All About Eve (1950, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) English 10

Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders. Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe, George Merrill, Gregory Ratoff

ALL ABOUT EVE: Life Imitating Art

(10-Masterpiece)

Sardonic. Intelligent. Classic.

Margo: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, is a bonafide star of the theater- perhaps its biggest star-but Margo is getting older (past forty), and life for an actress after forty looks pretty bleak to her. Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, is an ambitious, young nothing hoping to have center stage for herself. She works her way into Margo’s inner circle, affecting modesty and innocence, but she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, longing all the time to take Margo’s place. The crisscrossing stories of Margo and Eve’s careers make for a classic satire, one that seems like it could be as much about Hollywood as it is about theater. All About Eve’s also a stirring melodrama, beautifully written, beautifully performed, with a handful of classic characters. Bette Davis is a force of nature, Baxter’s breathy manner of speaking serves her pretentious, insincere character well, and George Sanders’ voice and demeanor almost single-handedly give the film it’s indelible, sardonic tone.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Vera Cruz (1954, Directed by Robert Aldrich) English 8

Starring Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Sara Montiel, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, George Macready, Morris Ankrum, Jack Elam

The Ace Black Movie Blog: Movie Review: Vera Cruz (1954)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Violent. Exciting. Compelling.

Benjamin Trane: You just can’t do enough for me, can yuh, Joe?

Joe Erin: Why not? You’re the first friend I ever had.

Friends, indeed. Much of the underlying drama in Vera Cruz centers around this so-called friendship. Ben Trane’s (Cooper) older, seems wiser and less violent, but that doesn’t stop him from being mercenary when he can. He’s an ex-confederate soldier trying to start again below the border, during the Franco-Mexican War. His new partner, Joe Erin (Lancaster), has been there longer and built up a reputation as the most lethal crook around. They’re hired by Emperor Maximilian (Macready) himself to escort the beautiful-and treacherous-Countess Marie (Darcel) to Vera Cruz. There’s a good deal of plot in this film for a western and a number of relationships. The two male stars’ is the most interesting. The relationships between the stars and their love interests aren’t hard to figure out and their outcomes are more or less predictable. Trane and Erin’s relationship is more tenuous and I, for one, wasn’t sure how it would shake out. Vera Cruz, though slight in running time, feels like a great big western. Expansive setting, a large cast of characters, an abundance of plot, as mentioned. Despite finding Cooper unimpressive and rather stiff in westerns, he gets the job done here, and Lancaster wasn’t afraid to put his star power on the line to play crazed characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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In a Lonely Place (1950, Directed by Nicholas Ray) English 9

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Jeff Donnell, Martha Stewart, Steven Geray

Gloria Grahame, Humphrey Bogart - In a Lonely Place (1950) | Gloria  grahame, Film noir, Film

(9-Great Film)

Brusque. Neurotic. Fierce.

Dixon Steele: I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Film director, Nicholas Ray, had his own style of Hollywood melodrama. His best known movies- Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, and In a Lonely Place-feature characters whose struggles are psychological more than anything else. The conflict is inside, which gives the films weight and drama worthy of Greek tragedy. Wasn’t it the tragic hero that is ultimately doomed by his own weaknesses? If so, Dixon Steele (Bogart) is such a character. An intelligent man with wealth, charisma, and some influence in the Hollywood film industry where he works as a scriptwriter, Steele is attractive to any number of women. He falls for his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Grahame), who reciprocates. When he becomes the lead suspect in a grisly murder of a young secretary, she believes his sardonic assurance that he had nothing to do with it. Eventually, and all-too-frequently, his violent temper pops up, leading her to question her faith in him. In a Lonely Place is a classic noir, efficiently told and paced, beautifully acted and directed from an eloquent, razor-sharp script.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947, Directed by Roy Del Ruth) English 8

Starring Victor Moore, Charlie Ruggles, Don Defore, Ann Harding, Gale Storm, Edward Brophy, Alan Hale Jr.

Top Holiday Picks: It Happened on 5th Avenue

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wonderful. Charming. Classic.

Aloysius T. McKeever: And I would like to feel that you’re all my friends. For to be without friends is a serious form of poverty.

Wise words from Mr. McKeever (Moore), a wanton leech and scoundrel. He wanders through life, sneaking in and out of mansions while their owners are away on vacation. This Christmas season, he’s staying in the home of Michael J. O’Conner (Ruggles), the second richest man on Earth. Gradually, other people join Mr. McKeever in the house: principled Jim Bullock (Defore), O’Connor’s daughter, Trudy (Storm), who’s fallen for Jim, Mr. O’Connor himself, as a favor to his daughter, and Mary (Harding), O’Connor’s estranged wife. This is a really wonderful movie that takes its zany, promising setup in a number of surprising directions. Victor Moore is called on to be both comedic scoundrel and Christmas angel all at once. He achieves this effortlessly. Though light on actual Christmas content, It Happened on 5th Avenue is still regularly described as a Christmas classic. Really, it’s a comedy for all seasons.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Killing (1956, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 9

Starring Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Vince Edwards, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Timothy Carey

The Killing (1956) | The Criterion Collection

(9-Great Film)

Lean. Ferocious. Exciting.

Johnny Clay: None of these men are criminals in the usual sense. They’ve all got jobs. They all live seemingly normal, decent lives. But, they’ve got their problems and they’ve all got a little larceny in ’em.

Not a Stanley Kubrick scholar or a filmmaker, I can’t see much connection between The Killing (his first feature-length film) and the classics he made subsequently. Where his most famous films like The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey are epic and ambiguous, The Killing is almost the direct opposite. It’s a testament, then, to his skill that he directed these films, and that each one is, in its own way, a great one. The Killing follows a group of men, led by Johnny Clay (Hayden), who plan to knock off the local horse track in the middle of a race. Their planning is thorough, but even the best laid plans go astray, especially in crime flicks. This is one of the best; perhaps, it is the best. Efficient, striking, low-key, with the perfect faces to fit each role. Marie Windsor is rightfully famous among film buffs for her femme fatales. She’s just so hateful. Not a minute seems wasted on the way to a poignant finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Ghost Breakers (1940, Directed by George Marshall) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best, Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson, Paul Fix, Pedro De Cordoba, Robert Ryan

On DVD, 'Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection' - The New York Times

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Spooky. Well-made.

Larry Lawrence: I don’t mind dying, but I hate the preliminaries.

Apparently, The Cat and the Canary (another horror film starring Bob Hope and Paulette Godard) was such a big hit back in 1939 that the studio rushed out to try and emulate its success. They dusted off an old stage play, one that had been adapted twice before, and made The Ghost Breakers, a wonderful blend of spook house thrills, Hope’s rapid-fire comedy, and his chemistry with Goddard. He plays Larry Lawrence, a crime reporter on the run after a mix-up involving a local underworld bigshot. He stows away with the sympathetic-and beautiful-Mary Carter (Goddard), who has problems of her own. She’s inherited a large estate in Cuba, but the property is haunted. At least, that’s what someone wants her to think. Larry and his sidekick, Alex (Best), help her investigate. Like most of Hope’s early pictures, The Ghost Breakers is a lot of fun. Sadly though, it’s difficult to find in good quality.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Ten Commandments (1956, Directed by Cecil B. Demille) English 6

Starring Charlton Heston, Anne Baxter, Yul Brynner, Vincent Price, Yvonne De Carlo, Cedric Hardwicke, Judith Anderson, Nina Foch, Edward G.Robinson, Woodrow Strode, John Carradine, Debra Paget, John Derek

Blu-Ray Review | The Ten Commandments (Blu-ray) | Blu-ray Authority

(6- Good Film)

Involving. Gaudy. Epic.

Rameses: His god – IS God.

One of the most popular and successful pictures ever made, Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments is not, however, a great film. Being old-fashioned isn’t a sin in my book, but excess is, and The Ten Commandments is excessively old-fashioned. Start with the white-washed cast of Hollywood stars (Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, and Edward G. Arnold, for as great as they are, stand out as unconvincing Israelites and Egyptians), then move to the ultra-soapy dialogue and acting. While we’re at it, I should bring up Demille’s apparent refusal to move beyond an antiquated theater-like presentation for his story. It’s all wide-shots, static and straight-on. I don’t even recall him using any close-ups. The result is a movie that feels more campy than momentous. That being said, it is an excellent story told on the grandest of scales. If I criticize its technique, its only fair to also point out that it’s four hours long and I was never bored.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Love Crazy (1941, Directed by Jack Conway) English 7

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jack Carson, Gail Patrick, Florence Bates, Sig Ruman, Sidney Blackmer, Vladimir Sokoloff, Elisha Cook Jr.

Love Crazy 1941 - Myrna Loy, William Powell, Gail Patrick, Jack Carson,  Florence Bates

(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Madcap. Witty.

Steve: She’s married now – got a husband.

Susan Ireland: Yeah? Whose husband has she got?

Steve (Powell) and Susan (Loy) Ireland celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in their upscale, big-city apartment. Interrupted and sent on an errand by Susan’s overbearing mother (Bates), their private party gets further delayed when Steve bumps into his old flame, Isobel (Patrick), on the way home. Part of the small sub-genre I recently discovered of “remarriage comedies,” Susan later decides to divorce Steve after finding out about him spending an evening alone with Isobel in her apartment. From a pretty simple premise, Love Crazy splinters into one of the wildest of screwball comedies. Plenty of physical comedy (which is the most surprising for me, not accustomed to seeing Powell giving that kind of performance) and plenty of wit too. It’s not much of a romance as the principal players already love each other, but at its center is the iconic chemistry between Powell and Loy who evidently made 14 films together.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Philadelphia Story (1940, Directed by George Cukor) English 6

Starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Virginia Weidler, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, Mary Nash, John Halliday

The Philadelphia Story' returns to local theaters | TBR News Media

(6-Good Film)

Intelligent. Witty. Affected.

Dexter: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.

I adore old Hollywood films. One of my true passions, I love the stars, I love the first-rate character actors, the production values, and the stories they tell, but I’ve never loved The Philadelphia Story, though it’s considered one of old Hollywood’s best. I come back to it often, expecting some change; a revelation perhaps. My feelings remain unchanged. Starring Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn (my goodness, the star power) as Dexter Haven, Macauley Connor, and Tracy Lord, respectively, The Philadelphia Story sees the three tangled up in a love triangle on the eve of Tracy’s wedding to earnest but stiff George Kittredge (Howard). Dexter is her ex-husband who’s not ready to let go and Macauley (Mike) is a cynical reporter not thrilled with his new frothy assignment of covering a wedding. Adapted from the stage, the film has a pretty conspicuous stagey manner- long, eloquent monologues, affected dialogue-but my problem isn’t with the apparent staginess, it’s with the characters. The dialogue, realism be damned, is sparkling, but I realized this time around that though I love these stars, I don’t even like these characters; especially during the first half. Tracy is prim, Dexter is scheming, Mike is misanthropic, the uncle is a lecher, the dad’s a cad, and the mom’s an airhead. They do breakthrough to a nice ending but too much of the film is bogged down in their deficiencies to bring me any real joy as most classics do.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Stalag 17 (1953, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 8

Starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Don Taylor, Sig Ruman, Peter Graves, Neville Brand

Stalag 17 (1953) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

(8-Exceptional Film)

Irreverent. Masculine. Engrossing.

Sefton: There are two people in this barracks who know I didn’t do it. Me and the guy that did do it.

Sgt. J.J Sefton (Holden) isn’t your typical hero. Even as an antihero, he stands far from the pack. For the majority of Stalag 17, he wants no part of anything heroic, and seems fairly content to have given up. He’s a prisoner of war held in a camp famed for letting no one escape. He’s selfish, apathetic, and ruthless, but when two fellow prisoners of war are foiled and killed in their escape attempt, and Sefton is beaten by the other prisoners who suspect him of being a traitor (one that tips off the Nazis for small benefits), Sefton’s determined to get back at the real traitor just as soon as he figures out who it is. I’m amazed with every Billy Wilder film that I see with how he balances tones. Stalag 17 is another layered work and further evidence of his brilliance. Broad and bawdy in its comedy, the film as a whole, somehow manages to be as gripping and eventually rousing as any straight dramatic classic. Holden won his only Oscar for this performance and he’s convincing at every stage of Sefton’s arc. Sefton’s not even necessarily the main character for much of the film, as it’s a true ensemble piece, but slowly, reluctantly, he becomes a memorable hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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