Monday, October 26, 2009

Favorite Films, Part VI

Part six of my 100 favorite films, in chronological order. We’ll be in the 1950s with this group.

“His Kind of Woman” (1951). The first pairing of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, something about missing loot traced to a Mexican resort. I would be very, very careful who I would recommend this film to. In the traditional sense, it’s not very good; in fact, it’s a mess. It’s a big, sloppy, shaggy dog of a movie and at almost two hours long, could have used some judicious cutting. But it’s really, really funny. It also boasts my all-time favorite Vincent Price performance, as a hammy movie star who believes his own publicity. Howard Hughes was head of RKO at the time and cut, cut again and re-cut the film into the glorious shambles it is today. Meanwhile the entire cast and crew were on full pay doing nothing while Hughes tinkered with the film. I bet Mitchum didn’t mind this one little bit.

“The Thing From Another World” (1951). Air Force members stationed in the Arctic come across a flying saucer and bring back its inhabitant in a block of ice. Unfortunately the ice melts. It’s pretty scary stuff. Howard Hawks produced, but didn’t direct, but you’d never tell from the final product. It’s a Hawks film through and through, with a strong group of professional men who group together to solve a crisis. Add a husky-voiced strong female who can hold her own with the men and you have the Hawks formula. Lots of fast, overlapping dialogue looks ahead to the Robert Altman-style of delivery.

“The Crimson Pirate” (1952). A glorious spoof of pirate movies, and everything those dreadful “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies want to be but aren’t. Burt Lancaster makes the most physically impressive pirate of all time, and it’s just pure joy to watch from beginning to end.

“The Quiet Man” (1952). Everyone’s favorite love song to Ireland, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara at their most charming. There’s so many memorable moments here, but I’ve always been partial to the horse race set on the windswept Irish shore. Director John Ford delivers again. This is how we want Ireland to really be like, but we know it isn’t. But isn’t a function of art not only to show life how it is, but what it should be?

"Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). Probably in my top five favorites of all time. Another film I can’t add to what’s been already said. Because it deals with the movie’s transition from silent films to talkies, I always thought this would make a very intriguing double feature with “Sunset Blvd.”, two looks at silent-era Hollywood, one full of music and laughter and the other a bitter look at how Hollywood disposes of its one time gods and goddesses.

“The Band Wagon” (1953). Another great Fred Astaire musical. This is to Broadway what “Singin’ in the Rain” is to Hollywood. The indulgent “Faust as a musical” sequences are a riot, which led me to be the only one happily cackling away in the theater watching the dreadful “Saturday Night Fever” sequel called “Staying Alive” (1983), which features similar scenes only played oh so dreadfully straight.

“Prince Valiant” (1954). This is one I get a lot of grief for. I love this movie, it really is one of my favorites but showing it to friends always elicits the same reaction – one of the worst movies they’ve ever seen. Aargh! I guess they can’t get pass Robert Wagner’s do in this. But there’s so much to enjoy here: the always welcome James Mason; Sterling Hayden as a knight of the Round Table, sounding like a Texas cowpuncher just off a cattle drive; the beauty of Janet Leigh and Debra Paget; one of the best castle sieges ever put on film (pagan Vikings vs. Christian Vikings); a terrific broadsword duel at the end; and one of Franz Waxman’s greatest scores. It’s the ideal comic strip movie. Maybe people would like it if there our hero wore a different hair style, but then he wouldn’t be Prince Valiant, would he?

“Them!” (1954). The 1950s saw an influx of movies featuring gargantuan creatures caused by atomic bombs, and this is the best. Very well written, the first quarter of the movie plays like a whodunit. Eventually it’s learned there are giant ants living in the Arizona desert and they’re on their way to Los Angeles. Produced by Warner Bros. and featuring a cast usually not found in fare like this (James Whitemore, James Arness, Edmund Gwenn), this is a winner all the way. Terrific sound effects too.
“The Night of the Hunter” (1955). One of the scariest movies ever made, Robert Mitchum is a murderous fundamentalist preacher with the words “love” and “hate” tattoed on his knuckles. He’s terrifying in this, having no scruples going after the kids of an ex-con he once shared a cell with to find out where his dad hid some money from a robbery. This is the only film directed by Charles Laughton, and it’s a shame he never directed another. Special kudos go to cinematographer Stanley Cortez for his indelible black and white imagery. Anyone who thinks watching a black and white movie would be boring is in for a revelation here.

“The Court Jester” (1956). I can usually only take Danny Kaye in small doses, but I love this movie, a hilarious send-up of costume adventure movies. Kaye becomes hypnotized and is a dashing hero with the snap of his fingers. Of course when the fingers snap he goes back to spastic Danny, most inconvenient in the middle of a duel. Basil Rathbone seems to be enjoying himself playing the bad guy. Don’t forget: The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.


Dees Stribling said...

Well, I'm willing to give Prince Valiant a go. I didn't know there was a movie; I hear that, and think of the comic I always saw but never read.

Kevin Deany said...

We'll watch it next time you're over. And then I'll never hear from you again.