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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The Thin Man Goes Home (1944, Directed by Richard Thorpe) English 7

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Lucile Watson, Gloria DeHaven, Leon Ames, Anne Revere, Harry Davenport, Edward Brophy

the thin man goes home | Tumblr

(7-Very Good Film)

Charming. Fun. Endearing.

Mrs. Charles: Well, all I can say is if you’re looking for crime in Sycamore Springs, you’ll have to commit it yourself.

Nora Charles: I wonder? Nicky always says that there’s a skeleton in nearly every closet and if you rattle it hard enough something always happens.

I’d watch Nick and Nora, fabulously witty married couple and part-time sleuths, go anywhere. In The Thin Man Goes Home, their fifth outing, the Charles’ visit Nick’s parents in some small New England town, where Nora meets his disapproving father (Davenport). Nora desperately wants her father-in-law to be impressed with Nick, who’s pretty much given up on that idea, but something of a dark, sinister miracle occurs when a dead body turns up at their front door, and Nick gets the opportunity to show how brilliant he is as a detective. After the first two truly surprising and original outings, the Thin Man series follows a fairly clear formula. You’ll get no complaints from me as I love these films and these characters, including Nick’s loyal brigade of small-time crooks.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Day of the Outlaw (1959, Directed by Andr√© De Toth) English 8

Starring Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louise, Alan Marshal, Venetia Stevenson, Jack Lambert, David Nelson, Elisha Cook Jr.

Day of the Outlaw | Trailers From Hell

(8-Exceptional Film)

Bleak. Brutal. Beautiful.

Doc Langer: Well, I gave him a big shot of morphine. It deadens pain, makes the patient feel fine, but as soon as this dose wears off, he’s going to start coughing. Each cough’s going to rip the lungs a little bit more. A few hours after he starts coughing, he’s going to die.

The snow falls. The wind rages. A dying horse can be see almost crawling, slowly, on its knees. Set in 19th century Wyoming, this is a brutal environment, and Day of the Outlaw has a story to match it. Robert Ryan plays Blaise Starrett, a hard man and a steamroller. He’s in the middle of a land dispute with Hal Crane, and, perhaps more to the point, he’s having an affair with Crane’s wife, Helen (Louise). The two seem destined for a showdown that’s been a long time coming, but when it finally does come, their confrontation is interrupted by the arrival of a gang of outlaws, led by Jack Bruhn (Ives). Now all the townsfolk, even Blaise and Hal, have to work together to save their homes. Beautifully shot in black and white, perfectly capturing the relentlessly harsh setting, Day of the Outlaw is an outstanding, unique western. Like Rawhide years earlier, it blends the western genre with elements of a home-invasion thriller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Hellzapoppin’ (1941, Directed by H.C Potter) English 6

Starring Ole Olson, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Mischa Auer, Hugh Herbert, Shemp Howard, Robert Paige, Elisha Cook Jr.

Hellzapoppin' - Film | Park Circus

(6-Good Film)

Trailblazing. Crazy. Memorable.

Louie: What’s the matter with you guys? Don’t you know you can’t talk to me and the audience?

Ole Olson: Well, we’re doin’ it, aren’t we?

Comedians Ole Olson and Chic Johnson interrupt classical dancers being tortured by demons in hell to adapt their stage hit, Hellzapoppin’. A young scriptwriter (Cook Jr,) lets them in on how he plans to update the show and mix in the cursory Hollywood romance. Olson and Johnson, then, wade their way through his Hollywood script, breaking the fourth wall every step of the way. This is an insane film. There’s no old Hollywood classic like it and there’s nothing to prepare you for the mile-a-minute screwball action that’s overwhelming. Even the later Road to…movies featuring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour played by the rules in comparison. As an exercise in style and in originality, Hellzapoppin’ is a brilliant film. As an isolated piece of entertainment, it’s simply passing. More episodically enjoyable than a whole work. There are a few sequences, however, that are absolutely incredible. First and foremost, the dance number by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. If you’re unwilling to see the movie, you must, at least, check out this dance scene because it’s awe-inspiring.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Rear Window (1954, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 10

Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Judith Evelyn

Through the Looking Glass, Down the Rabbit Hole: REAR WINDOW | Scarecrow

(10-Masterpiece)

Masterful. Inventive. Original.

Stella: We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.¬†

A countless number of essays and reviews have pointed out the Challenger deep level of subtext that makes Rear Window so many critics’ favorite Hitchcock film. Voyeurism as a whole and then the parallels between looking in on people’s lives through windows with watching people’s lives through television screens have been pointed out to me, and make the film a good cinematic example of Ernest Hemingway’s popular ice-berg theory (1/8 above the surface, 7/8 beneath). I’m going to focus my brief recommendation on the 1/8 above the surface because it’s here that separates Rear Window, for me, from say, Vertigo, another particular favorite of critics. All of Hitchcock’s films are worthy of deeper exploration and warrant the essays that have been written about them. Rear Window, like The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes, also happens to be one of the most entertaining movies ever made. Stewart plays Jeff, a photographer, layed up with a broken leg after a work incident. Decades before Netflix and Chill, Jeff finds very little else to do but stare out his window at his neighbors and watch their lives unfold. Later, he and his gung ho girl, Lisa (Kelly), are certain that a neighbor across the way has gotten rid of his wife…for good. Excellent narrative, beautifully polished film, you have only to watch the first two remarkably efficient minutes (the entire premise is established with a long take and no dialogue in those minutes) to understand Hitchcock’s powers as a filmmaker and storyteller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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