#104 A Place in the Sun

Watched: May 13 2017

Director: George Stevens

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Year: 1951

Runtime: 2h 02min

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George Eastman (Clift) is hitchhiking to see his rich uncle who has promised him a job in his bathing suit factory. He is given an entry level job and is expressly forbidden to mix with the girls working there. So the first thing he does is flirt with colleague Alice Tripp (Winters) and they soon start a secret relationship.

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So inconspicuous

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Not long after, George’s ambition and family ties get him promoted. He moves through the ranks both professionally and socially with an invitation to one of his rich and powerful family’s parties. There, he meets wealthy socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor) and he falls in love with her, but not before impregnating his working class girlfriend. Apparently his religious mother never taught him about protection…

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Who can resist a girl with cake, though?

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With his new girl happily unaware of his relationship status (it’s complicated), and his old girl demanding marriage, George is torn between his guilt and desire to do the right thing, and his ambition and attraction to Angela.

1951: Film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) star in the Paramount melodrama 'A Place In The Sun'.
When faced with the choice between a girl who packs bathing suits and one who wears them…

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A Place in the Sun has illegitimate pregnancies, ambition, love triangles, lots of foreshadowing, loose morals (and we’re not talking about Alice here), and a suspenseful scene in a boat which reminded us a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Even our dog was transfixed by this one, although that could have been due to the soundtrack dogs barking throughout some of the more tense scenes.

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It’s also possible the dog was outraged by Elizabeth Taylor wearing his friend as a cape

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What we learned: Don’t get a girl pregnant when you are secretly in love with another girl. That’ll get you into all sorts of trouble.

Next time: Ace in the Hole (1951)

#103 The Asphalt Jungle

Watched: May 06 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Dix Handley (Hayden) has three things in life: a gambling problem, a potential girlfriend named Doll (Hagen), and a dream to buy back his family’s old farm. However, he tends to gamble away all his money whenever he has some, so the family farm seems far from his reach, and he’s not necessarily as into Doll as she is into him.

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Doll and Dix. There’s a (possibly disastrous) movie title in there somewhere…

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When Doc Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison with a plan for a big caper, he goes to see an acquaintance of Dix’s for funding. Dix and Doc (another potential title, by the way) cross paths and Doc is adamant that Dix is the right man to be the muscle in the heist. This job will give him the money for a farm, so Dix agrees and joins Doc’s team along with a safecracker and a getaway driver, as well as financial backers Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and Cobby (Lawrence).

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You just know they’re doing criminal stuff when there’s a pack of cigarettes on the bed, a bottle of booze on the table, and two of them have removed their jackets.

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While the robbery itself goes off with only one small hitch, the double crossings start pretty much right away. With the police chasing them and everyone backstabbing each other, who will come out of this alive?

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And who will get to wear the pretty, pretty necklaces?

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A criminal who wants a quiet, peaceful life; a high-stakes heist with a cast of hand picked experts; a doomed romance; a corrupt businessman with a gorgeous blonde mistress; a dirty cop and double crossings galore – this movie has it all. Clichés they may be, but when they’re done this well it doesn’t really matter. Films like this are the reason people keep coming back to the same clichés – sometimes they really work.

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Like blondes. Blondes always work to confuse young investigators. We’re not sure of which gender that’s most condemning…

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What we learned: There’s no honour among thieves. Also, ’50s slang for explosives is “soup”. It’s fun stuff like this which keeps us coming back. (Well, that, and the obligatory dance/music scenes in Film Noir.)

Next time: A Place in the Sun (1951)

#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#101 Rashômon

Watched: February 2 2017 (Cinema screening)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, Kichijirô Ueda

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 28min

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We’ve reached the oeuvre of Akira Kurosawa, and we kick it off with the classic Rashômon, which has been on our to-watch list for years, but somehow we never got around to seeing it. However, when the local cinema put it on earlier this year, we took the opportunity to watch it on the big screen and we did not regret it.

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A cinema screen is the only way to get the full impact of this face

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Three men, a woodcutter (Shimura), a priest (Chiaki), and a “commoner” (Ueda) seek shelter from the rain under an old, decrepit gateway of sorts. They are all involved to an extent in the death of a samurai (Mori) who was killed in the woods a few days prior to the rainstorm. The audience is then given various accounts of what happened.

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The style and level of expertise of the fighters vary with the different accounts

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Different witnesses/”persons of interest” tell their version of events but they all have something to hide or a reputation to uphold, so their testimonies are less than credible. Still, we get versions from a bandit who takes credit for the crime (Mifune), the samurai’s wife (Kyō) whose character probably changes the most in the different accounts, the woodcutter, and the samurai himself through a medium. What really happened? ‘Tis a conundrum.

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Innocent, exploited victim or unscrupulous femme fatale? Or perhaps just a woman doing what she needs to do to stay alive? You decide!

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It’s an amazing and compelling film and we’re very happy to have had the opportunity to watch it in the cinema (however, as we were in a dark room with other people we couldn’t take notes as we usually do, being the nerds that we are). We’re looking forward to more Kurosawa – both the ones we’ve watched before and those which are new to us.

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We think a lot of modern Japanese horror films owe a lot to the creepy, creepy medium. She was seriously unsettling…

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Excellent film whether on a small or big screen! And it’s interesting to take a cinematic trip outside Europe/America – keep’em coming!

What we learned: You cannot trust eye witness accounts. Also, Japanese mediums are the creepiest mediums.

Next time: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

#100 Los Olvidados

Watched: April 28 2017

Director: Luis Buñuel

Starring: Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Alma Delia Fuentes, Estela Inda, Mário Ramírez

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Pop the champagne! We’ve reached number 100! And what an uplifting and optimistic film with which to celebrate. Perfect for a night of champagne and revelry, Buñuel’s Los Olvidados follows the depressing lives of a group of children (of various levels of dental hygiene) in the streets of Mexico through minor and major crimes.

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Look! They’re celebrating with us! Happy, happy happy times. Nothing bad will ever happen. La di da di da.

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El Jaibo (Cobo), recently escaped from prison, comes back to his old neighbourhood to take up his rightful place as leader of the local children, who he rallies into helping his criminal path by attempting to rob a blind street musician. Brave. Meanwhile, Ojitos (Ramírez) has been left in the streets by his father who seemingly has no plans of returning to pick up his son. The abandoned child is taken care of by Pedro (Mejía) – a good boy who’s abused at home but wants a different life for himself.

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The entire film is a laugh riot and not at all depressing as f**k…

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Another one of the kids who wants something more from life is Julian, but when Jaibo finds out he has a job and is no longer interested in petty crime he goes into a rage and kills him. Pedro, who witnesses the murder, tries to turn his life around by getting a job, but Jaibo not only screws that up for him, he also literally screws Pedro’s bitch of a mum.

Olvidados, Los (1950)aka The Young and the Damned Directed by Luis BuÒuel
“How dare he aspire to the glamourous life of a blacksmith! I must ruin this for him.”

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As a general rule, if one of the kids finds something worthwhile in their lives, Jaibo is there to tear it down. As many other criminals who recruit children, he has no prospects or ambition of his own and therefore wants to drag everyone down to his level to feel like less of a loser.

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Doesn’t get cooler than robbing a cripple

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Los Olvidados is a sad and depressing insight into lives of poverty with a very Un Chien Andalou-dream sequence (which we loved) and frustratingly little hope in the end. If we thought Ladri di biciclette was depressing, it has nothing on this. At least in De Sica’s film there was a loving family and some semblance of hope in the depression – Buñuel’s depiction is pretty much devoid of hope.

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We can’t even get into all the shit this little girl goes through

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Happy one hundred, people. We need to go look at pictures of puppies.

What we learned: This film shows the real life. It is not optimistic. Also, deprived of affection, children will look for love and approval anywhere.

Next time: Rashômon (1950)

#99 In a Lonely Place

Watched: April 24 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart (no, not that one)

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 34min

In a Lovely Place

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Dix Steele (Bogart) is a successful screen writer whose career is in a bit of a slump. He is about to adapt a novel into a screenplay, and as he cannot be bothered reading the source material, he invites the adorable Mildred (Stewart) home to tell him the story. She cancels her date and goes home with him, and at the end of the night he gives her money for a taxi and sends her on her way.

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Dix is too busy creeping on his neighbour to pay attention to the girl in his apartment

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When Mildred turns up dead the next day, Dix becomes the prime suspect; he was the last one to see her alive, he has a violent temper and also a somewhat unsettling fascination with murder. In addition, he doesn’t really seem too bothered by the whole affair, which is always a red flag for law enforcement (we have learned through movies). However, his neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame) provides an alibi as she witnessed Mildred leaving the writer’s apartment, and the police let him go.

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Seems the whole creeping-on-the-neighbour-thing went both ways

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The two start a relationship (which is kind of a bad idea since she’s basically the only thing standing between him and a lengthy prison sentence) and quickly start spending all of their time together with Laurel working as Dix’s secretary/assistant. While their relationship seems to be mostly good, Laurel is gradually exposed to her boyfriend’s explosive temper and, as in Suspicion, starts doubting his innocence and her own safety.

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Not the face of a happy woman

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We won’t reveal too much of what transpires, but In a Lonely Place is a captivating Noir thriller and we never tire of watching Humphrey Bogart being super cool and somewhat menacing, though here also strangely vulnerable. Gloria Grahame is also excellent and holds her own with her iconic co-star.

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In between the tension and doubt there are also sweet and romantic moments

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It’s an excellent film with a compelling (though ultimately fairly unimportant) murder mystery and a very intriguing relationship. The characters are flawed and deeply human, and while their choices may not always be good, they are understandable.

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They could have been so good together…

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What we learned: First chance we get, we’re legally changing our names to Dix Steele.

Next time: #100! Los Olvidados (1950)

#98 Gun Crazy

Watched: April 21 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 26min

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Barton Tare (Dall) has been obsessed with guns (although incapable of killing anything) ever since childhood, when he was arrested for trying to steal one and sent to reform school. As an adult, shooting is his only real skill, and after seeing the alluring Annie Laurie Starr (Cummings) show off her marksmanship in a travelling circus, he joins them as a sharp shooter and goes on the road.

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We can’t really blame him for going. Anyone capable of pulling off this look is surely worth risking it all for.

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After a short stint with the circus, the two are fired for falling in love while Laurie “belongs to” the circus owner. (Yup, we know…) The lovers go on the road, get married and spend their savings quicker than they probably planned. Laurie has an idea of how they can earn a living and, very much inspired by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they go on a crime spree, robbing banks, shops and factories.

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Some are more trigger happy than others. See “Deadly is the Female” – original (spoiler) title

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While Bart has a strict no-killing policy, Laurie isn’t as scrupulous. After a factory hold-up gone slightly awry, Bart discovers that Laurie killed two people in the robbery and he is less than pleased.

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“Bitch had it coming though, criticizing my slacks!” – Laurie, probably

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Despite their difference of opinion regarding the value of human life, Bart is unable to leave the woman he loves, and as the FBI gets involved in the manhunt for the robbers-turned-killers, they take increasingly desperate measures to escape the law.

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They even resort to wearing *gasp* GLASSES!

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Gun Crazy was amazing (despite the fact that it pretty much put all the blame for Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes on Bonnie). Laurie may be the Fatalest Femme we’ve encountered so far – not because she is necessarily the most devious one, but because Bart is probably the most “innocent” Noir (anti-)hero in many ways. Sure, he has an unhealthy obsession with guns and firepower, but at the same time he is almost boyishly naïve and truly seems to believe they’ll be able to conduct a series of robberies without hurting anyone. Or he’s just telling himself that, which is the more likely scenario.

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She wears the pants AND drives the car. And he won’t even shoot police officers for her…

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A new favourite for sure, we thoroughly recommend this one, and we’re looking forward to Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

What we learned: Women are soulless creatures who will corrupt good boys. Also, boys who’ve never been exposed to girls are easily corrupted…

Next time: In a Lonely Place (1950)

#97 D.O.A.

Watched: April 17 2017

Director: Rudolph Maté

Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 23min

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Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) has a problem. He has been murdered. However, he is still alive, waiting for the poison in his system to do its job. As any sane man would, he takes it upon himself to investigate his own murder, which leads him into a world of conspiracies, ruthless men and, of course, Dames.

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Dames, shady businessmen and psycho henchmen are a must in Noir films. As are decorative lampshades, as pictured in the background.

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As he starts to uncover the events leading up to the murder, he becomes gradually more desperate as his expiration date is fast approaching. For an accountant he’s a pretty good investigator and he soon starts to find connections between his own untimely death and the apparent suicide of another man.

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As in all great films, sciency looking men with beakers of strange fluid also make an appearance.

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D.O.A. is another suspenseful Noir thriller told in flashbacks, complete with leggy blondes (our hero’s favourites), psychopathic henchmen and shootouts. And a nice girl, Paula (Britton), waiting at home not being told a thing about her boyfriend’s impending doom. Men…

Our favourite scene was a musical one – Bigelow goes to “The Fisherman”, a jive bar with amazing live music and “jive heads” being enlightened by the musical frenzy.

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We too felt the frenzy. Amazing guys!

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It’s interesting to watch a man when he has (almost) nothing left to lose. Bigelow, an accountant in “real life” seems to become more alive in his last 48 hour of life than he has been up until this point, and he also gets his priorities straight regarding his girl.

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No. The other one.

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Very tense, very thrilling, and very atmospheric, D.O.A. is definitely worth the watch. Excellent concept and an abundance of dames only add to the experience, and we recommend it to anyone interested in Film Noir. And/or decorative lampshades.

What we learned: Not everyone has the privilege of reporting or investigating their own murder. Also, ’50s dresses are the best dresses.

Next time: Gun Crazy (1950)

#96 All About Eve

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring: Bette Davies, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe

Year: 1950

Runtime: 2h 18min

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While the title states this is All About Eve, this classic is in reality all about Margo Channing (Davies), an aging theatre actress, and her circle of friends. The show starts with the eponymous Eve (Baxter) winning a prestigious theatre award with Margo in attendance, looking very much less than impressed. We then flash back to their first meeting and get to see what has unfolded up until this point and what brought them there.

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“I’d like to thank all the people I’ve screwed over and used on my way here”

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After her show one night, Margo’s friend Karen (Holm) invites a devoted fan backstage to meet her hero. The fan introduces herself as Eve and tells her tragic life story, charming both women in the process. Margo, sympathising with her visitor, offers her a home and a job as a personal assistant of sorts.

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Leave it to Bette Davies to make even post-show clean-ups look glamorous

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As Eve and Margo grow closer, Margo starts to see through Eve’s quiet, unassuming demeanor and realises that she is in fact an ambitious young actress who works on manipulating everyone around her to make it to the top. Coupled with Margo’s own insecurities about aging, this leads to some irrational (but fabulous!) behaviour on her part, as she struggles to convince those around her of Eve’s true nature.

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Luckily for Margo, she has the most sarcastic eyes in human history and she makes them work for her!

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With the exception of critic Addison DeWitt (Sanders), the men are generally bad at seeing through Eve, while the women catch on to her a lot quicker. In a way though, Eve is just manipulating a system made by men in which she has very little actual power. The ageism, especially towards women, in the entertainment industry comes across very clearly in this film and even the strong Margo eventually more or less gives up her career and marries her longtime boyfriend despite teasing her best friend about her life as a housewife.

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No woman is truly happy until she has bagged herself a man [citation needed]

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Despite being almost 70 years old, All About Eve never feels old or outdated. It’s a drama with elements of thriller and a lot of comedy, and the two hour run time flies by. As good, and as beautiful, as Baxter is, Bette Davies is easily the star of the film, and we absolutely loved her. A classic for a reason, this is one of those films which everyone should watch at least once. If this isn’t enough to peak your interest (if you haven’t already heard of the film, you philistine!), there’s also an early appearance from Marilyn Monroe. Should seal the deal, we think.

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We end with our new game: Spot The Monroe!

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What we learned: Meeting stalkery fans probably isn’t the best idea… Also, fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Next time: D.O.A. (1950)

#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)