Saturday, June 28, 2008

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.


Weaverman said...

Now wait just a goodam minute! besides revealing that you've got the hots for Cary Grant, you are playing a dangerous game...whatsmore you will probably drag me into it because film fans are like that. Of course you know that when you reach 100 you'll start remembering all the favourites that you have forgotten. I'll have to play fair though and I won't do my list until you've finished yours. There is a shorter related piece about picking favourite bits of music coming up on FLEAPIT ANNEX.

Cerpts said...

Oh no Oh no I won't start remembering favourites when I reach the end because the list has been gone over and agonized over and is complete already. I actually went through a list of every movie I own and painstakingly weeded out this one and that until I got down to only 100. Of course, as I said, this is what I place in my fave 100 now . . . if I were to do it again next year, say, I'm sure there would be quite a few changes. And that's what I like about it: it constantly evolves.

I may possibly have the hots for Cary Grant, though, as you said. That we'll have to look into. . .