THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED….AND WHY I WATCHED THEM

I haven’t done any hard statistics on this, but the vast majority of my movie-watching these days is revisiting movies I’ve seen before and a fair amount is revisiting movies I’ve seen many times.

This habit has grown over the last ten to fifteen years and intensified a bit in the last year or so after I suspended (and ultimately disconnected) my television service. I might go a month without seeing anything new and I now tend to treat movies like music, so watching favorites is more like listening to familiar albums than, say, re-reading a novel.

Like albums, movies tend to draw me back for certain very particular reasons–the parts I never get tired of. Hence, the “why I watch” bit. I’m offering this up as a snapshot of the kind of thing I engage with and very rarely write about. And if I very rarely write about this stuff it isn’t because it’s not worth writing about, it’s just because there isn’t enough time in the world….So, for fun, in reverse order, ten days, ten movies:

Dec. 8–Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Eleanor Parker; for the greatest sword fight in movie history; and for one of the sweetest and bitterest final scenes. Besides, it was my birthday (very early hours). I was also impressed this time around by the scenes in the National Assembly, which present the real fight boiling underneath the burgeoning French Revolution as one between the aristocrats and the wannabes. A timeless theme if ever there was one and hardly relegated to the French (let alone the Hollywood version of the French), though they’ve certainly made an art form of it.

Dec. 6–Life of Crime (2014, Daniel Schechter, 2nd Viewing)

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For Jennifer Aniston, who reinforced everything I said here, and, yes, still definitely should have played at least one of the female roles in American Hustle.

Dec. 5–Saskatchewan (1954, Raoul Walsh, 2nd Viewing)

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For the scenery; for the measured and reasonably complex view of both Native American politics and the White Man’s code of military honor; for some fine action scenes involving canoes, of which there can never be enough;and for the memories of happy days a good friend and I spent honing our “It-ain’t-really-a-western-unless-Shelley-Winters-or-Joan-Blondell-shows-up” theory, which, for those of us born within a certain time span, has turned out to be surprisingly durable.

Dec. 5–Wagonmaster aka Wagon Master (1950, John Ford, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For a cast that, even within the context of John Ford’s oeuvre, reminds me remarkably, almost painfully, of the vanished people I grew up among (and no, they weren’t Mormons). That, plus all the usual reasons for watching any of Ford’s numerous masterworks. To take just one such: The long, gliding scene that begins with Joanne Dru’s showgirl turning down an invitation, offered at a “squaw dance,” by one of the outlaw band who have hitched a ride with the Mormon wagon train, and ends with the man being tied to a wagon wheel and whipped by the Mormons while the stoic Navajo elders look on. I’d have to revisit my Shakespeare to be sure, but it might be the most remarkable piece of compressed narrative that exists in any form.

Dec. 4–The War Wagon (1967, Burt Kennedy, Umpteenth Viewing, though the first in a very long while)

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

For the memories; for “Mine was taller.”; and for Kirk Douglas finding all those different ways to jump on horses from every conceivable angle without, so far as I could tell, mangling his manhood!.

Dec. 2–7 Men From Now (1956, Budd Boetticher, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Gail Russell; for Lee Marvin (“I was wrong Clete. He wasn’t half a man.”); for Randolph Scott’s finely wrought study in stoicism; and for the peerless storytelling, delivered with haiku-level perfection.

Dec. 1–Star Wars (1977, George Lucas, Umpteenth Viewing)

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Just gettin’ ready.

Nov. 30–Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Rick and Ilsa and Frenchie. And to hear Dooley Wilson sing “As Time Goes By.” What, there are other reasons? Sure, but who needs ’em.

Nov. 29–An American In Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Leslie Caron, dancing or not, and for the glories of the vanished studio system.

Nov. 28–The Truth About Spring (1965, Richard Thorpe, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Hayley Mills, decked in denim; for more deathless lines than I ever found in a classic screwball (“Tommy, if you dare shoot Ashton, I’ll never cook for you again!”); for the evocation of every Florida kid’s dream-life; for “Here’s one they won’t get. Here’s one for freedom.”; and for a chance to tell the lingering shade of that lucky little so-and-so, Jimmy MacArthur, who got out of the last frame with Hayley once and Janet Munro twice: “I ain’t sorry you’re dead!” and half-hope he won’t be able to decide whether I’m kidding. Oh, yeah, and: “Of Catfish Key….Da-h-h-ling.”

10 thoughts on “THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED….AND WHY I WATCHED THEM

  1. Just placed a hold on the library website for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING and SCARAMOUCHE all of which we have seen (and that better be one helluva swordfight to top Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black!) along with LIFE OF CRIME which we haven’t seen and we love Jennifer and will watch anything with Robbins so thanks!!!

  2. Well let me know what you think on the sword fight. If you still think the other one’s better, then I’ll have to watch that one! And the whole cast is excellent in Life of Crime. I thought JA and John Hawkes did the best at capturing a sort of seventies vibe but mileage may vary. In any case I think you’ll enjoy it. Not exactly deep but highly enjoyable.

  3. Yet another little known favorite in common. I was so happy when The Truth About Spring finally emerged on DVD. It’s engaged me since I was just a wee bit older than Hayley’s “Spring”. Which says a good deal. I am not now nor have I ever been fond of coming-of-age tales or anything to do with teens (even less so when I WAS a teen). Or teen actors.
    But I’ve always liked Hayley, and boats. And there is some genuine wit to be found in the usually parched land of adolescent subject matter.

  4. Hi April. I’m with you right down the line on that one, even to seeing it for the first time when I was about 19/20. And I’m always happy to find a fellow “Truther!” (The real kind, not the johnny-come-lately political crazies.)

    Seeing it come out on an “official” DVD was literally one of the happiest days of my life. I had chased it down in three or four “bootleg” configurations, plus my VHS from TV copy. I know my love for it is not entirely rational, but hey, it’s the only movie that ever made me late for work! (Because, having started watching it on TV in the pre-VHS days, there was no way I was NOT watching it to the end. Jobs come and go, Hayley Mills is forever.)

  5. Okeydokey. We watched THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING last night and Berni and I noticed three things:

    1) Acting certainly has changed since the earliest films of Hollywood, and this one is sorta in between the stage-based hamminess of yore and modern “naturalism.”

    2) James MacArthur was always sorta just there as an actor: likeable but replaceable in almost every film he had a part in.

    3) Hayley Mills was effective as a child actor and as an adult actor but sorta lost in between.

    I noticed all by myself that Ms Mills did look good in demim, especially her backside—something that I didn’t pay enough attention to when I was 10-years old.

    SCARAMOUCHE is next . . .

  6. I wholeheartedly agree that Tomlinson’ s presence should have been expanded one way or another. Other than that, I take your main points except that in-between Hayley’s my favorite Hayley all ways round so there we’ll just have to agree to disagree!

    You might have a similar mixed reaction reaction to Scarmouche. I put both of those in the I-likes-what-I-like category even if they have some severely dated elements. Anyway, happy viewing!

    And you said you got these at the library? If that”s so, you live on another planet from here! One beyond my meager imagination.

  7. Last night we watched LIFE OF CRIME and immediately realized that we had seen it before and enjoyed it, but watched it again and I swear it’s better than the first time! The whole cast was so low key and that it’s almost a very, very dry black comedy.

    And I agree that Anniston and Hawkes were excellent, but I sorta thought that Isla Fisher stole each scene that she was in. Very enjoyable; can’t believe we forgot it. I have already recommended it to a few people. Thanks!

  8. Tonight we watched SCARAMOUCHE! Wow! These were the types of movies I grew up on in the early years of television, when old movies were everywhere. This may be the first time that I have consciously responded to the young Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker as an adult.

    He was great in the leading man role and I forgot he was such a hunk! Not a lot of men were built like that in those days: he looks like he worked out! Plus he had a nice, restrained sense of humor.

    Eleanor Parker was to die for! Even Berni remarked how beautiful she was. And hot! Hubba hubba!

    I had to look the two of them up and was surprised to find that he wasn’t as big a star as I have him in my memories, while she was much bigger than I ever knew.

    Yes, we have the fabulous King Country Library System here and have access to lots of books and movies. When I finish this comment, I’m going online and looking for a few movies with parker and Granger.

    And Isla Fisher . . .

    • Hey, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Old fashioned swashbucklers and musicals tend to divide people pretty fiercely. I’m with those who love ’em but I have friends who will, as they say, cross the road to avoid them.

      I don’t know much else about Granger. Parker was good in Escape from Fort Bravo (which is excellent all around and I’ll probably write about in one of my western moods some day) and Detective Story. I didn’t realize she had made so many movies so I definitely have some catching up to do!

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