Back In The Day

Way back in the day, when things were simple, and there was far less to bitch about.

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Posts Tagged ‘Classic films’

My Man Godfrey

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on July 2, 2010

MY MAN GODFREY (1936)

“The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.”

Another classic screwball comedy to throw into the mix. This title was always familiar to me, and yet I never really knew any of the stars, nor did I know anything about the plot. I found myself quite surprised and amused by the film, while also slightly irked throughout. The film is quick to the pick-up, dumping the viewer in a trash heap with a number of homeless men. When a few members of the bourgeoisie pull up to the site, one particularly snooty woman offers $5 to her homeless man of choice, telling him that they are taking part in a high-class scavenger hunt and that bringing in a “forgotten man” will bring their team a huge amount of points and the win. Little did she know that the man she chose is smart, quick-witted, and uncompromising of his dignity, nor is he afraid to speak back to those with money and power. Instead of helping her, he opts to help her kinder–albeit naive and spoiled–sister, and subjects himself to becoming an almost zoo-like spectacle to a room full of upper-crust men and women. Read the rest of this entry »

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The French Connection

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on June 5, 2010

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

Behold, a young Gene Hackman and possibly the best car chase scene in cinematic history!

Forgive me, but I just got obsessed with The West Wing and I kinda need to finish it before the fall begins (SEVEN SEASONS) so I have been powering through the episodes and not devoting my free time to this blog. I am ashamed.

The French Connection should ring at least SOME bells. It’s a definite classic, it’s a rough and dirty film, and it’s incredibly famous for the car chase sequence. This is a major Oscar-winning film, bringing in the little gold man for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Writing (based on another work), and Best Picture–the first R-rated film ever to win for Best Picture after the MPAA adopted the rating system. It also had nominees for Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. It is another selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.  This movie, my friends, was a big deal. And rightly so. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hopscotch

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on May 29, 2010

Before I start, just going to say RIP Dennis Hopper. All of you people should see Blue Velvet immediately to honor his memory (or Easy Rider, but I still haven’t seen that and it’s on my list).

HOPSCOTCH (1980)

A lesser-known Walter Matthau film! Walter Matthau is probably best known to you whippersnappers as one of the ‘Grumpy Old Men’, along with Jack Lemmon. That pairing was actually made famous in the film adaptation of the Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple”.  Both had extensive movie careers and were widely respected and adored by filmgoers everywhere. I just want to hug Walter Matthau when I see him onscreen. Oh, and he was quite a lot of fun in Charade (recommended).

Hopscotch is a comedy about a rogue CIA agent who essentially engages in a worldwide game of cat and mouse with his former employer and colleagues. Matthau stars as Miles Kendig, an extremely smart and seasoned CIA field agent whose new boss, Myerson (Ned Beatty of Deliverance), decides to punish his latest antics by relegating him to a desk job in the filing room. Kendig, a man of superior wit and whimsy, immediately goes to work on a scheme to deliver the biggest, most embarrassing, and costly “Screw you” to the CIA, and specifically Kendig himself. How does he go about doing this? By leading the CIA on a wild goose chase all over the world in an attempt to find him and stop him from writing a tell-all memoir about his experiences at the CIA– a memoir he is sending out, chapter by chapter, to all major national intelligence agencies worldwide… including the Soviets. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Philadelphia Story

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on April 14, 2010

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

Holy crap, everyone! I started using my Netflix account again, and I watched an old movie to review like I set out to when I originally made this blog. Amazing, right? I promise, I’m going to be more diligent with this again. Besides, I want to feel like I’m not wasting all this money on my Netflix account and just letting these DVDs sit. Now let’s get on with the classicy goodness!

First, some background! It was adapted from the 1939 Broadway play of the same name, written by Phillip Barry, and the screenplay was expertly written by Donald Ogden Stewart, with the help of the uncredited–and later blacklisted–Waldo Salt (After the blacklist was lifted, Salt won an Oscar for both Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, and was nominated for Serpico). It was directed by George Cukor, director of such films as Adam’s Rib (which I actually have seen a long time ago, so it probably won’t be reviewed anytime soon), Gaslight (which is on my list) and My Fair Lady (a classic musical that you all should at least recognize). And this is where I shall veer off into another ramble, of sorts: I would wager that if I were to ask the majority of the people reading to name five classic Hollywood directors, they would come up short. This is a travesty, and I will not tolerate it! When picking out my films, I didn’t look at the name “George Cukor” with a cocked head and a knotted brow; rather, I exclaimed, “Oh yeah, George Cukor!” and happily added films to my list. This is because I was fortunate enough to have a film studies department at my university, and I took the opportunity to get a film major while there. Yes, plenty of people know a ton about classic films, including their stars, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, etc., without the help of a film studies background; however, too many people, especially amongst today’s youth, know tragically little about this golden age of cinema. And when Alfred Hitchcock, whom I adore, is the only classic director that someone can name… well, a special kind of rage starts to boil within my blood. This plays into why I created this blog: just because a film is “old” and in black and white, doesn’t mean the film isn’t spectacular! You simply cannot appreciate the films of today without appreciate the films of yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Magnificent Seven

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on March 3, 2009

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

Crucials

Director: John Sturges

Written by: William Roberts (credited), Walter Newman (uncredited), Walter Bernstein (uncredited)

Starring: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Recommended: Yes

This film has such an interesting background in addition to what we see onscreen. First of all, for those of you who do not know this, The Magnificent Seven is essentially a Western carbon-copy of  Akira Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai). I have yet to see that film, but I have heard from numerous people that after seeing one of these two films, watching the other becomes “boring”. Somehow, I am not worried about that. During my film studies at college, I had to watch numerous retellings of certain stories, such as Nosferatu/Dracula, and I even managed to sit through all of Gus van Sant’s deplorable shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, so I think I’ll be OK when watching The Seven Samurai, if only for Kurosawa’s visual differences. Also, you might find it interesting that not only was Kurosawa heavily influenced by Westerns, but he loved The Magnificent Seven. He didn’t wish to compare it to his film; instead, he saw it as its own entity, and he enjoyed it immensely. Anyway, the basic plot is that a large group of bandits, lead by the fearful Calvera, have been terrorizing a small farming village in Mexico, forcing the people to give much of their food to the bandits and keep only what is just needed to get by for themselves. The people, tired of putting up with this abuse, go to the border to buy guns from Americans. There, they witness a man who is skilled with a gun and clearly knows where they could be acquired, so they ask him to help them buy guns. He proposes that they hire gunmen, as men are cheaper than guns. When asks how much the farmers have, they produce a small collection of items from their village–all they have– and offer them to the man in exchange for his help. He seeks to enlist the help of other skilled gunmen who are willing to work for the small wage, and thus we find ourselves with “The Magnificent Seven”.

I included the two uncredited writers because Walter Bernstein wrote the first adaptation of The Seven Samurai, which was not used (and, according to him, was closer to the original film than what was eventually used for The Magnificent Seven), and Walter Newman wrote the script that was used for the film. I know that is confusing, since he doesn’t have a credit for that. Allow me to explain. When they were filming down in Mexico, they had to cooperate with the Mexican government, who was unhappy about a recent John Wayne film shot in Mexico that depicted Mexicans in a really negative way. So, in order to not only smooth over relations between Hollywood and Mexico but get this film made in Mexico with Mexican actors, the filmmakers did what they could to accommodate the Mexican government. This included having a Mexican censor look over the script and monitor their filming. The censor immediately wanted changes made to the script, so the filmmakers tried to get Walter Newman down to Mexico to do rewrites. For whatever reason, Newman refused or could not go to Mexico, so they needed to use someone else. That person was William Roberts. The Writer’s Guild reviewed the work that Roberts did and decided that he had done enough changes to warrant a co-writing credit. Newman, infuriated by this idea, told Sturges to remove his name from the film. It’s a shame that ego got in the way of his name being immortalized in one of the most well-known Westerns.

OK, onto the film. Don’t worry, my pets, I’ll throw in some more trivia along the way.

What struck me about this film is how formulaic it seemed and how that did not bother me. I realized, of course, that the film only seems formulaic to me now because so many films have used similar constructs since The Magnificent Seven. At the time it was made, it was anything but formulaic. It was a film that marked the end of the classic Westerns, giving way to the newer style of Westerns represented largely by Clint Eastwood films. Still, The Magnificent Seven was not a typical Western film. The “heroes” of the film talk about the life of a gunman in ways that were not really done onscreen. They were not glorified. There was a melancholy overtone to their conversation as they talked about the life of a gunman in order to explain to the young hothead (Buchholz) that being a gunman came with its downfalls, as well. The older, wiser men were tired, haggard, and doing something that was out of character for them; they were fighting for what was right with little to no reward. They were not expecting to be treated as heroes by the people they were helping. And, considering the numbers they were facing on the opposition’s side, the likelihood of all seven men surviving was pretty much nonexistent. It was a very different tone for the film than that of the conventional Westerns, and I enjoyed watching a bit of the darker side of the genre.

The cast is great, though the casting definitely led to some issues on set. Steve McQueen was pretty notorious for his “hot shot” attitude and huge ego, which comes across onscreen even when his character has no lines. One might notice how Vin (McQueen’s role), will often be moving in some way while Yul Brynner’s character, Chris has lines. Our eyes are attracted to movement, especially on the big screen, and McQueen knew this. Those movements were not scripted; that was all McQueen’s attempt to upstage Brynner, who was the lead role in the film. McQueen also did not like Buchholz because he was playing the role of Chico, the studly young gun, a role which McQueen felt was more suitable for him to play (another interesting sidenote: Brynner and Buchholz were both from Eastern Europe, with Eastern European accents. Yul Brynner was playing an American, and Buccholz was playing I believe a Mexican who moved to America when he was rather young. Both are rather big roles in the film.).  I did find McQueen’s character to be annoying mostly because of McQueen’s acting. I haven’t seen him in much of anything–in fact, I think this might have been the first time I watched him in anything other than a clip– but his notorious attitude was pretty noticeable to me, and I found that to be a bit of a detriment. But I thought that Yul Brynner was fantastic. He was a dark, brooding character. Someone who wasn’t easy to read. His character, Chris, was an effective leader, and an unofficial moral compass for the lot, though I do think they all came to the same decision without needing his prompts.

It was especially nice to see James Coburn in the film. I remember him well in it, even though I believe he had about ten lines total. (Trivia alert: Robert Vaughn was cast as Lee, and the filmmakers were looking to cast the rest of the film before the actor’s strike was to start, as films that were cast before the strike were allowed to film with those actors. Vaughn attended school with James Coburn, and told Coburn that there was a part in this remake of The Seven Samurai that they were still looking to cast. Coburn, who had seen The Seven Samurai numerous times when it was in theatres, asked if it was the equivalent to the fastest swordsman role of the original film. Vaughn confirmed this, and Coburn immeditely went to meet with the director, giddy as hell because that was the part he had dreamed of playing. Sure enough, Coburn was cast, and thus accelerating his career.) I thought he portrayed his character extremely well, conveying most of what needed to be said with looks rather than words.

Eli Wallach was a surprise, especially because I mostly know him from his more recent work as an elderly man. In case you couldn’t tell by his name, Eli is a Jew, and here he was playing the leader of a team of Mexican bandits. It was a very odd choice, but somehow it worked extremely well. I could tell upon seeing Calvera, Eli’s character, that he was an American playing a Mexican, but I didn’t recognize him until later. I thought he gave a very strong performance. It’s funny to note that the men who were hired as Eli’s bandits took him under their wing. Every morning they would go riding for an hour as Eli learned how to ride a horse. Not only that, but when on set, the horse would have to be handed to one of his bandits for them to check his saddle, as well as his gun (to check the chambers and all). The bandits took their roles very seriously, which helped to cement Eli’s position as their leader.

There’s no talking abot this film without mentioning the score, which is one of the most famous film scores of all time.

That’s why I added the composer, Elmer Berstein, into the essentials in this post. His score set the pace for the film, which picks up rather quickly. Starting with the scene where Vin and Chris first meet, the beat is pretty steady. The score for the film is part of what makes it so enthralling and engaging, because it’s almost an anthem in the way it pumps us up for the big showdown. Eli Wallach talked about how he told Berstein that he wished he had heard the score before filming, because he would have “ridden a lot better” to match the score (can you tell that I am in love with Eli Wallach? He’s just too adorable!).

I was entertained and enthralled by the film, even though some scenes had me shouting “No, don’t do that because _____ is going to happen!” due to the elements of the film that are now often considered as “cliched”. None of those things actually felt cliched to me, though. It felt organic and right.

I will be watching The Seven Samurai sometime in the nearish future, and I will probably devote a part of that review to a comparison with this film, so look for that later!

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The Maltese Falcon

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on February 23, 2009

I know, I am so late on this one. Let’s get to it, shall we?

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)

Crucials

Director: John Huston

Written by: Dashiell Hammett (novel) and John Huston (screenplay)

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet

Recommended? ABSOLUTELY

This is a fascinating film to me. I found it to be both compelling and provoking. It’s literally a glimpse into a few days in the life of Humphrey Bogart’s character, Detective Sam Spade. As the film progresses, you really have no idea what to think of any of the characters because we’re barely given any amount of background on them, including Spade. One of the things that struck me was the complete lack of emotion from Spade when he heard about his partner’s demise. He didn’t even sound shocked. He simply repeated the words back to the police on the phone that Archer was dead. Was Archer his friend? Was Archer a bad guy? What was their story? We never get a full answer to these questions, and that’s a general theme of the movie. The characters are almost sketches, but the lack of mandatory exposition to fill in their histories makes the whole film feel even more real. People don’t rehash all the important things they already know about each other at the most convenient moments life. And The Maltese Falcon doesn’t give us the satisfaction of ever really knowing whom to trust. Sure, we all want to trust Sam Spade, as Humphrey Bogart is our leading man. But who is Sam Spade? Is he a good person? Is he only looking out for himself? Will he do anything for money? Is he trying to do the one decent thing in his life, or was this all an elaborate ruse and he’s a decent guy at heart? It’s hard to say. He’s the only character to root for throughout the film (except for the ever-faithful Effie, played by Lee Patrick– but even she isn’t above suspicion throughout the film as everyone is not quite what they seem), and you definitely want him to make the “right” decision in the end. I thought the film would have a more typical Hollywood ending, which would have been very unsatisfying.

Many label this film as the quintessential film noir film, and I couldn’t agree more. From its roots in the pulp fiction novel written by Dashiell Hammett to its low-key lighting, it’s a perfect example of the genre (if you are of the opinion that film noir is a genre, of course). I found it interesting that most, if not all of the dialogue was taken directly from the novel. According to some trivia, Howard Hawks (director of The Big Sleep, which is sometimes compared to The Maltese Falcon) knew that John Huston wanted to direct, and told him to take Hammett’s novel and make it into a film. He suggested that Huston “film the book”, and that’s exactly how the script was made. Although, the classic line of the film, “The stuff that dreams are made of,” was an adlib by Bogart, paraphrased from Shakespeare. And how true that was of the Maltese Falcon. It’s like every item sought after in these films; every take on “the Holy Grail”. People risk anything and everything for these objects with some idea that, once they obtain it, everything will magically come together and be alright.

The best performances were given by Bogie, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet, by far. I didn’t really feel much for Mary Astor’s character, nor did I particularly care for her performance. This film definitely brought to attention how badly I need to re-tune my observational skills for older films; Peter Lorre’s character, while being much more subtly so in the film, is apparently gay. The hints were obvious in the context of the strict code being in place at the time of the filming, and had I been more in that mindset, perhaps that would have stood out to me. The handkerchief smelling of gardenias; the suggesting way he played with his cane; the strange conversation about the boy Turkey that Astor couldn’t seduce, it seems, though Lorre never got to finish the sentence because Astor slaps him across the face before we learn exactly what she couldn’t do. All signs that Lorre’s character was gay. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to his style that I didn’t pick up on anything in his performance that would hint at that; perhaps there was something effeminate in his quirkiness during this role that I missed? Regardless, he was stellar, as always. And for Sydney Greenstreet’s first performance in a Hollywood film, he was tremendous and extremely likable. Well, he was tremendous either way. I loved his scenes.

This is a film I most definitely recommend. It’s another one of those classics that everyone tells you to see and so you never do, but this is one you shouldn’t ignore. I bet I will find that a lot of these classics are like that, though, so be prepared to have me yelling at you all to watch these classics for your own good!

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