Sunday, March 1, 2015

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 1 of 50)

Sunset Boulevard
Norma descends the stairs

I've watched (and re-watched) a lot of the classics from Hollywood's Golden Age (The period I generously define as starting during the early days of talkies and running until the early 60's) since I've started this blog. However, I find that there are a lot of films from this era that I still haven't gotten around to watching (or re-watching) in that time. So, I'm just going to bite the bullet and try to watch fifty of them in a row. Some will be from the 1001 lists and some won't. And since this was such a golden era for supporting players, I will give my Elisha Cook Jr. award for supporting players for each movie mostly because I enjoy doing it. 

And what better movie to start this these posts than with than the Billy Wilder classic  
Sunset Boulevard?

The story of the over-the-hill movie the star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her kept young man (William Holden) is part film noir, part Hollywood tell-all, part horror movie sprinkled with just a dash of camp. Wilder and Charles Brackett's screenplay is smart and sharp and the casting of the three leads (Erich Von Stoehim being the third) is perfect.

I admit that this film does make me think of the Carol Burnett skits that featured Burnett (as Norma) and Harvey Korman (as Max). Some may also think of Glenn Close's turn as Norma on Broadway in the musical version of the story. Or might make you think of a drag queen performing as Norma Desmond at a club near you. 

Regardless, Sunset Boulevard in its original form is a must see for any movie buff.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Erich Von Stroheim. I'm going with the obvious choice for the award on this one. Erich's career follows an interesting trajectory with the fictional Max. Erich was a great silent film director (like Max), even directing Gloria Swanson in a couple of films. Erich's career bottomed out after talkies (also like Max's). Though Erich was relegated to B-films instead of becoming a servant. But Sunset Boulevard was a great role for him and his absolute devotion to Norman Desmond is a chilling yet sad testament to misguided loyalty.

"Madame is the greatest star of them all"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

The Towering Inferno
(1974)
The Towering Inferno-1974 was the peek of the disaster movie craze and saw the release of Earthquake!, Airport 1975 and The Towering Inferno. These were the movies to see in 1974 for me at the time (I turned twelve that year) and Inferno was my favorite of the bunch. I made an only half serious request on a previous blog that the 1001 movie book should include Irwin Allen's Towering Inferno in one of their updated editions. I admit I was a bit surprised when they actually did! After seeing it again, I do understand that the special effects are really the star here and that giant burning building still impresses.

It's not really an acting piece, but the cast here is quite interesting. You have the two superstars, Paul Newman as the architect and Steve McQueen as the head firefighter. You also have one of the biggest female stars of the era (Faye Dunaway) as the romantic interest. But we also have screen legends William Holden, Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones on hand to represent Hollywood's golden age. We also have 60's TV stars Richard Chameberlain, Robert Wagner and Robert Vaughan to help fill out the cast. But we also have football star O. J. Simpson as a security guard to indicate these were the days when having O. J. Simpson in your cast was really cool.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The years 1978-1981 were the renaissance of the slasher movie which started with the release of Halloween in 1978. It was during 1981 or 1982 that I first saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, the genre had become so popular that this older film was re-released. And I didn't like it. It looked very amateurish to me at the time. But I can at least understand that that was part of it's appeal. You could make a case that the post-Halloween slasher films were just too slick and the rawness of Chainsaw Massacre might be more to you liking. After seeing it again, I understand that. I can't say I was in love with Leatherface and his deranged family this time out, but because of its influence and now generational cult status, I wouldn't argue with it being in the 1001 book. 

The Towering Inferno and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may have made the cut, but here are some movies from 1974 that I have seen that didn't quite have the right stuff to make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. Airport 1975
1974 will always be to me the year of the disaster movie. The stewardess is flying the plane! If you are wondering who uttered this line, it was Sid Caesar. If you aren’t wondering, it was still Sid Caesar.

2. Big Bad Mama
I believe this is the one with Angie Dickinson equipped with big hair and an outrageous Southern accent and William Shatner being hammy (as hard as that is believe!). Not to be confused with Bloody Mama, that was Shelley Winters.

3. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
Some say the weak link to the 70’s anarchist car trilogy (Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point being the others.) I prefer to call it the weak link in the Susan George trilogy (Fright and Straw Dogs being the others). So I use to kinda like Susan George! Give me a break-I was twelve!

The extremely blonde Susan George in
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
Earthquake
The second leg in the 1974 disaster trilogy. Earthquake’s main appeal was the gimmick of Sensurround, which I experienced in two theaters. It seemed to consist of a lot of noise and not enough much shaking either time. But any movie with former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner as a gay psycho has at least got that going for it!

5. Emmanuelle
It’s not porn, it’s erotica!

6. The Four Musketeers
Really the second half of The Three Musketeers. I saw this one without seeing the first one and you really need to see the first one to understand what’s happening in the second one.

7. Harry and Tonto
Art Carney really won the Oscar over Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Albert Finney and Al Pacino…for Harry and Tonto?

8. Herbie Rides Again
I remember little about this one except that the original is better. Dean Jones, where art thou?

9. The Island at the Top of the World
I think I thought this movie was cool at the time. I was probably mistaken.

10. Lenny
Oh, 1001 movie book. How can you leave out Lenny? It may be brutal, but it's memorable
.
11. The Longest Yard
Oft quoted if you grew up in the 70’s. Probably Burt Reynolds’ best movie that doesn’t have the word deliverance in the title.

12. Macon County Line
Mostly remember going to see this with my brother when he worked at a newspaper. Can you say free passes, baby! (Or was that Return to Macon County?)

13. The Man with the Golden Gun
A pretty fun James Bond flick. Though Connery purists may scoff, I’m cool with Roger Moore as J. B.

Britt Ekland (who one might confuse with Susan George) in
The Man With the Golden Gun
14. The Trial of Billy Jack I’m a Billy Jack fan, but this was one too many. I did see it at the theater when it came out just as I did the other Billy Jack movies before it.

15. Zardoz People seem to have mixed feelings about this Sean Connery sci-fi flick. Though there’s seems to be no debate about Sean’s questionable wardrobe.

That's Sean Connery in Zardoz, and despite the outfit, would never
be mistaken for Susan George.


Goodbye 1974. I won't have you to kick around anymore!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922), LOUISIANA STORY (1948)

Nanook of the North
Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North is known as the grandfather of all documentary films for many. Flaherty and his crew traveled to the Canadian Arctic to film the Inuit Eskimo Nanook and his family in their natural habitat. We see Nanook battling the elements, hunting for Walrus hide, building an igloo and in one of the film's lighter moments we see Nanook and his family popping out of their canoe one by one. We also see Nanook at the trading post with a famous scene of the Eskimo trying to figure out how a phonograph works. Despite the historical significance of the film, there has been criticism that Flaherty staged some of Nanook's scenes for the camera. I suppose in that way, the film was also influential.

But no matter how you slice it, Nanook building his igloo is always going to be cool (No pun intended).

Louisiana Story
Flaherty's Louisiana Story is almost Nanook in reverse. It is a fictionalized story set in the swamps of Louisiana featuring a boy, his pet raccoon and the oil drillers drilling in the swamps near their home.. But it has more of the look of a documentary and also shows Flaherty's silent film roots by having long patches of the film without any use of dialogue. The film's main antagonist isn't the oil drillers, but an alligator who is trying to get his teeth around the boy's beloved raccoon! I'm not totally sure what to make of Louisiana Story, but I do think it is interesting to look at the life of the boy and his grandfather versus the oncoming oil rig that represents progress.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

MARKETA LAZAROVA (1967, CZECHOSLOVOKIA)

Hulupalooza! (Post 12 of 12)

Marketa Lazarova

Renowned Czechoslovakian epic that comes across like part Ingmar Bergman and part David Lean. Set during the middle ages, Marketa Lazarova depicts quests for power, kidnapping, raping, pillaging, war and an awful lot of snow. I did feel at times that I need a guide to keep up with all the characters, but I will say this is one of the most beautifully shot films that I have ever seen.