#323- Sunset Boulevard

Quick recap: Joe Gillis is hired by an aging film star to help her get back into show business. As with most things in life, it goes horribly wrong.

me, moving closer to Thanksgiving break

Fun (?) fact: This will probably seem more ‘basic fact than ‘fun fact’, but Gloria Swanson, who played Norma Desmond was an actual silent film star back in the day and her servant Max was an actual director. All those pictures Norma has in her mansion are real life photos of Swanson.

My thoughts: How in the WORLD did Gloria Swanson not win a Best Actress award for her role in this film? People love to hate on the Academy, and although I’m mostly ambivalent about what a group of people seems worthy, this is a true outrage. There was a lot to love about this movie and believe me, there will be gushing later on, but it is Swanson who makes Sunset Boulevard into the classic that it is. Everything about Norma Desmond is so wonderfully over the top that it makes every scene pure gold. I was lucky enough to watch this movie on the big screen and every time Swanson appeared, a group of guys behind me cheered. When she said something sassy, I could hear them gasp audibly and say out loud,’ oh NO!’. Anyone who can invoke such a response 67 years later deserves all the awards and praise.

I LOVED this movie. Oh my god, did I love this movie. I loved it in the way that after it was over, I was sad for awhile because I can’t imagine how I was able to function in life up to this point having not seen Sunset Boulevard before.  It was just that good. The story, the characters, the shocking twists and turns, all of it. And not only that, but it really brought to life how traumatizing it was for the film industry to switch to sound. We see it ( or maybe mostly I see it) as a merciful thing to move to talking, but it really was an art form in its own right. It reminds me of the silent actor Raymond Griffith  in All Quiet on the Western Front. He lost his voice due to illness as a child and sound coming to film meant the end of his career, even though he was a considerably popular star. Several silent film era stars were asked to star as Norma Desmond but a few had mental issues and others had turned into recluses. For all the glamour we see, Hollywood can be a really sad scene.

Final review: 5/5. Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Up next: the Big Chill

Advertisements

#308- Pickup on South Street

Quick recap: A pickpocket unknowingly intercepts some microfilm that was about to be given to the Communists. Now he must decide whether he is going to stay a two-bit felon or move on up to full traitor status.

it’s a film-noir so expect plenty of sass from this dame

Fun (?) fact: In the French and German versions of the film, the dialog is changed completely and turns into a story about drug dealing.

My thoughts:Apparently, pickpocketing was one of the worst crimes one could commit in New York City in the early 50s. Skip McCoy, the thief with the heart of gold (or something) had already been convicted of stealing 3 times before and one more time would send him to the chair. When my mom’s wallet was stolen in Chicago a few weeks ago, we dutifully reported it even though we knew that sucker was long gone.

Pickup on South Street was a wild ride but overall a weak addition to the film-noir genre. There were several thrilling scenes and violence galore but a spying ring just felt like a letdown. The Communists were bad news but by the end this felt more like a propaganda film for the Red scare than a true film-noir. Part of my issue is that I never really bought into Skip McCoy as a hero. Not only was he a pickpocket but he was violent towards the girl he stole from and then made out with her too, which was I guess a thing back then. Candy, the love interest, had her own issues and I found myself internally screaming on her behalf for continuing to choose such bad guys to fall in love with. In the end, Skip and Candy end up together and we are made to believe this is a good thing but realistically we know there is no good way this relationship will go.

My favorite part of the film and the reason I liked the movie so much was because of Moe, the stool pigeon. I really wish they had cut out all of the Commie BS and mystery and focused on this woman. Moe spent her life selling ties as a front and keeping tabs on all the crooks and criminals. When the police needed help, they called her in and she set a price to give info. I loved the symbiotic relationship she had with the crooks and especially Skip. Neither were happy with the other’s life choices but both understood the need to make a living. For all this, Moe was saving up for a nice burial plot when she died. When of the Commies offed her, Skip paid for a funeral so she wouldn’t be sent to Potter’s field.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Destry Rides Again

#262-Touch of evil

Quick recap: Charlton Heston plays a Mexican officer who gets caught up in a whole bunch of stuff: kidnapping, murder, theft, corruption and lots of jaywalking.

TouchOfEvil1

Also starring Orson Welles, who has a little more than a ‘touch’ of evil going on

Fun (?) fact: Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge is only in the film because she was having dinner with Welles. He gave her a leather jacket, cut her hair himself and gave her the line, ‘I wanna watch’.

Touch Of Evil 624

My thoughts: I think I might be suffering from Film-Noir Fatigue. Not that I’ve seen a bunch yet (there’s a LONG list), but in my mind most of them have formed a gelatinous blob of murder, mayhem and sexy dames. I really wanted to like this film, mainly because of Orson Welles, but at the end of the day, it just seemed like one more movie that fits the theme- no more, no less.

I’m going to back up a bit because it seems like I hated the movie and I really didn’t. Orson Welles in a fat suit doing an impression of Trump? Charlton Heston playing a Mexican official despite not looking hispanic at all? Marijuana benders? There’s actually a lot of camp in this movie, now that I think about it. But also some seriously good scenes, like the beginning where the camera tracks a car as it heads through the US Mexico border and then blows up. That was neat. And I also enjoyed all of the scenes with Janet Leigh because even I can’t resist a sexy dame in trouble.

But there was a lot that just didn’t work for me. The weird, creepy night manager was such an odd choice to add to the film. I guess the point was the he was scared of his drug lord boss but his odd mannerisms overshadowed everything. And the Grandi boys on a weed bender also struck me as more funny than tragic. The real beef I had with the film, however, was the plot. It was hard to follow and I’m still not sure how everything adds up. I got that Hank Quinlan was a super horrible guy who put a lot of innocent people in prison, but that seems like the sort of thing people would find out about soon enough. Add in the drug lord stuff and the car exploding and it just seems more like a cautionary tale for Charlton Heston’s character about too much on his plate.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Trainspotting

 

 

#236- Strangers on a Train

Quick recap: Guy is a tennis star who hates his wife. Bruno is a creepo that hates his father. When the two meet ( as strangers, on a train), Bruno decides that it would be fun if the two could switch places and murder whom the other hates.

Strangers on a Train 3

Making small talk is difficult for some people

Fun (?) fact: Alfred Hitchcock wanted the character of Bruno to be gay but that wasn’t really something you could say back then. Instead, he and Robert Walker worked together to suggest Bruno’s homosexuality with elaborate gestures and fancy clothes without having to actually point it out.

Strangers on a Train pic 2

It was a success!

My thoughts: Strangers on a Train just might be my favorite Hitchcock film. It’s not his best, but I had the most fun watching it. Everyone knows Hitchcock for his horror films, but I much prefer film-noir Hitchcock, where he can put his dark humor to good use.

There is a lot to love about this movie, but it’s the film techniques Hitchcock uses that make Strangers on a Train so stunning. I know there are technical terms for all the camera work but I’m not even going to pretend I have a clue what I’m talking about here and just say it was really, really, really……good. There were many scenes with Bruno where he was just off in the distance, but the perspective made him seem so much more formidable. My favorite example of this was during the tennis match, where the audience moved their heads back and forth to watch the ball, while Bruno’s gaze was fixed squarely on Guy. It was beyond creepy. The scene in which Miriam is murdered is also amazing. Hitchcock somehow filmed the encounter through the perspective of Miriam’s glasses that were knocked to the grass when Bruno grabbed her.

ec97b4ecb0a8ec9588ec9d98_ec9db4ec8381ed959c_ec82aceb9e8ceb93a4-strangers_on_a_train-1951-ac3-1ch-1cd-ace-avi_002963546

 

 

The dialogue and acting were top notch and although it was a very dark movie, there were many scenes that made me laugh. Like Shadow of a Doubt, many of the characters casually talk about murder and gruesome ways of dying as if it is a common hobby to do so. Which it kind of is? There has always been a fascination with that sort of thing so although it seems off-putting, it’s something we all do. As for the murder itself, I never really understood why Guy could never go to the police and explain what happened. There didn’t seem to be a lot of evidence, and it’s not like the police leading the investigation came from Manitowoc County (I’m topical!) so they probably would’ve been reasonable. The ending also seemed to be wrapped up a little too neatly. One second Guy was the number one suspect and the next second his name is cleared completely. Granted, there wasn’t much of a case to begin with but it was definitely a weak spot in an otherwise enjoyable film to have it all dropped so quickly.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Storm over Asia