21 May 2009

May I Offer Suggests Possible Viewing Choices for the Coming Three Day Weekend?


If you read the title and are still with me I must assume that yes, it is quite all right for me to suggest some movies for your enjoyment over the Memorial day Weekend. I am further assuming that your not going to waste valuable movie viewing time with such nonsense as picnics, barbecues, family gatherings or barn raisings.

Regular readers of this blog (both of us) know that I would do nothing so pedestrian as recommending beloved classics. You do not need me to tell you that such films as Sunset Blvd. (1950), The Godfather (1972) or My Man Godfrey (1936) exist and are quite watchable. Instead I've come up with nine films you may not be familiar with, might not have heard of or quite forgot. These nine films represent one from each decade from the twenties through the present one. All are available on DVD (otherwise it would be rather silly to suggest them, eh?).

Broadway Bill (1934). Frank Capra directed and Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy (hubba hubba) star. That should be all you need to know but I'll go on. Despite the title the film has nothing to do with the theater. The title refers to a horse. So what you thought was a musical is a horse racing movie and a comic love story to boot. Loy hooks up with brother-in-law Baxter to race Broadway Bill. But allow me to quote from the New York Times' review which appeared on November 30, 1934:

To report that "Broadway Bill" tells the story of Warner Baxter, Myrna Loy and a race horse is to write down a series of words which can be singularly unimpressive in cold type. A sedate résumé of Mr. Hellinger's story would tell nothing of Mr. Capra's richly humorous inventions. Somehow no scene which he photographs is quite ordinary. There is, for example, the comic episode which discloses the complicated procedure of gossip and big inside stuff by which the two-dollar gamblers in a thousand parts of the country hasten to get their money down on Broadway Bill, thereby forcing the odds down from 100 to 6 to 1.

The Hellinger referred to is Mark, screenwriter for this delightful comedy.

Hangmen Also Die (1943). I know, I know, the title is a little weird. But, as a much younger gent might say: "but dude, check it out, Fritz Lang directed and wrote the screenplay with Bertolt Brecht, that's way cool." Agreed young friend. It's based on events following the assassination of Nazi Reichsprotector and "Hangman" Reynhard Heidrich in Morovia in 1942. The story was thus as timely as if ripped from the day's headlines. Brian Donleavy plays the culprit and is on the lam from the Nazis. The film is rich in action, heroics and drama. The Nazis are as nasty as they come on film and one must add, accurately portrayed. Donleavy, so often the heavy, is excellent as the hero. Walter Brennan plays an aged Czech professor and demonstrated just how great an actor he was. A must see for devotees of WWII films or lovers of suspense.

Local Hero (1983). One of my favorite films of all time and though I've met legions who've never seen it I've never met anyone who saw it and didn't like it. A Houston based oil company sends a young employee to Scotland to buy an entire village. Peter Reigert is the young man and his eccentric boss Felix Happer is played by some guy named Burt Lancaster. They both give wonderful performances but so too does the Scottish village and its denizens. How to describe Local Hero? Quirky. Charming. Fun. A study in conflicting cultures and values. Like some of Woody Allen's best, its a comedy that makes you think. Bill Forysth wrote and directed.

Gods & Monsters (1998). I saw this film for the first time knowing absolutely nothing about it other than the reviews were good (hey, sometimes I roll that way). What a great way to see what turned out to be a favorite film. Sir Ian McKellan stars as real life film director James Whale ( he was responsible for the best of the Frankenstein films, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the original and superior versions of Show Boat (1936) and Waterloo Bridge (1931) to name a few). The film posits about his last days as a semi reclusive gay man in Hollywood. Brendan Fraser is a revelation as the gardener cum model in whom Whale confides as he reflects on his life. Fascinating film featuring Lynn Redgrave's Oscar nominated performance as Whales' domineering old German maid. If you've never seen Gods & Monsters do so sooner rather than later.

The Circus (1928). Chaplin's tramp character gets a job...guess where. Go on. Who said at a circus? Right you are. This is one of Chaplin's most under appreciated films. There is the requisite romance and laughs aplenty. Overshadowed coming out shortly after The Gold Rush (1925) but nearly that classic's equal.

Broken Flowers (2005). A Jim Jarmusch film which may tell you a lot about it from the get go. If you're unfamiliar with the director's work this is the movie to start with. Bill Murray plays a man who discovers that one of his exes had a child many years ago. But which? He aims to find out by visiting old flames. Murray's dead pan performance is letter perfect particularly as a contrast to the goofines he encounters on his solo road trip. Sharon Stone, Chloe Sevigny, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpy, Tilda Swinton and a totally naked Alexis Dziena are along for the ride.

High Society (1956). Sounds like a terrible idea doesn't it? A musical re-make of The Philadelphia Story (1940). But taken on its own terms High Society is a gas. You get Sinatra, Bing and Satchmo. And oh by the way, Grace Kelly. The story is a fluff, the actors glide through their roles but if you're tired of rap stars wearing replica jerseys and baggy jeans, this is just the ticket. Classy guys in tuxes, gorgeous dames, champagne glasses, mansions and sweet singing. The Sinatra/Crosby duet of Cole Porter's "Well, Did You Evah" is worth sitting through anything. Toss in a passel of other hits and you've got a most enjoyable hour and three quarters.

Silver Streak (1976). (Photo above.) It stars Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder so do I really need to go on? Probably should just as a matter of good form. Given who the two stars it should come as no surprise that this is a comedy and a good one at that. Wilder finds romance, danger and Pryor on a cross country train ride. Patrick McGoohan is the bad guy. Jill Clayburgh the love interest. The tag line totally nails it: It's the Most Hilarious Suspense Ride of Your Life!

Marnie (1964). This is not one of the great movies that Alfred Hitchcock directed but it's one of the very good ones. There are plot holes and incongruities but there's also Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery as your co stars. There's the usual heavy Hitchcock doses of mystery and suspense. Ms.Hedren plays the title character and we find out from the get go that she's: a) gorgeous b) a thief c) deeply disturbed. So of course when the wealthy Connery character marries her we can see trouble coming. We also see a mystery solved and perhaps love or justice triumph. Maybe both. Worth a look.

Also TCM has a slew of good war films on this weekend to commemorate Memorial day weekend. My recommendations include Battleground (1949), A Walk in the Sun (1945), The Story of GI Joe (1945), The Big Parade (1925) and Ballad of a Soldier (1959). Check your local listings.






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