#231 The Servant

Watched: April 23 2019

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Wendy Craig

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 56min

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Tony (Fox) has recently bought a house and like all houseowners he is now in dire need of a manservant. This need is met in the form of Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) and he is immediately hired. Tony seems content with his new employee and they fall into their roles quite naturally.

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One: the careless sleeper. The other: the sinister observer

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Despite playing his devoted servant-role to perfection, whenever Tony is not around, we see a different Barrett: he drinks, smokes and even moves differently. Tony’s girlfriend Susan (Craig) seems to be the only one who picks up on the more malevolent side of Barrett, and she soon becomes directly hostile towards him. We can’t blame her though – he goes out of his way to ignore her, even when she speaks directly to him.

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Personally, we tend to be careful about insulting the man in charge of the wine, but we admire her courage.

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Then, when Barrett moves his “sister” Vera (Miles) in, the tension in the household reaches new heights. Tony and Vera soon have an affair, then Tony catches Barrett with Vera (who, of course, is not actually his sister), and gradually the power in the relationship shifts from one man to another.

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“What does the fact that we have both slept with my ‘sister’ say about the nature of the tension between us..?”

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The Servant might start off like Jeeves and Wooster, but then it goes oh so dark. Bogarde is wonderfully creepy as Barrett, and there’s an air of malice and threat about him which we absolutely loved.

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Even his shadow is menacing

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The house is wonderful and practically a character in it self, and the dinner scene where we caught glimpses of people’s lives was amazing. We also loved the tension built by the dripping sink, as well as the Pinocchio nose shadow, the use of mirrors, and the score.

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We enjoyed this awkward seduction too. How many suggestive and impractical poses can one girl strike on a kitchen table before she is kissed?

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It’s a slow build, but exceedingly enjoyable, full of detail and hugely suspenseful. Just a beautifully successful union of writer, director and stars.

What we learned: It’s just as well we cannot afford servants… Also, deep focus was all the rage in the 1960s!

Next time: The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963)

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#228 The Birds

Watched: March 4 2019

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 59min

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After a (slightly hostile) meet-cute, Melanie Daniels (Hedren), a socialite and prankster so good she makes news headlines, is intrigued by attorney Mitch Brenner (Taylor). She decides to stalk him, and follows him back to his weekend hideaway outside the city.

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Cause stalking is cute when a pretty, rich girl does it, but when we try it we’re slapped with a restraining order…

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Once there, Melanie ingratiates herself with Mitch’s ex and scores a dinner invite with his family where she learns that he is currently going through his Freudian phase – Melanie is the spit of his overbearing mother Lydia (Tandy).

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“Would you like to stay the night? I’m sure my mother can lend you some clothes. In fact, why don’t you check her closet right now? Put something on? Please..?”

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However, while Melanie and Mitch are flirting and working out their inner demons, the birds are starting to act strangely…

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“Alright, quiet down. I’m glad so many of you could make this assembly. First order of business: who wants to organize this month’s bake sale? Also, let’s kill all humans.”

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We don’t really need to say anything else about The Birds, do we? It’s one of the most well known and popular horror films in history, and also frequently referenced in other works. And while not all the special effects have aged gracefully, it’s still a fun watch.

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And it’s a good public service reminder to always close up your fireplace when not in use.

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Like Psycho, The Birds starts in one genre and ends up in a whole different place than where it was originally going. And while the eponymous birds are ever present, we’re almost halfway through the movie before they start constituting a threat and we’re reminded that we are indeed watching a Hitchcock film.

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That poor kid didn’t know what she signed up for

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We loved the very silly lovebirds-in-the-car-scene, Mrs Sholes the bird expert lady, the focus which was on everything but the birds until they attacked, the long siege without dialogue, and the fact that there is absolutely no explanation for the sudden viciousness of nature. Classic!

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Any movie which can make us fearful of these cute little things is a winner in our book

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What we learned: Nature is scary, yo.

Next time: The Great Escape (1963)

#227 Shock Corridor

Watched: February 18 2019

Director: Samuel Fuller

Starring: Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Larry Tucker, Hari Rhodes, Paul Dubov

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Reporter Johnny Barrett (Breck) goes undercover as a patient in a mental hospital to solve a murder and win a Pulitzer. His girlfriend Cathy (Towers) is against it, but is finally pressured into acting as his sister to get him admitted for incestuous thoughts.

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“It’s not my fault, doc. She regularly shrinks down and seductively dances on my chest. How is a guy supposed to react to that?”

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Once inside, the ambitious reporter tries to make sense out of the three witnesses to the murder: Stuart (Best), a former soldier brainwashed by the Koreans into communism and then branded a traitor; Trent (Rhodes), an African American who imagines himself as a Ku Klux Klan member after a horrible time as one of the first black students in a segregated college; and Boden (Evans), a nuclear scientist whose guilty conscience regressed him to the mental state of a child.

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Interestingly, while the men’s ward has patients with a variety of fascinating problems, all the female patients suffer from the same affliction: zombieism nymphomania.

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With unreliable witnesses, dire circumstances and an opera singing “sidekick,” will Barrett solve the murder and win his prize? Or will he lose his mind, his girl and his career trying?

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“Your guess is as good as mine, ghost-and/or-racist-guy!”

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We loved Shock Corridor despite the fact that it features one of the worst reporters in the history of reporting. Seriously, each one of the stories he encounters from the patients he interviews is easily as interesting and important as the story he is chasing, but he is too focused on his goal to see it.

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Any personal history which led to this scenario would be Pulitzer worthy in our book

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The voice-over is very noiry, which we always enjoy, although we did feel like it made the movie a bit “tell, don’t show” at times. Still, we loved the dream sequences and how we could see what went on in the characters’ heads. We also loved the WTF choreography to Cathy’s striptease, the rainy corridor, and the backstories of all the patients. And we were glad that the horrible, horrible rape scene was portrayed as a nightmare rather than a dream…

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Though while we appreciate the aesthetics of such a scene, we are always left wondering who are the poor people tasked with cleaning up after?

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What we learned: Who defines insanity?

Next time: The Birds (1963)

#220 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Watched: January 7 2019

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Anna Lee, Maidie Norman

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Oh, God, we love this movie! We’ve been looking forward to rewatching it ever since we first decided to let the list control the next ten years of our lives, and it was worth the wait.

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If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, this will be us by the end of this project. The only question that remains: who’s who…

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Jane (Davies) and Blanche (Crawford) are sisters, and as children Jane was a vaudeville star while Blanche lived in her sister’s shadow. Twenty years later, their roles have reversed, and Blanche has become a successful movie star while Jane has turned into an alcoholic, washed-up has-been.

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Personally, we blame the parents.

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Then, one fateful night, Blanche is paralyzed in an accident blamed on Jane, and the two start a reclusive life by themselves in a mansion where Jane takes care of the increasingly isolated Blanche.

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“My nursing experience includes singing strangely romantic duets with my dad as a child and dressing like a toddler even though I’m pushing 60.” “You’re hired!”

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Jane, resentful of her more successful sister, becomes obsessed with recapturing her glory days as a child star, and hires pianist Edwin Flagg (Buono) to help her revive her act. She cuts her sister completely off from the outside world by removing her telephone, and starves her by feeding her rats and dead pets.

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“Oh, I couldn’t possibly have another rat. I must watch my figure.”

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Both main performances in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are spectacular, and that’s probably the main reason this film is so incredibly engaging. Bette Davies as Jane is deliciously deranged and demented, and is just a joy to watch.

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It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad

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Joan Crawford is (almost) equally engaging as the victimized Blanche, a more toned down and possibly more challenging role. However, we grew increasingly frustrated by her uselessness. Seriously, woman! You know your sister has completely lost it! And that is as hard as you’re prepared to fight???

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Just scream bloody murder down the phone, you useless lady!

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Blanche is not the only frustratingly incompetent character in the movie – pretty much everyone, from neighbour Mrs Bates (Lee) who’s too polite to interfere, to maid Elvira Stitt (Norman) who underestimates Jane’s madness despite her knowledge of both sisters, fail to help Blanche and stop Jane due to being basically completely fucking useless.

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“I realise that you are batshit crazy and I suspect you are torturing and starving your sister, but instead of calling the police, I am going to snoop around a bit and confront you unarmed.”

 

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Watch it for the performances, the characters, the costumes, the hair and make-up, the story, the music and the tension. And to have a really good (if frustrated) time!

What we learned: It’s a good thing none of us are super successful…

Next time: 8 1/2 (1963)

#218 The Manchurian Candidate

Watched: January 22 2019

Director: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 06min

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Korea, 1952. A patrol is ambushed and taken prisoner. When they return to the US, generally despised Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), who’s cursed with a busybody mother (Lansbury) and a fanatic senator stepfather (Gregory), is awarded Medal of Honor. The medal is given to him based on the testimony of his fellow soldiers, who cannot say enough good things about him, although they are unsure why.

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“We just really respect the way he used to break up our parties with local prostitutes”

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Meanwhile, a few members of the same patrol, including Major Bennett Marco (Sinatra), are troubled by nightmares in which the celebrated Sergeant kills two fellow soldiers on the command of a bunch of ladies talking about agriculture and occasionally morphing into communist leaders.

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“Welcome to my talk on how to make blossoming gardens and sleeper agents. I’m very happy to see so many morphing faces here today.”

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Marco’s fears are dismissed by the military, and he is eventually placed on sick leave. He meets Eugenie (Leigh) on a train, and she becomes his support system as he tries to make sense of what actually happened in Korea.

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She is witty and fantastic, but also insanely reckless. Who talks to an unknown man who’s clearly having some sort of breakdown, and after three minutes decides to give him all her personal details?

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Marco’s suspicion is that Shaw, and the rest of the patrol, are all brainwashed and returned to the USA to carry out some sort of plot. But what exactly is Shaw’s mission? Who is his local handler? And will they have any chance of stopping whatever it is in time?

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And will Shaw ever get out from under the thumb of his controlling mother?

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The Manchurian Candidate is a tense and compelling thriller which keeps going off in unexpected directions. We loved the horticulture talk the soldiers imagined, and the cross cutting between their perception of it and the reality.

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Pictured: The Annual Women’s Society Lecture on Communist Leaders

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We also loved how the different soldiers saw this scene differently – the black soldier seeing a room filled with black women, etc. Now, the plot is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the aftermath of McCarthyism, we’re sure it hit all the right buttons.

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Right down to the fear-mongering senator

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We found Frank Sinatra to be a surprisingly good actor, and we loved Angela Lansbury: her character could have snatched the “World’s Greatest Mother” trophy right from the cold, dead hands of Mrs Bates

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Surprisingly good actor or not, Frank Sinatra’s card playing skills were clearly below par

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We’ll never play solitaire again! Or go to gardening meetings.

What we learned: Beware the red queen! Also, what’s with all these guys meeting cool, interesting, witty women on trains?

Next time: Vivre sa Vie (1962)

#214 Knife in the Water

Watched: January 05 2019

Director: Roman Polanski

Starring: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 34min

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After almost hitting a young man with their car, a couple angrily invite him to hitch a ride with them. They drive down to a lake, and the hitchhiker (Malanowicz) is invited to go sailing with the couple, Andrzej (Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Umecka), an offer he accepts for some reason.

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Clearly, none of these people had ever heard of a serial killer.

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Once out on the water, both men take turns being suddenly angry and/or insulted and aggressive towards each other while Krystyna lounges about, makes food and does a great job hiding anything which could be deemed a personality.

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There is really no trace of personality there until she gets wet… Which might be somewhat symbolic.

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Tension builds as the trio are exposed to harsh weather and alpha male competitions, and it culminates with the loss of the young man’s pocket knife in the water and his subsequent presumed drowning.

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“I just love a good game of hide and seek!”

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Now, the Norwegian translator for the DVD we watched apparently decided only half the lines were worth subtitling, so we may have missed a few things. Like major plot points. But the tension between the characters was clear even if the reason was not always so.

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We’re going to go out on a limb and assume that some of that tension might be because of the half naked woman whose attention the two men vie for.

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The entire movie is set in just two locations (albeit moving ones), a car and a boat, which we really enjoyed. We loved the crocodile, the tense start and the ambiguous ending. We also found the couple strangely adorable when they were in the water, despite their chilly relationship in the rest of the film.

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See? They look like a perfectly harmonious couple once they’ve been out swimming.

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Roman Polanski’s debut feature film is beautifully and interestingly shot, and the filming plays a huge part in building the tension. Especially for those of us who do not speak Polish and who are at the mercy of a translator who’s a really slow typist and who doesn’t have time to go back and fill in the blanks… We’re pretty sure we understood about two thirds of the dialogue though, so we’ll call that a win.

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No fun caption here. Just wanted to show you this cool shot.

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What we learned: It is a bit weird to invite a random hitchhiker to go sailing, right..? Also, don’t introduce a knife in the first act unless you’re going to use it by the third. And don’t introduce a woman in the first act unless you’re going to give her a personality by the third.

Next time: The Exterminating Angel (1962)

#211 Yojimbo

Watched: December 17 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isuzu Yamada, Daisuke Katô, Seizaburô Kawazu, Takashi Shimura, Eijirô Tôno

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Japan, 1860. Ronin Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Mifune) wanders the country side, choosing his way at random. The fates apparently guide him well, because he eventually arrives in a town in desperate need of his help.

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A town run by two strangely assembled crime syndicates

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Upon arrival, the ronin is advised to leave by inn keeper Gonji (Tôno) who tells him about the rival clans who terrorize the town and claims there’s nothing for him there. But the ronin has other plans. He decides to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the town and approaches one of the leaders to offer up his services.

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“Dude, listen to this. I’m gonna – no, listen! I’m gonna pretend to back each side. Right? Back each of them. But then I’m really not. Get it? Damn, I’m brilliant!”

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First, he convinces Seibê (Kawazu) to hire him as a swordsman, but overhears his wife Orin (Yamada) plotting to kill him once he has helped them kill their enemies. Then, when his new boss arranges for the two sides to meet in battle, Sanjuro quits his job and climbs up to watch the rival sides destroy each other.

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It would have worked too, if it weren’t for those meddling government officials.

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Unfortunately, this first plan is foiled by the arrival of some sort of official person who comes to inspect the town. So the samurai needs to rethink his strategy for the next attempt, using all his craft and cunning to save the innocent inhabitants of the small village. But with the odds stacking against him, can he complete his mission? And survive the ordeal?

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Honestly, he too cool to be killed. Look at this badass!

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We were thrilled to be taken back into the samurai world of Akira Kurosawa. Our earlier encounters (Rashômon, Seven Samurai, and Throne of Blood) have been among our all time favourites, and Yojimbo definitely joins their ranks.

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We’re easy. Bring us a man with a sword and we swoon like teenagers.

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We love the costumes, the sword fighting, the characters, the actors, and the music. And we can easily see how this movie would inspire westerns (particularly A Fistful of Dollars, we seem to remember) – it’s the sort of story that works equally well in any setting in which there are lone gun-/swordmen and lawless societies.

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Don’t try to tell us this shot has not been recreated in a Sergio Leone movie!

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The main character is just so ridiculously cool that we cannot even find the words to describe him. He’s just cool. So very, very cool. And deadly. But in a good way. He’s just cool, man.

What we learned: We have a very strange crush on Toshirô Mifune…

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

#198 The League of Gentlemen

Watched: August 7 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Robert Coote

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 56min

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A man climbs casually out of a manhole in his finest attire, gets into a car and drives off. When he comes home, he sends out seven packages containing the book The Golden Fleece, half of £50 (literally half, in ripped up bills), and instructions to an assortment of characters. So begins The League of Gentlemen.

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It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. After an awkward dinner party.

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The ring leader, Norman Hyde (Hawkins), is ex-army and feels the world owes him something. The men he contacted are all former army officers as well, and they all have secrets or difficulties which make them fairly easy to persuade into joining Hyde for a bank robbery.

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Actually, they just pretend it’s the money they want. They were all on board the minute they saw these bitchin’ gas masks.

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Utilising all their combined skills, the officers-cum-robbers plan an elaborate heist with a possible outcome of £100,000 per participant. It’s enough incentive to sway them all, and the plan is put into motion.

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The plan includes, but is not limited to, peeling a whole bunch of potatoes

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How did we love The League of Gentlemen? Let us count the ways. The dialogue, the dishwashing scene, the naughty vicar, the prep, the military infiltration, the heist itself, the heroic music, the gas masks, and the complete and utter cheek of the whole thing were all amazing, and had us laughing throughout.

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This whole segment is a complete riot

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Combine that with the very real and palpable tension during the heist and you got yourself a winner. The characters, and their interactions, are fantastic and you find yourself rooting for them very quickly. Love, love, love this movie. Definitely something to check out if you’re not familiar with it.

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Pictured: you guys crawling out of the woodwork just to watch this gem. Hopefully.

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What we learned: There was a different class of criminals in the 1960s. Also, this is a local heist for local people. There’s nothing for you here!

Next time: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

#195 Shoot the Piano Player

Watched: August 26 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Albert Rémy

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.

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“Just ran into the weirdest dude out there. Told me all about his marriage and his wife, completely unprompted. Oh, and also, I’m chased by some thugs and I need you to help me escape.”

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Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.

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Although not as well as Charlie gets on with his friendly neighbourhood prostitute next door

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They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…

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“So, first there was the wife. That ended badly.” “How badly?” Well, she’s dead. Then there’s my neighbour Clarisse, but she’s more of a very good friend.” “How good?” “Oh, very, very good… But I swear I’m actually a good guy. Just very unlucky.”

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Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.

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The trigger happy gangsters complete the picture (we loved them, although their casualness and easy conversation with their victims made them even scarier than your normal movie thugs)

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It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.

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Or fans of pianos. Or, indeed, people who hate piano players with a fiery vengeance.

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What we learned: Even super polite and likable kidnappers can be ruthless killers.

Next time: Spartacus (1960)

#193 Psycho

Watched: August 4 2018 (and many other times)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 49min

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Man with mommy issues goes on killing spree. Loved by critics.

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“Mommy issues? Who has mommy issues? I’m just a normal, stable, sane boy.”

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Psycho probably needs no further introduction as it’s one of the most watched, loved and spoofed/homaged films of all time. Still, for those hermits who have been living secluded lives in the woods for the past 60 years but have also inexplicably stumbled upon this blog (hello, stranger! To be honest, you’re probably better off crawling back under that rock, given the current state of the world), we’ll give a very brief synopsis.

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In short, wood dwelling hermit: if you see this place, just keep driving. Or walking. Or riding your tame bear.

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Marion Crane (Leigh) is having an affair with Sam Loomis (Gavin) but they cannot afford to get married. When Marion gets her hands on $40 000 at work, she decides to steal the money and run away to elope with her beau. She is caught in a rainstorm and checks in for the night at the secluded Bates Motel.

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Bad, bad idea

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Marion is reported missing by her sister Lila (Miles) and wanted by the police for theft. Lila decides to investigate the disappearance herself with the help of Sam and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Balsam) who is also on the case. What they find is not what they expected…

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It’s not what anyone would expect, really

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There’s nothing not to love about Psycho. It lulls you into thinking that you’re watching just another crime movie, and then BLAM! Creepy horror film!

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Hitchcock also managed to insert a T-1000, but we feel that subplot is vastly underdeveloped.

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The shower scene is perhaps the most famous scene in cinematic history, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it or its various recreations, it still has impact. As does Norman Bates’ transformation from sweetly awkward and likable young man to creepy insane murderer.

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He actually seems quite charming at first, making Marion supper and all

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As mentioned in our last entry, this goes perfectly as a double feature with Peeping Tom, if you want a night filled with serial killers and crazy. And who doesn’t?

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“We’re off to see the killer! The wonderful killer of girls!”

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What we learned: We all go a little mad sometimes. Also, if it doesn’t jell it’s not aspics.

Next time: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)