#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

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#94 The Third Man

Watched: March 27 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to start a job provided for him by Harry Lime (Welles) only to find that his friend has died. As Martins starts looking into the accidental death, things don’t add up. Conflicting witness statements and suspicious characters convince the mystery writer that there is something strange going on and he starts to investigate with the help of Harry’s (somewhat illegal) girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Valli).

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It’s a long and winding road to get at the truth. And it’s almost as if there’s symbolism in the sets and cinematography.

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We cannot really say much more about the plot without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, Holly’s suspicions are not unfounded and his investigation takes him deep into the murky waters of war profiteering in post-war/early cold war era Vienna. There are twists and turns aplenty and it’s an exciting and engaging watch.

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It’s a wet dream for cobblestone aficionados everywhere!

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What stands out the most in The Third Man is the incredible use of shadows which reminded us a bit of the early German expressionist films we watched, just turned up to 11 (as did a lot of the angles). The beautiful architecture of Vienna with the juxtaposition of the gorgeous buildings and the rubble of the collapsed structures was beautiful, although we’re sure Austrians may disagree with that.

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For horror fans, there’s also a creepy balloon guy.

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Wet cobblestones, lots of arches, scary shadows, and a strangely beautiful sewer system make the film very visually appealing. There’s also a decorative lampshade – the very epitome of the Noir trope. The performances are great, with Welles being nicely menacing and slick.

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As we said, cobblestone aficionados need look no further for a fix.

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Neither do fans of Orson Welles’ strange charm

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Seriously though – very attractive sewer! We can see ourselves turning it into some sort of Gothic paradise.

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What we learned: War is the mother of invention. Also, sister the oldest is a little shadow slut. She loves her some good shadows!

Next time: White Heat (1949)

#93 Kind Hearts and Coronets

Watched: March 26 2017

Director: Robert Hamer

Starring: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Dobson, Joan Greenwood

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 46min

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Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Price – looking very much like Gene Wilder), is awaiting his execution for murder. As he calmly enjoys some wine in his cell, he writes down his memoirs, and we are invited to watch how his life unfolded and what led him to his prison cell.

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Death Row sure has changed since the early 1900s!

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Louis’ mother was a wealthy aristocrat until she ran off to marry an Italian opera singer and her family disowned her. When her husband died minutes after the birth of their son, the new mother is left destitute and forced to (gasp!) do manual labour. The horror! She feels this life is beneath her, and never misses a chance to remind her impressionable young son that he deserves better.

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Ain’t no one pointing their cane at Louis Mazzini. Ain’t no one!

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After his mother’s death, Louis becomes obsessed with reclaiming his place in her estranged family and becoming the next Duke of Chalfont – the family estate. Partly because of their awful treatment of his mother, but also partly because of his own ambition and his desire for Sibella (Greenwood), a silly girl he grew up with. However, unfortunately for him, there are eight other family members ahead of him in line for the Duke title. Something has to be done. So he goes on a hilarious murder spree.

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With this kind of family resemblance, tracking them all down should be a piece of cake

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We cannot begin to describe how much we loved this one, and we’re surprised and appalled that we have never heard of it before (a curse on whoever is supposed to be our cultural educators!). Louis is equal parts hilariously sarcastic and genuinely creepy. His systematic approach to trim the family tree is a joy to watch unfold, though his juggling of his two love interests is increasingly sociopathic. Especially as one of them, Edith (Hobson), is the widow of one of his earliest victims.

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The other interest is a silly girl with a penchant for lace and overly complicated hats.

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The visual and verbal humour made us laugh throughout the film, and we’re definitely watching this one again! Price’s stoic and sardonic Louis reminded us of Gene Wilder (they look alike too), and Alec Guinness is wonderful as all eight (unfortunate) members of the D’Ascoyne clan. Joan Greenwood’s Sibella is certainly a silly girl, but she too has a dark side – the two are perfect for each other. If you like sarcasm, murder and fancy dresses (and honestly, who doesn’t?) this is the film for you.

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If you want to make parricide fun, make a game of it!

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What we learned: 8 different ways to kill Alec Guinness. Also, the Latin word for killing family members is parricide. You’re welcome.

Next time: The Third Man (1949)

#91 Criss Cross

Watched: March 20 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Steve Thompson (Lancaster) has returned to Los Angeles after a year’s absence, and he quickly reconnects with ex-wife Anna (De Carlo) – the main reason he left town a year earlier. While they seem to be ready to start their relationship again, Anna is also pursued by local gangster Slim Dundee (Duryea) and after a series of miscommunications with her ex-husband as well as pride on both their parts, she ends up marrying Dundee.

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Her new marriage leads to a lot of sneaking around dark parking lots with her ex. That’s what you get for marrying money instead of…whatever it is Steve is to her. Passion perhaps?

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When the lovers are caught in Steve’s house, he tries to cover up their affair by suggesting to Anna’s criminal husband that they join forces for a heist. As an armoured truck driver, Steve offers to be an inside man on a pay roll robbery as long as no one gets hurt in the process. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

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Alarm bells should have rung when everyone else showed up at the party in variations of this outfit

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Criss Cross explores a lot of the typical Noir tropes, such as the good guy whose fate is sealed through a mix of circumstances, bad decisions and, of course, the love for a Dame. In addition, there’s the usual: flashbacks, heists, double-crossings, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gorgeous dresses, the protagonist’s voice-over, and a gradually darker and darker story line.

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As pictured here, Criss Cross also features the typical Noir trope The Decorative Lampshade. Classic!

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The Dame here is fairly innocent and nice compared to a few others we’ve encountered so far, although looks can be as deceiving as a Dame. Anna almost seems another victim – of men in her case, who treat her fairly crappily and might be to blame for her Dameyness (totally a word!), though some of the responsibility might lie with her (her alternative may have been to end up like the barfly in the Round Up). Her descent into victimization may be just a side effect of her learning that her new husband is not as easy to manipulate and control as her ex, but it may also be that Steve (and the audience) are given a glimpse into why she is who she is.

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Bruises are an easy way to evoke sympathy in both exes and audiences (which does not mean the sympathy isn’t justified, by the way).

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Likewise, Steve is not as much of an anti-hero as many other Noir characters – apart from his obsession with Anna (and his tendency to fight with her), he seems to be a fairly ordinary man with a normal family and a steady, average job.

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Until he starts planning heists, that is. As far as we know, that’s not completely normal. Well, perhaps planning them is, but going through with them is another story!

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All in all, we thought this was another wonderful and suspenseful Noir from Robert Siodmak, a master of the genre. Great movie – great rhumba music, courtesy of Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band. Good times!

What we learned: When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser… It’s a Criss-Cross! Also, organizing a heist to cover up an affair may not be the best idea…

Next time: Jour de Fête (1949)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)

#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#88 The Red Shoes

Watched: March 6 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.

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While the others work, Lermontov does his very best impression of a creepy old man

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The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.

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We strongly suspect Julian didn’t like other men’s hands this close to his wife’s hoo-ha..

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Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.

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Ah – innocence ruined by the lure of passion. It’s like the fairy tale reflects the fate of the innocent ballerina…

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It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.

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It doesn’t help our impression that he shows up for her performance  wearing something very close to a Nazi outfit and goes straight for the boobs

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This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.

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We’re quite certain that the audience cannot be replaced by an ocean in a real live performance.

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It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).

What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).

Next time: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

#85 Oliver Twist

Watched: February 22 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness, Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, Henry Stephenson

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We assume (perhaps mistakenly, but still) that most people have some idea of the plot of Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist, and so we’ll keep our plot summary to a minimum. Suffice to say, Oliver Twist (Davies) is a poor orphan who is brought up in an abusive workhouse and who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up alone on the streets of London. He takes up with a band of thieving boys, led by Fagin (Guinness), and the inexperienced Oliver is promptly arrested on his first outing.

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Fagin cannot accept responsibility though – he did after all spend upwards of five minutes training the boy before sending him out with Dodger

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Oliver is acquitted, falls ill, and ends up in the care of Mr Brownlow who takes him in as his own. But what is their connection? It turns out they are more connected than they originally assumed…

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Or perhaps Oliver is just like us, took one look at that library and decided to stay forever

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Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill Sikes (Newton), a brutal man who runs the show, are freaking out, worried that Oliver will blow their whole operation. They therefore kidnap him to keep him quiet, but Nancy (Walsh) feels bad for both Oliver and Brownlow and decides to snitch. How will this all end?

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Ultimately, Nancy forgot that snitches get stitches…

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From the ominous beginning – storm, thorns and torrential rain – to the suspenseful ending, David Lean’s Oliver Twist is a great watch. Lean’s version is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel although, as with all adaptations, there are fewer details and some parts of the book are only alluded to, changed, or left out completely.

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We love the way to Fagin’s lair

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The film is beautiful and atmospheric with gorgeous sets, a great score, wonderful performances and (naturally) Dickensian characters (including the somewhat racially offensive Fagin). We recommend it both to lovers of the novel as well as those who cannot be bothered reading it but still want to pretend they have.

What we learned: The things some people will do for financial gain… Also, lynch mobs are terrifying, whether in the flesh as in 19th century London, or online as in now.

Next time: Rope (1948)

#84 Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves

Watched: February 12 2017

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 29min

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In post-war Rome, Antonio Ricci (Maggiorani) is experiencing the Poverty Catch-22: he is (finally) offered a good job, but the job requires a bicycle which he has pawned to provide for his family and cannot reclaim until his first paycheck. Which he won’t get without his bike. Luckily for Antonio he has a good wife, Maria (Carell), who sells their sheets to retrieve his bicycle. With his mode of transportation back, Antonio is set to start his new job, putting up posters of glamorous stars around the city.

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The job also requires expert balancing skills… Biking around with this gear is seriously impressive!

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As promising as the beginning is – the tale of a man who works his way out of poverty after someone gave a break – we just know that something terrible will happen. And of course, as the title implies, the bicycle is stolen. On Antonio’s first day, no less. He gives chase, but the thief’s cohorts distract him and send him down the wrong path. He reports the theft to the police, but they do not consider this case a priority. All Antonio can do to keep his job and make a living for himself and his family is to go look for the bike himself.

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Finding a bike in a city of millions isn’t made easier by their decision to inspect every possible bike in detail

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He takes his young son Bruno (Staiola) with him to a market to look for his stolen property, whole or in parts, and they spend the entire day roaming around Rome on their quest. The day puts a strain on Antonio’s relationship with his young son, especially as he, in his desperation, makes some bad choices and cannot live up to the heroic view Bruno has had of him up until now.

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The weather does absolutely nothing to lighten the overall mood of the film

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This was a rewatch for (one of) us and not a particularly happy one. Not because we didn’t like the film – it’s amazing, but it is also thoroughly depressing. Antonio and Bruno have a few good moments during their quest such as the restaurant scene (which made us kind of hungry, we must admit), but there is a mood of hopelessness and desperation throughout Bicycle Thieves (the plural noun in the title implies more than we’re prepared to reveal) which stays with you for a while.

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However many mistakes Antonio makes though, his son stays by his side. Bless.

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Antonio is not a bad man, but he is not really a particularly good one either. He is human and desperate and he acts as such. Which is understandable. The film is an interesting (and beautiful) insight into post-war Italy and the effects poverty has on people. While it is sadder and more depressing than anything we’d willingly expose ourselves to (we prefer to live on fluffy clouds), it is not by far the worst one from De Sica in terms of sob factor. Seriously, if anyone tries to make us watch Umberto D. (1952) again, we might have to resort to violence. That shit is brutal.

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We mean it. If you care at all about dogs or old people (and you should! Both!), De Sica’s Umberto D will mess you up.

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What we learned: It always rains on Sundays. Also, there’s a cure for everything except death.

Next time: Oliver Twist (1948)

#83 Out of the Past

Watched: February 9 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Jacques Tourneur goes down a different route than in Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie with this film noir, but it still works.

Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) runs a gas station in a small California town, is moderately successful at it (he has at least one employee) and is dating a sweet girl, Ann (Huston). However, he has a past and there are those who won’t let him forget it. One day, Joe (Valentine) saunters into town to drag Jeff back into the world he left behind – a world of criminals and Private Dicks. And, of course, Dames.

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As we have established before, there are good girls (pictured above) and then there are Dames

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Jeff spills the beans to his girlfriend and tells her all about a romance he had back in his private detective days with a certified Dame, Kathie Moffat (Greer). He was hired by her ex boyfriend/stalker/victim Whit Sterling (Douglas) to track her down after she had shot him and run away with $40 000 of his hard earned and totally legitimate money. Jeff follows Kathie’s trail to Acapulco and strikes up a conversation with her, which turns into a whirlwind romance. He lies to Whit and takes Kathie with him to San Francisco to start a new life. Which doesn’t exactly go as planned.

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Turns out you can take the Dame away from Danger but you cannot take Danger away from the Dame

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This could have been the end of the story, but Joe’s appearance means Jeff’s past is about to catch up with him. Kathie has gone back to Whit and Jeff has no choice but to do one last job for him. A job which includes murder, frame-ups, tax evasion and even more double-crossing dames.

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As well as Kirk Douglas

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As we mentioned, this is quite the departure from the previous Tourneurs on the list, but there’s still something distinctly Tourneur about it. We’re just not film scholarly enough to point out exactly what that is… Suffice to say, we enjoyed Out of the Past (almost) as much as his earlier ventures into horror (“almost” because horror is our lifeblood). It is exciting and fun with the most duplicitous of Dames, but there’s also love and romance, heartbreak and sorrow. Extremely enjoyable!

What we learned: Drinks in Acapulco are too cheap. They keep leaving half empty (half full?) glasses in bars!

Next time: Bicycle Thieves (1948)