#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)

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#134 The Court Jester

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Melvin Frank & Norman Panama

Starring: Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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A Royal child has survived the massacre of his family, and is being kept safe in the forest by Not-Robin-Hood “The Black Fox” and his singing, dancing and fairly merry men. The usurping king is not very happy about this and sends out his men to track down and kill the child who bears the tell-tale birthmark “The Purple Pimpernel”

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We chose this image to avoid being banned for lewd pictures, but it gives you a certain idea of where the birthmark is placed

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Among The Black Fox’s merry men is carnival performer Hubert Hawkins (Kaye) – a minstrel who really wants to fight for the rightful heir but who is tasked with entertaining the troops instead. Along with Captain Jean (Johns), he is sent to smuggle the child to safety, but as the pair run into the new unrightful king’s new jester, they make their own plans.

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Guess who’s going undercover!

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Once at the court, complications arise as Sir Ravenhurst (Rathbone) thinks he’s an assassin, Princess Gwendolyn (Lansbury) thinks he’s her one true love, and her Nanny Griselda (Natwick) hypnotizes our hero to be all those things. Additionally, Jean is kidnapped into prostitution at the castle, and the infant King must be kept hidden under the nose of his would-be killer. Let the farce commence!

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The prostitution-thing is not explicitly stated, but very heavily hinted at

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The Court Jester is very silly and very funny, with great musical numbers (we especially loved the opening song) and gags galore! It’s a swashbuckling adventure which reminded us in style of The Adventures of Robin Hood (we’re guessing not accidentally) and in humour of Mel Brooks – particularly Men in Tights, of course.

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Also, the inspiration for a certain famous scene with dancing, singing “knighets”!

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A fun family comedy recommended for all who love a bit of well-executed silly in their lives.

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And Murder, She Wrote-fans looking to justify their love for Angela Lansbury

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What we learned: Kings can be overthrown by dwarves and birthmarks. Also, Danny Kaye invented the drop-crotch trousers.

Next time: The Ladykillers (1955)

#125 All That Heaven Allows

Watched: August 14 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Jacqueline deWit

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Cary Scott (Wyman) is a youngish widow (typecast much?) with two grown children in college. While her hoity-toity society friends want her to remarry within their social circle, Cary has her eye on gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Hudson).

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And really, who can blame her?

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Luckily for Cary, her feelings are reciprocated, and the unlikely couple start dating. Ron introduces her to his kind and laid-back friends and shows her a whole new way of life – one where material possessions and status do not matter. It’s an appealing thought for a woman trapped within a boring and unfulfilling existence with bitchy women and horn-dog men.

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“But how can I possibly love someone of lower social standing? He’d better be some sort of Disney prince or something!”

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“Nevermind. He totally is!”

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As their relationship becomes gradually more serious, the couple meets with prejudice from Cary’s friends and children. Will they overcome these obstacles? Will love triumph over small-mindedness and social constructs?

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Will Cary be able to downgrade to these awful living conditions and this horrible living room view? Only time will tell.

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It’s only our second Sirk film, but already we’re seeing a pattern (apart from the obvious one of casting the same actors); at the root of everything there is a philosophy. In Magnificent Obsession the idea was that it is one’s duty to help those less fortunate. In All that Heaven Allows, one’s duty is to oneself – to live the way one wants to and not how society expects you to live, and to make choices for oneself and not always put others first.

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The philosophy could also be that rich men are judgmental, entitled, rapey douchebags. We’re not quite ready to rule that interpretation out yet.

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It’s an engaging and fun watch, beautifully shot, and in glorious technicolor. Romantic dramas aren’t really our favourite genre of films, but Sirk does them wonderfully, and we’re enjoying getting to know this director. Great lazy Sunday viewing (although we technically watched it on a Monday. But Monday before work started, so Monday-for-Sunday).

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What we learned: Society’s expectations should not stand in the way of love. Also, to thine own self be true.

Next time: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

#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)

#121 Magnificent Obsession

Watched: July 8 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Bob Merrick (Hudson) is a spoiled rich brat whose life is all about indulging his narcissistic personality. After throwing a tantrum when his advisors try to suggest that the weather isn’t really suited for speed racing on the lake, he gets himself into a completely avoidable and potentially fatal accident.

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“That bitch lake had better obey my financial power!”

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On their way to save him, the police pick up a resuscitator from a neighbour with a heart condition. As it is put to use saving the life of the self-centered playboy, the good doctor to whom it belongs succumbs to a heart attack.

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“My husband died from a heart condition while indirectly helping a man with no heart? How very symbolic of him!”

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When Merrick learns what happened, he tries to apologise to the doctor’s widow, Helen Phillips (Wyman) who naturally does not want to hear from the man who cost her husband his life. Merrick, the Phillips family’s jinx, then causes Helen to lose her sight in an accident. You’d think he’d learn to stay away by now, but he keeps pursuing her, taking advantage of her blindness to take on an assumed identity. At least the Phillips’ misfortune(s) bring about a change in Merrick, sending him down a very different path than the one on which he had started.

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“This Bobby sounds like a real piece of work! Good thing I, ehm, Robby, am completely different from this rich bastard!”

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Despite its clear religious undertones and somewhat melodramatic style, we really enjoyed Magnificent Obsession. It is beautiful and sad with some unconventional (albeit at times almost farcical) twists and turns.

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We want all their clothes. Especially Jane Wyman’s.

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It’s always nice to watch the redemption of self-obsessed characters, and this one delivers. We loved Nancy (Moorehead) and the little girl Judy (Nugent), and we LOVED the costumes in glorious technicolor! We liked this more than we thought we would, although we realise that it’s one of those films you have to be in the right mood for. Luckily, we were, and we’re looking forward to more Sirk to come.

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Bask in the gloriousness of my fabulous style!

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What we learned: Given the right motivation, anyone can turn their life around. If they have buttloads of money, at least.

Next time: Bonus post: Baby Driver (2017)

#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)

#116 The Band Wagon

Watched: June 25 2017

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Washed up musical star Tony Hunter (Astaire) hasn’t made anything in 3 years but seems OK with it. He arrives in New York City, and although the journalists that greet him are actually there for Ava Gardner, his old friends Lily and Lester Marton (Fabray and Levant, respectively) show up to meet him with an idea for a new stage musical.

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The Martons do everything with bells and whistles, including picking up an old friend from the train

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The playwright couple have a plan to get the incredibly pretentious Jeffrey Cordova (Buchanan) to direct their play, and they are also hoping for ballerina Gabrielle Gerard (Charisse) to take on the female lead opposite Tony.

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Naughty, naughty ballerina…

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While the Mortons succeed in getting the people they want, Jeffrey decides to turn their fun musical comedy into a modern retelling of Faust, with himself playing the devil. In addition, the two stars don’t get along, both misinterpreting the other’s reverence for arrogance and acting accordingly.

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Nothing like a shared smoke to fix a strained relationship

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We’re suckers for good musicals and The Band Wagon delivers. Fred Astaire is impressive even in his fifties (which, for dancers, is like seventies) and the humour is on point. We loved Jeffrey’s version of Oedipus Rex, everything to do with Lily and Les, the gradual changes in the show, the murderous triplets and especially Dem Bones Café and the Noir in dance.

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It’s hard to tell here, but these sweet, innocent darlings are actually plotting parricide

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Funny and great musical numbers, glorious and colourful costumes, and fantastic performers – The Band Wagon is a wonderful musical adventure and we absolutely loved it.

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Our normal Friday night

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What we learned: Electricity is life! Also, don’t let your insecurities get the better of you.

Next time: The Big Heat (1953)

#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)

#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)

#79 Black Narcissus

Watched: January 28 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Judith Furse, Jenny Laird, Sabu, Jean Simmons

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Sister Clodagh (Kerr) is tasked with starting a convent high up in the Himalayas. To aid in her quest, she is offered four companions; Briony the Strong (Furse), Philippa the Gardener (Robson), Blanche (aka Honey) the Sweet (Laird), and Ruth the Difficult (Byron). Together, they travel to the great unknown to start a school and a hospital for the locals.

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Luckily for them, nothing ever goes wrong when a group of people are stranded in a remote, albeit beautiful, location

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They quickly establish a school where they teach children about guns, and a hospital where they treat people who are sick, but not too sick. With the help of government agent Mr Dean (Farrar) and the local General (which is apparently a code name for royalty), who pays locals to visit the convent, the nuns flourish, at least for a while. They also take in a young local girl, Kanchi (Simmons), who has been hitting hard on Mr Dean with no luck.

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It’s hard to be the only eligible bachelor in the area. He needs help controlling the urges of the women crossing his path.

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When the Young General (Sabu – an actual Indian) comes to learn, the sisters are sceptical about admitting a man into their midst, but they eventually let him join their lessons, which Kanchi is thrilled about.

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She quite literally throws herself at his feet

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As the film progresses, all the nuns experience changes. Sister Philippa has a crisis of faith and ends up planting flowers instead of the vegetables she’s supposed to be growing for the convent. Sister Clodagh keeps having flashbacks to her life prior to life as a nun, reliving her past relationship back in Ireland with a man she thought she would marry. Sisters Blanche and Briony have to make some tough choices in regards to a sick infant, one which has consequences for all the nuns. However, sister Ruth’s break from reality is the most intense and sinister, which makes the last 20 minutes of the film play more like a horror film than the melodrama of the first hour.

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This is what happens when you question your choice of celibacy

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Ruth falls in love (or lust) with Mr Dean, and she becomes insanely jealous of Clodagh as she suspects (rightly or not) that the Sister Superior feels the same way. While the nuns blame the clear air and the water of their new home for their new emotions, it is quite possible that the convent itself might be partly to blame. We learn early on that the palace used to be a House of Women – a house for concubines and wives of the royals, and it seems the women go mad with lust and desire, in some form or another, in this building.

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Some go madder than others

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We enjoyed this film a lot. We have to admit that for the first 50 minutes we were not entirely sure what the point was – why was this film made? Beautiful as it was, it didn’t seem to be going clearly in any one direction. However, everything comes together in the last half. It is a strange and bizarre film, but we loved it nonetheless. Ruth’s transformation is wonderfully creepy and the endless drumming towards the end of the film are very reminiscent of I Walked with a Zombie, which adds to the feeling of horror of the last half hour. If you’re up for something weird and unusual, you should check out Black Narcissus. It’s quite the experience.

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What we learned: Europeans eat sausages wherever they go. Interpret that as you wish.

Next time: Brighton Rock (1947)