#159 A Night to Remember

Watched: February 3 2018

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell, and many, many more.

Year: 1958

Runtime: 2h 3min

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First off, we can only apologize for the sporadic updates lately. Sister the Youngest has bought herself her own apartment, so we’re in the middle of moving and painting and everything that comes with it. Unfortunately, that means that at the moment we have less time to watch and review movies. We’ll come back stronger once she’s all settled in her new place and Sister the Oldest can once again enjoy the tranquility of her own place… Ah… The silence…

That being said, we’ve reached a new year, and 1958 starts on a very uplifting note with the epic tale of the RMS Titanic.

The band plays on as the Titanic sinks – a still from the 1958 film A Night To Remember
What a party!

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The year is 1912 and the Titanic, the largest, most unsinkable ship ever (in 1912), is on its first trip from Southampton to New York City. The passenger liner carries 2,224 souls from all walks of life, and we get to meet several of them, most notably Second Officer Lightoller (More). It is shaping up to be a wonderful voyage despite a few ice berg warnings.

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Them icebergs have better get out of the way, ’cause here we come! Whoot whoot!

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The Titanic is not the only ship out there – the Californian and the Carpathia are both sailing in the same waters, and they exchange warnings about the ice in the area. They also warn the larger ship, but because every passenger on the Titanic is eager to send messages home to brag about their whereabouts, the radio operator is too busy sending social calls to properly receive the warnings.

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“I simply MUST send a message home telling everyone we met a Second Officer! My friends will swoon!”

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Now, we all know how this ended. The ship sank, there were nowhere near enough lifeboats (thank you hubris and lax regulations), and around 1500 people died. Still, despite the awful ending, the film is really enjoyable and we loved it. We’ve been morbidly fascinated with the story ever since our grandmother (a.k.a. “Besta”) would sing sad songs about it when we were kids, so anything relating to this tragedy is eagerly consumed by both sisters.

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We were impressed with the effects, which hold up really well even in this day and age.

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A Night to Remember tells the tragic story of the maiden voyage of the ill-fated Titanic far more effectively (in our opinion) than James Cameron’s 1997 film. We loved that rather than to focus on just a couple of people, we got to follow a whole range of them, such as crew members, first class, second class and steerage passengers.

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We’re pretty sure Cameron stole some characters from this film, such as Plucky New-Moneyed American Woman (above) and Lively Irish Dancing Steerage Passengers (not pictured)

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It’s frustrating, emotionally devastating, stressful, engaging and wonderful, and like anything Titanic-related we ate it up. Thanks, Besta!

What we learned: Communication is key.

Next time: Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

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#156 Throne of Blood

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

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

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 50min

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

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

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

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

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

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Poster girl for sanity

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

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

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

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

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Love, love, love this!

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

Next time: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

#104 A Place in the Sun

Watched: May 13 2017

Director: George Stevens

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters

Year: 1951

Runtime: 2h 02min

place

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George Eastman (Clift) is hitchhiking to see his rich uncle who has promised him a job in his bathing suit factory. He is given an entry level job and is expressly forbidden to mix with the girls working there. So the first thing he does is flirt with colleague Alice Tripp (Winters) and they soon start a secret relationship.

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So inconspicuous

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Not long after, George’s ambition and family ties get him promoted. He moves through the ranks both professionally and socially with an invitation to one of his rich and powerful family’s parties. There, he meets wealthy socialite Angela Vickers (Taylor) and he falls in love with her, but not before impregnating his working class girlfriend. Apparently his religious mother never taught him about protection…

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Who can resist a girl with cake, though?

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With his new girl happily unaware of his relationship status (it’s complicated), and his old girl demanding marriage, George is torn between his guilt and desire to do the right thing, and his ambition and attraction to Angela.

1951: Film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) star in the Paramount melodrama 'A Place In The Sun'.
When faced with the choice between a girl who packs bathing suits and one who wears them…

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A Place in the Sun has illegitimate pregnancies, ambition, love triangles, lots of foreshadowing, loose morals (and we’re not talking about Alice here), and a suspenseful scene in a boat which reminded us a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Even our dog was transfixed by this one, although that could have been due to the soundtrack dogs barking throughout some of the more tense scenes.

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It’s also possible the dog was outraged by Elizabeth Taylor wearing his friend as a cape

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What we learned: Don’t get a girl pregnant when you are secretly in love with another girl. That’ll get you into all sorts of trouble.

Next time: Ace in the Hole (1951)

#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)

#100 Los Olvidados

Watched: April 28 2017

Director: Luis Buñuel

Starring: Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Alma Delia Fuentes, Estela Inda, Mário Ramírez

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Pop the champagne! We’ve reached number 100! And what an uplifting and optimistic film with which to celebrate. Perfect for a night of champagne and revelry, Buñuel’s Los Olvidados follows the depressing lives of a group of children (of various levels of dental hygiene) in the streets of Mexico through minor and major crimes.

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Look! They’re celebrating with us! Happy, happy happy times. Nothing bad will ever happen. La di da di da.

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El Jaibo (Cobo), recently escaped from prison, comes back to his old neighbourhood to take up his rightful place as leader of the local children, who he rallies into helping his criminal path by attempting to rob a blind street musician. Brave. Meanwhile, Ojitos (Ramírez) has been left in the streets by his father who seemingly has no plans of returning to pick up his son. The abandoned child is taken care of by Pedro (Mejía) – a good boy who’s abused at home but wants a different life for himself.

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The entire film is a laugh riot and not at all depressing as f**k…

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Another one of the kids who wants something more from life is Julian, but when Jaibo finds out he has a job and is no longer interested in petty crime he goes into a rage and kills him. Pedro, who witnesses the murder, tries to turn his life around by getting a job, but Jaibo not only screws that up for him, he also literally screws Pedro’s bitch of a mum.

Olvidados, Los (1950)aka The Young and the Damned Directed by Luis BuÒuel
“How dare he aspire to the glamourous life of a blacksmith! I must ruin this for him.”

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As a general rule, if one of the kids finds something worthwhile in their lives, Jaibo is there to tear it down. As many other criminals who recruit children, he has no prospects or ambition of his own and therefore wants to drag everyone down to his level to feel like less of a loser.

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Doesn’t get cooler than robbing a cripple

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Los Olvidados is a sad and depressing insight into lives of poverty with a very Un Chien Andalou-dream sequence (which we loved) and frustratingly little hope in the end. If we thought Ladri di biciclette was depressing, it has nothing on this. At least in De Sica’s film there was a loving family and some semblance of hope in the depression – Buñuel’s depiction is pretty much devoid of hope.

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We can’t even get into all the shit this little girl goes through

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Happy one hundred, people. We need to go look at pictures of puppies.

What we learned: This film shows the real life. It is not optimistic. Also, deprived of affection, children will look for love and approval anywhere.

Next time: Rashômon (1950)

#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

Red shoes

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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)