#152 Sweet Smell of Success

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Press agent Sidney Falco (Curtis) is miffed that columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) is ignoring his clients, essentially withholding PR and success. Hunsecker’s reasoning is clear though: he asked Falco to break up his sister Susan (Harrison) and her jazz guitarist boyfriend Steve Dallas (Milner), and Falco failed to deliver.

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“I tried. I really did. But have you tried to make a girl fall out of love with a talented guitarist? It can’t be done, I tell you!”

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To get back on the good side of the powerful man, Falco agrees to try again, this time with feeling. He plants a story about the young musician being a dope-smoking communist and waits for the man to sabotage himself in his subsequent dealing with Hunsecker.

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“I just can’t believe it, Steve. You’ve been smoking dope this whole time and never once shared with me?”

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Sweet Smell of Success is horrible to watch, but in a brilliant way, with characters who are nightmare versions of real human beings. Tony Curtis’ Falco is entitled, sneaky, sleezy, and creepily ambitious – but ambitious in the sense that he feels the world owes him success rather than the sense that he will achieve it through hard work.

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“Listen sweetheart, I know I’m asking you to prostitute yourself to my friend, but it’s really for your own good. Trust me. You’ll love it!”

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Burt Lancaster’s Hunsecker is proud, manipulative, and controlling, with a very unhealthy relationship with his baby sister. Susan in turn is young and sweet, but with absolutely no backbone – she let’s her brother control everything and just withdraws when he tries to completely destroy her life. (OK, she tries a bit more than that, but it’s not really proactive as much as insanely passive-aggressive.)

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“Keep ruining my boyfriend’s life like that and I’ll… I’ll… I’ll lock myself in my room! Hah! Deal with that!”

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Seriously, both these guys make Ace in the Hole‘s Chuck Tatum look like a damn saint, particularly in their treatment of the women in their lives (although they don’t go easy on the men either). Despite the extremely unlikable characters, the film is amazing and at least as relevant today as it was in 1957, if not more. What a way to celebrate Christmas, peace on Earth and good will toward men.

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But get the fuck out of there, girl!

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What we learned: Women should expect to be attacked if they are dumb enough to find themselves alone in the company of a man. Also, people are scum.

Next time: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

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#151 Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Bryan Forbes, Sid James, William Franklyn

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Small meteors keep falling near small British village Winnerden Flats, much to the interest of Professor Quatermass (Donlevy). Frustrated with the dried up funding for his lunar base project, the professor decides to look into the strange meteors, only to find a fully constructed lunar base right on the outskirts of the village.

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“Yes – exactly like my model! But bigger. Like, DD big.”

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The entire area is under military control, and when Quatermass’ colleague Marsh (Forbes) is injured by whatever emerges from the gas in the hollow non-meteors, the two are separated; Quatermass is escorted away and Marsh is sent to the base for medical attention.

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“‘Tis but a scratch!”

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With the help of an MP, our hero manages to score an invite to inspect the base, which is supposed to produce synthetic food. But what he finds there is far more sinister than GMOs…

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“My God! And they told me my diet was bad!”

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Like The Quatermass Xperiment before it, Quatermass 2 is the Hammer film version of a BBC series, and it’s a great little sci-fi adventure.

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Banners and gas masks. What a charming party!

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There’s Cold War paranoia, conspiracies, propaganda, brain washing, alien colonization, pretty blondes, and mystery – everything you could possibly wish for in a science fiction horror. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The World’s End (2013), people appear normal and as they’ve always been, but something profound has changed which is hard to pin down. Add to that military operations and creepy gas masks, and you’ve got yourself an uncanny little gem, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Did we mention the inflated trash bags?

A fun way to kick off the next 50 films!

What we learned: Everything will be answered later.

Next time: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Favourites #101 to #150

As is tradition, once we go through 50 films, we do a recap of our favourites – new and old. So, here we go again. Make yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee, and dive into our old(ish) posts (warning: there are a lot this time!).

By the way, we admit that these 50 have taken us a bit longer than the first two sets of 50, and we can only apologize and make silly excuses such as sometimes we have to do actual life stuff. Which we do. But we’ll be better – we promise. Or at least not worse…

Stay tuned for Quatermass 2: Enemy From Space coming up sooner than you’d think!

#150 Paths of Glory

Watched: December 14 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 28min

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During World War I, Colonel Dax’ (Douglas) regiment is given a suicide mission to stroke the ego of General Mireau (Macready); they are tasked with taking over the German position “the Ant Hill.”

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“Sure, we may lose a few men, or about half the regiment, but it’ll be one hell of a feather in the cap of the General if we manage to advance the ten metres! And feathers are cool.”

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After the doomed attack naturally fails, and B company doesn’t even manage to leave the trenches due to heavy casualties, the General’s pride is a casualty in itself and he decides someone must pay. More specifically, 100 soldiers must give their lives.

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“You know what this army’s problem is? Too many goddamn soldiers! With this many men the outcome of the war won’t be exciting at all, so let’s even the odds by killing our own men.”

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A few negotiations later, the number of soldiers to be executed for cowardice has been cut down to three. Dax requests to represent them during the court marshal, but he soon learns that the whole trial is a ridiculous sham. The defendants, Paris (Meeker), Arnaud (Turkel), and Ferol (Carey), have no chance of a fair hearing, and the commanding officers have zero sympathy or understanding for the men in the trenches.

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“And then they claimed shell shock! Shell shock!! The cowards. I tell you, back in my day we were delighted to die for our megalomaniac General. Young men nowadays…”

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We cannot believe we haven’t seen Paths of Glory before! We have, of course, been aware of it, but never watched it despite our undying love for Kubrick’s other anti-war masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964). We now have a new favourite.

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Not only because Kirk Douglas is super-heroic through most of it. But it doesn’t hurt.

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The absurdity of warfare in Paths of Glory is similar to what we see in Dr. Strangelove, but even more frustrating and sad; there’s humour here too, but not as much as in the later film. Also, this film is based on a true event, which adds frustration and sadness rather than humour and levity…

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Speaking of real events, there are more than a few parallels to the witch trials during the Inquisition

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Corruption, pride, fear, ambition, power, and absolutely no justice – Paths of Glory is our new favourite World War I film, for sure. We loved the big scale battle scenes and the small scale human drama; the performances and the social commentary. Love, love, love.

What we learned: The military is a silly and dangerous place.

Next time: Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space (1957)

#149 Kanal

Watched: December 6 2017

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Teresa Izewska, Tadeusz Janczar, Wienczyslaw Glinski, Tadeusz Gwiazdowski, Stanislaw Mikulski, Emil Karewicz, Teresa Berezowska, Vladek Sheybal

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 31min

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September 1944. The last days of the Warsaw Uprising. A small company of men (and women) are barricaded in an isolated part of town but it’s not long before they are attacked by Germans.

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Even in a war zone (or perhaps especially in one?) there’s time for flirting and light hanky panky.

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Surrounded, and with injured men, Lieutenant Zadra (Glinski) has no choice but to lead his company through the sewers to freedom, a tactic he’s not too keen on.

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And really, who can blame them for being less than thrilled? Pennywise might be down there!

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Stokrotka, or Daisy, (Izewska) who is familiar with the sewer system, offers to take care of the injured Korab (Janczar) who she is secretly in love with. She claims that the others will find their way easily as the exits are marked, but she overestimates the night vision of the soldiers.

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It may have gone very differently if they had at least opened their eyes

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As the company lose each other in the underground labyrinth, they each must brave the dangers that lurk: polluted air and water, gas, madness, and German grenades.

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Lesson: slippery sewer rocks and hand grenades are not a good combo

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Kanal is dark, suspenseful, and claustrophobic, and we loved it. We’re not sure whether the Warsaw sewer system is purgatory or one (or several) of Dante’s circles of Hell, but we know there’s no way we’re ever exploring it. Even if bad-ass Stokrotka is our guide.

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You can smell the stench through the screen

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Depressing though it is, this is also one of the best World War II films we’ve ever seen. We’re (very hesitantly) looking forward to Ashes and Diamonds (1958), hoping it may be a little bit more optimistic. But not really believing that.

 

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Just gonna add this here for extra effect

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What we learned: War is hell. But sewers are purgatory.

Next time: Paths of Glory (1957)

#148 Funny Face

Watched: November 26 2017

Director: Stanley Donen

Starring: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Dick Avery (Astaire), fashion photographer, bursts into the life of intellectual book seller Jo Stockton (Hepburn) with an impromptu photo shoot in her shop. Fashion editor (and personal hero) Maggie Prescott (Thompson) shuts her out of her shop for being a nuisance, but Dick manages to convince the brilliant lady to make Jo her new “Quality girl” and model.

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Thus starts the arduous task of making a glamorous model out of this hideous beast

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Dick talks the reluctant Jo into the job by promising her a trip to Paris – her biggest dream is to travel to the French capital to hear her personal hero professor Emile Flostre (Auclair) talk. He is the inventor of empathicalism, a philosophy Jo follows and Dick ridicules.

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“You silly girl! Stop trying to think and put on a pretty dress!”

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They go to Paris, Jo blossoms into a great model, Dick and Jo fall in love (for some reason), Jo gets to meet her hero (which the adage tells us never to do, and we learn why), and Maggie and Dick get to go undercover as Floridian singers to great success. Also, there are complications and conflicts, as there should be.

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Even Parisian rain can be endured with Givenchy dresses and colourful balloons

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We’re slightly conflicted over Funny Face. There is so much about it we love: the colours, the musical numbers, the sets, the costumes, the choreography, Maggie Prescott, Audrey Hepburn’s slightly clumsy elegance, the fact that she got to sing her own songs, and generally the overall feel of the entire film.

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How can you NOT love this?

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What we don’t quite get is the romance at the centre. It’s not so much the age difference, although 30 years is a lot (and we’re not strangers to the concept). It’s mainly Dick’s constant treatment of Jo as if she’s just a silly little girl incapable of thought and of seeing the real intentions of her hero. He berates and controls her, and he tries to change her priorities to make her more like the fashionistas he works with.

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Then again, who wouldn’t be persuaded to become a model if it meant wearing dresses like this?

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It feels a bit as if he might be better off finding someone else if he wants to change her that much. And that she would be happier with someone who at least supported her intellectual pursuits. We sort of thought Maggie and Dick would have been a better couple. But perhaps that’s just us.

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They do have amazing chemistry!

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Overall, we like the film, but the romance feels very dated unless it’s supposed to be a bit uncomfortable. The musical numbers and the gorgeous cinematography sort of makes up for it though. Sort of.

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It made us want to dance in sordid, French night clubs with men in striped shirts for sure

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What we learned: Think pink! Also, men in the fashion industry are presumably a lot less superficial than academics and philosophers.

Next time: Kanal (1957)

#147 Curse/Night of the Demon

Watched: November 29 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 35min

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After Professor Harrington dies under mysterious circumstances, his niece Joanna Harrington (Cummins) teams up with the late professor’s colleague John Holden (Andrews) to find the truth. Joanna thinks her uncle’s death is related to a “satanic cult” he was investigating, and specifically the leader Dr Karswell (MacGinnis).

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“He’s not a satanic cult leader! He’s just a happy-go-lucky clown!”

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While Holden has made it his life’s mission to discredit occultism, Ms Harrington is a bit more open to the concept of her uncle’s death being supernatural in origin. But when Holden finds a mysterious paper in his belongings (after a chance encounter with Karswell in the British Library – the no. 1 hang-out place for academics and satanists) and his symptoms start resembling those of the dead man, he gradually starts to come around to Joanna’s way of thinking.

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If you’re chased through the woods by a strange smoke cloud, satanic forces is usually the first and only theory.

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Night of the Demon (or Curse, if you’re American) is less subtle than Tourneur’s earlier work (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), where you’re never sure if something supernatural is happening or not. In this, the demon is shown on screen several times, although arguments could be made that they are only seen by the doomed men who believe a demon is out to get them.

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They both see the same, slightly cross-eyed demon though…

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Apparently, this was at the insistence of the producer rather than the vision of Tourneur, and it might have been a better movie without it. Despite the somewhat outdated special effects though, this is still a very enjoyable movie.

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Karswell is nice and sinister throughout, when he’s not in clown make-up that is

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We loved Karswell acting all serious in full-on clown mode; the seance with the singing; the scene on the train; and the general plot. It’s a fun, slightly camp, horror film which is slightly dated but still a good watch – especially if you’re a horror fanatic.

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Or if you’re really into huge, cross-eyed demons floating through dark woods. It’s a fetish, we’re sure.

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What we learned: Don’t mess with the occult. Or with dudes who like to dress up as clowns and live with their mothers.

Next time: Funny Face (1957)