#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)

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#48 The Wizard of Oz

Watched: October 02 2016

Director: Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, King Vidor, George Cukor, Norman Taurog (clearly, it takes a village…)

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke, the Munchkins

Year: 1939

Runtime: 1h 42min

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Really? Do you really need a recap of this? OK, fine, let’s sum it up.

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Girl kills woman and takes her shoes as trophy (in her defense, they’re very pretty)

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Girl goes on adventure/quest with new friends

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Girl is chased by mutant minions of sister of first murder victim. She goes on to also kill the sister.

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Her enemies now slain, the pink, poofy witch finally lets girl go home to her own family

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We love it!

What we learned: there’s no place like home. Also, we do NOT trust that smug bitch Glinda.

Next time: Fantasia (1940)

#31 King Kong

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: Merian S. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 40min

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King Kong needs no introduction, but we’ll try to summarise the plot anyway. In depression era New York, evil David Attenborough Carl Denham (Armstrong), is preparing for a journey to find a mythical beast. He has the ship and the crew ready to go, but for some reason he has trouble finding an actress willing to travel on an isolated ship with several strange men to an unknown destination. Girls used to be so picky.

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“I should have seen this coming. My mother always warned me that going on trips with strangers would result in kidnappings by prehistoric beasts”

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This being the depression, there is no shortage of unemployed actresses and one night on the streets of New York is enough to find a suitable girl with nothing to lose, Ann Darrow (Wray). Once at sea, Denham reveals their destination – an uncharted island known as “Skull Island” which is rumoured to be the home of a mythical creature known only as “Kong.”

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“That’s King Kong to you, thankyouverymuch!”

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When they arrive at the island the locals are in the middle of a ceremony wherein a girl is sacrificed to be the “bride of Kong.” However, when the local chief spots Ann among the men, he decides “the golden woman” is a more suitable offering. That night, tribe members sneak aboard the Venture and kidnap Ann, and by the time the crew realise what has happened, she is already tied up and the beast is being summoned.

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“Go me, it’s my birthday, they left a pressie for me for my birthday, gonna take my pressie with me for my birthday…”

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Denham, Ann’s love interest Jack Driscoll (Cabot), and several disposable crew members chase Kong and Ann into the jungle, and on the way they run into several other “monsters” such as Nessie, a couple of huge lizards and a freaking T-Rex.

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“No! She was MY birthday pressie! Get your own!”

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Eventually, Jack manages to save Ann with the help of an unwitting pterodactyl and they get back to the surviving crew members. However, Kong is quite smitten with Ann and not ready to let her go, so he follows them to the village where he eats (well, chews) a few villagers before Denham gas bombs him and transports him to New York. Because that seems like an excellent idea.

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What could possibly go wrong?

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Then, on opening night, a whole Young Frankenstein-thing happens with the flash photography of the reporters and Kong is on the loose. He finds Ann and climbs the Empire State Building with her for the climactic and iconic final scene of the film.

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This is what happens when you take extremely strong and dangerous animals and torture them. (OK, technically, this rarely happens, but we’re trying to prove a point!)

This film is another old favourite and we still love it. Sure, the effects might seem a little bit dated, but they are still impressive and it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how each shot was done. (Yes, we’re aware that there are probably hundreds of articles and documentaries on exactly how each shot in King Kong was done, but it’s much more fun to try and analyze it yourself with limited knowledge of film making.) We heartily recommend it!

What we learned: it was Beauty killed the Beast. Also, buy a girl an apple and a cup of coffee and she’ll be in your film, no questions asked.

Next time: Sons of the Desert (1933)

#24 Scarface

Watched: August 23 2016

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Boris Karloff

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 30min

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“This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: “What are you going to do about it?”. The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?” So opens the most violent PSA of the ’30s, Scarface.

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“I’m gonna f**k some s**t up, is what I’m gonna do!”

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The man f’ing things up is Tony Camonte (Muni), ambitious strong-arm for the mafia and part-time overprotective brother. After being interrogated for the murder of his old boss, he teams up with new boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to run the Chicago underworld. Tony is simultaneously very smart and very stupid, and his ruthlessness, charm and excellent beer ordering system help him climb to the top, gradually taking over the territory as well as the boss’ girl.

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To be fair, she comes with the territory

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Gang war ensues and Tony spirals and grows gradually more insane, more ambitious and more ruthless. Despite everything though, he is very charismatic and strangely likeable at times, up until the point he completely ruins his sister’s life which effectively ends his operation.

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“How dare you fall for men similar to the only male influence in your life!”

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Despite the violence, there’s a lot of comedy in Scarface as well, especially in the form of Tony’s “seckertary” Angelo. There’s great use of shadows and we loved the “shooting the days away”-bit. We also liked the women in this; Poppy and Cesca were great, and Tony’s mother was no fool, unlike some of the other mafia mums we’ve seen.

Another one we’ll recommend if you like action, great clothes, cool characters and the absence of father figures (seriously – none of these gangster types in any of these movies have (good) fathers). The ending made us sad, though not so much for Tony as the ones around him. We’re now looking forward to rewatching the 1983 film of the same name!

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“I’m shooting in the rain, just shooting in the rain!”

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What we learned: Killers sure liked to whistle back in the day. Also, never get attached to the comic relief.

Next time: The Mummy (1932)

#9 The Cameraman

Watched: August 9 2016

Directors: Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 09min

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In this rollercoaster ride, the exquisite Buster Keaton portrays a slightly creepy hair-sniffing tintype photographer who falls instantly in love with a charming young lady played by the beautiful Marceline Day. He finds out that she works for MGM News Reel and promptly decides to get a job there as a cameraman. Which is kind of stalkery, but he is so nonthreatening that he gets away with it. He is also adorably uncoordinated with the camera, and slapstick ensues.

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“Which emotion am I conveying now?”

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The characters are very likable. Probably for the first time (in terms of films we’ve watched for this project), the hero has fallen for a lady worth making good for. Sally is sweet and kind, and she tries to help him and give him advice when he accidentally double exposes all of his footage. She does not seem to care that he has very little money, and she appears to genuinely enjoy his company. No wonder, considering all the other douches creeping on her. At least Buster can do magic tricks!

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“Where did my coin go now, do you think?”

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The physical comedy is this film is wonderful. There’s an amazing one-man baseball scene, a hilarious stair-running bit, a brilliant scene on a bus and a very enjoyable running gag with a police officer. As well as a delightful scene in a dressing room, which I’m sure we would have enjoyed even if he didn’t get undressed…

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Oh, what is this picture doing here? Must have snuck in by mistake

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This is the one I meant to post. With the distinctly non-sexy swimwear. Yes, that’s the one

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Among its many merits, The Camerman has a shoot out scene which rivals that of Spaced (1999-2001), and there’s a bit with a monkey. It is considered by many Keaton’s last masterpiece as he lost creative control of his movies around this time and eventually descended into alcoholism. Which is not funny. But the film is. So if, like us, you have developed a major crush on Buster Keaton, this is a definite must-see.

Next time: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)