#220 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Watched: January 7 2019

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Anna Lee, Maidie Norman

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 14min

Baby

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Oh, God, we love this movie! We’ve been looking forward to rewatching it ever since we first decided to let the list control the next ten years of our lives, and it was worth the wait.

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If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, this will be us by the end of this project. The only question that remains: who’s who…

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Jane (Davies) and Blanche (Crawford) are sisters, and as children Jane was a vaudeville star while Blanche lived in her sister’s shadow. Twenty years later, their roles have reversed, and Blanche has become a successful movie star while Jane has turned into an alcoholic, washed-up has-been.

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Personally, we blame the parents.

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Then, one fateful night, Blanche is paralyzed in an accident blamed on Jane, and the two start a reclusive life by themselves in a mansion where Jane takes care of the increasingly isolated Blanche.

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“My nursing experience includes singing strangely romantic duets with my dad as a child and dressing like a toddler even though I’m pushing 60.” “You’re hired!”

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Jane, resentful of her more successful sister, becomes obsessed with recapturing her glory days as a child star, and hires pianist Edwin Flagg (Buono) to help her revive her act. She cuts her sister completely off from the outside world by removing her telephone, and starves her by feeding her rats and dead pets.

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“Oh, I couldn’t possibly have another rat. I must watch my figure.”

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Both main performances in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are spectacular, and that’s probably the main reason this film is so incredibly engaging. Bette Davies as Jane is deliciously deranged and demented, and is just a joy to watch.

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It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad

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Joan Crawford is (almost) equally engaging as the victimized Blanche, a more toned down and possibly more challenging role. However, we grew increasingly frustrated by her uselessness. Seriously, woman! You know your sister has completely lost it! And that is as hard as you’re prepared to fight???

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Just scream bloody murder down the phone, you useless lady!

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Blanche is not the only frustratingly incompetent character in the movie – pretty much everyone, from neighbour Mrs Bates (Lee) who’s too polite to interfere, to maid Elvira Stitt (Norman) who underestimates Jane’s madness despite her knowledge of both sisters, fail to help Blanche and stop Jane due to being basically completely fucking useless.

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“I realise that you are batshit crazy and I suspect you are torturing and starving your sister, but instead of calling the police, I am going to snoop around a bit and confront you unarmed.”

 

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Watch it for the performances, the characters, the costumes, the hair and make-up, the story, the music and the tension. And to have a really good (if frustrated) time!

What we learned: It’s a good thing none of us are super successful…

Next time: 8 1/2 (1963)

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#157 What’s Opera, Doc?

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Chuck Jones

Starring: Mel Blanc

Year: 1957

Runtime: 7 min

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Another excellent short film by Chuck Jones, What’s Opera, Doc? is a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd version of several of Richard Wagner’s great operas, especially Der Ring des Nibelungen (check out our classical music knowledge, people!).

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It has the added benefit of featuring the most fabulous horse in cinematic history

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As it’s a seven minutes animated short, it’s hard to say anything deep and profound about it (you know, because we’re usually known for our incredibly analytical and intellectual approach to film reviews). However, lucky for you, you can watch the whole thing here and make up your own mind. Enjoy!

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It’s just a beautiful love story, really

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What we learned: Any great operatic work can be squashed down to seven minutes.

Next time: Wild Strawberries (1957)

#114 House of Wax

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: André De Toth

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Roy Roberts, Charles Bronson

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 28min

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House of Wax is an old favourite of Sister the Oldest, stemming from her love of Vincent Price in her teenage Goth days (we’ve all been there). A remake of Michael Curtiz’ Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), it stars Price as Professor Henry Jarrod, an eccentric sculptor who works with wax figures.

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His obsession with his Marie Antoinette hints at his brewing insanity. Then again, she’s quite the looker!

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When Jarrod’s business partner Matthew Burke (Roberts) is in need of some quick cash, he proposes to the artist that they burn down the museum to collect the insurance. Jarrod, who has a close, personal relationship with all his creations, is not exactly on board, so Burke tries to kill him. The museum burns down and Jarrod disappears and is thought to have perished in the fire.

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In reality, he has but gone the way of his figures

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Fast forward a few months, and Burke dies under mysterious circumstances, his body disappears from the morgue, and his delightful (possible) fiancée Cathy (Jones – a.k.a. She of the Tiny Waist) meets the same fate. Simultaneously, Professor Jarrod reappears with plans to open a new wax museum, this time with a Chamber of Horrors included, showing historical crimes as well as recent, local ones. Coincidence?

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“Why, yes, there is an incredible likeness between my former partner who tried to kill me and whose body disappeared from the morgue, and my recreation of his death. I really am that good.”

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Sue Allen (Kirk), Cathy’s roommate and only witness to her killer, grows suspicious when visiting the museum and finding that Joan of Arc is the spitting image of her dead friend, though her suspicions are mostly written off as the silly ideas of a hysterical woman. Her own likeness to Jarrod’s Marie Antoinette put her on the artist’s radar, and tensions mount.

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“I told her not to touch the artwork! That’s it. She must die.”

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House of Wax holds up incredibly well and is an excellent and creepy feature. We love the image of the melting wax figures, everything about Cathy (our favourite), Vincent Price’s iconic voice, and the grotesque plot.

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“No ding-ding without a wedding ring!” – Cathy, paraphrased. God, we loved her.

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Originally made in 3D, it is easy to see how that would have added to the experience, and some scenes are clearly inserted mainly for the 3D effect. Unfortunately, we’ve only ever seen it in 2D, but perhaps one day we’ll have the chance to watch it in the same way as its original audience. One can only dream…

What we learned: Don’t kill people’s creative works for money. Or, money and art do not always work well together. Something to that effect.

Next time: Mr Hulot’s Holiday/Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

#111 Singin’ in the Rain

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 43min

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A musical classic which we, like probably most of you, have seen numerous times before, there’s nothing not to love about Singin’ in the Rain. In the late twenties, silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Kelly and Hagen, respectively) have to make the transition into talkies or fade into obscurity.

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And these guys ain’t ready for fadin’!

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They have one problem though – Lina Lamont has the most grating, annoying voice in history, and an accent which in no way matches her glamourous image. The solution: get aspiring actress and Don’s love interest Kathy Selden (Reynolds) to dub all of Lina’s dialogue and singing, against the star’s wishes.

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Unfortunately, the two women didn’t exactly get off to a good start

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With the help of the studio heads and sidekick Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Don and Kathy create a success with their musical version of the silent stinker Don and Lina were supposed to put out.

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And they sing and dance their way through the process!

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Gene Kelly is, as always, amazing, as are Reynolds and O’Connor. The romance between Don and Kathy is very sweet – after the initial bickering which all film romances must go through, they are actually adorable together. Meanwhile, Cosmo’s snarky one-liners, cheerful disposition and fantastic physical comedy and dance moves make him the ultimate sidekick.

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Pictured: the real romance

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We love the musical numbers, the many many films within the film, the discrepancy between the stories Don tells the media vs. the real version of events, the physical comedy and basically everything about this film. It’s just a magical experience which will make you happy no matter what, and if it doesn’t you might need to see a doctor because you have no heart and you’re probably dead inside.

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This film is even better for curing the blues than pictures of puppies. Trust us – we’ve done a study

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What we learned: There’s nothing like a good behind-the-sofa fight scene and a great dance number!

Next time: Duck Amuck (1953)

#96 All About Eve

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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

Year: 1950

Runtime: 2h 18min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We end with our new game: Spot The Monroe!

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

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

#87 The Fallen Idol

Watched: February 16 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 35min

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A recent addition to the list, The Fallen Idol did not disappoint. French ambassador’s son Phillipe (Henrey) is left home alone with his good friend and idol butler Baines (Richardson) and his less pleasant wife (Dresdel) for a few days. Like his namesake (and also ambassador’s son?) in Venom (1981), Phillipe has a penchant for snakes which Mrs Baines is not particularly impressed with.

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For supper: fried snake!

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Mrs Baines quickly establishes herself as an antagonist by killing the boy’s snake, and it comes as no surprise then that her husband is having an affair (she may have killed his snake too, if you know what we mean). Phillipe comes across Baines and girlfriend Julie (Morgan) although he is too young to figure out what their relationship is and assumes that Julie is Baines’ niece.

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Phillipe crashes their secret rendez-vous in a scene very reminiscent of Brief Encounter

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After Mrs Baines denies her husband a divorce, the unhappy spouses each manipulate Phillipe to learn and/or hide secrets and the poor kid is caught in the middle of the sordid affairs of two grown people who should know better than to involve him. As their conflict escalates, so does the situation – Mrs Baines falls down the stairs and dies. Phillipe, having witnessed a fight immediately preceding the fall, runs away and right into the hands of a (very clever and kind) police officer.

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The boy also runs into the arms of a sweet prostitute, but again is too young to truly appreciate the experience.

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Police officers investigate the death of Mrs Baines, and Phillipe, trying to protect his friend, weaves a web of lies which does more damage than good, and the last half of the film is a tense investigative affair which we found almost unbearable. The relationship between Baines and Phillipe will most likely never be the same, and Phillipe’s innocence is also lost forever. And not because of the prostitute.

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Because of the dead-wife-who-Baines-kinda-hated thing

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The Fallen Idol is a great and tense drama, beautifully shot with a very dramatic score. Although we must admit, knowing that Mrs Baines would fall down the stairs (it says so right on the DVD cover), we spent the first half of the film betting on when it would happen. Every time she walked up or down the stairs, we were at the edge of our seats, waiting for her to die (you will not believe the amount of times that woman survives a trip up or down the stairs!). We loved it!

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That poor kid is traumatised for life, though

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What we learned: A great many things. Do not involve children in your sordid marital drama. Admitting to an affair is better than a murder charge. Also, WTF is “Nosegay”? And where can we get some?

Next time: The Red Shoes (1948)

#85 Oliver Twist

Watched: February 22 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness, Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, Henry Stephenson

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We assume (perhaps mistakenly, but still) that most people have some idea of the plot of Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist, and so we’ll keep our plot summary to a minimum. Suffice to say, Oliver Twist (Davies) is a poor orphan who is brought up in an abusive workhouse and who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up alone on the streets of London. He takes up with a band of thieving boys, led by Fagin (Guinness), and the inexperienced Oliver is promptly arrested on his first outing.

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Fagin cannot accept responsibility though – he did after all spend upwards of five minutes training the boy before sending him out with Dodger

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Oliver is acquitted, falls ill, and ends up in the care of Mr Brownlow who takes him in as his own. But what is their connection? It turns out they are more connected than they originally assumed…

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Or perhaps Oliver is just like us, took one look at that library and decided to stay forever

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Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill Sikes (Newton), a brutal man who runs the show, are freaking out, worried that Oliver will blow their whole operation. They therefore kidnap him to keep him quiet, but Nancy (Walsh) feels bad for both Oliver and Brownlow and decides to snitch. How will this all end?

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Ultimately, Nancy forgot that snitches get stitches…

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From the ominous beginning – storm, thorns and torrential rain – to the suspenseful ending, David Lean’s Oliver Twist is a great watch. Lean’s version is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel although, as with all adaptations, there are fewer details and some parts of the book are only alluded to, changed, or left out completely.

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We love the way to Fagin’s lair

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The film is beautiful and atmospheric with gorgeous sets, a great score, wonderful performances and (naturally) Dickensian characters (including the somewhat racially offensive Fagin). We recommend it both to lovers of the novel as well as those who cannot be bothered reading it but still want to pretend they have.

What we learned: The things some people will do for financial gain… Also, lynch mobs are terrifying, whether in the flesh as in 19th century London, or online as in now.

Next time: Rope (1948)

#84 Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves

Watched: February 12 2017

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 29min

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In post-war Rome, Antonio Ricci (Maggiorani) is experiencing the Poverty Catch-22: he is (finally) offered a good job, but the job requires a bicycle which he has pawned to provide for his family and cannot reclaim until his first paycheck. Which he won’t get without his bike. Luckily for Antonio he has a good wife, Maria (Carell), who sells their sheets to retrieve his bicycle. With his mode of transportation back, Antonio is set to start his new job, putting up posters of glamorous stars around the city.

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The job also requires expert balancing skills… Biking around with this gear is seriously impressive!

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As promising as the beginning is – the tale of a man who works his way out of poverty after someone gave a break – we just know that something terrible will happen. And of course, as the title implies, the bicycle is stolen. On Antonio’s first day, no less. He gives chase, but the thief’s cohorts distract him and send him down the wrong path. He reports the theft to the police, but they do not consider this case a priority. All Antonio can do to keep his job and make a living for himself and his family is to go look for the bike himself.

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Finding a bike in a city of millions isn’t made easier by their decision to inspect every possible bike in detail

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He takes his young son Bruno (Staiola) with him to a market to look for his stolen property, whole or in parts, and they spend the entire day roaming around Rome on their quest. The day puts a strain on Antonio’s relationship with his young son, especially as he, in his desperation, makes some bad choices and cannot live up to the heroic view Bruno has had of him up until now.

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The weather does absolutely nothing to lighten the overall mood of the film

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This was a rewatch for (one of) us and not a particularly happy one. Not because we didn’t like the film – it’s amazing, but it is also thoroughly depressing. Antonio and Bruno have a few good moments during their quest such as the restaurant scene (which made us kind of hungry, we must admit), but there is a mood of hopelessness and desperation throughout Bicycle Thieves (the plural noun in the title implies more than we’re prepared to reveal) which stays with you for a while.

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However many mistakes Antonio makes though, his son stays by his side. Bless.

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Antonio is not a bad man, but he is not really a particularly good one either. He is human and desperate and he acts as such. Which is understandable. The film is an interesting (and beautiful) insight into post-war Italy and the effects poverty has on people. While it is sadder and more depressing than anything we’d willingly expose ourselves to (we prefer to live on fluffy clouds), it is not by far the worst one from De Sica in terms of sob factor. Seriously, if anyone tries to make us watch Umberto D. (1952) again, we might have to resort to violence. That shit is brutal.

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We mean it. If you care at all about dogs or old people (and you should! Both!), De Sica’s Umberto D will mess you up.

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What we learned: It always rains on Sundays. Also, there’s a cure for everything except death.

Next time: Oliver Twist (1948)

#78 The Killers

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Two shady characters enter a diner, accompanied by a dramatic opening score. After intimidating the owner, the cook, and the lone guest, they set up for a hit on regular customer Swede (Lancaster). Who fails to show. Rude.

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They also start a time honoured tradition of people in films who order food in diners and proceed not to eat it. Seems very wasteful.

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When it becomes clear that their target won’t show up, the hitmen leave to track him down, and the diner guest, Nick, runs to warn the Swede, hopping fences on the way like an old-timey Simon Pegg. However, when he reaches the soon-to-be victim, the Swede refuses to do anything, stating he deserves his fate because he “once did something wrong”. Nick leaves and soon the hitmen finish their business. True to his word, the Swede does not defend himself. But why not? It is up to insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) to figure everything out.

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Guess what? A Dame is involved!

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Reardon starts interviewing old friends and accomplices of Swede and the story of his life is told through flashbacks (naturally, as Lancaster would have ridiculously high billing if he had been killed in the first five minutes, never to be seen again). His first stop is the beneficiary of the Swede’s life insurance policy, an old lady running a hotel in which he once stayed. While she has no idea why he would leave her money, she does remember witnessing some erratic and self-destructive behaviour during his time in the hotel, as well as ramblings about a woman who is gone.

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It becomes clear that the man had some anger issues

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What Reardon finds is an ex-boxer who, when out on a date with another girl, falls in love with a Dame called Kitty Collins (Gardner). Kitty is involved in some shady business, and Swede takes the fall for one transgression, landing him in jail for three years. When released, he gets into even shadier stuff, leading him on a path of crime and destruction, much to the chagrin of his childhood friend who became a police officer.

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The police equivalent of a clown car. We love it!

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The Killers has more investigating and less action than some of the noir films we’ve watched, but it is intriguing and suspenseful. Ava Gardner is great as the double-crossing Dame, and the fact that this was Lancaster’s first film role is very impressive. As is common in film-noir, there’s great use of light and shadow, and the mood throughout the film is bleak and menacing. It’s a great watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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We’re going to leave you with this awesome image.

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What we learned: Don’t hit on other girls while you’re on a date. It’s just not classy. Also, there’s no honour among thieves. And Kitty’s got claws!

Next time: Black Narcissus (1947)

#77 The Big Sleep

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 54min

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Philip Marlowe is back, this time portrayed by (the not very tall, but oh so charming) Humphrey Bogart. Entering the Sternwood residence for an appointment with General Sternwood, he is immediately met by a Dame in the making – young miss Carmen Sternwood (Vickers), who tries to sit on his lap while he is still standing.

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Despite Carmen’s best efforts, General Sternwood is the first member of the family to have our hero undress

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Carmen has gambling debts and her father, the General, is being blackmailed by a man named Geiger. He hires Marlowe to clear everything up, and on his way out, the detective is summoned to the chambers of the older Sternwood daughter, Mrs Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), who is very interested in what exactly Marlowe has been hired to do. The two start measuring each other up (both figuratively and literally) and exchange quips.

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“She has all the usual vices, besides those she’s invented for herself”

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Marlowe starts his investigation in the usual way which comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook. That is, he starts snooping around Geiger’s bookshop which he quickly discovers is a front for something else, although he strikes out with the lady working there. He has better luck with the saucy bookseller from across the street, and spends his afternoon with her sharing a drink.

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Yet another great example of how removing glasses and letting one’s hair down transforms a “plain,” bookish girl into an absolute stunner.

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Marlowe follows Geiger and stakes out his house. After a shot and a scream, he enters to find Geiger dead, a hidden camera, and a very drugged out Carmen in a near catatonic state. He takes the girl home, exchanges more banter with her older sister, and returns to the crime scene only to find dead Mr Geiger gone. The plot is very much thickening.

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Also thickening is the sexual tension between the two stars

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To sort out this mess, Marlowe and Rutledge (who’s divorced, by the way, so their relationship is completely on the up-and-up) have to work together. There are more dead bodies, more blackmail, more Dames and other cool women (such as Marlowe’s taxi driver), shady characters, quips and banter, silly henchmen, a fairly complicated plot (but great scenes, so it doesn’t really matter), and Humphrey Bogart being supercool.

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This is a man completely unaffected by having a gun pointed at him. Though Bacall doesn’t seem too perturbed either, to give her her due.

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There are beautiful clothes, sassy dialogue, and amazing characters portrayed by iconic stars. There’s also murder, intrigue, loose sexual morals, and an infamous restaurant scene we have no idea how got past the censors. It’s a classic for a reason and if you haven’t already checked this one out, you should! We loved it.

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Serious question though: how extremely innocent do you have to be not to read the subtext of this scene?

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What we learned: men in the 1940s were physically unable to see past a pair of glasses on a pretty girl. Also, sometimes personal chemistry works equally well on screen as in real life.

Next time: The Killers (1946)