#78 The Killers

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Two shady characters enter a diner, accompanied by a dramatic opening score. After intimidating the owner, the cook, and the lone guest, they set up for a hit on regular customer Swede (Lancaster). Who fails to show. Rude.

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They also start a time honoured tradition of people in films who order food in diners and proceed not to eat it. Seems very wasteful.

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When it becomes clear that their target won’t show up, the hitmen leave to track him down, and the diner guest, Nick, runs to warn the Swede, hopping fences on the way like an old-timey Simon Pegg. However, when he reaches the soon-to-be victim, the Swede refuses to do anything, stating he deserves his fate because he “once did something wrong”. Nick leaves and soon the hitmen finish their business. True to his word, the Swede does not defend himself. But why not? It is up to insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) to figure everything out.

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Guess what? A Dame is involved!

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Reardon starts interviewing old friends and accomplices of Swede and the story of his life is told through flashbacks (naturally, as Lancaster would have ridiculously high billing if he had been killed in the first five minutes, never to be seen again). His first stop is the beneficiary of the Swede’s life insurance policy, an old lady running a hotel in which he once stayed. While she has no idea why he would leave her money, she does remember witnessing some erratic and self-destructive behaviour during his time in the hotel, as well as ramblings about a woman who is gone.

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It becomes clear that the man had some anger issues

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What Reardon finds is an ex-boxer who, when out on a date with another girl, falls in love with a Dame called Kitty Collins (Gardner). Kitty is involved in some shady business, and Swede takes the fall for one transgression, landing him in jail for three years. When released, he gets into even shadier stuff, leading him on a path of crime and destruction, much to the chagrin of his childhood friend who became a police officer.

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The police equivalent of a clown car. We love it!

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The Killers has more investigating and less action than some of the noir films we’ve watched, but it is intriguing and suspenseful. Ava Gardner is great as the double-crossing Dame, and the fact that this was Lancaster’s first film role is very impressive. As is common in film-noir, there’s great use of light and shadow, and the mood throughout the film is bleak and menacing. It’s a great watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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We’re going to leave you with this awesome image.

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What we learned: Don’t hit on other girls while you’re on a date. It’s just not classy. Also, there’s no honour among thieves. And Kitty’s got claws!

Next time: Black Narcissus (1947)

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#77 The Big Sleep

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 54min

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Philip Marlowe is back, this time portrayed by (the not very tall, but oh so charming) Humphrey Bogart. Entering the Sternwood residence for an appointment with General Sternwood, he is immediately met by a Dame in the making – young miss Carmen Sternwood (Vickers), who tries to sit on his lap while he is still standing.

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Despite Carmen’s best efforts, General Sternwood is the first member of the family to have our hero undress

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Carmen has gambling debts and her father, the General, is being blackmailed by a man named Geiger. He hires Marlowe to clear everything up, and on his way out, the detective is summoned to the chambers of the older Sternwood daughter, Mrs Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), who is very interested in what exactly Marlowe has been hired to do. The two start measuring each other up (both figuratively and literally) and exchange quips.

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“She has all the usual vices, besides those she’s invented for herself”

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Marlowe starts his investigation in the usual way which comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook. That is, he starts snooping around Geiger’s bookshop which he quickly discovers is a front for something else, although he strikes out with the lady working there. He has better luck with the saucy bookseller from across the street, and spends his afternoon with her sharing a drink.

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Yet another great example of how removing glasses and letting one’s hair down transforms a “plain,” bookish girl into an absolute stunner.

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Marlowe follows Geiger and stakes out his house. After a shot and a scream, he enters to find Geiger dead, a hidden camera, and a very drugged out Carmen in a near catatonic state. He takes the girl home, exchanges more banter with her older sister, and returns to the crime scene only to find dead Mr Geiger gone. The plot is very much thickening.

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Also thickening is the sexual tension between the two stars

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To sort out this mess, Marlowe and Rutledge (who’s divorced, by the way, so their relationship is completely on the up-and-up) have to work together. There are more dead bodies, more blackmail, more Dames and other cool women (such as Marlowe’s taxi driver), shady characters, quips and banter, silly henchmen, a fairly complicated plot (but great scenes, so it doesn’t really matter), and Humphrey Bogart being supercool.

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This is a man completely unaffected by having a gun pointed at him. Though Bacall doesn’t seem too perturbed either, to give her her due.

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There are beautiful clothes, sassy dialogue, and amazing characters portrayed by iconic stars. There’s also murder, intrigue, loose sexual morals, and an infamous restaurant scene we have no idea how got past the censors. It’s a classic for a reason and if you haven’t already checked this one out, you should! We loved it.

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Serious question though: how extremely innocent do you have to be not to read the subtext of this scene?

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What we learned: men in the 1940s were physically unable to see past a pair of glasses on a pretty girl. Also, sometimes personal chemistry works equally well on screen as in real life.

Next time: The Killers (1946)

#76 Notorious

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father is convicted of treason and his daughter naturally throws a party with ice and Cary Grant. As would we if Grant were available. However, she throws in a DUI for good measure, which we would not. After the drunken drive, it turns out that Devlin (Grant) is some sort of government agent and he has a job for the former party girl. After a gruesome hangover (wonderfully filmed, by the way) the two fly to Brazil to start her assignment.

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“So, what exactly is this assignment?” “Well, we shall fall in love and then I shall ask you to prostitute yourself. You know, for patriotism. USA! USA!”

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The two fall in love and then the orders come through. In Devlin’s defence, he was not aware of the exact nature of his new love interest’s upcoming job before recruiting her, but he does not exactly help her out once the government asks Alicia to put the moves on an old friend of her father’s who used to be in love with her. Instead, he encourages her to use all her “womanly viles” to get the information they need from former German Nazi leader Alex Sebastian (Rains – no longer invisible).

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“Yes, my good Nazi friend, of course I’d rather marry you than have a sultry affair with Cary Grant. Isn’t my enthusiasm evident?”

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The reason Alicia is recruited is partly because of her previous relationship with the subject of their investigation, but it is just as much due to her former reputation as a sexually active, hard drinking socialite. While Alicia herself feels she is over this period of her life, her past is enough to condemn her in the eyes of the government agents who pressure her into taking on the assignment. She is even persuaded to go so far as to marry Alex.

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Marrying another man puts yet another strain on their relationship for some reason

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Further complications ensue when, after an intense espionage scene during a party, Alex and his evil mother realise that their new family member is in fact a spy. They start poisoning her, but pride and pent up anger towards her handler Devlin stops her from being upfront with him about her condition, instead blaming her reduced state during their next meeting on a hangover. How will the lovers get out of this pickle?

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We strongly suspect that the filmmaker is trying to tell us that something may be wrong about the coffee.

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This Hitchcock classic is every bit as tense and chilling as you would expect, and the character of Alicia is someone it is easy to sympathise with. She just wants to be treated like a person and make a new life for herself, but all the men see her as a thing – less than proper because of her past (sexual) frivolity and her family. Even her new beau falls into that trap, although to give him his due he does defend her to his colleagues. He just cannot seem to do this to her face.

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He has no problem doing other things to her face though

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Although Alicia, played beautifully by Swedish icon Bergman by the way, is through with her rebellious and flirtatious past, that’s all men want from her and that is all they see. So she obliges. It is interesting that even though Hitchcock has a reputation for having been a dick to women, his female characters are usually very sympathetic and strong. However, they are always put through hell, and they are usually made weak by feelings of love, which may be symptoms of misogyny in itself. Or the stories of his hatred for women may be somewhat exaggerated. Who are we to tell?

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Instead, let’s focus on the story of two ridiculously gorgeous people falling in love and overcoming personal, international, and political obstacles to be together. Yay!

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What we learned: Once you’ve lived up to a certain persona, people won’t let you forget it and move on. Also, if you’re going to infiltrate an enemy organisation, you need nerves of steel (and don’t make stupid key mistakes).

Next time: The Big Sleep (1946)

#75 La Belle et La Bête/Beauty and the Beast

Watched: January 8 2017

Director: Jean Cocteau

Starring: Josette Day, Jean Marais

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Belle (Day), the beautiful young daughter of a merchant, is being Cinderella’d by her rooty tooty snooty sisters after their family’s fortune was lost at sea. As her father gets word of one of his ships having reached port safely, he travels to the city to regain some of his fortune, only to find it has all been seized in payment of his debts. Returning home through a scary forest in a storm, he seeks shelter in a castle which seems abandoned yet has a marvelous feast set out for him.

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There’s nothing at all sinister or creepy about the place

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He spends the night in the castle and, when leaving the next morning, picks a rose for his daughter as that was her only request for a present. Big mistake. A frightful Beast (Marais) sets upon him and tells him he must die for this offence. The merchant manages to make a deal to go home home to see his family if he promises to return promptly or send a family member in his place. Belle, being the good daughter, offers to go to the castle instead of her ailing father.

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The pretty dresses and jewellry sort of make up for the creepy living statues and ornaments of her new home.

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Instead of finding a primitive beast ready to devour her, Belle meets a gentlemanly one who proclaims her mistress of the castle and himself her humble servant. She stays with him for months, and though every night she refuses his marriage proposal, they develop a friendship and companionship which is quite mutual, despite him looking like he’s always on the verge of reciting Shakespearean soliloquies. Case in point:

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We’d like to think his tendency to lurk behind her is more a kindness so that she won’t have to look at him, rather than something sinister. Despite the neverending marriage proposals.

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After a while, Belle finds out that her father is grievously ill and asks to go home to see him. The Beast agrees on the condition that she returns one week later, and gives her a magic mirror to see him, his glove which will return her to the castle whenever she’d like and, for some reason, the key to his fortune.

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“I’m sure there’s no way anyone would abuse that power”

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Of course, Belle’s cunty sisters, her idiot brother and his friend Gaston, uh, we mean, Avenant (also played by Marais), persuade her to stay on a bit longer, steal her key and decide to go kill the Beast and steal his fortune. However, Belle sees the Beast half dead from grief in her magic mirror and uses the magic glove to return to him at the same time her brother and Avenant arrive to dispose of him. There are declarations of love, the Beast transforms to his true princely form and all live happily ever after. Except for the intruders, one of whom is himself transformed (to take the Beast’s place as guardian of the castle? Of the afterlife? Of purgatory? Who knows?), but that’s their own fault.

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“Them bitches had it coming, trying to interfere with our strange and possibly Stockholm syndrome-induced romance!”

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Cocteau’s version is a very faithful adaptation of the traditional French fairy tale despite him, naturally, having taken some artistic licenses. Visually, this film is wonderful with amazing details, especially in the enchanted castle which is like Barbie’s Gothic Dream House – creepy but luxurious. The disembodied arms which act like servants and the half-living statues that adorn the halls and rooms are fantastic (in all senses of the word) and add an extra layer of surrealism and magic to the film. The costumes are extravagant, if not necessarily always flattering, and the beast is superbly made up.

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The food even looks appealing in black and white, which is impressive in itself

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If your only cinematic experience of Beauty and the Beast is the 1991 Disney version, we really recommend this one as well, as it is a very different perspective on the same story.

What we learned: women must learn to look beyond physical appearance, but the same is not necessary for men. Also, don’t trust your relatives – them bitches be greedy!

Next time: Notorious (1946)

#74 A Matter of Life and Death

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Also known by its alternate title

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As Peter Carter (Niven) is plunging towards certain death in a shot up plane May 1945, his final moments are shared with radio operator June (Hunter) and the two, as people are wont to do in these intense situations, fall in love. He ejects from the burning aircraft without a parachute and is surprised to find himself alive on shore some moments later. Surely, the fall should have killed him?

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How much imagery of nudity, flutes and goats do you need to convince yourself you’ve reached hell?

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Turns out, it should have. Up on the celestial plane, the clerics are confused about the lateness of his arrival until they find that his Conductor, a very camp Frenchman (Goring), lost the pilot in the fog and thus neglected to collect his soul.

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“Bonjour! Je suis le campest Frenchman you’ll ever meet. Bon bon, mon petit fromage!”

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Unfortunately for the clerics of the afterlife, in the few hours of “extra” life Peter got, he met and fell in love with June which greatly complicates things. As he is not at fault here, is it fair to take him away just as he has found the love of his life? Since it was their mix up that caused this to happen, the celestial beings grant Peter a trial with his life at stake.

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Celestial trials have the most impressive courtrooms

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Meanwhile, in our own world, June has enlisted the help of a doctor friend of hers, Dr Reeves (Livesey, of Colonel Blimp-fame), as her new love is suffering headaches and possible hallucinations after jumping from a plane without a parachute… Naturally, the medical professional diagnoses Peter with head trauma and recommends surgery, to coincide with the patient’s heavenly trial.

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Which leads to some beautiful shots!

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This was a beautiful and engaging film which we completely loved. The relationship between Peter and June is lovely, although a bit hasty. She’s either very wonderful or very naïve to stick by him when he starts talking crazy after they’ve known each other for all of a day. The trial becomes very political, and much of the criticism against England from the USA could have been modern criticism against the US, which is very interesting to observe (especially given the newly instated president..). It’s like both countries have a history of proclaiming themselves above others and trying to impose their rules on other nations…

The sets are beautiful and impressive, especially on the other plane.

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Such as the stairway, or escalator, to heaven, for instance

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In a way, this film is like an opposite Wizard of Oz, as our world is in glorious technicolor while the other world is in drab black and white. Then again, our world is supposed to be the desirable one so it makes sense. A Matter of Life and Death has humour, excitement, adventure, romance, political undertones, history lessons, camp Frenchmen and gorgeous shoes! What’s not to love?

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A film so good it has its own stamp!

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What we learned: make sure you have a law degree before cheating death. Also, we have found the winners of the mannequin challenge of 1946!

Next time: La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946)

PS: confused about the numbering on this? Check out this disclaimer!