Starring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee, Genevieve Page, Tamara Toumanova
Years after his death, the letters of Dr. John H. Watson, one of literature’s most famous narrators and chronicler of the eminent Sherlock Holmes are found. In them, he relates a Sherlock Holmes story theretofore untold, deemed to private for the public. In Sherlock’s most personal case of his career, a strange and beautiful woman with amnesia winds up on his doorstep. Deducing that she’s looking for a missing husband, Sherlock sets out to solve the mystery, all the while falling for the woman. This is a later work from Billy Wilder, and probably his last great film. It’s beautifully, lavishly constructed sets, wit, and style belie the poignant sadness at its core which make it a special take on the character. A late sequence featuring a Morse code message by way of umbrella is an indelible, agonizing image.
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Jeremy Brett, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Henry Higgins (Harrison), a renowned phonetics professor wagers that he can turn a common flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), into a duchess by improving her speech. A musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, and it’s tops for me. The dialogue which is predominantly Shaw, the lyrics, the music, the costumes, the art direction, staging, the performances, are all exceptional. Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle are two of my favorite characters across all entertainment. They are both heavyweights, equals, and watching the two spar is a joy to me. Easily my favorite variant of the Pygmalion story, and probably my favorite musical.
Starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Heather Menzies, Charmian Carr
A young woman in 1930’s Austria struggles to fit in with the order of nuns she’s studying under; despite her relentless enthusiasm. They ask her to try working elsewhere for a time, to see if she finds her calling. And so she works as nanny for the wealthy but unhappy Von Trapp family that includes: the widower, Captain Von Trapp, and his seven children. Gradually, she works her way into the hearts of the children and the father, as the threat of Nazi Germany hangs over their beautiful country. I basically feel that there are people who love Sound of Music and people who pretend not to love Sound of Music. I don’t feel the need to pretend. It’s corny, joyous, moving, lovely, wonderful. The music is unforgettable and the story is long and sweeping.
Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell
After the death of one of the Senators in an unnamed state, it falls to the governor to pick a replacement. But it’s a corrupt state of affairs, and the governor takes orders from Jim Taylor (Arnold), a man who has his hands in everything. They want a dummy in the Senate. Someone who will look pretty and say nothing. They pick Jefferson Smith (Stewart), and the young idealist proves them wrong, taking on all political corruption in the fight of his life. Classic Capra combination of ideals mixed with comedy and tears. Wonderful movie. James Stewart is in his best role here, and Jean Arthur is the perfect romantic foil as the cynical, intelligent Saunders. The supporting cast is great from the top down.
Starring Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Khan, Randy Quaid
Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) promises to take 9 year old, orphan Addie (Tatum O’Neal) to her Aunt in Missouri, as she suspects he might be her dad. After watching Moses pull a number of small-time cons, Addie proves adept at assisting him, and the two escalate their grift on the way to Missouri. Paper Moon is completely wonderful. Sad when it wants to be sad, funny when it wants to be funny. The two lead performances are pitch perfect, and never reduced to being cute. They form real characters and take them seriously.
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr.
What begins as a simple case of following and protecting a beautiful brunette for private eye Sam Spade, soon leads to three murders, the death of his partner, and a quest for an ancient treasure. Benchmark Hollywood filmmaking. Very few characters, but all distinct and expertly played. I couldn’t imagine a single other actor in any one of these roles. Bogart’s is an indelible persona and Sam Spade was his first great role. Other, more complex noir would follow, but Huston’s pic remains the standard.
Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson
After arresting a wealthy and corrupt man’s brother, Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) must hold his small town prison off from a horde of deadly mercenaries. The only help he has are his two deputies, the self-destructive Dude (Martin), and the lame Stumpy (Brennan). Classic western, one of the last and best of the old Hollywood style, coming right before the genre would be redefined by Italians and Sam Pechinpah. Centered more on characters and dialogue than most westerns, Rio Bravo is a terrific entertainment, kind of a boy’s fantasy. Hanging out with friends. Facing off against villains. Romancing a beautiful woman. Great stuff.