#179 Odds Against Tomorrow

Watched: May 13 2018

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame, Ed Begley

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Ex-cop Dave Burke (Begley) hires two men to carry out a robbery. Both Earle Slater (Ryan) and Johnny Ingram (Belafonte) are debt-ridden, and they are promised the neat sum of $50 000 each for the job.

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$50 000 may not seem much to risk your life for nowadays, but in 1959 it would buy you protection from several M*A*S*H cast members, which was a real threat at the time

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Slater is a big, stinking racist, and is not happy working with Ingram who is black. Ingram himself is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but has a gambling problem and owes a baddie $7500. Burke, the sly mo-fo, pulls strings to pressure the men and make sure he gets the crew he wants. Soon the three are preparing to rob a small bank.

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The monetary loss was nothing compared to the humiliation of being held at gunpoint by three dentists, one of whom was clearly blind

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As with all (or at least most) daring capers, despite their prep work and good planning, things go awry. This time though, it’s not because of a Dame or unplanned events, but because of Slater’s racism.

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“Why does the black guy get the cool hat? He also got the sunglasses! It’s not faaaair!”

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Odds Against Tomorrow is a very good and suspenseful noir with intriguing characters  and a fantastic soundtrack. Johnny, though by no means perfect, is infinitely more likable than little bitch Slater, who is passive aggressive with his girlfriend Lorry (Winters) and plain aggressive with everyone else. That being said, he too shows vulnerability and humanity at times, and he is disillusioned and angry after a hard life.

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“Honey, even though I try really hard to bang the neighbour, you’re my everything!”

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It’s a caper movie, but it focuses a lot on the characters and what drives them, rather than the heist itself, though that too is tense and exciting.  The ending (which we won’t reveal completely) is heavily symbolic and reminiscent of (slight spoiler alert!) White Heat, and we absolutely loved it! A great, late film noir.

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If intriguing characters, great music, a tense heist and social commentary don’t do it for you, there’s also the glorious Gloria Grahame in a bra. You creep.

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What we learned: All men are evil. Also, racism has no place in a heist.

Next time: Rio Bravo (1959)

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#178 North by Northwest

Watched: April 8 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 16min

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Roger O. Thornhill (Grant) is a busy adman with a slightly exasperated secretary and a fabulous mother (Landis). During lunch, he is mistaken for a Mr Kaplan by a couple of thugs and whisked away on an adventure.

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“We’re off to see the Wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

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Despite Thornhill’s insistence that they have the wrong guy, baddie Phillip Vandamm (Mason) is convinced his captive is lying. His suspicions are confirmed several times as Thornhill starts investigating and finds himself in the mysterious Kaplan’s hotel room, accepting his laundry and answering his phone. Idiot.

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“What sort of flying monkey is this???”

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Things go from bad to worse when Thornhill becomes a prime suspect for murder and must go on the lam. He ends up sneaking on to the “Twentieth Century” where he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint). She helps him elude capture, but now our hero is hunted by both criminals and law enforcement. What a pickle!

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Luckily, Thornhill is a master of disguise!

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North by Northwest is definitely among the funnier Hitchcock movies. The whole thing plays like a farce, and Cary Grant’s amazing face, sass and sarcasm keep the audience laughing throughout. We also loved his darling mother.

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“I’m a delight!”

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As with several Hitchcock films (and others), the opening credits by Saul Bass are fantastic, and the movie is suspenseful and exciting from beginning to end. Love this!

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So cool!

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What we learned: If you’re the victim of mistaken identity, try not to pretend to be that person… Also, high heels and rock climbing is a bad match. There goes our weekend plans.

Next time: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

#173 Vertigo

Watched: March 17 2018

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Year: 1958

Runtime: 2h 8min

For those of you wondering what happened to #167 to #172, Mr Wright has made a few changes to the list and we have had to update the numbering to the current version, as outlined here. A number of new films have been added to the ’30s and ’40s, and we’ll try to catch up with them as soon as we can get our hands on copies. Until then, we continue where we left off, but with updated numbers.

Vertigo

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During a roof top police chase, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) almost falls to his death and witnesses another police officer die trying to save him. After the accident, he retires from the force and suffers vertigo as a result of the traumatic incident.

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If there’s one thing we’ve learned from American Ninja Warrior it’s that once your arms straighten, you’re doomed. That, and Gbaja-Biamila is really fun to say.

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Spending his downtime in the (fantastic) company of friend Midge Wood (Bel Geddes), Scottie is contacted by old school friend Gavin Elster (Helmore) who hires him to stalk his wife. Elster claims Madeleine (Novak) has been possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother Carlotta, who killed herself after being betrayed by the man she loved.

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“No woman is that interested in art. She must be possessed by the woman in the painting.”

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Hesitant at first, Scottie agrees to the job after seeing the gorgeous Madeleine. He follows her to the florist and the cemetery where she visits Carlotta’s grave. When she later flings herself into the river, he saves her and brings her home, and they promptly fall in love.

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“I’m aware that you’re my friend’s wife and quite possibly possessed and/or crazy, but those eyebrows just make me weak!” “What, these old things? They we’re just something I threw on.”

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However, it’s far from smooth sailing from then on. Turns out newfound love does not erase madness/ghosts and Scottie is unable to save Madeleine, leading him to a complete meltdown. But what was actually going on?

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And what, exactly, is the purpose of a brassiere?

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From the awesome opening titles (by Saul Bass) to the end credits, Vertigo is fantastic. We loved the colours (especially the red restaurant), all the spirals, the dolly zoom, the very judgemental judge, the dream sequence and of course Midge. Lovely, lovely Midge and her lovely, lovely apartment.

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We thought it was funny too, Midge. Scottie’s just too sensitive.

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Also, any mention of ghosts have us hooked from the very start, even if there’s no actual supernatural forces at work. And we find James Stewart oddly charming.

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We covet that wallpaper… And, to a lesser degree, that man.

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What we learned: Don’t trust old school chums. Also, if there’s a Midge in your life – marry her!

Next time: A Bucket of Blood (1959)

#166 Touch of Evil

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 35min

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Mr & Mrs Vargas (Heston and Leigh, respectively) pass the border from Mexico to the USA only to have a car blow up in front of them. Mike Vargas, a Mexican agent, decides to look into it, while American-born Susan Vargas stupidly decides to follow a random dude back across the border.

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She might make stupid decisions, but she’s got spunk and is intimidated by no man!

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Vargas is joined by US police officers Hank Quinlan (Welles) and his partner Pete Menzies (Calleia) and gets to tag along on their investigation. However, when Vargas witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in the apartment of their main suspect, he accuses the veteran police captain and starts to suspect that he, perhaps with his partner, has been operating this way for years.

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“No, no, you silly Mexican police person! This dynamite was always on the premises. It’s just racist dynamite and will only show up if handled by an American.” “Then how did the Mexican suspect handle it?” “Uh, um, he must be half American or something…”

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Quinlan denies any wrongdoing and starts to work to discredit Vargas, or get rid of him altogether. Meanwhile “Uncle” Joe Grandi (Tamiroff) is also putting pressure on Quinlan since Vargas has been investigating Grandi’s brother. To keep her safe, Susan in moved to a remote motel where she finds herself the sole guest only joined by a very strange manager.

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Turns out the motel is anything but safe…

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Touch of Evil is really very tense, especially Susan’s storyline. We were genuinely worried about her, no matter how spunky and independent she was, and she had some really horrible scenes. We loved the film though – we loved Susan, the Mexican being the good-guy protagonist (even if it was Charlton Heston in brownface), the total corruptedness of Quinlan and the naïve hero worshiping of Menzies.

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Also, there’s a brothel run by the fabulous Marlene Dietrich, which in itself is reason enough to watch this movie.

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Welles’ version was reedited and released as a very different movie than the one he envisioned. Since its 1958 debut, two other cuts have been released. We’re pretty sure the one we watched was the 1998 version cut together based on Orson Welles’ notes (we base this on nothing other than runtime, as we didn’t check the DVD-case). Just so you know, in case some of you think this is very important to this informal review.

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Put down the gun, Orson! We’ll watch your (probably) preferred version! We swear!

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No matter which cut you go for, this is a great Noir with a fantastic opening shot (really – check it out!), a great ending, and some kind of a man. Great stuff!

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No caption here. We just liked this picture.

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What we learned: Border towns bring out the worst people.

Next time: Vertigo (1958)

#162 Elevator to the Gallows/Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Louis Malle

Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin, Georges Poujouly, Jean Wall

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Foreign Legion veteran Julien Tavernier (Ronet) and his lover Florence Carala (Moreau) have a diabolical plan: they will kill Florence’s husband, who just so happens to be Julien’s boss, and make it look like a suicide. The plan is good (you know, in an evil way) and goes smoothly until Julien forgets to get rid of a key piece of evidence.

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Strangely enough, considering his 74-a-day habit, it was not a DNA-riddled cigarette, but an innocent rope

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When Julien tries to retrieve the rope hanging from the murdered man’s window, his timing couldn’t be worse and he ends up stuck in the elevator for the night when the power is turned off.

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“Dammit! I shouldn’t have had that extra croissant for lunch. Now I won’t be able to squeeze out until I’ve worked it off.”

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Florist Véronique (Bertin), who works across the street, and her crook boyfriend Louis (Poujouly) take this opportunity to steal Julien’s car and go on their own spree, which also ends in murder. One in which Julien becomes the main suspect as Louis stole his identity as well as his sweet ride.

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“Fret not, my dear. It’s just a bad day. Who hasn’t had one of those days where they’ve stolen several cars and killed German tourists? It’ll all blow over soon.”

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Meanwhile, Florence wanders the streets of Paris searching for her now MIA lover she thinks she saw driving off in his car with another woman. Her internal dialogue is not happy about this.

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She’s in the ultimate sexy French depression

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We loved everything about this movie. It is visually stunning and fantastically scored with music by Miles Davis. Despite the fact that Julien committed his very own murder, we kept hoping that pretentious douchebag Louis would be arrested to clear Julien of killing the extremely happy German tourist, and the suspense kept us on the edges of our seats.

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That, and Jeanne Moreau’s various depressed faces

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All the characters are horrible people, and yet we were enthralled by the story and very invested in the ending. Definitely a must-watch!

What we learned: Divorce was invented for a reason, people. Use it!

Next time: Mon Oncle (1958)

#142 The Killing

Watched: November 9 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr, Vince Edwards, Joe Sawyer, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 25min

Killing

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Five men, led by mastermind Johnny Clay (Hayden), are planning a heist on a race track with a potential earning of around $2 000 000. Apart from Johnny himself, there’s money man Marvin Unger (Flippen), corrupt cop Randy Kennan (de Corsia), and inside men George Peatty (Cook) and Mike O’Reilly (Sawyer).

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“So, if anyone has a manipulative, two-timing wife who’s sure to sell us all out, now’s the time to come forward. No..? No one..? George..? All right then, we go on as planned!”

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George, a small and nervous man, is easily manipulated by wife and residential Dame Sherry (Windsor), who guilts him into sharing parts of their plan with her. Interested in the money, and less so in her husband, she confides in her lover Val (Edwards – their relationship is the exact opposite of Sherry’s marriage in terms of power and manipulation) who teams up with some buddies to steal the money once the five men do the dirty work.

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“You’ll still love me if you’re rich, right Val?” “Sure thing! I’m definitely not sleeping with you because you’re married and therefore there are no obligations on me, and I won’t leave you for someone younger once I have loads of cash!”

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The plan is well thought out, but will the five men get away with it? Will Johnny manage to pull off one last job and retire from crime to marry his girl Fay (Gray)? Or will the deceitful Dame and her lover ruin it all?

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Also, is Nikki’s puppy real or stuffed..? We’re genuinely asking here.

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From the intense opening score to the climax at the airport, The Killing is full of suspense and intrigue. We loved the voice over which, unlike most Noir films, is not voiced by a character in the film but a narrator; we loved Mike and his sickly wife (we were rooting for them throughout); we loved the different takes on the same scene; and we absolutely loved the mask Johnny wears for the robbery.

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The stuff of which nightmares are made

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The first Kubrick film on the list was a new one for us, and it lived up to the expectations, although it is fairly different from his later works (he was quite young at this point). The female characters are not much to write home about, but otherwise this was a very entertaining thriller with some very cool details which we enjoyed.

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Also, great inspiration for a simple yet creepy Halloween costume!

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What we learned: Never share anything with Dames.

Next time: The Searchers (1956)

#141 The Bad Seed

Watched: November 1 2017

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Evelyn Varden, Eileen Heckart

Year: 1956

Runtime: 2h 9min

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8 year old Rhoda Penmark (McCormack) is a prim and proper young lady who is a bit spoiled and very straightforward. Her father and neighbours think the world of her, especially landlady Monica Breedlove (Varden), but her mother Christine (Kelly) has noticed a more sinister side to her daughter; she has an explosive temper and is possibly the worst loser in history.

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“Another kid has better handwriting than me! My life is over!”

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When Rhoda fails to win a school prize for penmanship, she does not take it well. Later, at a school picnic, the boy who beat her accidentally drowns. Christine becomes suspicious when she then finds the boy’s missing medal among her daughter’s precious things…

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By precious things, we mean serial killer trophies

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While Christine suspects her daughter may not be quite normal, handyman Leroy (Jones) recognizes exactly what she is – he sees himself in her. He’s too confident in his own supremacy though, so he confronts the child and teases her. Big mistake! She may be tiny and young, but Rhoda is also vicious and resourceful.

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Lesson: never confront a suspected killer, no matter how cute their pigtails are

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The Bad Seed holds up very well, despite the many “evil child”-films which have come since its release. Patty McCormack is perfect as Rhoda – alternating between sweet and deadly effortlessly.

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Mama should have known something was wrong looking into those eyes…

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We loved Monica the Landlady and her psychoanalytical friends, and the crazy and manipulative Rhoda. The film is long and melodramatic, with lots of sitting room exposition (it’s based on a play), but it is also very creepy and engaging. The Freudian influence is very evident, especially when it comes to the (many) weirdly intense parent-child relationships. Or perhaps that’s just how parents and children interacted in the ’50s.

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You know, with poison…

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What we learned: Don’t have kids!

Next time: The Killing (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)

#126 Bad Day at Black Rock

Watched: August 19 2017

Director: John Sturges

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, John Ericson

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 21min

Bad day

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The tiny town of Black Rock is amazed to see the train actually stop for the first time in four years. Even more puzzled, and suspicious, are they to find a stranger getting off in search of a hotel room and a cab to take him to Adobe Flats.

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“I vote we just kill him now and get it over with. There’s no way we can share our one female resident with yet another man.”

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The stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), is met with hostility from all sides, mainly led by Reno Smith (Ryan) who everyone seems to be afraid of. The hostility increases when Macreedy reveals he is looking for a Japanese-American farmer named Komoko, and he is served a story of Komoko being relocated in the wake of  Pearl Harbor.

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Pictured: tension. And not the homoerotic cowboy movie kind.

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As Macreedy is trapped in the town for the night and all lines of communication with the outside world are sabotaged by local followers of Smith, vet/undertaker Doc (Brennan) is the only one willing to help him. Doc reveals that Komoko is dead, although the details of his death are still unknown to our hero.

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Hint: there’s racism and bigotry at work. Thank God the world is not plagued by those kinds of outdated ideas anymore!

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Smith and his croonies, most notably Coley and Hector (Borgnine and Lee, respectively), no longer operate under any pretense of innocence, and the chances of Macreedy surviving the night grow smaller and smaller.

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It doesn’t help that our hero is a one-armed man trying to fight a pissed off Ernest Borgnine

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Bad Day at Black Rock is an exciting and tense murder-mystery-western with a crime at the centre of the plot which is strangely (and sadly) relevant to our own times and political climate. Macreedy is a stoic badass, yet you’re never sure things will go his way or who he can trust. The men in this one-woman-town must make some tough choices and decide whether or not to make up for the mistakes that were made four years ago.

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It’s hard to see how anything at all could happen in a town this small, let alone something horrible

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There’s nothing not to love about this film. It’s shot in Eastman Color and Cinemascope, and beautifully so. There are car chases, shoot-outs, bar fights, Dames (well – just the one dame, actually), murder, mystery, and mayhem, and we loved everything about it. Loved it!

What we learned: This is a local town for local people. There’s nothing for you here! Alternatively, they don’t take kindly to strangers round these there parts.

Next time: Blackboard Jungle (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

Rear Window

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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)