Monday, June 30, 2008

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!

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