#183 The 400 Blows/Les quatre cents coups

Watched: July 4 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Patrick Auffay

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a pretty average kid. He lives with his self-centred mother (Maurier) and nice enough, but very strict, stepfather (Rémy) in a small apartment in Paris. He doesn’t do too well in school and occasionally gets in trouble, although his best friend René (Auffay) seems to be the instigator at least some of the time.

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“I’m thinking we should hire some hookers and then kill some puppies?” “Yeah, I was thinking more like skip school and go to the fair..?”

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After he’s caught skipping school and lying about his mother’s death to cover for it, Antoine runs away from home. It only lasts for a day or so though, but when his teacher later accuses him of plagiarising Balzac, Antoine runs away again. This time for a while, and with more serious consequences.

 

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“Copied” sounds so harsh. I prefer “inspired by.”

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Antoine is misunderstood and/or ignored throughout the film. None of the adults in his life take the time to listen to him, and his actions are very often misinterpreted and harshly punished, such as his homage to Balzac and his return of the stolen typewriter (which, granted, he did steal earlier).

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Considering the irony of being caught returning stolen goods…

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We loved The 400 Blows. While it’s a fairly tragic tale of a talented but misunderstood young boy who gets into all sorts of (quite serious) trouble, it’s not all bleak. We loved the P.E. sequence with the rapidly diminishing student body, the centrifugal carousel, the shrine to Balzac and the kids watching the puppet show.

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Not to mention the extremely disruptive students

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Without spoiling it, the ending is also (possibly) optimistic, with Antoine standing at several thresholds and between two chapters of his life. There are four more films made about the same character played by the same (wonderful) actor, and we’re tempted to make a night of it and watch them all. In about ten years when we’re done with everything on the list

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In case you were wondering, we do bring this amount of energy and enthusiasm to every single film screening. Every. Single. One.

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What we learned: Life is hard for kids. Also, parents have responsibilities beyond feeding their children.

Next time: Special Bonus Post! Oboy oboy oboy!!!

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#179 Odds Against Tomorrow

Watched: May 13 2018

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame, Ed Begley

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Ex-cop Dave Burke (Begley) hires two men to carry out a robbery. Both Earle Slater (Ryan) and Johnny Ingram (Belafonte) are debt-ridden, and they are promised the neat sum of $50 000 each for the job.

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$50 000 may not seem much to risk your life for nowadays, but in 1959 it would buy you protection from several M*A*S*H cast members, which was a real threat at the time

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Slater is a big, stinking racist, and is not happy working with Ingram who is black. Ingram himself is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but has a gambling problem and owes a baddie $7500. Burke, the sly mo-fo, pulls strings to pressure the men and make sure he gets the crew he wants. Soon the three are preparing to rob a small bank.

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The monetary loss was nothing compared to the humiliation of being held at gunpoint by three dentists, one of whom was clearly blind

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As with all (or at least most) daring capers, despite their prep work and good planning, things go awry. This time though, it’s not because of a Dame or unplanned events, but because of Slater’s racism.

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“Why does the black guy get the cool hat? He also got the sunglasses! It’s not faaaair!”

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Odds Against Tomorrow is a very good and suspenseful noir with intriguing characters  and a fantastic soundtrack. Johnny, though by no means perfect, is infinitely more likable than little bitch Slater, who is passive aggressive with his girlfriend Lorry (Winters) and plain aggressive with everyone else. That being said, he too shows vulnerability and humanity at times, and he is disillusioned and angry after a hard life.

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“Honey, even though I try really hard to bang the neighbour, you’re my everything!”

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It’s a caper movie, but it focuses a lot on the characters and what drives them, rather than the heist itself, though that too is tense and exciting.  The ending (which we won’t reveal completely) is heavily symbolic and reminiscent of (slight spoiler alert!) White Heat, and we absolutely loved it! A great, late film noir.

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If intriguing characters, great music, a tense heist and social commentary don’t do it for you, there’s also the glorious Gloria Grahame in a bra. You creep.

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What we learned: All men are evil. Also, racism has no place in a heist.

Next time: Rio Bravo (1959)

#173 Vertigo

Watched: March 17 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Year: 1958

Runtime: 2h 8min

For those of you wondering what happened to #167 to #172, Mr Wright has made a few changes to the list and we have had to update the numbering to the current version, as outlined here. A number of new films have been added to the ’30s and ’40s, and we’ll try to catch up with them as soon as we can get our hands on copies. Until then, we continue where we left off, but with updated numbers.

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During a roof top police chase, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) almost falls to his death and witnesses another police officer die trying to save him. After the accident, he retires from the force and suffers vertigo as a result of the traumatic incident.

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If there’s one thing we’ve learned from American Ninja Warrior it’s that once your arms straighten, you’re doomed. That, and Gbaja-Biamila is really fun to say.

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Spending his downtime in the (fantastic) company of friend Midge Wood (Bel Geddes), Scottie is contacted by old school friend Gavin Elster (Helmore) who hires him to stalk his wife. Elster claims Madeleine (Novak) has been possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother Carlotta, who killed herself after being betrayed by the man she loved.

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“No woman is that interested in art. She must be possessed by the woman in the painting.”

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Hesitant at first, Scottie agrees to the job after seeing the gorgeous Madeleine. He follows her to the florist and the cemetery where she visits Carlotta’s grave. When she later flings herself into the river, he saves her and brings her home, and they promptly fall in love.

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“I’m aware that you’re my friend’s wife and quite possibly possessed and/or crazy, but those eyebrows just make me weak!” “What, these old things? They we’re just something I threw on.”

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However, it’s far from smooth sailing from then on. Turns out newfound love does not erase madness/ghosts and Scottie is unable to save Madeleine, leading him to a complete meltdown. But what was actually going on?

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And what, exactly, is the purpose of a brassiere?

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From the awesome opening titles (by Saul Bass) to the end credits, Vertigo is fantastic. We loved the colours (especially the red restaurant), all the spirals, the dolly zoom, the very judgemental judge, the dream sequence and of course Midge. Lovely, lovely Midge and her lovely, lovely apartment.

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We thought it was funny too, Midge. Scottie’s just too sensitive.

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Also, any mention of ghosts have us hooked from the very start, even if there’s no actual supernatural forces at work. And we find James Stewart oddly charming.

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We covet that wallpaper… And, to a lesser degree, that man.

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What we learned: Don’t trust old school chums. Also, if there’s a Midge in your life – marry her!

Next time: A Bucket of Blood (1959)

#166 Touch of Evil

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 35min

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Mr & Mrs Vargas (Heston and Leigh, respectively) pass the border from Mexico to the USA only to have a car blow up in front of them. Mike Vargas, a Mexican agent, decides to look into it, while American-born Susan Vargas stupidly decides to follow a random dude back across the border.

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She might make stupid decisions, but she’s got spunk and is intimidated by no man!

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Vargas is joined by US police officers Hank Quinlan (Welles) and his partner Pete Menzies (Calleia) and gets to tag along on their investigation. However, when Vargas witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in the apartment of their main suspect, he accuses the veteran police captain and starts to suspect that he, perhaps with his partner, has been operating this way for years.

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“No, no, you silly Mexican police person! This dynamite was always on the premises. It’s just racist dynamite and will only show up if handled by an American.” “Then how did the Mexican suspect handle it?” “Uh, um, he must be half American or something…”

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Quinlan denies any wrongdoing and starts to work to discredit Vargas, or get rid of him altogether. Meanwhile “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Tamiroff) is also putting pressure on Quinlan since Vargas has been investigating Grandi’s brother. To keep her safe, Susan in moved to a remote motel where she finds herself the sole guest only joined by a very strange manager.

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Turns out the motel is anything but safe…

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Touch of Evil is really very tense, especially Susan’s storyline. We were genuinely worried about her, no matter how spunky and independent she was, and she had some really horrible scenes. We loved the film though – we loved Susan, the Mexican being the good-guy protagonist (even if it was Charlton Heston in brownface), the total corruptedness of Quinlan and the naïve hero worshiping of Menzies.

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Also, there’s a brothel run by the fabulous Marlene Dietrich, which in itself is reason enough to watch this movie.

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Welles’ version was reedited and released as a very different movie than the one he envisioned. Since its 1958 debut, two other cuts have been released. We’re pretty sure the one we watched was the 1998 version cut together based on Orson Welles’ notes (we base this on nothing other than runtime, as we didn’t check the DVD-case). Just so you know, in case some of you think this is very important to this informal review.

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Put down the gun, Orson! We’ll watch your (probably) preferred version! We swear!

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No matter which cut you go for, this is a great Noir with a fantastic opening shot (really – check it out!), a great ending, and some kind of a man. Great stuff!

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No caption here. We just liked this picture.

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What we learned: Border towns bring out the worst people.

Next time: Vertigo (1958)

#145 12 Angry Men

Watched: November 12 2017

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fielder, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

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12 jury members are in a locked room deliberating a murder case. That’s it. That’s the plot. Sound boring? Not at all! It’s tense, dramatic and very well acted, and it will keep you engaged throughout the entire 96 minutes.

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“Raise your hand if you think this film makes the most of its premise!”

 

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There’s really not much to say about this film which hasn’t been said before, and better than we could ever do, so we’ll keep it short and sweet.

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“Really? You’ll spare us your ramblings?”

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Human nature, society, male pride, racism and prejudice all play a part in the “neutrality” of the justice system, and it’s important to question what people tell you is the truth. Also, Juror #8 should have been the defense lawyer. And that’s all we’ll say, apart from watch this film. It’s fantastic.

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Enjoy an out-of-context knife

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What we learned: The system is flawed. Also, there’s always room for doubt.

Next time: A Face in the Crowd (1957)

#135 The Ladykillers

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Alexander MacKendrick

Starring: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Danny Green, Katie Johnson

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Mrs Wilberforce (Johnson) is a sweet little old lady and frequent visitor at the police station reporting on various observations, who is looking for a tenant for her vacant room. When Professor Marcus (Guinness) shows up looking for a room where he can live and rehearse with his string quintet, she may have gotten more than she bargained for.

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Wilberforce – the bane of hardened criminals!

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Naturally, Professor Marcus and his cohorts (the rest of the men credited) are not what they appear – they are a band of criminals planning to rob a security van at King’s Cross and they want to use Wilberforce’s house, and the old lady herself, as part of their plan.

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As if classical musicians could make this much money

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However, the gang had not counted on Mrs Wilberforce, her observational skills, her morals, or her ability to make them all feel like naughty little boys being scolded by Mother.

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She’s not angry. She’s just very disappointed.

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The Ladykillers is a fantastic comedy, perfectly cast and entertaining throughout. Katie Johnson, who gets ridiculously low billing, is amazing as the old widow, and her adversaries are all brilliant as well – screen legends as many of them are.

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Some of the characters are better than others are fake-playing their instrument

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An old favourite of ours, it is always a treat to rewatch it, and we recommend it to everyone with no stipulations. If you can’t get some sort of enjoyment from this, you’re dead inside.

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Happiness overload when Mrs Wilberforce had all her little old friends over for tea. They’re so sweeeeet!

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What we learned: Don’t mess with little old ladies.

Next time: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

#133 The Big Combo

Watched: September 16 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Helen Walker

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Leonard Diamond (Wilde) is a police lieutenant with a vendetta against crime lord Mr Brown (Conte). Despite warnings from his superiors and a distinct lack of evidence, he is hell-bent on bringing the gangster down and to save Mr Brown’s girl Susan Lowell (Wallace), with whom he is a bit obsessed.

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And who can blame him, with her face always being perfectly lit, even in shadows

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When Lowell tries to kill herself, Diamond finally has an opportunity to talk to her in her hospital bed. Not entirely conscious, she keeps muttering about someone named “Alicia,” but when she regains consciousness, she cannot say who Alicia is (or was).

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To the investigation-mobile!

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Mr Brown does not take kindly to Diamond’s interest in him, or his experiments with a lie-detector, so he kidnaps his nemesis, tortures him, and then pours him full of alcohol.

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Pictured: fun new ways of using a hearing aid!

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However, inventive torture devices do nothing to dissuade the investigator, who only increases his efforts to put the criminal behind bars. Following a hunch, Diamond goes out to prove that Brown is a killer, but what he finds is not quite what he expected.

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He does find time to snuggle with dancer Rita – an unlucky Dame with perfect make-up and low standards

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The Big Combo is dark and atmospheric, with great lighting and music. The characters are taken to the extreme; Diamond is exceedingly righteous and stubborn, while Brown is a sadistic psychopath with few redeeming features, apart from maybe his tongue, judging from the look on Susan’s face in one infamous scene.

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Her heart may regret getting involved with a gangster, but her body thinks otherwise…

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We loved the lighting, the smoke and the angles, the jazzy music and the use of sound around a pivotal moment in McClure’s life (which we will not spoil). The Big Combo is also surprisingly progressive sexually, with the aforementioned scene with Susan and Brown, as well as the heavily implied relationship between henchmen Fante and Mingo both being unusually explicit for the time.

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It’s (more than) guy love between two guuuuys

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Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into noir films with lots of sexual undertones.

What we learned: Even gangster henchmen can find love in each other.

Next time: The Court Jester (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)