A Trip to the Moon
(1902 Short Film)
A group of astronomers go on an expedition to the Moon. (13 mins.)
“ I thought I’d catch up on some past 1001 Movie Blog Club selections. What more natural place to start than with the first movie on the list? As an added bonus, I finally got to see the restored hand-colored version with some additional footage I had never seen. The restoration, music, and added footage only add to the film’s charm. I had always thought of this movie as a landmark of early cinema but this viewing had me laughing out loud at some of the ridiculous antics Méliès presents.
Our story begins at a meeting of astronomers. Their president proposes a trip to the moon. He gets a generally enthusiastic reception but one of the astronomers objects and the president pelts the culprit with books and papers. Four astronomers are selected to join the president on the voyage. The group goes to inspect the spacecraft, which is shaped like a giant bullet. It will be launched from a cannon and we see the gun being casted. A bevy of beauties in tights serve as gunners for the launch. (Méliès uses every opportunity to feature shapely ladies throughout.)
The spaceship is successfully launched. In one of the most iconic images in film history, it pierces the eye of the moon. The astronauts are tired from their journey and stretch out on the moon’s surface for a nap. They dream that women in the stars are scolding them for violating the moon. Phoebus in the form of a lady in the crescent moon sends snow to show the displeasure of the cosmos. The astronauts are cold and foolishly decide to descend into a crater. There they find a grotto filled with giant mushrooms. A vengeful group of moon dwellers called Selenites attack our heroes. Fortunately, these disappear into a puff of smoke when struck by an umbrella. Nonetheless, the a mob of Selenites chase the astronauts into the presence of their king but he also is despatched with an umbrella. The president sacrifices his life to save the other astronauts by staying behind to push the spacecraft off the edge of the moon. The spacecraft lands in the ocean, where it floats, and is rescued by a steamer.
This is where the film ended in previous versions I watched. The restored version continues on with a couple of very charming scenes showing the heroic welcome greeting the astronauts. I am crazy about the monument built in their honor.
The restoration I watched was based on an original hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon rediscovered in 1993 by the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles launched a frame-by-frame restoration of the almost totally decomposed print in 1999 and completed it in 2010. Afterwards, West Wing Digital Studios replaced missing frames by hand painting frames from a black and white print. The restored version finally premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with a new soundtrack by the French band Air. It was released in 2012 by Flicker Alley in a 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD edition, which included the documentary The Extraordinary Voyage about its restoration. I’d like to see that DVD edition sometime. Alas, it is not available for rent on Netflix. However, the restoration itself is available on YouTube or on the Wikipedia site for the film. ” - AdanMGarcia
The Great Train Robbery
(1903 Short Film)
A group of bandits stage a brazen train hold-up, only to find a determined posse hot on their heels. (11 mins.)
The Birth of a Nation
The Stoneman family finds its friendship with the Camerons affected by the Civil War, both fighting in opposite armies. The development of the war in their lives plays through to Lincoln's assassination and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. (165 mins.)
An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires. (421 mins.)
Way Down East
A naive country girl is tricked into a sham marriage by a wealthy womanizer, then must rebuild her life despite the taint of having borne a child out of wedlock. (145 mins.)
Within Our Gates
Abandoned by her fiancé, an educated black woman with a shocking past dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished black youths. (79 mins.)
The Phantom Carriage
On New Year's Eve, the driver of a ghostly carriage forces a drunken man to reflect on his selfish, wasted life. (93 mins.)
Orphans of the Storm
Two orphaned sisters are caught up in the turmoil of the French Revolution, encountering misery and love along the way. (150 mins.)
The Smiling Madame Beudet
One of the first feminist movies, The Smiling Madame Beudet is the story of an intelligent woman trapped in a loveless marriage... (54 mins.)
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler
Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse sets out to make a fortune and run Berlin. Detective Wenk sets out to stop him. (242 mins.)
Nanook of the North
In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty
spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle. (78 mins.)
Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter's wife. (94 mins.)
Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in modern Europe. (91 mins.)
A con artist masquerades a Russian nobility and attempts to seduce the wife of an American diplomat. (117 mins.)
A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family. (65 mins.)
Sisif, a railwayman, and his son Elie fall in love with the beautiful Norma (who Sisif rescued from... (273 mins.)
The Thief of Bagdad
A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess. (155 mins.)
A group of oppressed factory workers go on strike in pre-revolutionary Russia. (82 mins.)
The sudden fortune won from a lottery fans such destructive greed that it ruins the lives of the three people involved. (140 mins.)
A film projectionist longs to be a detective, and puts his meagre skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend's father's pocketwatch. (45 mins.)
The Last Laugh
An aging doorman, after being fired from his prestigious job at a luxurious Hotel is forced to face the scorn of his friends, neighbours and society. (77 mins.)
A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries. By 7 p.m. Today. (56 mins.)
“ Erik (Lon Chaney), a self-taught musician and disfigured, criminally insane fugitive, has taken refuge in the cavernous cellars of the Paris Opera House. There he has been taken for a phantom that haunts the opera house. He develops a passion for rising opera singer Christine and promotes her career by writing threatening letters to keep the star diva from singing and by killing the audience with a chandelier when that doesn’t work. Eventually, he lures Christine to his realm where she soon learns of the hideous countenance hidden by his mask. He agrees to allow Christine to return to the opera on the condition that she stay away from her lover. Naturally, Christine cannot resist and all hell breaks loose.
I must say that this is much creepier and more gripping than the 1943 Claude Rains version. The print I saw had quite a bit of tinting, two-strip Technicolor sequences, and a specially composed score that heightened the effects. Chaney was spectacular and, while I could have lived without some of Mary Philbin’s posturing, I really enjoyed it. ” - AdanMGarcia
A dramatized account of a great Russian naval mutiny and a resulting street demonstration which brought on a police massacre. (75 mins.)
“ The sailors of the Battleship Potemkin are fed up with their diet of rotten, maggoty meat and refuse to eat their borscht. The officers threaten to kill them for insubordination and the sailors revolt. The citizens of Odessa rise up in support of the rebel sailors and are slaughtered on the Odessa steps by tsarist soldiers. The rest of the squadron closes in on the Potemkin and the crew gets ready to fight. At the last minute, victory! The sailors on the other ships allow the Potemkin to pass safely.
While this movie does not exactly make my heart sing, there is no arguing that it taught the world a lot about how to tell a story and manipulate audience emotions through editing. The famous Odessa steps sequence is still one of the most powerfully horrific scenes in film history. This time around I noticed some pretty exquisite cinematography in this film at well. The restored print brought out the ethereal ships in the harbor when Vakulinchuk’s body is brought by boat to the docks at dawn. The sequence of the fleet of little sailing boats taking provisions to the battleship is also lyrical and quite lovely. It is easy to forget such interludes in a film that seems to determined to brand shocking images on the brain. ” - AdanMGarcia
The Gold Rush
A prospector goes to the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more. (95 mins.)
The Big Parade
A young American soldier witnesses the horrors of the Great War. (151 mins.)
In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. (153 mins.)
An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife. (94 mins.)
When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines. (67 mins.)
A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost. (63 mins.)
The Jazz Singer
The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy the traditions of his religious father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer. (88 mins.)
A film about the French Field Marshal's youth and early military career. (240 mins.)
The Kid Brother
A sheriff's milquetoast son has a chance to prove himself when a medicine show run by con artists comes into town. (82 mins.)
The life of a man and woman together in a large, impersonal metropolis through their hopes, struggles and downfalls. (98 mins.)
The Docks of New York
A blue-collar worker on New York's depressed waterfront finds his life changed after he saves a woman attempting suicide. (76 mins.)
The Passion of Joan of Arc
A chronicle of the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions. (110 mins.)
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
The effete son of a cantankerous riverboat captain comes to join his father's crew. (70 mins.)
Storm Over Asia
In 1918 a simple Mongolian herdsman escapes to the hills after brawling with a western capitalist fur trader who cheats him... (127 mins.)
After killing a man in self-defence, a young woman is blackmailed by a witness to the killing. (85 mins.)
Man with a Movie Camera
A man travels around a city with a camera slung over his shoulder, documenting urban life with dazzling invention. (68 mins.)
The rise and inevitable fall of an amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her. (109 mins.)
The Blue Angel
An elderly professor's ordered life spins dangerously out of control when he falls for a nightclub singer. (106 mins.)
A surrealist tale of a man and a woman passionately in love with one another, but their attempts to consummate that passion are constantly thwarted by their families, the Church, and bourgeois society. (60 mins.)
In the peaceful countryside, Vassily opposes the rich kulaks over the coming of collective farming. (75 mins.)
A small-time criminal moves to a big city to seek bigger fortune. (79 mins.)
À Nous la Liberté
Seeking better life, two convicts escape from prison. (104 mins.)
An impoverished painter and his rival engage in a race across Paris to recover a jacket concealing a winning lottery ticket. (81 mins.)
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
On the South Pacific island of Bora Bora, a young couple's love is threatened when the tribal chief declares the girl a sacred virgin. (86 mins.)
The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. (85 mins.)
An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses. (70 mins.)
With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically. (87 mins.)
The Public Enemy
A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war. (83 mins.)
When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt. (117 mins.)
A woman and her pimp exploit a painter for money. (91 mins.)
A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire. (83 mins.)
Love Me Tonight
A Parisian tailor finds himself posing as a baron in order to collect a sizeable bill from an aristocrat, only to fall in love with an aloof young princess. (104 mins.)
Boudu Saved from Drowning
Boudu, a tramp, jumps into the Seine. He is rescued by Mr Lestingois, a gentle and good bookseller, who gives shelter to him... (85 mins.)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him. (92 mins.)
Trouble in Paradise
A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to con a beautiful perfume company owner. Romantic entanglements and jealousies confuse the scheme. (83 mins.)
An ambitious and near insanely violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall. (93 mins.)
A loose woman rediscovers a former lover during a dangerous train ride to Shanghai. (82 mins.)
A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance. (64 mins.)
Me and My Gal
Young New York cop Dan falls in love with waterfront waitress Helen. Helen's sister Kate falls for gangster Duke. Dan must do in Duke. (79 mins.)
Zero for Conduct
(1933 Short Film)
In a repressive boarding school with rigid rules of behavior, four boys decide to rebel against the direction on a celebration day. (44 mins.)
A director puts on what may be his last Broadway show and, at the last moment, a naive newcomer has to replace the star. (89 mins.)
Chester Kent struggles against time, romance, and a rival's spy to produce spectacular live "prologues" for movie houses. (104 mins.)
Gold Diggers of 1933
A wealthy composer rescues unemployed Broadway performers with a new play. (97 mins.)
She Done Him Wrong
In the Gay Nineties, a seductive nightclub singer contends with several suitors, including a jealous escaped convict and a handsome temperance league member. (66 mins.)
Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. (68 mins.)
Queen Christina of Sweden is a popular monarch who is loyal to her country. However, when she falls in love with a Spanish envoy, she must choose between the throne and the man she loves. (99 mins.)
Land Without Bread
A surrealistic documentary portrait of the region of Las Hurdes, a remote region of Spain where civilisation has barely developed, showing how the local peasants try to survive without even the most basic utilities and skills. (30 mins.)
A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal giant gorilla who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition. (100 mins.)
Sons of the Desert
When Stan and Ollie trick their wives into thinking that they are taking a medicinal cruise while they're actually going to a convention, the wives find out the truth the hard way. (68 mins.)
It's a Gift
A henpecked New Jersey grocer makes plans to move to California to grow oranges, despite the resistance of his overbearing wife. (68 mins.)
“ W.C. Fields plays Harold Bisonette (that’s Biso-NAY when his wife’s around). The hen-pecked Bisonette owns a corner grocery but dreams of moving to California and running an orange ranch. His uncle dies and leaves him the money to move his family West, much to their disgust. The orange grove turns out to be a bust but there is always a happy ending in a W.C. Fields movie.
I have been trying to figure out why Fields just isn’t funny to me. I think he lets each of his gags run on too long and telegraphs them too obviously. Also much of the humor relies on destruction, irritating noises, etc., which I find more annoying than comic. Finally this movie has a scene of food humor toward the end. I can’t help it, I just find anything involving making a mess with food more disgusting than anything else.
This is one of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. The only reason I can find is that W.C. Fields is a name everybody has probably heard of. I now have seen this film twice and that’s more than enough for one lifetime. ” - AdanMGarcia
Triumph of the Will
The infamous propaganda film of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Germany. (114 mins.)
“ This is a propaganda film documenting the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremburg, Germany. It features many mass demonstrations and parades as well as speeches by Hitler and other Nazi party leaders.
It is of course impossible to view this film outside the context of history. I kept thinking throughout of the fates that would befall the people pictured and their victims. From this distance, a lot of the Nazi rituals would have looked comic if they had not been carried out with such deadly seriousness. Obviously, I could not possibly feel the emotions the film makers intended to evoke in the audience. Only someone viewing around the time of its production could judge whether the film did achieve its intentions. Hitler was reportedly pleased and the movie played in cinemas almost until the end of the “1000-year” Reich, ten years later.
No one, I think, could deny that the film is very artfully photographed and edited. True, Riefenstahl had an unlimited budget and lot of help from whoever choreographed the ceremonies and the settings provided by Albert Speer. Nevertheless, many of the shots could only have been achieved by a master. They are especially impressive considering the state of technology at the time. ” - AdanMGarcia
Newly married couple Juliette and a ship captain Jean struggle through marriage as they travel on the L'atalante along with the captain's first mate Le père Jules and a cabin boy. (89 mins.)
“ A young skipper brings his new bride (Dita Parlo) aboard his small barge to live with his eccentric first mate (Michel Simon), a boy, and too many rambunctious cats. We witness the couple’s initial passion, the wife’s boredom, the husband’s jealousy, and then the cycle begins again. The slight plot is told in vivid images that insinuate themselves in the memory. Dita Parlo brings an enchanting sense of wonder to her character. This is a totally original, funny, and erotic story that engaged me throughout. The last of Jean Vigo’s four films before his death at age 29 and a masterpiece. ” - AdanMGarcia
The Black Cat
American honeymooners in Hungary become trapped in the home of a Satan-worshiping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident. (65 mins.)
“ Dr. Vitus Vendergast (Bela Lugosi) meets honeymooners Peter (David Manners) and Joan (Julie Bishop/Jacqueline Wells) on a train and hitches a ride with them to their ultimate destination. On the way, the car goes off the road, the driver is killed and the party is forced to take refuge in the creepy modernist castle of Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). This suits Vendergast just fine as he is on a mission to make Poelzig, his sworn enemy, suffer slowly. Poelzig left Vendergast to rot in prison for 15 years then told Vendergast’s wife she was a widow and took her for his own. The movie is basically a duel of wits between Vendergast and Poelzig, who also has plans to use Joan as the sacrifice in a Black Mass. Lugosi, while definitely menacing and creepy, plays the good guy here. As for a black cat, well one wanders around, but it’s basically just an excuse to use the Edgar Allen Poe title.
This is the kind of thing I just eat up. Sure it can be a little campy in places and Lugosi over-emotes furiously but that is part of the fun. The Expressionist cinematography and art direction are quite wonderful. Recommended for lovers of classic Universal horror. ” - AdanMGarcia
Judge Priest, a proud Confederate veteran, uses common sense and considerable humanity to dispense justice in a small town in the Post-Bellum Kentucky. (80 mins.)
“ This is essentially a love letter to a simpler time – in this case 1890′s Kentucky, where folks still remember the glories of the antebellum South vividly. Judge Priest (Will Rogers) presides over the court in his small town dispensing justice and folksy wisdom. His nephew returns to town, having just graduated from law school, and is courting a local belle. His mother objects due to the girl’s lack of breeding; her father’s identity is unknown. The nephew’s first client is a mysterious loner who is charged with assault for defending the girl’s honor. Judge Priest is forced to recuse himself from the case, which enables him to assist his nephew at the trial. With Hattie McDaniel as Judge Priest’s cook/maid and Stepin Fetchit as his errand boy.
Well, I have to admit that this was much better than Doctor Bull, the 1933 Will Rogers/John Ford movie I saw. There is a sort of small town charm to the storytelling. On the other hand, there is also much too much of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known in his Stepin Fetchit persona. His shtick just makes my skin crawl. I can’t help it. Many people would also be offended by Hattie McDaniel’s character but that does not rub me so much the wrong way.
Setting the racial stereotyping questions aside, I do not understand why this pleasant but unremarkable film should be rated a “must see.” It is an introduction to Will Rogers, who I suppose is a major personality of early 20th Century American pop culture but not more than some others we don’t meet in our journey through The List. Will Rogers worked with Stepin Fetchit many times so it may be hard to pick a decent Rogers film that doesn’t include that character. ” - AdanMGarcia
It Happened One Night
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story. (105 mins.)
“ This is my idea of cinematic perfection as produced by Hollywood in 1934. There is not one single thing I would change. Of course, the leads are fabulous but every character actor was the best possible that could have been found. Once seen, Roscoe Karns’ annoying Shapley, Alan Hale’s larcenous flivver driver Danker, and Walter Connelly’s autocratic but loving father will become old friends. Capra, too, had a light touch which he was never again to entirely replicate. My favorite part is “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” scene on the bus. ” - AdanMGarcia
The Thin Man
Former detective Nick Charles and his wealthy wife Nora investigate a murder case, mostly for the fun of it. (91 mins.)
“ An inventor mysteriously disappears and is blamed for the murder of his girlfriend and her possible paramour. His daughter (Margaret O’Sullivan) appeals to retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell). Charles would prefer to enjoy the high life with his rich, beautiful, and witty wife Nora (Myrna Loy) but she thinks it would be exciting for him to pursue the case.
I have seen this many times and I always forget who the murderer is. That is because the mystery is just a vehicle to showcase the fantastic repartee of Loy and Powell. They make the perfect married couple, playfully bickering but obviously in love. It is also the ideal escapist fare when one has, say, spent a whole day watching a manhunt in Boston and thinking about people who have lost their lives and limbs. ” - AdanMGarcia
After being wrongly convicted as a traitor, Peter Blood, an English physician, is sent to exile in the British colonies of the Caribbean, where he becomes a pirate. (119 mins.)
“ Captain Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is living peacefully as a physician when he is called on to tend a wounded rebel. For his trouble, he is convicted of treason and transported to Jamaica as a slave. Arabella (Olivia de Havilland), the niece of a wealthy landowner (Lionel Atwill), admires Blood’s defiant spirit and buys him. Blood mightily resents this. His medical skills make him a favorite of the gouty Governor of the island and allow him to plan his escape and that of his comrades. The men soon turn pirate but Arabella and her uncle seem part of Blood’s fate. Also starring Basil Rathbone as the French pirate Levasseur and a host of Warner Brothers character actors.
This movie was the first pairing of Errol Flynn and the 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland and made them both stars. It drags a bit in spots but basically is an exciting romantic adventure with thrilling sword fights and sea battles and dynamite chemistry between the two leads. The magnificent score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold adds to the fun. ” - AdanMGarcia
Mutiny on the Bounty
Midshipman Roger Byam joins Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian aboard HMS Bounty for a voyage to Tahiti... (132 mins.)
“ In 1787, the HMS Bounty departs Portsmouth for Tahiti, carrying a crew largely composed of impressed sailors. The ship is helmed by Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton). His second in command is Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) . Christian befriends a first-voyage midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone). Bligh’s idea of enforcing discipline is with the lash and he also keeps his men on tight rations to line his own pockets. When Christian takes Bligh to task for this, Bligh plots revenge. Bligh’s cruelty only increases on the return journey from Tahiti. Christian then takes matters into his own hands and casts Bligh and the men loyal to him adrift in a launch, but Bligh refuses to admit defeat.
As soon as I heard Herbert Stothart’s rousing score coming up under the credits of this big-budget MGM production, I had that comforting feeling that this movie would be, if nothing else, entertaining and I was right. The script moves along at a good pace and the production values are first-rate. We are even treated to location shots in French Polynesia. Kudos must go to Charles Laughton for one of his very best performances. I always enjoy his work but usually feel like I am watching an actor wink at the audience. Here, he plays it very straight and is excellent. Highly enjoyable. ” - AdanMGarcia
A Night at the Opera
A sly business manager and two wacky friends of two opera singers help them achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies. (96 mins.)
“ Let’s see, is there a plot? Well, Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) has hired Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) to get her into high society, an unlikely proposition if ever there was one. His brilliant idea is for her to invest in the New York Opera. In the meantime, Fiorello (Chico Marx) and Tomasino (Harpo Marx) are promoting a tenor (Allan Jones) who is in love with a soprano played by Kitty Carlisle. They all end up on a ship at some point and hilarity ensues.
This is the one with the “sanity clause” contract bit and the stateroom scene. There are a lot of laughs but perhaps a little too much singing. As usual, my favorite part of any Marx Brothers movie is when Chico plays the piano. Here he does a rendition of “All I Do Is Dream of You” to a group of enthralled children. ” - AdanMGarcia
The 39 Steps
A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information. (86 mins.)
“ The 39 Steps showcases Hitchcock as a master craftsman relatively early in his career. If the definition of a classic is a work that remains entertaining and surprising over time and repeated exposure, this film certainly deserves to be called one.
I revisited The Thirty-Nine Steps with the Blu-Ray disc from the Criterion Collection, which can be rented from Netflix. The film has probably never looked more beautiful and is packaged with a number of extras including a commentary, a documentary on Hitchcock’s British films, a video interview with Hitchcock, a visual essay on the film by Leonard Leff, and audio excerpts about the film from François Truffaut’s 1962 interviews with Hitchcock.
The story should be familiar to any Hitchcock lover, if not from this film, from many that follow such as Saboteur and North by Northwest. In this classic plot, a man is falsely accused of a crime and must flee both the police and the true criminals while attempting to clear his name.
Here our story begins when Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) visits a musical hall and catches the act of Mr. Memory, a man with reams of trivia at his disposal. The way Hitchcock builds suspense by quick cuts between audience members shouting out questions in this scene is stunning. The scene ends with a scuffle and gunshots.
Hannay meets a woman as he is exiting the music hall. She says she needs protection so he takes her to his apartment. The woman is a spy on the trail of “The 39 Steps” and tells Hannay she has little time to prevent a valuable secret from leaving the country. She is promptly murdered in the apartment and Hannay is the prime suspect. Thus, begins his desperate flight from the police and quest to stop the spy ring.
Hannay heads for Scotland based on a map he finds in the woman’s dead hand. On his way, he spends the night with a crofter and his wife. This scene is like its own short film about a jealous farmer (John Lurie), his much younger wife (Peggy Ashcroft), and a dashing young traveller. It is a short scene but Hitchcock manages to pack in quite a bit of pathos and psychological depth to the predicament of a woman trapped in a bad marriage.
With the police hot on his heels, Hannay meets The Professor and barely escapes with his life. On the run again, Hannay finds himself the main speaker at a political rally and must improvise. This scene would be copied many times, most notably in The Third Man. He meets Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) and they are both abducted by bad guys who eventually handcuff them together.
The third act plays as a sort of romantic comedy with the two sparring mightily before they fall in love. Hitchcock is able to work in some slightly racy material when the two are forced to share a bedroom. I hate to give away the ending of a 78-year-old movie so I will stop here.
I’ve seen this one many times. The famous set pieces (Mr. Memory, the little finger, the handcuff scene in the inn) are indelibly imprinted in my memory. Yet I was surprised how fresh the story remains. It is also a pleasure to enjoy the performance of Robert Donat, a consummate movie actor. He said the secret of his success was his ability to be still and watching him just listen and think is a treat. I prefer The Lady Vanishes among Hitchcock’s British films (why did that one not make The List?), but this ranks just behind it. It remains a witty and stylish suspense thriller. ” - AdanMGarcia
Bride of Frankenstein
Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived: Dr. Frankenstein, goaded by an even madder scientist, builds his monster a mate. (75 mins.)
“ Neither Frankenstein nor his Monster were killed at the end of Frankenstein. The Monster is only looking for a friend but meets with terror everywhere he turns. Is the solution to build him a Bride from dead body parts? The nutty Dr. Pretorius thinks so! With Boris Karloff as the Monster, Colin Clive as Frankenstein, Valerie Hobson as Elizabeth, Ernest Thesinger as Dr. Pretorius, Dwight Frye as miscellaneous ghouls, and Una O’Connor as Minnie.
I may be in the minority in preferring the 1931 original to this sequel. This one is just a little bit too arch for me and the original didn’t have all that shreeking by Una O’Connor. That said, Karloff is wonderful despite the ill-advised decision to have him speak, the lighting and sets are atmospheric, and the special effects are first-rate for their time. I can have fun every time I come back to this classic. ” - AdanMGarcia
An American dancer comes to Britain and falls for a model whom he initially annoyed, but she mistakes him for his goofy producer. (101 mins.)
“ Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is a famous song and dance man who is scheduled to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton) in London. Fashion designer Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes) has hired lovely Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) as a sort of social mannequin to show off his gowns. Jerry and Dale meet and Jerry is immediately smitten. Horace’s wife Madge (Helen Broderick) is in Venice and wants to try her hand at a little matchmaking. The sparks fly when Dale mistakes Jerry for Madge’s husband and the two arrive in Venice.
The silly comedy of errors is a structure on which to hang some glorious dancing, art deco sets, gorgeous gowns, and snappy dialogue. Most of the cast of The Gay Divorcee comes back and is funnier than ever. I particularly like Erik Rhodes’s conceited Beddini, who always refers to himself in the third person.
Fred Astaire was Irving Berlin’s favorite interpreter of his songs and he sings plenty of them here. ”Cheek to Cheek” is the standard coming from this film but I have a huge soft spot for “Isn’t This a Lovely Day”. The dance to that one, in which Rogers starts out by mimicking Astaire’s movements, is the essence of joy. In my view, a practically perfect picture. ” - AdanMGarcia
A Day in the Country
(1936 Short Film)
The family of a Parisian shop-owner spends a day in the country. The daughter falls in love to a man at the inn, where they spend the day. (40 mins.)
The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. (87 mins.)
A performer and gambler travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer. (103 mins.)
My Man Godfrey
A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler...but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye. (94 mins.)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Longfellow Deeds, a simple-hearted Vermont tuba player, inherits a fortune and has to contend with opportunist city slickers. (115 mins.)
A Parisian courtesan must choose between the young man who loves her and the callous baron who wants her, even as her own health begins to fail. (109 mins.)
A Scotland Yard undercover detective is on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. But when the detective's cover is blown, the plot begins to unravel. (76 mins.)