Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Spain, 1546. Mr Barnard (Kerr) comes from England to see where and how his beloved sister Elizabeth (Steele) died. He meets his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) and his sister Catherine (Anders) and is offered a strange and vague explanation of Elizabeth’s death.

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“Suffocation from too-tight corset” is not among the excuses. Neither is “tripped over own voluminous skirt and broke neck.”

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Family doctor Leon (Carbone) later reveals to the grieving brother that his sister died of fright. Since more details are surely required after such a statement, Medina confesses that his bride had become obsessed with the inquisition era torture chamber in the cellar, and that she perished in an Iron Maiden.

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We’ve always felt that a house is not a home without a fireplace, a lounge area, and an indoor torture chamber. We’re having ours installed next weekend.

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But is this all there is to it? Barnard is still not satisfied, and as we delve deeper into the house’s secrets, we learn that Medina’s father killed his brother and wife in the chamber when his children were young. Young Nicholas witnessed the ordeal and was never the same again.

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Exhibit A: this is now his default resting face

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As Medina devolves into madness, strange things also begin to happen in the castle… So what really happened to Elizabeth? Is she haunting them? Or was she buried prematurely, House of Usher-style?

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And why didn’t anyone bother informing doctor Leon of the dress code for the evening? These questions will haunt us…

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Pit and the Pendulum has everything we love: Gothic castles, secret passageways, hidden torture chambers, ghosts, murder, madness and torture. It is morbid, grotesque and lovely, and we completely adored Vincent Price as the confused, distressed widower. Barbara Steele’s eyes are as haunting as they were in Black Sunday, and she is the perfect Gothic heroine/villain (take your pick here). Personally, we are of course suckers for anything Poe (and Corman. And Price.), so we had no choice but to include this even though it is no longer on the list. It’s fantastic!

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Best watched by squinting from inside an Iron Maiden. Well, we say “best”…

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What we learned: Crazy is hereditary.

Next time: Carnival of Souls (1961)

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Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 33min

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Somewhere in 18th century Spain, a beggar (Wordsworth) goes to a castle to ask for some food and/or money. But the marquis (Dawson) is a cruel man and a bully, and he imprisons the beggar and promptly forgets about him. Left in the dungeon for fifteen years, the poor man is forgotten about by all but the jailer and his mute daughter.

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One look at this man and we would have run for our lives. Unfortunately the beggar didn’t share our instincts for people.

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After those fifteen years, the daughter (Romain) refuses to be raped by the marquis, and he throws her in the dungeon with the beggar. Apparently, he has forgotten all about the girl’s kindness to him and rapes her himself, and then dies (karma’s a bitch!).  The girl is sent back to the marquis so that he can have his way with her, but having been raped once already, she’s not about to let the bastard win, so she kills him and flees.

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Sometimes it’s a good, and righteous, thing to be a backstabbing bitch

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The runaway girl, now pregnant, is later found in the woods by Don Alfredo Corledo (Evans) and Teresa (Talfrey) who take her in and, when she dies in childbirth on Christmas Day, take on the responsibility of her newborn son.

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“Say, Teresa, do we know who the boy’s father is..? I only ask because he seems to be displaying some rather unusual dental development here which has me quite confused”

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Turns out though, unwanted children born on Christmas Day are cursed to be werewolves. Which makes us wonder why lycanthropy isn’t a bigger social problem than it currently seems to be. While young Leon (Reed) at first manages to keep his condition under control, once he grows up and faces adversity as well as love, he loses what little control he has and all hell breaks loose.

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Honestly, we were half expecting him to break into song once he had climbed the bell tower. Colour us disappointed.

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The Curse of the Werewolf was removed from the list after we’d already bought it, so as is tradition, we’re doing it anyway, dammit! And we’re glad we did. We loved the opening credits with the sad werewolf, the interesting explanation for the condition, and Leon’s partner in crime (not literally though) José.

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Also, even though it preceeds it by almost 5 decades, this is yet another werewolf better than the atrocity in The Prisoner of Azkaban. No, we’re still not over it.

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In many ways, it’s more a drama than a horror, except the ending which is very Frankenstein. But we believe it works for fans of both genres. Well worth watching! Even though there are apparently at least 1000 films which are better than this one… Let’s call it number 1001 and recommend it anyway. Happy New Year!

What we learned: Don’t give birth to unwanted children on Christmas day. We know, it’s a bit late for 2018, but keep it in mind for next year.

Next time: Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

#211 Yojimbo

Watched: December 17 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isuzu Yamada, Daisuke Katô, Seizaburô Kawazu, Takashi Shimura, Eijirô Tôno

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Japan, 1860. Ronin Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Mifune) wanders the country side, choosing his way at random. The fates apparently guide him well, because he eventually arrives in a town in desperate need of his help.

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A town run by two strangely assembled crime syndicates

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Upon arrival, the ronin is advised to leave by inn keeper Gonji (Tôno) who tells him about the rival clans who terrorize the town and claims there’s nothing for him there. But the ronin has other plans. He decides to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the town and approaches one of the leaders to offer up his services.

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“Dude, listen to this. I’m gonna – no, listen! I’m gonna pretend to back each side. Right? Back each of them. But then I’m really not. Get it? Damn, I’m brilliant!”

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First, he convinces Seibê (Kawazu) to hire him as a swordsman, but overhears his wife Orin (Yamada) plotting to kill him once he has helped them kill their enemies. Then, when his new boss arranges for the two sides to meet in battle, Sanjuro quits his job and climbs up to watch the rival sides destroy each other.

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It would have worked too, if it weren’t for those meddling government officials.

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Unfortunately, this first plan is foiled by the arrival of some sort of official person who comes to inspect the town. So the samurai needs to rethink his strategy for the next attempt, using all his craft and cunning to save the innocent inhabitants of the small village. But with the odds stacking against him, can he complete his mission? And survive the ordeal?

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Honestly, he too cool to be killed. Look at this badass!

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We were thrilled to be taken back into the samurai world of Akira Kurosawa. Our earlier encounters (Rashômon, Seven Samurai, and Throne of Blood) have been among our all time favourites, and Yojimbo definitely joins their ranks.

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We’re easy. Bring us a man with a sword and we swoon like teenagers.

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We love the costumes, the sword fighting, the characters, the actors, and the music. And we can easily see how this movie would inspire westerns (particularly A Fistful of Dollars, we seem to remember) – it’s the sort of story that works equally well in any setting in which there are lone gun-/swordmen and lawless societies.

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Don’t try to tell us this shot has not been recreated in a Sergio Leone movie!

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The main character is just so ridiculously cool that we cannot even find the words to describe him. He’s just cool. So very, very cool. And deadly. But in a good way. He’s just cool, man.

What we learned: We have a very strange crush on Toshirô Mifune…

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

#210 West Side Story

Watched: December 16 2018

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 33min

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New York City, some time in the 1950s. The Jets, possibly the least intimidating gang in movie history, are out jazz dancing and generally being a minor nuisance. When they bump into the equally graceful Sharks, it culminates in an epic dance-off.

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Even their dedication to their ballet lessons couldn’t keep them off the streets

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After the two gangs’ confrontation, former Jet Tony (Beymer) is asked to accompany Jet leader Riff (Tamblyn) to a dance, in order to challenge their rivals to a rumble (which apparently was 1950s slang for a dance battle, possibly involving weapons). Tony has turned his life around and left his gang for a job, but has sworn allegiance to Riff “from womb to tomb” and thus agrees to come.

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The kids didn’t let the fact that the basketball was nowhere to be found stop them from trying to score.

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At the tense dance, Tony meets newly arrived Puerto Rican Maria (Wood), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Chakiris), and the two instantly fall in love. But while this could have been a golden opportunity for the two gangs to put aside their differences and join forces, the romance is not accepted by either side and the lovers are forced to part.

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We can sort of understand the scepticism of their friends though. The couple has barely exchanged three words with each other before they start planning their wedding. Kids!

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Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a fantastically colourful and energetic musical version of the classic play. We absolutely love the dancing, the transitions, the music, the colours, the humour, and the costumes. And Anita (Moreno), Bernardo’s feisty girlfriend.

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Sassy, independent, gorgeous, feisty and talented. Naturally, her character is raped. Women like that must be punished.

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It’s a tragic love story, but it also points out different forms of racism in the USA. In fact, the gangs might be bad news, but the real villain of the piece is racist Lieutenant Schrank. And discrimination in itself.

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Racism and discrimination may well be the villains, but dance is the hero!

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We love all the music in West Side Story (in fact, some of these songs make the perfect soundtrack when you clean the house), but our favourite songs are probably the one the gang sings about Officer Krupke, and I Feel Pretty. The latter because it’s the first time we see any real personality in Maria, who is often a fairly bland character. She does show some industry in the end though, which redeems her somewhat.

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Gone is the innocent, naïve girl in the white dress, to be replaced by a woman in red

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All in all, this is a fantastic movie in which everyone will find something to enjoy.

What we learned: Anything can be solved with a dance-off. And if these people had stuck to that bit of wisdom this whole affair would have ended very differently. Also, play it cool.

Next time: Yojimbo (1961)

#209 Victim

Watched: November 28 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Anthony Nicholls, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Derren Nesbitt, John Barrie

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Jack Barrett (McEnery) is on the run from the cops and desperately tries to contact several friends for help, all of whom turn him down and sends him on his way. When the police finally catches up with him, we learn that he is a victim of blackmail and Detective Inspector Harris (Barrie) correctly deduces the reason: Barrett is gay.

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It’s a lose/lose situation. He’s going to jail both for who he is and what he’s been forced to do to conceal that fact.

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When Barrett kills himself in his jail cell, one of the people who turned him away feels guilty. Successful barrister Melville Farr (Bogarde), a once close friend of the dead man (some might say too close), decides to find out the truth behind Barrett’s indirect murder and bring his blackmailer to justice.

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The unknown extortionist was a subtle man, gently blending into his surroundings, and did not in any way come across as the creepiest creep that ever creeped.

 

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There is just one problem. Farr is a respected member of society with a successful career and a lovely wife, Laura (Syms), both of which he stands to lose if he pursues his hunt. This does not deter him, and his investigation makes him vulnerable to scrutiny from a society in which homosexuality is not only frowned upon but illegal.

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Laura, for one, is not impressed by her husband’s indiscretions. She was under the impression that this was just a phase he went through in college (no, seriously, she really thought so).

 

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Victim really took us by surprise, as we were not familiar with it before it was added to the list. A movie which explores homosexuality and demonizes the society which condemns them rather than the gay men themselves? From 1961? We were very pleasantly surprised indeed!

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Granted, the gay (bisexual?) hero is married to a woman, and has apparently never acted on his homosexual urges, but it’s a start…

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It’s in many ways a very quiet movie, with little score, but it still packs a punch. We liked the Detective Inspector who seemed very sympathetic to the blackmail victims’ plight, all the people giving speeches about the ill-treatment of homosexuals and the fact that everyone treated Barrett’s suicide as a murder. It’s sad, outrageous and extremely engaging, and it must have been very controversial upon its release six years before homosexuality was legalized in Britain. And it’s definitely still worth seeing.

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Also, Patterson, Farr’s assistant (?), is our new hero

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What we learned: It’s incredible to think that people can be considered criminals because of who they are as opposed to what they do… And it’s even more incredible to think that this hasn’t changed – only the groups targeted have (and not even that in a lot of places).

Next time: West Side Story (1961)

#208 The Innocents

Watched: November 7 2018

Director: Jack Clayton

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Michael Redgrave, Megs Jenkins, Peter Wyngarde

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 40min

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When Sister the Oldest was young, she watched a lot of movies which were somewhat age-inappropriate. Child’s Play (1988) abruptly ended her doll playing career around 1990. Early exposure to Predator (1987) and Blue Velvet (1986) brought on a fear of invisible monsters leaving cut-off ears lying around willy nilly (the two movies may have been a bit muddled up in her young brain), though she found Terminator 2 (1991) more sad than scary. And then there was The Innocents

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Deborah Kerr looking for Miles in a flowing nightgown with a candelabra will forever haunt her dreams

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Like many of the others, this was partially watched on a friend’s TV one night  – our own parents were quite strict about what was appropriate viewing for kids – and it messed Sister the Oldest up quite a bit. However, November of this year was the first time she’d seen it since, and it still holds up as a creepy Gothic tale of ghosts and/or madness.

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It helps that the 1961 winner of Britain’s Creepiest Kid Award stars in it

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Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (which we’ve actually read, being the cultured, sophisticated people that we are), the film tells the story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), who is sent to the British countryside as a governess to two young orphans, Miles (Stephens) and Flora (Franklin).

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As well as being a charming little doll, Flora possesses the strange ability to keep both the background and the foreground in focus. An unusual gift for so small a child.

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Giddens initially finds her two young wards utterly charming, and the estate beautiful. But as she starts to investigate what happened to the last governess and her dangerous lover, the children’s behaviour begins to worry her, and the rot underneath the beauty of the place starts to come up to the surface. Are the kids being haunted? Possessed? Are they playing games with her? Or is she slowly going insane in the isolated estate?

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It’s hard to decide what the truth is, but the crazy-eyes of Giddens might be a hint

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As stated, The Innocents has held up incredibly well. It’s a very faithful adaptation of James’ novella and the disturbing atmosphere of the original is very much present in the film version. The kids are perfectly cast, as is Deborah Kerr, and the estate is lovely and Gothic.

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Well done for finding not just one but two ghosty, floaty see-through children! They’re hard to come by.

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We loved the wholly impractical costumes (how were people supposed to do anything wearing something like that?) and the way everything in the shot was in focus at once (deep focus..? We’re not really down with the terminology of cinematography..), which made it feel unsettling and “wrong.” There’s very little score in the movie and it’s rather quiet most of the time, which works well to emphasise the atmosphere. Also, we loved the ambiguity of the ending…

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Ghosts or not, we’ve learned that cute children are inherently terrifying

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What we learned: One need not be a chamber to be haunted. Or mad. One need not be a chamber to be mad either.

Next time: Victim (1961)

#207 The Hustler

Watched: October 20 2018

Director: Robert Rossen

Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Eddie Felson (Newman) and Charlie Burns (McCormick) are hustling their way across the USA with the goal to challenge legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason). Find him they do, and the bigwig agrees to play Eddie, starting at $200 per game.

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“How does this work again? Do they both hit the balls at the same time, or..?” “Dunno. I thought they were supposed to take turns or something.” – Real conversation between sisters watching this

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While Eddie gets off to a flying start, he gets drunk, conceited and easily manipulated and end up losing his entire $18 000 winnings back to Minnesota (the guy, not the state. Maybe we should just go with “Fats”?).

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He doesn’t mind what we call him. He’s just happy to be here.

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Humiliated and broke, Eddie leaves Charlie and half of his remaining money and skulks off into the night. At a bus station he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), a charming alcoholic with a limp, and the two strike up a conversation and later a relationship.

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Ain’t no romance like a bus stop romance ’cause a bus stop romance don’t end (well)!

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The two seem happy together for a while, but then gambler Bert Gordon (Scott) offers to put up Eddie’s stakes in return for 75% of his winnings, and Eddie goes back out into the world of semi-professional pool playing – a world Sarah can see is no good for him. Or anyone else for that matter. But is Eddie ready to let his grudge against Minnesota Fats go? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to get a second chance at besting him?

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“I mean, what do you want with these people? That guy wears shades inside! And I swear that lady just took a flower pot, turned it upside down and called it a hat!”

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We love how there’s very little preamble and backstory to The Hustler. We’re thrown right into the action and never given a moment to stop and catch our breaths until the end.

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Who knew watching people play pool could be so exciting?

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Paul Newman is fantastic in it, and Piper Laurie, reminding us of a (wonderful) cross between Carey Mulligan and Stockard Channing (Grease-era Channing, specifically), equally so. Sure, it centers around pool (ugh – a sport!) but that is not what this movie is about. So if you, like us, tend to avoid these kinds of films, give this one a chance. You (probably) won’t regret it. It’s powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

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Ah, what could have been…

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What we learned: We know way too little about the rules of pool. Also, don’t pursue obsessions at the cost of human relationships.

Next time: The Innocents (1961)

#206 The Guns of Navarone

Watched: November 4 2018

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, Richard Harris

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 38min

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In 1943, British soldiers are stranded on the Greek island of Kheros, about to be blitzed by Germany but unable to leave due to the Axis controlled guns (as in big, massive cannons, not just a couple of revolvers, mind you) on the nearby island of Navarone. As no bombing missions have been successful, the British assemble a commando unit to infiltrate the island and take out the guns.

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“We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves, drink up, me hearties, yo-ho!”

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The unit is a team of “pirates and cutthroats;” Major Roy Franklin (Quayle) Captain Keith Mallory (Peck), Corporal John Miller (Niven), Colonel Andrea Stavros (Quinn), “Butcher” Brown (Baker), and Spyros Pappadimos (Darren). Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to climb an unclimbable cliff to sabotage the guns.

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“I’m scared of heights…” “I think I left the stove on.” “Whose fucking brilliant idea was this, anyway???” “Tell my mum I love her.”

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The team is gathered, plans laid and events put in motion. They’re a ruthless but charming bunch, and they set out on their hazardous journey where they encounter storms, Germans, trust issues, dangerous climbs in awful conditions, injuries, capture, torture and romance.

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Among their many perils: armed women with minds of their own!

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The Guns of Navarone is an action packed movie about manly men doing manly things. We loved the long sequences without dialogue and the (often lack of) score. Among our favourite scenes were the storm with the subsequent shipwreck and climb, and the incredibly tense ending when we were waiting for the booby trap to be triggered. We were quite literally on the edge of our seats.

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We imagine it was a sensation not unlike being held at gunpoint, but as we lead very sheltered lives this is really just guesswork

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The tension is oftentimes palpable and this is a very entertaining war epic, not unlike The Bridge on the River Kwai. So if you’re looking for a WWII double feature and you have several hours to spare, the two might make an excellent combo. Just be sure to wrap up warm and bring a snack.

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Alternatively, combine it with Mamma Mia for a Greek Wedding extravaganza!

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What we learned: Sometimes, you need a team of pirates and cutthroats. Also, we need to step up our rope-climbing game. Who knew that dreaded P.E. staple could have real world applications?

Next time: The Hustler (1961)

#205 Lola

Watched: November 1 2018

Director: Jacques Demy

Starring: Anouk Aimée, Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, Alan Scott, Annie Duperoux, Elina Labourdette

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Roland Cassard (Michel) loses his job and randomly decides to give a young girl his dictionary due to her resemblance to his old friend Cécile (Aimée) – even sharing her name. By chance, he then runs into said friend, who now goes by the name Lola. And is a showgirl…

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Would you believe she both merengues and does the cha-cha..?

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Lola, now a single mother, is very happy to see her old friend, and the two go out to dinner before her show one evening. Roland finds out that despite not having heard from him in seven years, Lola is still hung up on her baby daddy Michel (Harden). While waiting for him to return, the dancer passes the time with American sailor Frankie, who also develops a strange and unhealthy relationship with Lola’s young lookalike Cécile (Duperoux), seeming destined to repeat history.

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The young girl is easy prey too – the only person invited to her birthday party was a random dude she had met only once and who her mother wanted to bang. Way to make a girl feel special.

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Roland falls for Lola and decides to make his unrequited love her problem by telling her about his feelings and being childish and mean when she rebuffs him. Because naturally it is her fault that he fell for her and she should feel bad about it.

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Perhaps Roland should practise reading body language instead of guilt-tripping women when they don’t love him?

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Lola is an interesting movie – the perspective switches between characters and goes off in all kinds of directions, while still telling the story quite efficiently. Lola is a bit simple, but sweet, and we loved how she was never apologetic about her work or her status as a single parent.

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Of course, she had nothing to apologise for, being a fabulous woman and great mother, but we have a feeling not everyone would have thought so, especially in 1961

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While we’re still unclear how their days worked (does Yvon go to night school? How on earth do they get so much done before school? And did Roland come to work late five times in three days???), Roland acted like a stereotypical “nice guy” with Lola, and we’re very worried about Frankie grooming the young Cécile, we absolutely enjoyed this movie and we can’t wait for what else Jacques Demy has in store for us. Also, we need Lola’s corset. And top hat.

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If you’re only going to own one outfit, make it a classic!

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What we learned: Never go with service men.

Next time: The Guns of Navarone (1961)

#204 A Taste of Honey

Watched: October 30 2018

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Murray Melvin, Robert Stephens, Paul Danquah

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Jo (Tushingham) is an artistic sixteen-year old girl who’s neglected by her mother Helen (Bryan) and tired of the way her life is going. Following the girl’s short romance with black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), Jo is kicked out from her home when her mother marries a disaster of a man, Peter (Stephens).

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Strangely, it wasn’t the affair that dissuaded Peter from taking her on as his new daughter. It was her resting-weird-face which freaked him out.

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Jo moves out, gets a flat and a job in a shoe shop, as well as a new gay best friend in Geoff (Melvin). In short, she’s pretty much living the outcast girl’s dream. There’s one problem though – her romance with Jimmy left her pregnant.

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No inexperienced teenager would have stood a chance with this guy…

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Like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Taste of Honey was familiar to the extremely sophisticated Sister the Oldest from her literature studies, but only in writing. The film version of Shelagh Delaney’s play was no disappointment and we both enjoyed it a lot.

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On the question of favourite character we’re torn between both these two

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We can imagine that this one would have been at least a tiny bit controversial upon release with its depictions of sexuality (both young girls and homosexuals should keep that to themselves, thank-you-very-much!), interracial relationships and horrible parenting.

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Helen may look caring and worried, but only as long as Jo’s needs don’t interfere  with her own

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Despite the somewhat bleak subject matter, A Taste of Honey is not as depressing as it could easily have become. The dialogue is funny and witty, and the characters are interesting – especially the women and Geoff.

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Peter’s just your run-of-the-mill misogynist bastard though

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We loved Jo – she’s awkward, insolent, insecure, independent, stubborn, sharp and fabulous, partly thanks to Tushingham’s performance. This movie is a great little slice of kitchen sink drama with a fantastic cast and a strange but interesting peep show scene set in Blackpool. Not sure why we point that out that in particular, but it seemed worth mentioning. Definitely recommended.

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What we learned: Life doesn’t always go the way you plan it. And sometimes you make the same mistakes as your mother.

Next time: Lola (1961)