#217 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Watched: January 11 2019

Director: John Ford

Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 03min

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Shinbone, somewhere in the Wild West. Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Miles) arrive to attend the funeral of old friend and town loner Tom Doniphon (Wayne). Together with former sheriff Link Appleyard (Devine), they recount to reporters the reason they returned to pay their last respects to Doniphon.

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“That man could grow a cactus like no one I ever met.”

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Flash back 25 years, and Stoddard is an idealistic lawyer ready to start his practice in the then lawless Shinbone. On the way into town, his stagecoach is ambushed by local gang leader Liberty Valance (Marvin). After refusing to yield to the bully, Stoddard is brutally beaten and left to die in the desert. He’s found by Doniphon and nursed back to health by Hallie.

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“I have a good mind to throw this dish in your face, you dirty rotten scoundrel, you!”

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Once he recovers his strength, Stoddard decides to go ahead and open his law practice, as well as start a school to teach all the locals to read, something Valance is not happy with. Doniphon tries to tell Stoddard that he needs to use force in order to deal with the outlaw, but Stoddard is sure that the only way is the way of the law. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between “Ranse” and Hallie, although Doniphon is also in love with the only eligible woman in town.

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After all, Hallie is of Norwegian ancestry. We’re scientifically proven to be irresistable [citation needed].

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a wonderful and tense Western where philosophies collide with the transition from old to new ideals. On the one hand, we have the old west represented by the rugged, stoic and righteous gunslinger Doniphon, and on the other we have the new hero and male ideal: the educated, sensitive and refined Stoddard.

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The two have much to learn from each other…

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Stoddard woos the girl and wins over the townspeople by teaching them about history and politics, and how to better themselves. Meanwhile, badass macho man Doniphon protects them with force and his own form of love: he works hard to build his farm in order to have something to offer Hallie, but he never actually got around to asking her to marry him, or to ask her what she actually wanted from him.

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She might have married him ages ago if he ever actually thought to ask her

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There are some not-so-subtle references to all men being created equal, which would have been very timely in 1962 and, sadly, also in 2019, and which we absolutely loved. We also loved James Stewart, but then again, we always do…

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Even injured and in an apron, 10/10 would marry!

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This movie has it all: sassy women (mother more than daughter), bad criminals, intriguing politics, a stoic gunslinger, a young idealistic educated man, a love interest, and a bumbling town marshal. And once again, we find ourselves loving a Western classic. Fantastic stuff!

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He’s only an elected official – he can’t make decisions on his own!

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What we learned: That they used “dude” in the 1800s in the Wild West. Also, a beer is not drinking.

Next time: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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#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)

#122 Rear Window

Watched: June 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 52min

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It’s hot in the city and L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) has a broken leg. The increasingly bored and impatient photographer tries to amuse himself by entertaining his voyeuristic side – he spies on his neighbours.

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“Contrary to what you might think, I spy on my unattractive, male neighbours just as much as sexy Miss Torso the Dancer. So this is all morally sound!”

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From his wheelchair by the window, Jeff watches the romantic exploits of “Miss Torso;” the heartbreaking life of widow(?) “Miss Lonelyhearts” (whose sadness matches even that of Chaplin himself); and the bickering Thorwald couple across the yard.

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Conveniently, the Thorwalds both tend to be within sight of Jeff’s window simultaneously

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In addition to being the founding, and only, member of his local Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, Jeff is contemplating breaking up with his perfect (no, really!) girlfriend Lisa (Kelly), as he thinks she’s not cut out for his bohemian photographer lifestyle. However, when he sees suspicious activity at Thorwald’s (Burr) apartment, followed by the apparent disappearance of his wife, Lisa and housekeeper Stella (Ritter) are the only ones who believe his theory that Thorwald may have done something shady.

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“For this meeting of the NWA we’ll be spying on our curtain-less neighbours using this incredible powerful lens. Anyone have a moral problem with that?”

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Since Jeff’s police friend Doyle (Corey) can’t investigate without any sort of evidence that Thorwald is a killer, and he also doesn’t believe that a murder has happened, the three take it upon themselves to get the proof.

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“Murder, murder, murder! Change the fucking record!”

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No police involvement means that the two mobile women must risk their necks as Jeff is bound to his chair, which gives Lisa a chance to prove to her boyfriend that she is indeed wife material.

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Pictured: the kind of woman every man turns down. Disgusting hag.

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Rear Window is one of our favourite Hitchcock films, although that list is very long. Like Rope, the action takes place in one room, with just glimpses into the neighbouring apartments. It’s suspenseful with a good cast of characters (and actors), and for a long time you are not sure whether a crime really has been committed, or if Jeff is imagining everything. Miss Lonelyhearts is heartbreaking, and the scene where our protagonists ignore her clearly upcoming suicide attempt in order to focus on a potential murderer’s behaviour is probably the most uncomfortable scene in the entire picture.

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The most intriguing character by far. We’d be very interested in seeing her story on film.

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We loved the apartment complex and the mini-tableaux in the apartments, Stella the no-nonsense nurse, the couple sleeping on their balcony, and Lisa the socialite with a brain and guts. Also, the suspense was almost killing us even though we’d seen it before. We love ourselves a good murder mystery.

What we learned: Neighbours are dangerous. We’re never talking to ours again.

Next time: Seven Samurai (1954)

#118 The Naked Spur

Watched: June 30 2017

Director: Anthony Mann

Starring: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Howard Kemp (Stewart), a farmer turned bounty hunter, is tracking Ben Vandergroat (Ryan) through the Rocky Mountains. Along the way he runs into old prospector Jesse Tate (Mitchell) and “morally unstable” dishonorably discharged Army Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Meeker).

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There’s tension from the get-go

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The three join forces, sort of against Kemp’s wishes, and manage to capture the murderer. However, they are surprised to find him in the company of Lina Patch (Leigh) – the daughter of a dead criminal. As Kemp’s companions learn that he is no lawman but a bounty hunter set on collecting the $5000 reward for Vandergroat’s capture, they decide to accompany the party back to Kansas to get their share of the reward.

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#SquadGoals

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Vandergroat turns out to be a master manipulator who has his female companion convinced that he is innocent. As the five travelers make their long way towards Kansas, their captured killer works on turning them all against each other, which isn’t a hard task considering they don’t really trust each other to begin with. Will they all reach Kansas in one (five?) piece(s)?

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While the men do men stuff, the girl is tasked with womanly work such as tending the wounded, making coffee and falling for the protagonist

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The Naked Spur is a tense Western Thriller and we enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. It’s engaging and interesting, and it’s often hard to tell who the bad guys actually are – they all have their moments. It’s violent and suspenseful and we loved every minute of it. If you’re in the mood for a tense Western, you could do a lot worse than this Technicolor feature.

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Although the threat of rape lies heavily on poor Lina throughout…

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What we learned: It’s OK for strong, macho cowboys to cry. Also, are you willing to sell your soul for $5000?

Next time: The Wages of Fear (1953)

#86 Rope

Watched: January 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Edith Evanson, Cedric Hardwicke,

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 20min

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We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.

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Who needs morals when you have unlimited access to alcohol and this penthouse view?

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They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.

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One of these men have less of a conscience than the others…

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As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.

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Guess which one is the dominant one! Hint: it’s not the one doing the actual killing…

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Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.

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Turns out, Rupert has some opinions about the difference between theory and practice.

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We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…

Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.

What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.

Next time: The Fallen Idol (1948)