#124 Them!

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Gordon Douglas

Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 34min

Them

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Police pick up a shell-shocked little girl in the New Mexico desert. They also spot an abandoned car and trailer, and when they check them out they find a war zone sprinkled with sugar. What on earth could have happened?

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Nothing good, that’s what!

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As more similar crime scenes appear, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigates with the help of his trooper, who quickly becomes another victim of the unseen threat. FBI Agent Robert Graham (Arness) replaces the dead trooper, and with their only clues being strange tracks, sugar, and huge amounts of formic acid in the victims’ bodies, the investigators call in some experts. Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) arrives, accompanied by his daughter, Dr Patricia Medford (Weldon). The two of them have some crazy theories.

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Surprise! The crazy theories were spot on and there really are enormous killer ants running around in the desert!

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The culprits are giant ants, mutations made by radiation from nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico (see “Godzilla: Bombs are Bad“). The team manage to destroy the nest, but realise that three queens have managed to escape. Now they must track them down and destroy them before they destroy all of humanity.

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Pretty much the most fun you can have with nuclear mutation mistakes

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As mentioned, we watched this as a double feature with Godzilla, and they really are a perfect match. Atomic monsters threatening major cities who must be destroyed by scientists and the military working together, with a sprinkle of romance and humour. We loved them both, although Them! seems the slightly sillier version of the same general idea.

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Giant dinosaury sea monsters beat giant animatronic insects in terms of fright factor, in our opinion. The insects win for fun factor, though.

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A cult classic which is surprisingly tense given the premise, Them! is a great film if you’re a fan of creepy creature features with slightly dated effects but otherwise great performances and lots of eerie sounds. We loved both Doctors Medford, and had a great time watching this.

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Who you gonna call? Antbusters!

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What we learned: Get the antennae! Also, not all nuclear explosions lead to superheroes.

Next time: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

#123 Seven Samurai

Watched: July 26 2017

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katô, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Keiko Tsushima, Kamatari Fujiwara

Year: 1954

Runtime: 3h 27min

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Arguably Kurosawa’s most famous film, Seven Samurai, tells the story of a 16th century Japanese village on a deadline to be attacked by bandits. In order to save themselves and their crops, the villagers decide to hire samurai to protect them, and three of them go to a nearby town to find rōnin/samurai hungry enough to work for food.

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“Free rice, you say? Count me in!”

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While no easy task, the villagers eventually recruit old rōnin Kambei (Shimura) and he, with the help of his eager new apprentice Katsushirō (Kimura), manage to gather another four samurai. Their party of six now includes stoic but brutal warrior Kyūzō (Miyaguchi) as well as three (slightly more interchangeable) friendly samurai Shichirōji, Gorobei and Heihatchi (Katô, Inaba and Chiaki, respectively).

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“Come rain, come shine, we’ll fight all you bitches!”

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But wait, you say! Isn’t the title Seven Samurai? Not six? It is indeed, gentle reader. As they make their way towards the village, the samurai are followed by crazy drunk Kikuchiyo (Mifune), who also claims samurai credentials. After pulling a stunt in the village, the others include him in their numbers, and then there were seven. Together, they will train the villagers, fight the bandits, and some will fall in love in the process. Though, sadly, not with each other.

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About to drop the hottest record of 1586!

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If the plot sounds familiar but you’re sure you’ve never seen this film, it may be because of John Sturges’ 1960 Western remake The Magnificent Seven, which takes the premise and sets it in a Mexican village with gunslingers instead of samurai. If you’re a fan of that one, we recommend you watch this original – it has drama, action, romance, comedy, and a host of colourful characters.

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There’s also incredibly cool shots like this one.

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We have a weakness for samurai, so this was perfect for us. Even with a running time of well over 3 hours, it’s engaging and interesting and never feels too long. It’s a popular film to screen in film clubs and cinematheques, so if you get the chance, you should watch it on the big screen. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you’re a grumpy bastard who doesn’t like fun.

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In which case, this guy is coming for you!

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What we learned: A lot about old Japanese hair customs. Also, given the right circumstances, floral prints can be manly as fuck.

Next time: Them! (1954)

#120 Godzilla/Gojira

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 36min

Godzilla poster

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Godzilla – King of the Monsters! Hydrogen bombs off the coast of Japan have awoken the mighty beast from its oceanic slumber and it is coming for Tokyo. Send in the army, sacrifice your daughters, and RUN!

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Not sure how a girl is supposed to placate this beast, but for a while that was the only viable plan

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As Godzilla, a dinosaury creature of local legend, wreaks havoc on the shores of Japan, scientists and military personnel work to pacify and/or kill the monster. Some, such as Dr. Yamane (Shimura), are convinced they should let the rare specimen live.

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It just wants to play! And it’s so cuuuuute!

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Others, particularly the military, but later also Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Kôchi) and her two boyfriends (it’s complicated) Hideto and Serizawa (Takarada and Hirata, respectively), begin to realise that their only course of action is to destroy it before it destroys all of Japan and possibly the world.

Emiko (Momoko Kochi) witnesses the horrifying effects of the "At
“Kill it! Kill it with……oxygen..?”

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Godzilla is a legendary creature feature which has spawned countless sequels, remakes, and reboots. However, none of them have quite managed to capture the magic of the original. Sure, there have been more advanced special effects in some other Godzilla-films, but the original man (technically men; Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka) in the monster suit is strangely effective.

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It might be an advantage to the overall effect that the movie is quite dark and a lot of details are slightly obscured

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It’s atmospheric and intense, with a dramatic score, great performances and real threats. We watched this as a part of 1000filmblog’s Atomic Double Creature Feature Night™ together with Gordon Douglas’ Them! (#124) from the same year, and it was a fantastic combination. As we’re going through the fifties and sixties, we’re looking forward to more atomic/space-agey horror and sci-fi – we love us a good monster movie and a good atomic scare!

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We’ll leave you with the poster for the American edition of this Japanese classic – now with added Americans!

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What we learned: Hydrogen bombs are bad. Also, when Godzilla emerges, we might have to give up a girl as sacrifice.

Next time: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

#119 The Wages of Fear/Le salaire de la peur

Watched: July 8 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck, Véra Clouzot

Year: 1953

Runtime: 2h 27min

wages of fear

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In a small village somewhere in South America, men of various nationalities are looking for work and a ticket out of extreme poverty and to more civilized places. After a horrible accident at a nearby oil field, the American owned “Southern Oil Company” needs to transport huge quantities of nitroglycerin to the field, but have no inclination to spend time and money putting security measures in place.

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“We made a sign. What more could we possibly do?”

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Not prepared to sacrifice proper American lives on this suicide mission, the company recruits drivers among the unemployed village vagabonds – desperate men ready to do anything for the $2000 offered as payment.

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“Just, you know, don’t shake the cargo. Or make loud noises. Or crash. Or have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, you’ll be fine.”

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The lucky(?) selected drivers (after some light corruption and implied violence) are Mario (Montand) and Señor Jo (Vanel) in one truck, and Luigi (Lulli) and Bimba (van Eyck) in the other. They are informed of what they are transporting as well as warned by another potential driver that even if they survive the impossible task, they will be mentally scarred for life. However, desperate people are willing to do desperate things, and the chosen men go on their way.

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What could possibly go wrong on these well-maintained roads?

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The ensuing road trip is one of the tensest we’ve ever seen. Every tiny obstacle, of which there are many, is potentially fatal, and the relationships between the characters grow very strained. It is a good film that can get us to care about characters who are intrinsically unlikable, and Clouzot manages that difficult task.

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Despite their (many) flaws and their treatment of each other and others in their lives (such as Mario’s girl Linda [Clouzot]), we really don’t want them to suffer a fiery death

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This is another film which we did not expect to enjoy as much as we did. It is excruciating to watch the four men attempt to get their deadly cargo to their destination, and the tension manages to stay high all the way to the final scene. Despite a slightly slow start, the 147 minutes fly by and leaves you a nervous wreck. We’d really love to see this on the big screen one day, so if the local film club ever does a screening, we’re first in line.

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Not what we had in mind when we saw there would be men covered in oil. The only slight disappointment in this film.

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What we learned: Oil companies are ruthless and evil. Also, money is not worth risking everything for.

Next time: Godzilla (1954)

#117 The Big Heat

Watched: June 24 2017

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jocelyn Brando

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion (Ford) has it all – a good job, a happy marriage and a lovely young daughter. That is, until officer Tom Duncan commits suicide and Bannion starts to investigate, uncovering layers and layers of corruption and deceit.

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He’s also invited to uncover other kinds of layers, if you catch our drift

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Those who cooperate with Bannion tend to die shortly thereafter, which makes him suspicious that the suicide may not have been as straightforward as initially thought. Even his superiors tell him to back down, which drives his determination to get to the bottom of the circumstances of his colleague’s death, as well as the extent of the mob’s influence on the police force.

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Methods include, but are not limited to, threatening widows. (PS: check out the decorative lamp in the background. Classic!)

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When Bannion’s wife is killed by a bomb intended for him, and his boss suspends him for not complying with orders and accusing him of being on the mob’s payroll, our hero quits his job and goes on a one man mission to bring down the local gangster Lagana (Scourby) and everyone connected to him.

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Cornering people in pubs is a tried and tested investigatory method in many a film. It usually ends in violence.

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One of Laguna’s thugs, Vince Stone (Marvin), has a girl he does not treat right – Debby Marsh (Grahame). After a confrontation between Bannion and Stone in a bar, Marsh, the obligatory scorned female, joins forces with her lover’s enemy.

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She pays the price though, poor girl…

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We absolutely loved this film! Bannion is an early incarnation of the disillusioned-cop-with-nothing-left-to-lose-who-goes-after-the-bad-guys-on-his-own, and he is perfect. We watched it with our parents (family time!) and all four of us were at the edge of our seats for the entirety. It’s thrilling, exciting and intriguing – everything we look for in a Noir.

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There’s also real tragedy and innocent victims

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On top of it all, it is directed by freakin’ Fritz Lang, the man behind two of our favourite entries on the list – M and MetropolisWhat’s not to love?

What we learned: If one side of your face is scarred, you can always go through life backwards. Also, good friends will come through in the end.

Next time: The Naked Spur (1953)

#113 Glen or Glenda

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr (aka Ed Wood)

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell, Lyle Talbot

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 11min

Glen

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Ed Wood is commonly known as the worst director of all time, which may or may not be true (there must be someone worse out there, although it’s possible they’ve never released anything major), due in large part to the cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Slightly less well known, though still fairly (in)famous, and (hopefully) slightly more autobiographical is Glen or Glenda from 1953.

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Despite his infamy, Ed Wood threw the best and most surreal parties!

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Transvestite Patrick/Patricia has committed suicide, and the investigator, Inspector Warren (Talbot) wants to learn more about their motive. He talks to Dr Alton (Farrell) who tells him two stories about different forms of gender identity, starting with the story of Glen/Glenda (Wood).

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Some men have different reasons for admiring lingerie in shop windows…

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Glen is a fairly normal heterosexual man who is engaged to marry Barbara (Fuller), and who likes to dress in women’s clothing and to feel like a woman. He describes it as a sort of split personality and he cannot quite make up his mind whether he wants to continue doing this or whether he wants to stop. He also has a hard time deciding how to tell his fiancée about his alter ego. This is the most clearly autobiographical narrative in the film, since the director himself went through a similar process (as we’ll see in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood when we reach 1994).

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He feels like it’s sinful and wrong too, poor guy/girl

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Dr Alton also tells Warren the story of pseudohermaphrodite Alan, who after a long period of confusion, goes through a sex change to transition to female. In between these two narratives, Bela Lugosi pops up in a lab straight out of a Frankenstein film and talks about human nature while doing experiments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film. There’s also a (drug-fueled?) dream sequence heavy with symbolism (we think).

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An old Universal horror? A Hammer film, perhaps? Nope, it’s a docudrama about gender identity

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A film as indecisive about its nature as its eponymous character, Glen or Glenda cannot seem to make its mind up about in which genre it wants to belong. The scenes with Bela Lugosi fall firmly into the horror realm, while other parts of the film fluctuate between documentary, drama, romance, pantomime, silent movie, and symbolism heavy art feature. It is a very interesting film to watch though, and its cult status is understandable. The artistic merits of the film do not, however, quite match the level of the progressive and important subject matter, and it’s a strange experience watching it. Well worth it though!

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Yup. Still docudrama about gender identity.

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What we learned: Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. Also, 7 out of 10 men are bald due to tight hats.

Next time: House of Wax (1953)

#110 Ikiru

Watched: May 28 2017

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Miki Odagiri, Nobuo Kaneko, Shinichi Himori

Year: 1952

Runtime: 2h 23min

ikiru

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Kanji Watanabe (Shimura) is a small cog in the great wheel of Japanese bureaucracy. He’s been feeling a bit under the weather and goes to see his doctor. After a less than encouraging meeting with another patient in the hospital waiting room, Watanabe’s doctor tells him the exact lies his fellow patient warned him of, and he realises he only has a short time left on this earth.

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Like any doomed man, he tries to drown his sorrows

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With a death sentence hanging over his head, ungrateful children plotting to take his money, an unfulfilling job, a dead wife, a wasted life, and no tools to connect with his son or express his emotions, Watanabe stops going to work and starts drinking. He spends a night out with a novelist he meets, but drinking and partying does little to lift his spirits.

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His cheerful demeanor does wonders for all those he meets though

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After his first experiment fails, he starts to spend time with a former underling from work – the young and vivacious Toyo (Odagiri). He asks her to teach him how to enjoy life – he wants his last few months to have meaning, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen – and she tells him that her new job making toys is bringing her joy. This gives Watanabe an idea – to help a group of lobbying parents clean up a cesspool in their neighbourhood and make a playground. Finally, the bureaucrat makes things happen.

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All because of a little fluffy bunny toy

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Ikiru is beautiful and haunting, and we loved it (despite its lack of samurai). It’s a long feature, but it flies by, and one cannot help but be drawn in by the intriguing actors and the very human plot. Watanabe has to get a death sentence in order to start living, and unfortunately this is true for so many people. In a society where people’s worth is determined by their ability to adapt to and contribute to the system, Watanabe manages to use the system to form his legacy. However, he needs the push of his impending death in order to start doing something with his position.

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In context, this is even sadder than it looks

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An intriguing, beautiful and heart breaking drama and an interesting view into post-war Japanese bureaucracy and society, this is one of those films everyone should watch at some point in their lives. Not as famous (at least in Norway) as many of Kurosawa’s other films, we’re glad it was added to the list, otherwise it probably would have flown under our radar and we’re glad we watched it. It actually made us feel something in our cold, dead hearts.

What we learned: Live while you can, love your work and make a difference.

Next time: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

#109 High Noon

Watched: May 21 2017

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 25min

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New Mexico Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is getting married to Quaker girl Amy Fowler (Kelly) and retiring from his gun wielding profession as it goes against his new wife’s beliefs. As the ceremony comes to an end, word comes to their small town of Hadleyville that one of Kane’s earlier arrests has been released from prison (because Northerners are too lenient) and is coming on a train scheduled to arrive at noon.

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Your wedding present is MURDER

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Frank Miller (the bad guy, not the graphic novelist) has his three cohorts waiting at the train station, and the newlywed Kane couple decide to make a run for it before the killings begin. However, despite the theory that Miller may leave the town alone if he does not find Kane there, Kane is not one to run from a fight. He decides to stay and protect his town with the help of his disgruntled deputy Harvey Pell (Bridges) while they await the arrival of their new marshal who is supposed to arrive the next day.

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Basically, the entire plot revolves around bad timing

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New wife Amy and ex-lover Helen (Jurado) both think this is a ridiculously bad idea and team up to skip town by boarding the same train on which Miller is expected. With a clear deadline, Will tries to round up a posse of deputies to help him stand against Miller at noon. However, although most of the town agree that they have Kane to thank for their prosperity, and that Miller deserves a good ass whoopin’, they are reluctant to risk their lives to help their (technically former) marshal out. As noon approaches, Kane awaits his fate in solitude as even the jealous and immature Pell has abandoned him. Shit’s about to go down…

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One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever doooo

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High Noon was a very tense Western and we loved it. It’s very engaging and we felt personally affronted by all the townspeople who refused to help. When the showdown finally came, after about an hour of the town clock moving relentlessly towards noon, it felt as though this could go either way, and we honestly had no idea whether Kane would come out of this alive or die defending his town.

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The filmmakers threw us off by putting the bad guys in different colour hats while the good guy wore black. It was all very confusing.

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All in all, this was a very engaging and enjoyable (almost) first Western on the list. Unlike The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which we also loved, by the way), this felt more like the Westerns our dad used to watch when we were growing up, with a lot of the same tropes we will undoubtedly see in future representations of the genre. The tension rivaled that of many a thriller and Noir, and our dog loved all the horses on screen.

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Imagine tense score…

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What we learned: We cannot hear the name “Gary Cooper” without Young Frankenstein’s rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” getting stuck in our brains. Also, Lloyd Bridges stayed extremely recognizable for close to 50 years.

Next time: Ikiru (1952)

#108 The Prowler

Watched: May 31 2017

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a bath, Susan Gilvray (Keyes) sees someone leering through her bathroom window and calls the police who basically chalk it up to hysterical women who should know better than to get undressed in their own homes.

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She should know better than to go near windows while her husband is a work

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One of the police officers, Webb Garwood (Heflin) seems to understand perfectly why a peeping Tom would like to spy on Susan, and he swings by at the end of his shift to check up on her. They discover that they are from the same town and start hanging out together when her radio personality husband is at work, which eventually leads to an affair.

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Because, in this world, “no” apparently means “yes”.

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After a while of cheating on her husband (who we get the impression is more than a little bit controlling), Susan loses her nerve and after some back-and-forths the couple split up. However, Webb, who early on stumbled across Susan’s husband’s life insurance papers, hatches a cunning plan.

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Webb, pictured here hatching

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He decides to get rid of the troublesome rival, get the girl and make a profit in the process. It all goes according to plan, but then another little hiccup appears in the shape of an unplanned pregnancy which could expose them both.

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Luckily, this town is coming like a ghost town and provides a good place to hide

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The Prowler wasn’t at all what we expected. We were prepared for a lot more stalker action and less murderous-psychopath-lover action, but we were far from disappointed. Instead of the basically good man corrupted by the femme fatale we often see in Film Noir, this is the story of a basically good girl who is corrupted by a man (Un Homme Fatal..?) and who must suffer the consequences.

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Him taking the position of her stalker probably should have been her first clue…

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Susan’s fatal flaw is probably her terrible taste in men. Between her controlling husband who locks up everything in his house, including his wife, makes her stay up and listen to his late night radio show and signs off with a slightly ominous “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” and her new beau who’s a murdering psychopath, she never really stood a chance. Add to the mix the fact that Webb is a master manipulator and Susan is incredibly naïve and easily manipulated, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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She should have walked away the minute he sat down in her house as if he owned the place

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Though not what we expected, we loved The Prowler and we don’t regret the fact that we ended up having to purchase a second, Region A Blu-Ray player in order to watch it (that’s what you get for not checking region codes properly when buying stuff online). At least now we’re no longer limited to buying Region B discs. We’ll pretend it was all part of our master plan all along.

What we learned: Don’t marry your dead husband’s killer.

Next time: High Noon (1952)

#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

place

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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)