Monday, June 30, 2008

MY 100 FAVOURITE FILMS (PART SIX). The sixties will be in full swing during these ten films which take us right up to my natal date. Once again, these are another ten films which may not be the best films ever made but are among my top 100 favourites to watch and watch again. But count yourself lucky so far -- just think how scary it's going to get in here when I reach the 1970s and 1980s, fer goshsakes! But right now, we're still stuck in the sixties with the following ten:
  • The Innocents (1961) dir. Jack Clayton -- Classic ghost film adapted from the Henry James novella "THE TURN OF THE SCREW" and featuring a bravura performance from Deborah Kerr as the sexually frustrated governness who may or may not be seeing ghosts in the old country pile in which she's employed. Particular note must be taken of the two child actors who (in an almost UNHEARD of occurrence) are actually quite excellent: Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. Megs Jenkins and Michael Redgrave round out the human cast while demonic Peter Wyngarde smolders from the underworld. And don't forget that haunting song: "O Willow Waly".
  • To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) dir. Robert Mulligan -- adaptation of one of my favourite books scores very high. Gregory Peck is the lawyer who defends Brock Peters against the charge of raping a white woman. Paired with this very upsetting story of an innocent man wrongly accused is the parallel story of Peck's two young children. The world of a child in a small country town back in the day is expertly captured. . . especially when gifts are found inside a "magical" tree left by an unseen hand.
  • L'Eclisse (1962) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni -- Something of an obsession, I've watched this movie about 12 times in the last six months and there's no telling when it's going to force me to watch it again. I dealt with this one at length in this blog last April so I'm only going to say that the film is an example of pure cinema that is totally engrossing and fascinating as well as having an ending to make the jaw drop in its audacity. Antonioni's muse Monica Vitti and Alain Delon are perfectly cast and give excellent performances for what must have been an extremely challenging shoot.
  • Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962) dir. Sidney Lumet -- Basically a filmed version of the Eugene O'Neill play features a staggering performance from Katharine Hepburn as the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone. She's surrounded by a pretty fantastic cast as well: Ralph Richardson (who I don't think is miscast), Jason Robards Jr. and Dean Stockwell. It's absolutelys shocking that Kate didn't win the Oscar for this role. Sometimes harrowing; it's like a symphony of disfunction.
  • Donovan's Reef (1963) dir. John Ford -- There was no excuse for this film other than for John Ford to gather together his old cronies and have a hell of a lot of fun. No lofty messages or artistic striving here. And being a John Ford fan myself, that makes the film incredibly enjoyable and fun for me. This is the last time Ford would work with John Wayne and they take their partnership out in style. The breathtaking setting is the South Seas where Wayne owns a dive bar and passes his time getting in bar fights with cronies like Lee Marvin. That is, until high society dame Elizabeth Allen shows up. Ford yet again gets to indulge his famous penchant for having his leading lady knocked on her ass and Allen is always game. Simply a whole lot of fun from beginning to end. I think you have to watch a whole lot of John Ford movies before watching this one or else you really won't appreciate it.
  • The Haunting (1963) dir. Robert Wise -- If not my favourite ghost movie, it's diggety-damn close. I just love the whole atmosphere of this movie and (naturally for me) have been dying to move into Hill House since I first saw it as a little boychik. Superb cast, evocative music, incredible sound effects, beautiful photography. This one has it all. I can literally live inside the film over and over again. Maybe the house picked the wrong one when it chose Julie Harris because I would obviously be a much more enthusiastic resident. And at least the doors are sensibly shut.
  • Mary Poppins (1964) dir. Robert Stevenson -- Another movie I must have watched over and over hundreds of times as a kid when Disney movies actually played on HBO. I despise THE SOUND OF MUSIC but here I absolutely love Julie Andrews; probably because she's not terribly nice. In fact, she's actually kind of sharp and acidic in her interactions with the Banks children when she realizes what little terrors they are. The music, needless to say, is some of the best ever placed in a Disney flick. Even Dick Van Dyke, whose Cockney accent is correct is you're listening to an Englishman with a mouth full of marbles, overcomes that little handicap with a spirited performance. I'm more of a fan of the dirty, grimy Victorian settings than the sunny, animated ones but luckily for me there are much more of the former than the latter. The "Step In Time" dance sequence is also a showstopper while "Feed the Birds" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Our friend over at Paleocinema may also take heart in realizing the fact that this is the first and probably last appearance of a Disney movie on this list.
  • My Fair Lady (1964) dir. George Cukor -- While Julie Andrews was making waves over in the last film discussed, she was shut out of this one. Unable to reprise her Broadway triumph as Eliza Doolittle in the film (because, believe it or not, at this time Andrews wasn't a big star), the studio wanted a name and got it with Audrey Hepburn. I'm certainly no big fan of Broadway musicals and I'm not one of those people who let this type of thing bother me (and neither, I might add, does Julie Andrews). I simply judge the movie for what it is and not what it's not. And what it is is a sublime musical adaptation of Pygmalion with terrific songs and great performances from Hepburn and Rex Harrison. It's also kinda shocking to see such a young Jeremy Brett!
  • The Comedy of Terrors (1964) dir. Jacques Tourneur -- A horror fan's dream ticket: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone together in one film. And it's a comedy. From the folks at AIP who brought us all those great Poe films comes this black comedy of a pair of undertakers who make their own customers. All the cast (along with boisterous Joyce Jameson) are having one hell of a good time and, luckily for us, that carries over to the viewer. The charm and good natured fun of this film is catching and one can't help but be carried along with it. The gags may be ollllllllllld but the performances carry them off. I deeply love this film.
  • Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) dir. Freddie Francis -- The first omnibus/portmanteau horror film in colour is also the first attempt by Hammer Horror's chief competitor Amicus (if one doesn't count AIP, that is). If Hammer specialized in feature length period pieces, then Amicus would specialize in multi-story modern-day horror movies in the DEAD OF NIGHT mode. And they were quite successful with it. This film would inspire most of their subsequent output and it's one of the best (probably in the number two spot -- the number one Amicus will be along later on in the list). A group of five train passengers encounter Peter Cushing as tarot-reading Dr. Schreck ("terror" in German) who predicts dire, supernatural events for each of them. We then get to see those dire events in separate stories. The "crawling hand" sequence with Christopher Lee and Michael Gough is probably the most famous but other sequences involve vampires, werewolves and voodoo. Atmosphere and mood carry the picture all the way to the end. Another childhood favourite of mine (you'll see more and more of those popping up from now on).

But here we are only halfway through the sixties and we've got to wait until next time for the next ten films in my favourite 100. On deck we have a few comedy/parodies of popular film genres, a little bit of the middle ages, some faked suicides, some gut munching, some more (slightly unusual) musicals, Satan and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I promise that next time we'll finally make it into the 1970s! I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing -- as we'll be venturing more and more into those films I love because I saw them as a child. Be forewarned!

MY 100 FAVOURITE FILMS (PART FIVE). Here we are at the half way mark and Ooo look we're pretty much at the halfway mark of the 20th century. Ain't it funny how thinks look like you planned them all along?!? So it's off to the cinematic world of my next favourite ten:
  • The Searchers (1956) dir. John Ford -- Quite a dark character portrayal from the Duke, there. It's interesting to note the kind of character John Ford had John Wayne play starting with STAGECOACH through SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON to THE SEARCHERS. Here, Wayne's brother's family is massacred by Indians and his niece is carried off. An incredibly bitter and racist Wayne teams up (reluctantly) with halfbreed Jeffrey Hunter to spend years tracking them down. And it's not certain whether Duke wants to rescue his niece (Natalie Wood) or, more probably, kill her because she's been tainted beyond redemption. Typical breathtaking John Ford vistas as well as a truly disturbing performance by Wayne make this one of the best. And the dialogue is top drawer as well.
  • Quatermass 2 (1957) dir. Val Guest -- The second (and best) installment of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series originally a BBC-TV phenomenon carried over to the silver screen. While Brian Donlevy may not be the right actor to play the character as originally written by Kneale, I think he's quite adequate in the role of a crusty professor trying to get his "moon base" project off the ground. Unfortunately, strange "pods" start crashing to earth during a meteor shower and explode in the faces of whomever finds them. This causes everyone to act "not quite themselves". Combine all this with a secretive installation that just happens to look exactly like Quatermass's proposed moon base and the prof is bound to get involved. Surrounded by a wonderful cast including Sid James, Bryan Forbes (yes THAT Bryan Forbes) and the ubiquitous Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper and you have an extremely moody and atmospheric science fiction horror film.
  • Night of the Demon (1957) dir. Jacques Tourneur -- A sort of filmic love letter to Val Lewton, Tourneur continues the work he did on those classic 40's films starting with CAT PEOPLE with this filmic adaptation of the classic M.R. James short story "CASTING THE RUNES" starring Dana Andrews as a doubting Thomas who doesn't believe in the occult. Unfortunately he tangles with Niall MacGinnis who just happens to be a real-life black magician (loosely modelled on Aleister Crowley) and he soon has to reevaluate his doubts. MacGinnis is absolute perfection as the evil mage who can turn on the charm when he wants to. The birthday party scene where MacGinnis conjures up a fierce windstorm to prove his point to Andrews is (in my opinion) the direct inspiration for the birthday party attack in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. Watch both scenes side by side and see if you don't agree Hitchcock was "homaging" like crazy. Also starring Peggy Cummins as a completely different character type than the one she played in GUN CRAZY, this is simply one of the best horror movies in the canon.
  • Desk Set (1957) dir. Walter Lang -- Here's another of those films which conjure up the feel of the fifties so well for me. A pure delight of a film starring Spencer Tracy as a computer expert who shows up at a TV station in order to fit it for a new "electronic brain" computer called EMIRAC. In charge of the reference department is Katharine Hepburn who has one of those encyclopedic memories we'd all die for. It's another comical clash typical of Tracy-Hepburn films in which not only is it a war between the sexes but also a war between humans and computers. Joan Blondell and Gig Young round out a terrific cast.
  • 12 Angry Men (1957) dir. Sidney Lumet -- A courtroom drama that's not a courtroom drama, the entire film takes place in one room only: inside the jury room after the trial is over and the jury must reach a verdict. And far from being static, it's rivetting. An ethnic teenager is accused of murder and the entire jury is ready to convict him from the start. Except for one lone juror (Henry Fonda) who has some questions. Over the course of the film, opposing opinions battle it out as more and more is uncovered about the case. A truly blockbuster cast includes an explosive Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, Marin Balsam, etc. Expertly written and suspensefully directed.

  • Horror of Dracula (1958) dir. Terence Fisher -- Hammer Horror started in colour with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN but this is the real jewel in Hammer's bloody crown. Drenched colour and heaving bosoms. Christopher Lee as the quintessential Count Dracula; all no nonsense, aristocratic bearing and wolfish physicality. Peter Cushing perfection itself as vampire hunter Van Helsing. The iconic musical score by James Bernard (DRA-cu-laaaaaaaaaah!). While the film "feels" like a fairly close adaptation of Stoker's novel, it's really nothing like it at all. But as pure cinema it's thrilling and set the style for pretty much all vampire films to follow.
  • Rio Bravo (1959) dir. Howard Hawks -- Hawk's riposte to HIGH NOON, this is every bit as good as the earlier film. This time, it's John Wayne as the sheriff who has to face the band of baddies but this time he's not alone. He's got dotty old Walter Brennan, drunk old Dean Martin and young old Ricky Nelson along for the ride. Another of my favourite westerns.
  • Jazz On A Summer's Day (1960) dir. Aram Avakian/Bert Stern -- the very first concert film, this highly stylized but nevertheless priceless document showing us the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival features more heavy hitting musical talent than you can shake a popsicle-stick at (fans of the film will get that reference). Louis Armstrong, Anita O'Day, Dinah Washington, Thelonius Monk, Chuck Berry, Mahalia Jackson. . .the list is a music-lover's dream. While some audience scenes were staged and some "artistic" camera hijinx get in the way of the music sometimes, the film itself only leaves you wanting more!
  • House of Usher (1960) dir. Roger Corman -- the first Edgar Allan Poe film Corman made for AIP is still the best. Vincent Price is perfect as the bleached-white haired Roderick Usher, senses overly acute, who believes the Usher blood is bad bad baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. Hence he buries his own sister alive in her coffin just so she won't marry. A film that looks MUCH more expensive than the shoestring budget would suggest, it's carried by Price's performance, a nice Richard Matheson script and haunting Les Baxter music. And what I wouldn't give to have all those spooky paintings!
  • The Apartment (1960) dir. Billy Wilder -- Shirley MacLaine has never been more vulnerable or loveable than here as the elevator operator involved in an affair with big boss man Fred MacMurray (who's never better than when he's a louse). The entire office uses the apartment of younger exec Jack Lemmon for their -- uh -- romantic rendezvous and, one night after MacMurray makes it known he's never going to leave his wife for her, MacLaine attempts suicide with sleeping pills. Lemmon returns to find her and nurses her back to health. A rather frank depiction of sexual politics for the time, the real backbone of the film is, again, the noteworthy performances of everyone involved. Oscar-worthy, of course.

And there we have it . . .that's another ten down and another ten to follow. This time, we're in the swinging sixties and we're gonna swing with even MORE ghosts, more racism, some drunken bar fights, some more Italian neorealism and even a couple of musicals, believe it or not. And you will believe a nanny can fly.

MY 100 FAVOURITE FILMS (PART FOUR). We're well on our way to the halfway mark and, as Cheekies so astutely pointed out, we had already gotten to the 1950's in the third installment. This probably means we will be seeing a LOT of favourites in the 50's and 60's. But maybe not. Maybe there are about 50 favourites from the year 2003?!?!?!?! Yeah, well maybe not. Anyway, let's move along, shall we, to the next 10 films:
  • High Noon (1952) dir. Fred Zinnemann -- Bill Clinton's favourite film. Yeah, seriously. Howard Hawks HATED this film; saying that it would NEVER happen that way. And in response he made RIO BRAVO. However, I don't concur and, knowing the world and how it is, I can completely believe the situation sheriff Gary Cooper finds himself in: outlaws returning for revenge on the noonday train and no one in the town willing to help Cooper against them. Cooper's performance is very fine as he conveys the isolation and, yes, fear the sheriff faces as the ever present (and consecutively larger) clock ticks its way to high noon.
  • War of the Worlds (1953) dir. Byron Haskin -- How many times did I see THIS one as a child. A wonderful ride from start to finish strongly evincing the imagination of George Pal. Updating the H.G. Wells novel from Victorian England to Cold War America, the spectacular technicolor and special effects (which still work for me all these years later) just pop off the screen. Gene Barry is suitably stoic but reveals more of an emotional core as the film goes on. The utter despair that creeps into the film is most surprising and, coupled with the doom-laden narration of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, things look pretty hopeless until the last minute implied "divine intervention" by "the little things that God in his infinite wisdom"placed in the screenplay.
  • Them! (1954) dir. Gordon Douglas -- {SPOILER ALERT! FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM} Probably the first and definitely the best of the 50's giant bug/animal movies, THEM! are ants made gigantic by nuclear testing in the desert. The opening of the film is still a stunner with a little girl found wandering the desert catatonic after her parents and home have been destroyed by . . . something. It takes a while for the authorities (James Whitmore, James Arness, Edmund Gwenn,etc.) to discover what exactly "THEM" are. And then there's the almost unprecedented step of offing the lead character; which Hitchcock would famously use almost a decade later in PSYCHO. And you've just got to love those big, goofy ants.
  • Rear Window (1954) dir. Alfred Hitchcock -- Speaking of the man, here he is in my favourite Hitchcock film. Demonstrating Hitchcock's opinion that all cinema is voyeurism, we find James Stewart with a broken leg confined to his apartment with only the open window for entertainment. He's soon pulling out his binoculars and watching the neighbours' windows across the way like it's a soap opera. There's absolutely NO understanding how Stewart would prefer this form of entertainment to his ravishing girlfriend Grace Kelly's presence, but there you have it. What's he see across the way? Has Raymond Burr murdered his invalid wife and chopped her up?!? We're not sure. Expert support provided by the fantabulous Thelma Ritter and an equally strong performance by Wendell Corey. A masterpiece.
  • Viaggio In Italia (1954) dir. Roberto Rossellini -- More Italian neo-realism as estranged married couple Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders go to Italy to dispose of a house they've inherited. Rossellini explores the strained relationship between the two people together and separately. Bergman and Sanders both give remarkable performances and the film is emotionally rivetting.
  • Executive Suite (1954) dir. Robert Wise -- I just saw thisa couple weeks ago for the first time and just described it in depth a little farther down the blog. However, since I've watched it I've re-watched it several times and find it as completely absorbing as the first time. The ultimate backstairs depiction of a power struggle in the boardroom as big shot industrialist Bullard dies suddenly without naming his successor from among his vice presidents. A stellar cast featuring Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, William Holden, June Allyson, Shelley Winters, Dean Jagger etc. etc.
  • Kiss Me Deadly (1955) dir. Robert Aldrich -- The hardest of hard-boiled detective films featuring Ralph Meeker's stunning portrayal of a VERY violent, brutish robot named Mike Hammer. Cloris Leachman runs out in front of Hammer's sportscar at night wearing only a raincoat. She's escaped from somewhere and they're after her. If he gets her to the next bus stop, she says he can forget her. If for some reason they DON'T make it, she tells him "Remember me." Of course, they don't make it and the bad guys make life pretty rough for our hardboiled detective. Gritty isn't quite strong enough a word for this seedy look at Mickey Spillane's world. Then of course there's that strange macguffin in the case that surely inspired Quentin Tarantino's briefcase in PULP FICTION. Albert Dekker provides the ultimate in creepy, melifluous-voiced evil.
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955) dir. Billy Wilder -- One of those handful of films which really give me a feeling of the 50's. Tom Ewell is perfect as the nebbish whose wife and kid leave the city for the hot summer and leave him alone to "sow his wild oats" after new tenant Marilyn Monroe moves in upstairs. A lot of the more risque stuff was cut out of the film but I actually believe it made the film stronger. The dialogue is funny and deft while the performances of Ewell and Monroe provide the bedrock which this hilarious film rest upon. Just remember, people send paddles every day! Now, take your potato chips and go.
  • The Trouble with Harry (1955) dir. Alfred Hitchcock -- Hitchcock's previous comedy MR. AND MRS. SMITH was a hopeless unfunny disaster I urge everyone to avoid at all costs. However, this time Hitch got it right in a truly hilarious black comedy involving several different people finding a dead body (Harry) in the woods. Newcomer Shirley MacLaine is a showstopper along with wonderful performances from Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick and John Forsythe. This is one of those movies which features people constantly moving a corpse around to comic effect and it's never been done better.
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) dir. Don Siegel -- The critics fall all over themselves finding the "secret meaning" of this one. Is it a representation of the threat of communism taking over or is it an indictment of the McCarthy and HUAC witchhunts??? It's both and neither. It's whatever you want to think it is. That's the brilliance of the film: that it can supports two such diametrically opposed viewpoints and fit either one of them. Small town doctor Kevin McCarthy slowly realizes the people of his little town of Santa Mira are becoming somehow "not themselves". As he and dazzlingly beautiful girlfriend Dana Wynter slowly discover, alien seed pods are replicating and replacing people as they sleep. How can they remain awake indefinitely?!? The pinnacle of Cold War paranoia.

So there we have the latest ten films in my favourite 100. What's next in store for us? Well, as you can see, we're still not outta the fifties yet so expect some more pods (believe it or not), some more Shirley MacLaine, another film which represents the feel of the 50's for me, some Westerns, some vampires and some jazz. All this and Edgar Allan Poe too!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

MY 100 FAVOURITE FILMS (PART THREE). Continuing on with my list of my favourite movies in chronological order. It looks like World War II is coming to an end as we rejoin our list today.
  • And Then There Were None (1945) dir. Rene Clair -- Classic mystery is probably the best Agatha Christie adaptation on film. Ten people (all with skeletons in their closets) are transported to a remote island where they must spend the weekend in a huge old house. A phonograph record of their absent host informs them that each one of them has committed an unpunished crime -- and one by one they are going to die. From the delightful opening shot of the group coming ashore in a motorboat, every single shot seems to be calculated to provide extreme visual interest. Then there's the knockout cast: Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Judith Anderson, Roland Young, Mischa Auer, June Duprez (the princess from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD), C. Aubrey Smith. . .seldom has the peculiar feel and flavour of an Agatha Christie whodunit been better realized.
  • Dead of Night (1945) dir. Alberto Cavalcanti/Charles Crichton/Basil Dearden/Robert Hamer. This sterling English production was the first sound "portmanteau" or "omnibus" horror film featuring several separate ghost stories brought together by a wraparound segment. Once again we have a stellar British cast headed by Michael Redgrave and Mervyn Johns. Ole Merv has been having a recurring nightmare in which he goes to a country house, meets some people he's never seen before yet strangely remembers, experiences a looming sense of deja vu and then something horrible happens. Then he always wakes up. Well, now that he's awake, he's gone to the very same house and met the very same people. His strange dream prompts the group to start telling ghostly stories which happened to them as well: toppermost of the poppermost are the spooky tales of a haunted mirror and a demonic ventriloquist's dummy with a will of it's own. Redgrave in particular gives a stunning performance.
  • The Big Sleep (1946) dir. Howard Hawks -- When screenwriters William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett (no small talents there) couldn't figure out who killed a certain corpse, they phoned the novel's author Raymond Chandler to ask him. He admitted he hadn't the faintest idea. And in fact, once you watch THE BIG SLEEP you won't know either. And again, it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. After making the sparks fly in their first screen teaming, Bogart and Bacall followed it with this boffo turn at the private detective genre which influenced so many more to come. The sexually-charged dialogue was amped up after an original cut was found to be too tame. Tongues of flame practically leap out from the screen in some scenes between the two stars while Bogart's impression of a campy bookworm is hilarious.
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz -- Besides being one of the most romantic films ever made that also happens to include a dead guy, this film features one of the lushest, most romantic and beautiful scores ever by Bernard Herrmann. Breathtakingly beautiful Gene Tierney is the late Victorian widow who buys a seaside cottage once owned by salty, cranky sea captain Rex Harrison. It seems the captain's still hanging around the cottage even though he's dead. A relationship that begins with mutual antagonism slowly blossoms into a deep affection for each other. The performances of the two leads couldn't be better and caddish George Sanders is on hand as well to provide a little sand in the gears.
  • Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) dir. John Huston -- It sure comes in handy to have a son who's a director. Both father and son walked away with Oscars for this one but I hesitate to say that Walter Huston walked away with the picture because the performances of Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt are equally as strong. Bogie, an American who's down on his luck, teams up with Holt and grizzled old prospector Huston to go look for gold in the Mexican mountains. The trio spend time dodging nosy gold hunters and Mexican bandits but their real nemesis is plain old greed. See you in Durango!
  • Portrait of Jennie (1948) dir. William Dieterle -- What was that I said about a romantic movie with a dead guy?!? Well, here we have another romantic movie featuring a ghost. This is an immensely lyrical, haunting and mesmerizing film which benefits greatly from the use of the music of Debussy. Dirt-poor artist Joseph Cotten encounters a strange young girl named Jennie (a radiant Jennifer Jones) dressed in old-fashioned clothing. He sketches her in the park before she abruptly disappears urging him to "wait for her". The next time he sees her she looks years older; even though a short time has passed. In practically no time, she's a grown woman and he paints a magnificent portrait of her that makes his fame. Of course, the two have also fallen in love. Of course, tragedy awaits. Another slam-bang cast features heavy-hitters Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Cecil Kellaway and David Wayne.
  • Three Little Words (1950) dir. Richard Thorpe -- The MGM musical machine produces the mostly fabricated story of real songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby: composers of "Who's Sorry Now?", "Nevertheless", "Thinking of You" and even "Hooray for Captain Spaulding". The songs are superb, the cast (Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen, Arlene Dahl, Keenan Wynn, Gloria DeHaven ... and a young Debbie Reynolds before anyone knew who she was) are just as great and I've probably seen it a thousand times. It never gets old. Pure joy!
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950) dir. Billy Wilder -- If the pictures got small, you can't prove it by this one. A towering expose of the slightly seedy underside of Tinseltown, Sunset Blvd of course features the towering performance it needs at it's center: Gloria Swanson as faded (and quite mad) silent film star Norma Desmond who doggedly refuses to recognize the world has moved on without her. Cynical screenwriter William Holden allows himself to become her gigolo and Teutonic Otto Preminger is her former director/former husband/current manservant who guards her delusions . . . well, doggedly. The final walk down the staircase for her "close-up" still sends a chill down the spine.
  • The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) dir. Roberto Rossellini -- The saint that even rabid anti-papists have a soft spot for, St. Francis of Assisi's vow of poverty and selflessness inspired the world. Based on the medieval text, this film is an almost "militantly simple" depiction of isolated events in the life of the saint. Played by an entirely amateur, non-actor cast (including the central role of the saint himself), this film is the rarest of rare things: a non-preachy, incredibly light and genuinely inspiring affair. It's, in fact, incredibly spiritual without being the least bit "religious". Mercifully free of dogma, it proves that actions DO speak louder than words.
  • The Thing From Another World (1951) dir. Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks -- Hawks credited Nyby with the film's direction but you can't tell me it's not a Hawks film all the way. The snappy, overlapping dialogue? C'mon, let's get real. Of all the science fiction/horror films that would permeate the 1950's, this is one of the greatest that's seldom been topped. Typical Hawksian he-man hero Kenneth Tobey and his military crew go to the Arctic to take a look at "something" that lies buried in the ice after crashing to earth. Of course, it's a flying saucer and they manage to extricate the frozen alien pilot from inside the wreckage. Naturally, the thing defrosts and goes on a ripping rampage throughout the isolated arctic base gutting huskies and humans alike and drinking their blood. The base's scientists (headed by the cold fish Robert Cornthwaite in a Mephistophelean beard) want to try to contact the thing and study it while the military wants to blow it away before it kills anybody else. Classic conflict between the scientific eggheads and the warlike military. Guess who's right? A thrill-a-minute adventure.

And so that brings to a close the latest grouping of ten in my favourite 100. We've now entered the fifties and our next installment will feature even more classic 50's science fiction/horror as well as more Italian neo-realism, a blonde getting her fan caught in a door, the triumph of germs and the first appearance of a certain rotund director with a thing for ice cold blondes. See you then.

MY 100 FAVOURITE FILMS (PART TWO). Off we go on the second leg of the films which, at the moment, made my top 100. As I said before, these are not necessarily the greatest films ever made; however you will find a couple of the unquestionable greatest in this second group of ten chronologically.
  • Only Angels Have Wings (1939) dir. Howard Hawks -- I've never been a fan of movies about airplanes. So what's this one doing here? Well, it baffled me when I fell in love with this film, too. A ragtag bunch of airmail flyers in South America led by he-man Cary Grant transports the mail over dangerous mountains. Delectable Jean Arthur wanders into the air camp and decides to stay awhile. Typical Hawksian male bonding and crisp dialogue pairs with a phenomenol cast also including a young Rita Hayworth in her first stab at stardom, a heartbreaking Thomas Mitchell and a comeback performance from Richard Barthelmess. This is also the first (but not the last) Hawks film in which the heroine (here Jean Arthur) utters the line "I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me."
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1940) dir. Ludwig Berger/Michael Powell/Tim Whelan/Alexander Korda/Zoltan Korda/William Cameron Menzies -- Made at the outbreak of World War II, this most magical of fantasies transports you on a flying carpet ride of pure delight. Sabu has never been more charming and Conrad Veidt has rarely been more villainous. The beautiful color photography and still-spectacular special effects pull you right into the tale. Rex Ingram as the giant, bellowing djinni and Miles Malleson as the dotty old sultan add to the feeling of a tale of the Arabian Nights come to life. Sabu climbing up the HUGE statue is a highlight.
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940) dir. George Cukor -- After being unfairly labelled "box office poison", Katharine Hepburn returned to Broadway with a play written especially for her. When it became a huge hit, she was lucky enough to own the play when the movie studios came a-calling. They could make the movie but only with her in the lead. And she got to pick her two leading men as well: Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. Well, she didn't get those two but she did get Cary Grant and James Stewart and they're nothing to sneeze at. Sparkling society comedy finds wealthy Kate planning to get married as boozy cad ex-husband Cary Grant re-enters the picture. Tabloid reporter Jimmy Stewart is assigned to get the story. Stewart won the Oscar but every performance is gold.
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941) dir. John Huston -- One of the most radical concepts in filmmaking is to be found here: "just film the book". One of the most faithful adaptations of a book to screen, this has got to be one (if not THE) greatest private eye movies ever made. Humphrey Bogart IS Sam Spade: hardboiled detective. Huston assembles a cast to die for: duplicitous Mary Astor, fey Peter Lorre, guffawing Sidney Greenstreet, twitchy Elisha Cook Jr. Hell, Huston even manages to sneak his dad into an unbilled cameo; that's great actor Walter Huston who staggers in with the "bundle" containing the black bird. Infinitely better than the original version starring Ricardo Cortez or the SECOND earlier remake SATAN MET A LADY starring a young Bette Davis, few detective movies can touch this one. It's simply the stuff that dreams are made of.
  • Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles -- Routinely called "the greatest film ever made" it's kinda hard to argue with that. Wunderkind Orson got the ultimate set of toy trains and ran with it. Groundbreaking cinematography and a fascinating story cheekily based on the real life of William Randolph Hearst. Welles' Mercury Theater crew (Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, George Coulouris, etc.) is on hand to provide excellent performances throughout. The film is filled with more great directorial touches than I can mention here.
  • Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz -- the "other" candidate for "greatest film ever made", it's certainly one of the most beloved of all time. It actually gets better each time you watch it! "Everybody Goes To Rick's" as refugee after refugee ends up trapped in Casablanca in the lead up to World War II. There are those stolen exit visas. There's all that baggage between Rick and Ilsa in Paris. "The Germans wore grey, you wore blue." There's Dooley Wilson singing that classic song. There's that thrilling, stirring eruption of "La Marseilles" in defiance of the Germans. Makes me cry every time! There's that phenomenol script which was written and re-written all during filming. And there's that cast! Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt. All the cinematic stars lined up when this movie was made.
  • Woman in the Window (1944) dir. Fritz Lang -- Classic film noir which finds milquetoast college professor Edward G. Robinson absorbed by a painting of a beautiful woman. When he actually meets the woman in the portrait (Joan Bennett) and goes back to her place for a drink, her boyfriend bursts in in a jealous rage and, in the scuffle, ends up dead. Joan and Edward G. then have to dispose of the body. Since they have no previous ties to each other, they go their separate ways thinking no one would connect them. However, an unusually diligent District Attorney (Raymond Massey) and a blackmailer (slimy Dan Duryea) make things hot for the pair. While the ending of the film CAN be a letdown, it's never really bothered me overmuch. What remains is a classic suspenseful film noir by a master director.
  • Double Indemnity (1944) dir. Billy Wilder -- Speaking of classic, suspenseful films noir, this one is hands down one of the best. Sporting some of the finest dialogue EVER heard in the annals of film noir, this film sports conniving insurance salesman Fred MacMurray falling for married (and also conniving) woman Barbara Stanwyck teaming up to off her husband for the insurance money -- and they get double indemnity if he falls of the back of a train, natch! This time Edward G. Robinson is MacMurray's diligent mentor who keeps sniffing around making things hot for the pair of do-badders.
  • Murder, My Sweet (1944) dir. Edward Dmytryk -- If THE MALTESE FALCON isn't the greatest private detective film ever made, then it's this one. Instead of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade we have here Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) in the role which transformed his career from Irish tenor musicals to hardboiled private eyes. As in all good detective movies, the plot is so convoluted and impossible to follow that there's no point in trying to summarize it here; the whole point of the film is to go along for the ride and enjoy every spectacular minute of it!

  • A Canterbury Tale (1944) dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger -- Speaking of a mystery plot which doesn't really matter much to the movie, that can be said about this marvelous film as well. During the Second World War in England, a "Land Girl" (Sheila Sim), an American GI (amateur actor and real life American GI Sergeant John Sweet) and English soldier (Dennis Price in his film debut) are on the road to Canterbury. At a late night stop at a railway platform, an unseen assailant pours glue on Sim's hair. It seems that a local nutjob called "The Glue Man" has been doing this as of late. The trio decide to hang around and discover the identity of the oddball assailant. But, like Alfred Hitchcock's macguffins, this is only an excuse to get the film in motion as we get to know the characters. Add to this gruff magistrate Eric Portman to provide multiple character studies which culminate in a rather mystical denouement to a truly magical film.

Well, that's it for this go-round. Our third installment will follow in due time as we look at ten more of my 100 favourite films -- during which we'll encounter some more film noir, a good old-fashioned English mystery, some ghosts, some treasure, an MGM musical, some monks and a blood-drinking intergalactic carrot! Just you wait and see.