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.

7 comments:

Fink Master Flash said...

Is that a sound clip is spy in the blog??

Sunset Blvd. . .I must have slept throught that one, hehe.

Cheekies said...

One observation I have made on your list is I am surprised that we are just barely a quarter of the way through the list and we are already in the 1950's thought it would take longer to get there. I am enjoying the list and eagerly await the other seven installments. Of course when I am not busy with moving the island I will be able to peruse it at a much leisurely pace but overall it's crazy cool yo' to see your listies.

Weaverman said...

What happened to the silent years?
It's a great list - can't wait until you hit the 6os.

Cerpts said...

Finkmaster,

Yes you did. And we dropped spiders in your open mouth while you were asleep. And yes that is a sound clip. Fancy that!

Cheekies,

Don't hurt yourself on the frozen donkey wheel. Yes it IS surprising I'm already in the 1950's, isn't it. In fact, a LOT of movies had to be wittled away to keep the list down to only 100. There are TONS of films I love which didn't quite make the 100: frinstance a shocking realization is that NONE of the Val Lewton films made it. As I say, this isn't a list of the GREATEST films only my favourites; the ones I connect to most strongly and watch over and over again most often. Maybe when I am done posting the complete 100 I'll also have time to catch up on your LOST episodes which I've been having to neglect while I'm doing this big project much the same way as you devoting so much time to moving the island. But hey, three day weekend coming up.

Cerpts said...

Weaverman,

Yes indeed, the silent years seem to have fallen by the wayside as well. With only room for 100 I couldn't find room for any of the silent films I love either. Ah, but when I do my SECOND favourite 100 films list....

Cerpts said...

Oh and what do you think of the new sound clips I've put on my blog, gang???

Cerpts said...

Oh by the by, that sound clip isn't actually from the movie THREE LITTLE WORDS but it's a rare listen from the recording session featuring a medley of tunes sung by Fred Astaire.