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Bogart's Best Work, A Fantastic Flick
Humphrey Bogart's journey as a leading man started with The Maltese Falcon and reached its pinnacle in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. That's not just because his performance was so terrific. What's impressive is that Bogie goes from an ultra-cool detective in Falcon and a noble Nazi-killer in Casablanca to a crazy loser in Sierra Madre. He didn't coast by playing lovable heroes. He was willing to look terrible and to play a despicable human being in a character-actor kind of way.
Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is a jobless American in Tampico, Mexico, begging for food money. He pools what money he has with that of a friend (Tim Holt as Bob Curtin) and they head out with Howard (Walter Huston) for the titular mountain to find gold. Howard has been on many such journeys and knows this isn't going to turn out well. It doesn't take more than few months for Dobbs' paranoia to cloud his vision. Before long, he's hiding his gold and proving he'll do anything to protect his burgeoning fortune.
Don't worry, "Badges? I don't have to show you any steenking badges", I haven't forgotten about you! Yup, this is the movie with that quote. People love (mis)quoting the line, but they shouldn't overlook the subtext: there's no law up in the wild Mexican mountains. Then again, the real villain is not a gang of baddies. It's Bogie. Dobbs' alienation of his friends not only proves how paranoid he is, but in doing so, he puts his gold and his life in serious danger from steenking bandits.
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre was highly ranked on both the 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists released by the American Film Institute...and rightly so. It's nearly 66 years old and it holds up remarkably well. Writer/director John Huston made several fine films, but this was his peak. It's one of the best pictures of the 1940s and its dirty influence continues to this day, with Paul Thomas Anderson and Breaking Bad's exec producer Vince Gilligan citing it as highly influential of their recent projects. This one is rough, but for all the right reasons. Great, great movie.
If you found some gold in this quick take of the flick, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 38-minute Treasure Of The Sierra Madre 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Bailey Battles The Bully Banker
George Bailey shouldn't complain. Yes, he desperately wants to get out of his one-horse town and see the world, but he's got a gorgeous wife, a herd of rambunctious kids, a big house, runs his own business, his brother is a war hero, and he even scrounges up enough time to build a model bridge in his living room. The life! It's wonderful!
Okay, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. George (played so memorably by Jimmy Stewart) must go head-to-head with bully banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) on a daily basis. Potter wants to own the town of Bedford Falls and it seems like he's one man away from achieving that goal. It's not like the family business (the Bailey Bros Building & Loan) would flourish---or even survive---without George. Absent-minded Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) would ruin the place within minutes if he was put in charge.
It's gotta wear on a guy to take on a money-grubbing banker when that banker's morals are at pre-redemption Ebezener Scrooge levels. After Uncle Billy stupidly puts a large sum of dollars into the hands of the enemy (on Christmas Eve, no less), George feels he'll be blamed and finds himself in a suicidal bout of depression. Along comes a simpleton angel (Uncle Billy's counterpart, perhaps?) to show him a glimpse of what the town would be like if George had never existed.
You know this story, obviously. Everybody does. Either you buy the cornpone or you don't. Some of director Frank Capra's projects lay it on too thick, but this movie balances quaint charm and epic darkness. The American Film Institute clearly loved it because it was in the Top 20 of both their 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists. I say this one belongs in the Top 5. I may not believe in angels, but I do believe in a movie that can still wring tears out of my eyes after so many Christmas viewings. It's a keeper!
If this briefly wonderful review made you say "more!", check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 52-minute It's A Wonderful Life 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
The Monster's Point Of View
From the tattered pages of the monster's diary:
First of all, I didn't ask to be reborn, especially as some stitched-up freak who can't speak. That wimpy doctor just assumed I'd get right back in the swing of living and attending posh parties, perhaps puttin' on a little ritz. Bah! Little did he know, he hired a remarkably incompetent assistant who found a lame brain for my noggin. I'm so glad I killed that twerp.
As for that little girl, I swear I didn't drown her! That was an accident. I mean, geez, who would have thought she couldn't get out of water that was only a foot deep? Where were her survival instincts? Maybe this is what they call "thinning the herd". Somebody should bring HER back to life and make her throw plants in a pond all day long...although that would be torture. That flower game looks like it would get old awfully fast.
Okay, it's time to confess something, Dearest Diary. I'd really like to throw my maker off something high, maybe a castle or a mountain. I'd even settle for a windmill. What's he ever done for me? He did this for his own glory. I heard him bragging that night while I was lying flat on my back with a rag on my face. "Now I know what it's like to be God." Puny god. He's gonna get...
Hold on a minute. I see a big mob with lit torches coming this way. If there's any justice, they're going to help me find that villainous doctor and string him up. I'll let you know how it turns out. I'm cautiously optimistic...
If you like what you read here, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 28-minute Frankenstein 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Tomfoolery On A Boat
A Night At The Opera inspires memories of Kitty Carlisle and Alan Jones as 2 charismatic young lovers. Their, uh, operatic romance was a highlight of 1930s cinema, overshadowing everything else in this picture. Oh, but the movie was missing a key ingredient. The hilarious Zeppo Marx had retired from acting after his one-of-a-kind work in Duck Soup. A pity.
Okay, reverse everything in that first paragraph and you'll have the truth. Nobody cares about Carlisle or Jones, probably not even Carlisle or Jones. As for Zeppo, the day he gave up his career as a thespian, the film world's yawn was very loudly indifferent. No, this picture is all about the zaniness of the non-Zeppo Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico and Harpo). The former vaudevillians overshadowed everyone else who ever appeared in their films. Groucho's oft-naughty wordplay and Harpo's silent antics are legendary. Chico never got enough credit for playing off his 2 brothers as well as he did.
You can't talk about A Night At The Opera for even 2 minutes without bringing up the infamous stateroom sequence. The 3 Marxes, various workmen, maids and other hangers-on, all crowd into one small room on an ocean liner. Why they're all in there and how the situation resolves itself won't be revealed here. It's funny and it's been imitated by dozens of movies and TV shows in the years since A Night At The Opera came out. You probably recognize it even if you haven't seen this movie.
Was that scene and the Marx Brothers typical insanity enough to make this movie worthy of being on the American Film Institute's Top 100 list in 2007? It's a dubious choice, especially if your feeling is that a little of Groucho goes a long way. The piano/harp scene by Chico and Harpo is a great one, but it stops the, uh, story cold. So, no, A Night At The Opera is not one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's not without its charm...and it has Carlisle and Jones! Remember them? Oh. Right. No one does.
If you got anything at all out of this quickie review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 18-minute Night At The Opera 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
Ford, The Duke & The Coach
Some actors find stardom right out of the chute. Some toil for years before making a name for themselves. John Wayne, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, falls into the toil category. He made dozens of pictures (many of them in the silent era) before finally breaking out with a star turn in director John Ford's influential western Stagecoach.
The story is rather simple. The Ringo Kid (Wayne) joins an eclectic group of people travelling from Arizona to New Mexico by horse and buggy through Monument Valley in 1880. In a racist shot at Native Americans, Apaches (including superstar Geronimo) are always on the warpath, even gunning for our stagecoach filled with these ordinary people. After the cavalry detachment pulls away its escort, the coach is ripe for Indian attack.
Claire Trevor has an important role as Dallas, the prostitute kicked out of the town in Arizona for *horrors* being immoral. Fortunately, she makes a friend in the Ringo Kid. She's also got just as much character as any other person on the stagecoach. Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his supporting role as an alcoholic doc. John Carradine also shows up as an enigmatic Southerner.
Ford's direction is outstanding as he shoots his first sound western and also sets the story in his beloved Monument Valley. The camera-work and camera placement are wonderful, especially considering how much of this picture was shot on location. Why the film would rank 63rd on the American Film Institute's 1998 Top List and then not make the 2007 version at all is a mystery. Maybe it isn't one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's awfully solid. Just go back in time and ask The Duke. He'd tell you it was one of the most important things to ever happen to him.
If this snapshot review tickled your interest, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 26-minute Stagecoach 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
The Jazz Singer (1927)
D.J. Jazzy Blackface
Take away The Jazz Singer's gimmick and it would be remembered as just another movie from the 1920's. This film, however, is widely acknowledged as the first talking picture. It stars Al Jolson. It's a universal story of dogged pursuit of career and Daddy Issues. Those are legit reasons (particularly the sound thing) to keep it somewhat relevant, but it's also pretty dumb. Had it been made a few years into the sound era, it certainly wouldn't have been recognized by the American Film Institute on their 1998 Top 100 list.
Even at that, the talking scenes are mostly just Jolson singing and doing his jazz act. When they give him and his mother (Eugenie Besserer) a scene that isn't about music, he's stiff and you can hardly hear what she's saying. Sure, this was all new to people who'd been making movies for years without having to worry about dialogue. They were infants in the land of audio. You gotta cut them a little slack.
Okay, slack cut. Back to beefing. This is one more in a long line of movies that rely on the "you perform tonight even though your father is on his death bed or you're through" crutch. Nothing like a good guilt trip dealt out by show biz types who've OFTEN put their career goals over the needs of their family. As for whether not Jack Robin (Jolson) puts his father's dreams of the son becoming a Jewish cantor over the son's jazz career...that shall not be spoiled here. There IS much hand-wringing over it though, often literal hand-wringing.
And then there's the blackface! Arguments could be made that this movie was just paying homage to the racist staple of vaudeville days of yore and weren't trying to make fun of black people. Still, we can't just forgive them in their ignorance. It's great that the movies finally got to speak in 1927 and The Jazz Singer was sound's godfather. They might have looked a little harder for a more worthy story. And they could've found a way to avoid that blackface.
If this snapshot review made you yearn for more, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 32-minute Jazz Singer 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
Swing Time (1936)
Dancing Good, Rest Of The Movie Monumentally Stupid
An inexplicable addition to the American Film Institute's Top 100 list in 2007, Swing Time is a mystifyingly stupid movie. If you're compelled to see a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical, go watch Top Hat. Watch it twice. Then rent it. Buy the DVD. You should do all that before you endure the movie that's a terrible representation of George Stevens' talents. I mean, this is the guy who directed Shane!
At least the dancing scenes are beautiful choreographed and performed by Astaire & Rogers. You can find those on YouTube though. If you spend 103 minutes with Swing Time, you're going to have to figure out how gullible Lucky Garnett (Astaire) is that he lets his stage "friends" distract him from his wedding. You'll get to "enjoy" Astaire doing a racist number in blackface. You'll be "treated" to a woefully horrible performance by a dopey Victor Moore.
You'll also have to go through an entire movie's worth of "will they or won't they" with your "I don't care if they" goggles on. Many (most?) rom-coms put up roadblocks to 2 lovers from becoming lovers, but they've got to create a story worth suspending that disbelief. This movie doesn't make that work very well, although what's worse is how Astaire and Rogers' intendeds handle their respective break-ups. They take it waaaaay better than a real human being ever would.
In short, this movie is no good.
My wife and I do a podcast about the AFI's 1998 and 2007 Top lists. If you want a better account of our disdain, go to www.top100project.com and check out the "Podcasts" section for 29-minute tear-down of Swing Time. Bev's epic rant at the beginning of the podcast makes this review sound like a recommendation!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A Personal Letter To The Wicked Witch Of The East
Dear Wicked Witch Of The East,
So sorry you died. It seems like getting out of the way of a house falling out of the sky is not a tall order for someone with your noteworthy powers, but c'est la vie. It was those pesky Munchkins, wasn't it? They distracted you, what with their high-pitched singing and their Lollipop Guild. Who gave those shrimps the right to unionize? It was probably the Wizard. That guy is drunk with power...or perhaps with alcohol.
Rumour has it you intended to legacy those sparkling shoes of yours to your sister (along with your china hutch and photo albums), but that was not honoured. The Northern Witch stole your glittering footwear and gave them to---irony alert---the very jerk who crushed you. Perhaps a calculated violent response is in order. The young girl's trio of friends should not pose a credible threat. Their total combined IQ might not break double digits.
Oh, right, there's a juicy piece of news! The shoe-stealer has made some friends here in Oz, among them a jelly-legged straw man, a metal axe-man, and the biggest pussy of a lion perhaps ever. All of them are remarkably inept at their jobs (scare-crowing, wood-cutting, and scare-peopling). Lest I forget, the shoe thief also has a small canine companion. Resourceful little pooch. He's great at busting phonies who hide behind curtains.
As for your sis, she's, uh, indisposed. She seems to have disappeared and her employees aren't talking. They're singing and chanting, but not talking. Perhaps she left Oz for somewhere vacationy, like Kansas. And why not? I hear there's no place like it.
Much love, Us
P.S. Glinda is still a jerk.
If you got a kick out of this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 40-minute Wizard Of Oz 'cast...and many others. Or find us on ITunes under "The Top 100 Project".
It's Kind Of Intolerable
Have you ever been intolerant? Felt intolerance for the very notion of someone being intolerant? Wondered if tolerating the intolerance of another makes you intolerant (or tolerant)? Ever wondered why a reviewer would repeat one word (in different forms) so often? I'm just taking my cues from D.W. Griffith's ancient epic follow-up to the staggeringly racist Birth Of A Nation. You get only 1 guess at the film's title.
Four separate story lines connecting the theme of intolerance are threaded throughout the movie, from the Jesus story to a modern (in 1916) story about a young woman and her beloved man who is facing a harsh sentence at the hands of the authorities. Curiously, the Jesus story is the one that's glossed over. The oldest part of the film would be the sequences set in Babylon, which feature epic filmmaking at its silent best.
The American Film Institute had Birth Of A Nation on its 1998 Top 100 list, but they knocked it off the 2007 edition and essentially replaced it with Intolerance, which was not on the '98 list. It's a questionable move because, despite Intolerance's obvious theme of acceptance for all and Birth Of A Nation's blatant racism, Birth is a better movie.
That's not to say there aren't SOME treasures in Griffith's second-most celebrated work. He revolutionized the medium over the course of these 2 pictures. Too bad he had to beat the "intolerance" theme on the head so badly. You don't need 3 hours to tell people they should be more accepting of each other. It hurts your movie when you seem to be protesting too much. You can argue this is an important movie. That doesn't make it a good one.
If you got something out of this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 23-minute Intolerance 'cast...and many others. Or look for us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
A Sensitive Portrait Of Re-Acclimation
When I think of World War II, my mental image is of veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress, with a bad case of the drinks, and with no hands. It's not about glory or feeling good about a hard-fought job well done. Winning the most-important military conflict of the 20th Century be damned. Now we had to deal with the, ugh, return of guys who fought for a just cause. Didn't they know they're supposed to go into some kind of isolation tank until we need them to fight again?
Okay, that was a series of cheap-shots and I dropped all those bombs for a reason. We don't want to deal with the hassle of doing right by the people who've shed blood and brain cells to keep us all safe from tyranny. Many movies have dealt with this topic, although not many of them have done it as well as The Best Years Of Our Lives. The 37th movie on both the 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists released by the American Film Institute hits hard, but doesn't hit you with a sledgehammer.
That's thanks to director William Wyler and writer Robert Sherwood (who was once a film critic). They make it clear that Fredric March (the drunk), Dana Andrews (the PTSD guy who has no place back home), and Harold Russell (the guy who actually lost his hands for real) are not necessarily better off back home in the American Midwest than they were during WWII. Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy play March's patient daughter and wife, respectively, who (unfortunately) are more saintly archetypes than they are real characters.
Who's to judge someone for struggling to accept their post-war life on its lousy terms or for turning to the bottle to cope? There aren't easy solutions and The Best Years Of Our Lives (classic Hollywood product that it is) doesn't revel in their pain or just gloss things up for the camera. It suffers from over-length---although the first 30 minutes is positively brilliant---and the women have no depth at all, but the men are handled sensitively and with a keen eye. This is absolutely a fine film, quiet and true.
If you liked this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 40-minute Best Years Of Our Lives 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".