Category Archives: Classic Movies

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

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I’m afraid of everything – birds, storms, lifts, needles – and now, this great fear of death…

— Cléo

Based on the recommendation of Jimmy, one of the co-hosts of the Scene Unseen podcast, I watched writer/director Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 on The Auteurs. This is a Criterion presentation. At first, the way the action flowed in real time bothered me, but the ending is some wonderful that I could forgive it.

Florence (Corinne Marchand) is a famous singer living in France by the stage name of Cléo Victoire. In the beginning of the film, she visits a psychic, Madame Irma (Loye Payen) to tell her about the results of a biopsy she had done two days prior. Cléo wants to know if she has cancer.

The whole movie is about the time that the audience follows Cléo wherever she goes after visiting the psychic and before she gets the results from Dr. Valineau (Robert Postec).

She goes on with her day, trying push her looming fate out of her mind, but she can’t. Her friends cannot keep her busy. She is preoccupied with pending results.

The movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. There tinges of melodrama that is understandable with a star diva-ing out. Other than that, this is a charming, romantic and ultimately optimistic perspective.

Judgment: If you wants to slice of Paris life, watch this film.

Rating: ****1/2

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North by Northwest (1959)

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Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.

— Roger Thornhill

Being the last day of June, I will continue to watch more classic movies from now on. Watching another Alfred Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. It was nominated for three Oscars. It is currently#30 of the Top 250 of All Time on IMDB. This is another example of why Hitchcock is underrated as a director.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an ordinary advertising executive that is caught up in a complex spy game when he is kidnapped by two henchmen, Valerian (Adam Williams) and Licht (Robert Ellenstein).

He is taken to estate by the name of Townsend. There is a man named Robert Vandamm (James Mason) thinks that he is an international spy named George Kaplan. Robert and his right hand man, Leonard (Martin Landau) question him about his intentions.

This tale of mistaken identity has many twists and turns that will spoil the movie.

Judgment: Another great movie by Hitchcock that should be seen.

Rating: ****1/2

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

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Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.

— Dudley

During the height of the Hayes Code era and the sanitation of cinema, a lot of movies were subjected to rewrites. Religious themed movies boomed and that’s why we have The Bishop’s Wife.

Based on the novel by Robert Nathan, the movie went along to be nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. This movie was remade in 1996 as The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance. The remake is better this movie.

Bishop Jack Brougham (David Niven) is determined to build a grand cathedral that he cannot sense that he neglecting his own family. One night, he prays for guidance and a suave, debonair angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) comes into his office offering his assistance.

Over the course of the movie, Dudley coerces his way into the Brougham’s lives. He tries to steal Jack’s wife, Julia (Loretta Young). He uses his powers of persuasion to have everybody to obey his commands. It’s like they’re dogs. Women, children, the elderly, the help are under his spell.

Everybody fawned over Dudley. The endless stares at him. It’s like Twilight in the 40s. It got annoying after awhile. Dudley’s motivations turned me off to this movie.

Be prepared to roll your eyes constantly.

Judgment: This movie tried to be all sentimental. It’s drivel. Watch the remake instead.

Rating: **1/2

The Rules of the Game (1939)

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The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.

— Octave

Thanks to the fantastic Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast for turning me on to They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? which has a constantly updated list of the 1,000 Greatest Films of All Time. Deviating from the users voted upon list of the greatest films of all time, I wanted to get a real deal Holyfield.

Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game comes in a number #3. This is a Criterion collection and the enjoyment was felt throughout this movie.

Much like Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, this films deals with the trials and tribulations  with the upper crust of French society before the start of WWII.

A transatlantic pilot named André Jurieux returns from his trip to find that the love of his life, the Austrian transplant Christine (Nora Gregor) did not meet him. He is heartbroken. His friend, Octave (Jean Renoir) becomes his consular as he is tries to kill himself.

Christine’s husband, Robert de la Cheyniest (Marcel Dalio) knows about André’s intentions toward his wife. He wants to invite him for the weekend at their country estate, La Colinière. Robert also invited his longtime mistress, Geneviève de Marras (Mila Parély). He is trying to break off their relationship.

The subsequent days are filled with hunting for game, unrequited love, and an escape from lives.

It was refreshing take on the comedy of manners genre. The only problem with the movie is the character of André. He is heartbroken. It’s understandable, but he needs to get over it. His character is very one note.

Judgment: It’s a fabulous movie. End of story.

Rating: ****1/2

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

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I’m about as popular as a dose of strychnine.

— Gilbert

On Hulu, Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser known film, The Lady Vanishes is currently #200 on the Top 250 of All Time on IMDB. Movies like The Forgotten and Flightplan borrowed some elements from this movie. It was suspenseful to say the least, but not enough to immerse me into the experience.

The action mainly takes place on a train when a elderly woman, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) befriends a young heiress, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) who is getting married soon.

Iris falls asleep and the woman disappears. Everybody on the train claims that Miss Froy didn’t exist, because of an incident that happened when she had an object hit her in the head.

The obnoxious photographer, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) tags along with her to try to figure out if Miss Froy existed or not.

The first twenty minutes of the movies was all over the place with the tone. The acting was not consistent. The central mystery of the film was the best part of it, but the resolution of it was not satisfying. The explanation didn’t make sense.

You could see the seeds of Hitchcockian methods on screen with the shadows, the composition, the perfect use of music.

Judgment: It was nothing special about the film. It was middle of the road.

Rating: ***

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

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You know what to do, feed the French and shoot the Germans!

— Major John Reisman

The Dirty Dozen is a subversive take on WWII soldiers and combat. Quentin Tarantino possibly borrowed some elements of this movie for his latest effort, Inglourious Basterds, which is set to be released in August. Killing a whole bunch of Nazis is fine. If the story drags along at a snail’s pace, you don’t care about a bunch of Nazi annihilation.

Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), a hotshot officer is assigned to head a secret operation to wipe out the upper echelon of Third Reich in one fail swoop. He has to train a dozen of criminals for a limited amount of time to be able to carry out the mission.

The premise of the story was great. It’s the execution that falls short. Some of the characters were so wacky and off-kilter that you cannot root for them in the final battle.

This movie was two and half hours long. There were instances of deja vu that the same scene played repeatedly. It felt like a chore to watch this movie. It needed some serious edits. After a while, you don’t care about the story.

Judgment: Don’t bother watching this unless you want to see criminals killing Nazis. Fast forward to the end.

Rating: **1/2

His Girl Friday (1940)

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Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.

— Hildy Johnson

His Girl Friday was a recommendation from the hosts of the Cinebanter podcast a couple of months ago. In this classic movie viewing month, this movie was on the top of my list to watch. Currently ranked on the Top 250 of All Time on IMDB at #216, this movie moved at a rapid pace, but left me in the dust.

Set in the smoked filled rooms of a local newspaper, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) walks into the newsroom with her fiance, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) in tow. She wants to tell her ex-husband, Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that she is getting married the next day. She wants to leave the newspaper business for good, be a wife and raise a family.

Walter has a plan to keep his favorite writer and love of his life in the city. His enlists his petty crook friend, Diamond Louie (Abner Biberman) to throw a wrench into Hildy from departing the city with Bruce. He wanted to prey on her desire for the written word.

There is a execution that would correspond the same day as Hildy’s wedding. A mousy man, Earl Williams (John Qualen) is accused of shooting a colored officer. Walter wants Hildy to deliver a great report about Williams that is about to be hanged.

This movie went into some different directions that surprised. There is instances that were contrived and too convenient to be believed.

Rosalind Russell owned the screen. She was an acting clinic in this movie. The dialogue was sometimes silly and artificial, but she sells it. Her witty quips, the playful banter, the knowing looks. Perfect. Cary Grant on the other hand was wooden, flat, and lifeless. He has going through the motions. Disappointing.

Walter was such a bastard that it boggles my mind that Hildy would go back to him in the end. A Big WTF! He mastermind her not being a real woman and made her another worker at his paper. The ending pissed me off so much.

Judgment: If you want to look inside the world of print journalism, watch this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Wuthering Heights (1939)

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If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.

— Heathcliff

Loosely based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights tells the tragic story of Heathcliff and Catherine.

There have been a least a dozen adaptations of this book. Another interpretation of the book will be released next year with Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick and Gemma Arteton as the lovers. Yipee! Not!

If you have never seen any version of the story or read the book yourself, plot points will be revealed in this review. Be forewarned.

At the beginning of the story, we see a man caught in a snowstorm that takes shelter at the estate of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). During the night, he hears the ghostly voice of Catherine (Merle Oberon) in the storm. Upon hearing the news, Heathcliff runs into the storm to find her.

The stranger asked the housekeeper, Ellen (Flora Robson) about the reason why Heathcliff left in a hurry. She recounts the story of how Heathcliff met Catherine. The story flashes back forty years when Catherine’s father brings Heathcliff home from the streets of Liverpool.

After arriving, Catherine’s older brother, Hindley treats him cruely. As they grow up, they fall in love with each other. They go to their secret place in the cliffs of the Yorkshire moors by the Wuthering Heights estate.

Heathcliff despearely wants to leave his life of servitude and wants Catherine to go with him. Their class status gets in the way of their true happiness. Catherine wants to be take care of with the handsome suitor, Edgar (David Niven).

Catherine is such a cold heared bitch that she would toy with Heathcliff’s feelings, stringing him along and breaking his heart by marrying Edgar.

Heathcliff runs away to America, in order to come back wealthy and buying the estate from Hindley (Hugh Williams), who is a sloppy drunk.

The two scourned lovers do everything in their power to torture each other with Catherine’s sham marriage to Edgar and Heathcliff’s subsequent marriage to Edgar’s younger sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

When Heathcliff finds out that Catherine is dying, he runs to her bedside. Where when they look at the moors from her window, she dies in his arms.

The story is fine. Catherine is such a cold-hearted snake that there was no smyplathy for her when she dies. Understanding Heathcliff’s cold intentions was understandable.

The dialogue bordered on melodrama, especually at the end at Catherine’s death scene. The beginning of the movie with the kids was plain awful.

The only highlights of the film where Olivier and Fitzgerald who were nominated for Oscars for their performances. Well deserved.

Judgment: Read the book instead.

Rating: ***1/2

Casablanca (1942)

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Here’s looking at you, kid.

— Rick

Coming in at #11 of the Top 250 of all time on IMDB. Nominated for seven Oscars, winning three; including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz and Best Screenplay.

Casablanca is considered one of the greatest cinematic romances of all time. Highly doubt that. Not to say that it was a terrible movie. Far from that, but it wasn’t perfect.

Set in the middle of WWII in unoccupied Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is an former freedom fighter who has a famous club where all the refugees come to get away from the Nazis. His trusty pianist pal, Sam (Dooley Wilson) entertains the crowd with his songs.

One night, he receives two transit papers that were stolen from an SS officer from Ugarte (Peter Lorre). He hides them as SS officer, Major Strausser (Conrad Veidt) arrives in town to investigate where the papers are with the help of morally ambiguous Captain Renault (Claude Rains).

That very night, Rick’s former love, Isla (Ingrid Bergman) is with her companion, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). Both are active freedom fighters that are looking for a way to get out of Casablanca to escape to America.

Problems with the movie. The “romance” between Rick and Isla was not fully explored. There was no connection between them. It felt forced. Two beautiful people got together. No explanation. This movie should have been longer. Allowing the relationship to develop between the lovers.

Negatives aside, Ingrid was lit beautifully. Loved it. Interesting angles with the camera. Light and shadow worked perfectly.

Judgment: Gorgeous visuals, but the story could leave you high and dry.

Rating: ***1/2

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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Once, the door is locked, there is no way out. The windows have bars the jail would be proud of and the only door to the outside locks like a vault.

— Fredrick Loren

Yesterday afternoon when I was surfing on the interwebs, I wanted to see a short movie. I logged on to Hulu and found the original House on Haunted Hill and watched it. This movie made want to watch 1999 remake again in a continuous loop. That’s saying a lot.

A wealthy man, Fredrick Loren (Vincent Price) invites half a dozen people to his mansion to stay alive during the night. Just like what I remember from the remake. Nothing much has changed.

This movie fails to deliver the suspense. It was not atmospheric. The dialogue was clunky. The acting left me cold.

It was a short movie, but not a good one.

Judgment: Watch the remake. Avoid this movie.

Rating: **

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