#66 Double Indemnity

Watched: December 23 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 47min

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Oh, the dialogue! If you’re not interested in Film Noir, you should check this one out for the snappy dialogue alone. Old-timey flirting is the best flirting!

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray), swings by a client’s house to renew his car insurance, but meets a Dame instead. The Dame is Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), the client’s wife and winner of History’s Sexiest Name Award, and flirtatious banter ensues.

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“Suppose I can rid you of that anklet of yours?” “Suppose it digs into my ankle”

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Turns out the dame isn’t too fond of her husband after he lost his fortune, and she’s unusually interested in accident insurance for said husband. She invites Walter back when her husband is home, but changes the appointment to make sure the they’re alone. The two start plotting ways to get her husband the insurance without him knowing it and then making sure he has an accident to cash in on. A fatal one.

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So inconspicuous right now!

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Walter and Phyllis do the deed and make very sure it can’t be interpreted as anything but an accident as Walter works with insurance blood hound Barton Keyes (Robinson, of Little Caesar-fame) who is sure to investigate.

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Robinson’s come a long way since his mafia days.

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Now, Phyllis might be a femme fatale (her past certainly seems to suggest so), but Walter is not by any means an innocent man driven to murder by the woman he loves. He tells the story and so we only get his side of it, but it is very clear that he is the mastermind behind the murder. He plans everything to the last detail and Phyllis operates on his orders. This does not mean that she is innocent, but either Walter is the driving force behind the whole thing, or his male ego won’t let him admit that Phyllis was smarter than him and so he makes it look as though he planned the crime. None of those options reflects very well on him.

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She does have a tendency to hover in the background, but we’re sure that’s perfectly innocent

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Double Indemnity is exciting and suspenseful, but the main reason we love it is easily the dialogue and banter! The first encounter between the main characters is amazing. We need to practice our old-timey flirting.

What we learned: sometimes murder smells like honeysuckle.

Next time: Murder, my Sweet (1944)

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#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#64 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Watched: December 13 2016

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook

Year: 1943

Runtime: 2h 43min

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An epic masterpiece in glorious technicolo(u)r, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows soldier Clive Candy (Liveley) through three wars and the untimely deaths of many African animals.

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So many dead African animals…

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During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.

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Meanwhile, the poor man has to sit around like this

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It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?

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After some (hilarious) musical bullying in a restaurant, it all escalates into a proper duel. As is tradition.

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For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.

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Who wouldn’t fall in love with a woman who uses an entire bird as a fashion accessory?

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The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.

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“Of course I love you for you, my dear! Your money and your striking resemblance to my sort-of almost ex-girlfriend are completely irrelevant!”

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After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.

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Old, disillusioned and broken, Theo once again teams up with his old friend.

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The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.

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It gives Clive a chance to get up from the bath and restores his dignity as well

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This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.

The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.

What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.

Next time: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#62 I Walked with a Zombie

Watched: December 11 2016

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Frances Dee, James Ellison, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, James Bell, Christine Gordon, Theresa Harris

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 9min

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The second Lewton/Tourneur collaboration on the list after Cat People, and every bit as good as its predecessor. I Walked with a Zombie follows Canadian nurse Betsy Connell (Dee) who takes a job nursing Jessica (Gordon), the wife of Paul Holland (Conway), a plantation owner on Saint Sebastian in the Caribbean. Jessica never recovered from a fever and spends her days in a daze, unable to say anything or do anything of her own free will.

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Judging by that waist, she is sadly also unable to eat.

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Betsy’s patient lives on the plantation with her husband and his slightly alcoholic half brother Wesley Rand (Ellison), as well as several black people who are descendents of the slaves Holland’s forefathers brought to the island. Betsy soon learns, through song format no less – the best way to learn anything, that Jessica had an affair with Wesley before she fell ill, and that the two of them even planned on running away together.

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“If there’s anything else you’re wondering about, I’m sure I have a song explaining that as well. Have you heard my one about the periodic table of elements?”

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After talks with the local doctor (Bell), Holland’s mother (Barrett), and maid Alma (Harris), Betsy starts to suspect that perhaps Jessica’s illness isn’t natural at all, but that Voodoo may be at the heart of the problem, especially after the good doctor introduces her to the term “zombie.” She also finds that she has fallen in love with Paul (for some reason) and she finds that the best way to make him happy is to restore Jessica to him. How selfless. The nurse gets instruction from Alma on how to get to the houmfort (where they do all the voodoo-stuff for those not familiar with the term) and decides to give it a try.

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Bombie Zombie lets them pass as they bear very little resemblance to Scrooge McDuck

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Like Cat People, the resolution to I Walked with a Zombie is ambiguous. The audience cannot be certain whether Jessica is really a zombie or not, and that’s part of what makes the film work so well. However, it’s not the only thing by far. The atmosphere is utterly creepy throughout, helped by the drums and chanting often heard in the background. Jessica’s introduction (and pretty much all subsequent appearances) is chilling and there’s a sinister vibe to Betsy’s entire experience, from the boat trip to the end.

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Nighttime visits by apparently zombified locals are surprisingly common on this island

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The island’s history of slavery is an important plot point as well, as is Betsy’s complete lack of understanding of the problems brought on by this (her reply to her driver’s story of how his people was brought to the island is “well, they were brought to a beautiful place”).

There’s beautiful use of light and shadow for those of you who are visual fanatics. As well as wonderful costumes for those of you who are more fashion oriented. And creepy voodoo rituals and sort of incestuous undertones for the more horror minded. In short, there’s something here for everyone!

What we learned: if a vital question in your job interview is whether or not you believe in witchcraft, consider the position carefully.

Next time: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

#61 To Be Or Not To Be

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 39min

Note: same at Cat People and Road to Morocco. Starting to have abandonment issues.

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During World War II, Joseph (Benny) and Maria Tura (Lombard) are the lead actors in a Polish theatre troupe in Warsaw. While Joseph is onstage, however, his wife has an unfortunate tendency to flirt with young men in her dressing room. Before the German occupation of Poland, these young men included lieutenant Sobinski (Stack), who fled to join the RAF once Poland was occupied.

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Maria’s affair hurts Joseph in several ways. First because of her unfaithfulness, second because her lover keeps leaving the theatre during his most important soliloquy – “To be or not to be”

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In England, Sobinski starts to suspect professor Siletsky (Ridges) who’s returning to Warsaw, of being a spy for Germany. Once the higher-ups learn that the professor is going to Poland with the names and addresses of all the relatives of the Polish flyboys, they send Sobinski to intercept him and the information to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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No man with a beard as glorious as this could ever be a spy?!?

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Maria, Joseph, and eventually the entire troupe are dragged into the plot to secure the information and after Siletsky is accidentally killed, Joseph has to impersonate the dead spy in meetings with the (somewhat incompetent) Nazi leaders. With hilarious consequences.

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To Maria’s acting credit, she improvises like a champ upon realising that the man she’s been flirting with for info is now played by her husband

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Although we’ve both heard of this classic comedy before, we had yet to watch it. Despite Sister the Oldest having at one point watched pretty much everything related to Hamlet ever made, for a University course, this one had slipped through the net. So it was about time.

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Seriously – I know the entire soliloquy. Yet have never once been paid to recite it.

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To Be or Not to Be is hilarious and impressive, made even more so considering it was made in 1942, with the war still going strong though the full extent of the atrocities of Nazi Germany were not yet public knowledge. Making fun of Hitler and the Nazis in general was a brave move at the time, but it is not hard to discern the motivation of Jewish German-born director Lubitsch. Despite being a comedy, and a great one at that, the film naturally has very serious undertones and the threat of the Nazi regime is palpable throughout. Definitely worth watching!

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Aw, silly Hitler!

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What we learned: a tendency to dragging out scenes and stealing the spotlight makes professional actors unsuited for undercover work.

Next time: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

#60 Road to Morocco

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: David Butler

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Dona Drake, Anthony Quinn

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 22min

Note: see note for Cat People. Yup, she was still gone.

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After their ship blows up, two stowaways find themselves on a raft discussing who will eat who first. Luckily, before it comes down to that, they find land and a very friendly camel to take them to Morocco. Yay camels!

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You haven’t lived until you’ve sung a song on the back of a camel. Fact!

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They arrive in a very Arabian Nights-inspired Morocco, complete with princess in distress and violent locals, where they get  up to all sorts of zany antics including, but not limited to, selling each other into slavery. Ah – men, am I right?

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At least, this particular form of slavery consisted of courting a beautiful princess. As far as human trafficking is concerned, it could be a lot worse.

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Once Jeffrey (Crosby) finds out the exact nature of the work he sold Orville’s (Hope) into, he inserts himself into the lives of the newly engaged couple to try to win princess Shalmar (Lamour) for himself. And he succeeds. Which is just as well, as Orville seems more interested in her handmaiden Mihirmah (Drake) anyway.

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Can’t imagine why

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Now, this is when things get really complicated for the two old friends. It turns out the princess is only interested in marrying Orville because a prophecy has foretold that her first husband will die after only a week of marriage, and she is really engaged to a local sheikh, Kasim (Quinn). However, the sheikh cannot compete with the natural charm and musical talents of Bing Crosby, and the princess decides to go with the penniless American instead. The sheikh does not take kindly…

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He doesn’t take kindly at all!

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He kidnaps the princess and her entourage, and leaves Jeff and Orville to die in the desert. It’s up to them to rescue their loves and save the day!

Road to Morocco is very silly, quite raunchy at times, and it breaks the fourth wall masterfully. There’s dancing, action, romance, and cool costumes as well as sometimes sweet, sometimes fun, musical numbers. A great hangover film for early Sunday afternoon. Or Tuesday morning. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

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We all know what he will be rubbing. Ooo – naughty!

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What we learned: make sure your telescope is clean before making life or death prophecies.

Next time: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

#59 Cat People

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 13min

Note: Cat People was watched only by Sister the Oldest, as Sister the Youngest had once again fucked off to Oslo, this time to do exams. How very selfish of her, trying to get an education when there are films to be watched.

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Irina Dubrovna (Simon) is a Serbian fashion sketch artist working on ideas in a New York zoo when she strikes up a conversation with Oliver Reed (Smith – not actor Oliver Reed). They fall in love and get married despite Irina’s conviction that she is a descendant of a coven of devil worshipping witches who turn into cats when aroused or angry.

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“We cannot consummate our marriage. Or kiss. And you shouldn’t make me angry. But other than that, we’ll have a perfectly ordinary marriage, I’m sure!”

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Now, in Irina’s defence, this is not a condition she wants, but she believes the superstitions of her Serbian village and does not want to risk hurting herself or her husband. She agrees to go to therapy to help save her marriage, but it does not do much to help her, especially since her therapist’s idea of a cure is kissing his patient. Very unhippocratic.

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“It’s a new kind of therapy – all up to code and medically approved, I assure you. Now, take off your clothes.”

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To complicate their lives further, Reed’s colleague Alice Moore (Randolph) is in love with him, and since things aren’t going too well at home, he falls for her as well. Irina suspects an affair and gives in to her inner desires to stalk and prey on Alice, who does indeed seem to be followed by a large cat.

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Even in the pool. How rude!

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As the plot thickens, Oliver and Alice keep treating Irina as a child in one instance, a mentally unstable woman in the next, and then as a dangerous threat. It’s no wonder she becomes a bit unhinged and wants revenge on them for shutting her out and starting an affair. There’s nothing inherently bad about her, but she is never taken seriously or treated as an equal by her husband which causes her to snap.

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And what better way to plot vengeance than in a deserted, foggy New York street

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It’s never really clear whether Irina is right or not. She certainly seems to think she turns into a large, predatory cat when angry, upset or turned on, and Alice and Oliver are eventually convinced as well. The ambiguity is one of the main strengths of the film though, and not having clear answers makes it more intriguing than a straight-forward horror film about a shapeshifting woman. What comes across clearly however, is that no one really thinks of Irina as a grown, independent woman – even her therapy sessions consist of her being put in a trance so she has no memory of what she tells her doctor. Despite the fact that she moved to the USA alone and made a career for herself before meeting her husband, everyone seems to think she’s too fragile to be treated like an adult. Probably due to the fact that (they think) she believes in fairy tales, but still.

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We suppose when you marry a cat woman you’re either looking for a pet or a sex kitten. And when she won’t conform to either – well, it’s time to cut her loose.

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Now, I might be reading a bit much into this (I blame my literature background), but it’s hard not to get analytical about this film. What I’m trying to say is that I loved Cat People and I am looking forward to more Tourneur. Which is coming up very soon in I Walked with a Zombie. Yay!

What we learned: don’t have an affair with a man whose wife might be a murderous shapeshifter. Also, don’t treat your wife as a child.

Next time: Road to Morocco (1942)

#58 The Maltese Falcon

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Samuel Spade (Bogart) is a San Francisco P.I. working with partner Miles Archer (Cowan). One day, a dame (Astor) walks into their office. And what a dame. Legs up to here and an air of desperation about her. Just the way Spade likes’em.

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Desperation and a stole. Spade smells an easy payday.

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Now, this dame is looking for her missing sister, and she knows the lowlife who has her. She pays up for a stakeout and Archer, whose wife Spade is incidentally screwing, ends up dead on the job. Spade has a fairly laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing and proceeds to remove Archer’s name from the company window and door. He is nothing if not efficient and practical.

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The whole brooding private detective thing works better as a solo act anyway

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Of course, the dame isn’t telling the truth. She’s lied about her name, her intentions, and the identity of the man she wanted located. In fact, she’s caught up in an international conspiracy involving a golden falcon artefact, more than a few shady characters and several murders. It’s not long before Spade has a new visitor – Joel Cairo (Lorre) who tries to get the jump on the P.I. But one does not simply walk into Spade’s office and threaten him. Or, if one does, one leaves with one’s tail between one’s legs. Or in a body bag. Luckily for Cairo, the former is the option Spade goes with. This time.

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He’ll take you out without even dropping his smoke

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Once Spade is properly roped in, the dame, whose real name is possibly Brigid O’Shaughnessy, although she goes by several pseudonyms, drops her act and comes clean. More or less. Meanwhile, Spade has his own fun, pitting the various bad guys against each other and playing on their greed to manipulate them.

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“You know you need to sacrifice your little pet here, right?”

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The Maltese Falcon is a classic for very good reasons. It’s a wild ride from start to finish and Bogart is amazing in it, as are the others, but he really steals the show (along with his secretary Effie (Patrick), who we also loved). Spade is cynical and tough, but he also has a lot of fun and seems to enjoy his work and the challenges his opponents throw at him. Despite his methods (and his relationship with his partner’s wife) he has his own moral compass, and not even a desperate dame can make him stray from his convictions.

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All this drama for a statuette. Foreigners!

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Love this one – can’t wait for more noir!

What we learned: don’t get caught up in a drama revolving around a figurine. Also, never try to make a detective into a criminal.

Next time: Cat People (1942)