Movie Notes

Movie Notes

I have decided to put on my website, as one of my writings, the following set of notes on old movies that I take to be great or very good, for whatever interest they may be to readers. There are, of course, many “movie guides” etc. with thousands of entries and far more informed opinions about them--these are fewer and personal. They were written over the past three years to accompany a large set of DVDs and a few old VHSs of old movies making up a library that is the property of my twin boys--now sixteen, so no longer boys, young men--Julian and Benedict, who I want to see grow up as knowledgeable movie buffs, as an important part of their whole cultural package, to which I have tried to contribute as much as I could. We have watched some of these together on their evening visits with me, beginning with two French films--my favorite of all movies, Jean Renoir?s Rules of the Game, and Truffault?s Shoot the Piano Player (Jules et Jim belongs later in their lives.) Others have included Citizen Kane, Born Yesterday, and The Producers.

The Notes are divided into two parts, both arranged alphabetically by title:  great films in Main List, very good films in Secondary List. But the division is arbitrary in many cases, and needn?t be taken seriously. Some of my notes include personal comments, about old family matters; but these are not embarrassing, and it would be too much trouble to take them all out--just ignore them. I include information on who is the director when it seems to me important, and actors and actresses who come to mind. The plus or minus signs  (+ or -) at the beginning mean: there are or aren?t copies in their film library--only a few are still missing. Some are old VHSs that I still have in my library at Berkeley. There are lots of wrong spellings and other kinds of mistakes, but don?t bother to correct them--no claim for perfect, publishable accuracy is made. These are, as I say, for the interest of other old movie buffs, or those who aspire to buffdom. I have myself reached the point where it is rare for a really good film I haven?t seen to appear on TCM, Turner Classic Movies, the channel I watch most--mostly they are either old familiars or really awful clunkers--their Horror series must have its fans, but I am not among them, and I could do with a lot fewer War films.

So, here it is, for what it?s worth, my personal list of great and good movies.

James Cahill, 12/4/11

MoviesNotes for Cahill Family Library of Great Movies

For Julian and Ben, Christmas 2009 and After, from their Dad (These notes are to accompany a library of DVD and VHS movies.)

(Note: I’m not including any Chinese films because I know them less well than your mother, and leave the selection of those to her. I’m mostly leaving out animation films, which you know better than I do. And I’ve left out a few super-classics—Gone With the Wind—that are too familiar to need recommendations or commentary from me. Note also that the “Secondary List” is not easily distinguishable from the main list—no firm separation.)


+Adam’s Rib (1949, Hepburn + Tracy, Judy Holliday) One of the funniest of the great series of films Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made together (they were in love part of that time, but he was married to an invalid wife—tragic story). You should see the others eventually (Pat and Mike, Woman of the Year, etc.) This one co-stars Judy Holliday—I will include her wonderful Born Yesterday also—and involves two married lawyers who represent opposite sides in a legal case. Guess who wins.


+ The African Queen (1951, John Huston, Bogart and Hepburn).

Shot on location in Africa. Wonderful interaction between two stars:

Bogart’s sleaziness vs. Hepburn’s missionary morality.  Exciting trip down river, very satisfying ending. A triumph for Bogart, playing another role quite different from anything before. Robert Morley appears in the early part.


+ All About Eve (1950. Joseph Mankiewicz, scriptwriter & director.) Bette Davis, Ann Bancroft, George Sanders. (Mankiewicz had a big part also in Citizen Kane, some say as much as Welles, or more, in the script.) A classic of dramatic rivalry in the theater world, great dialogue, brilliantly performed by everybody.


+ Annie Hall (1993, Woody Allen.) His best film, most people think; partly autobiographical, outlining his (real-life) breakup with Diane Keaton, who plays Annie Hall. The way she dresses was so influential that we spoke of the “Annie Hall look” in women’s clothes. Especially successful use of his talking-to-the-camera method. Funny bit about Marshall McCluhan in theater lobby near beginning; opens with Allen quoting great Groucho Marx line.

+L’Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo). Watch this when you are relaxed, not expecting excitement. Film as poetry: Vigo died young (made one other, Zero de Conduit). Young married couple on barge with old bum (the great Michel Simon). I remember sitting in Berkeley film archive watching this with your mother and with a very intelligent Chinese woman who asked: Why are we here? What’s so good about this? I found it hard to answer, but it’s on my list of greatest. My VCR isn’t the longest version—watch that on DVD if you can.


+L’Avenntura (Antonioni, 1960.) While watching this you will probably wonder, at some point: why did he include this one? What’s so good about it? Hard to explain; but it’s on just about everybody’s list of ten-greatest, or at least twenty-. Not to be watched for plot—there isn’t much—but as a work of film-making, pay attention to composition, cutting, transitions. Was startlingly new when it appeared.


+The Baker’s Wife (1938, Raimu and Charpin.) Way back when seeing foreign films was a new and rare experience, this was a favorite. Pretty much forgotten today. For Raimu and Charpin, see also the Pagnol trilogy. Very touching and funny, as the villagers set out to get the baker’s wife back so that they will have their morning bread again. Imagine how different this style of acting was from what we were used to in Hollywood in the 1930s! So going to a foreign film was a very special experience. (Later. Seeing this again, in the video I managed to find for you (not easy): watching the first part I began to wonder whether it belonged among the masterpieces—very talky, non-cinematic, like a filmed play. But then as it went on I was re-persuaded. Watch Raimu closely and see why Orson Welles called him “the greatest actor in the world.” Frenchmen talk with their faces, their hands, their bodies. He does it like nobody else can.)


+Battleship Potemkin (1925, Serge Eisenstein). I think this DVD belongs to your mother, but I found it here and include it because this is indeed a historically important film, which you should be familiar with. Scene on stairs is famous, ground-breaking for its powerful cinematic effect. There are other Russian films you should see, by Eisenstein and others; they aren’t among my personal favorites, but are important to film history. Eisenstein’s 1938 Alexander Nevsky has a great “battle on the ice” sequence with Prokofieff music, exciting.

+Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau). You will remember watching this, but it repays watching over & over. A visual masterwork—Christian Berard’s sets contribute a lot. Save it and show it to your children—all children should see it, over & over. Also adults.


+Blue Angel (1930, Josef von Sternberg.) The film that made Marlene Dietrich a star as the cabaret singer Lola Lola; but the real star is famous German actor Emil Jannings as the old professor. Heartbreaking, funny all at the same time. Her song (by Freddie Hollander, who came to Hollywood with von Sternberg & Dietrich to write music for many movies) her song, “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss aus Liebe angestellt”—I am from head to foot designed for love—I have on an audiodisk and can sing it all. (Later she sang a watered-down English version, “Falling in Love Again.”) Dietrich and von Sternberg went on to make movies together in Hollywood; good, but never again up to this. (Although Morocco, which I saw again recently, their first in Hollywood, is also quite fine, in spite of her being mismatched with Gary Cooper.)


+Born Yesterday (1950, Judy Holliday, Garson Kanin script.) Broderick Crawford as uncouth, rich junk dealer; Holliday as Billy Dawn starts out as his mistress, is tutored in English and general culture by William Holden. She is marvelous in her changing speech, from raucous Brooklynese to cultivated woman, and also in the way she becomes aware of social issues. Quite moving toward the end, when he takes her to the Lincoln Memorial etc. (Your emotional father can never see that, and hear the words written there, without his eyes tearing up.) Very satisfying all around.


+Bringing Up Baby (1938, Hepburn and Grant; Howard Hawks) One of the finest of the 1930s “screwball comedies” that have become classics. This one moves fast and has a complicated plot—a paleozoologist and a “madcap heiress” pursuing a loose leopard—with much more. If you like this genre, as I do, there are lots more. Katherine Hepburn was extremely versatile, does a comedy role here—she’s also great in Philadelphia Story, Holiday, both much worth watching.


+ Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse). Very enjoyable, prize-winning semi-musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s account of living in Berlin just before Hitler. Joel Grey as the cabaret’s MC sets the tone; Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles gives her best performance (if you want to realize how much can change in 33 years, compare her singing the title song with her mother’s singing “Over the Rainbow” in Wizard of Oz); Michael York, playing the Isherwood role, is one of the first to appear in a gay male role in a popular Hollywood film. Come to the Cabaret!


+Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, silent classic.) Earliest exploration of possibilities of film for surrealist effects; very influential. Conrad Veidt, famous actor of time. Evil hypnotist controls helpless victim—Great expressionist sets (distorted architecture etc.)


+ Casablanca (1942, Bogart and Bergman) What to say? Everybody’s favorite; virtually memorized by some. Free French vs. German occupiers in 2nd World War Algeria. Rick is cynical nightclub owner, but also has memories of affair in Paris with Bergman, who is now the lover of an eloquent spokesman for the Free World, Paul Henreid. Song (As Time Goes By), recalls all this. (Play it, Sam.) Claude Raines is wonderful (“Round up the usual suspects!”) Great ending. If you look carefully you see that Marcel Dalio, the Count in Rules of the Game, is Rick’s bartender. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are back from Maltese Falcon. Bogie at his best. One of the films in which everything mysteriously went right; unrepeatable.


+ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor). Powerful film version of Tennessee Wiliams play, with strong cast: these two, plus Burl Ives. He began as a folk singer (I used to play a disk of his songs for you two--) but went on to become an actor, and this is his best role. Long, engrossing, very satisfying ending, in which Newman and Ives, in the basement, come to an understanding and Ives accepts his impending death.


+ Children of Paradise (1945, Marcel Carne.) Three-hour epic film about 19th-century Parisian theater world, made (miraculously) under German occupation by great filmmakers. Jean-Louis Barrault as the mime Baptiste; Maria Casares (who is Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus—wonderful actress) as his wife; the mysterious and enchanting Arletty as Garance. You should see this over & over, memorize it. Improves your French, among other things. (Arletty tells him: “Mais l’amour, c’est si simple!”)


+ Chûshingura (1961, Inagaki). Monumental (3-1/2 hours long!) epic of 47 rônin (masterless samurai) who must avenge the death of their master. May seem to go on forever, especially in middle section; great ending is worth waiting for. And some moving moments in the long parts. In the end, a superb filming of a great, complex story, worth your time. Be patient with it.


+Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles). Welles’s great classic, his first movie, which he made (with regulars from his Mercury Theater, some of whom went on to be stars themselves, such as Joseph Cotten). Lots of film-making breakthrough innovations. Many critics think it the best film ever. Almost over-familiar (everybody knows now what “rosebud” is) but still powerful. It’s about William Randolph Hearst, of course, who did his best to ruin Welles’s career out of anger. (Later, 1/9/11: we watched it together this evening. It’s hard for me to imagine, now, what seeing Citizen Kane for the first time must be like—I think it hit you both hard, as it should. With me, it’s 70 years ago!)

+City Lights (1931, Chaplin.) One of two best Chaplins (with Gold Rush), famous for its unforgettable ending. Little tramp in nightclub with drunken rich man is very funny. Often on the edge of bathos; stops just short? Or goes over? You decide for yourselves.


+ Death In Venice (1971, Visconti). I haven’t seen this for quite a few years, but remember it as powerful, moving, brilliant. Thomas Mann’s novella about a composer (cf. Mahler) who goes to Venice to escape from his life in Germany, there finds himself drawn to a beautiful Italian boy, Tadzio. Opening shots of ship crossing the Adriatic toward Italy has Adagietto movement from Mahler’s 5th symphony as soundtrack—after seeing the film Sarah and I went back and played this (an old 78 record) and wept. Dirk Bogarde is wonderful. Scene of clowns singing and laughing wildly as plague sets in sticks in the mind. Also the final image of the beautiful boy. What a movie. Why is it never re-shown? (Later: watching this again, in the DVD I bought for you, I move it up from the secondary films to among the greats—slow but visually gorgeous, moving. Nothing I’ve seen Dirk Bogarde do elsewhere prepares one for this, his role of a lifetime.  Re-reading the Thomas Mann novella in Inverness made me want to watch it again. Be patient with it, be prepared to be deeply moved.


+ Diabolique (1955, Clouzot, with Simone Signoret.) Really great French thriller, builds slowly to shattering ending. We should watch this one together—I’d love to see it again, after years. The director is Henri-George Clouzot, after whom Peter Sellers must have taken his name, Inspector Clouzot, for the Pink Panther series?


- Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel). I’m a Bunuel fan, and it’s hard to choose between his films; Viridiana would also be high on my list, and The Exterminating Angel (see below). This one is about people trying to have a dinner party. It gets nowhere, but with great surrealist scenes.


+ La Dolce Vita (1960, Fellini). I could write an essay on the effect this had on us when it came out, as an entertaining film that was also a powerful critique of a superficial society. From the opening (crucifix aloft) through famous scenes in fountain to bleak ending, an experience not to be forgotten.


+ Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder.) Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson. Classic filming of James M. Cain novel, powerful in every way. Moves to inexorable conclusion, leaves us almost wishing good wouldn’t triumph, for once—but it does, helped by Robinson’s sharp investigation.

+Duck Soup (1933, Marx Brothers). One of their two best, along with Night At the Opera. Political satire; includes great broken-mirror sequence near end. Poor talentless Zeppo is still with them.


+ The Exterminating Angel (1962, Bunuel). This one is a comic-surreal drama about people at a dinner party who find it impossible to leave, but can’t understand why. Bitterly funny. (Later: I was able to order the disk along with Viridiana, so I’ve added that below.)



+ Fanny and Alexander (1983, Bergman). Bergman’s last important film, largely autobiographical, and an endless delight—convincing, moving, suspenseful, funny (uncle blows out candle with fart to amuse children.) Watch it all, patiently, ready to worry about F&J in jeopardy, confident it will all come out OK. This and Smiles of a Summer Night (see below) are the two most enjoyable of Bergman’s films, but you should see the others as important in the history of movies.


+Floating Weeds (1959, Yasujiro Ozu; also early version, 1934). I am a devotee of Ozu’s movies, along with Mizoguchi’s and Kurosawa’s; Ozu’s are for most people harder to like, more aimed at “Japanese taste.” They are very quiet family dramas, featuring pretty much the same people over and over. I have come to love them, and eventually will turn over to you some other DVDs and VCRs. I begin (for you) with this late work—1959—which is also in color, as most of his others aren’t, and has more plot. Also, one of the stars is the same Kyô Machiko who was the woman in Rashômon. You should enjoy this one (which features several other fine Japanese actors) and go on later to other Ozu films. (Later: I showed you, and now can give you, his early masterpiece Umarete wa mita keredo. . . or, I Was Born, But. .., as a wonderful father-and-sons film.)

+ Gay Divorcee (1934, Rogers & Astaire). One of two best (with Top Hat) of their great films. Finale, The Carioca, goes on for a long time, wonderful. Edward Everett Horton, gay Hollywood comic (everyone knew but pretended they didn’t) and Eric Blore (same) have more of their funny exchanges. R&A dancing is dazzling, with a refinement and elegance hard to match elsewhere. A recent book uses R&A films to characterize a whole era.

+The General (1926, Keaton). Keaton’s masterpiece, in most people’s opinion. Brilliant re-creation of Civil War scenes, besides being very funny. I saw it by chance long ago—walking by Museum of Modern Art in NYC and seeing a sign that it was being shown—and it started me on Keaton, and (partly a joke, partly real) on moving back to Berkeley, which had a great film program (Pauline Kael at that time) where one could see such things. As I’ve told you: the scene where Keaton, riding on the cowcatcher of a moving locomotive and holding a railroad tie, is confronted by another tie lying across the track and threatening to derail the train—his response (solution) elicited, not laughter but applause. This old VCR also includes The Playhouse and Cops, two of his best shorts.

+The Gold Rush (1924, Chaplin) One of the two best Chaplins (with City Lights) for my money. Exciting and funny at the same time. Watch him eating his shoes. Very satisfying ending.


+ Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir). Renoir’s best-known film, thought by many to be his finest; with me it’s second-finest, as you know. Two French airmen in World War I, Pierre Fresnay (who is Marius in the Pagnol trilogy) and Jean Gabin (great French film idol—see him as Pepe le Moko in film of that name, or in Le Jour se Leve)—these two are downed and captured and sent to a German prison run by Eric von Stroheim, who feels affinity with Fresnay as a member of the upper class—etc., complex, strong plot. Actors who reappear in Rules of the Game—Dalio, Carette—seen here also.


+ Great Expectations (1946, David Lean). Wonderful filming of Dickens novel, with great cast. (For John Mills, see also Hobson’s Choice.) The way a literary-narrative movie should be, seldom is—nothing stuffy about it.  Finlay Currie is the old convict—he was in lots of good old films, including I Know Where I’m Going. Just about as good is the same director’s Oliver Twist (1948) with Alec Guinness as Fagin and Robert Newton as Bill Sykes.


+ Hamlet (1948. Olivier) This one you’ve seen, with me, but will want to see again some time. Great use of sets—a whole castle constructed for the movie. Some critics now find it less impressive than the more recent (1990) Kenneth Branagh version.


+ His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks.) After script by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer (made earlier as The Front Page), with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as newspaper editor and star reporter. The ultimate fast-talking comedy—hard to believe they could keep it up. Endless delights in plot twists, tricks, great ending. Poor Ralph Bellamy, who always played the guy who didn’t get the girl. (If you like this and want to see another fast-talking comedy with script by Hecht and Charles MacArthur, also directed by Howard Hawks and also with endless, delightful plot twists, watch Twentieth Century, 1934, in which the principals are Carol Lombard and John Barrymore, both at their best.)

+Ikiru  (1952, Kurosawa). Ikiru means “to live.” The great Takashi Shimura (the woodcutter in Rashômon , the leader of the 7 in Seven Samurai) is a minor bureaucrat who learns that he has cancer and can live only a few months; he determines to carry out one civic project before he goes. If you can finish this one without tears in your eyes, I disown you. Wonderfully bitter-ironic ending, as other bureaucrats figure out what he did, resolve to reform, and… You’ll see.


+ The Importance of Being Earnest (1952, British). Oscar Wilde’s play, full of witty dialogue and absurd plot developments, given a near-perfect performance by a team of actors including Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood (she of the sexy throaty voice, a favorite of mine) and Dame Edith Evans. Keep your ears sharpened to catch all the great lines as they go by. Margaret Rutherford (very funny) comes in near the end to reveal the secret.. .(Some time see her and Alistair Sim in Happiest Days of Your Life, about boys’ and girls’ schools that get mixed up. See also Belles of St. Trinians, with Sim, very funny. He’s Scrooge in the best of all Christmas Carols, and in other good movies.)

+Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Dreyer.) Also called The Passion of Joan of Arc. Silent masterwork by Danish director, starring a great actor, Renee Falconetti, who appeared only in this one film. Intensely moving, don’t watch casually. “Convinced the world that movies could be art,” says the jacket blurb, and it’s right. I remember my first seeing it; you will remember yours. (Seen again: this is of all films the most unlike any other. Some consider Falconetti’s performance to be the finest on film—it seems beyond human capacity.  The young priest sympathetic to Joan is Antonin Artaud, himself a famous actor, and promoter of a rather poisonous doctrine of a “theater of cruelty.”)


+Jules et Jim (1962, Truffaut) One of his two masterpieces, in my book, the other being Shoot the Piano Player. But watch his first success, The 400 Blows, which is also fine. The two friends here, one of them Oskar Werner who went on to make other films, are fine and endlessly entertaining, but the film is stolen by Jeanne Moreau as Catherine, the woman they both love. Comic-tragic ending, unforgettable. (I used to refer to you two, when you were little, as Jules et Ben.)

(Added note, later: Lots of movie buffs would insist on including Godard’s Breathless, 1959, on any list of important and influential movies—it’s supposed to have changed the way lots of film-makers work. Maybe so; it isn’t a favorite of mine, but you should see it and make up your own minds., Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.)


+The Lady Eve (1941, Preston Sturges.) Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn as con artists, Henry Fonda as their victim, in fast-moving, very enjoyable shipboard-and-after comedy.


+The Ladykillers (1955, Alec Guinness). You’ve seen this—Guinness brilliant, wonderful old woman (Katy Johnson), bizarre plot. Peter Sellers’s first movie role; Herbert Lom (who was the long-suffering boss of Inspector Clouzot in the Pink Panther movies). I have other Guinness films on DVD, will include them in later installments.


+ La Strada (1954), Fellini, with Giulietta Masina (his wife), Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart. Simple story, great film. (Try sometime the follow-up Nights of Cabiria). Richard Basehart is a good actor who never made it to stardom—he is the narrator (“Call me Ishmael”) in Moby Dick, etc. Masina mugging, doing her Chaplinesque faces, is great to watch.


- Love Me Tonight (1932, Reuben Mamoulian, Maurice Chevalier, Jeannette McDonald.) Earliest really fine musical in the movies? And remarkably innovative, scarcely equaled afterwards. Didn’t bother with how to work music (songs) into story: everybody just sings, as if in an opera. Lubitch’s Merry Widow of 1934, with same Chevalier/McDonald pairing, also fine. History of musical in movies would be a great book subject---


+ The Maltese Falcon (1942, Bogart, John Huston) Based on the Dashiel Hammet novel about detective Sam Spade, set in San Francisco. Brings together for the first time these bad guys--Sydney Greenstreet, the fat man; Peter Lorre—some time see his old German film M—and Elisha Cook Jr. as the poor gunsel. Mary Astor, whom you’ll see again in Palm Beach Story. Everything goes right, down to the fine ending.


+ The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941, Monty Woolie). Based on a Kaufman-Hart play about an irascible character modeled on real-life critic Alexander Woolcott. Besides Woolie, there is Bette Davis, and Jimmy Durante in a part intended for (to represent, that is) Harpo Marx. Clash of over-sophisticated Broadway-radio culture with middle-class America. Monty Woolie made quite a few more, but was never so good again.


+ The Member of the Wedding (1952, Julie Harris). Carson McCullers (Southern novelist) story turned into sensitive, moving, complex movie. Julie Harris is way too old for the role, but still wonderful; also Ethel Waters, a singer here appearing for the first (only?) time in a film. Be patient with it.


+M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953, Jacques Tati) You know this one—Tati’s carrying-on of the silent comedy tradition in a world of sound. Lots of funny things. An old VCR, maybe not complete. I have somewhere the haunting song the girl plays on her phonograph in the upstairs room (Sur les toits de Paris, Over the Rooftops of Paris). Tati’s later ones are also very much worth seeing: Mon Oncle, Traffic, Play Time (Sarah’s favorite).

+Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, Max Reinhardt). You know this very well. Unjustly criticized in its time (for using Hollywood actors in Shakespeare), neglected later, still not recognized; a favorite of mine. Great German director brings his famous staging of this play to Hollywood, works with strange group of actors who end up performing brilliantly, some of them (especially James Cagney). Mickey Rooney as Puck, wonderful I think—only his second film, he was quite young, Great fairy scenes with Oberon (Victor Jory) and Titania. Hard to find old VCR. A treasure—take care of it. (Later, 12/1/10: Saw again, in TCM’s Mickey Rooney festival, and even more it looks like a kind of masterpiece. For so many years it was derided because Hollywood actors supposedly couldn’t speak Shakespeare right. I think Shakespeare would have loved it—he was a theater guy, not a literature professor. Does anybody realize what an extraordinary coming together this was? Great play with great German director (and fine Hollywood one), Hollywood stars, and made at a time when the movies were just developing their full capacities, terrifically used here. Great Mendelssohn music arranged for the film by Eric Wolfgang Korngold, Nijinska coryeography—and it all comes together so well that when the two Brits who play Theseus and Hippolyta come back, speaking their proper Shakespeare, they seem out of place. (The S.F. gay independent filmmaker Kenneth Anger claimed that he was the little princeling.)


+ Much Ado About Nothing (1993, Kenneth Branagh.) As you know, one of you got his name from this one, which your mother and I saw shortly before. . Branagh is Benedick, his then-wife Emma Thompson is Beatrice; fine cast for the rest. All played out in a hilltop villa in Tuscany. Makes Shakespeare easy to follow and enjoy. I will give you the booklet with the screenplay later. (You might also see Branagh’s Henry V, and his Hamlet, both done to compete with older versions with Laurence Olivier. (We used to refer to Henry V as Hank Cinq, which only works when you say it aloud.)


- Nashville (1975, Robert Altman). Not easy to describe what’s great about this one, but it is. Totally innovative and brilliant techniques of editing, use of sound, loose narrative style. You will enjoy it for inclusion of some 1970s rock.

+ A Night At the Opera (1935, Marx Brothers.) One of their two funniest films (with Duck Soup). George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind wrote the script. Famous scene in stateroom of ship; ending with Harpo swinging on ropes of opera stage, changing scenery behind singers.


+ Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947). You’ve seen this one; a special favorite of mine. James Mason’s finest performance; also Robert Newton, briefly near beginning Cyril Cusack (an actor I like very much), and as Shell the street hustler—in one of his few films—F. J. McCormick, a famous actor with the Abbey Theatre, the Irish national theater in Dublin. Powerful, moving, brilliant acting. (Later: McCormick was in several other films, one called Hungry Hill, about Irish revolutionaries.)


+ Oliver Twist (1948, David Lean). Along with the same director’s Great Expectations, two years earlier, this is a great filming of a Dickens novel. Alec Guinness (minor character in other) here plays Fagin. Robert Newton—likeable British actor who rolled his eyes & hammed it up (see him as Long John Silver in a good Treasure Island) is Bill Sykes.


+ On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan). One of the masterworks of American cinema; Brando’s best, along with A Streetcar Named Desire. Wonderful acting by a great team, powerful theme, very moving and satisfying ending. One can watch this one over and over without being bored. Famous scene with Brando and his brother in a taxi (“I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a contender…”) unforgettable.


+ Our Hospitality (1923. Keaton). You know this, of course. Story of feuding families in time of Civil War: northerner comes to South. Has great ending with waterfall, following on spectacular long sequence beginning when he is on a cliff ledge and ties a rope around his middle—Inventive genius. In old VCR together with Sherlock Jr. You may want to get better versions, DVDs, some day. (Later: we have these on DVD now.)

+Pagnol Trilogy (1931 Marius, 1932 Fanny, 1936 Cesar) Famous French classics by Marcel Pagnol known to all cultivated people; the most famous restaurant in the U.S., Chez Panisse in Berkeley, is named after a character in this. Wonderful actors all, especially Raimu (whom Orson Welles considered the greatest living actor—see also The Baker’s Wife.) Complex plot, shifting relationships, big issues of responsibility and devotion. Watch it when you are serious about watching—not casually. This four-disk DVD set was given me by Sarah, includes various related materials on fourth disk.


+ Paisan (1946, Roberto Rosselini). I put this in as my favorite of the Rosselini films, although there are others you should see such as Open City--and other Italian films, such as Pasolini’s Gospel According to St. Matthew, Neo-realist film about Jesus (with a crew of non-professional actors), De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief (which you’ve seen). Also Fellini, especially La Strada and La Dolce Vita. Paisan is made up of six short segments, all dealing with the end of the 2nd World War and the Americans in Italy. Segments made earlier (black soldier meets little boy, Jewish chaplain visits monastery etc.) are still in the old romantic manner; others, notably the one about the woman trying to get across the battle lines in a city to be with her lover, are in the neo-realist manner—Rosselini changed midway. Especially powerful (for me shattering) is the last segment about U.S. soldiers teaming up with guerillas in the Po marshes to fight—hopelessly—against the last of the German occupation forces, after the war is in fact over. Completely new in style—filmed as if it were a documentary, of something really happening. I still find it hard to watch, since I know how it will end.


+ Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1928, Louise Brooks) Great German director sees how to use wonderful American actress, as Hollywood couldn’t, produces this classic about woman who leads men to their doom with sex. Same story as the Alban Berg opera Lulu, which you must see whenever you have a chance. (Get to know both his Wozzek and Lulu, deeply moving works).


+ Panique (1946, Michel Simon). This is an old filming of a novel by George Simenon, starring the great Michel Simon, with an ending that breaks all the rules and packs all the more wallop. Remade in 1983 under the title Monsieur Hire, but with a crucial plot change that for me ruins it. This is a rare VCR, not available now—take care of it. (Michel Simon: see him in L’Atalante, also two fine Jean Renoir films, Boudu Saved from Drowning and La Chienne, both of which could be on this list. His last movie role was as a railroad repairman in Burt Lancaster’s The Train, listed below.)


+ The Petrified Forest (1936. Bogart etc.). Even more than Bogart, the interaction between Bette Davis and Leslie Howard is especially fine in this movie; both are at their best. Based on a Robt. Sherwood play, in which Bogie and Howard starred. Howard is terrific on the subject of poetry and creativity.


+ Philadelphia Story (1940, Hepburn and Grant). Based on a successful Broadway play by Philip Barry, this is a near-perfect movie, with endless delights. Intricate plot, with lots of twists and turns. Even the little girl, performing for the magazine reporters, is very funny.  Old-timer Charlie Ruggles returns in a minor part. Very satisfying ending.

+ The Producers (1968, Mel Brooks) Great performances by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Reworked recently into very successful Broadway play, and also a musical, by Brooks himself; neither of these nearly so good as the original. Lots of Jewish jokes—“Springtime for Hitler” sequence is one, really.


+ Pygmalion (1938, Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller). With all respect to My Fair Lady (which is a musical derived from this), this is the real thing—true to the G.B. Shaw play (he also wrote the filmscript), brilliant performance by Hiller—her transformation is wonderful to watch—and iisten to.


+Rashômon (1950, Kurosawa) The first Japanese film to be successful abroad; was a knockout sensation. I fell in love with Machiko Kyô, the woman in it, and tried to meet her in Japan—never made it. People used to argue about the “message” of the film—you decide. Hint: it isn’t (like the Pirandello play Right You Are If You Think You Are) that there is no real truth; rather, I think, that each person needs to construct the truth so that he/she is central to resolving the problem. Everyone kills the man in his/her version. . .


+ Red Shoes (1948, Powell-Pressburger, Moira Shearer). Everybody’s favorite ballet film, important for integrating film & dance as never before. See also their Tales of Hoffman, 1951, in which the famous Offenbach score is conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Both films give us glimpses of my favorite ballet dancer (I was never really a buff, and this is an unconventional choice) Leonide Massine. My memory of the most riveting moment in ballet—I ushered for seasons of the Ballet Russe and Ballet Theater in S.F.—was/is of him dancing the Miller’s Dance at the end of The Three-Cornered Hat (great de Falla music, Picasso sets.) No film of that, alas. (Later, seeing Red Shoes again, in newly restored, visually much finer version: I realize that I enjoy the ballet and Massine, but don’t really like the rest of the film that much—overblown plot, unconvincing.)


+Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir). I needn’t write about this, since I gave you a long introduction over dinner recently, and you will have seen it by the time you read this. My favorite film.


+Seven Samurai (1954, Kurosawa.) Classic chambara (sword-fighting) epic, but much more than that. Takashi Shimura (cf. Ikiru, Rashomon etc.) rounds up out-of-work samurai to protect villagers against bandits. The great swordsman, seen first in a disastrous bout with a stupid opponent, is a favorite of mine. Remade in Hollywood as a western with Yul Brynner! Not remotely as good. Battle scenes are terrifically convincing.


+ Sherlock Jr. (1924. Keaton) Another masterpiece of Buster, and one you know. Great scene of his escaping from thieves’ house by diving through window; incredible chase on handlebars of motorcycle, etc. Also brilliantly inventive play on cinema, in which he enters screen. Watch the cueball! (I could add The Navigator and others—you know them, and can have my copies when you want them.)

+ Shoot the Piano Player (1960, Truffaut). The other, along with Jules et Jim, of my favorite Truffaut films. The American expatriate singer-actor Charles Aznavour plays a former concert pianist who has sunk to playing popular music in a low-class café. His girlfriend wants him to go back to serious music, but through his lowlife brother he becomes involved with gangsters—with an ending I won’t give away, but it’s marvelous. Truffaut showing what he’s taken from Hollywood B-pictures, superbly. (I remember taking Sarah to this film, and she became as attached to it as I, and used to have the piano music he plays on her telephone answering machine. Now she tells me it’s her favorite film.) (Later: she now says it’s Jacques Tati’s Traffic.)

+Singin’ In the Rain (1951, Gene Kelly) Best of the many MGM musicals of the 40s-50s. We saw a stage version in Vancouver. Scenes of old silent movies, and the coming of sound, are very funny. Wonderful dance sequences. Donald O’Connor, so agile and good here, put on too much weight and retired. (If you especially like this and want to see another fine musical, watch The Band Wagon (1953) with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Enjoy the “Triplets” number near the end! An American In Paris, with Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Gershwin music, is also fine.

+ Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Ingmar Bergman.) My favorite of Bergman’s films (although you should see the others too). Funny, moving, brilliant. Harriet Anderson especially good. Scene of moving bed is a delight. I will give you the screenplay book. Stephen Sondheim made a musical of it, A Little Night Music—the aging actress near the beginning sings “Send In the Clowns.” (Later: seen again: this is really a masterpiece. As the critic on TCM said, much of the dialogue and plot belong as well to a tragedy—it’s a very serious comedy. At one point—when you hear a shot from the garden house—you are afraid it’s going to end tragically, but . . .


+Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder.) We started watching this, never got to the best parts. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who dress like women to escape gangsters and join an all-girls orchestra featuring Marilyn Monroe. Lemmon has great lines. Very funny plays on gender issues. Rich playboy who falls for Lemmon is old movie comic Joe E. Brown (I saw his movies as a young boy going to Saturday matinees)—he makes a great come-back, and reportedly thought up the famous last line of the movie himself. What an ending!


+ Sounder (1972, Cicely Tyson.) The best of the all-black films, I think, and deeply moving. Boy who is son of sharecropper in 1930s tries to escape from the situation he’s been born into, with much (but not all) of white society against him. Tyson is wonderful.


+ Stagecoach (1939. John Ford.) Another from the “miraculous year” 1939, and John Ford’s early masterwork. Use of familiar Western scenery—distant stone buttes, flat desert with sagebrush—started here (more or less.) First great John Wayne appearance. Many strengths, strong performances—even John Carradine is good (he was a ham actor usually). A pleasure to watch.


+Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (19  , Mizoguchi). Zangiku Monogatari in Japanese. See my Responses and Reminiscences no. 19 on my website: Discovering Mizoguchi (and Movies) for the story of what this film means to me. Masterpiece; hard to find; a miracle that I found a DVD of it for you (made in Korea!) Take care of it! The great Hanayagi Shôtarô, whom I met and talked with in Tokyo in 1946, stars in it. Notice long takes: it opens with one, in the kabuki theater; also, shortly afterwards, a long one in which the young actor and his maid walk along a canal. A tear-jerker—the ending is almost too much: he rides in triumph through the canals in Osaka, while his love—well, you’ll see. Wonderful sequences of kabuki performances. (Later: the Korean DVD turned out not to have English subtitles; I still don’t have a good DVD of this.)


+ A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Elia Kazan.) Classic filming of Tennessee Williams play, with Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh, also Karl Malden, in wonderful performances. Brando’s reputation rests largely on this, along with On the Waterfront. Powerful, heart-wrenching scenes. Vivian Leigh, who was also Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, is very moving.


+ Sunrise (1927, F. W. Murnau). The great German director Murnau was brought to Hollywood and given funding and facilities to make a major movie, and he made a masterpiece. Be patient with it—it will seem very old-fashioned. But the visuals are wonderful, and it ends up being very moving. A married couple living on the shore of a lake visit the big city across the lake, and the man is seduced by its glamour and decides to kill his wife on the way back. He repents, during a storm, and saves her. The movie wasn’t a commercial success, and Murnau was never allowed to make another. Huge loss.


+ Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder). Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim, two stars from the silent era, are brought back as an aging star and her butler, encountered by William Holden, down on his luck. Terrific plot, wonderful scenes with Swanson. Hollywood at its best, looking at itself.


+ The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed, Graham Greene story, Orson Welles). Great thriller, a classic. Joseph Cotton as Western-novel writer who comes to Vienna to find out about his old friend Harry Lime’s death. Anton Karas plays the entire score, his own composition, on the zither. Exciting, moving, provocative. Welles contributed some of the dialogue himself, including his lines up in the ferris wheel. Chase through sewers. Can be seen over & over without being boring.


+ Threepenny Opera (1931, G. W. Pabst). I tried showing this to you two and your mother several years ago, before we went to see the local production of the Kurt Weill-Berthold Brecht work, and it was disaster—“why are you showing us this old thing?” But it’s a kind of masterpiece, with the original cast (Lotte Lenya etc.), and a great German filmmaker making the work into an expressionist film. Hitler’s people tried to destroy all copies because of its leftist content, but one survived and we have it. I think it’s the original Fritz Busch singing the “Mack the Knife” ballad at the beginning, but I’m not sure.

+To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Gregory Peck) You’ve seen this, but must remember it; everybody enjoys seeing it again, it never wears thin. Moving, unsentimental. Gregory Peck is ideal father (sorry I fell short). First screen appearance of Robert Duvall, fine actor, is when he appears from behind a door, near the end, as the reclusive Bo.

+ Top Hat (1935, Astaire and Rogers.) One of the two best (with Gay Divorcee) of their films. Absurd plot, but who cares. An elegance that can scarcely be matched elsewhere, not just in dance. See their other films too when you can, especially Flying Down to Rio.


- Topsy-Turvy (2000, Mike Leigh.) Fine “period piece” about Gilbert and Sullivan, their conflicts and their achievements. Very funny sequences showing the preparation and production of The Mikado. All actors unknown to me, but just right in their roles. See it especially if you become (as I hope you will) big G&S fans. (Later: I will include this in your library, but after watching it again I revoke my recommendation that you watch it—until, that is, you are much older and more tolerant of long, talky movies. One has to almost have Mikado and other G&S by heart, and enjoy looking at Victorian interiors and listening to lots of talk about the financial troubles of the d’Oyly Carte company etc., to enjoy this.)

+ Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles’s masterwork of film noir.)

This is a 108 min. VCR; later a fuller, 111-minute reconstruction was issued on DVD. Powerful, dark film in which Welles plays a corrupt police official in a Mexican border town. Famous long opening shot. Marlene Dietrich appears briefly, memorably. (Later, seen again: this really is a masterpiece, strong in all ways. The longer version is definitely better.)


+ Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston). Stars his father Walter Huston (fine actor), Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt Jr. (who also stars in Orson Welles’s second almost-masterwork, hurt by bad studio editing, The Magnificent Ambersons.) Three prospectors after gold in mountains of Mexico. Ironic, bitter, brilliant. John Huston appears several times at the beginning as the rich American who gives Bogart coins. Long film, but no waste.


+ Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch). Top-flight example of thirties sophisticated comedy. Opening scene, with Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins as con artists fooling each other, then realizing the truth, falling in love and forming a team, is brilliant. They really could write dialogue in those days! This was one of the first, and most influential, of the great Hollywood comedies.


- Twelve Angry Men (1957, Sydney Lumet, Henry Fonda.) I don’t include many movies with ethical/moral messages, but this one is so convincing and true, so unsentimentalized (as against Capra’s preachy films), that I put it among the greats. The actors are all terrific, with Henry Fonda at the center but also Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E. J. Marshall, others. Shows what the American theater and film industry is capable of when it has the right direction. Henry Fonda, it must have been out of personal conviction, played men with strong moral fiber over & over: The Grapes of Wrath (you should see that), The Male Animal (which will be on my secondary list), The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (fine film after Ambrose Bierce story), others. (Later: you told me you’d seen this one at school. Good choice by teacher.)


+ 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick, starring Keir Dullea and HAL. No need to write about this either. The interiors he sees near the end allude to Kubrick’s later films, The Shining and Barry Lyndon—curious case of director planting clues to his future productions.

+ Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, 1971) I started showing this to you once, and was stopped by your mother—she was right, it was too strong for you then. But a powerful, wonderful film, unrecognized today, hard to see. Two children abandoned to die by their father in the Australian outback, rescued by young aborigine who is undergoing manhood ritual called Walkabout, making his way across hostile terrain, surviving somehow. (Later: I see that this has now been recognized, with a Criterion edition just out.)


+W. C. Fields Classics. Five films, on DVDs! International House (1933, not so great); It’s a Gift (1934, wonderful, with great scene in which he tries to sleep on back porch; You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man (1939, OK, see the bit near the beginning in which he doubletalks a circus customer out of his change—but also dull stuff with Charley McCarthy); My Little Chickadee (1940, with Mae West—I don’t think she holds up well in later times, and this isn’t one of the best); The Bank Dick (1940), with some good bits, quite a lot that’s dull—watch it when you’re feeling very tolerant, with low expectations.


(- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 1966, Mike Nichols, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. I put this one in parentheses and won’t buy you a DVD; you should put off watching it until you are much older and more experienced. Then you will find it a powerful, disturbing experience, two hours of unrelenting tension, with Taylor and Burton terrific, reflecting their real-life disturbed-couple relationship. Edward Albee play—some critic (braving the flack he would get) pointed out around this time that the most powerful & highly-praised dramas on Broadway were by writers—Albee, Tennessee Williams, William Inge—who were all male homosexuals: did this affect their portrayals of bisexual relationships? I’m inclined to believe that it did, but leave it for you to see their plays (& films made from them) and decide for yourselves.


- The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming.) No need to write about this: everybody’s favorite, ground-breaking classic, endless delights. (1939 was an amazing year: also very big that year was Gone With the Wind, which I don’t include although it properly belongs here—not really a favorite of mine, tiresome after a while.)


+ Woman of the Year (1942, Hepburn and Tracy). First, and one of the best, of their films together; very funny. She is a world-famous political expert, he is a sports expert; they don’t understand each other’s areas, and marry. Not just funny, some depths.


+Yojimbo (1942, Kurosawa) Starring Toshiro Mifune, also with Tatsuya Nakadai. Wonderful film of samurai-for-hire who comes into village with two warring factions, finishes them both off. Nobody but Your Old Father knows what was the real inspiration for it—learned from Kurosawa (through friend, Audie Bock): it was Dashiel Hammett’s early novel Red Harvest (which you should read) in which his anti-hero the Continental Op similarly goes into a factory town dominated by two powerful gangs, cleans them up, walks off at the end. A bloody masterpiece. Kurosawa’s film followed by another, Sanjûrô, good but not quite as good. (Although it has the memorable moment in which Mifune, seated at lunch, catches a flying bug with his chopsticks. They copied this in the first of the Karate Kid movies.)


+ You Can’t Take It With You (1938, Frank Capra).

A film that grows better as time goes on, while Capra’s more famous ones, the movies everybody loves (It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) become harder to watch, too moralizing, too slanted, with resolutions that don’t really resolve the conflicts—an “everything will turn out OK” attitude. This one, based on a Kaufman & Hart play, holds up, even though the ending is pretty contrived. See them all and make your own judgments.




(Not quite classics, but very good in their way)

(Later note: this separation into classics and secondary list doesn’t seem very firm, on later consideration; maybe they should all just be listed together. Some of those below just as fine as those above.)

+Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, Frank Capra, Cary Grant). Comedy classic, based on a Broadway play—the two old aunts were originally in that, repeat their roles in the movie. One surprise after another. Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre, toward the end, playing Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre—very funny. (Don’t watch with your mother—she dislikes Cary Grant, especially in this kind of role.)

+ The Asphalt Jungle (1950, John Huston). Another fine heist film, a classic of film noir. Sterling Hayden, in a fine role here, was wonderfully brought back as the general off his rocker in Dr. Strangelove. Sam Jaffe (see below, The Scarlet Empress) has a good role here as the planner of the robbery.

+  Atlantic City (1980, Louis Malle.) Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon. Malle, Lancaster, Sarandon, all favorites of mine; here they come together for a film full of pleasures. Lancaster as aging gangster-bodyguard reduced to demeaning attentions to bedridden woman; Sarandon and her juvenile-delinquent brother mess up his life but bring him to a great pseudo-comeback moment. Young hippies (Sarandon’s brother and his girlfriend) very funny, almost too close to real thing (I was in Bay Area in 1960s-70s!) for comfort.


+ The Awful Truth (1937, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne) Screwball comedy, very funny as I remember it.


+ Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Spencer Tracy). Very satisfying film, with unusual plot, good performances. Tracy late in his life, still as fine as ever. In a way this belongs to the genre of Red Harvest, Yôjimbô etc.: single guy goes into town with troubles, finds out what they are, cleans them up, leaves at end.


+Beat the Devil (1954, John Huston). A very enjoyable romp involving a big crew of extraordinary people—Huston, Truman Capote (who co-wrote the script), Bogart, the Italian star Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones (who had all but retired from filmmaking to marry a rich man, but came back to play a funny role as a woman who tells lies all the time), and a marvelous team of mock-bad-guys, led by Robert Morley and Peter Lorre. All getting together in an Italian seaside town to make this very funny and engrossing film. They are after uranium in Africa; final scenes show the outcome. This is a film that those who know it love, but that never attracted enough attention, is nearly forgotten.


+ Bonnie and Clyde (1967,  Arthur Penn.) Powerful and innovative film. I remember seeing it for the first time, saying: Terrific, but I hope they don’t make any more like it. (Combination of jazzy music and bloody carnage is attractive to wrong kind of people.) Arthur Penn is very interesting—some time see also his Mickey One (1965), surprisingly experimental for a Hollywood film, intermittently interesting.


+ Bread and Chocolate (Franco Brusati, 1974.) Bitterly comic, deeply affecting (for me, back when I saw it several times) film about poor Italian who crosses into Switzerland, tries to “integrate,” fails.  As powerful an argument as I know against racial/ethnic prejudice, the unconscious kind—besides being very funny. Director & actors otherwise unknown to me; it dropped like a bomb.


+ Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961, Audrey Hepburn). Seeing this again recently I realize that my memory of it was all wrong—it isn’t all charm, lovely A.H. singing “Moon River” etc.—it’s complex, with much that’s dark. Watch this when you are older. We could do without Mickey Rooney as a comical Japanese. Some bits moving, some only intelligible if you lived through the 1950s-60s. After Truman Capote novel.


+ The Bridge on the River Kwai (1951, David Lean.) Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, others; Sessue Hayakawa, old silent-era Hollywood actor, returns as commander of prison camp. Long, engrossing film. Alec Guinness at his best. Smash ending in all senses.


+ La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir.) The great Michel Simon as a poor bank clerk captivated by wrong-kind-of-woman, gets his revenge. Fritz Lang remade this in Hollywood as Scarlet Street, with Edward G. Robinson.


+ Chimes At Midnight (1966, Orson Welles). Welles’s Falstaff movie, put together from parts of several plays, especially Henry V and VI. Jeanne Moreau is fine in it. Made on a shoestring in Europe, when Welles was pretty much shut out of Hollywood. Rough, low-budget, but with enough fine things in it to be worth seeing more than once.


- Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski.) Jack Nicholson, Fay Dunaway. Uses formula and style of old L.A. private-eye novels (Chandler etc.) for film that ends up surprisingly moving. Nicholson and Dunaway at their best, John Huston as awful exploiter bad-guy, powerful if hard-to-bear ending.


- Claire’s Knee (1971, Eric Rohmer). I put in this one as representing Rohmer’s series of “Six Moral Tales” and his other films, which I myself like very much, while Godard-lovers find them too literary and un-cinematic. See a few when you can, form your own opinions.


+ A Clockwork Orange (1971, Kubrick, after Anthony Burgess novel. Malcolm MacDowell.) A thoroughly nasty movie, which you should see but (I hope) dislke, as I do. Appeals to S&M types; one of Sarah’s highschool teachers took his students to it (we later had to go and give him a talking-to). But powerful in its way. If it leads to your reading Burgess, so much the better. He invented a clever futuristic language for it.


+ Close To Eden (1992, Russian). Very funny film, about Mongolian family living on the steppe and Russian truckdriver who upsets their lives. Beautiful scenery also. Great moments: they get the TV working and there is Richard Nixon, dimly.  Old grandma pops bubbles in plastic wrap. Your mother and I saw this and loved it. Tricky beginning (tricks you).


+ Cocoanuts (1929, Marx Brothers’ first film) I put it in as a period piece, revealing the Brothers for the first time doing one of their stage successes for the movies, in a film that still has a lot of the stage-set character. Terrible “juvenile” crooner, singing “And I’ll be there with you/When my dream comes true.” But great Harpo sequences, Groucho with Margaret Dumont, etc.


+ Cradle Will Rock (1999, Tim Robbins). ). Not a great movie, but a good one, about a great subject, the arts & drama program under the WPA (government sponsorship during Depression) in the 1930s, with Orson Welles and his associate John Houseman as principal characters, and a remarkable (and historically true) performance of composer Marc Blitztein’s leftist opera as climax. Worth watching for that. The parts about Diego Rivera and Nelson Rockefeller are also based in fact.


+ Cyrano de Bergerac (1990, Gerard Depardieu). You know the play, and I think we watched some, at least, of the old Jose Ferrer version. This is much better, I think, and in French, so you can practice your French while watching the sub-titles. Great play, fine filming of it.


- Dersu Uzula (1975, Kurosawa). I have an old VCR of this in Berkeley, will bring it back, with others. Co-produced with a Russian film company? as I remember. Old forest man, met by explorer mapping uncharted area of Siberia, who teaches him things he needs to know, such as (wonderful segment) how to survive out there overnight w/o shelter. Rather depressing ending.


- Desire (1936, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper.) Not great; I put it in only to advise you strongly to watch it, when you have a chance, to see how Dietrich near the beginning steals a valuable string of pearls—that’s really good. Rest is OK only.


+ Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sydney Lumet) You know this, we watched it together. Based on a real event! Al Pacino better (for my money) than ever after.


+ Dr.Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964). Brilliantly bizarre political satire created at that time in the 1960s when it looked, for a brief moment, as though the good guys were going to take over the world by discrediting the rest. Peter Sellers is terrific, playing three parts; George C. Scott and others likewise. Keenan Wynn machine-gunning a Coke machine to get change to phone the president to save the world—typical great moment.


+ A  Face in the Crowd (1957, Elia Kazan.) After Bud Schulberg novel. Andy Griffith is here used by a fine director to play his one terrific part; later he turns into just what this movie caricatures.  Patricia Neal fine as always. (She was married to your favorite author Raoul Dahl.) The trick that catches him up near the end had a real-life basis, a host on a popular children’s program who was caught by a microphone left on when he thought it was off, saying “That’ll fix the little bastards!”


+ The Fallen Idol (1948, Carol Reed). Fine filming of Graham Greene story, told in large part from boy’s point of view. Stars Ralph Richardson, least known of the three great English actors of his generation (others were Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud)—watch for him in other films. Heart-breaking ending. (A third Carol Reed film included in this collection of his is one I haven’t seen. Later: Now I have; it’s a British wartime film to raise spirits, about civilians who go into the army and become soldiers, OK but not up to the other two.)


- Frankenstein, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein. You know these, I don’t need to write about them. “Classics” of their kind—Elsa Lanchester as the monster’s bride is especially memorable, in her brief role. (She was Charles Laughton’s wife, appeared in a variety of roles over the years.)


+ Gigi (1958, Leslie Caron). If you don’t go to this expecting depths and are happy with charm & refinement, this one is a pleasure. Maurice Chevalier, fine songs. See Caron also in Lili (1953), another charmer, with Mel Ferrer as the puppeteer, again good songs. See her also in An American in Paris (1951), fine musical with Gershwin music. And, if you want a revelation of how good Caron really was as an actress, see the British film The Small Back Room (1949)—this was an eye-opener to me when I saw it recently. Hollywood never gave her so good a serious part.


+ Gosford Park (2001,Robert Altman) Critics didn’t like this, and it’s easy to see why—over-long, over-complex, too self-absorbed. But be patient, watch it some time. Those who wrote about all the derivations missed the one I think especially important: from Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game. Not remotely as absorbing, but still—give it a chance.

+ The Graduate (1967), - Little Big Man (1970), - Tootsie (1982--all Dustin Hoffman.) No need to say anything about these, I think you know them all. All with great moments: reluctant sex with Mrs. Robinson, tricking Custer into his Last Stand, Tootsie “comes out” on live TV. To say he’s an actor of great versatility hardly does him justice. (See also Midnight Cowboy below).

+The Great Dictator (1940, Chaplin). With all its well-recognized flaws and weaknesses (including unconvincing ending) this has a lot that is very funny—Jack Oakie is an ideal Mussolini figure, Chaplin funny as Jewish barber, scene where they choose lots by swallowing (cookies?) with a coin in one, Great Dictator moving from room to room where people spring into action to avoid wasting his time. Worth watching.


- Groundhog Day (1993, Bill Murray). This enjoyable film is here to stand in for other Bill Murray films—he’s a favorite of mine—you two are more fond of Ghostbusters (1984) than I am, and there are others. I enjoyed Lost in Translation (2003) but your mother found things to object to in it.  Bill Murray takes me back to the great early days of Saturday Night Live.


- Hangover Square (1945, Laird Cregar). Cregar was a strange actor in problematic health, made few films, this was his last. Fine score by Bernard Herrmann, whose piano concerto Cregar plays at the end (as George Harvey Bone, was it?) as his house burns around him. I can still hear it. Another that has few admirers today.


- Hobson’s Choice (1954, Laughton). Very funny, very satisfying: shrewd daughter (Brenda de Banzie) overcomes overbearing father (Laughton—object-lesson in kind of father not to be). John Mills, versatile, all-purpose actor, wonderful as low-class bootmaker: his first appearance is out of trapdoor in floor. Laughton’s drunken scene is classic.


+ Holiday (1938, George Cukor). Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant again in another filming of a Philip Barry play, not quite up to Philadelphia Story, but then, what is? Great fun, some depths. Effective use of setting, a multi-storied house.


+ I Know Where I’m Going (1945m Michael Powell.) Simple story but engaging, great local color (Scottish seacoast), quiet drama, satisfying ending. Wendy Hiller terrific again (as she is as Lisa Dolittle in Pygmalion); watch for Finlay Currie, who turns up as the likeable old guy in movie after movie. (He’s the fugitive in Great Expectations.)


+ The Informer (1935, John Ford). Powerful drama about drunken Irishman, during Irish Rebellion, who needs to get out of the country, commits dishonest act to get it, suffers for it. Victor McLaglen, usually just a secondary character (see him some time with John Wayne in The Quiet Man), stars here, at his best. (If you have a chance—a rare one—see John Ford’s 1957 movie The Rising of the Moon, three short stories played by Abbey Theater players, strong Irish dialect; in the third, an Irish policeman gives up his chance to make a lot of money by turning in a fugitive—as though Ford is compensating for his portrayal of a renegade Irishman twenty years earlier. See this anyway, to celebrate the Irish part of your ancestry.)


+ Inherit the Wind (1960). Terrific courtroom drama, based on real event, in which Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy) defends a teacher who taught evolution (!) against Wm. Jennings Bryant, the great orator (Frederick March). Powerful.



+ The In-laws (1979, Peter Falk, Alan Arkin). You know this one—we watched it together, and I gave you the DVD I bought after seeing it for the first time. Another gem of Jewish humor, two very skilled comics at their best, plus a good scriptwriter—the interaction between them is what the movie is about. Should be more like this.


+ The Innocents (1961, Deborah Kerr.) Haunting (more ways than one), remarkably successful filming of Henry James’s great ghost story “The Turn of the Screw”—read that before or after you watch the movie, either way, but both. Be ready for a disturbing ending. If I’m still around after you see it, we can discuss the central question: did all this really happy outside her head, or only in it?


- Intimate Lighting (1965, Czech film.) About cellist who returns to old home town to play in concert, bringing his girlfriend, stays for weekend, meets old friends etc. Subtle film with depths, aimed especially at those who enjoy classical music played well. Wonderful bit in which he and three amateurs try to play—a Beethoven Quartet is it? Ending is priceless. I have an old VCR. Forgotten by most, well remembered by old Dad.

+ It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra) One of the best of the “zany” comedies of the 30s, was a huge success in its time, has become a classic. Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert, both at their best. Satisfying ending..


+ Judgment at Nuremberg (1961, Stanley Kramer). Long, uneven, but in the end satisfying and moving quasi-historical account of real situation, with Spencer Tracy outstanding among remarkable cast of fine actors (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland etc.) taking unusual roles and showing their versatility. Powerful ending.


+ Key Largo (1948, John Huston). Based on Maxwell Anderson play, brings Bogie & Edward G. Robinson together again (as they had often been in 1930s gangster flicks). Watch Claire Trevor, who won a well-deserved Oscar for her performance as discarded gangster’s moll. High drama at its best.


- King Lear (Date? Olivier). This is actually a British TV production, which I have on a VCR. When Olivier was old, they wanted to get his performance of Lear down while they could, and organized this, with fine actors supporting him. He was so weak that when he carries Cordelia at the end, they had to put wires to hold her up. But very fine anyway. There’s a 1971 film by Peter Brook with Paul Scofield in the title role, quite fine.


+ Last Tango in Paris (1973, Bertolucci, with Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider.) I put in this one a bit reluctantly—not a film to be recommending to growing boys—but it can’t be left out of any list of really important & influential films.


+ Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean). Semi-fictionalized account of real person, who became famous from book he wrote, book written about him by newspaperman. A long, long movie, with two major stars: the desert, and Peter O’Toole, who was never as good again. (His blue eyes and the yellow-tan of the desert make up the dominant color scheme.) If you can sit through it, it’s worth it—moving, satisfying in many ways. Music stays with you. Fine supporting cast.


(+ Limelight (1952, Chaplin). Chaplin’s last, and I put it in parentheses—you may not be able to watch all of it, long and sentimental; Chaplin, who went through most of his career not talking, talks much too much here, preaches. Last scene, comedy act with Buster Keaton, worth waiting for. I bought a cheap, pirated DVD with Chinese subtitles!)


- Love in the Afternoon (1957, Billy Wilder, with Maurice Chevalier, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper. Very good script, good performances, weakened only by having Cooper, looking old & tired, as romantic hero—Wilder wanted Cary Grant, who would have made a much more satisfying movie out of it. Still, watch it for the very funny bits. Hepburn is a delight.


+ The Magnficent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles.) Welles’s second film, which probably would have been the equal of his Citizen Kane if his studio hadn’t recut and heavily shortened it (while he was away in Mexico making a government documentary), not saving the cut-out parts.. One of the tragedies of filmdom: people dream of finding a complete copy somewhere. Many of his stock players appear again, also Tim Holt (who has a lead role also in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). Based on a novel by Booth Tarkington, then a popular novelist. Fine story, complex plot, fine performances, all-but-great film: doesn’t quite all hang together, because of cutting.


+ The Male Animal (1942, Eliot Nugent & James Thurber script). I put this in as an old favorite, still not bad when re-watched recently. It’s worth seeing just for the ending, when Henry Fonda at last reads the letter by Vanzetti which has everyone worked up (subversive literature?) Funny football rally etc.; Jack Carson is very good. Keep your expectations modest—not a masterpiece.


+ The Man Who Would Be King (1975, John Huston). Entertaining adventure movie based on story by Kipling (who appears in the film) about two British soldiers of fortune, Sean O’Connery and Michael Caine, who set off across the Hindu Kush to Kafiristan to conquer a kingdom. Fantastic but fun.


+ Mary Poppins (1964, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyck, etc.) You know this one very well, but it has to be on the list—you can always see it again. (Sarah saw it 8-1/2 times.) Great performances, great songs, ranging from very funny to very moving (the old woman in the square while Julie Andrews sings “Feed the Birds.”) Ed Wynn, old movie comedian, comes back briefly. Chimney-sweep number hard to beat. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!


+ Midnight Cowboy (1969, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight). Controversial when it came out, because of “unacceptable language” and theme, it comes off now as deeply moving, original. Hoffman’s versatility as Ratso Rizzo is quite amazing. My eyes tear up at the ending. A side of New York life not often shown. (Voight scarcely continued—he changed so as to be barely recognizable—he was the bad guy in Holes, 2003, the young people’s film you will remember.)


+ The Miracle Worker (1962. Arthur Penn) Ann Bancroft, Patty Duke. A film one can see again just for the great moment when something breaks through in Helen Keller’s brain (she is deaf and blind) and she connects a word (water) with the thing she feels with her hands, and begins to mouth the word. The two principals are both terrific—as Ann Bancroft nearly always is. Some dull stuff, clumsy bits, but enough that is very moving to make them worth sitting through. Inspirational in the best (non-kitschy) sense.


+ Moby Dick (1956, John Huston). Good try at filming this great epic novel, held back by, among other things, their need to put in a star as Captain Ahab—Gregory Peck, good as he is in other things, just doesn’t make it. Who could have? The old Walter Huston, but he was too old by then. (Lionel Barrymore did it in a 1930 version, not very good.) The narrator Ishmael is Richard Basehart, a fine, versatile actor who never made it into stardom (remember him in La Strada?) The whale is their real star, and it’s impressive—they constructed it full-size, with motors inside etc.—they kept losing whales in storms while filming it. Still, impressive & moving. (Seen again: Gregory Peck is more impressive than I remembred.)


+ National Velvet (1944, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney). No need to write about this, you know it. Watch it again some time for nostalgia, and some of the old excitement. Taylor at her finest, also Rooney; actress named Anne Revere won well-deserved prize playing Taylor’s mother.


+ The Night of the  Iguana (1964, John Huston). After a Tennessee Williams play. Richard Burton fine as alcoholic priest-tourguide with busload of women in rural Mexico. Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr both just as they should be. Many memorable things—I’ve seen it several times, never bored. Sue Lyons (she of Lolita) as teenage temptress.

+ Nobody’s Fool (1994, Paul Newman). Shows how a complex and engrossing novel about personal relationships can be turned into a deeply moving film: characters who matter to you, funny situations and surprises, satisfying developments. Fine casting, with Susan Sarandon proving again what a versatile and fine actor she is, and Newman at his best, which is way up there. Watch that toilet seat!


+ Notorious  (1946, Hitchcock.) Nothing special to say about it; fine, exciting spy drama. Later: seen again, still nothing much to say, except that the filmscript is by Ben Hecht, an old favorite author of mine. He was also author of (among many others) Specter of the Rose (below) and, with Charles Lederer, the marvelous firmscript for His Girl Friday (above).


+ Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1949) I put Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast in the top category, this in the secondary, but it’s a haunting and moving film that you should certainly see. Turns traditional story of how Orpheus goes into the underworld to try to bring back his beloved Euridice after her death into contemporary scene with Jean Marais (he who was Beast under all the makeup) as the Poet. Highly original imagery, for instance, going through mirrors. Death is played by the Spanish actress Maria Casares who was Jean Louis Barrault’s wife in the great Les Enfants du Paradis. (Her only other movie, which I also have in DVD, is Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne.) Music for much of it is Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s opera Orpheus. And so forth--lots to remember. If you see this once it will stay with you forever.



- Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Mitchum. Fine film noir,  Mitchum at his best, as man trying to escape his past but can’t. I could also include The Blue Dahlia, 1946, with Alan Ladd; not quite so strong, even though the script is by Raymond Chandler. Just as the screwball comedy genre dominated much of 1930s Hollywood film, the film noir dominated much of the 1940s. Watch a few of these, then watch what Truffaut did with the genre in Shoot the Piano Player, 1960: instructive cross-cultural process.


+Palm Beach Story (1942, Preston Sturges) Especially funny among Preston Sturges’s sophisticated comedies, with Claudette Colbert, later the old crooner Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor (also in The Maltese Falcon). Complicated but enjoyable plot, crazy ending. You will want to watch other Preston Sturges films as well.


+ Panic In the Streets (1950, Elia Kazan). Fine thriller, in which medical officer Richard Widmark pursues two fugitives (Walter Jack Palance, Zero Mostel!) who may be carrying the plague in New Orleans. I showed this to you—watch it again some time.


+ Paper Moon (1973). A real charmer, in which con man Ryan O’Neal has to take on his maybe-daughter Addie (played by his real daughter Tatum) in swindling recently-widowed women. .. Madeleine Kahn also fine. (Hard to see this without remembering how badly Tatum turned out—no real acting career, drugs, etc.) The song Paper Moon was a favorite of mine in the recording by Lionel Hampton—I can sing it for you.


+ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), after Muriel Spark short novel, brilliantly acted by Maggie Smith. Admired but self-centered and self-serving teacher gives her girl students what prove to be poisonous and destructive ideas while purporting to help them grow up, using herself as model.


+The Quiet Man (1952, John Ford). You should watch this one just to celebrate your part-Irish heritage: very enjoyable film set in Ireland, full of Irish sounds and scenes and lore. John Wayne and Victor MacLaglen at their best, Maureen O’Hara (who was Jane to Weismuller’s Tarzan) also fine. Very funny bits, very beautiful scenery (seaside horserace) and terrific ending with fistfight that goes on and on.


+ Rebel Without a Cause (1955. Nicholas Ray, James Dean.) We watched this together, you know it. Dean’s other fine film is East of Eden, worth watching.  Jim Backus, his father in Rebel, was an old all-purpose actor, seldom credited, who was the voice of Looney Tunes characters (as I remember—he also did Mr. Magoo.)


+ Red River (1948, Howard Hawks.) I’m not a great fan of westerns, but this one stands out. John Wayne vs. Montgomery Clift sounds strange, but works.  Great scenery.  (Try also some time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford, 1962, a film with flaws and too much simplistic stuff and caricature—Andy Devine as town marshal, John Carradine as orator for bad guys--but some very good things, worth seeing.) Watch also, some time, Hawks’s Rio Bravo, with another unlikely pairing, Wayne with Dean Martin—and again it turns out to work pretty well.


+ Rififi (1955, Jules Dassin). You’ve seen the great robbery scene from this, and some of the rest. Best caper movie made, in my view (although The Asphalt Jungle is up there); stars wonderful Jean Servais. Bitter, moving ending (you remember it). Jules Dassin  who directed, himself plays one of the gangsters, the one who makes the mistake that brings them down—we see him tied to a pillar in his last scene. (Some time, for fun, watch his Never on Sunday—he married the Greek actress Melina Mercouri who stars in it.)


+ Roman Holiday (1953, Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck). Winning story (by Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted in Hollywood for “being a Communist,” so that it had to be credited to someone else), ideally cast, filmed with elegance and charm—a winner. Little jokes maybe missed first time, caught when seen again. Ending is just right. Hepburn a delight—everybody of my generation who wasn’t gay was in love with her (maybe they were too.)


- La Ronde (Max Ophuls, 1950). A movie with very special virtues: no high drama, not even deep characterizations; rather, a work of consistent elegance, a kind of formal perfection. Great cast, with Anton Walbrook presiding. Watch for Jean Louis Barrault (the wonderful mime in Les Enfants du Paradis) as The Poet. This may be a movie you will enjoy more when you are older.


+The Scarlet Empress (1934, von Sternberg, Dietrich). The director and sultry star who began with The Blue Angel and made a number of films in Hollywood—this is one of them, and a crazy creation, pseudo-history, silly plot but extraordinary visuals. A somewhat schlocky artist of the time named Artzybasheff was (I remember reading) brought in to design the palace, with bizarre sculptures all over. Her mad husband, the Grand Duke Peter, is played by Sam Jaffe, a Jewish character actor who appeared over & over in Hollywood movies without ever becoming famous. When Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still meets an earthly scientist who convinces him that humans are worth saving, that’s Sam Jaffe. When they made Gunga Din they tried and failed to get Sabu the Elephant Boy to play the “regimental waterboy” of the title, who goes around in a loincloth and turban and saves them all by blowing his bugle; so who did they get? Sam Jaffe. When Ronald Coleman in Lost Horizon finally meets the 800-year-old lama who created Shangri-la, who is it? Right. He had a major role in The Asphalt Jungle (good caper film). He’s a phenomenon. And the movie is worth seeing, at least once, just for its visuals and its craziness.


+ Secondhand Lions (2003, Michael Caine, Robert Duvall.) I put in this very good film as a stand-in for all the very good young people’s films we’ve seen, and which you may want to watch again some day. They include Stand By Me (1986), The Mighty (1998), Holes (2003), and others I will add as I think of them, or you can add yourselves from memory.


+ Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Hitchcock.) One of the best of Hitchcock’s thrillers, with Joseph Cotton (watch also for Hume Cronyn, fine Broadway actor, seldom seen in movies.) Short of classic, but fine, enjoyable.


+ Sleeper (1971, Woody Allen). This may be the funniest of Allen’s comedy movies (but see also Annie Hall), a futuristic fantasy with lots of great sight gags etc. See also his Love and Death.


+Specter of the Rose (1946, Ben Hecht.) Michael Chekhov—famous actor of time, I don’t know of any other movies he was in—Judith Anderson, two young people as ballet dancers, one of them mad. Fine musical score by George Antheil. Lionel Standish, an actor I like, as gravel-voiced poet. If you knew Ben Hecht (he used to be a favorite author of mine) you would recognize this is pure Ben Hecht schlock, but highly engaging schlock. For this and the following (State Secret) there are probably only two or three living enthusiasts, one of them your aged father. (Later: I see that Michael Chekhov appeared as a doctor in Spellbound.)


+State Secret (1950) Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins. Very entertaining thriller, hard to find. They made up a whole language specially for this film, with its own vocabulary & syntax; to hear Glynis Johns (and her sister in the film) singing “I Want to Buy a Paper Doll” in this language is very funny. Good ending, with the bad guy, Prime Minister Jack Hawkins, out of office, saying “If you hear of a good Poli Sci professorship open in the U.S. . . . “.


- The Sting (1973, Paul Newman, Robert Redford.) I don’t need to recommend this—you know it, also the other one they made,  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The con games in The Sting can all be found spelled out in a great old book, The Big Con (don’t remember author). For another enjoyable con-game movie with a good ending, some time watch A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1956, Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda).


+ Strangers On a Train (1951, Hitchcock.) I’m not as great a Hitchcock fan as some, but this one is powerful, based on a subtly perverse Patricia Highsmith novel and with a terrific performance by Robert Wagner. We could have done without the merry-go-round at the end: Hitchcock at his most manipulative.


- Sullivan’s Travels (1942, Preston Sturges). Wonderful film, still rings true, relevant, moving. Hollywood looking at itself. Veronica Lake was a kind of popular joke in her time—hair falling sideways over forehead—but is pretty good here. (Later: she was really a good actress-she made two good movies with Alan Ladd, The Glass Key and Brighton Rock. Also she’s in The Confidential Agent with Charles Boyer.)


+ Tampopo (1985, Jûzô Itami). A very funny, even brilliant movie about a noodle shop and a John-Wayne-imitator type who helps the owner, a woman, make a success of it.  Old master of ramen-bowl-eating teaching young disciple how it’s done, a parody of Japanese rituals like the tea ceremony, really right on. Itami made other good films (The Funeral is one) and ended his life tragically, maybe murdered by the Japanese gangs who didn’t like his films making fun of them: they probably pushed him off a high building to look like a “suicide.”


+The Train (1964. Burt Lancaster). You two will remember how I showed you, when you were much younger, Burt Lancaster’s two early swashbuckler-action films, The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow. I’ve always admired him, enjoyed his films. This is a late and especially exciting one, about a French Resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of France who sets out to foil the Germans’ taking of a trainload of French paintings to Germany. Great cast, including Jeanne Moreau and Michel Simon (his last film). The middle section, in which supporters switch station signs etc., may drag a bit, but be patient, wait for a great ending.


+Les Triplettes de Belleville (2002, Sylvain Chomet). Canadian animator makes brilliant film in old way—hand-drawn animation. Maybe not a masterpiece, but very fine, original—I include it partly because of your interest in hand-drawn animation. Ending, with three old women, is bizarre and funny.


+Unfaithfully Yours (1948, Preston Sturges). Very funny, neglected film. Rex Harrison as symphony orchestra conductor believes his wife is unfaithful to him, and while conducting pieces of music, lets his thoughts run (as inspired by the music) to ways of dealing with this, including killing her. Other Sturges films so often shown; this one virtually never.


+ Viridiana (1961, Luis Bunuel). Anti-morality tale typical of Bunuel, in which innocent girl in convent is corrupted by visit to uncle (Fernando Rey). Many memorable scenes: she tries to save dog from passing merchant who mistreats him; tramps she takes into her house hold banquet while she’s gone and strike Last Supper pose. This & Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are my favorites, but see other Bunuel also.


+ The Winslow Boy (1999, David Mamet). Long—be patient—but in the end very moving & satisfying film based on Terence Rattigan play about boy wrongly accused in school of stealing, father who believes in him and won’t give in. Made before (1948), also fine, but I like later one. If I chose a series of father-and-son films to watch with you two, this would be in it. (Great moment: when lawyer decides to take on the case, just when everybody is thinking he’s persuaded the boy’s guilty.)


+ Winterset (1936, Maxwell Anderson play; Burgess Meredith, Margot.) I saw this early in my life, never forgot it. Finally got a poor-quality--blurry--DVD, watched it again. Based loosely on the Sacco-Vanzetti case; Burgess Meredith, wonderful actor who created the role on Broadway, then came to Hollywood for the movie, his first. He is the son of the wrongly-convicted man (like Vanzetti) trying to right this wrong. The judge who condemned his father to death has gone mad and is roaming the streets. Takes place mostly under the Brooklyn Bridge--the stage-set is re-created in the movie. One of the finest of the early play-to-movie productions. Liberals of that time still believed that Sacco & Vanzetti weren’t guilty, felt strongly about it--see The Male Animal above.


+ Witness For the Prosecution (1951, Billy Wilder.) Great cast—Dietrich, Lawton, others—in great courtroom suspense drama, with tricks you won’t forget.


+ Wonder Man (1945, Danny Kaye) The best of his? You know it, we watched it twice? I have several more of his, but none quite comes up to this.  His wife Sylvia Fine wrote his great scat songs for him.



- Brewster McCloud (1970, Robert Altman). Weird movie, made by Altman after Nashville and around same time as Mash, about boy who is preparing to be first human to fly, inside Houston astrodome, with support from guardian angel Sally Kellerman, but is seduced by Shelley Duvall (her first movie) and . . . All I can say is, if you have a chance to see it, grab it. And be ready for a wild ride.


Also added two fine Billy Wilder comedies, both made from successful Broadway plays:


+ Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954.) Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden. Comedy of class distinctions: she is chauffeur’s daughter, romanced by two brothers in employer’s family. Lots of fun, good ending.


+ The Seven-year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955). Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell. The title refers to the joke/myth that husbands, after seven years of marriage, develop an itch to stop being faithful (if they ever were.) Monroe moves into upstairs apartment while Ewell, whose wife is away for the summer, fantasizes about what could happen—and what does. Movie had o be made less sexy than Broadway play because of censors, but still has much charm, and shows MM at her best.

Didn’t quite make it, but see: two jazz films:

- Paris Blues (1961), Paul Newman, Sydney Poitier, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington score, etc. This could have been a masterpiece; falls short as movie, but very much worth seeing for jazz sequences. Same true of:

Blues in the Night (1941). I remembered this, and especially the title song, from seeing it as a teen-ager, watched it recently with great anticipation but eventual disappointment: starts out as if it’s going to be a great film, goes flat after a while. Watch it some time anyway.


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