#174 A Bucket of Blood

Watched: April 6 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 06min

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In a beatnik café, pretentious poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton) is performing his latest work, to the fascination of busboy Walter Paisley (Miller). Inspired by the artists he surrounds himself with, and also driven by their ridicule of him, Walter decides to try his hand at sculpting.

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“So, how did we do this in Arts and Crafts again..? I just knead it for a while and then it turns out amazing? Can’t be more to it than that!”

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Realising that sculpting is harder than it looks, he takes a break to save his landlady’s cat who’s stuck inside the wall. However, stabbing through it, he accidentally stabs the poor cat. Naturally, he proceeds to cover the dead animal in sculpting clay and the next day he turns up to work with his new sculpture.

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“Dead Cat” is an instant success, admired by art lovers and drug enthusiasts alike

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Walter’s newfound success leads to admiration from his crush Carla (Morris) and other patrons of the café, and a lady gives him some heroin as a gift, as one does. This in turn leads to an attempted arrest as an undercover cop follows Walter home and tries to book him for drug possession. Afraid, Walter hits him over the head with a frying pan, killing the cop instantly.

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What do you do when you accidentally kill a cop? Why, cover the body in clay and pass it off as a life sized sculpture, of course!

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Walter gradually goes from underestimated and accident-prone simpleton to calculating killer who lets every small slight become justification for murder. He is, however, not smart enough to avoid killing people he knows and is known to dislike.

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“It is so sweet that you made a sculpture of a strangled woman who looks exactly like the one who spent last night insulting you very publicly. I simply must kiss you!”

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Leonard (Carbone), the owner of the café, is the only one to see through his newly discovered talent, but he is making money off of Walter’s work and has a vested interest in keeping up the illusion. But how long can this go on? And who is next on Walter’s kill radar?

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“This severed head has been bothering me all week, so I clayed it!”

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A Bucket of Blood is the farcical version of House of Wax. The concepts are similar, but this one is more comedic and strangely also more sinister in many ways. Walter is the epitome of the stereotypical “good guy” – he sees himself as sweet, kind, underestimated and misunderstood, but if he’s rejected by someone, or made fun of, he becomes violent and murderous while simultaneously justifying his actions in his head.

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“I’m a famous and celebrated sculptor now, so you must date me. Unless you’re just a bitch and a whore!”

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We loved his first attempt at sculpting Carla’s face, the extremely pretentious Maxwell and the morbidity of the whole film. We also understand perfectly why Roger Corman made so many films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe – it’s a match made in heaven! Or probably hell, to be quite frank.

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“If it’s hell, can I still be king..?” “Of course you can, Mr Futterman.”

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What we learned: It’s not easy being surrounded by (pretentious) artists if you’re not one yourself. And also a simpleton…

Next time: Ben-Hur (1959)

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#156 Throne of Blood

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Chieko Naniwa, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 50min

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General Washizu (Mifune) and General Miki (Chiaki) are on their way to Spider’s Web Castle to have their excellent work recognized by Lord Tsuzuki (Tachikawa) when they get lost in Spider’s Web forest. They run into a magical old lady spinning her own web while singing depressing songs (Naniwa). She tells them that Washizu will be named Lord of the Northern garrison and Miki will take over his old post. She also predicts that eventually Washizu will become Lord of the Castle, succeeded by Miki’s son.

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As systems of government go, it’s a step up from women lying in ponds distributing swords, but it’s still far removed from general elections.

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While Washizu is content enough in his new, improved position, his wife Asaji (Yamada) becomes obsessed with the last part of the prophecy and keeps spurring him on to make it a reality. Asaji’s ambition combined with her husband’s skills as a warrior mean that soon the two start clearing the path for their social climbing, killing and manipulating their way to the top.

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“I admit it. I only want to be Lord because samurai armour is very cumbersome when you’re getting up off floors, and I ain’t getting any younger. Now I get a chair!”

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However, as the bodies start piling up, both Washizus descend into madness, and keeping their new status proves decidedly harder than getting it in the first place.

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Poster girl for sanity

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Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and despite it being set in a very different culture and time, it is a very true adaptation. Mifune is amazing as feudal Japanese Macbeth, and Yamada is deliciously insane and creepy as his ambitious and ruthless wife.

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Just doing some hovering in the background in the blood stained room. Nothing sinister going on here.

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We love us some samurai, some murder and some madness, so naturally we loved this. It is grotesque and creepy as well as engaging and exciting. As all Kurosawa, it is also beautifully shot and gorgeous to look at. It’s a Shakespeare tragedy, so from the very beginning you have some idea of where this is going, but watching it all unfold is still a fantastic ride.

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It’s like this shot in the beginning is some sort of foreshadowing or something.

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Love, love, love this!

What we learned: Don’t take advice from paranoid, ambitious, crazy people.

Next time: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein

Watched: December 25 2017

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 22min

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Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is smart, ambitious, handsome, charming and rich. He is also an arrogant jerk. And imprisoned. He confesses to a priest and tells his unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, story.

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“It all started, as these things tend to do, with a dead dog…”

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Orphaned at a fairly young age, Baron Frankenstein hires his own tutor, Paul Krempe (Urquhart), to be his teacher and later partner. Together the two explore the world of science!

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That’s just normal glass – his eyes are really like that. If you don’t believe us, watch Top Secret (1984)

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Their greatest achievement, the reanimation of dead tissue, brings about different reactions in the two scientists. While Kempe’s initial reactions is “yay! This’ll make surgery so much easier and safer!”, Frankenstein’s first impulse is to go out and harvest body parts to make himself a new man-puzzle. Kempe finally starts to see the sociopath in his student, and they have a falling out.

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“It’s MY turn to reanimate the corpse!” “No, it’s MINE!” “Who’s the one paying for all this?” “Screw this, I’m out.”

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Things escalate when Victor straight up murders another intellectual to use his brain for his creation, and then uses his successfully assembled and animated creature (Lee) to kill his knocked up maid Justine (Gaunt) who threatens to expose his shady dealings if he does not marry her.

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“Sorry, sweetheart – you’re certainly not good enough for the likes of me. Think of what the children will be like??? No, I’m engaged to marry my cousin. Yay gene pool!”

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Meanwhile, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Court) has arrived to marry him, which adds another complication. With the death toll rising, a creature on the loose, a falling out between the friends, and a Fair Maiden innocently roaming the large house at night, how on earth will this end?

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Let’s face it: fancy, defenseless ladies roaming around castles in the night with only a small lamp for company are usually not indicative of happy endings…

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The Curse of Frankenstein is quite different from its early predecessor Frankenstein despite their many similarities. For one, the monster (or, in this case, creature) isn’t really all that important. As creepy and scary as Christopher Lee is in this, the focus is all on the Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein.

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For such an unfortunate looking creature, he’s a surprisingly snappy dresser!

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Frankenstein himself is also very different. Personally, we feel that this take on the Baron is closer to the source material than many other incarnations – he really is an arrogant, egotistical, spoiled brat with a God complex in the book, no matter how bad he feels once everything falls apart. Cushing’s Frankenstein is particularly ruthless, and we love him for it. Well, not him as much as this version of events, we suppose. But we definitely love this film!

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…and this guy! #decompositionchic

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What we learned: If you’re going to stand up to a rich, insane, megalomaniac nobleman who doesn’t like being told what to do, you’d better have a contingency plan…

Next time: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

#153 The Bridge on the River Kwai

Watched: December 27 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, Geoffrey Horne

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 41min

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Happy New Year, gentle reader! After a Christmas hiatus (and a ridiculously popular New Year’s tweet), we are finally back in business and continuing our journey through 1000+ films. And where better to start than David Lean’s classic WWII drama The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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Oh boy. Here we go again!

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During World War II, a British company led by Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) joins several other prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp. The camp commander, Colonel Saito (Hayakawa), tasks the newly arrived company, including its officers, with building a railway bridge over the nearby river. Hence the title of the movie.

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“It’ll be fun! Like building legos! Also, you can get nekkid and swim. It’s by far the most fun you can have in a prison camp consisting entirely of men.”

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Nicholson refuses to build the bridge, citing the Geneva Convention which forbids officers from being used for manual labour while prisoners. Saito, unable to kill him outright due to witnesses, instead settles for prolonged torture of all British officers.

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Torture: the best diet! Tried and tested by prisoners of war everywhere.

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When Nicholson is finally released from the iron box in which he’s been enclosed, the two colonels make a strange deal that the captured officers will oversee the work and construct the best damned bridge Burma has ever seen, dammit!

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“There’s no way I’m building a bridge for the enemy to facilitate their warfare. Unless that bridge is gonna be the best one ever constructed. Yeah, that’ll show’em!”

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Meanwhile, (fake) U.S. Navy Commander Shears (Holden), who originally warned the British officers about Saito, has joined an escape party and actually managed to get away! Hurray! Once he reaches safety, he is recruited to return with a small special forces party to destroy the eponymous bridge, joined by Major Warden (Hawkins), Lieutenant Joyce (Horne) and a very unlucky soldier who dies en route.

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Manly men to the rescue, betches!

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The Bridge on the River Kwai is a true classic, and despite lasting for almost three hours, it’s engaging throughout. You’re sort of rooting for both Shears and Nicholson, even though the latter goes bat shit crazy with bridge-building pride. So, really, one roots for Shears. Though Nicholson is admirable as well. Even Saito, the natural antagonist, is humanized in the course of the film. It’s all very emotionally confusing.

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Yep. Sums it up.

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A great, if tragic, way to start the new year. Here’s to 2018!

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“So, you got any new year’s resolutions?” “Well, I’m gonna build a great bridge and not back down under threat of torture and death. Oh, and I’m considering quitting smoking. You?”

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What we learned: Live like a human being.

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

#146 A Face in the Crowd

Watched: November 27 2017

Director: Elia Kazan

Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Marcia Jeffries (Neal) is a small town radio reporter who makes a show called “A Face in the Crowd.” As she has the brilliant idea of recording an episode in the local jail, she discovers charismatic drifter Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, and his music and personality make him an overnight sensation.

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You know it’s going to be a good day when the only unhappy person in jail is the sheriff

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Marcia and her uncle, who owns the radio station, give Lonesome more airtime and soon his popularity spreads across the nation and, via Memphis, he ends up as a TV personality and big time influencer in New York.

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“Look! A tiny, magical me inside a box!”

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On TV, Lonesome Rhodes is a down-to-earth country boy with a heart of gold and grass root wisdom to spew. However, in real life Larry is a selfish scoundrel of a con man who grows increasingly madder with his newfound power and political influence. Marcia, who has fallen in love with her discovery despite being a very smart woman, gradually realises that she has created a monster…

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The face of a completely sane and not at all crazy man, thankyouverymuch!

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In many ways, A Face in the Crowd is more relevant now than it was in 1957. The popular media’s influence on politics, the TV personality’s power over people’s thoughts and opinions, and the yes-men surrounding the star enabling his delusions are all more prominent now than ever.

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Just look at who became president of the USA in the latest election…

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While funny at times, and dramatic at others, it still plays more like a horror movie in many ways than a drama, particularly since it really nails a lot of nasty truths about society and politics.

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We like these guys, though. Especially Walter “I Hate Extroverts” Matthau.

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Weirdly prescient and very unsettling, A Face in the Crowd should be watched by all.

What we learned: Fame is a fickle friend.

Next time: Curse/Night of the Demon (1957)

#138 Bigger Than Life

Watched: October 4 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 35min

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School’s out for Easter. What a dream! Though not for teacher Ed Avery (Mason), who suffers stomach pains and is on his way to his second job as a cab dispatcher. Despite his clear discomfort and his rush to get to his second, secret, job, he takes the time to give a student a break and to play matchmaker for a couple of colleagues. An all round good guy!

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Pictured: every teacher’s face at vacation time

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After a dinner party, Ed collapses and his wife Lou (Rush) and BFF Wally (Matthau) get him to the hospital. The doctors run a series of tests, including a very cool and quite possibly cancer-inducing X-Ray with barium, and are discouraged by what they find. Without treatment, Ed has less than a year to live.

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A life span further reduced by the liberal helpings of barium and x-radiation

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The only treatment found to be somewhat effective is the newly discovered (possibly?) hormone cortisone, but it can have serious side-effects. After weeks of experimenting, a proper dosage is found, and Ed is sent back home with a few weeks’ supply of cortisone pills.

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Ed’s medication gives him a new appreciation for fancy clothes and shopping sprees. There’s a chance we may have too much cortisone in our systems…

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In time, Lou starts noticing some changes in her husband’s personality. He is more adventurous and spontaneous, but less sensible and responsible. He is energetic and manic with terrible mood swings and occasional tremors.

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There’s always a possibility he is possessed, according to the mirror

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As Ed’s solution is to up his cortisone intake, his new personality traits develop into full blown delusions of grandeur, complete with a new tyrannical approach to family life.

 

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Even his shadow gets in on the action, looming threateningly over his young son Richie

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Bigger Than Life is very dramatic, and Ed’s development throughout the film goes from one extreme to the next. We loved the X-Ray/barium scene, the dramatic crescendo of the ending, the shadows and the general craziness. It may not be a film we’ll rewatch over and over again, but it is definitely worth watching once.

What we learned: Teachers owe it to themselves to be sick on school days – not during vacation. Word! Also, stick to the prescribed dosage.

Next time: Forbidden Planet (1956)

#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)

#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#88 The Red Shoes

Watched: March 6 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.

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While the others work, Lermontov does his very best impression of a creepy old man

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The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.

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We strongly suspect Julian didn’t like other men’s hands this close to his wife’s hoo-ha..

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Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.

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Ah – innocence ruined by the lure of passion. It’s like the fairy tale reflects the fate of the innocent ballerina…

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It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.

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It doesn’t help our impression that he shows up for her performance  wearing something very close to a Nazi outfit and goes straight for the boobs

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This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.

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We’re quite certain that the audience cannot be replaced by an ocean in a real live performance.

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It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).

What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).

Next time: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)