16 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
The Big Heat (1953)
Lang at his best
10 September 2008
I saw this film years ago at the cinematheque in Paris and was wowed. I just bought a copy for myself and it is still a wonderful trip.

This is a revenge film, pure and simple, and if it appears somewhat dated from all the copycats that followed, it still packs a wallop. This sort of Old Testament revenge can be found in Lang's work all the way back to "Kriemhilde's Revenge" in the silents. Some things can be figured out - Lang isn't much of a "surprise" director, but we have to savor his vocabulary with the camera set-ups, the lovely symmetry and impeccable timing. Actually the plot devises are rather complex considering who does what to whom, but the film is completely clear and lucid. Gloria Grahame had her moment in the sun - and what a moment! This is a fine, fine noir picture that needs to have more attention. It's Lang at his American best and that's saying something.

Curtis Stotlar
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Bus Stop (1956)
The play's the thing
30 July 2008
When I first saw this I roared with laughter. The performances were impeccable, the pacing seemed right and the premise was fodder for a film of the first rank.

Upon reviewing it many years later, some points jolted me back to reality. This was a play - a glorious one - that perhaps should been left as is. The celebrated presence of Marilyn Monrow is electric as it so often is but the film itself was turgid and stage-bound. When I think of Joshua Logan I think of Joe Mankiewicz (minus his verbal wit) - filmed photoplays with no kind of cinematic skill to speak of. The characters sink quickly into stereotypes and stereotypical behavior. Any sort of character development is basic and predictable. In this way, it is one-dimensional. It would survive beautifully on the stage with the excitement of live action, but on the screen, it gets frozen and static and worse than that, just plain stale.
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Bone appetit!
24 July 2008
I actually rather enjoyed this film. It's a slasher - let there be no question about that - but unlike most films of this genre, this one was really rather well made.

The camera-work was tidy and effective, the angles for the shots were well prepared and the traveling shots were fluent.

The acting wasn't much - the script called more for reacting than acting "per se", but the actors did adequate jobs.

The musical score by Clay Pitts was outstanding. Except for a few sections of rock guitar, composed of pure clichés we'd all expect, the electronic part was exceptionally good. The cutting of the score was clumsy, however, and could have been improved with a minimum of effort.

There are elements of just about everything plus the kitchen sink taken from other films. You can find "Night of the Living Dead", "Psycho", "Rabid" - you name it - but it was fun to watch, unlike the others, because the "fun" was intentional but not overstated. The literal "fear of water" misconception about rabies and the shaving foam-at-the-mouth parts were hysterically funny. The film was gross but it was amusing and not boring at all, where so many slashers fail. I wouldn't recommend either before or after meal though.
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The Tall T (1957)
Another Boetticher Marvel
19 July 2008
This is an example of a western made with not much money and very much punch. Boetticher delivers again and this is one of his best, with But Kennedy on hand to craft an excellent script.

Critics wax eloquent about Anthony Mann's use of scenery (as if he had nothing to say or do beyond that) but never mention Boetticher's use of the physical world and its geometry, but there is definitely something to speak of them in this film. The rocks and the rocks behind the rocks are beautifully used here and their iconography (an unadorned rock-solid shoot-out) work wonderfully well.

Scott is occasionally sappy during the beginning, admitted, but confronted with unspeakable crimes, never explicit or explained in full, are avenged with cool efficiency and nothing sentimental whatsoever from then on. The O'Hara-Scott relation is absolutely fascinating. This is a western for people who take westerns straight.

Curtis Stotlar
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A virtuoso film
15 July 2008
"Point of Order" is an example of a modern-day Eisenstein. It took material from the recesses of American history, recombined and made a film with complete sense, albeit weighted against McCarthy. It is an excellent piece of work but then it shows quite well how evidence reassembled can make someone seem guilty. That is the virtuosity of the filmmaker.

Unlike one of the reviewers, I think that McCarthy was a monster, a publicity-seeking man out of control who thought absolutely nothing about the lives he ruined or attempted to ruin, however, falsely but I'm begging the issue here. The film is marvelously well put together and de Antonio possesses remarkable technique to make things seem "alive". Again it's easy to see things in black and white ideologically but the film within itself is impeccable.
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Wee bit too much Irish in this stew
11 July 2008
I'd been looking forward to this for a long time. I'm a fan of John Ford and he's given me some of my favorite films.

I'll have to confess that "The Last Hurrah" disappointed me in many ways. The acting, particularly Spenser Tracy's was wonderful throughout. Ford's stable of stalwarts made the film glisten with their bit roles and backup. It was Tracy's film, though, and he's a virtuoso whichever way you view it.

It's very much a black and white film - and I'm not referring to the color. There are the could guys and then the bad guys, with absolutely no subtlety at all. The good guys were the Irish who made it up the ladder through honest (?) hard work while the bad guys had English accents and inherited their wealth. Just think Basil Rathbone or John Carradine and you get the picture.

The rival candidate to Tracy is an undisguised idiot with a hilarious but ridiculous "interview" on television including a barking dog and a wife who can't read. These are very, very broad lines.

I can't help thinking about Frank Capra's descriptions of the other side, the "baddies" in such films as "Mr. Deeds" or "It's a Wonderful Life" There is absolutely no subtlety whatsoever. These people were educated and reared in wealthy families and should be punished. This is a very rural and dangerous flaw in the American personality that found its way in this film. But this time, they have English ACCENTS. John Ford has never been at ease with the English people in general. Sometimes, it borders on intense dislike or even hatred, and it's everywhere to be seen in this film.

The protracted death-bed scene was so over-done and over-long it was embarrassing to watch. Just a-tuggin' at the old heartstrings. Cardiac arrest might be a more appropriate term. Ford didn't know when to stop. It's as plain and simple as that.

Curtis Stotlar
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An excellent film in almost every way
9 July 2008
When I think of Joseph Mankiewicz, he brings to mind someone who directs a talkathon of film, roughly translated from stage or script to screen verbatim. His dialog is always impeccable but removing the words renders most of his films rather useless.

In this case, he was helped out immeasurably by the musical score, some lovely photography and some wonderful performances. The direction was pedestrian as it always is with Mankiewicz but the film sizzles despite his heavy-handedness. It's a glorious love story, romantically told with no apologies and succeeds in an other-worldly way. The television copycat was beyond Hope but this one makes life worth living.

Curtis Stotlar
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Ana-ta-han (1953)
The perfect end to a brilliant career
3 July 2008
This film actually had a run in Paris outside the Cinematheque and it attracted considerable attention. It's an audacious,in-your-face sort of quirky film that works on many levels. Sterberg's autobiography "Fun in a Chinese Laundry" spells out some of techniques he employed but the film needs to be experienced beyond a mere description. It was shot in an airplane hangar to begin with, with all the tinsel and tin foil representing an island jungle. The limited number of players (all non-professional) and space (on an island) make this more of a chamber work rather than the Hollywood cast of thousands and its subdued drama will disappoint some who want things to be more explicit. It's purely artificial and looks that way deliberately. The film is in Japanese without subtitles and the narrator in English is none other than Sternberg himself. He warns the audience of what will happen BEFORE it happens, thus leaving us free to discover the camera-work, the scenery and the atmosphere minus the drama. Drama there is, of course, but detached from what's happening on screen. Everything in the film - minus the very last shot, alas - is artificial, dream-like and absolutely fascinating. What a remarkable end to a remarkable career. I highly recommend it although I wouldn't know how to find it. Good luck!

Curtis Stotlar
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Bloodlust! (1961)
Imitation is flattering
13 June 2008
This film isn't really as despicable as it's been described. For those who haven't seen "The Most Dangerous Game" it has a charm of its own. The jungle scenes, so remarkable in the source film are so much better - breath-taking at times - and the actors don't begin to touch the original ones, granted. The budget must have been incredibly small. Nevertheless the film gets by rather well given the meager resources. It's amusing but sometimes irritating to watch people in their twenties acting like and calling themselves teenagers, though. I didn't mind watching this film. It came in a box with many other horror films I'll probably never see but it was a pleasant surprise.

Curtis Stotlar
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Family Plot (1976)
Comic Masterpiece
31 May 2008
This film doesn't have any "meaning" beyond the obvious. As in "39 Steps" it is fun all the way through. There are no dark hues as in the remarkable "Vertigo", "Rear Window". "Psycho" or similar films during Hitch's great period. This one is as light as a soufflé and wonderfully amusing. The episode in the runaway car is one of the funniest on record and a joy to behold over and over. The musical score is sparkling and the actors are perfect in their roles. With so many heavy-handed, belabored comedies made at the time it's amazing this one got passed up. I suppose the people who continually think of Hitchcock as "The Master of Suspense" or, to the other extreme, the "Searchers of Meaning" it might fall a bit short, but it's not aiming in that direction at all. How can there be a pint to miss at all if there never was one in the first place? It's top-rate entertainment, period.
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