#174 A Bucket of Blood

Watched: April 6 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 06min

Bucket

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In a beatnik café, pretentious poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton) is performing his latest work, to the fascination of busboy Walter Paisley (Miller). Inspired by the artists he surrounds himself with, and also driven by their ridicule of him, Walter decides to try his hand at sculpting.

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“So, how did we do this in Arts and Crafts again..? I just knead it for a while and then it turns out amazing? Can’t be more to it than that!”

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Realising that sculpting is harder than it looks, he takes a break to save his landlady’s cat who’s stuck inside the wall. However, stabbing through it, he accidentally stabs the poor cat. Naturally, he proceeds to cover the dead animal in sculpting clay and the next day he turns up to work with his new sculpture.

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“Dead Cat” is an instant success, admired by art lovers and drug enthusiasts alike

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Walter’s newfound success leads to admiration from his crush Carla (Morris) and other patrons of the café, and a lady gives him some heroin as a gift, as one does. This in turn leads to an attempted arrest as an undercover cop follows Walter home and tries to book him for drug possession. Afraid, Walter hits him over the head with a frying pan, killing the cop instantly.

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What do you do when you accidentally kill a cop? Why, cover the body in clay and pass it off as a life sized sculpture, of course!

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Walter gradually goes from underestimated and accident-prone simpleton to calculating killer who lets every small slight become justification for murder. He is, however, not smart enough to avoid killing people he knows and is known to dislike.

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“It is so sweet that you made a sculpture of a strangled woman who looks exactly like the one who spent last night insulting you very publicly. I simply must kiss you!”

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Leonard (Carbone), the owner of the café, is the only one to see through his newly discovered talent, but he is making money off of Walter’s work and has a vested interest in keeping up the illusion. But how long can this go on? And who is next on Walter’s kill radar?

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“This severed head has been bothering me all week, so I clayed it!”

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A Bucket of Blood is the farcical version of House of Wax. The concepts are similar, but this one is more comedic and strangely also more sinister in many ways. Walter is the epitome of the stereotypical “good guy” – he sees himself as sweet, kind, underestimated and misunderstood, but if he’s rejected by someone, or made fun of, he becomes violent and murderous while simultaneously justifying his actions in his head.

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“I’m a famous and celebrated sculptor now, so you must date me. Unless you’re just a bitch and a whore!”

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We loved his first attempt at sculpting Carla’s face, the extremely pretentious Maxwell and the morbidity of the whole film. We also understand perfectly why Roger Corman made so many films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe – it’s a match made in heaven! Or probably hell, to be quite frank.

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“If it’s hell, can I still be king..?” “Of course you can, Mr Futterman.”

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What we learned: It’s not easy being surrounded by (pretentious) artists if you’re not one yourself. And also a simpleton…

Next time: Ben-Hur (1959)

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#160 Ashes and Diamonds/Popiół i diament

Watched: February 12 2018

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela (apologies for any spelling mistakes that may have occured)

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Three guys with machine guns are lying in wait by a chapel. They kill two guys that come driving by, one of whom dies falling through a chapel door (and catching slightly on fire somehow). However, it turns out that the assassins have hit the wrong targets…

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“There is more than one car on this road? How inconsiderate. They can blame themselves for getting killed.”

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It’s the end of World War II in Poland, and the assassins, Maciek Chelmicki (Cybulski) and Andrzej (Pawlikowski) are after communist leader Szczuka (Zastrzezynski) who has recently returned to his home country. They decide to try again at local hotel Monopol, where Maciek takes a room and starts flirting with barmaid Krystyna (Krzyzewska).

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As Maciek picks the best, most romantic, and most atmospheric spots for dates, he is naturally successful in his pursuit of Krystyna.

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His newfound love, coupled with exposure to the grieving loved ones of his unintentional victims and the bodies of the dead men themselves, combine to change Maciek’s view of the world. He goes to his friend and superior officer Andrzej and tells him he doesn’t want to carry out this assassination. He wants to settle down with Krystyna and live in peace.

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Just him, his girl, and loads of shots. What a life!

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However, Andrzej is not sympathetic and tells Maciek backing out now will make him a traitor and that he’ll just have to tough it out. How will this all end?

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Rambo-style!

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Ashes and Diamonds is the third installment in Wajda’s war trilogy, and the second one on the list after Kanal. We loved the part in the crypt and Maciek’s decidedly ’80s vibe (we think it’s the sunglasses he sports and how the shadows often give the illusion of a mullet).

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The ultimate hipster – rocking a mullet before it was cool

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Like its predecessor, this film is quite weird and somewhat unsettling at times, with damaged women acting as saviours for damaged men, and lots of religious symbolism. Also, we found the dancing in the end reminiscent of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. We really enjoyed it, and at an opportune moment, we will go back and watch the first film in the trilogy, A Generation (1955) even though it didn’t make the list.

Zbigniew Cybulski,  Adam Pawlikowski
Seriously though – doesn’t this look like it could be a still from some 1980s cop movie..? The young, charming maverick paired up with the old, cranky, by-the-book veteran?

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What we learned: Shit always floats to the top. Also, we do not know enough about Poland 1945.

Next time: Dracula (1958)

#152 Sweet Smell of Success

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Press agent Sidney Falco (Curtis) is miffed that columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) is ignoring his clients, essentially withholding PR and success. Hunsecker’s reasoning is clear though: he asked Falco to break up his sister Susan (Harrison) and her jazz guitarist boyfriend Steve Dallas (Milner), and Falco failed to deliver.

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“I tried. I really did. But have you tried to make a girl fall out of love with a talented guitarist? It can’t be done, I tell you!”

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To get back on the good side of the powerful man, Falco agrees to try again, this time with feeling. He plants a story about the young musician being a dope-smoking communist and waits for the man to sabotage himself in his subsequent dealing with Hunsecker.

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“I just can’t believe it, Steve. You’ve been smoking dope this whole time and never once shared with me?”

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Sweet Smell of Success is horrible to watch, but in a brilliant way, with characters who are nightmare versions of real human beings. Tony Curtis’ Falco is entitled, sneaky, sleezy, and creepily ambitious – but ambitious in the sense that he feels the world owes him success rather than the sense that he will achieve it through hard work.

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“Listen sweetheart, I know I’m asking you to prostitute yourself to my friend, but it’s really for your own good. Trust me. You’ll love it!”

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Burt Lancaster’s Hunsecker is proud, manipulative, and controlling, with a very unhealthy relationship with his baby sister. Susan in turn is young and sweet, but with absolutely no backbone – she let’s her brother control everything and just withdraws when he tries to completely destroy her life. (OK, she tries a bit more than that, but it’s not really proactive as much as insanely passive-aggressive.)

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“Keep ruining my boyfriend’s life like that and I’ll… I’ll… I’ll lock myself in my room! Hah! Deal with that!”

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Seriously, both these guys make Ace in the Hole‘s Chuck Tatum look like a damn saint, particularly in their treatment of the women in their lives (although they don’t go easy on the men either). Despite the extremely unlikable characters, the film is amazing and at least as relevant today as it was in 1957, if not more. What a way to celebrate Christmas, peace on Earth and good will toward men.

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But get the fuck out of there, girl!

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What we learned: Women should expect to be attacked if they are dumb enough to find themselves alone in the company of a man. Also, people are scum.

Next time: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

#151 Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Bryan Forbes, Sid James, William Franklyn

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Small meteors keep falling near small British village Winnerden Flats, much to the interest of Professor Quatermass (Donlevy). Frustrated with the dried up funding for his lunar base project, the professor decides to look into the strange meteors, only to find a fully constructed lunar base right on the outskirts of the village.

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“Yes – exactly like my model! But bigger. Like, DD big.”

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The entire area is under military control, and when Quatermass’ colleague Marsh (Forbes) is injured by whatever emerges from the gas in the hollow non-meteors, the two are separated; Quatermass is escorted away and Marsh is sent to the base for medical attention.

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“‘Tis but a scratch!”

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With the help of an MP, our hero manages to score an invite to inspect the base, which is supposed to produce synthetic food. But what he finds there is far more sinister than GMOs…

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“My God! And they told me my diet was bad!”

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Like The Quatermass Xperiment before it, Quatermass 2 is the Hammer film version of a BBC series, and it’s a great little sci-fi adventure.

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Banners and gas masks. What a charming party!

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There’s Cold War paranoia, conspiracies, propaganda, brain washing, alien colonization, pretty blondes, and mystery – everything you could possibly wish for in a science fiction horror. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The World’s End (2013), people appear normal and as they’ve always been, but something profound has changed which is hard to pin down. Add to that military operations and creepy gas masks, and you’ve got yourself an uncanny little gem, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Did we mention the inflated trash bags?

A fun way to kick off the next 50 films!

What we learned: Everything will be answered later.

Next time: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

#150 Paths of Glory

Watched: December 14 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 28min

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During World War I, Colonel Dax’ (Douglas) regiment is given a suicide mission to stroke the ego of General Mireau (Macready); they are tasked with taking over the German position “the Ant Hill.”

Paths of Glory - The assault on Ant Hill
“Sure, we may lose a few men, or about half the regiment, but it’ll be one hell of a feather in the cap of the General if we manage to advance the ten metres! And feathers are cool.”

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After the doomed attack naturally fails, and B company doesn’t even manage to leave the trenches due to heavy casualties, the General’s pride is a casualty in itself and he decides someone must pay. More specifically, 100 soldiers must give their lives.

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“You know what this army’s problem is? Too many goddamn soldiers! With this many men the outcome of the war won’t be exciting at all, so let’s even the odds by killing our own men.”

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A few negotiations later, the number of soldiers to be executed for cowardice has been cut down to three. Dax requests to represent them during the court marshal, but he soon learns that the whole trial is a ridiculous sham. The defendants, Paris (Meeker), Arnaud (Turkel), and Ferol (Carey), have no chance of a fair hearing, and the commanding officers have zero sympathy or understanding for the men in the trenches.

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“And then they claimed shell shock! Shell shock!! The cowards. I tell you, back in my day we were delighted to die for our megalomaniac General. Young men nowadays…”

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We cannot believe we haven’t seen Paths of Glory before! We have, of course, been aware of it, but never watched it despite our undying love for Kubrick’s other anti-war masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964). We now have a new favourite.

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Not only because Kirk Douglas is super-heroic through most of it. But it doesn’t hurt.

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The absurdity of warfare in Paths of Glory is similar to what we see in Dr. Strangelove, but even more frustrating and sad; there’s humour here too, but not as much as in the later film. Also, this film is based on a true event, which adds frustration and sadness rather than humour and levity…

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Speaking of real events, there are more than a few parallels to the witch trials during the Inquisition

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Corruption, pride, fear, ambition, power, and absolutely no justice – Paths of Glory is our new favourite World War I film, for sure. We loved the big scale battle scenes and the small scale human drama; the performances and the social commentary. Love, love, love.

What we learned: The military is a silly and dangerous place.

Next time: Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space (1957)

#149 Kanal

Watched: December 6 2017

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Teresa Izewska, Tadeusz Janczar, Wienczyslaw Glinski, Tadeusz Gwiazdowski, Stanislaw Mikulski, Emil Karewicz, Teresa Berezowska, Vladek Sheybal

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 31min

Kanal

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September 1944. The last days of the Warsaw Uprising. A small company of men (and women) are barricaded in an isolated part of town but it’s not long before they are attacked by Germans.

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Even in a war zone (or perhaps especially in one?) there’s time for flirting and light hanky panky.

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Surrounded, and with injured men, Lieutenant Zadra (Glinski) has no choice but to lead his company through the sewers to freedom, a tactic he’s not too keen on.

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And really, who can blame them for being less than thrilled? Pennywise might be down there!

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Stokrotka, or Daisy, (Izewska) who is familiar with the sewer system, offers to take care of the injured Korab (Janczar) who she is secretly in love with. She claims that the others will find their way easily as the exits are marked, but she overestimates the night vision of the soldiers.

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It may have gone very differently if they had at least opened their eyes

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As the company lose each other in the underground labyrinth, they each must brave the dangers that lurk: polluted air and water, gas, madness, and German grenades.

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Lesson: slippery sewer rocks and hand grenades are not a good combo

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Kanal is dark, suspenseful, and claustrophobic, and we loved it. We’re not sure whether the Warsaw sewer system is purgatory or one (or several) of Dante’s circles of Hell, but we know there’s no way we’re ever exploring it. Even if bad-ass Stokrotka is our guide.

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You can smell the stench through the screen

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Depressing though it is, this is also one of the best World War II films we’ve ever seen. We’re (very hesitantly) looking forward to Ashes and Diamonds (1958), hoping it may be a little bit more optimistic. But not really believing that.

 

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Just gonna add this here for extra effect

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What we learned: War is hell. But sewers are purgatory.

Next time: Paths of Glory (1957)

#147 Curse/Night of the Demon

Watched: November 29 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 35min

Night

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After Professor Harrington dies under mysterious circumstances, his niece Joanna Harrington (Cummins) teams up with the late professor’s colleague John Holden (Andrews) to find the truth. Joanna thinks her uncle’s death is related to a “satanic cult” he was investigating, and specifically the leader Dr Karswell (MacGinnis).

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“He’s not a satanic cult leader! He’s just a happy-go-lucky clown!”

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While Holden has made it his life’s mission to discredit occultism, Ms Harrington is a bit more open to the concept of her uncle’s death being supernatural in origin. But when Holden finds a mysterious paper in his belongings (after a chance encounter with Karswell in the British Library – the no. 1 hang-out place for academics and satanists) and his symptoms start resembling those of the dead man, he gradually starts to come around to Joanna’s way of thinking.

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If you’re chased through the woods by a strange smoke cloud, satanic forces is usually the first and only theory.

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Night of the Demon (or Curse, if you’re American) is less subtle than Tourneur’s earlier work (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), where you’re never sure if something supernatural is happening or not. In this, the demon is shown on screen several times, although arguments could be made that they are only seen by the doomed men who believe a demon is out to get them.

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They both see the same, slightly cross-eyed demon though…

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Apparently, this was at the insistence of the producer rather than the vision of Tourneur, and it might have been a better movie without it. Despite the somewhat outdated special effects though, this is still a very enjoyable movie.

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Karswell is nice and sinister throughout, when he’s not in clown make-up that is

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We loved Karswell acting all serious in full-on clown mode; the seance with the singing; the scene on the train; and the general plot. It’s a fun, slightly camp, horror film which is slightly dated but still a good watch – especially if you’re a horror fanatic.

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Or if you’re really into huge, cross-eyed demons floating through dark woods. It’s a fetish, we’re sure.

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What we learned: Don’t mess with the occult. Or with dudes who like to dress up as clowns and live with their mothers.

Next time: Funny Face (1957)

#146 A Face in the Crowd

Watched: November 27 2017

Director: Elia Kazan

Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Marcia Jeffries (Neal) is a small town radio reporter who makes a show called “A Face in the Crowd.” As she has the brilliant idea of recording an episode in the local jail, she discovers charismatic drifter Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, and his music and personality make him an overnight sensation.

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You know it’s going to be a good day when the only unhappy person in jail is the sheriff

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Marcia and her uncle, who owns the radio station, give Lonesome more airtime and soon his popularity spreads across the nation and, via Memphis, he ends up as a TV personality and big time influencer in New York.

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“Look! A tiny, magical me inside a box!”

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On TV, Lonesome Rhodes is a down-to-earth country boy with a heart of gold and grass root wisdom to spew. However, in real life Larry is a selfish scoundrel of a con man who grows increasingly madder with his newfound power and political influence. Marcia, who has fallen in love with her discovery despite being a very smart woman, gradually realises that she has created a monster…

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The face of a completely sane and not at all crazy man, thankyouverymuch!

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In many ways, A Face in the Crowd is more relevant now than it was in 1957. The popular media’s influence on politics, the TV personality’s power over people’s thoughts and opinions, and the yes-men surrounding the star enabling his delusions are all more prominent now than ever.

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Just look at who became president of the USA in the latest election…

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While funny at times, and dramatic at others, it still plays more like a horror movie in many ways than a drama, particularly since it really nails a lot of nasty truths about society and politics.

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We like these guys, though. Especially Walter “I Hate Extroverts” Matthau.

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Weirdly prescient and very unsettling, A Face in the Crowd should be watched by all.

What we learned: Fame is a fickle friend.

Next time: Curse/Night of the Demon (1957)

#142 The Killing

Watched: November 9 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr, Vince Edwards, Joe Sawyer, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Five men, led by mastermind Johnny Clay (Hayden), are planning a heist on a race track with a potential earning of around $2 000 000. Apart from Johnny himself, there’s money man Marvin Unger (Flippen), corrupt cop Randy Kennan (de Corsia), and inside men George Peatty (Cook) and Mike O’Reilly (Sawyer).

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“So, if anyone has a manipulative, two-timing wife who’s sure to sell us all out, now’s the time to come forward. No..? No one..? George..? All right then, we go on as planned!”

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George, a small and nervous man, is easily manipulated by wife and residential Dame Sherry (Windsor), who guilts him into sharing parts of their plan with her. Interested in the money, and less so in her husband, she confides in her lover Val (Edwards – their relationship is the exact opposite of Sherry’s marriage in terms of power and manipulation) who teams up with some buddies to steal the money once the five men do the dirty work.

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“You’ll still love me if you’re rich, right Val?” “Sure thing! I’m definitely not sleeping with you because you’re married and therefore there are no obligations on me, and I won’t leave you for someone younger once I have loads of cash!”

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The plan is well thought out, but will the five men get away with it? Will Johnny manage to pull off one last job and retire from crime to marry his girl Fay (Gray)? Or will the deceitful Dame and her lover ruin it all?

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Also, is Nikki’s puppy real or stuffed..? We’re genuinely asking here.

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From the intense opening score to the climax at the airport, The Killing is full of suspense and intrigue. We loved the voice over which, unlike most Noir films, is not voiced by a character in the film but a narrator; we loved Mike and his sickly wife (we were rooting for them throughout); we loved the different takes on the same scene; and we absolutely loved the mask Johnny wears for the robbery.

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The stuff of which nightmares are made

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The first Kubrick film on the list was a new one for us, and it lived up to the expectations, although it is fairly different from his later works (he was quite young at this point). The female characters are not much to write home about, but otherwise this was a very entertaining thriller with some very cool details which we enjoyed.

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Also, great inspiration for a simple yet creepy Halloween costume!

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What we learned: Never share anything with Dames.

Next time: The Searchers (1956)

#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)