The B+ Movie Guide: Part XII
In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.
So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.
We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:
The things that excite me most about this list are when a movie like this comes up, and I know that certain people won’t have seen it. The knowledge that, in some way, possibly because of this blog, someone will sit down and experience this movie for the first time — that makes me feel good. Nothing made me happier than when Colin emailed me after seeing Rope:
Holy shit. Rope is WAY the fuck up my list. Way the fuck up my list. I love this movie. Everything about it has been pure gold. The color, the shots, the acting…I’m in awe of this movie. And it’s 80 minutes long! The neon lights that keep flashing colors through the window during Stewart’s final speech, fucking wow. And the cityscape out the window. This movie couldn’t have cost very much to make. It’s simple as hell, and yet so perfect. So glad I decided to watch that.
In case you don’t know — Rope is Alfred Hitchcock deciding, much like he did with Lifeboat, to shoot a movie a particular kind of way. In this case, it’s in a single take. (Yes, like Birdman. Hitch did it first.) Now, because technology was as such, it’s technically four shots, this movie. Since film cameras only held so much. And you can see where they built in the cuts, it’s very obvious. But it doesn’t matter, because this movie is so good, it surpasses that. This movie is a technical marvel, and keeps you riveted from start to finish.
You know how people always say, “I’m so jealous you’ve never seen The Wire/Mad Men/Breaking Bad and get to experience that for the first time”? Well, that’s how I feel about movies like this one. (2)
Turns out I can be very profane in emails. I had forgotten about that, but my feelings haven’t changed at all. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this movie, the premise is that two guys kill their friend just to see what it would be like, and then they hide his body in the apartment they’re hosting a party in that evening. The whole movie is in real time as they sweat and grapple with what they’ve done. Jimmy Stewart plays their teacher from prep school. I love the New York aristocracy aspect of it — they’re these impeccably cultivated socialites in their early 20s, during the days when guys that age wore suits and showed first editions at dinner parties. There are also homoerotic overtones, but that just adds to the flavor.
All of that is probably secondary to the gargantuan achievement of Hitchcock’s craft here. Some people don’t like the color, but I’m an unabashed fan of 40s Technicolor. The cinematography — well, four shots made to look like one, lasting 80 minutes is pretty awesome. There’s a sense of theater to it. And then there’s the direction, which really brings out the suspense. I don’t know why this movie was overlooked as it was. I hope people watch it now. I’m so glad I watched this.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Hey, Bo-gie! (2)
Greed’ll drive men to do awful things. This is that movie. Bogart and Tim Holt (from The Magnificent Ambersons and My Darling Clementine…and apparently a bit part in Stagecoach, wow) go looking for gold in the Mexican mountains with Walter Huston. They find gold, get suspicious of one another, but end up encountering bandits. We get the famous, “I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” line, though the line that I always think of as an expatriate is Bogart’s, “Can you help out a fellow American down on his luck?” It’s a Bogart movie in which Bogart is overlooked for Walter Huston’s baller performance. Lost to Hamlet for Best Picture, but what’re going to do, right?
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Sturges. Hilarious movie. They remade it with Dudley Moore. This version is better. Rex Harrison. He’s a composer who finds out his wife is cheating on him, and over the course of his concert (3 songs), he thinks about ways to kill her. And each of the fantasies goes very differently. Terrific movie. And you can never go wrong with Preston Sturges. (3)
This was a lot of fun. I like movies that take drastic tonal changes unexpectedly. Since he’s directing these three songs that are all so different, the fantasies are all over the place and everyone’s moods are changing with the music as well.
I’ll admit that as I was watching this, I was thinking about one particular episode of Columbo. Columbo, if you’re a movie fan, is one show that you’ll probably enjoy, if only for how many great cameos it has. Of course I love Peter Falk, but the episode I was thinking of is a great example of how many amazing people were on random episodes of that show. The episode (I looked this up) was called “Etude in Black,” guest-starring John Cassavetes as the conductor of the LA symphony who kills his mistress. His wife is Blythe Danner, and the head of the symphony board — ready for this? — was Myrna Loy. This was 1972. What an episode that was.
Oh, but I got off topic. Anyway, not the best movie Sturges ever made, but thoroughly enjoyable and well worth watching.
All the King’s Men (1949)
This one covers pretty much all the bases. Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Best Picture winner, Best Actor and Supporting Actress winner — amazing central performance (s). Terrific movie. It’s a movie split in halves, the rise and fall of this politician. You see him as his idealistic young self, and see his morals slowly go away over the course of the movie, and see what politics can do to a person. Incredible movie. (Don’t think just seeing the Sean Penn remake is okay.) (3)
This sort of reminded me of A Face in the Crowd, which we’ll get to later on this list. It’s an older movie, but I saw that first, which is why I felt that way. The only thing that gave me pause during this movie was how the main character went from a bumbling screw up to such a galvanizing orator literally overnight, while hungover. The main character is going to lose an election, snaps, and has a Network moment where he gets everyone to follow his lead. The middle of the movie is my favorite. His meteoric rise, and then his changes before the very end. Absolute power corrupting absolutely, and such.
Because I love it. It’s Bastogne. And it feels like Bastogne. It doesn’t feel like film sets. I don’t know how they did it, but, it’s great. Especially if you loved the Bastogne episodes of Band of Brothers (which I know Colin did. We watched that shit a bunch in my room sophomore year. Remember those days? Those were the Pop Tart days. Some people have Salad days. We have Pop Tart days.) It’s almost the Rio Bravo of war movies. They’re just there. In the snow. And it’s Bastogne… oh man, do I love this movie. (3)
Ricardo Montaban before he was really famous! Remember Ricardo Montalban, from Fantasy Island and the Chrysler Cordoba commercials with the soft Corinthian leather (Corinth is famous for its leather)? I guess he’s pretty secondary to the overall plot and everything else. I don’t know how essential the film is, but you can’t call it insignificant. It’s the first big movie made about WWII after WWII, and it’s the first time that GIs are portrayed as imperfect. The movies we’ve seen about every American conflict since that war have pretty much all dealt with the imperfection of the American soldier and how nobody can be every bit the picture of valor we’d like to be. That’s a big realization for Hollywood, and it started here.
The Third Man (1949)
There should be no explanation necessary for this. Look up. You see that header? This movie crosslists everywhere and is one of the greatest films ever made. Absolutely perfect from start to finish. One of the top ten shot movies of all time. Probably with Black Narcissus. Stunning. Just — if you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading right now and watch it. I will actually lose respect for people if I find out they haven’t seen this movie and claim to like movies. (2)
I think about this movie just about every day when I pass through this station. The stops on Tokyo’s trunk line all have jingles, and Ebisu’s is from The Third Man.
Also, it’s an incredible movie that people need to have seen, which is why it’s good that I saw it as part of this list. Welles did good things.
White Heat (1949)
“Made it, ma! Top of the world!” That’s from this movie. Cagney. This is the Unforgiven of gangster films. Made way after the genre died. (Or, I guess, morphed into noir.) It’s incredible. (3)
Virginia Mayo and Edmond O’Brien are nice bonuses in a movie that could have been sustained on Cagney alone. It’s weirdly Oedipal and all that, but it’s kinda nice to see a classic gangster movie with the classic gangster, coming out at the end of the 40s. It’s like how I looked at Casino — great movie, great cast, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it came out a decade earlier than it did. What’s not to like about Casino?
All About Eve (1950)
I mean, obviously. This is an all-timer. Everyone needs to have seen this. (2)
This is one of the all-time great conniving bitch movies. And I say that because there are plenty of great conniving bastard movies. Anyway, it’s the whole thing about the young woman who hitches her wagon to an established Broadway star and then manipulates her way to stardom herself. It’s that same brand of show business backstabbing and self-interest that you get in stuff like The Bad and the Beautiful. One thing I really like about this movie is how it deals with how fickle Broadway and Hollywood are about actresses and their ages. They got Bette Davis, at age 41, to play an actress of 40 or 41 in the film, and a lot of it is her dealing with how she’ll be viewed in the coming years. 40’s nothing, but it makes you think about how in terms of actresses over the age of 50 who keep their name recognition, Hollywood was probably better about that in the 50s than it is now.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
John Huston heist movie. The heist scene is the centerpiece of the movie. The first half is them planning the heist, then the heist, then the aftermath of the heist. (And the heist sequence actually influenced the Rififi heist.) If John Huston is directing, you’re in good hands. (3)
The weird thing is, I probably preferred Rififi, but this is still an amazing noir that just goes REALLY noir. Like, they really didn’t wait super long before ruining the chances of success for anyone involved in this movie. It’s like, you start the movie, there’s a brief planning stage followed by the heist, and that’s where the title card should go, because the rest of the movie is just a downhill spiral for pretty much every character involved. This is kind of movie that shows you that progression from the gangster flick to the proper noir. It used to be that only the main bad guy and maybe a friend or two would get killed. Now, everyone on screen at any point has a decent chance of meeting their untimely demise.
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Maybe not essential, but I wanted to sneak it in there. Bogart is great here. Might be his best performance. Highly recommended. This goes under the heading of “not essential, but really fucking good.” (3)
This to me actually was kinda essential, once I’d seen it. I’ve already mentioned it several times during these articles, but I grew up in a Bogart household. There was never any question that he was the greatest leading man in film history. We watched To Have and Have Not, Casablanca, The Petrified Forest, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Sahara, Key Largo, and The African Queen to name a few — stuff like that was always in the house and in the VCR. It wasn’t his whole filmography because my dad had his favorites, which then became my favorites. The thing about Bogie was that no matter how bad things got, he was dependable in the long run. For the most part, you knew that he’d either pull through or do the right thing, as long as he wasn’t the villain in the movie, out and out. In this, he’s not villain, but he doesn’t do the right thing. It was properly disturbing to watch, but also massively rewarding. I mean, the hair on my neck was standing straight up as I watched this, but that wasn’t a bad experience; it showed me a new dimension of an actor who I thought I had pegged. The guy had range like you wouldn’t believe, and this movie should be the proof of that for anyone who watched the stuff that I was watching. I call it essential primarily because you might not know Bogie like this, and you really should. If you haven’t seen the rest of what he’s done…I say hold off on this til you’ve seen Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon and stuff like that, but if you haven’t see those, you have larger issues to deal with.
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Now we’re starting to see a few more of the hidden gems slipping in. Not that they’re hidden, per se. They’re just, overlooked. Rope is a Hitchcock masterpiece that doesn’t get as much play as his other ones. Unfaithfully Yours is not the first Sturges people come up with to watch. In a Lonely Place is criminally overlooked. Asphalt Jungle is another great Huston movie that’s not in the first group that’s usually mentioned of his films. Battleground is perhaps not quite essential, but is a badass war movie. I’m okay with putting that on here. This is the proper time period for movies like this to make it on. They really knew how to make ’em.
Rankings: All About Eve, Treasure of the Sierra Madres and The Third Man are borderline 1s. If you’re just getting into movies, treat them as 1s. You need to have seen them yesterday. Rope is a great Hitchcock, which means it’s a solid 2. The rest are 3s. Not immediately essential, but you should get around to them.
That’s exactly right. There are plenty of movies here that don’t seem as obvious as some of our previous lists did. The 1939 stuff was as obvious as they come, but this doesn’t really strike you that way, aside from All About Eve and The Third Man. I guess Treasure of the Sierra Madre is pretty essential. But most of this is the stuff that you really should see from the time period or from the genres that meant something at the time.
Like, people are going to gripe later on about how certain 90s movies aren’t on the list. Yes, they’re probably famous as hell and we’ve all seen them. Would you rather I have them on here than something like Battleground, which everyone has forgotten about? I’d rather tell someone about the significance of this forgotten but still worthwhile film than list Beauty and the Beast and write something that people won’t even read because OF COURSE you should watch that movie. This is where we’re totally happen to suspend rules and logic selectively for the benefit of our own enjoyment and overall exposure for awesome movies that require advocacy.
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More movies tomorrow.