#198 The League of Gentlemen

Watched: August 7 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Robert Coote

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 56min

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A man climbs casually out of a manhole in his finest attire, gets into a car and drives off. When he comes home, he sends out seven packages containing the book The Golden Fleece, half of £50 (literally half, in ripped up bills), and instructions to an assortment of characters. So begins The League of Gentlemen.

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It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. After an awkward dinner party.

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The ring leader, Norman Hyde (Hawkins), is ex-army and feels the world owes him something. The men he contacted are all former army officers as well, and they all have secrets or difficulties which make them fairly easy to persuade into joining Hyde for a bank robbery.

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Actually, they just pretend it’s the money they want. They were all on board the minute they saw these bitchin’ gas masks.

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Utilising all their combined skills, the officers-cum-robbers plan an elaborate heist with a possible outcome of £100,000 per participant. It’s enough incentive to sway them all, and the plan is put into motion.

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The plan includes, but is not limited to, peeling a whole bunch of potatoes

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How did we love The League of Gentlemen? Let us count the ways. The dialogue, the dishwashing scene, the naughty vicar, the prep, the military infiltration, the heist itself, the heroic music, the gas masks, and the complete and utter cheek of the whole thing were all amazing, and had us laughing throughout.

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This whole segment is a complete riot

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Combine that with the very real and palpable tension during the heist and you got yourself a winner. The characters, and their interactions, are fantastic and you find yourself rooting for them very quickly. Love, love, love this movie. Definitely something to check out if you’re not familiar with it.

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Pictured: you guys crawling out of the woodwork just to watch this gem. Hopefully.

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What we learned: There was a different class of criminals in the 1960s. Also, this is a local heist for local people. There’s nothing for you here!

Next time: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

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#195 Shoot the Piano Player

Watched: August 26 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Albert Rémy

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.

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“Just ran into the weirdest dude out there. Told me all about his marriage and his wife, completely unprompted. Oh, and also, I’m chased by some thugs and I need you to help me escape.”

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Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.

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Although not as well as Charlie gets on with his friendly neighbourhood prostitute next door

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They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…

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“So, first there was the wife. That ended badly.” “How badly?” Well, she’s dead. Then there’s my neighbour Clarisse, but she’s more of a very good friend.” “How good?” “Oh, very, very good… But I swear I’m actually a good guy. Just very unlucky.”

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Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.

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The trigger happy gangsters complete the picture (we loved them, although their casualness and easy conversation with their victims made them even scarier than your normal movie thugs)

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It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.

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Or fans of pianos. Or, indeed, people who hate piano players with a fiery vengeance.

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What we learned: Even super polite and likable kidnappers can be ruthless killers.

Next time: Spartacus (1960)

#193 Psycho

Watched: August 4 2018 (and many other times)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 49min

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Man with mommy issues goes on killing spree. Loved by critics.

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“Mommy issues? Who has mommy issues? I’m just a normal, stable, sane boy.”

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Psycho probably needs no further introduction as it’s one of the most watched, loved and spoofed/homaged films of all time. Still, for those hermits who have been living secluded lives in the woods for the past 60 years but have also inexplicably stumbled upon this blog (hello, stranger! To be honest, you’re probably better off crawling back under that rock, given the current state of the world), we’ll give a very brief synopsis.

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In short, wood dwelling hermit: if you see this place, just keep driving. Or walking. Or riding your tame bear.

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Marion Crane (Leigh) is having an affair with Sam Loomis (Gavin) but they cannot afford to get married. When Marion gets her hands on $40 000 at work, she decides to steal the money and run away to elope with her beau. She is caught in a rainstorm and checks in for the night at the secluded Bates Motel.

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Bad, bad idea

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Marion is reported missing by her sister Lila (Miles) and wanted by the police for theft. Lila decides to investigate the disappearance herself with the help of Sam and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Balsam) who is also on the case. What they find is not what they expected…

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It’s not what anyone would expect, really

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There’s nothing not to love about Psycho. It lulls you into thinking that you’re watching just another crime movie, and then BLAM! Creepy horror film!

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Hitchcock also managed to insert a T-1000, but we feel that subplot is vastly underdeveloped.

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The shower scene is perhaps the most famous scene in cinematic history, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it or its various recreations, it still has impact. As does Norman Bates’ transformation from sweetly awkward and likable young man to creepy insane murderer.

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He actually seems quite charming at first, making Marion supper and all

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As mentioned in our last entry, this goes perfectly as a double feature with Peeping Tom, if you want a night filled with serial killers and crazy. And who doesn’t?

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“We’re off to see the killer! The wonderful killer of girls!”

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What we learned: We all go a little mad sometimes. Also, if it doesn’t jell it’s not aspics.

Next time: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

#189 Breathless/À bout de souffle

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Michel (Belmondo) steals a car and sings and narrates his way towards Paris. The misogynistic crook ends up shooting a cop who catches up with him and is soon wanted all over France.

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“No worries. I’ll just don a hat and some shades and Clark Kent my way out of this mess”

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For such an unlikable man, Michel has a way with the ladies and manages to get some money out of one female friend before moving on to the main object of his desires, American journalism student Patricia (Seberg). He tries to convince her to run away with him while she tries to figure out how she feels about the man she spent a few nights with.

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“Eyes up here, tiger!”

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Michel wants to be a tough guy and he models himself on Humphrey Bogart. Patricia is also trying to figure out who she is – perhaps the Bonnie to his Clyde? With the police closing in, they are running out of time and decisions must be made. Who are they really?

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I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Humphrey-and-Audrey

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Breathless is stylish and artsy, sometimes with a documentary feel to it, while other times it feels more like a romantic comedy or a noir. We love how cool it is, the breaks in the fourth wall, the cuts and close-ups, the opening line and Patricia’s gorgeous stripy clothes (really – she only wears stripes).

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With many to choose from, this dress remains our favourite

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It’s definitely a must-see for anyone with even a slight passing interest in French new wave cinema.

What we learned: Don’t fall for someone who generalizes about your gender every time you don’t do what they want.

Next time: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

#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!!!

#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)