn't get arrested! "I only know/the passing years will show/you've kept my love so young, so new."
  4. YOUNG AT HEART (Leigh/Richards) - probably the most well-known of the standards here, there's just something about Ol' Blue Eyes crooning this song that gets me. Oh, and tellingly, this is the only non-ballad, non-suicidal, more "ring-a-ding-ding" song on this list. "And if you should survive to 105/look at all you'll derive out of being alive/and here is the best part/you'll have a head start/if you are among the very young at heart". The only version of this song that rivals Sinatra's is Wild Man Fischer's. Don't ask. But it is even BETTER!!!
  5. WHAT'S NEW? (Burke/Haggart) - This one's from one of those suicidal albums: FRANK SINATRA SINGS FOR ONLY THE LONELY. And it's appropriate because Frankie seems ready to take a header off the nearest Vegas casino. The story of the song find the singer encountering a former love after some time. Unfortunately, he's still kinda hooked on her. "What's new?/How did that romance come through?/We haven't met since then/Gee, but it's nice to see you again/What's new?/Probably I'm boring you/But seeing you is grand/And you were sweet to offer your hand./I understand. Adieu!/Pardon my asking what's new/Of course you couldn't know/I haven't changed, I still love you so." Oh come on, Frankie! Haven't you heard The Streets' "DRY YOUR EYES" yet???

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

GRITTY. GROTTY. GRIM. GRAND GUIGNOL. GRRRRRRR! THE HONEYMOON KILLERS IS ALL THIS AND MORE. This 1970 cult movie shot in grimy black and white looks like it was literally shot on newspaper instead of celluloid. The opening title card trumpets that these sick and twisted events are based on a true story. The film itself looks occasionally amateurish but mostly it's shot with quite a bit of directorial flair by screenwriter Leonard Kastle. This was Kastle's first and only film and it's surprising since he seems to have done a good job with very little budget. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS was actually supposed to have been directed by Martin Scorsese; but the director would be replaced after a week of shooting by Donald Volkman who would ALSO be replaced finally by Leonard Kastle.
The film has an almost documentary look which lends an air of authenticity to the truly outlandish events. . .true as they may be. One notices the lighting especially; natural lighting is used as well as actual light sources in the frame i.e. table lamps and such. The use of blazing light bulbs creates an abundance of chiaroscuro shadowing which also lends to the films look. Then there's the grainy quality of the film itself. All in all one gets the feeling, by the time the movie is done, that one needs a nice long shower. And this is the strange allure of the film. Events depicted are quite distasteful and disturbing but, like a car wreck, strangely compelling.
The major compulsion for the viewer which keeps their eyes rivetted to the screen are the two unknown leads: Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco. Stoler reminds me of nothing if not sort of a female Divine (!) while Lo Bianco would look at home in any of Scorsese's 70's mob films. Each actor plays their parts with a strange combination of amateur theatrics and compelling gravitas. I'm at a loss to explain how they do this. All I know is that while they are on the screen (and I don't think there is EVER a scene in which one or the other actor IS on screen) you simply HAVE to watch them.
The bare bones scenario is this. Lonely and overweight head nurse Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) is entered into a "Lonely Hearts Club" agency by her friend Bunny (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND's Doris Roberts: the only "name" actor in the film). Martha figures what the hey and answers her questionnaire. She is quickly corresponding with Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco): a con man who bilks lonely (and usually old) ladies out of their money by marrying them. Raymond does the same to Martha but, miracle of miracles, the two actually fall in love. Martha is so attached to Raymond that she dumps her own mother into a home and goes off with him; threatening suicide at every turn should Raymond think of leaving her. Of course, Raymond can't give up his livelihood so he continues to wed lonely ladies with the help of Martha (who mascarades as his sister). Of course, Martha in INSANELY JEALOUS of every woman Raymond marries. Prescription for trouble? You don't know the half of it. Raymond always promises not to "do the deed" with his wives but, of course, Martha eventually finds out he nearly always does. Then the murders start.
The film is actually quite light on violence until we reach the second half. The first half plays more like an offbeat caper film with the larcenous pair sometimes outwitted by their victims. However, by the halfway point of the movie, things get more and more serious. The murders, when they occur, are suitably nasty and violent (even if they ARE in black and white). And the final double murder of the film is particularly (and rightfully) unpleasant. Another word I'd use for the movie is "bleak"; although it doesn't fit my "GR" words at the beginning of this post. However, the film does a REALLY good job at portraying the ugly underside of society not only with the pair of murderers but also with the victims who are just as unpleasant and smarmy. It's actually quite difficult to know whether one should be rooting for the victims or the murderers. But when the murder victims actually DO meet their deaths, it is quite clear that we should feel sorry for them despite their unpleasantness. Since the film is based on real events, it should come as no surprise that the pair is eventually jailed and sent to the electric chair. However, despite all the doublecrossing and betrayal, the two STILL remain deeply in love with each other to the very end. All in all an extremely warped but watchable curiosity.
And yes, here's an extra added treat for THE HONEYMOON KILLERS fans: a scene from the film acted out in LEGOs:

Monday, May 12, 2008


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

IT CAN'T BE! IS IT REALLY?!? It's something of an anniversary of sorts around here because, against all that is holy, this is the 500th post in The Land of Cerpts and Honey. And naturally I couldn't let this non-event pass without noting it. Since the tail end of 2005 I've been blogging on here in what Weaverman's buddy Tariq calls the equivalent of written masturbation. Well, guilty as charged. And I've done it 500 times already! I don't know about the actually masturbation thing but I'm sure this internet equivalent will surely make me blind!
  • "Remember Belgium? And the Brussels museum? Well, we piled on the front steps like stray cavaliers. Our code of living meant little to others..."
I swear I haven't felt this much of a sense of accomplishment since I was declared Anti-Pope (see photo if you don't believe I was crowned Pope Hilarius II ... yes, there HAD already been a Pope Hilarius I). It wasn't my idea, believe me. But the smoke doesn't lie. And you KNOW this must be something of a special occasion around here because this is the first time (and hopefully the LAST time) I've ever posted my sorry image on this blog. But to think all this inane writing started with my first never-ending novel: "WELL, PIN A ROSE ON YOU", continued with "FISH EYES" (the first issue of the legendary Rustler Newsletter and spilled over into the award-winning nihilistic short story "OUR TIME IN HELL". And now this. Sorry, guys. If Al Gore really DID invent the internet, blame him!
  • "But that's OK. There's treasure children always seek to find. And just like us, you must have had a once upon a time."
So, in the spirit of silliness for silliness' sake, I wanted to take a moment to mark this rather "anniversaire douteux" by thanking all my loyal (and certifiable) readers for sitting through this spontaneous round of indifference. I can only promise that I will strive to continue in this completely superfluous vein until the heavens fall or I make enough money to hire some other poor schlub to ghost write it all for me. Again a sincere thank you for reading and sticking with me along the way.
  • "To Flicker And To Fade...on this the longest day..."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

JIMMY STEWART: THE AW SHUCKS EVERYMAN was one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood firmament. He is almost universally beloved among movie fans as a star while still managing to turn in performances that were layered and sometimes surprising. The "aw shucks" first impression is a little too simplistic because frankly the man could act. What follows are my ten favourite Jimmy Stewart movies; ones I return to again and again. But please note, these are in order of movie preference; not necessarily his "best" performances. That would probably shuffle the order around somewhat. Since my number one film is not his best performance; it's the movie as a whole I'm responding to. And also one final word: beware there may be spoilers ahead!
  1. REAR WINDOW (1954) - Not only my favourite Stewart film but also my favourite Hitchcock film. Like I said, Stewart's performance is not as towering as some of the movies you'll see later in this list but REAR WINDOW is a stone cold classic among classics. Wheelchair-bound Stewart has nothing to do but voyeuristically peer out his apartment house window and sees some things he shouldn't see. Was there a murder across the way or was there not? Strangely unable to commit to his knockout goddess of a girlfriend (Grace Kelly -- I mean C'MON Jimmy!), there are, as usual, plenty of things going on under the surface of this Hitchcock film. Among them are Hitch's comments on the very voyeuristic nature of cinema itself. Add to all this another classic performance by Thelma Ritter as well as a truly menacing Raymond Burr and a strong performance by Wendell Corey -- particularly when he visits Stewart's apartment and silently takes in the evidence of Grace Kelly's unseen presence. Who could ask for more?
  2. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) - This was a near one. Very narrowly edged out by REAR WINDOW, MR. SMITH is one of those towering acting performances turned in by Mr. Stewart. The justly famous "filibuster" sequence at the end stills gives me goosebumps to this day and I've seen the film countless times. One lone little greenhorn freshman Senator finds out his political idol (Claude Rains) ain't as pure as he thought. The disillusionment and pressure put upon Stewart's character is palpable and we the viewers feel ready to cave in to the pressure when Stewart stands up for what is right. Thrilling! Add to this the spectacular Jean Arthur (boy, I love her -- a hell of an actress often underrated) and we have here the movie that SHOULD have won best picture in the golden year of 1939. Instead of that Civil War mess.
  3. VERTIGO (1958) - Another Hitchcock classic and a stunning performance by Jimmy Stewart who reaches inside himself to depths which make his character quite unlikeable and creepy. Obsession personified. Stewart takes a job to trail a friend's wife (icy Kim Novak) who has been acting strangely. He soon falls hopelessly in love with her. Then loses her. Then finds someone else who looks kinda like her. Then tries to forcefully mold her into his dead love. Then.... Well, this has been widely called Hitchcock's masterpiece and it just might be. A complex film on so many levels.
  4. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) - This one has my beloved Kate in it along with Cary Grant. This is also the one Stewart won the Academy Award for. Again, not really his greatest performance but the movie is a classic comedy which knocks an alabaster goddess (Katharine Hepburn) off her high horse. Stewart is very fine as the "man of the people" reporter (with whiffs of Marxism, actually) whose distain for the rich folks melts to more tender feelings toward Hepburn. Of course, there's Hepburn's dissolute bounder of an ex-husband (Cary Grant) in the mix and everybody seems to be trying to prevent Hepburn's upcoming marriage to a noodge. Hepburn (labelled box office poison a couple years earlier) snagged the rights to this play written expressly for her and wisely insisted that any studio buying the successful play would star her. She also demanded her choice of leading men: Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. What she got was Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Not bad runners-up, I'd say.
  5. DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) - In the same year he made Mr. Smith, Stewart also scored with this incredibly likeable comedy/western in which he plays a loveable gunfighter who just will NOT pick up a gun. This is also the film which revitalized Marlene Dietrich's career (also labelled box office poison the same time Hepburn was) as she plays a boozy strumpet of a saloon singer ("See what the boys in the back room will have and tell 'em I'm having the same"). This role single-handedly changed her image from the aloof, exotic femmes fatales she had been playing for years. A western with real heart and a tearjerker ending. Oh yeah, and the huge cat fight between Dietrich and Una Merkel.
  6. ROPE (1948) - It's Hitchcock again and not one of the more famous ones. This is a film which a lot of people dog but I still really enjoy. Of course, the concept was that Hitchcock wanted to shoot a movie in single takes; in other words, he started filming and only stopped when the can of film ran out. So the film is acted just like a stage play. And I frankly have never had a problem with movies that feel like stage plays. If the writing and acting are interesting, who cares if there's only one set? Not I? While this is certainly no knock 'em dead classic, it's still very enjoyable as it provides a thinly-disguised riff on the Leopold & Loeb murder for kicks case. John Dall (from GUN CRAZY) is mesmerizing while Farley Grainger is suitably twitchy. Then there's Kate Hepburn's old coach Constance Collier and Sir Cedric Hardwicke along for the macabre fun -- all through a dinner which is served over a dead body.
  7. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) - It may be a predictable choice, it may be corny, but in between the saccharine still can be found a really good movie. The Christmas perennial that answers the question: "What if I had never been born." Frank Capra's relentlessly hopeful movie gives Stewart another chance to deliver a fine performance. The scene where Stewart and girlfriend Donna Reed a sharing a telephone receiver is electric with erotic energy (no kidding, it really is) while Stewart's ultimate despair on the bridge as he contemplates suicide is suitably dark and stunningly enacted. All this can help us excuse the cringingly sappy final scene with the gratingly-voiced child screeching about a bell ringing.
  8. THE NAKED SPUR (1953) - One of several Anthony Mann directed westerns featuring Jimmy Stewart, this one provides Stewart with an incredibly flawed and sometimes very dark character to sink his teeth into. And this he does as he desperately tries to bring in outlaw Robert Ryan for the reward money. Beautiful technicolor scenery beneath brilliant blue skies and a superb cast that also includes PSYCHO's Janet Leigh and KISS ME DEADLY's Ralph Meeker. Then there's the stunning scene at the rapids where Stewart's character sinks about as low as he can in the movie.
  9. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) - It's been called John Ford's last truly great film. This western finds Stewart in a strange echo of Destry as a man who refuses to pick up a gun. Add to the mix John Wayne and a villainous Lee Marvin -- not to mention a whole passle of superb character actors: Vera Miles, Edmond O'Brien, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, Jeanette Nolan, Denver Pyle and John (THE GRAPES OF WRATH) Qualen. This is also the movie that gives us the immortal line: " This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
  10. BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) - Yet another one of those Anthony Mann westerns with Jimmy Stewart this time as a bounty hunter trying to put his shady past behind him by helping found a community in the Oregon territory. Of course, nothing could be that simple as the food and supplies they had previously purchased are never delivered by an unscrupulous money grubber because the goods have skyrocketed in price since they were sold. Stewart has to find a way to recapture the goods that are rightfully theirs as well as fight a mutiny. The role gives Stewart a chance to demonstrate his steely resolve and never-say-quit attitude in a more heroic role than THE NAKED SPUR. Surrounded by another stellar cast: Rock Hudson, Julie (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) Adams, Arthur Kennedy, Harry (M*A*S*H*) Morgan, Lori (REVENGE OF THE CREATURE) Nelson, and Frances (ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) Bavier.

Well, there you have it: the ten Jimmy Stewart films I like the most. I wonder what star I'll look at next??? Any suggestions???