THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (August, 2016 Edition)

…Not including Grease, which I wrote about here.

I’m not sure if I’m going to make this a regular feature or not, but some people liked the last one a while back so I thought I would look at my last ten every now and then and see if they made anything worth writing about.

Seemed to be the case this time. It wasn’t depressing at least. That must be worth something these days!

Anyway, here goes, again in reverse order (30 days, 10 movies):

(NOTE: “Umpteenth Viewing” means I’ve seen it more than five or six times and don’t feel like counting up exactly how many.)

August 29–Escape From Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the strongest evocation of cavalry life in the west outside of John Ford…and for going places Ford didn’t.

For William Holden, at his hard-bitten best, becoming humanized by love and death. For Eleanor Parker being lovely and unique, yet again. For the role of William Demarest’s  lifetime, a lifetime in which he was never less than formidable and rarely less than perfect.

Also for John Sturges’ first foray as an action master. As iconography, that aspect of his career climaxed a decade later with Steve McQueen jumping a fence in The Great Escape. But, for pure mounting tension, he never bettered this. No one did. A good movie all around, especially for its rare look at Yankee/Confederate relations during (as opposed to after) the Civil War. In that, and most other respects, it’s about a thousand times better than Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee. But it’s most valuable, I think, for having what may be the best scenes ever filmed regarding the intricacies, terrors and pure hardships of actual Indian fighting.

So, at last: For its very Fordian reminder that the West was not won–or lost–easily. And that it was won–and lost–by people, not demography.

August 28–The Peacemaker (1997, Mimi Leder, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For its clear-eyed look at the pulp future we are now living in. Forget the absence of chemistry between George Clooney and his leading lady (in this case a snappy Nicole Kidman). Except for Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight (filmed in that serendipitous eye-blink when she could set a match on fire by looking at it), that’s been a given and here, for once, it doesn’t really matter. Just wait for the great action sequences (there are four of them–trains, cars, helicopters, a ticking bomb) and the burning climax, where this man…

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…says “It is now.”

For that, I’ll watch it until “now” is no more…which I know won’t be in my lifetime.

August 24–Kaleidoscope (1966, Jack Smight, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Warren Beatty in a heist flick that’s almost as good as 1970’s Dollars (about which I’m sure I’ll have more to say some other time).  For an impossibly daft and gorgeous Susannah York, saying, “Oh no. You came out of nowhere in a little red sports car and no mummy and no daddy. I’d hate to find out that you were real.” For Susannah York saying  a lot of other things.

What else do you need? An ingenious and original plot? Scotland Yard mixing in? Jane Birkin trying on clothes? A crime lord who bonds with York over their shared Napoleon obsession?

Don’t worry. It’s got all that, too.

August 20–Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming (and others), Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the story of Scarlett O’Hara, which, believe it or not, is what the movie is about (I mention it because, the way the pearl-clutchers go on about all the “baggage,” you’d never know her story was worth telling). And for too many other reasons to count, the whole kit-and-caboodle deserving its own post some day.

For now, I’d just like to point out that Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett launches more assaults than Indiana Jones. I always start out promising myself I’ll keep count of how many times she punches or whips or dirt-clods or hair-pulls somebody. I always come up with some number between ten and fifteen. But, like the movie, and Leigh’s unmatchable performance, it never feels quite stable or exact.

August 13–Strangers on a Train (1951 Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the two truly great scenes that open the movie, the first played between Farley Granger’s chump and Robert Walker’s psychopath, the second between Granger and Laura Elliot, playing the chump’s hard-bitten, soon-to-be ex-wife.

After that I always slog on, hoping it won’t all fall apart again. But the psycho always ends up killing the wife and that jars because, as played by Elliot, she’s the kind of girl who, in real life, would eat him for lunch and have the chump for a side. You get plenty of Hitchcockian dream-scapes after that, but these haven’t stood up as well as his best. I’ll lay aside the “logic” of trying to win a life-or-death tennis match in a certain amount of time (which can never be guaranteed) instead of losing it in a certain amount of time (which can). But I keep hoping The Master at least won’t have a policeman shoot at a carousel full of children this time around and kill the operator by mistake, with no discernible consequence except putting all the kiddies in mortal danger.

Alas, it seems to happen every single time.

I’ve usually enjoyed this, and I’m sure it’s some sort of formal “masterpiece.” But I have to confess that, each time around, it’s putting me to sleep a little earlier.

August 7–White House Down, 2013, Roland Emmerich, First Viewing)

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Caught it on TV and stuck with it to remind myself how worthless this world we made can be. I’m willing to bet Hollywood didn’t make a single major studio movie between 1930 and 1960 that was this bad. Today, I take its crappiness for granted and give it six out of ten stars or whatever. I mean, it didn’t make me kill myself. That’s something, right?

August 6–The Naked Prey (1965, Cornel Wilde, Third Viewing)

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For the glorious African landscapes, never bettered, even in documentary footage. For its stark reminder that civilization is a very thin veneer. For its refusal to accept that barbarism is civilization’s antidote and its simultaneous admission (in its slave-raiding scenes) that “civilization” is not always easy to define.

For Ken Gampu’s watchful, burning eyes.

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For the uninitiated, the story involves Director/Star Wilde transferring John Colter’s famous run from the Blackfeet to a white hunter’s escape from the Zulus. Not recommended for anyone sensitive to realistic scenes of animal slaughter, human torture or Man’s grasping nature.

August 6–Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest, Fifth Viewing)

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For its reminder that I like De Niro better as a comic actor than a dramatic one (and I’ll grant that he’s a fine dramatic actor even if I don’t think he’s quite what others make of him…and I’ll also grant that I’m not one who thinks comedy is harder…but he’s still a truly great comedian). For making me laugh harder than any other movie made in the eighties….or anything else that happened in the eighties. For Dennis Farina’s best role. And for its one scene of heartbreak, played with De Niro’s estranged daughter, where the weight of all those Scorcese pictures lands gently, gently, without smothering the scene or letting anyone off the hook.

August 3–The Major and the Minor (1942, Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Ginger…at all ages. I especially like the way she swallows a cigarette.

Oh, and for Billy Wilder’s first Hollywood directorial effort. She got it for him. He thanked her the usual way. He didn’t.

August 2–5th Avenue Girl (193, Gregory La Cava, Third Viewing)

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This one wobbles a bit.

Still: For Ginger. For the Straight-From-the-Depression lessons in the ethics and ethos of New Deal capitalism.

And for: “Oh why don’t you mind your own business!”

15 thoughts on “THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (August, 2016 Edition)

  1. NDJ

    Well, Berni and Neal will be having another Rossathon: I was able to order Kaleidoscope, The Naked Prey, Midnight Run (which I have had a hankerin’ for of late), The Major and the Minor, Gone With the Wind (which I haven’t seen since Nixon and CREEP ruled the roost), and Strangers on a Train.

    Couldn’t get the others and didn’t even look for White House Down. Of which I say, MAKE EVERY STAR COUNT!

    If you can write this, “Today, I take its crappiness for granted and give it six out of ten stars or whatever,” you can gleefully award one star to this type of garbage.

    Best and thanks in advance,

    EDN

    • I’ll look forward to your thoughts on all and sundry!…Warning on The Naked Prey, I seem to remember you guys had trouble with the buffalo slaughter in one of the westerns I wrote about…There’s some elephant slaughtering in the beginning that’s much more graphic (though briefer). Otherwise highly recommended. It’s certainly unique. Good extras if you happen to get the Criterion edition.

      And yes, you’re right to avoid White House Down, which is a sadly typical modern “thriller.”

  2. Just watched THE NAKED PREY and was also impressed with the shots of the African “wilds”—which was the whole movie. Wilde was physically impressive, as few Hollywood actors of the time were in such great shape.

    I know little about the ways of African “tribesmen” outside of watching movies with Johnny Weismuller or Lex Barker. Were they really that brutal, casually torturing and slaughtering non-tribesmen for social transgressions?

    And where did they get the forged steel for the 3-foot long spearheads?

    • All I know about brutal torture is that it’s been a common human past-time for as far back as we know anything about man’s “nature.” It’s the recent objections to it that are uncommon (and, one can hope, lasting). But I can’t speak to the specifics of the African bush in the time period ….As for the steel? Probably the same place Native Americans got Winchesters in the 1840s in many a Hollywood story…though iron-making may not have been unknown to Africans at the time, well after the arrival of the Euros.

  3. NDJ

    Also watched STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, to which I had a more positive response than you. I always liked Farley Granger, and he is fine as the good-guy lead. I forgot how lovely and capable Ruth Roman was, and based on her performance as Barbara in this film, Pat Hitchcock should have been given bigger roles! I didn’t find Laura Elliott effective as the loose woman.

    But, wow!, Robert Walker was a joy to watch as the bad-guy lead! As the psychopath who could charm chrome off a fender and then “accidentally” strangle you while his mind was elsewhere, he stole every scene he was in. I looked Walker up and he had a damned life, dying young (32) due to an apparently accidental combination of (large quantities) of alcohol and a doctor-injected medication. Remind me to see more movies by this man!

    EDN

    PS: I have to tell you that even though I was watching the movie instead of you, the policeman STILL shot at a carousel full of children (all of whom were white!!!) and AGAIN killed the operator! The crash of the carousel was rather harrowing and has held up well as a disaster scene after 60 years …

      • I loved Strangers on a Train the first couple of times I watched it, and for all the reasons you mention (and highly recommend The Far Country, one of Jimmy Stewart’s great westerns with Anthony Mann, if you’re a Ruth Roman fan)….As the years have gone by, I still like all those elements (they’re the reason I still watch, esp. Ms. Lorne). But the incongruities bug me more….Incidentally, the reason Raymond Chandler quit the movie was because he was frustrated by Hitchcock’s pursuit of visuals at the expense of logic. Have to admit the visuals always work…as visuals.

  4. NDJ

    Well, movies are first and foremost a visual medium. The story was predictable (that’s not meant as an insult), as was the ending. Hitch did what any good filmmaker would do and made it visually compelling.

    On a related topic: have you read CATCH-22 and seen the movie?

    EDN

    PS: Also recently watched to really good sports movies, GLORY ROAD and REMEMBER THE TITANS.

    Oh, and one of my old standbys (standbies?), TIN CUP.

  5. Catch-22…read the book (an alltimer)…saw the movie on TV many moons ago and don’t remember much about it.

    Haven’t seen Glory Road, enjoyed both Remember the Titans and Tin Cup (like Ron Shelton generally, but who doesn’t)

  6. The book is Top 10 Must Read for understanding the Sixties. The movie was trounced by critics and people stayed away in droves but I thought it brilliant! Give it a another viewing.

  7. NDJ

    I don’t think I ever saw KALEIDOSCOPE. If I have, then I’ve forgotten Susannah York, and that’s not a good sign! Her little scream when Barney walks into her shop was completely unexpected; I don’t remember any movie where the leading lady greeted her love interest in that manner.

    Fun movie: Eric Porter was fine bad guy, Clive Revill’s sly Scotland Yard inspector was an interesting blend of Sherlock Holmes and comic relief, and I’ve yet to figure out Aimes.

    Thanks again for the recommendation …

    EDN

    • I thought you’d like that one….I have a thing for comic heist flicks (especially from the sixties/early seventies when most of the really good ones were made)…Highly recommend Dollars, with Beatty and Goldie Hawn if you’ve never seen or haven’t in a while.

  8. NDJ

    I can’t imagine that I missed Goldie Hawn in anything, but I will add DOLLARS to my list. My fave film with her is HO– USESITTER …

    Hey, this time tomorrow I will be in Pennsylvania visiting family, friends, and eating huge amounts of pizza!

    EDN

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