#133 The Big Combo

Watched: September 16 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Helen Walker

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Leonard Diamond (Wilde) is a police lieutenant with a vendetta against crime lord Mr Brown (Conte). Despite warnings from his superiors and a distinct lack of evidence, he is hell-bent on bringing the gangster down and to save Mr Brown’s girl Susan Lowell (Wallace), with whom he is a bit obsessed.

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And who can blame him, with her face always being perfectly lit, even in shadows

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When Lowell tries to kill herself, Diamond finally has an opportunity to talk to her in her hospital bed. Not entirely conscious, she keeps muttering about someone named “Alicia,” but when she regains consciousness, she cannot say who Alicia is (or was).

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To the investigation-mobile!

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Mr Brown does not take kindly to Diamond’s interest in him, or his experiments with a lie-detector, so he kidnaps his nemesis, tortures him, and then pours him full of alcohol.

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Pictured: fun new ways of using a hearing aid!

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However, inventive torture devices do nothing to dissuade the investigator, who only increases his efforts to put the criminal behind bars. Following a hunch, Diamond goes out to prove that Brown is a killer, but what he finds is not quite what he expected.

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He does find time to snuggle with dancer Rita – an unlucky Dame with perfect make-up and low standards

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The Big Combo is dark and atmospheric, with great lighting and music. The characters are taken to the extreme; Diamond is exceedingly righteous and stubborn, while Brown is a sadistic psychopath with few redeeming features, apart from maybe his tongue, judging from the look on Susan’s face in one infamous scene.

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Her heart may regret getting involved with a gangster, but her body thinks otherwise…

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We loved the lighting, the smoke and the angles, the jazzy music and the use of sound around a pivotal moment in McClure’s life (which we will not spoil). The Big Combo is also surprisingly progressive sexually, with the aforementioned scene with Susan and Brown, as well as the heavily implied relationship between henchmen Fante and Mingo both being unusually explicit for the time.

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It’s (more than) guy love between two guuuuys

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Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into noir films with lots of sexual undertones.

What we learned: Even gangster henchmen can find love in each other.

Next time: The Court Jester (1955)

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#132 Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes

Watched: September 3 2017

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Jules Dassin, Marie Sabouret, Marcel Lupovici, Magali Noël

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Tony le Stéphanois (Servais) is a retired crook with health problems who just spent five years in prison after taking the fall for friend Jo (Möhner). The two meet mutual friend Mario (Manuel) for coffee and crime planning, although Tony is getting too old for this shit.

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Guess which one has expressed some doubt about the scheme

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Tony respectfully declines, but when he learns ex-girlfriend Mado (Sabouret) is back in town and smooching it up with gangster Grutter (Lupovici) he signs up, after giving her a savage beating.

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The first look at Tony’s dark side. And trust us – it’s dark!

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The trio bring in Italian safe cracker César (Dassin) and start planning the perfect heist – the nighttime robbery of a jewellery shop. The crime itself goes off (almost) without a hitch, until César can’t help himself but steal an extra piece of jewellery for his lover Viviane (Noël).

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After all that planning and suspense, a guy thinking with his dick screws it up. Men just aren’t cut out for this kind of work.

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Grutter figures out who’s behind the incredible heist and comes after them. As he threatens Jo’s family, Tony utilizes his dark side for good and goes after the ruthless gangster.

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Pictured: not a guy you want to mess with

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Rififi is basically the ultimate heist movie; it is stylish and cool with a great cast of characters and an extremely exciting robbery. We absolutely loved the song and dance routine with the silhouettes, as well as the planning phase. However, the long silent scene during the robbery, which is probably the longest silent part of a film that’s not a pre-talkie we’ve ever seen, was by far our favourite. So suspenseful!

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There’s just so much style in this film!

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Also, we were giddily happy to see that the decorative lampshade finally served a purpose. It’s like all the Noirs we’ve watched so far have been leading up to this moment. What a payoff.

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To the right: multi-purpose decorative lamp. Finally!

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What we learned: How much work actually goes into a perfect crime. Also, don’t stray from the plan and get greedy. Or think with your dick.

Next time: The Big Combo (1955)

#131 Rebel Without a Cause

Watched: August 28 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Corey Allen, Jim Backus, Ann Doran

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Jim Stark (Dean) is a troubled teenager with anger issues, a bit of a drinking problem, and an aversion to being called a chicken. He starts his new life in a new town by being thrown in the drunk tank and then getting into trouble with the local “tough guys.”

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He does make one friend, but that guy’s no good in a fight

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After trying to hit on Judy (Wood), and failing miserably, he tries to ingratiate himself with her gang by cracking jokes during a class field trip to a planetarium, but they do not find him amusing. In fact, they find him so unamusing that they vandalize his car and threaten his life after school.

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Look, we hate people who talk during movies and lectures as much as the next person, but we do feel like this is overreacting a tad…

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Jim, insecure in his masculinity, is infuriated when he’s called a chicken, and he agrees to meet the gang’s leader for a “Chickie run” that evening. Which goes about as well as you’d expect.

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He does get to smooch up a bit with Judy though, so it’s not all bad

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Bad things happen, people gang up on our hero, his parents give bad advice, and the kindly police officer he bonded with in the beginning is unavailable, so Jim is at a loss. He teams up with Judy and his only other friend Plato (Mineo) and they hide in an abandoned mansion in the outskirts of town.

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We’re impressed with Judy’s ability to cope with her boyfriend’s death by getting it on with his main rival. However, it might be an upgrade…

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Believe it or not, this was actually our first time watching this film despite its status as a classic. We’re glad we finally got around to it though – it was beautiful, dramatic and moving, and James Dean was just filled with charisma and raw energy.

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*Swoon*

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The characters are damaged and flawed, but sympathetic. We initially really disliked Judy (we’re a bit over the “good-but-misunderstood-girl-with-daddy-issues-and-a-crappy-boyfriend”-thing), but she actually managed to grow on us, and her motivation was understandable. Jim is basically a good guy with crappy if well-meaning parents and his own daddy-issues, but he does have a good heart.

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And a killer red jacket!

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Plato is by far the saddest character. Always on his own, with the housekeeper his only parental figure, he comes to see Jim as a father and role model as much as a friend. Wait – another person with daddy-issues? We’re beginning to see a pattern here…

We’re slightly ashamed we haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause until now, because we get what all the fuss (or fuzz?) is about. If you’re as behind on the times as us, we recommend you delay it no longer. It’s definitely worth the watch, and it does not seem outdated at all; even if the methods of kids’ rebellions might have changed a bit with the times, their causes are still present.

What we learned: Listen to your kids. And take responsibility for them.

Next time: Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)

#130 Kiss Me Deadly

Watched: August 27 2017

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Maxine Cooper, Juano Hernandez, Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr, Nick Dennis

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 46min

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A barefooted girl in a trench coat is running along a road, desperately trying to flag down a car. When one finally stops, she is admonished for almost wrecking the car by driver Mike Hammer (Meeker) before he lets her in. The girl, Christina (Leachman), is unable to speak at first but accepts a ride and gets in the stranger’s car.

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You know you’re in trouble when getting into a car with a grumpy stranger whilst naked is the safest choice

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Mike is not exactly the nicest guy in the world, but he does get Christina past a police blockade looking for an escaped mental patient, which is more than you can usually ask of a total stranger. It turns out he is a somewhat dodgy P.I. with a history of two-timing his clients. However, luckily for the desperate Christina, he’s also the kind of man who doesn’t give up once he’s onto something.

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Even if he’s up against people who like to torture and kill helpless girls

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We say luckily, but for poor Christina there was no luck. The two are captured, tortured and dumped in their car over a cliff. Mike makes it, but his female companion does not. Offended by these events, the Private Dick starts to investigate with the help of his lover/assistant/secretary/bait Velma (Cooper) and various colourful characters. What was Christina running from? Who was after her? And what is important enough to kill for?

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What’s in the box? Spoiler alert: it’s not the soul of Marsellus Wallace.

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Kiss Me Deadly is a Noir, but there are clear influences from horror and sci-fi, with the runaway mental patient and the mysterious glowing box everybody’s after. We went in completely blind on this one and were drawn in from the beginning – the opening scene is great! We loved Nick and Friday, the Gothic and sci-fi elements, Mike’s extreme badassness (though he might be a bit of a sociopath), and the importance of Christina Rossetti.

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A thorough knowledge of classic poetry is as important as a leggy dame, an attitude, a quick wit and a gun when it comes to investigating

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Poetry is important.

What we learned: Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Or, actually, do. Add some spice to your life! Also, breaking records is a surprisingly effective interrogation technique.

Next time: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

#129 It’s Always Fair Weather

Watched: August 21 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Three friends, Ted Riley (Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dailey), and Angie Valentine (Kidd), return to New York from World War II. They get drunk, engage in a stomp-style dance routine and promise each other (and bartender Tim) to meet up again in ten years.

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“We’ll totally be this happy and optimistic for the rest of our lives, and we’ll never grow apart, and we’ll live up to all our potential, and never fail, and everything will be awesome forever!”

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The ten years pass, and would-be lawyer Ted is a gambler, aspiring artist Doug is an ad-man, and ambitious chef Angie is the owner of a hamburger stand. They meet up, but are disappointed in each other, their once great friendship, and themselves.

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“Well, weren’t we overly optimistic annoying little gits in that last scene..?”

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As they are stewing in their resentment in a fancy restaurant, Jackie Leighton (Charisse), who is also in advertising, is introduced to them by an associate of Doug.

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They’re shielding their eyes because her dressed ripped in the last scene. They’re gentlemen. Except for dude on the left.

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She fends off Ted’s advances at first, but then comes up with the idea to show the three men’s reunion on a TV show hosted by (the glorious) Madeline (Gray). Also, there are gangsters.

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Nothing like a bit of violence to rekindle an old friendship

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We’re suckers for Gene Kelly musicals, and so naturally we enjoyed this one. We loved the time lapse showing how their careers developed over the years; the thoughts they have about each other to the tune of The Blue Danube; the boxers in Stillman’s Gym (very Bugsy Malone!); the roller blade tap routine; the dresses and Madeline. Funny yet slightly moody and depressing at times – great stuff!

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It might be the gloomiest Kelly-musical, but it’s not all dark and serious

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What we learned: K-L-E-N-Z-R-I-T-E spells Klenzrite – the only washing soap for us. Also, how to scare men off with facts. As if we needed more help in that department…

Next time: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

#128 Diabolique/Les diaboliques

Watched: August 7 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Christina Delassalle (Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Signoret) are colleagues at a boarding school for boys somewhere in France, but that’s not all they have in common. They are also involved with the same man – Christina’s tyrannical bastard of a husband Michel (Meurisse).

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“It’s always more fun to share with everyone”

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Michel does not only mistreat his poorly (but wealthy) wife – he is also abusive to his mistress and the children in the school. Fed up with him, Nicole concocts a murderous plan to rid the two women of their shared lover. Christina is hesitant at first, but after her husband humiliates her and rapes her, she has finally been pushed too far.

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Not what most men have in mind when they picture being bathed by two women

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They go through with their plan, but the already mentally and physically fragile wife is quickly deteriorating from the stress and the guilt. Then, the body disappears, freaky stuff starts happening and things turn creepy.

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Artist’s representation of us watching this film

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Diabolique is very, very creepy and suspenseful. Michel is extremely unlikable and we’ve never wanted two people to get away with murder more than in this case. This film kept us guessing to the end (although we had a theory which turned out to be spot on) and there are a lot of exciting twists and turns in the plot.

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The look of a woman mentally preparing for murder

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We won’t say much more as we do not want to spoil this gem for anyone, but if you haven’t seen it, it should go to the top of your to-watch list. So good.

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What we learned: If you’re going to murder someone, make sure you know how to play it cool.

Next time: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

#127 Blackboard Jungle

Watched: August 20 2017

Director: Richard Brooks

Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Margaret Hayes, Louis Calhern, Jamie Farr

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Soft-spoken navy veteran Richard Dadier (Ford) gets his first teaching position in an inner-city school in a big city (New York?). While the school has a bad reputation, the principal denies any discipline problems.

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We’re slightly inclined to agree as all students are shown actually sitting at their desks. Dream scenario!

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Despite the principal’s assurances, the kids are disruptive, disrespectful and generally difficult, and Dadier’s commitment to his job is quickly dwindling. After stopping an attempted rape on a colleague, the students turn on him and attack him and another teacher in an alley. In addition, Dadier’s pregnant (and victim-blaming) wife Anne (Francis) starts to receive anonymous phone calls and letters claiming her husband is having an affair.

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“How do I reach these kiiiids?”

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Dadier notices that Gregory Miller (Poitier) is a natural leader and that the other students tend to follow his lead, so he proposes that they work together to get the class on the right track. Will they manage to build a relationship and turn this class around? Or is Miller the one sabotaging Dadier’s job and marriage?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiids?”

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From the opening credits set to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & his Comets to the integrated classroom, it is clear that this was a progressive film upon its release only one year after segregated education was deemed unconstitutional in the USA.

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Bringing weapons to school is a long-standing American tradition (somewhat) backed up by the same constitution by the way. Just to put things in perspective.

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We loved Blackboard Jungle, which we fittingly watched the day before the new school year started (and Sister the Oldest went back to teaching). Glenn Ford’s Dadier is a flawed hero who comes face to face with a lot of his own prejudices, and Sidney Poitier really stands out as Miller and saves him from becoming a cliché “angry black man.”

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Also, there’s young Klinger!

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It’s historically very interesting, and films like it are still being made (idealistic teacher in inner-city school), including an (awesome) episode of South Park. What’s not to love?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiiiiiiids???”

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What we learned: Don’t ever give up on the kids. Unless they pull a knife on you. Also, Sister the Oldest is very grateful she has the students she has…

Next time: Diabolique/Les diaboliques (1955)

#126 Bad Day at Black Rock

Watched: August 19 2017

Director: John Sturges

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, John Ericson

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 21min

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The tiny town of Black Rock is amazed to see the train actually stop for the first time in four years. Even more puzzled, and suspicious, are they to find a stranger getting off in search of a hotel room and a cab to take him to Adobe Flats.

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“I vote we just kill him now and get it over with. There’s no way we can share our one female resident with yet another man.”

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The stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), is met with hostility from all sides, mainly led by Reno Smith (Ryan) who everyone seems to be afraid of. The hostility increases when Macreedy reveals he is looking for a Japanese-American farmer named Komoko, and he is served a story of Komoko being relocated in the wake of  Pearl Harbor.

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Pictured: tension. And not the homoerotic cowboy movie kind.

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As Macreedy is trapped in the town for the night and all lines of communication with the outside world are sabotaged by local followers of Smith, vet/undertaker Doc (Brennan) is the only one willing to help him. Doc reveals that Komoko is dead, although the details of his death are still unknown to our hero.

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Hint: there’s racism and bigotry at work. Thank God the world is not plagued by those kinds of outdated ideas anymore!

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Smith and his croonies, most notably Coley and Hector (Borgnine and Lee, respectively), no longer operate under any pretense of innocence, and the chances of Macreedy surviving the night grow smaller and smaller.

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It doesn’t help that our hero is a one-armed man trying to fight a pissed off Ernest Borgnine

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Bad Day at Black Rock is an exciting and tense murder-mystery-western with a crime at the centre of the plot which is strangely (and sadly) relevant to our own times and political climate. Macreedy is a stoic badass, yet you’re never sure things will go his way or who he can trust. The men in this one-woman-town must make some tough choices and decide whether or not to make up for the mistakes that were made four years ago.

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It’s hard to see how anything at all could happen in a town this small, let alone something horrible

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There’s nothing not to love about this film. It’s shot in Eastman Color and Cinemascope, and beautifully so. There are car chases, shoot-outs, bar fights, Dames (well – just the one dame, actually), murder, mystery, and mayhem, and we loved everything about it. Loved it!

What we learned: This is a local town for local people. There’s nothing for you here! Alternatively, they don’t take kindly to strangers round these there parts.

Next time: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

#125 All That Heaven Allows

Watched: August 14 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Jacqueline deWit

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Cary Scott (Wyman) is a youngish widow (typecast much?) with two grown children in college. While her hoity-toity society friends want her to remarry within their social circle, Cary has her eye on gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Hudson).

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And really, who can blame her?

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Luckily for Cary, her feelings are reciprocated, and the unlikely couple start dating. Ron introduces her to his kind and laid-back friends and shows her a whole new way of life – one where material possessions and status do not matter. It’s an appealing thought for a woman trapped within a boring and unfulfilling existence with bitchy women and horn-dog men.

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“But how can I possibly love someone of lower social standing? He’d better be some sort of Disney prince or something!”

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“Nevermind. He totally is!”

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As their relationship becomes gradually more serious, the couple meets with prejudice from Cary’s friends and children. Will they overcome these obstacles? Will love triumph over small-mindedness and social constructs?

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Will Cary be able to downgrade to these awful living conditions and this horrible living room view? Only time will tell.

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It’s only our second Sirk film, but already we’re seeing a pattern (apart from the obvious one of casting the same actors); at the root of everything there is a philosophy. In Magnificent Obsession the idea was that it is one’s duty to help those less fortunate. In All that Heaven Allows, one’s duty is to oneself – to live the way one wants to and not how society expects you to live, and to make choices for oneself and not always put others first.

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The philosophy could also be that rich men are judgmental, entitled, rapey douchebags. We’re not quite ready to rule that interpretation out yet.

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It’s an engaging and fun watch, beautifully shot, and in glorious technicolor. Romantic dramas aren’t really our favourite genre of films, but Sirk does them wonderfully, and we’re enjoying getting to know this director. Great lazy Sunday viewing (although we technically watched it on a Monday. But Monday before work started, so Monday-for-Sunday).

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What we learned: Society’s expectations should not stand in the way of love. Also, to thine own self be true.

Next time: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

#124 Them!

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Gordon Douglas

Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 34min

Them

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Police pick up a shell-shocked little girl in the New Mexico desert. They also spot an abandoned car and trailer, and when they check them out they find a war zone sprinkled with sugar. What on earth could have happened?

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Nothing good, that’s what!

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As more similar crime scenes appear, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigates with the help of his trooper, who quickly becomes another victim of the unseen threat. FBI Agent Robert Graham (Arness) replaces the dead trooper, and with their only clues being strange tracks, sugar, and huge amounts of formic acid in the victims’ bodies, the investigators call in some experts. Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) arrives, accompanied by his daughter, Dr Patricia Medford (Weldon). The two of them have some crazy theories.

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Surprise! The crazy theories were spot on and there really are enormous killer ants running around in the desert!

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The culprits are giant ants, mutations made by radiation from nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico (see “Godzilla: Bombs are Bad“). The team manage to destroy the nest, but realise that three queens have managed to escape. Now they must track them down and destroy them before they destroy all of humanity.

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Pretty much the most fun you can have with nuclear mutation mistakes

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As mentioned, we watched this as a double feature with Godzilla, and they really are a perfect match. Atomic monsters threatening major cities who must be destroyed by scientists and the military working together, with a sprinkle of romance and humour. We loved them both, although Them! seems the slightly sillier version of the same general idea.

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Giant dinosaury sea monsters beat giant animatronic insects in terms of fright factor, in our opinion. The insects win for fun factor, though.

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A cult classic which is surprisingly tense given the premise, Them! is a great film if you’re a fan of creepy creature features with slightly dated effects but otherwise great performances and lots of eerie sounds. We loved both Doctors Medford, and had a great time watching this.

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Who you gonna call? Antbusters!

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What we learned: Get the antennae! Also, not all nuclear explosions lead to superheroes.

Next time: All That Heaven Allows (1955)