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30 May 1999
William Wellman's succinct tale of mob justice is powerful not only in the story of the quick-rush-to-judgement lynching posse, but also in the way in which it's told. Wellman crowds many scenes with multiple faces. While one actor is speaking, you'll often see others on either side and in the background. In doing this, packing each frame with faces, Wellman creates a sense of unease in the viewer. I challenge you to watch this film and not feel claustrophobic. MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENT: All through the movie, Major Tetley has been goading his conscience-stricken son to help participate in the lynching. The Major perceives the boy is a weakling and wants to "make a man" out of him. He forces his son to slap the rear of the horses after the suspects are strung up, but when the time arrives, the boy can't do it. Two others slap the horses. Then, as the bodies are swaying at the end of the ropes, the Major calmly walks over to his son and punches him. It is a chilling moment of violence -- perhaps even more so than the actual hanging.
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The Westerner (1940)
If ever an Oscar was deserved...
30 May 1999
I first watched this movie because of Gary Cooper (after seeing "The Pride of the Yankees," the man could do no wrong in my book). While Coop is great in "The Westerner," it is -- lock, stock and blazing barrels -- Walter Brennan's performance as Judge Roy Bean that steals the show. What a deeply nuanced character! Here's an example of an actor making a villain a likeable, endearing character. Brennan richly deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
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Laura (1944)
Waldo Lydecker leaps off the screen
22 May 1999
Otto Preminger's "Laura" is good example of film noir (for GREAT examples, see "Double Indemnity" and "Out of the Past"). The story of a murdered femme fatale and the detective's growing obsession with her image (as represented by a luminous portrait hanging in her living room) is intricate and stylish. Preminger keeps the pace moving right along, plunging the viewer into the complex plot from the first frame. In fact, we become so absorbed by "Laura" that we don't even notice that Laura herself (played by Gene Tierney) doesn't make her first appearance (in a flashback) until 20 minutes into this 85-minute picture. Tierney and Dana Andrews as the gumshoe investigating the murder give breath-taking performances, but it is Clifton Webb who steals the show as Waldo Lydecker, the stuffy, self-absorbed newspaper columnist. Lydecker is clearly obsessed with Laura, perhaps even more so than the detective. It is a witty, realistic performance that Webb pulls off with charm and elegance. Besides, can you think of any other character who's ever made such a memorable entrance on the screen as Waldo Lydecker sitting naked in his bathtub with a typewriter?
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Stories of tails
12 April 1999
For a brief period in cinema history, the anthology film was all the rage. Movies like "Flesh and Fantasy" and "O. Henry's Full House" used large casts to tell several interlocked stories. "Tales of Manhattan" is the best of the anthology films, following the adventures of a tuxedo's tailcoat as it passes through the hands of several diverse people in New York. There's Charles Boyer, the Broadway actor who is carrying on an illicit affair; there's Henry Fonda who is helping Cesar Romero get out of a sticky situation with his fiancee Ginger Rogers (along the way, Fonda and Rogers fall in love and have one of the best-written love scenes to ever hit the screen); there's Charles Laughton who seeks one shot at glory conducting an orchestra; and, in the most touching and rewarding of the tales, there's Edward G. Robinson, a down-and-out bum who has been invited to his college reunion. If you're looking for an all-star cast and a first-rate cinema experience, "Tales of Manhattan" is the one. I consistently put this movie at the top of my all-time favorites.
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Forget the critics
7 April 1999
Forget all the bad press you've heard about this movie. "Meet Joe Black" is a wonderful celebration of life and, yes, death. Is the pace slow? Yes. Is the movie over-long? Yes. But the direction and the cast more than make up for it with deep, three-sided characters. All the pieces of the story fit together nicely and there are reverberations of certain lines throughout the movie. Words literally come back to haunt the characters (and the viewer). And that orgasmic burst of fireworks in the final frames of the film? In case you didn't pick up on it, that's a celebration of life and love! See this one to remember the important things in your life; see it with the one you love.
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Sharp writing that digs deep
24 March 1999
"Living Out Loud" is a quiet film when compared to the year's other screen offerings like "Armageddon" and "Godzilla." But in its restrained simplicity, director/writer Richard LaGravenese gives us one of the best scripts to hit the screen in years, along the way eliciting career-topping performances from Holly Hunter as a suddenly divorced woman trying to find her place in the world and Danny DeVito as an elevator operator who finds himself falling for his building's tenant. There has never been a better portrayal of human loneliness to hit the screen. Thanks to LaGravenese's sharp, funny script, you'll find yourself laughing with and aching for these two characters adrift on the sea of heartbreak.
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This film flies on Hawks' wings
22 February 1999
For a remarkably compelling story about a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants airmail service in South America, director Howard Hawks has assembled a cast that includes Cary Grant as the airline's owner and Jean Arthur as a tourist stranded between boats who catches his eye. While the performances are all superb (especially Thomas Mitchell as the veteran pilot Kid), it is Hawks who turns a rather ordinary plot into an extraordinary film. Watch this movie for its visual style and atmospheric mood (note especially how Hawks fills the frame with actors while Arthur and Grant are sitting at the barroom piano), and be prepared for the ride of your life!
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