Thursday, June 12, 2008


My backlog has reached over 20 titles so I've split them up into two lists - one is the recent stuff and this one compiles the classics:

OLD YELLER (1957) - This film holds up very well fifty years later and is still the definitive story of a boy and his dog. As a kid, I was tearing up when the boy had to shoot the dog but this time it was the ensuing lecture from dad that moved me - same movie viewed thirty years apart. The best stories speak to everyone. I was impressed by the animal scenes, from wild hog fighting to stumbling cows. The direction is simple and capable, allowing the work to stand up for half a century and beyond.

CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) - I've wanted to see this ever since hearing Cliff Huxtable proclaim it his favorite movie during an episode of The Cosby Show. It doesn't disappoint, though the film-making style firmly dates it to the mid-30s. It's based on a popular novel of the day so the story is strong, and young Errol Flynn is a revelation in his first film role. It reminded me of BEN HUR in that it is an epic tale about how you can't keep a good man down. I loved the bit where Blood was able to purchase the babe just as she once purchased him. It's a good tale ripe for the remaking.

WIFE VERSUS SECRETARY (1936) - This film is throwaway fluff of the highest order. Clark Gable's rakish persona is used well as everyone assumes he is doing it with his Jean Harlow secretary but he truly is madly in love with his Myrna Loy wife. All is well until Loy gets the seeds of doubt planted in her by her mother and then everything seems suspicious. Loy eventually packs her bags, leading to a great scene where secretary talks her down before wife leaves for good. It ends well with the two ladies sharing a knowing look as the baton is passed back to its rightful owner.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) - I got interested in Peter Weir's filmography after loving DEAD POET'S SOCIETY and though I sought out THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS and even THE PLUMBER at that time, this title remained unseen by me until recently. It's an odd piece of work - languid, haunting - but the end result really works. Four girls go missing during an outing and three disappear without a trace. Even though one girl is found, she has no memory of the event. Weir suggests a sort of primal supernatural pull by the titular rock which draws the girls ever higher until they figuratively merge with the angels. Caffeinate beforehand, but check it out.

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943) - It's a likable enough film but it takes itself so seriously and piles on the self-righteousness to the point where you think you just watched a public service announcement after its brief 74-minute running time. There's not much in the way of story - it begins with 20 minutes of barroom blather but really gets going once the posse sets out to lynch Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn. There is some good tension in the scenes in which the condemned try to talk their way out of the sentence imposed upon them by majority rule. It could have used some more story in the coda rather than simply having Henry Fonda read the dead man's letter and shaming everyone as we fade to black. It's a powerful sentiment but if you want to send a message, use Western Union.

GREMLINS (1984) - Now that we are well into the digital age, the puppets in this film come off as cute relics of Hollywood past at best and amateurish at worst. The film is silly and pure 80s, but what I like about it is that it serves well as a child's introduction to the horror genre. I watched it with my daughter who won't watch anything with blood in it. We saw a televised version which was cut so that even the grizzly kitchen massacre scene had all of the gremlin blood edited out. It was after watching this film that she finally figured out why I sometimes refer to the kids as gremlins and why I never, ever feed them after midnight.

TRUE GRIT (1969) - I also watched this with my daughter who was unhappy when some blood was spilled in a few places. We had a good laugh over a bit of dialogue in which the Duke mentions shooting a fella and leaving a scar on the villain's lower lip. Young Dennis Hopper asks what he was aiming for and Duke barks out "His upper lip!" I liked the girl in the main role. It's an actress you don't see much and maybe she wasn't great here, but I believed the character. Yet it was Wayne who got the Oscar nod even though his character isn't completely likable after a long career of better performances and roles. Sure, it's watchable but is it anybody's favorite John Wayne film? I would even prefer THE SHOOTIST to this in the late-stage Duke list of favorites.

THE KID (1921) - The film that inspired the Coogan Law and made a superstar of Charlie Chaplin is not as entertaining as I hoped it would be. There are moments of brilliance as with any Chaplin outing but the comedy takes back seat to the pathos and there are so many better films in Chaplin's future which I have already seen, that this one failed to touch me.

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) - I had never actually seen this prequel, and although everyone knows it is the weakest of the series, I still wanted to catch up with it now that there is renewed hoopla with the franchise. I expected I would like it but it came as a surprise how bad the film really is. It is much less fun and plenty more annoying than the first and third installments. There is no plausible reason why Indy keeps trying to romance the girl other than she is around. She is one of the most annoying female leads in any movie ever and we already know that the romance does not survive as we have already seen him a short time later with Marion. Speilberg must have made this one with dollar signs for pupils because it doesn't make any sense.

CLAMBAKE (1967) - Another Tivo offering that became a family night feature. It is regarded as one of Elvis' weakest films and I can't argue, although it is fun nevertheless and gives the kids insight into the Elvis phenomenon. Though still handsome, we are not far removed from the days of fat Elvis and are a mere decade removed from dead Elvis. Shelley Fabares is delicious as the love interest. What a looker! The entire production is amateur hour and by this time, the Elvis songs were not meaningful, so watch it only as a 60s artifact.

1 comment:

Tom said...

A great assortment, Dude. I have seen all on this list save Gremlins which I never got around to.

I enjoyed Old Yeller a few years ago with Tommy Kirk's commentary and I too think it really hold up. I gave Donovan Saunders the book for Christmas one year, but it was met with derision from Sir Saunders the farmboy who holds little sentimentality for work animals.

Of the Flynn Swashbucklers I prefer The Sea Hawk the most, but no knocking Captain Blood. There is no Errol Flynn type anymore. Look at all these movies that could no longer be made. Maybe Russell Crowe is close, but he is also the closest we get to Steve McQueen.

I love the scene in Wife v. Secretary when he winds up at the club playing poker instead of snuggling with Loy. He's playing poker and yet still distraut. Gable's charm like Flynn's still comes through decades later. And I would take Loy over Harlow any day of the week, much like Gable did. What's really great is the starpower with even J Stewart showing up in a small role. It reminds me of two other 1930s films with great MGM star power, Manhattan Melodrama and Libeled Lady. Try either and hopefully both. One is a melodrama and the other a screwball comedy, but both I times I feel privileged to see these stars work off each other.

I can't argue with anything you said about the Ox-Bow incident and even though it is so obviously shot on a soundstage I still like it for some reason. Again, the starpower of Andrews and Quinn getting the rope and Fonda and Morgan stopping it.

True Grit is entertaining, but like Scent of a Woman, an Oscar due to a body of work. The comedic moments probably helped him along, but I think the Shootist is better too and at least 10 movies before this were more deserving.

Temple of Doom sucks, much like the current movie that I still haven't seen.

What charm Elvis had. What a great performer. He could have had a decent career as a real actor if that damn Colonel handn't put him in all this trash.

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