#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

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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)

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#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

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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)

#137 The Quatermass Xperiment

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, David King-Wood, Thora Hird, Richard Wordsworth

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 18min

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As a young couple laugh randomly in a field, a rocket comes crashing down from the sky. Emergency services arrive shortly after but are unable to do anything with the space craft other than wait for it to cool down.

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Not a scenario covered in basic training for most British emergency services. Only a few.

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Enter Professor Quatermass (Donlevy) – a scientist with little patience, no respect for so-called authorities, and no time for nonsense. He is the brains behind the semi-successful space launch, and he is worried about the crew after they lost radio contact for 57 hours. And rightly so – when they finally open up the ship, two of the three astronauts have vanished, and the only remaining crew member is in a state of shock.

 

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“Not to worry, my dear. I suspect, if we put him in this dental chair and stick tubes in him, he’ll probably snap right out of it. Yes, that’ll do the trick!”

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The survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth) is transferred to a hospital after he fails to make any progress, but his wife Judith (Dean) has the brilliant idea to kidnap her non-responsive, traumatized and possibly infectious husband and get him out of there.

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“We still don’t know what’s wrong with you or what happened to the rest of the crew, but what could possibly go wrong?”

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With their subject missing, Quatermass and Dr Gordon Briscoe (King-Wood) find out some ugly truths about his condition, and they must hunt Carroon down before he manages to kill and/or infect too many others. The future of the planet is at stake!

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He retains some of his humanity. Little girls with dolls are scary and must be avoided!

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We’ve never seen this one before, although we have seen the two surviving episodes of the 1953 BBC show on which is was based. It was good to finally get some closure and find out how this all developed.

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Answer: not that well…

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This is a great sci-fi horror, which obviously inspired shows like Doctor Who, although the effects are now a little bit dated (not that we care about that stuff – we are masters at suspending our disbelief!). The stages of Carroon’s transformation are still very good, and also very sad.

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Donlevy’s Quatermass is a bit more aggressive than Reginald Tate’s TV version, but we enjoyed him a lot.

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We can’t wait for the other two Quatermass films – we loved the shows they’re based on and can’t imagine the films being anything less than amazing.

What we learned: Outer space is scary.

Next time: Bigger Than Life (1956)

#136 The Night of the Hunter

Watched: September 17 2017

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a preacher on a killing spree – a self-appointed Soldier of God on a mission to rid the world of attractive widows.

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“The Lord said not to have sex before marriage. I don’t remember reading anything about sex being mandatory once you’re married, so… You’re on your own, wifey!”

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He serves a stint in prison for driving a stolen car (very Christian of him) and shares a cell with robber Ben Harper (Graves). Harper tells his cell mate about his family and Powell figures out Ben’s children know the whereabouts of the money from the robbery.

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The best way to earn the trust of children is to take their father’s place

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Powell tracks down Harper’s bereaved widow and successfully woos her (with help from the very busy Icey Spoon [Varden]), set on learning her children’s secret. However, son John (Chapin) is not a fool, and he never trusts his new step-father.

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“SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

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When Powell’s misogyny, frustration and general disposition drives him to kill his new wife, the children grab the money and go on the run, drifting down the river in their boat in search of a safe haven, which they find in the form of Rachel Cooper (Gish). But Powell is not about to give up on “his” fortune…

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This is what you get for wanting to have sex with your husband

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We have no words to express how much we loved The Night of the Hunter. A serial killer (who may have been the inspiration for characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carnivale), resourceful children, absolutely beautiful imagery (even the above picture of dead Willa Harper (Winters) is eerily gorgeous in its grotesqueness), and the exquisite Lillian Gish are the main ingredients which made us fall, but there was nothing about it we didn’t love.

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A badass lady with a shotgun. Need we say more?

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It’s scary and stunning, creepy, sad and hopeful. We loved the shadows, the music, the knuckle tattoos and the performances. Will definitely watch again.

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Lillian f**king Gish. Just amazing.

What we learned: It’s a hard world for little things.

Next time: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

#132 Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes

Watched: September 3 2017

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Jules Dassin, Marie Sabouret, Marcel Lupovici, Magali Noël

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Tony le Stéphanois (Servais) is a retired crook with health problems who just spent five years in prison after taking the fall for friend Jo (Möhner). The two meet mutual friend Mario (Manuel) for coffee and crime planning, although Tony is getting too old for this shit.

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Guess which one has expressed some doubt about the scheme

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Tony respectfully declines, but when he learns ex-girlfriend Mado (Sabouret) is back in town and smooching it up with gangster Grutter (Lupovici) he signs up, after giving her a savage beating.

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The first look at Tony’s dark side. And trust us – it’s dark!

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The trio bring in Italian safe cracker César (Dassin) and start planning the perfect heist – the nighttime robbery of a jewellery shop. The crime itself goes off (almost) without a hitch, until César can’t help himself but steal an extra piece of jewellery for his lover Viviane (Noël).

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After all that planning and suspense, a guy thinking with his dick screws it up. Men just aren’t cut out for this kind of work.

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Grutter figures out who’s behind the incredible heist and comes after them. As he threatens Jo’s family, Tony utilizes his dark side for good and goes after the ruthless gangster.

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Pictured: not a guy you want to mess with

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Rififi is basically the ultimate heist movie; it is stylish and cool with a great cast of characters and an extremely exciting robbery. We absolutely loved the song and dance routine with the silhouettes, as well as the planning phase. However, the long silent scene during the robbery, which is probably the longest silent part of a film that’s not a pre-talkie we’ve ever seen, was by far our favourite. So suspenseful!

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There’s just so much style in this film!

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Also, we were giddily happy to see that the decorative lampshade finally served a purpose. It’s like all the Noirs we’ve watched so far have been leading up to this moment. What a payoff.

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To the right: multi-purpose decorative lamp. Finally!

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What we learned: How much work actually goes into a perfect crime. Also, don’t stray from the plan and get greedy. Or think with your dick.

Next time: The Big Combo (1955)

#128 Diabolique/Les diaboliques

Watched: August 7 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Christina Delassalle (Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Signoret) are colleagues at a boarding school for boys somewhere in France, but that’s not all they have in common. They are also involved with the same man – Christina’s tyrannical bastard of a husband Michel (Meurisse).

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“It’s always more fun to share with everyone”

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Michel does not only mistreat his poorly (but wealthy) wife – he is also abusive to his mistress and the children in the school. Fed up with him, Nicole concocts a murderous plan to rid the two women of their shared lover. Christina is hesitant at first, but after her husband humiliates her and rapes her, she has finally been pushed too far.

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Not what most men have in mind when they picture being bathed by two women

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They go through with their plan, but the already mentally and physically fragile wife is quickly deteriorating from the stress and the guilt. Then, the body disappears, freaky stuff starts happening and things turn creepy.

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Artist’s representation of us watching this film

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Diabolique is very, very creepy and suspenseful. Michel is extremely unlikable and we’ve never wanted two people to get away with murder more than in this case. This film kept us guessing to the end (although we had a theory which turned out to be spot on) and there are a lot of exciting twists and turns in the plot.

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The look of a woman mentally preparing for murder

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We won’t say much more as we do not want to spoil this gem for anyone, but if you haven’t seen it, it should go to the top of your to-watch list. So good.

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What we learned: If you’re going to murder someone, make sure you know how to play it cool.

Next time: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

#127 Blackboard Jungle

Watched: August 20 2017

Director: Richard Brooks

Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Margaret Hayes, Louis Calhern, Jamie Farr

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Soft-spoken navy veteran Richard Dadier (Ford) gets his first teaching position in an inner-city school in a big city (New York?). While the school has a bad reputation, the principal denies any discipline problems.

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We’re slightly inclined to agree as all students are shown actually sitting at their desks. Dream scenario!

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Despite the principal’s assurances, the kids are disruptive, disrespectful and generally difficult, and Dadier’s commitment to his job is quickly dwindling. After stopping an attempted rape on a colleague, the students turn on him and attack him and another teacher in an alley. In addition, Dadier’s pregnant (and victim-blaming) wife Anne (Francis) starts to receive anonymous phone calls and letters claiming her husband is having an affair.

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“How do I reach these kiiiids?”

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Dadier notices that Gregory Miller (Poitier) is a natural leader and that the other students tend to follow his lead, so he proposes that they work together to get the class on the right track. Will they manage to build a relationship and turn this class around? Or is Miller the one sabotaging Dadier’s job and marriage?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiids?”

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From the opening credits set to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & his Comets to the integrated classroom, it is clear that this was a progressive film upon its release only one year after segregated education was deemed unconstitutional in the USA.

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Bringing weapons to school is a long-standing American tradition (somewhat) backed up by the same constitution by the way. Just to put things in perspective.

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We loved Blackboard Jungle, which we fittingly watched the day before the new school year started (and Sister the Oldest went back to teaching). Glenn Ford’s Dadier is a flawed hero who comes face to face with a lot of his own prejudices, and Sidney Poitier really stands out as Miller and saves him from becoming a cliché “angry black man.”

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Also, there’s young Klinger!

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It’s historically very interesting, and films like it are still being made (idealistic teacher in inner-city school), including an (awesome) episode of South Park. What’s not to love?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiiiiiiids???”

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What we learned: Don’t ever give up on the kids. Unless they pull a knife on you. Also, Sister the Oldest is very grateful she has the students she has…

Next time: Diabolique/Les diaboliques (1955)