#178 North by Northwest

Watched: April 8 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 16min

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Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) is a busy adman with a slightly exasperated secretary and a fabulous mother (Landis). During lunch, he is mistaken for a Mr Kaplan by a couple of thugs and whisked away on an adventure.

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“We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

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Despite Thornhill’s insistence that they have the wrong guy, baddie Phillip Vandamm (Mason) is convinced his captive is lying. His suspicions are confirmed several times as Thornhill starts investigating and finds himself in the mysterious Kaplan’s hotel room, accepting his laundry and answering his phone. Idiot.

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“What sort of flying monkey is this???”

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Things go from bad to worse when Thornhill becomes a prime suspect for murder and must go on the lam. He ends up sneaking on to the “Twentieth Century” where he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint). She helps him elude capture, but now our hero is hunted by both criminals and law enforcement. What a pickle!

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Luckily, Thornhill is a master of disguise!

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North by Northwest is definitely among the funnier Hitchcock movies. The whole thing plays like a farce, and Cary Grant’s amazing face, sass and sarcasm keep the audience laughing throughout. We also loved his darling mother.

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“I’m a delight!”

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As with several Hitchcock films (and others), the opening credits by Saul Bass are fantastic, and the movie is suspenseful and exciting from beginning to end. Love this!

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So cool!

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What we learned: If you’re the victim of mistaken identity, try not to pretend to be that person… Also, high heels and rock climbing is a bad match. There goes our weekend plans.

Next time: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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#177 Imitation of Life

Watched: April 28 2018

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 5min

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On a busy beach, aspiring actress/model Lora Meredith (Turner) is looking for her daughter. She finds the girl in the company of an African-American lady, Annie Johnson (Moore), who she hires as a live-in babysitter after learning she and her daughter are homeless.

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Ah – the good old days when you could invite random people you met at the beach to come live in your home and it didn’t end in murder-robbery but lifelong friendship.

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Lora goes to see a theatrical agent, Allen Loomis (Alda), who basically tells her that to succeed she must prostitute herself, something she’s not yet quite desperate enough to do. However, she gets a break when a playwright likes her honest critique of his play, and is soon catapulted to stardom, much to the chagrin of love interest Steve Archer (Gavin) who’d rather have her be a stay-at-home mom and his wife.

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“Why would you possibly desire to have your own career and make your own money when you can just shack up with me? I forbid it!”

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Lora and Annie stay friends for the next 10+ years, as the former finds success and the latter eventually gets paid for being her maid. Their daughters grow up, but while Lora’s daughter Susie (Dee) is a well-adjusted blonde with a private school education, Annie’s daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner) is light enough to pass for white and develops some serious identity issues.

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“This is America! There’s no way anyone will treat you differently just because they find out that you are black!”

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As is tradition, we loved this Sirk film more than we thought we would. Sarah Jane, though an atrocious dancer and slightly annoying, is a tragically intriguing character, Annie is just the best, Susie is pluckily charming, and Lora is self-centred yet understandably ambitious. And there are also some men there, more often than not screwing up the women’s lives.

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There are also gorgeous costumes and sunglasses to die for

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Lora and Annie’s friendship seems to be fairly mutual even though Annie works for Lora, but we learn that Lora knows absolutely nothing about her friend’s life outside of the house, which is very telling.

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“Friends? What friends? But you cease to exist when I leave the house, don’t you?”

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Imitation of Life is about friendship and family and heritage and sexism and racism and authority. And probably lots of other things as well. We loved it, and we’re now off to plan our funerals. Those things are not to be left to chance.

What we learned: If you love someone, apparently it gives you the right to decide for them. And control them. And be petulant if they make their own decisions. Also, racism sucks!

Next time: North by Northwest (1959)

#176 Ben-Hur

Watched: April 13 2018

Director: William Wyler

Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie

Year: 1959

Runtime: 3h 32min (at least)

More numbering problems you say? See info here.

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In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

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“Uh, yeah, I’m here to register..? Yeah, with my wife. She’s about to give birth. No, no, I’m totally the father. Joseph. J-O-S-E-P-H. Know any good hotels hereabouts..?”

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We all know that story. However, this is not that story, but set in the same time. In 26 A.D. (probably not called that at the time, to be fair) Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) was a Judean prince and childhood friend of newly returned Roman tribune Messala (Boyd). Despite the intense homoeroticism of their interactions, the two have a falling out over political issues (one wants the other to sell out his people. That sort of thing).

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“God, I wish we were Greek instead of Roman…”

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After an accident involving a Roman procession and rooftop tiles, Messala finally has an excuse to arrest the Ben-Hur family and send Judah away to the galleys. His mother Miriam (Scott) and sister Tirzah (O’Donnell) are thrown in a dungeon, the family home is raided, and Judah is sent off.

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“I just thought I’d take a gap year. You know, to travel, sunbathe, grow my beard and learn about new cultures.”

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Strange destiny eventually brings the eponymous hero back to his hometown, now as an adopted Roman with a new fortune, new status in the Roman Empire, and excellent horse racing skills. His hatred for Messala has not diminished though, despite an encounter with Jesus, and he is also out for revenge and for the salvation of his family…

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We all know the best way to really humiliate someone is to beat them at their own game. And also kill them.

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Sometimes it’s hard to get in the right mood to watch an almost 4 hour epic from the ’50s, and we must admit we didn’t rush to pick this one up despite all we’ve heard of it. However, we’re glad we did as it lives up to its reputation (despite Heston’s occasional overacting). We loved the Roman perspective on Jesus, the (possibly unintended) homoeroticism between Judah and Messala, the sheikh, the general epicness of the feature, and the fact that we never actually see or hear Jesus.

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All we learn is that he has fabulous hair and can hypnotise Roman soldiers.

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We also loved the Roman uniforms, but mainly because they reminded us so much of Asterix that we spent the entire film quoting Asterix chez les Bretons (1986) and had to pull some strings to get our hands on the Norwegian dubbed version (AKA the only version worth watching) of our childhood favourite. So thank you, Kristian!

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“Er’re XVI her óg? Da har vi gått feil igjen, da.” – Classic!

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It’s easy to think Ben-Hur is a movie about horse racing (it’s by far the most famous scene), but it is really an epic saga of revenge and redemption with Jesus hanging out in the background. And a badass chariot racing scene.

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“Det skjærer meg i hjertet. Hører du, dekurion? Det skjærer meg i hjertet!” One for all Norwegian Asterix-fans. You’re welcome, people who don’t speak Norwegian and/or have no point of reference for this.

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What we learned: Romans, like most empires/powerful nations, were Biggus Dickuses.

Next time: Imitation of Life (1959)