#188- White Heat

Quick recap: A gangster with mommy issues gets outgangstered. Totally a thing. Look it up.

Nothing weird going on here!

Nothing weird going on here!

Fun (?) fact: In between takes for White Heat, James Cagney liked to go up to co-star Edmond O’Brien and show him poetry he had written.

My thoughts:  Knowing that this was a gangster film, I was expecting violence but it being the 1940s, I wasn’t expecting anything super realistic. I was right in a way because the deaths were your typical ‘clutch the chest, fall over’ fare, but White Heat is pretty dark for its time. Many descriptions peg the main character Cody (not a very gangster name, tbh) as ‘psychopathic’ and ‘homicidal’ and that is very true. He doesn’t blink twice when offing someone and in some scenes, he seems to relish the torture he inflicts on his victims. It’s not that I wanted a gangster with a heart of gold, but I wasn’t expecting one so gangster-y.

As mentioned above, everything Cody does is for his mother. He runs the gang, but only gives orders that he knows she would approve of. I really liked her character because she didn’t put up with anything. In one scene, Cody is planning on giving himself up to police and when she is questioned later on, she plays the role perfectly of mom who doesn’t know anything, but will kick your ass if you keep asking. I had very little sympathy for Cody throughout the film, but what little I could muster was because of her and how true his love was. Plus, she left hiding to go buy the gangsters strawberries, so you can’t really hate someone who does that.

White Heat surprised me by how complicated it was, from both sides. The FBI obviously had no computers back then, but still managed to stay one up on the gang at all times. Cody, too, always thought ahead, like when he paid someone to rob a store many states away so that he could confess to it later on, thus providing an alibi for the much larger crime of a train robbery. In an effort to get Cody to admit his deception, the FBI plants one of their men as his cellmate to gain his trust. When Cody decides to break out, the FBI arranges a getaway car so that his relationship with agent Hank Fallon was still intact. And it’s not really a criticism of this film, but this constant life of being on the run made me wonder what the benefits of being a gangster really are. From the very beginning with the train robbery, everyone lives in constant fear of getting caught and must perform bigger heists to keep the money flowing in. I may just be lazy, but the lifestyle just seems like a lot of work. There were a few scenes of the gangsters counting their money, but besides buying high priced suits, what did they use it for? Being a gangster fit Cody because he was crazy, but I don’t know about the other ones.

Look, Ma, I'm on top of the world!

Look, Ma, I’m on top of the world!

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The Firemen’s Ball

#178- Shadow of a Doubt

Quick recap: Young Charlie (named before it was cool to call girls Charlie) loves her Uncle Charlie.That is, until she suspects he might be a serial killer. Which he totally is.

Just an uncle and his niece, embracing intimately

Just an uncle and his niece, embracing intimately

Fun (?) fact: The tune Young Charlie gets stuck in her head in the beginning of the film is the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’, a reference to her serial killer uncle. It’s supposed to have been a big clue as to whether or not Uncle Charlie is guilty, but as I’m not so up to date on my waltzes, I missed it.

Still Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie. Nothing weird going on at all.

Still Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie. Nothing weird going on at all.

My thoughts: Shadow of a Doubt was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a fact that at first surprised me and after watching, made perfect sense. Before starting this list, Hitchcock was synonymous with ‘horror’ to me, and I wasn’t entirely impressed by either Psycho or The Birds. But as I have since discovered through Frenzy and North by Northwest, he is also adept at thrillers and I have now learned, Film Noir. Hitchcock has said on several occasions that this was his favorite movie, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

For starters, I think the cast is what really makes this film so enjoyable. Joseph Cotten played the part of Uncle Charlie perfectly, making him a terrifying killer by the end of the movie. Young Charlie (played by Teresa Wright) was also wonderful, with her ability to be naive as well as the most wise in the family. My favorite characters, though, were Young Charlie’s dad and his friend, Herb. The two men had a hobby of coming up with ways to kill each other, which was as disturbing as it was comical.In one scene, Herb asks Charlie’s father if he tasted anything funny in the tea that was served earlier. The father admitted that it did taste funny, to which Herb replied that he had added soda, but it could’ve just as easily been poison. It almost seemed like something David Lynch might do, creating these characters who only talk of gruesome ways to murder the other and still manage to stay good friends.

The one drawback of the film is the actual mystery. It’s clear from the very beginning that Uncle Charlie is a murderer, so it really became more of a question of how he would be caught. The last quarter of the movie dealt with him trying to kill Young Charlie, since she knew too much, which became more comical than it should’ve been. Uncle Charlie was sinister and played his part well, but his constant attempts to murder his niece reminded me of Wil E. Coyote always trying to catch the Roadrunner and instead being outsmarted in some way.

Uncle Charlie giving his niece a ring, full of familial love

Uncle Charlie giving his niece a ring, full of familial love

Final review: 4/5. Depending on your perspective, Shadow of a Doubt is a near perfect satire about suburban life (the entire town falls in love with Uncle Charlie, never stopping to question all the weird stuff he does).

Up next: Diary of a Country Priest

#177-Louisiana Story

Quick recap: A sweet story about a young Cajun boy who loves hunting alligator, his pet raccoon, and Big Oil.

I want a raccoon.

I want need a raccoon.

Fun (?) fact: Director Robert Flaherty used local actors for Louisiana Story, which confused many people into thinking this was a documentary.

That's a pocket of salt the boy has dangling from his belt. supposedly to throw at monsters. Sounds legit.

That’s a pocket of salt the boy has dangling from his belt. supposedly to throw at monsters. Sounds legit.

My thoughts: If this had been a movie about a Cajun child and his adventures on the bayous, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more than I actually did. Although, as a side note, most summaries referred to the boy as having an ‘idyllic’ life, which is true if you think ‘idyllic’ means being in constant fear of getting eaten by gators.

The story about the oil derrick being set up outside the family’s house just didn’t make sense with the rest of the movie. Most of the time it felt like I was watching one of those old Disney nature films (you know, the one where they would purposefully throw lemmings off the cliff), but then the scene would switch to oil with the happy music still in place and it was confusing. In 2015, a story about Big Oil will most certainly end in tragedy, but in this movie the tragedy never came and everyone lived happily ever after.

The reason for this is because Louisiana Story was funded by the Standard Oil company with ‘no strings attached’, but I could practically see strings dangling from every aspect of this film. It is essentially a propaganda film. The movie takes great pains to show that no part of nature was harmed, and that the family ended up prospering because of the lease they signed. In reality, that’s just not something that happens and I’m curious if people back then bought the lie. It became downright creepy, all the scenes of the oil workers staring at the simple Cajun boy and him smiling back. A whole 5 minutes is devoted to this at the end of the film, with everyone waving stupidly to each other and staring longingly into each other’s eyes. Why don’t you just marry Big Oil, Cajun boy?

Final review: 2/5. The only saving grace is that darn raccoon, who has more sense than anyone else in this film.

Up next: Shadow of a Doubt

#160- Sullivan’s Travels

Quick recap: John Sullivan is a popular director of comedy films who wants to make a socially conscious film. Upon realizing that he is a rich white guy, Sullivan sets out to ‘find trouble’ in order to better understand the plight of the poor.


Fun fact: The Coen brothers chose the name to their film O Brother, Where Art Thou? as an homage to director Preston Sturges. The title comes from the book Sullivan writes about his experience.


My thoughts: Paul Blart Mall Cop is one of the greatest movies ever made and you should feel like a jerk if you didn’t love it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Schindler’s List is worthless and you are a pretentious jerk for appreciating it because that is not what society needs. Stop being a jerk! This is basically what I learned from watching Sullivan’s Travels, although the point was a little more subtle than what I said. I’m sorry I called you a jerk, by the way. I didn’t mean it.


                                 Comedy. Gold.

Sullivan’s Travels is a comedy about how important comedies are. In 1941, America was still going through the Depression and things sucked, for the most part. It was no secret that people were suffering, especially the people living it. The last thing they wanted was a ‘socially conscious’ film about their plight because, really, what would that do? This is what Sullivan learns in his travels, as he becomes a homeless man and then later comes into some real trouble when he is sent to a labor camp for almost killing a railroad conductor. It’s quite a complex plot which I don’t have the energy to hash out right now but I will say that its complicated nature pleasantly surprised me when I watched it.

So, is Sullivan’s Travels a ‘good’ movie? I guess that’s not really my place to make a judgement. I didn’t love it or really even like it because physical comedy doesn’t do much for me, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t worthwhile to someone at some point. The plot, as I stated before, was much more complex than I expected and I never got bored. The most profound part of the movie was when Sullivan completed his first attempt to live like someone in poverty and decided to give money away to show his appreciation. Spoiler alert- it didn’t work out too well for him. It wasn’t until he actually became someone without anything that he understood that money doesn’t solve everything, and that what people really need is a temporary vacation from their troubles.

Final review: 4/5. I wanted to give this a lower rating because the physical comedy didn’t do much for me but considering the amount of time I have spent trying to sort my thoughts, I guess it deserves my respect.

Up next: Top Gun