The B+ Movie Guide: Part XVI

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:

Rear Window - 39

Rear Window (1954)

Mike:

Top five movie for Hitchcock. I can’t even begin to get into how brilliantly directed and perfect this movie is. Legit perfection. (2)

Colin:

There’s a window, through which everything happens. There’s a murder, and there’s an investigation. Riveting, and with a properly good cast. Nothing wrong with Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart. I don’t need to tell you about this movie. 

Sabrina (1954)

Mike:

Billy Wilder. Audrey Hepburn. Humphrey Bogart. William Holden. What are you doing? Why are you not watching this movie right now? (3)

Colin:

Not the last time we’ll see Hepburn and Holden together, but Bogart’s the awesome one here. Ah, who am I kidding? They’re all the awesome one. Hepburn is in love with rich guy Holden, but it’s going to cause problems for his family business, so older brother Bogart tries to get them apart by charming her himself. It’s pretty simple, and yet…Billy Wilder. He does things properly.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Mike:

LOVE this movie. It’s a happy-go-lucky musical… that just happens to be about Stockholm Syndrome. A mountain man decides it’s time for him to take a wife. And his six brothers decide they want wives too. So they go into town to get women. And end up abducting seven women. And as the town gives chase behind them, the snow comes and caves in the mountain pass. So the women are stuck with the men and the town is stuck outside until spring. And over the course of the winter, the women fall in love with the men. It’s… somehow actually really terrific. A musical you wouldn’t expect to love. (3)

Colin:

My high school did this show when I was in the ninth grade. I played trumpet in the pit orchestra. Our middle school and high school had this weird backwards thing where we were better musicians than our rival middle school and high school, and they were better singers and dancers than we were, but we put on the $100,000 drama productions and they put on the $100,000 jazz cabarets. White people with too much money and a need to prove something to a crosstown rival. Anyway, long story short, I’ve had the entire soundtrack stuck in my head ever since. It’s a great show, so I watched it again for the first time since we were made to watch it at school before we started practicing everything. It’s pretty well put together for as simple a musical as it is. And it’s about kidnapping women and forcing them into marital servitude. A real winner.

But, I still enjoyed playing the soundtrack for The Pajama Game better.

Seven Samurai - 225

Seven Samurai (1954)

Mike:

Yes. Kurosawa’s most accessible movie. It’s long, but it’s spectacular. It translates to everyone. It translates so well, they remade this as a western. And even that movie is essential. (2)

Colin:

They made it into a Western AND into a Pixar movie. If you’ve ever seen A Bug’s Life, it’s this. Samurai protect villagers from bad guys. Very long, yes, but very good and very essential. Kurosawa nails the whole team assembly thing in this movie, and when you think about it, just about every single franchise action movie does it these days. It seems super obvious now to start a movie meeting team members and getting them all together to solve whatever problem, but all that really started here. And, you’ve got Toshiro Mifune in yet another perfect role as the lowly peasant pretending to be a ronin. In Magnificent Seven, his character is Horst Buchholz, who doesn’t quite own the performance the way Mifune did. This is one of the all-time greats, and again — top three out of Japan and Asia, with Rashomon and Tokyo Story, all three of which appeared in the top 15 in Sight and Sound 2002 poll. Lately, Late Spring and In the Mood for Love have moved up, but Late Spring is sort of kind of connected to Tokyo Story and…I’ll give you my thoughts on In the Mood for Love when I’m in the mood for it. Point being — this is essential as Asian movies come, and you really need to watch it to understand film.

A Star is Born (1954)

Mike:

This is probably the version of this story people would enjoy most. Judy Garland lost Best Actress this year, and many people felt she ought to have won. She’s terrific here, and James Mason is great too. Just as good as the 1937 version, but different. This is musical, the other one is straight story. Both great. (3)

Colin:

We already covered this for the 1937 version. I like that one better, even though Garland and Mason are clearly better. The great thing about movies is, you don’t have to choose. Just watch both and enjoy each for its own merits.

To Catch a Thief (1954)

Mike:

Hitchcock again. This is him at his most overtly suggestive. That fireworks scene… (3)

Colin:

There’s nothing better than Cary Grant in a Hitchcock movie. North by Northwest is my favorite, but this one’s fun. You have to get past Cary Grant being a Frenchman who clearly isn’t French, and Grace Kelly falling for him as quickly as she does after first putting up an act. But after that, it looks fantastic, and it’s one of those great Hitchcock movies in which two people are trying not to have their lives completely messed up by the circumstances going on around them. You know, like North by Northwest. The color is also nice. I want to point out that she drives a Sunbeam Alpine, an earlier model than the car that Sean Connery drives in Dr. No. 

All That Heaven Allows - 68

All that Heaven Allows (1955)

Mike:

Another Sirk. This one might be the one that people love most. If you saw Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven — that’s his version of this movie (essentially), and him doing Sirk. Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson again. A widow falls in love with her gardener, and the attitudes of society conspire against them. Beautiful movie. (3)

Colin:

The color in this movie is astonishingly good. I don’t know what it was about the mid 1950s, but I associate that time period with very deep reds and blues. You’d see those colors in old advertisements and posters, and that’s exactly what this movie looks like. Almost every single stationary shot in this looks like it came out of a sketch from the first season of Mad Men (granted, it’s 5 years off), whether it’s a TV being rolled into the perfect suburban living room or a station wagon going over a bridge to a wood and stone barn with a water wheel. The guy knew how to capture the most falsely idyllic landscapes and imagery, the same way he knew how to direct falsely idyllic melodrama. This is probably the better movie when stacked up against Magnificent Obsession, but they’re both worth a watch if you’re in the mood. Also, how awful can white women be to one another?

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Mike:

This movie is a noir in color. I didn’t know what this was when I watched it for the Oscar Quest. And it’s GREAT. Spencer Tracy shows up in a town, looking for a man. And no one wants to tell him where he is. And slowly we find out what’s going on. Trust me when I say, if you don’t know what this movie is, you’re missing out. (3)

Colin:

This is one of the last ten movies I watched on the list. I was missing out. This is a short movie that totally delivers. He shows up in this tiny nothing of a town and it turns into a horror flick real fast. Like, everyone in town is trying to kill him or looking for an excuse to, and he’s got no way in or out. It’s messed up as hell. But it’s also Spencer Tracy being a total boss and winning you over. I won’t get into the exact plot, but I like to think that this was some kind of apology for wartime practices on the homefront. Watch it, and you’ll see what I mean. GREAT movie that I hadn’t heard of. It’s a real nail-biter.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Mike:

A great pulp noir. This is where Quentin got the glowing briefcase from. This is great fun. Pure B movie cinema. This is the perfect first entry on a double bill. (3)

Colin:

These noirs are always great when you’re watching a list, because they almost never go over 105 minutes. You can just knock them out one by one. This one starts pretty standard, and then ends VERY 1955. I won’t give it away, but it’s yet another great ending where at least one two-timing woman gets her comeuppance. Which we love. She was a gold digger, and she wound up elsewhere on the periodic table, I guess you could say.

The Ladykillers (1955)

Mike:

Classic comedy. Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom. The Coens remade it with Tom Hanks, but watch this version instead. Gotta get some British comedy in there. (3)

Colin:

The Coens’ version was funny. I’m ashamed to say that I saw that first, during high school. It had just come out, I think. This was better, mostly because of Guinness and Sellers. I mean, Sellers alone is usually enough. But the British humor of the old woman (as opposed to the elderly black lady in the Coens’ remake) is what holds it all together. You have to have a straight man in these movies to make all the jokes land perfectly, and she’s it — it’s not unlike the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote dynamic, how she isn’t trying and they’re constantly thwarted. Funny movie, definitely worth the watch.

– – – – – – – – – –

Final Thoughts:

Mike:

This is one of those sections where I say “trust me.” If it doesn’t seem essential — trust me. These are all worth your while, and they’re all great. Logistically, you can take off A Star Is Born if you want. Maybe Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (just don’t marginalize the musical overall). Otherwise the rest belong here.

Treat Rear Window as a borderline 1, and Seven Samurai is a very strong 2. The rest you don’t have to rush out and see immediately, but don’t rest easy. You should.

Colin:

Trust him. The one I really want to pull for here is Bad Day at Black Rock. The others are pretty obvious, though I said yesterday that we probably only needed one of the Hudson-Wyman Sirk movies. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is fun and probably should go here simply because it isn’t one of the most common musical teams. Everything else really should be here, and you need to go watch Bad Day at Black Rock if you haven’t seen it. 

– – – – – – – – – –

More movies tomorrow.

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